The House of David

"dawnbreak in the west"

Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Bagratid history

One of our sources, if you can call it that, for pre-Islamic Armenian history is a work by one Movses "Khorenats'i" (whatever "Khorena" means). Movses claimed to write in the fifth century CE. Sometimes his text follows that: for instance, "Elymais" for the land a later generation would call Khuzistan.

In 1978, Robert Thomson translated Movses into English. Thomson prepended an introduction, which you may read here. In it Thomson lists the following anachronisms which Movses had missed, and which later scholars hadn't:

  • I 12 Moses is the first Armenian writer to equate Siunik' and Sisakan. The latter term is first found in Syriac in the sixth century; in the seventh-century Armenian Ashkharhats'oyts' it refers to a canton, not the whole province.
  • I 14 Moses knows of four Armenias. These four Byzantine provinces were not so organized until 536 A.D. (By Justinian).
  • II 62 Moses refers to the territory east of Lake Van as Vaspurakan, a term used only after the partition of Armenia in 591. Not until the early eighth century Narratio de Rebus Armeniae is Vaspurakan used to designate a province in the same sense as Moses uses it.
  • II 65 Moses refers to the Khazars, not mentioned in other Armenian sources before the seventh-century Ashkharhats'oyts'.
  • III 18 Moses knows of an Iranian advance into Bithynia. Only in the 604-629 war did the Iranians advance so far west.
  • III 46 Moses refers to two positions, Presiding Prince and Comes, in Byzantine Armenia; this reflects the position after Heraclius' victory over Iran in 629.

Thomson relies here upon Toumanoff, "The dates of the Pseudo-Moses of Chorence", Handes Amsorya 75 (1961).

Opinion today is divided. The Armenian historian Robert Bedrosian accepts Thomson, as do most Western scholars. Andrew M Watson thought Movses was interpolated. On Wikipedia, to which I ain't linking, one can find a bevy of pro-Armenian hasbara defending the early date for Movses presented as if it were the last word. Nicolas Wade accepts Movses at face value, perhaps for the sake of argument.

Thomson goes further and sees Movses as a supporter of the Bagratunis, Bagratids as a Greek might put it. The era most friendly to Bagratid partisans would be the later 700s AD, when the 'Abbasids were generally sponsoring the Bagratids. Movses dislikes the Mamikoneans, who were the Bagratids' rivals up to 773 AD; since the Mamikoneans dwindled after that, no-one had standing to rebut Movses's history. I agree there was little point in slandering Mamikoneans after 773 AD. We do need a date somewhere 630-770.

Pace Thomson Moses' History reflects the period when the Bagratids were gaining the upper hand over their Mamikonean rivals, there was more than one such period. Also I don't see mention of Ishmael or Hagar in Movses, as I expect in an Islamic-era history, especially if an Arab caliph were calling the shots. (Movses seems more interested in relating the Bagratids to the Jews...) Thomson, especially in 1978, was fallible.

For Movses, I prefer a time when the Bagratids were defending Christendom. We still must rule out the 650s, when the Bagratids united with their (later?) rivals the Mamikoneans, against Theodore Rshtuni who had joined the Arabs. Maybe we can point to the 690s when Smbat was curopalate on the Romans' behalf. Or perhaps to the 680s when Ashot Bagratuni was ruling Armenia independently of Rome and the Arabs both.

posted by Zimri on 17:52 | link | 0 comments

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