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Chapter 3
This webpage reproduces a chapter of
A History of Armenia

by Vahan M. Kurkjian

published by the
Armenian General Benevolent Union of America

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 5

 p19  Chapter IV
Ancestral Stocks

Early Migrations

Who came first to the plateau of Ararat — the Armens or the Urarteans? Both peoples had migrated there from somewhere and later moved again westward. Some scholars see in Urartean art, architecture, language and general culture traces of kinship to the Etruscans of the Italian peninsula. It appears likely that the ancestors of the Urarteans reached the tableland first. Some theorists assert, however, that centuries before the Urartean appearance, there lived in the land an original stratum of Hay-Armens.​1 Kevork Aslan declares that the Armens, peacefully penetrating into these highlands, found there a population akin to themselves in speech and customs. Possibly this refers to the inhabitants of the land of Hayasa.

It seems evident that the two principal ancestral stocks were the Hay and the Armens. National tradition represents the Armenians as descendants of Japheth, Noah's third son, and as coming to the plateau in later centuries from Babylon. They are connected with the Torgom-Togarmah and Ashkenaz of the Old Testament. Tilgarimma (Gurin), a fortress in Melitine (Malatia), is identified with the name Togarmah. Gamir or Gomer, father of Togarmah, is identified with the name of the people called Cimmers or Gimmers, the Gimirri of Assyrian inscriptions. The Ashkanazians, another appellation assumed by the Armenians, are the Azguza of the inscriptions (Ezekiel XXVII, 44; XXXVIII, 6; Jeremiah, LI, 27). According to Khorenatsi (Moses of Khoren), Armenian historian​a — whose source is the Syrian Mar Abas — Haig or Haik, was the son of Togarmah.

 p20  The accepted theory

There are thousands of inscriptions in Armenia still undeciphered. But with the available Greek records, cuneiform inscriptions, Armenian traditions and philological studies, we are led to certain conclusions as to the origin and development of the Armenian people.

As to the history of the people, the accepted theory is that many centuries before our era, their ancestors lived in Europe together with the ancestors of the Greeks, perhaps in Thrace or Thessaly. J. Marquart has pointed to the similarity between the Thessalian words manu and sibyna (or sivyna) and the Armenian words manr (small) and souin (bayonet). The "Geography" ascribed to Khorenatsi has this significant phrase, "Great Thessaly, from which Armenians —" Professor N. Marr draws attention to the identity of the Armenian Astuadz (God) with the Phrygian Sabatius (chief god). In some Armenian communities, God was appealed to or referred to recently as Asbadz. Katholikos John, the historian, mentions Thiras, the ancestor of Haik, as also the ancestor of the Thracians.

Herodotus (484‑425 B.C.) wrote that the Armens, crossing the Hellespont from Europe, had passed through Asia Minor to reach their ultimate homeland. In company with certain Balkan and Grecian tribes, the Armens crossed from Europe into Asia around the beginning of the twelfth century B.C., destroyed the kingdom of the Hatti and settled in Asia Minor for a stay of 600 years. During this long period, the racial, cultural and linguistic traits of the Armenians, even their anthropological type, showed the influence of their neighbors. They seem to have been particularly affected by Nessit-Khets, by non-Indo‑European proto-Khets (Hatti) and by the Subarians (Khurri or Kharri).

Armens in the Iliad?

Marquart believed that he had found references to the Armens in the Iliad. He thinks that the "Arims" from Cappadocia settlements mentioned in that epic as composing a part of the Greek naval forces may have been Armenians. The Vulcan of the Greek legends is now being identified with the Argaeus (Erjyas) Mountain in Cappadocia. Here the Armens lived for some time in the proximity of Phrygian settlers. Some ancient historians claimed that the Armens  p21 were of Phrygian origin, though Father Joseph Sandalgian believed that they were the ancestors, not the descendants of the Phryges.

The first eastward movement of the Armens is thought to have been through the valleys of the Gelkit (Gail-ket or Lupus)​2 River, south of the Black Sea, thence to the upper Euphrates and Ararat. Recent writers, however, incline to the view that the march had been effected towards the southwest of the Armenian plateau, to the provinces of Alzi (Aghtzniq), thence to Taron (Mush) and the upper valleys of the Arzanias River (Eastern Euphrates) and the plain of Ararat. The northern districts, those of Terjan and Erzerum, were conquered later by Artashes-Artaxias I.

Circilius of Pharsalia and Medius of Larissa, fellow-travelers of Alexander the Great, have left an account, according to which the Armens must have moved by two routes, one along the Euphrates towards Akilisene (Erzinga), the other towards the plain of Kharberd (Harpoot) and the mountain valleys of the Tigris River. These settlements were of strategic and commercial value, which indicates that the Armens had been recognized as the military allies of the Medians. Furthermore, the itinerary described almost agrees with the statements of Khorenatsi; Haik the hero, he says, advanced from south of the Lake of Van northward to the lands of Taron and Hark, and thence to Ararat.

Several authorities agree that the incoming Armens were culturally inferior to the native elements, the Hay and others, by whom they were deeply influenced in manners, mode of life, agriculture and crafts, in traders and religious worship. The legends of Haik, Bel, Arama, Ara, Shamiram, Anggh and Torq, which Khorenatsi quoted from the Syrian Mar-Abas, should therefore be traced to pre-Armen origins.

According to Marquart, the name Armen was a compound of the root Arm and the Urartean suffix ini — as in Chaldini and Muskini. He thinks it probable that the Urmeni people of the inscription of Menuas (810‑778 B.C.) at Malatia, were the same as the Arim-Armens who lived in those areas about the time of the completion of the Iliad. This theory, concurred in by Lehmann-Haupt, is further supported in Marquart's opinion, by an Armenian variant of the combat between Zeus and Typhon. Khorenatsi describes the heroic encounter of Aram with the titanic Payapis, in the vicinity of  p22 Argaeus Mountain. Khorenatsi's account may have been an echo of ancient stories about King Aramé of Urartu. Such conclusions are open to criticism, but the Armens spoke an Indo-European language, and there is no doubt, says Professor Manandian, that they were closely related to the Thraco-Phrygians.

The Melting Pot

Professor K. Patkanian believes that of the two component races, the Hay dwelt in the basin of the Lake of Van, the Armens in the valley of the Arax. Another element of considerable importance was the incorporation of the Hittites with the Armens, according to Leo, an Armenian scholar. Professor N. Marr believes that from the natives (of the Hay stock) the Armenians learned industry, agriculture, commerce and religious worship. The classic Armenian tongue, the Grabar, was the expression of that high culture whose origin and blossoming took place in the western and northern parts of the basin of the Lake of Van. Another distinguished scholar, M. Caracashian, thinks the Hay speech dominated that of the Armen, and became the common or royal dialect during the Arsacid (Arshakuni) dynasty.

"It is impossible to contemplate," says he, "without amazement the literary quality of the remnants of that language. The richness, purity, choice, poetic adornment, taste and philosophy found in the style of their exquisite relics, all indicate a high degree of national political and intellectual culture. . . . The Armenian literary language of the first half of the fifth century (A.D.), which our translators . . . did not create, but did learn . . . is a marvelous work, if not a miracle itself, and the only mark of its past greatness left by the Armenian kingdom."

Starting point

According to the best authorities, the Scythians, emerging from Chinese frontiers in the interior of Asia in the beginning of the ninth century B.C., had, after long wandering, settled in the southwestern portions of Russia, adjacent to the shores of the Black Sea. Some years afterward, they began to spread to right and left, some of them towards the Caucasus and Armenia, others towards Thrace and Asia Minor. Cimmerians or Gamirs, who had preceded them into Cappadocia, and from whom that country had received another of its names, Gamirk, were now pushed eastward, to thrust,  p23 in their turn, the Armen settlers of the region towards Armenia. The Scythians, also known as the Ashcusa, Ashkanazian or Sace, have left as their memorial in Armenia, the district of Shacasen, in the province of Uti.

According to one theory, the Armenians, under this pressure from the west, receded eastward, crossed the Euphrates, and becoming divided into three groups, they penetrated into Akilisene, Taron and Atiapene, on the Assyrian frontier, and finally into the valley of the Arax. Here, about the end of the fifth century B.C., the Alarodians lived, occupying a distinct area with the Mitannians. It was during this period, the eighth and seventh centuries B.C., when human hordes were rolling like tidal waves hither and yon, uprooting populations and revolutionizing the political and social life of Asia Minor, that the Armenians were finally settled in what came to be their national home.

Aborigines absorbed Urarteans

Despite the migrational cataclysms, large groups of the aborigines remained intact in many places, especially in mountain retreats; and these were from time to time welded into the Armenian people. From their first settlements in the southwestern portions of the Armenian highlands and plains — where they were known as Arminiya by the old Persians, and Arminioi by the Greeks — they spread northward into the valley of the Kur, absorbing various tribes. "Under political divisions suggesting the existence of various kings," says François Lenormant, "a study of the names of cities, provinces and regions, also of personalities and deities, demonstrates a great racial and linguistic unity among the inhabitants of that vast country, and a religious system closely binding together the numerous independent kingdoms." However, more than a dozen alien tribes or races are found to have been ingredients in the Armenian melting pot. Professor H. Manandian enumerates the following — Mards, Khalds, Garduchs, Aramaeans, Alarods (Urarteans), Madiens, Saspirs, Outis, Miks and Paskirs.

Lenormant pictures the early Armenians as "a vigorous, hardy and warlike people, accustomed to the rigors of an ice-cold climate, attached to its homeland, but ready to sacrifice possession, even life, for liberty." The "ice-cold climate" is of course a slight exaggeration; winters are severe in the higher mountain areas, but on the whole, the climate is temperate. Jacques de Morgan remarks; "in the course  p24 of the events which upset Asia, the Armenians stood fast in their newly-conquered land and valiantly retained their nationality, language and mores down to our day. . . . Their brothers the Phrygians, are now only a vague memory. The Hellenes, the Italiots and the Gallians alone from among their contemporaries survive at present. . . . Titles of nobility in this race are more than 3000 years old, older than those of the majority of the European nations. (Even) India and China can hardly claim such antiquity of origin."

Just how close the connection was between the Armenians and the Urartean monarchy is not clear. Some are inclined to find in the Armenian historical writings of Khorenatsi traces of royal and princely names of the Khaldi-Urartean state — Aram from Aramé, Manavaz from Menuas, Armenak-Armaniek from Ermina, Anushavan from Inuspuas. Father Der Sahakian, the Mekhitarist, lists 40 of the 256 Armenian clans as of Urartean descent.

Sandalgian gives an instance proving the recognition even by the rulers of Urartu of the widespread use of the Armenian tongue. King Aram, after conquering Cappadocia, "ordered the inhabitants of the land to learn and speak the Armenian language." This historian also tells us that garrisons of 10,000 men each were stationed by King Valarces (Vagharshak) for the defense of the frontiers, while exarchs were appointed in the East, "along the borders of Armenian speech."

Urartu, after three centuries as a "world power," making conquests and fighting toe to toe with the mightiest of ancient empires, Assyria, finally fell before the might of Darius I, King of Persia in 518 B.C. The names Biaina (Van) and Thuspa (Tosp) were thereupon changed to Armenia, and an Armenian kingdom began to rise on the ruins of Urartu.

Opposition to Persia, then Alliance

The Armenian element had long since become conspicuous in the Persian armies under Xerxes and Darius. An Armenian prince, Tigran Erouandian, at the head of an Armenian contingent of 20,000 infantry and 4,000 cavalry, accompanied Cyrus when he took the Lydian capital, Sardice, in 546 B.C. and captured King Croesus. It had not been easy for Darius I to subdue Armenia. "I, King Daraya-ush," says he, "sent to Armenia my servant Dadarsis, an Armenian, and bade him Go! and chastise that rebel people which does not obey me." But despite the supposed support of the god  p25 Ormizd, the Persian army suffered three defeats within thirty-one days. Its general was thereupon dismissed, and victory finally won by another Persian commander. An Armenian prince named Arakha, by impersonating Nabuchodonosor, the son of Nabonidas, was even able to hold the Babylonian throne for a short time. Armenia or Arminya as Darius knew it ("Harminayap" in Susian inscriptions) was the eighteenth of the twenty-four satrapies of the empire. Of the eight armies of Persia, one was under the command of an Armenian, presumably Tigran Erouandian, mentioned above.

Cyrus the Great (ca. 559‑529 B.C.) and the Persian kings who followed him respected the cultural and social identity of all nations within their domains.​3 The Armenian language, though as yet unwritten, was the medium of general intercourse on both banks of the Arax and Euphrates Rivers. The Armenians also had their own distinctive temples of worship, customs, dress and weapons. With the advent of the Persian Achaemenid rule, Armenia, together with the Mari (Medians) and other nations, was subjected to Persia from 519 to 486 B.C.; later, in 330 B.C. to the Macedonians, and finally, to the Seleucidae until 189 B.C. Although under foreign rule, they were, during these centuries, developing their own kingdom and became, culturally, economically and ethnographically, the conquerors of the plateau which came to bear their name.4

The Author's Notes:

1 The name Hay (Armenian), to be pronounced as "high."

2 Gel or Kail in Armenian means wolf; ket means river.

3 In the first year of the reign of Cyrus, he commanded that the house of the Lord at Jerusalem should be built again, where they do sacrifice with continual fire." (I Esdras, VI, 24). Cyrus liberated the Jews from their seventy years of captivity in Babylon.

Thayer's Note: While this may be true, the student needs to beware of modern exaggerations elicited by various contemporary propagandistic agendas of our own; see the pages on the Cyrus Cylinder at Livius.

4 Father Leonce Alishan, writing about a century ago, contributed a curious bit of lore when he listed a number of European peoples who represented or believed themselves to be originally emigrants from Armenia. Among them were the Pelasgians, Pannonians, Bavarians, Irish, Etruscans, Dalmatians, Sapinians, Tuscans, Czechs, Saxons and others. This Mekhitarist erudite scholar then chides those modern Armenians who "ignore the seniority, the centrality of their own nation, its traditions and testimonials, and the wonder­ful formation and richness of its national language."

Thayer's Note:

a Khorenatsi (Moses of Khoren), Armenian historian: Moses of Khoren appears to have been a distinguished 5c Armenian, alright; but since the 19c most Western scholars are agreed on critical grounds that the History of Armenia under his name was written by an unknown person in the 8‑9c. See for example the good article Moses of Chorene in the Catholic Encyclopedia (1911); and for a very full treatment of some of the problems, with an attempt to establish a motive for the work, see History of the Armenians, Moses Khorenats'i: Commentary on the Literary Sources by R. Thomson (1978), on Vassil Karloukovski's site.

A complete original Armenian-language text of the History is online at TITUS (Thesaurus Indogermanischer Text- und Sprachmaterialien).

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Page updated: 15 Dec 06