T'ovma Metsobets'i's

History of Tamerlane and His Successors

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Translator's Preface


T'ovma Metsobets'i's History describes events taking place on the Armenian highlands and in Georgia during the Turco-Mongol invasions of Timur Leng (1386-87, 1394-96, and 1399-1403). These invasions were made upon a society which already had been gravely weakened by the preceding decades of warfare and persecution from Turkmen, Kurdish, and Ottoman groups now resident in the area, and from Mongols of the Golden Horde in the north Caucasus.

Information about the author of this work is found in T'ovma's own History, in the Life of T'ovma Metsobets'i, written by his student Kirakos Banaser, and in a number of 15th century colophons. According to these sources, T'ovma was born in 1378 in the district of Aghiovit, north of Lake Van. He received his early education at the monastery of Metsob (or Metsop') north of the city of Archesh, but the invasions of Timur and the attacks of Turkmen bands obliged him to move from place to place, frequently fleeing for his life. In 1395 he went to Suxara (Xarabasta) monastery in the K'ajberunik' district of southern Armenia where he studied for twelve years with the noted vardapets (doctors of the Church) Sargis and Vardan. In 1406, together with twelve classmates, he went to one of the most important seats of learning in Armenia, the monastery of Tat'ew in the Tsghuk region of the district of Siwnik'. After a residence of only two years there, T'ovma, his classmates and their teacher, the great intellectual Grigor Tat'ewats'i, were forced to flee to Metsob monastery to escape the Qara Qoyunlu Turkmens. Soon thereafter T'ovma's beloved teacher was taken to the Ayrarat district by other students, and T'ovma and his classmates who set out after him were unable to convince him to return. According to Kirakos Banaser, Grigor Tat'ewats'i conferred the vardapetal dignity on T'ovma in Erevan. T'ovma then returned to Metsob where he engaged in teaching and literary activity, and participated in the struggle against the influence of Roman Catholicism within the Armenian church. However, between 1421 and 1437, southern Armenia once again became a theater of warfare between Turkmens, Mongols and Kurds. In 1430 T'ovma fled for his life to the island of Lim in Lake Van. In 1436 he and his students fled to Xlat', Archesh and Artske. T'ovma Metsobets'i was one of the major protagonists involved in transferring the Armenian kat'oghikosate from Sis in Cilicia back to Ejmiatsin in Greater Armenia in 1441. After the realization of his dream, T'ovma returned to Metsob where he died three years later, in 1446.

The History of Tamerlane and His Successors, although a major source for Armenia in the late 14th and early 15th centuries is, nonetheless, a rather defective production. Written for the most part from memory, the work (especially when dealing with events occurring outside Armenia) contains historical inaccuracies and frequent repetitions, jumps episodically back and forth from one decade to another, and does not, generally, seem to be a well-structured history. T'ovma himself was well aware of its shortcomings. He wrote: "This event occurred in 1425 more or less. You must excuse me, for I was old and commenced fifty years later. Therefore I wrote going backward and forward."

The History begins with the devastations wreaked on the district of Siwnik' by the northern Tatars in 1386. Tamerlane's invasions of 1387, 1388, 1395, 1401 and 1402 on numerous districts of eastern and western historical Armenia and Georgia are described with the blood-curdling immediacy of a terrified eye-witness. The account is more detailed yet for the first three decades of the 15th century. It describes the impact on Armenian economic, intellectual and religious life of this dismal and nightmarish period of mass exterminations, mass deportations, and the forced and voluntary apostasy of the population. For a discussion of Armenia in this period, see R. Bedrosian, The Turco-Mongol Invasions and the Lords of Armenia in the 13-14th Centuries (New York, 1979). Additional bibliography is available in C. Toumanoff's article, "Armenia and Georgia," [Chapter XIV in The Cambridge Medieval History, vol. IV, The Byzantine Empire, part I, (Cambridge, 1966), pp. 593-637].


Unfortunately, no critical edition of T'ovma's work exists. The classical Armenian text was published by K. Shahnazarean in Paris in 1860. Subsequently it was translated into French by Felix Neve and appeared in Journal Asiatique (1855), and as a separate book in 1861. The present translation, made from the classical Armenian text of 1860, was completed in 1977 in Erevan, Armenia. The transliteration employed is a modification of the Library of Congress system.

Robert Bedrosian
(New York, 1987)


A Note on Pagination

The following chronological tables may be useful as accompaniments to the translation. The tables open in separate windows, for persistence.

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

Additional tables are available on another page of this site: Chronological Tables. Maps are available on our Maps Page.

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