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Chapter 18
This webpage reproduces a chapter of
A History of Armenia

by Vahan M. Kurkjian

published by the
Armenian General Benevolent Union of America
1958

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter 20

p123 Chapter XIX
Successors of Trdat — Partition of Armenia

Character of Khosrov II

Khosrov II (330‑339), known as Kotak (the Little or Short), who was placed on the throne by the Christian party, lacked the moral and physical vigor of his father, yet under his rule, Armenia enjoyed a period of prosperity. He was tactful and diplomatic, and backed by Vrthanes, the new Katholikos and by the Generalissimo, Vatcheh Mamikonian, he showed a certain mettle whenever internal troubles arose.

Troubles of his Reign

The most serious of these was an attempt to assassinate the Katholikos at Taron (Mush district), a plot hatched by pagan priests, and encouraged by the Queen. Next came the turmoil caused by the Manavazian and Ordouni families, who had been waging a bloody vendetta with each other. They refused to heed any counsel, even the intercession of the Katholikos, and at length, both houses were destroyed by the royal army under the Generalissimo Vatcheh.

Scarcely had the country returned to quietude when it was again harassed by a new incursion of its Caucasian neighbors, the Alans and other mountain tribes, who committed depredations in the Arax Valley and in Karinid (the modern Erzerum district). King Khosrov barely escaped capture at their hands. Once more the Generalissimo took the field, and aided by the Bagratids and the Kamsarakans, put the marauders to flight.

In 337 Khosrov gave his attention to the construction of the city of Douin. Emperor Constantine the Great died in that year, leaving p124his Empire divided among his three sons, Constantineº II, Constans and Constantius. Shahpur II of Persia now reopened hostilities, but again the eminent general Vatcheh, performed marvels of military skill, repulsing the Persians and inflicting heavy punishment upon certain Armenian lords and princes for their treasonable conduct. But Vatcheh fell at last in battle, and King Khosrov's death followed soon after.

King Tiran

Khosrov was succeeded by his son Tiran (339‑350). Though endorsed by the Christian party, the new King was a disappointment, intellectually and morally. He soon antagonized the clergy and the great Mamikonian family, which had been the mainstay of the throne. On the death of the Katholikos, the patriarchal See was entrusted to his son Houssik, the King's son-in‑law, who was held in high esteem for his attainments as well as his descent from St. Gregory. But Tiran, incensed by the young Patriarch's criticism of his public and private conduct, ordered him to be beaten to death, the immediate reason being the denial of admittance of the King to a church in Sophene on a feast day in 346.

Tiran committed other acts of like barbarity, among them being the massacre of the Ardzruni and Reshtuni families, who were accused of having secret relations with the Persians. But the attempts to crush the power of the feudal lords, including the Mamikonian family, were doomed to failure.

Shahpur's war on Rome

Shahpur II launched a new war on Rome in 338, accompanying it with a bloody persecution of the Christians of Persia and Mesopotamia. This war, which continued for 25 years, dealt a severe blow to Roman prestige in the East. Shahpur's main object was the capture of the basin of the upper Tigris, where lay the route to Ctesiphon. The banks of the river were taken and lost by turns, but the fortress of Nissibin resisted the Persian assaults for eight years.

Tiran blinded

For some time Shahpur left Armenia unmolested; but at length he lured the Armenian King and his family into a trap. Tiran was brought to the Persian capital, and upon an accusation of collusion with Rome, was thrown into prison and blinded. Infuriated by this p125brutality, the people of Armenia took up arms and expelled all Persians and their partisans from the land. Shahpur, daunted by the uprising, set Tiran and his family free, and in 350 consented to recognize Arshak II, the blind King's son, as the successor to the horse.

Arshak's reign

During the seventeen years of Arshak's reign, Armenia became the scene of competitive disputes between the two empires and of domestic quarrels. Constans II, the Roman Emperor, contrived the marriage of Arshak to Olympia, a Roman princess, daughter of a prefect.1 He also ordered the remission of the taxes on the lands which the Kings of Armenia owned in Asia Minor. The Persian King likewise offered Arshak many tokens of favor, in an effort to win his neutrality. In fact, Arshak remained a bystander during the wars between Rome and Persia until the accession of Julian, the so‑called Apostate, to the Roman throne in 361.

Nerses made Patriarch

The patriarchal authority had been conferred in 352 upon Nerses, the Court Secretary, a grandson of the Katholikos Houssik. (Paren and Shahak, who had occupied the position from 347 to 351, did not belong to the House of Gregory.) Nerses was 27 years of age when he was made Bishop and sent to Caesarea to receive the investiture. He became one of the most eminent patriarchs in Armenian history, not only because of his reforms in ecclesiastical, social and charitable spheres, but also because of his great influence in international affairs.

After an abortive assault upon the Roman stronghold of Nissibin in 350, Shahpur hastened home to ward off the attacks of Eastern enemies. About ten years later he reappeared in Mesopotamia, ruined the city of Amida (Diarbekir), and put its defenders to the sword. Among the soldiers of the Roman legions who perished there were a great number of Armenians.2

p126 Shahpur claims Armenia

Shahpur thereupon dispatched envoys to the Emperor Constantius II, claiming Mesopotamia and Armenia. King Arshak, aware of the imminent danger threatening his family, retired to the mountains. The people of the country, seemingly thus left to their fate, were divided into two parties; one took the side of the Persians, while the others, who favored the West, were forced to take refuge in Roman territory. Constantius rejected the Persian demands and went to the East to lead his army in person. Arshak met the Emperor in Caesarea, and aided and encouraged by him, returned to his capital. All those who had been exiled to the Roman territories came home also.

But the war was scarcely begun when Constantius died in Cilicia in 361, and Julian, already proclaimed Emperor by some of the soldiers, succeeded him. Julian prepared to strike a decisive blow against Persia. Arshak sent ambassadors to him, expressing loyalty, and received instructions to join him in Antioch with his forces. But ensuing developments were disastrous for the Romans. Julian was mortally wounded in battle in 363, and the army proclaimed Jovianus, captain of Julian's life guards, Emperor. Under his command, the army reached the Tigris, but found the river too strongly defended to cross. Shahpur proposed as terms of peace the surrender of the Roman conquests west of the Tigris, together with the fortress of Nissibin and other strongholds in Mesopotamia; also the cessation of Roman aid to Armenia, with whom Persia was again at war. Jovianus yielded to the terms of this humiliating treaty in 364.3

Armenians fight alone

The Armenians, though abandoned by Rome, fought stubbornly for four years against Persian encroachments. An embassy headed by the Katholikos Nerses was sent to Constantinople to solicit the aid of Valens, Emperor there since 364; for the Roman Empire was now functioning in two parts, with the respective capitals at Rome and at Byzantium or Constantinople. This appeal met with no success, mainly because Valens himself supported the Arian party during the religious quarrels which at that time raged over p127the whole Eastern Empire. According to Khorenatsi's story, the Katholikos Nerses, professing the orthodox view, was even confined in seclusion on an island (Toulis) by order of Valens. In any case, when military affairs on the eastern frontier assumed a threatening aspect, the Romans were disinclined any longer to interfere with the designs of the Persians on Armenia, and concluded a discreditable treaty with them in 376.

King Arshak escapes

The story of the struggle carried on during this critical period contains many episodes of Armenian valor. Vassak Mamikonian, the military leader, again and again repulsed the attacks of the Persians, who had been joined by several Armenian lords, such as Meroujan Ardzruni and Vahan Mamikonian. On one occasion they devastated the districts of Sophene and Akilisene and violated the graves of the Arshakid kings at the castle of Ani-Kamakh. The King barely escaped to Asia Minor, and Vassak was forced to maintain alone the defense of the province of Ararat. The situation having reached a dangerous stage, and the pleadings of the Katholikos Nerses being without avail, King Arshak went directly to Shahpur, who through letters and emissaries had been promising him sincere friendship. Arshak was at first accorded a royal welcome, but he was presently seizedº during a feast and sent in chains to the fortress of Oblivion (Anhoush berd) where he was executed or committed suicide in 367. The Generalissimo Vassak, his companion in exile, was flayed alive and his body suspended at the prison gate.

Arshak did not lack the intelligence, courage and will power required of a sovereign whose destiny it was to offer stiff resistance to foreign invasion, and to try vainly to unify and solidify a feudal kingdom, some of whose nakharars showed a tendency to undermine the central authority. But he committed many mistakes and cruelties which overshadowed his virtues and contributed to his tragic end. He ordered the assassination of his own nephews, Gnel and Tirid — whom he suspected of designs on the throne — and married Parantzem, the beautiful widow of Gnel. To him is ascribed the destruction of the house of Kamsarakans, his own relatives. The death of Olympia, his Roman wife, has been attributed to poison, allegedly administered to her in the Holy Sacrament by a priest acting at the instigation of the King, though this story should be taken with reservations.a

p128 Queen murdered, Pap crowned

Arshak's widow, Queen Parantzem, had taken refuge with her son Pap in the fort of Artakers. After a long resistance to the Persian army, she contrived during the siege to send Pap away to Neocaesarea (modern Niksar) in the Roman territory. The fort was finally taken and the Queen brutally slain. But the country was not yet completely reduced. Mountain sections continued to fight stubbornly, in hope of receiving aid from Byzantium. The Emperor Valens had promised an Armenian delegation headed by Mushegh Mamikonian thatº he would defend Armenia. Prince Pap, then 22 years old, was escorted by an Imperial legion back to Armenia and crowned in 368. The Jovianus treaty, which had abandoned Armenia to the mercy of Persia, was revoked by Valens.

Battle of Bagrevand

The ensuing Battle of Bagrevand (371) was a decisive victory for the Roman-Armenian army. The Mamikonians, the Kamsarakans and the Bagratids were especially conspicuous in the fray. Merouzhan, the leader of the Armenian renegades, and many of his followers perished. King Pap, who accompanied by the Katholikos had been watching the fight from the hill of Npat, recovered the throne of the Arshakuni dynasty. The military command of the country was entrusted to Mushegh Mamikonian, to whom Trajan, the Roman commander in the East, lent full support. Mushegh succeeded in curbing the turbulent Armenian nobles.

Although now firmly established in his heritage, the young king still had many difficulties to overcome. He was under Roman suzerainty, and yet he had to appease the Persian monarch, and meanwhile, to combat insubordinate tendencies within his own kingdom, a particularly thorny problem being the friction between Church and State. In holding the ecclesiastics in check, Pap had provoked their antagonism, and the death of the Katholikos in 373 was attributed by later clerical historians to wine poisoned at a banquet by the King's order. Contemporary chroniclers, however, testify that Pap was deeply grieved by the loss of his saintly mentor, and gave him a stately funeral.

Assassination of Pap

A tragic fate was reserved for Pap himself. The Emperor Valens was led to suspect his loyalty, and while visiting the city of Tarsus p129in Cilicia, he invited Pap to meet him for a conference. The latter came unsuspectingly, but being warned of impending peril, he escaped and returned safely to his own country, eluding pursuit by Roman horsemen. The Emperor believed that he had been warned by the Magians, whose destruction Valens had vowed. The Roman commander Trajan presently set another snare, a banquet which Pap was induced to attend. While music and songs resounded in the hall and cups passed from hand to hand, a burly barbarian sprang forth at a sign from Trajan and stabbed the young King to death (374). Nothing could justify this dastardly act, for Pap had always remained loyal to the Emperor, and had rejected all of Shahpur's advances and threats.

The pro-Roman party in Armenia, though shocked by the assassination of their King, restrained their indignation. The Emperor, realizing that brute force had gone too far, and desirous of appeasing the country, sent Varazdat, a nephew of Pap, a young man highly reputed for his mental and physical gifts, to occupy the Armenian throne.

Flees from civil strife

Shahpur, having failed on the battlefield, now proposed to Valens in 375 that Armenia be divided between the two powers. The Emperor rejected the proposal, but sent Victor Magistrianus to the Persian King to discuss the question. This emissary was cozened into exceeding the bounds of his authority and agreeing to the Persian proposal. In the meantime, the internal condition of Armenia was imperilled through friction between King Varazdat and the grandees, culminating in the assassination of Mushegh Mamikonian, the leader of the latters' party. Manuel, the son of Mushegh, took up arms against the King and compelled him to flee from Armenia in 378, after four years of reign.

Varazdat's life was saved, but the country was thrown into confusion. The Persians took advantage of the turmoil and invaded Armenia; but their occupation was a short-lived one. Shahpur II died in 379, and the Persians evacuated in haste. Manuel, the dynamic Mamikonian, had rallied a formidable national force for action.

Dual reign of Pap's sons

In the hope of putting an end to the anarchy in the land, the pro-Roman party placed upon the throne the two sons of Pap, Arshak p130and Valarshak, incidentally wedding them, the first to the daughter of Manuel and the second to the daughter of Sahak, the Bagratid. Unfortunately, this measure did not bring about the hoped-for peace and order. Discontent and rivalry between the great feudal houses led to new domestic embroilments. Matters were further complicated in the same year by the death of Varshak to whom had been given the administration of the province of Ararat and some neighboring districts.

Armenia partitioned

Theodosius the Great, Roman Emperor since 379, concluded a treaty with Shahpur III in 384, under which the partition of Armenia became a fact. The greater part of the country was then constituted a vassal state under Persian suzerainty. The smaller part, comprising the Karenitid, the Sophene and a section of the Taronitid, formed a Roman province.4 Persian Armenia was ruled by princes of her own Arsacid dynasty for forty years longer, or until its annexation to the Persian Empire.

Subsequent events demonstrated Rome's unwisdom, in betraying Armenia. The Empire was now an immediate neighbor and open target for Persian attack, and the later irruption of the Arabs.

Khosrov's brief reign

Shahpur III appointed Khosrov, a descendant of the Arsacid house, as King of Armenia (385‑391), and gave him a sister in marriage. It was not long, however, until Khosrov was dethroned and placed in confinement at Ctesiphon, apparently for too great assertiveness of his royal authority. He had bestowed the Patriarchal power upon Sahak, son of Nerses and well known for his sympathy with the West. He had also restored many feudal lords to their former status of nobility. Vramshapouh, brother of Khosrov, to whom Shahpur now entrusted the rule of Armenia, was not honored with the title of King until ten years later, when Yazdegert I sat upon the throne at Ctesiphon.5

p131 Vramshapouh a good King

Vramshapouh succeeded in winning the confidence of the Persian monarch, as well as of the pro-Roman party of his country. The election of Sahak to the patriarchate was ratified by Yazdegert; the Patriarch's son-in‑law, Hamazasp Mamikonian, was given the high office of Generalissimo, a heritage as it were, which had for a long time been withheld. These appointments were among the King's prerogatives, as were those of the Mardpet, the guardian of the harem, who was also the administrator of the Royal domain, and the Apset, who placed the crown upon the King's head at his coronation.

Mesrop-Mashtotz

The wise and beneficent reign of Vramshapouh was made particularly illustrious through the agency of a man of exceptional ability and merit named Mesrop-Mashtotz.b A native of the rural community of Taron, Mesrop had studied in one of the schools established by the Katholikos Nerses, acquiring among other things, a mastery of the Greek, Syrian and Persian languages. After several years' service in the army, he was appointed royal secretary. But he was not satisfied in this routine position; his soul was stirred by ideas. He resigned his post and entered into the service of the Church.

But in assuming clerical garb, Mashtotz could not be content with passive virtues. Intellectual pursuits in those days centered in the Church. Since Rome under Constantine had adopted Christianity, science, literature, benevolence and lawmaking had all come into the field of the clergy. Enthusiastic, yet serene and serious, Mesrop had chosen such a career — to preach, to serve, to enlighten, to educate. He was forty years old in 394 when he took over his first field in Goghten, modern Agoulis, in the province of Ararat, where he began teaching and preaching with several associates. Thereafter, he moved to other areas, finding spiritual darkness in the mountain districts in the north and east of the country, where paganism had numerous followers.

Katholikos sees need for Alphabet

After the adoption of Christianity by Armenia in apostolic days, its spread was slow, because Church and community remained far apart. Readings, prayers and chants were conducted in Syriac or p132Greek. Clergymen were mostly aliens who were not acquainted with the Armenian language. Occasional translations did not avail. Congregations could not memorize "anything, not half," exclaims Phaustus Buzandatsi, "not even a trifling trace nor gleam." By a happy coincidence, the Patriarchal See at this time was occupied by Sahak Partev, a scholarly and zealous leader.c To him Mesrop confided his concern, and found that the mind of the Katholikos had long been occupied by the same problem. What was the remedy? They agreed that sermons, prayers and chants should be heard in the people's vernacular; yes, and more than that, a translation of the Scriptures. But there could be no written word, because Armenians had no alphabet with which to write it. The old cuneiform or hieroglyphic, once used in temples and in courts, had been discarded and replaced by Persian or Greek or Syriac. An alphabet was necessary.

Work on Alphabet begun

Another happy coincidence was that so wise a King as Vramshapouh sat upon the throne. He became interested in the project at once, and was its great patron, materially and morally. He told Mesrop that he had heard of an ancient set of Armenian characters in the library of a Syrian bishop named Daniel, in Edessa, and Mesrop, in company with several younger men, hurried to that place to obtain the precious treasure. It was brought to Armenia, but after two years of experiment, proved defective and inadequate. Other clues were followed by Mesrop's young men, all devoted to research — noble pilgrimages, not for commercial or military purposes. There were two centers, Samosat, on the Euphrates in Byzantine territory, and Edessa (Urfa), Syrian under Persian rule, between which the young students were divided, some in each. One of Mesrop's disciples, Korioun, his biographer, tells us how tirelessly his master worked, day and night, how eagerly he traveled everywhere in the hope of obtaining some advice or new idea, how feverishly he toiled and worried and prayed.

Alphabet and Grammar completed, 405

At last, in the year 405, his efforts were crowned with success. According to some ancient Armenian chroniclers, by the addition of twelve letters to those of Daniel — seven vowels and five consonants — p133Mesrop had created what became the present Armenian alphabet6 (the letters "o" and "f" were added in the twelfth century). A Greek expert in penmanship, Rhupanus, arranged the letters, 36 in all, after the Greek order.d The alphabet answers perfectly the phonetic requirements of the mother tongue, and through its use, one can give the exact sound of almost every word in any other language. Mesrop also produced a grammar. The Armenian language had of course always had its fixed grammatical forms, unwritten rules, and Mesrop now reduced these to writing.

Legend of miraculous origin

The tradition that the alphabet was a miraculous creation was permitted to spread in order to pacify the Greek ecclesiastics and the Emperor Theodosius II, who saw in it a new weapon by which the national spirit might be strengthened. And yet it was indeed a miracle! The invention of the alphabet which has assured to this day the preservation of the nation, despite centuries of tribulation and the vicissitudes of fortune, was little short of wonderful in that critical period of Armenia.

Translations

Let us consider the factors which helped the miracle to take form. Two objectives prompted Mesrop — the diffusion of the Christian faith in his country and the emancipation of the Armenians from the influence of foreign preachers. He and Sahak had perceived the ominous signs of an oncoming torrent, and hastened to construct a bulwark against it. The saintly Katholikos busied himself in translating the Old and New Testaments into Armenian, and encouraged the younger clerics to translate the works of the early Church fathers — the writings of Ephrem the Syrian, the Hexameron (six days of creation) of Basil of Caesarea, the homilies of John Chrysostom, the Ecclesiastic History of Eusebius, History of the Conversion of Edessa, the (apocryphal) correspondence of Jesus with Abgar by the Syrian Laboubna, the Syriac Liturgy and that of St. Basil. There are hymns attributed to Mesrop and Sahak.

p134 Mesrop spreads knowledge

Mesrop, the first apostle of Armenian education, now traveled through the country from province to province, from Vagharshapat to Goghten and thence to Vaspurakan, Sewniq, Artsakh, Kartman and even to remote mountain recesses inhabited by the most backward groups, whom Korioun describes as "beastly in habits, barbarians and monstrously inclined." Mesrop preached to these almost forgotten folk in their own dialects, instructed them and opened schools for them. The results were little short of phenomenal. A whole population began to feel the thirst for knowledge and was able to satisfy it. The country boy was taught, together with the offspring of nobility, the grandson of the pagan priest in company with the scion of the Illuminator's house. As time went on, men began to write originally in Armenian — Korioun, Eznik, Agathangelos, Phaustus. "Thus," writes Korioun, "the happy and most desirable country of Armeniaº became an object of admiration, indeed."

Armenia closer knit by reading

So swiftly did the Armenian language grow, blossom and flourish that the intellectual success achieved in so short a space of time is one of the most inspiring chapters in the history of civilization. The Armenian mind longingly turned towards the light of knowledge. No longer did it need the services of self-seeking alien tutors. The various clans, separated from each other by physical and social barriers — mountains, rivers, dialects and traditions — were now being linked together by the spiritual tie of the written and spoken word. The Church therefore, enriched by its own letters, became a moral light, as well as a stronghold for national consolidation. It was the champion of the new spirit amidst brute selfishness and under the oppressive Asiatic atmosphere, spreading the gospel of love and charity, brotherhood and equality.

Oppression checked by the Emperor

But the intellectual dawn was soon to be darkened by gloomy political clouds, These first appeared on the western horizon, where the Greek Governor of Western Armenia forbade the teaching of Armenian letters. A deputation composed of Mesrop and Vardan was dispatched to Constantinople to protest this ruling, and was p135successful. Emperor Theodosius II and his joint ruler Pulcheriae not only granted permission for the teaching of Armenian, but even provided appropriations from the civil list to finance the instruction. Finally, Mesrop was honored with the title "Akumit," ("a man of high learning") while Vardan was created a "Stratelat" or General.

United Nation

Here was a triumph! The nation, long politically divided, was now united, spiritually and intellectually under the aegis of the Church. A band of bright young men, some sixty in number, formerly students in Greek and Syrian, became interpreters, instructors and preachers. To that group were subsequently added forty graduates from Sahak-Masrop Armenian schools. Prominent among these were Hovsep, Hovhan, Ghevond, Gute, Mandakuni, Yeznik, Korioun and Mambreh.

The alphabet had enriched Armenians mentally, spiritually and in moral courage. In 450, at the great Council of Artashat, their leaders, lay and clerical, rejected the demand of the Persian King that they renounce Christianity. They did not give up the fight, but persisted until the Persian monarchy granted religious and political autonomy in 480.

On the death of Vramshapouh in 419, the Katholikos visited the Persian court and obtained Yazdegert's consent to the release of Khosrov from his long imprisonment in the fortress of "Oblivion," and his reinstallation upon the Armenian throne.

Tolerance turned to enmity

For several years after his accession Yazdegert I had been tolerant towards Christians and harsh against Persian magnates and Magian priests.7 The churches of Assyria, as well as those of Armenia, Iberia and Albania, had their autonomous governments, with an official supreme head, the Katholikos. But when in 418 a fanatical Assyrian bishop, Abda, set fire to a Mazdeian temple in Susa, capital of Elam, the King turned against the Christians and persecuted them. In sharp contrast with his former friendly attitude, he now seemed resolved to stamp out Christianity, and with the idea of accomplishingº this end in Armenia, he appointed his own son, Shahpur, as governor of the country in 419. When Yazdegert's reign was ended soon thereafter by assassination, Shahpur returned home to p136claim the throne; but he too quickly fell a victim to the partisans of opposition.

The Hundred-Years' Treaty

With the beginning in 420 of the nineteen-year reign of Bahram V over Persia, hostilities against the Roman Empire and persecution of Christians were intensified. His first expedition into Armenia under Mihr-Nerseh, an able general and astute diplomat, met with defeat in Arzanen. After some indecisive engagements, operations were suspended in 422, and the Hundred Years' Peace treaty was signed, under the terms of which the Persians accorded full religious liberty to Christians, while Romans promised the same rights to the devotees of Zoroaster.

Intrigues against Artashir

In the spirit of this treaty, Bahram sought to placate the Armenians by agreeing to the nomination of Artashir, the seventeen-year‑old son of Vramshapouh, as their King. But the leading members of the nobility soon resumed their intrigues, under pretense of disgust at the youthful King's vices. The old besetting political weakness of the Nation, feudalism, which the monarchy could never quite crush, rose again to plague Armenia. The King was recognized by the nobles as their supreme head, at whose call they must assemble their forces in emergencies; they were his vassals, even when Armenia was entirely in vassalage to one empire or another. When the ruling monarch was powerful enough, his will was the law, and the life of the grandees was in his hands; an insurgent lord might be punished by death or by the loss of all or a part of his possessions.

Kingdom abolished

But Artashir was too young and too weak to cope with this perverse and intractable aristocracy. Taking no heed of the sage argument of the Katholikos Sahak that "a sickly lamb is preferable to a robust wolf," the grandees appealed to the Persian Crown, asking for their ruler's dethronement. Artashir and Sahak were thereupon summoned to Ctesiphon, where Sahak's arguments were of no avail. The King was deprived of his royal title and power in 428, and from that date Armenia was reduced to the status of a Persian province. p137This was the end of the Armenian-Arshakid dynasty after 376 years of existence.

The Armenian court had been a brilliant one at times, resembling in vestments and table service those of the Medes and the Persian Kings — the flowing, gorgeously colored robes of royalty and aristocracy, heavily embroidered in gold and silver and studded with gems, the ceremony highly formal. But all that, through the recalcitrance of the Armenian peerage, had now come to an end.

Deposition of Sahak

Sahak was detained in Ctesiphon, on the charge of being the leader of the Grecophile party in Armenia. He was also informed that he had been deprived of his office as supreme head of the Armenian church. Thus both Arshakid and Pahlavid families vanished from the historical scene. Sahak was so admired in the Persian court for his wisdom, fearlessness and eloquence that he was permitted to return home at the end of six years. He lived six years longer, dying at the age of ninety in 439. Six months later, Mesrop followed him to the grave, having lived to be eighty-five.

Armenian Kings, Patriarchs and Persian Kings
The Arshakid Kings
Trdat III 287‑294 and 297‑330
Khosrov III 331‑339
Tiran 340‑350
Arshak II 350‑367
Pap 367‑374
Varazdat 374‑378
Arshak III-Vagharshak 378‑389
Khosrov IV 385‑387
Vramshapuh 387‑414
Khosrov IV (restored) 415
Shahpur 416‑420
Interregnum, Persian rule 420‑423
Artashes (Artashir) 423‑428
p138 The Patriarchs
The Conversion 305
Grigor 305‑325
Aristakes 325‑332
Vardanes 332‑339
Houssik 339‑347
Paren 347‑351
Nerses 352‑373
Shahak 373‑386
Zaven
Aspourakes
Sahak 387‑4398
The Sassanid Kings
Narseh 293‑303
Hormuzd II 303‑310
Shahpur II 310‑379
Artashir II 379‑383
Shahpur III 383‑389
Bahram IV 389‑399
Yezdegert I 399‑420
Bahram V 420‑439

The Author's Notes:

1 In a letter addressed to the Anchorites, the Patriarch Athanas of Byzantium reproaches Constans for having given to a barbarian (foreigner) the hand of a princess who had been promised to Constantius.

2 The famous Roman historian, Ammianus Marcellinus, who was then in Amida, barely escaped with his life. In his attitude towards the non-Roman peoples of the Empire, this writer, by the way, is far more just and liberal than Livy or Tacitus.

3 Upon his arrival at Antioch, the new Emperor proclaimed himself a Christian, upheld the Nicene creed and rescinded the edicts of Julian against the Christians.

4 Noeldeke gives the date of this partition as 390, during the reign of Bahram IV. Notwithstanding this impolitic act of Theodosius, he is ranked among the saints of the Armenian church, because of his religious orthodoxy!

5 The name Vram-Shapouh (Bahram-Shahpur) had been assumed by the Armenian prince in compliment to his Persian overlord; likewise, his son Artashes called himself Artashir upon his elevation to the throne.

6 The eminent linguist H. Ajarian rejects this view and believes that Mesrop after discarding altogether the so‑called Danielian characters, invented himself the entire Armenian alphabet.

7 Hazkert is the Armenian form of Yazdegert or Yadzgard or Iazdegert.

8 According to Patriarch Ormanian 440 Feb. 17.


Thayer's Notes:

a poisoned Sacrament, a story to be taken with reservations: The tale of the Poisoned Communion Host is frequently told over the centuries, with a varying cast of characters. The most famous target was probably Emperor Henry VII, for whose alleged murder by this means in 1313 Bernardo da Montepulciano was tried and acquitted. The common factor is a highly polemic narrative: it is the story rather than the host that is poisonous. (For further information on the case of Henry VII, see my note to Tobias Smollett's Letter 29.)

b Mesrop: for an excellent summary of his life, see the article Mesrob in the Catholic Encyclopedia.

c Sahak Partev: for a good summary of his life, see the article Isaac of Armenia in the Catholic Encyclopedia.

d 36 letters; the modern Armenian alphabet has 38 letters, two having been added in the twelfth century.

e Theodosius II and his joint ruler Pulcheria — this is going too far: despite her dynastic legitimacy and her power, Pulcheria cannot be said to have been a joint ruler. For details, see Bury's History of the Later Roman Empire, Ch. 1, pp8‑10 and notes, especially note 22.


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Page updated: 20 Jan 05