H. F. B. (Harry Finnis Blosse) Lynch.

Armenia, travels and studies (Volume 1) online

. (page 31 of 49)
Online LibraryH. F. B. (Harry Finnis Blosse) LynchArmenia, travels and studies (Volume 1) → online text (page 31 of 49)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

cruel treatment compelled the youthful king to take refuge in the
Empire.^ But the triumph of Shapur was not destined to be of
long duration ; the young Tiridates grew up and prospered in
the territory and under the protection of the Romans ; and, after
distinguishing himself by personal bravery in a campaign of the
emperor against the Goths, was restored to his native dominions
with the support of a Roman army and perhaps in consequence
of the victory of Odaenathus, prince of Palmyra, over the armies
of the Persian king (264 or 265).- It was in the first year of
his restoration that occurred an event which no Armenian can
hear related without experiencing a thrill of emotion.

When the son of Anak, the murderer, who was being
educated in Roman territory, at Cssarea, the capital of Cappa-
docia, had come to years of discretion, he was informed — perhaps
after his marriage and the birth of two children — by the faithful
guardian or governess under whose care he had grown up, of the
crime committed by his father. Forthwith the pious youth — for
he had been brought up in the Christian faith — sallied forth in
search of the son of the murdered monarch, and attached himself
to the person of the exiled Tiridates, whom he commenced to
serve with the utmost zeal. Upon the subject of his origin
and parentage Gregory maintained a wise silence ; but he was

^ Elisoeus ^'ardapet (ap. Langlois, Collection des hists. de P Arfn^nie, vol. ii. p. 206)
gives the text of a petition despatched by the Armenian nobles to Theodosiiis II., in
which occurs the following passage : — . . . "our king Tiridates, while yet a child, was
taken to Greek territory and educated there in order to escape from his cruel and
parricidal uncles. ..." On the other hand, Agathangelus leads us to infer that
Ardashir took possession of Armenia after the murder of Chosroes and that it was then
that the child Tiridates was taken to Greece. In this statement he comes into conflict
with Zonaras, who tells us (xii. 21) that it was only in the time of Gallus (252 or 253)
that the Persians were able to possess themselves of Armenia, after the flight of the
king, Tiridates. It does not seem open to doubt that it was not Ardashir but his
successor Shapur I. who became master of Armenia ; and these various sources may
perhaps be partially reconciled in the manner suggested by Von Gutschmid {Kleine
Schrifteii, iii. 405) and adopted in my text. Von Gutschmid interprets par7-icidal in
the sense of the uncles having murdered, or helped to murder, not their own father but
the father of Tiridates.

- The campaign of Odaenathus against Shapur is placed in 265 by Robertson Smith
(article Palmyra in Ency. Brit.) and in 264 by Mommsen {Provinces of Roman
Empire, ii. 104). We learn from \'opiscus (Atirel. 27) that an Armenian contingent
was enrolled under the banner of Zenobia against the Emperor Aurelian in 271. What
was the attitude of Tiridates during the war ?


290 Armenia

unable or unwilling to conceal his religion, which at that time
happened to be not only unpopular, but subject to persecution.^
Tiridates in vain endeavoured to wean his servant from the
Christian faith ; time after time he assailed his constancy with
reproach and even with imprisonment ; but the decisive moment
arrived when he had recovered his long -lost dominions, and
stood within the famous temple of Anahid, hard by the present
town of Erzinjan. At the feast which followed the sacrifice he
gave vent to his emotion in words characteristic of a king.
Addressing his trusty counsellor among the assembled guests,
he commanded him to make an offering of garlands and leafy
branches to the shrine of the great goddess ; and, upon his
refusal, " How dare you," exclaimed the king, " adore a God whom
I do not adore ? " The resources of persuasion and torture were
without effect upon the will of the Christian ; and the monarch
was meditating some fresh inducement when one of the nobles
approached and said : " Sire, this Gregory is not deserving of life,
and hence his unwillingness to live and see the light. We knew
not who he was, this long while that he has sojourned among us
— but now we know : he is son of that Anak who killed thy royal
father, and to whom Armenia owed her exhaustion and captivity."
When Tiridates heard these words, he gave orders to bind the
martyr and to conduct him to the castle of Artaxata. There he
was cast into a pit of great depth, where he was left to perish.

For thirteen years Gregory languished in this noisome
dungeon, forgotten by the world but saved from death by the
ministrations of a widow who resided in the castle. The hatred
or fear of the Christians, so early manifest in the new reign, was
emphasised by Tiridates in a pompous edict, which admonished
his subjects to beware of the resentment of the gods — of
Aramazd, who gave fertility ; of Anahid, the goddess defender ; of
Vahagn, the courageous god. The king had been a witness — so
it proceeded — during his sojourn in the Empire, of the great
solicitude of the Caesars for the cult of the national divinities, to
the prosperity and glory of their people. Following the example
of his august instructors, he bade his subjects, nobles and peasants,
to lay hands on any offender against the gods. They should
bind him, hand and foot, and bring him to the gate of the palace.

1 Tiridates was no doiil^t influenced by the persecutions of the emperors Decius
(249-251) and Valerian (253-260). The latter persecution took place during the last
three and a half years of the reign of Valerian.

Edgniiatsin and the Arinenian Church 291

His lands and possessions would be bestowed upon the denouncer.
The religious policy of a Decius and a Valerian was at least
extended by Tiridates to the holier sphere of legitimate homicide.
At the head of the Roman cavalry he rode down the Persian
cohorts, and among his levies were reckoned a contingent of
Huns. Of lofty stature and broad shoulders, his appearance
was the signal of victory ; and it became a proverb that Tiridates
would destroy the dams in his impatience, and in his courage
arrest the rivers in their course towards the sea.

At the point where the historian I have been following was
perhaps about to change his theme, and to present the opposite
picture of a king and people overtaken by calamities which
could only be attributed to the wrath of heaven, the priestly
compiler of the Agathangelus treatise has gone to work with his
scissors, and has substituted for the more straightforward account
of the authority he was using one of those prolix and portentous
legends, familiar to the student of hagiographical literature, which
were at once the outcome of the diseased fancy of the cloister
and the food with which it was sustained. The tale of the
advent of the Roman virgins, of the assault upon the modesty
of the fairest among them, of their martyrdom and of the trans-
formation of the royal violator into a wild boar, wallowing in mud
and eating grass, bears the imprint at every phase of a monkish
invention, which was probably stolen in its essential features from
the literature of Greek monasteries and adapted to the local
conditions at Vagharshapat.^ But carelessness or want of skill on

1 Agathangelus is our earliest authority for the reign of Tiridates and for the events
connected with the conversion of the Armenians as a nation to Christianity. But the
scholars who examined this precious treatise were impressed with the scale and frequency
of the interpolations to which the original text appeared to have been subjected ; and
partly for this reason, partly owing to the former ascendency of Moses of Khorene, full
use was not made of the work. In 1877 there appeared in the pages of a German
periodical one of those masterpieces of the higher criticism of which German writers now
appear to have a monopoly. It is entitled Agathangelos, by Alfred von Gutschmid, and
it has been incorporated in the collected edition of Von Gutschmid's minor works {Kkiiie
Schriften von A. von Gutschmid, Leipzic, 1892, vol. iii. pp. 339 seg.). The author
laboured under the disadvantage of not being an Armenian scholar ; but he has never-
theless succeeded in discriminating between the various sources from which the treatise,
as it has come down to us, has been built up. They are — i. An earliest source which
we may call the Life of St. Gregory, and which also contains an account, running parallel,
of the reigns of Chosroes and Tiridates down to the conversion of the latter. \'on
Gutschmid thinks that this writing was composed in Armenian during the pontificate of
Sahak, or Isaac, the Great (a.d. 391-442). It seems more probable, however, that it
was originally written in Greek or Syriac and subsequently translated into Armenian.
2. A later piece which we may distinguish as the Acts of St. Gregory and of St. Rifsivie
and her Companions. It is a hagiograph, which Von Gutschmid supposes to have been
written about the year 450. It seems to me, however, that a certain passage in Faustus

292 Armenia

the part of the compiler has happily preserved for us a fragment
of the original story, from which we learn that the Armenians
were afflicted by an extraordinary outbreak of diverse diseases :
leprosy, palsy, dropsy, madness.^ We are given to infer that the
king himself was visited by some grave malady, and that he was
cured in a miraculous manner upon the appearance and at the
hands of Gregory, who had long been numbered among the dead.'

of Byzantium (iii. 13, in Langlois' translation, "jusqu'a changer meme I'image de
rhomme en une figure de bete ") points to that author having been acquainted with the
Acts ; at all events he is familiar with the legend of the Ripsimians. Faustus appears
to have written 395-416. To the Acts portion of the Agathangelus treatise belongs a
long and possibly independent piece which contains the teaching of St. Gregory ; but
neither the Greek version nor the extant translations include it, and I am not aware
that any consecutive account of its contents has yet appeared. In the Armenian text
this last piece takes up over one-half of the treatise as a whole. And finally — 3. The
I'isiou or Apocalypse of St. Gregojy, in which the saint receives the Divine mandate to
build the church at Edgmiatsin. This piece, together with the prologue and epilogue
to the whole work, was probably added by a priest of Vagharshapat (Edgmiatsin), who
edited the treatise and gave it its present form, publishing it under the pseudonym of
Agathangelus. Von Gutschmid thinks that the work as a whole may be assigned to
the period of Persian persecution (a.D. 452-456). The fact that Lazar Pharpetzi
displays an intimate acquaintance with it under the name of Agathangelus shows that
it cannot be placed later than about the close of the fifth century. I do not know,
however, that Lazar shows a knowledge of the Apocalypse, or that the statement con-
tained in a Paris MS. can be conclusively disproved, that the Armenian text which has
come down to us is a translation made in the seventh century, at the time of the discovery
under Komitas of the relics of St. Ripsime, from a Greek original. Von Gutschmid,
however, argues against this view (pp. 354 seq.). Ter-Mikelean [Die arntenische Kirche,
p. 5) supports the view that the work was translated at the close of the fourth century
by Koriun from a Greek original (see Langlois, vol. ii. Introduction to A'oriim, p. 4) ;
but Von Gutschmid has shown that certain passages have been borrowed from Koriun,
and until the Armenian text has been subjected to a searching philological criticism we
are not safe in saying more than this. The student will find the various pieces enumer-
ated aliove distinguished one from another, passage by passage, in the table given by
\on Gutschmid (pp. 375 seq.). The latest edition of our present Greek text, which is
a translation from the Armenian, is that of De Lagarde (Gottingen, 1887), but the
references given in my notes are to that of Langlois. The best translation is that of the
Mekhitarists in Italian (Venice, 1843). The French translation in Langlois omits some
of the most important passages. As regards the historical importance of the pieces, Von
Gutschmid concludes that the Life may be regarded as a source of absolute reliability
for the conversion of the king and for the events in Armenia which succeeded the con-
version. As regards what look jjlace before that event, it is in the main reliable, although
interwoven with legend. The Acts, on the other hand, and the Apocalypse arc as good
as useless as historical material.

The scholarly study of \'on Gutschmid rendered possible Professor Gelzer's profound
and brilliant essay, Die Aufiiiii^e dcr armenischen Kirche, to which I have already
alluded (p. 277, note l) and in which he reviews the work of the Armenian writer known
to us under the name of l-'austus of Byzantium.

^ See p. 145 of the Italian translation of Agathangelus. \'on Ciutschmiil {Kleinc
Schriften, iii. 358) is careful to point (nit the discrepancy in the two sources. While
the Acts speak of possession by devils as the malady with which the people of Vaghar-
shapat were afflicted and which caused them to i)e transformed into animals, the Life
only mentions " possession " as one of the diseases which are enumerated.

■■' See the Italian translation, ]). 153.

Edgmiatsin and the Anneiiian Church 293

We are told how, from all parts of Armenia, the people flocked to
the province of Ararat, to Vagharshapat, the royal residence; how
they were cured of their various disorders ; and how king and
people embraced the faith in the service of which the saintly
doctor had effected their cure. The testimony of the historian is
supported by a Greek writer of the fifth century, who attributes
the conversion of King Tiridates to a miracle.^

It is not unlikely that the mind of the monarch was influenced
by some occurrence of the nature deducible from the mangled
narrative of the original biographer. Tiridates was a full-blooded
heathen, prone to all forms of superstition, and free from any
taint of rationalising tendencies. Yet we may suspect that the
number and power of the Armenian Christians prior to his
conversion loomed much larger in the consciousness of himself
and of his contemporaries than we are led to suppose by Armenian
histories. Was he desirous of finding a counterpoise to the
Mazdaism of his Persian enemy, which had been elevated by the
Sasanians into a strongly organised State religion and identified
with the throne? Was he impressed with the cohesion of the
Christians among themselves, and by the contrast thus offered to
the fissiparous tendencies of his feudal polity ? Was the widow
in the castle of Artaxata a Christian, and was the old authority
of the prisoner in the king's counsels exploited by her co-religionists
at an opportune moment, when his wisdom should appear restored,
as by a miracle, to a necessitous land ? If such questions be
mere matters of surmise, we at least know that at the date of the
conversion the Roman Empire was hesitating in a policy towards
the Christians, and that the repressive measures of a Valerian were
no longer in repute." The Armenian king became a convert before
their revival under Diocletian (284-305); and Christianity was
adopted as the religion of the State in Armenia some thirty years
prior to its triumph in the West by the decisive action of the
Milvian Bridge (312), and over a hundred years before the edicts
of Theodosius the First against the practice of paganism.'^

I Sozomen, ii. 8. He places the conversion before Constantine, but does not give
the exact date.

"- " With Gallienus (260) there begins for the Christians a long period of peace,
lasting about forty years" (Moeller, History of the Christian Church, A.I). 1-600,
London, 1892, p. 196).

3 It seems impossible to precise the date of the conversion of Tiridates. The author
of the Life in Agathangelus allows thirteen years for the captivity of C}regory, who was
imprisoned in the first year of the restoration. But I am not aware that we are able to
fix this latter date. The conversion probably occurred about the year 280.

2 94 Armenia

The measures taken by Tiridates and his statesman and
mentor, Gregory, to supplant polytheism by Christianity were
such as might have excited the envy of a Caesar, and which only
an Eastern despot could hope to enforce. From Vagharshapat
the king proceeded down the valley to Artaxata at the head of
the troops which garrisoned the capital. On the way he set iire
to the temple of the god Dir, from whom he is said to have
derived his name (Dirtad or gift of Dir).^ In a graphic figure
our historian likens the priests and their followers to demons ;
and he relates how, some on horseback, others on foot, and all
fully armed, they hurried hither and thither, gesticulating and
screaming, until they were put to flight. But the swarm took
refuge in the temple of Anahid at Artaxata, where from the roof
they discharged arrows and precipitated a hail of stones upon the
advancing host. Gregory, making the sign of the Cross, ran to
the gate of the edifice, which dissolved into its foundations,
wreathed in flames. The dusky troop vanished like a puff of
smoke from the face of the land, to Caucasus and Chaldia - in
the north. The treasures of the temple were distributed among
the needy ; some of the priests were selected or accepted for the
service of the Church, to which body was also allotted the
confiscated land.

King and minister travelled the country in all directions,
preaching,-' overthrowing temples and endowing the Church with
their rich possessions. One after another the most famous
sanctuaries succumbed to the royal zeal : the fane of Aramazd,
father of the gods, at Ani, the modern Kemakh, the burial-place
of the kings ; that of Nanea, daughter of Aramazd, at Til, beyond
the Western Euphrates ; the temple of Mithra, son of Aramazd,
at Pakharij in Terjan, and the temple of Barshamin at Tortan.
A more personal delight may have thrilled the saint — if saints be
capable of such emotions — as he shattered the golden statue of
the goddess Anahid at Erzinjan, and watched the lofty walls of
her numerous shrines sinking to the level of the ground. They
were the most magnificent of all the sacred edifices in Armenia,
and they were defended to the last by quite an army of dusky foes.
Within the vacant enclosures was erected the sign of the Cross.

Months and perhaps years were occupied in the overthrow of

1 Emin, Reclicrchcs siir le pa,i^auisiiic aiiiu'iiicii, y. 20, note I.
^ The I'onlic regions.

^ The king himself preached (Agathangchis, Life of St. Cirgory, in p. 253 of the
Italian translation).

Edgmiatsm and the Armenian Church 295

these strongholds of paganism ; ^ but it was not until after the
return of Gregory from ordination at Caesarea of Cappadocia,
whither he was escorted by sixteen of the great nobles and
conducted in a car drawn by white mules," that king and people
received at the hands of the minister, no longer a layman, the
crowning benefit of baptism. The first act of Gregory upon his
return to his native country was to destroy the temples of
Astishat in the province of Taron (Mush), which lay upon his
road and which were still frequented. These were three in
number and dedicated to three gods. The first was the shrine of
Vahagn, destroyer of serpents ; the second belonged to Anahid,
the golden mother ; while the third preserved the cult of the
goddess Astghik, the Aphrodite of the fair mythology of Greece.
They were situated on the summit of Mount Karke, close to the
Euphrates, and in full view of the chain of the Taurus mountains.
The place was called Astishat because of the frequent sacrifices
which were offered up ; and it was there that the kings of
Armenia had been wont to appease the gods. The saint was
carrying with him certain relics obtained in Roman territory,
namely a parcel of the bones of St. John the Baptist and of those
of the holy martyr Athenogenes.'^ When his numerous party had

1 I insert the word "years" in deference to Professor Gelzer, who argues {Die
Anf tinge, etc., p. i66) that if the conversion took place about the year 280, the journey
to CiEsarea could scarcely have been undertaken before 285-290. He is wishing to
show that the statements contained in a portion of the Agathangelus treatise ascribed by
Von Gutschmid to the less reliable source, viz. the Acts, to the effect that St. Gregory
was ordained by Leontius, archbishop of Caesarea, may quite well be true. We know
that Leontius subscribed the Council of Nice (325) ; and his pontificate must have
covered a period of forty-five years if St. Gregory was ordained by him in or about the
year 280. The Life mentions the visit of Gregory to Caesarea but not the name of
Leontius ; and Von Gutschmid, while he regards the visit as historical, views with
suspicion the connection with that particular prelate {Kkine Schnffen, iii. pp. 415 and
418). That seems to me the sensible view. We learn from an independent source
(Gelas. Cyzic. ii. 36, ap. Mansi, ii. p. 929) that in the year 325 and during the lifetime
of Saint Gregory and Leontius, Great Armenia was in ecclesiastical subordination to
Ccesarea ; and the link with the capital of Cappadocia was maintained until the death of
the Katholikos Nerses L about the year 374 (cp. Faustus, v. 29). The later story, to
the effect that Tiridates received Christianity from the bishop of Rome (so in the
petition of the Armenians in the year 450 to Theodosius, ap. Elisceus in Langlois, ii.
206), is plainly a story with a purpose and must therefore be viewed with suspicion.

2 The car with the white mules is mentioned in the Life, and the escort of sixteen
princes in the Acts.

■5 A bishop of Sivas with this name was martyred under Diocletian ; but this saint
will not suit our chronology. Certain features in connection with the cult of the saint —
a hind is offered up to him on his name day — have suggested to Von Gutschmid {Kleine
Schriften, iii. 414) that Athenogenes was a heathen god of the chase, converted in
comparatively remote times into -a Christian martyr. A local cult of this nature seems
to have attached to Herakles in certain countries ; therefore it might quite well have
been natural for Gregory to supplant the worship of his Armenian counterpart, Vahagn,

296 Armenia

arrived in front of the temples, and were not further from the
Euphrates than a space which a horseman would cover in two
careers of his steed, the white mules of the car with the relics
came to a standstill in the hollow of a valley, where there was a
little water and which still remained to be crossed. Efforts were
being made in vain to induce them to proceed, when an angel
appeared to Gregory and signified the Divine Will. The relics
should be deposited upon the spot where they were stationed.
Forthwith the entire company busied themselves with the erection
of a chapel, where in due course the bones of the saints were laid
to rest. The next care of pontiff and princes was to demolish the
temples of the idols which stood above the valley. In their place
Gregory laid the foundations of a church, and erected an altar to
the glory of God.^ It was here that he first commenced to build
churches, and to erect altars in the name of Christ. For twenty
days he sojourned on the spot ; and having prepared fonts for
baptism, baptized first the great princes who had journeyed with
him, and next the people to the number of over a hundred and
ninety thousand. In the chapel of St. John and Athenogenes he
dispensed the holy sacrament ; and it was ordained that an
annual festival should be celebrated in that place in honour of the
saints and in commemoration of the first foundation of Christian
churches and ordination of Christian priests. From Astishat the
Illuminator journeyed to Bagaran in the province of Ararat ;
but it was at the foot of Mount Nepat and on the banks of the
river Euphrates that the son of Anak administered to king and
assembled army the regenerating rite. A church was erected
upon the site and endowed with a remnant of the relics ; and a
festival was appointed in honour of the saints in place of that of
Amanor, at the season of first fruits."-

at Astishat with that of Athenogenes, the saint corresponding to the god of the chase.
This is ingenious but not convincing. The hunting features in the cult of Athenogenes
may surely have been derived from his worship at Astishat in place of Vahagn

^ I adopt the Greek version of Agathangelus in this passage in preference to tlie

Online LibraryH. F. B. (Harry Finnis Blosse) LynchArmenia, travels and studies (Volume 1) → online text (page 31 of 49)