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Chapter 7
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 9

 p49  Chapter VIII
The Beginnings of Armenia

Period of Legend

The Armenians have their full share of legends regarding their origin; legends in which spirits, gods and superhuman heroes, the forces and phenomena of nature, play dominant parts. In such myths may be traced occasional historical facts. The impossible thing is to disentangle the fact from the fiction. The most pervasive figure in this national folklore which has come down to us through songs and ballads is that of Haik.

The Hero-Ancestor

Haik, the wonder­ful archer, long ago became established in the national legend as the ancestor of the Armenians, bequeathing to them the patronymic Hay, the name which the Armenians apply to themselves. This legend takes us back to that prehistoric epoch when the first Armenians arrived in the land of Urartu, under the leader­ship of a great commander. Haik, according to the story, revolted against a tyrant, Bel of Babylon, and departed for the North with his family and followers. Bel, at the head of a large army, pursued and came upon him. Haik engaged Bel in battle, killed him with an arrow, dispersed his rabble of warriors and freed the land which is known as Hark​1i.e., the country of the Hai people.

The names of the places mentioned in the myths — Hark, Haikashen, Hayotz-tzor, are found around the Lake of Van, the region where the Armenians settled. Haik, the nahapet (tribal chief), whose household included 300 men, waged his success­ful battle in the "land of Ararat." After his victory over Bel, the chieftain proceeded  p50 towards the northwest, whose inhabitants voluntarily submitted to his authority.

This legend is reminiscent of the invasion of the Armenians from the west. The bringing of Haik from the south in the narrative may be traced to the wish of the Christian historians of Armenia — Khorenatsi and others — to connect the story of Haik and Bel with the Biblical narrative of the construction of the Tower of Babel.

An historical character?

Father S. Der Movsessian believes that Haik was "an historical person." He was later deified and worshipped as "Deus Armenicus," the man who led a Hittite colony into Armenia in 580 B.C. and vanquished the last Urartean king, Menuas II, whom tradition has transformed into the tyrant Bel. Gradually the name Haik, derived from Hay, became an adjective or adverb, synonymous with heroic valor, prowess and beauty. This view has been endorsed by another savant, Father S. Matikian, a Mekhitarist of Vienna, who connects Haik with Hai or Hay, the old name of the Armenian people, and offers in support of his argument the names of Assyria, Athens and Rome, each named in honor of its particular deity-hero. Haik, says he, that titan of popular legend, was one of the greatest of gods, equal to the Indra of India, the Assur of Assyria, the Hattu of the Hittites and the Khaldi of the Khaldian-Urarteans. The Haik of Khorenatsi reminds us of Marduk, mentioned in the Bible, a Babylonian divinity (represented in our skies by the planet Mercury) whose arrow slew Bel because of his rebellion against the gods. In a similar manner, the dragon Verethra had been destroyed by Indra, the enemies of Athens by Athene, and the enemies of Germany by Odin. Just as Haik fled from Babylon because of Bel, whom he eventually killed, so Zeus had escaped to the mountains of the Caucasus, later to return to Sicily and hurl fatal arrows into the bodies of his titanic foes.

Haik linked with Orion

Ancient legendary heroes and demigods were often, in popular imagination, transfigured into stars — as in the case of Marduk and Mercury — so that the people would have nightly evidence of their celestial existence. In the old popular sense, Haik means a giant, and in some manner he became connected with the Orion of Greek legend — perhaps because Orion, too, was a hero of fine stature and  p51 features. The latter was accidentally slain by Diana, who was in love with him, and in her remorse she turned him into a brilliant constellation. Other mythological cults saw Orion as the god of the wind and storm;​a the "thunderous Orion" of the Babylonian conception drove away evil spirits. And so it came to pass that this constellation mentioned twice in the Bible (Job IX, 9; XXXVIII, 31) and called Orion in the Greek text, was, in the Armenian translation, turned into Haik.2

The linguistic relation between the names of Haik and Hai or Hay is not entirely clear. The proto­type of Hay or Khay has been traced by some scholars to the name of the great god Khaldi. Father L. Alishan believes that the name Hay was derived from Haik, and that the national patronymic was originally Ha. Ha‑os was the name under which the nation was mentioned by the Georgian historians, the ending os being a Greek usage. The appellation Ha still existed in certain Armenian localities until 1915; also in the plural form Haik or Hek, Khaik or Khek, as in Khekotz-Vank, the monastery of the Armenians.

Tel-el‑Amarna tablets

All the above conjectures concerning the name Hai or Hay were supplemented by discoveries during excavations in Tel-el‑Amarna, Egypt, in 1887. There 350 clay tablets were found, the archives of the Pharaohs Amenophis III and Amenophis IV (1350‑1335 B.C.). The deciphering of these led to the discovery of Hattushash, the capital of the forgotten Hittite empire, at the site of the modern Turkish village of Boghaz-Keuy, near Yozgat, Asia Minor. The cuneiform inscriptions on the Hattushash tablets, deciphered in 1925 by Hugo Winckler and Bedrick Hrozny, disclosed a hitherto unknown state, Hayasa, located in what came to be known as Armenia, northeast of the Hittite empire. "The similarity of the words Hayasa and Hayastan," says Prof. A. Hatch, "is so obvious that I am tempted to declare that the oldest name of Armenia has already been discovered." The form Haystan, however, is of a later date, formed from Hay and Stan. The Persian suffix stansthana in Sanskrit — indicates "the place, the home."

 p52  Origin of the name "Hay"

The etymology of the word Hay still remains a controversial problem. Some authorities derive it from Pet, of an Indo-European language root, meaning ruler. It is said that the Armens who invaded Armenia were called by the subjugated natives Pet. Strange as it may seem, comparative philology has certain formulae of linguistic evolution which make it possible for Pet to become in the course of ages, Hay. For the word peter or pater (father) the Armenian has hayr (pronounced hire), while the word for mother is mayr (pronounced mire).

But other scholars find the origin of Hay in Khald or Hald, the name of the national god Khaldis, worshipped by the early inhabitants of Armenia. Kh here is pronounced like the guttural Χ of the Greek alphabet or the German ch. The ancient Urartean Empire, of which the city of Van was the capital, is known to some scholars also as the Vannic, but more generally as the Khaldean or Haldian empire. By a process of phonetic evolution, Khald becomes Khayd, and then sloughing off the final d, we have Khay. In fact, places still in existence around the Lake of Van were, before the Armenian deportation in the First World-War, called Khaik or Khek, meaning Armenians. In many districts, villages spoke of themselves as Khay, and still thought of the country as Khayastan.

There are yet other theories. P. Jensen, who claimed that the Armenians are the descendants of the Hittites, derived Hay from Hatio-Hatti, another word for Hittite. Father Joseph Sandalgian found in the Vannic inscriptions the word Uas or Huas, the name of the god of wind, whose worshippers were called Huas, a name which, he believed, was gradually metamorphosed into Hay.

Armenia as a Median ally

Cyaxares, King of Media, aided by Babylonia, destroyed the Assyrian kingdom in 605 B.C. and captured its western refuge, Carchemish on the Euphrates. Nineveh, its capital, had already been razed. The Medians put an end, likewise, to the Urartean kingdom, and advancing further west, by 590 were attempting the domination of Asia Minor. The battle, waged between the Medes and the Lydians on the banks of the Halys River on May 28th, 585, was interrupted by a solar eclipse, and peace was concluded, fixing the river as the frontier between the two empires. Media was then a confederation of states, each one maintaining its own religion, language  p53 and laws. By that time, Armens had settled in Armenia, living in neighborly relations with Khaldean-Urarteans and as subjects and allies of the Median kingdom; so states Xenophon in his Cyropedia.

In 550 B.C., Cyrus (Kuros) the Persian monarch, waged war on Astyages (Azhdahag) of Media, and seized his power. The Medes thereupon entered into alliance with the Persians, with the state of Armenia as another member of the federation. The Armenian king, who had two sons, Tigran and Sabaris (Shavarsh), had been defeated by Astyages and compelled to pay annual tribute. The Armenian army was then composed of 40,000 infantrymen and 8,000 cavalry. The king's assets were some 3,000 talents, or about $30,000,000.​b Upon the outbreak of hostilities between Media and Babylonia he had renounced his treaty obligations to the Medes. Cyrus, then commander of the army of Cyaxares, captured the Armenian king and his family, but soon released them through the intercession of Tigran, the king's son, who was a friend and hunting companion of Cyrus.

It may be adduced from Xenophon's story that the Armens who had crossed the Euphrates in the early sixth century B.C. accepted the Median king as their suzerain, in addition to their own chief, whom Xenophon also calls "king" (Basileus). The Armens who occupied and cultivated the plains of their new home, also needed grazing lands for their cattle, and for that reason continued their feud with the Khalds, the inhabitants of the mountain-sides. This friction, which had facilitated the Median predominance in the country, came to an end by reason of the reconciliation — and eventual intermixture of the two main elements — the incoming Armens and the older stock, the Urarteans.

Early Armen kingdom

A folklore poem dealing with Tigran Erouandian, contemporary of Astyages and Cyrus, has caused Khorenatsi to confuse the Tigran of the sixth century B.C. with the Tigran the Great of the first century B.C. However, Xenophon's account, evidently based upon popular songs and stories, confirms the existence of an Armen kingdom immediately after the fall of the Urartean. Savaris (Shavarsh), Vahagn, Nerseh, Zareh, etc., the successors of Tigran Erouandian, were Armens by race, despite their Median or Persian names. The adoption of Iranian names and customs was the result of intimate relations established between the two peoples. Witness  p54 Khorenatsi's narrative of the marriage of Tigran's sister Tigranuhi with Astyages, King of the Medes, whom Tigran was finally forced to slay in battle.

Achaemenid-Persian rule

Armenia had become a dependency of Persia after the fall of the Median empire in 550 B.C. The Armenian contingents, cavalry and infantry, had taken part in Cyrus's conquest of Lydia in 546 and of Babylonia in 539. A rebellion of ten subject nations — one of them Armenia — broke out against Persia during the reign of Darius I (522‑486). The Armenians were compelled to acknowledge defeat after five battles, one of them fought on Assyrian territory. "Arakha, an Armen, the son of Haldita," pretender to the throne of Babylonia, was also defeated and executed. Armenia became thereafter the thirteenth of the twenty provinces of the Empire, ruled by satraps — "khshatrapa" in Persian. Native grandees, however, were permitted to exercise a certain measure of authority under the satraps.

The forced union accomplished among the power­ful states of the East — Assyria, Babylonia, Lydia and Egypt — contributed greatly towards the known world's commercial and financial development. Land and sea communication with India was established during the Achaemenid period. Darius I reopened the canal connecting the River Nile with the Red Sea, which had been dug during the period of the Pharaohs. Darius I also introduced an improved monetary system, and safer and quicker means of travel and transportation. In conjunction with several peoples of the Euxine Sea coast, the Armenian satrapy paid to the Imperial treasury 400 talents, equivalent to $400,000.​c Armenia also supplied the King's stable with 20,000 foals for every annual festival of Mithra. Armenian military forces had been joining the Persian army from the earliest times. Those who served under Xerxes in the invasion of Greece in 480 B.C., says Herodotus, "were armed like the Phrygians, and together with these, they were commanded by Artomex II, son-in‑law of Darius." Their weapons and equipment were all alike. At that time the Armens had occupied only southwestern parts of Armenia, while the Saspeirs and the Urarteans or Alarodians lived in the plains of Ararat. The Persian "royal" highway, connecting Sardice (Lydia) and Susa (Persia) passed across the modern Malatia-Harpout-Diarbekir-Jezireh areas.

The Author's Notes:

1 The terminal letter k changes the word from singular to plural.

2 Which maketh Arcturus, Orion, and Pleiads, and the chambers of the south. (Job IX, 9).

Canst thou bind the sweet influences of Pleiades or loose the bands of Orion? (Job XXXVIII, 31).

Thayer's Notes:

a giant . . . storms: Armenia is in the mainstream of ancient tradition in both respects; see R. H. Allen, Star Names, s.v. Orion, where first the stormy character of the constellation is discussed, then only a couple of paragraphs further down, his identification as a giant.

b 3,000 talents, or about $30,000,000: and so it was in 1958 when Kurkjian wrote. With further inflation, in 2004, a talent would be about $20,000 or £14,000; so the figure is now $60,000,000.

c 400 talents: the 2004 equivalent is $800,000.

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Page updated: 5 Nov 18