P'awstos Buzandac'i's

History of the Armenians


Translator's Preface


The History of the Armenians, attributed to P'awstos Buzand, describes episodically and in epic style, events from the military, socio-cultural, and political life of fourth century Armenia. This work is perhaps the most problematical of the Armenian sources, and one of the most tantalizing. The classical Armenian employed is rich and earthy; the style, clear and direct, perhaps reflecting the author's awareness that his work would be read aloud. Controversy surrounds almost every aspect of this History: the format of the extant (versus the original) text; the author's identity; and where, in what language, and when it was written. There is an extensive body of scholarly literature devoted to these and other questions. Below, briefly, we shall outline some of the major hypotheses.

The present text of P'awstos exists in four "Books" or dprut'iwnk'. Instead of being numbered Books I, II, III, and IV as one would expect, the first book of the extant text is titled Book III ("Beginning") and is followed by Books IV, V, and VI. The word "Ending" appears in the chapter heading of Book VI. The late fifth century historian Ghazar P'arpec'i cites a passage from the text of P'awstos which he claims was found in Book II.15; however, in our text this same passage is in Book IV.15. In other words, Ghazar's "P'awstos Book I" is now our Book III ("Beginning"). The Armenist S. Malxasyanc' speculated that this curious fact could be explained as follows: toward the end of the fifth century, after Ghazar P'arpec'i used it, the text of P'awstos Buzand was placed by an editor as the third history in a book of many histories. This would explain why the History opens with Book III, since the first two books were each one-book histories. Then, Malxasyanc' continued, the editor wrote in the words "Beginning" and "Ending" to inform the reader that this particular section was one complete history in the compilation. The editor's hand also is visible in the History's two forwards; in tables of chapter headings arranged in lists preceding each book; in the chapter headings themselves; and in a statement at the end of Book III claiming [ii] that the work was written in the fourth century by "the great historian P'awstos Buzand". Furthermore, Malxasyanc' noted that the fifth century editor employed the first person singular while the fourth century P'awstos Buzand used the plural when referring to himself.

There are references in the text to a P'awstos of Greek nationality (III, Ending), a bishop P'awstos who ordained the future kat'oghikos Nerses the Great deacon (IV.3), a P'awstos who was one of a twelve-member council to assist Nerses as kat'oghikos (VI.5), and a P'awstos who buried Nerses (V.24). If these are all the same figure and the author, then he would have been living in the 50s and 60s of the fourth century, during the time of Nerses. Now, because of P'awstos' appellation Buzand(eay) and the fact that he is said to be of Greek nationality, some scholars have argued that P'awstos was a late fourth century Greek bishop who wrote in Greek (his History being translated into Armenian in the fifth century); or perhaps he was an Armenian from Byzantine-controlled Western Armenia (Buzanda); a fifth century cleric educated in the Byzantine empire; or simply P'awstos from an Armenian town called Buzanda. The question of P'awstos' identity is by no means a new one. This question was raised already in the late fifth century by Ghazar P'arpec'i, who refused to believe that any bishop P'awstos could have included certain vulgar and anti-clerical passages that he laments discovering in P'awstos' History. The offended Ghazar thinks that the bishop's History was later corrupted by an uncultured person who assumed the distinguished name of P'awstos (after the bishop P'awstos found in the text) to increase the prestige of his compilation of stories (Ghazar P'arpec'i's History of the Armenians, I. 3-4). Who P'awstos was and what should be understood by Buzandeay are still unsolved problems.

The question of the dating of this work is of direct concern. Certain facts seem to place the author (P'awstos) in the fifth century. First, P'awstos is familiar with the name of only one Byzantine emperor (Valens) for almost the entire span of his History, i.e., A.D. 319-384, when in fact during this period emperors Constantine, Constantius, Julian, Jovian, Valens, Gratian, and Theodosius the Great ruled. Since Armenia was in frequent contact with Byzantium during that time, a fourth-century writer naturally [iii] would know the emperors' names. P'awstos, living in the fifth century, had only a vague recollection of fourth century emperors and so styled them all Valens. Again, P'awstos contends that the Armenian king Arshak (350-67) ruled during the time of the Iranian shah Nerseh (293-302) and the Byzantine emperor Valens (364-78), when in fact these last two autocrats were not even contemporaries. Another important proof of the History's fifth-century date is its source material, which includes the Armenian translation of the Bible (430's) and Koriwn's biography of Mashtoc'. Finally, in kat'oghikos Nerses the Great's curse of the Armenian Arsacids which appears in IV.15, Nerses seems to prophesy the end of the Arsacid kingdom.

P'awstos lacks chronology in the strict sense: he does not mention in which king's regnal year an event occurred or how long each king reigned. However, he does know the correct sequence of Armenian kings from Xosrov II Kotak (330-39) to Varazdat (374-78) and mentions each one by name. Despite numerous problems associated with the text, P'awstos' information still has the greatest value; although he lacks numerical chronology, the thematic unity on occasion substitues for an absolute chronology. This is due to his systematic biases.

As a historian of the Mamikonean naxarar house, P'awstos' desire is to portray the Mamikoneans as the defenders par excellence of Armenia. To P'awstos, the Mamikoneans are not merely the only legitimate military defenders of the country, but also the loyal defenders of the Arsacid family, defenders of the Church, and defenders of naxarar rights. The contradiction which arises from the fact that P'awstos simultaneously has made the Mamikoneans defenders of kings and of the naxarars—two usually inimical groups—appears to have been resolved by the author by a second assumption: that the Mamikoneans are in fact the equals of the Arsacids.

P'awstos' History is a treasure of early Armenian literature, invaluable for historians, anthropologists and linguists, for Armenists and Iranists. The present translation, which was completed in 1981, was made from the classical Armenian text of Venice, 1933 (the fourth reprint of the Venice 1889 edition), [iv] K. Patkanean, ed., P'awstosi Buzandac'woy Patmut'iwn Hayoc'. For additional bibliography on P'awstos, see S. Malxasyanc' modern Armenian translation (Erevan, 1968); for more detail on P'awstos' biases, R. Bedrosian, The Sparapetut'iwn in Armenia in the Fourth and Fifth Centuries, Armenian Review 36(1983) pp. 6-45, and Dayeakut'iwn in Ancient Armenia, Armenian Review 37(1984) pp. 23-47. For studies of the fourth and fifth centuries see C. Toumanoff, Studies in Christian Caucasian History (Georgetown, 1963) [especially part II, States and Dynasties of Caucasia in the Formative Centuries, and Part V, The Armeno-Georgian Marchlands]; his article, "Armenia and Georgia," [Chapter XIV in The Cambridge Medieval History, vol. IV, The Byzantine Empire, part I, (Cambridge, 1966), pp. 593-637]; and N. Adontz, Armenia in the Period of Justinian (Lisbon, 1970). The transliteration employed in this translation is a modification of the Hubschmann-Meillet system.

Robert Bedrosian
New York, 1985

A Note on Pagination


The following chronological tables may be useful as accompaniments to the translation. The tables open in separate windows, for persistence. Additional tables are available on another page of this site: Chronological Tables. Maps are available on our Maps Page.

Rulers of Armenia and of Eastern and Western Empires
Kat'oghikoi and Corresponding Secular Rulers of the Armenians
Rulers of Armenia and Iberia/Georgia



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