The House of David

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Monday, March 27, 2017

The pagans of Tarōn

For Faust, the Tarōn canton held the mother church of Armenia; but during the 330s CE, its countryside remained a redoubt of “paganism”. Faust did not define this non-Christian faith – and Faust’s context was a power play between the queen and the priestly family of Gregory. Such is fertile ground for religious-themed calumny, Hawting’s “idea of idolatry”. Our issue here is that modern Armenians still think there was something to it, specifically Hinduism.

“Zenob” elaborates: the Tarōnese are a settled nation all speaking Armenian, fit for military conscription; but they began as a foreign nation, from India. I do not read this in Faust; and Greenwood has settled from other facts that “Zenob” is a late tenth century forgery, thus proving J. Kennedy (for one) an amusingly credulous fool. We are however left with Kennedy’s linkages of the Tarōn heathens with Krishna Hinduism. Even if tenth century, such links are worth explaining, especially if there be any link with Faust’s pagans.

To give credit to “Zenob”, especially given Greenwood’s date, we are sure of at least one Indic people amongst contemporary Armenians. These are the proto-gypsies, Armenian “bosha”. The bosha call themselves Lom over there; Westerners can easily see the name’s relationship to “Roma”.

The various gypsies of the Near East, Iran, and west central Asia speak mongrel Indic, Domari, like our Romany but less Balkan. So pre-Domari was presumably what the Lom spoke when they first entered Armenia. Ian Hancock has data in “On the Migration and Affiliation of the Domba” ed. Yaron Matras, Romani in Contact (Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 1995), 25f.

But the Lom aren’t the peripatetic gypsies of the Balkans; they aren’t even bosha anymore, not really. They have integrated closely into Armenian language and culture, such that their Lomavren language is an Armenian dialect. Indeed in the modern Armenian state few Lom even claim to be Lom. If you want a self-sustaining Lomavren community, you must go to Azerbaijan or Turkey.

For origins, some modern scholars link the Romany / Domari to a ghazwa against the Rajputs in the early 1000s. “Zenob” is, still, too early to reflect a longstanding population of Indians from that source. Note that the Shah Nameh too claims a large crew of Indians in Iran, arriving in the fifth century CE; and the Shah Nameh predates this raid as does “Zenob”. This may derive from Hamza’s story of shah Bahram Gur (r. 420-38 CE) who imported “Zutt” (or, Zott) musicians: Isabel Fonseca, Bury Me Standing (2014), 93. Anyway if one group could leave India and trek west, so could others. So Sir Ralph Lilley Turner, “The Position of Romani in Indo-Aryan” (Gypsy Lore Society, 1927). A tenth-century Domari presence in Armenia is possible.

An alternative is that the Tarōn Hindus came from the Zottistan, a colony of related Zott Indians on the ‘Abbasid Tigris. As of the ninth century these men got to extorting rents as “taxes”, presumably sensing weakness in the Brothers’ Fitna. Al-Ma’mun put the Zott on his to-do list, won his main war, and in 820 launched an attack on the colony. He didn’t live to see it through. “In 834 the next caliph” (i.e., al-Muʿtaṣim) dealt with them in the Iraqi way: screwing with their irrigation canals. Al-Muʿtaṣim destroyed the Zottistan and expelled the losers to the Anatolian front. Tabari under year 220 locates their HQ there at Ayn Zarba on the Med coast: tr. CE Bosworth as v. 33, Storm and Stress (Albany: SUNY, 1991), 11. Here the Roman army solved the caliph’s little problem for him.

Relevant here, Fonseca notes as consensus that the Zott out of Iraq, assuredly Aramaeo-Arabised, could have had little to do with any of the Roma, whose languages today bear little direct Semitic. I would add, for anything Armenian, Ayn Zarba sits on the wrong end of the front. So that’s not my first choice for explaining Tarōn, at least not the core of Tarōn.

Whatever Indian peoples were in Armenia, if they didn’t go native they got caught up in the Seljuk invasions, later on. One band of refugees entered the Byzantine Empire, where the Athos monks met them in 1068 CE: Fonseca, 96. Even without Lomavren, the easterners brought many Armenian loanwords with them.

As for late-antique Tarōn, if Hindus ever set foot there, the local Armenians left no useful record of how they got there. As for Faust: I find unlikely that he intended Hindus, nor that he knew the Tarōnese heathens as anything other than the native Armenian resistance to Saint Gregory.


posted by Zimri on 16:22 | link | 0 comments

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