5th to 15th Centuries
Rev. ZAVEN ARZOUMANIAN, PhD
- From Mesrob Mashtots, 406 AD, to Hagop Meghabard, 1512 AD, a journey from the Invention of the Armenian alphabet and the translation of the Holy Bible into Armenian by St Sahag Catholicos, down to the Printing of the first books in 1512. A journey with some fifty original writings of contemporary authors who transmitted our history authentically from the Apostles and the Illuminators, down to the first printings of the six books, culminating in the final printing of the Holy Bible in 1666 by Vosgan Vartabed of Yerevan.
- The 5th c. Armenian Bible became the rock foundation of all historians who lived
through the succeeding centuries and brought our culture and civilization on a panoramic view in the midst of political upheavals, and periodically through our own Armenian independent kingdoms of the Arshakuni, Bakratuni, and the kingdom of Cilicia.
- Who were those historians who chained the Armenian ancient literature in an amazing way? Names are available, so are their books written most of the time as eyewitnesses. Of course we do not have their own original writings on parchments, but only copies of copies down the centuries, in the Armenian monasteries of higher education, from generation to generation.
- From the fifth to the 8th c. names such authors as Movses khorenatsi, Bavstos of Byzance, Agathangelos, and Koriun, Yeznig, Yeghishe and Ghazar Barpetsi, were the leading historians of the earlier Arshakuni kingdom, the history of the Byzantine Empire, the fall of our Arshakuni kingdom in 428, and simultaneously the rise of literacy in Armenia, following the invention of the letters and the translation of the Bible by Sts. Sahag and Mesrob, during the exact years of the fall. Secular kingdom fell, and at the same time another kingdom, that of letters and literature, arts and architecture, Biblical and Liturgical life in the Armenian Church flourished.
- Later historians, such as Sebeos, Ghevond, Asohgik, Aristakes of Lastivert, Giragos of Gandzak and Vartan Areveltsi, wrote more accurately providing proper names and locations, in the midst of the endless confrontations of the enemies who invaded Armenia constantly.
- Sebeos, an internationally acclaimed Armenian historian of the 7th c. wrote on the earliest invasion of the Arabs and on the Byzantine interference in the affairs of Armenia, when we had no king, but only vassal princes subject both to the Arabs and to the Greeks. A century later, historian Ghevond the Priest wrote his History of the Arabs invading Palestine and Armenia immediately after the Islam religion was proclaimed in 622. Ghevond’s History was translated into English for the first time by me as my doctoral theses at Columbia University, and published twice, in 1982 and 2006.
- At the same time new historians continued writing on Armenia and the Armenians in the 9th c. when the Arabs and the Byzantine Empire were forced to recognize the Bagratuni Kingdom in the Armenian capital Dvin, later in Kars, and finally in Ani. It lasted 160 years, from 885 to 1045. This was the second kingdom since the fall of the Arshakuni dynasty in 428 AD.
- Those 160 years under the Bugratuni Kings Ashot I, II, III, and Smbat I, II, and Gagik I, II, cities were built, commerce bloomed, churches were built, centers of higher education opened, and literary production was at its peak. Historians of the Bagratuni Kingdom were Catholicos Hovhannes Drasghanakertsi, Stepannos Taronatsi Asoghik, Thomas Ardzruni, and Ukhtanes Bishop of Sebastia, whose two volumes I translated for the first time into English.
- Unfortunately, after the fall of the Bagratuni kingdom in the middle of 11th c, Seljuk and Tatar hordes came from central Asia and destroyed Armenia on their way to the west, to meet the Byzantine army. The historians of the period are Aristakes of Lastivert, Giragos of Gandzak and Vartan Areveltsi, who wrote extensively with detail about the terrible events that happened in Armenia.
- Against all odds however, education, culture, religion, manuscripts and libraries remained steadfast. Monasteries offered higher education and a number of distinguished clergy, among them the leading Monasteries of Datev, Haghbat and Sanahin, Noravank and Glatsor, Hovhanna Vank and Haghardzin, all of them in proper Armenia, still remain after periodic renovations as sites of historic monuments before the visitors.
- Church architecture went hand in hand with the scriptorium which is the collection of the art of handwriting manuscripts with quality illustrations, both in Armenia and Cilicia, many of which amazingly surviving as of today. While the Cilician Kingdom (1080-1375) and the Seat of the Catholicos of All Armenians were both established outside Armenia temporarily, many famous centers of education came into being in Cilicia which produced Gospels and secular volumes of the highest artwork possible.