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Armenian Legends and Poems [1916] at

The most momentous event in the national life of Armenia--an event which was the chief determining factor in the early history of the country--was the change of religion made by the adoption of Christianity, the foundation of which had been already laid by King Abgarus (A.D. 3-34) and the preaching of the Apostles St. Thaddeus (A.D. 33-48) and St. Bartholomew (A.D. 49), and finally established by Tiridates (A.D. 286-342). By this the Armenians were entirely severed from the pagan Persians and brought into close contact with the Greeks, whose representative was then the Emperor of Byzantium. As a result of this religious agreement, a treaty was concluded in 319 between Tiridates and Constantine, the first Christian Emperor of Rome, by which the two Christian monarchs bound themselves to defend each other against all pagans.

The adoption of Christianity meant, to the Armenians, a revolution in their whole view of life, a severance from their ancestral beliefs, though these beliefs have left traces in Armenian folklore which are visible even to this day. These beliefs and the folklore arising out of them were regarded by the Christian clergy as a poisonous flower grown up in the fields of paganism. The historians of the period have chronicled the efforts of the clergy to exterminate every relic of the old faith. Temples were pulled down and churches built in their stead; images and other monuments were broken in pieces; heathen books and records were destroyed; pagan festivals were turned into Christian ones. We learn from Faustus of Byzantium that laws were even made against the use and the singing of pagan songs, but, notwithstanding this persecution, according to Faustus and other historians, the Armenians "languished for these songs." Even as late as the fifth century, when there was an attempt to restore paganism in Armenia, Vasak Suni had books of these songs copied and distributed among the people in order to win them back to heathenism. This had the effect of rekindling hostility against the songs, and the books were destroyed when Christianity finally triumphed, although, as we have shown above, echoes of the songs are to be heard as late as the eleventh century.

Gregory the Illuminator (A.D. 239-325), who converted Armenia to Christianity, belonged

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to the royal race of the Arsacidae. He had studied at Caesarea. He and his family had hellenising tendencies in religion, education, and politics. There was a section opposed to Hellenism which favoured Syrian ideas and, in politics, inclined to Persia. At this early period of Christianity, the Bible was read in Greek in the north-west provinces of Armenia, while in the south-east provinces it was read in Syriac. During this period, schools were established for the education of the young on Christian principles. Out of the pupils in these schools about 100 were chosen to be sent to educational centres abroad, where Greek learning was taught. At the time when this contact of Armenians with Greek culture took place, the ancient glories of Hellas were past, and Greek scholars busied themselves chiefly with theological subtilties. Of course the main object of educating the students from the Christian schools was to indoctrinate them in religious lore and fit them for the priesthood, but, nevertheless, the youths also brought away with them a tincture of Greek culture, and this led to the rise of the Golden Age of Armenian literature.

It was the aim of the Greek Empire at this time to make the Armenian Church a branch of the Greek Church and to gain a political ascendency over the Armenians, but the head of the Armenian Church and the leaders of the intellectual movement were resolved on religious. and national independence. Towards that end two important steps were taken. In 404, the Armenian alphabet was invented, and, in 491, the Armenian Church was separated from the Greek Church.

The Armenian language belongs to the Indo-European group. Though it has been regarded by some as an offshoot of the Iranic branch, recent scholars of eminence have maintained its right to rank as a distinct branch, intermediate between the Iranic and the European. It has a very independent character and many peculiarities of its own; it has also great strength and flexibility. It has a great number of roots, and is capable of expressing ideas of all kinds and denoting fine shades of meaning. It is read from left to right like European languages. It is rich in particles, to which circumstance its expressiveness is partly due. It has also a treasure of dialectic words, which have the effect of importing vigour to Armenian speech. It is not harsh in sound, as has been alleged by some who are imperfectly acquainted with it. Its alphabet consists of thirty-six characters, with which it is possible to represent every variety of sound, consisting of vowels as well as consonants; it has no vowel points, in this respect resembling the European, and differing from most oriental, alphabets. The spelling is almost perfectly phonetic.

The language of the period with which we are dealing was Grabar or Ancient Armenian, which remained the literary language till the beginning of the nineteenth century and is still

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the Church language, being used in all religious services. Modern Armenian has not departed very widely from Grabar. During pagan times, the Armenians had an alphabet of their own, but, on the introduction of Christianity, it was discarded on account of its pagan origin.

The honour of being the inventor of the new Armenian alphabet belongs to St. Mesrop (361-440), a former secretary of King Tiridates. He found some of the ancient letters and invented others to complete the alphabet in 404. St. Mesrop and St. Sahak (353-439) were the forerunners of the Armenian intellectual movement, the former as the inventor of the alphabet, the latter, together with his pupils, as the translator of the Bible into Armenian. This translation is called "the Queen of Translations." The language is so simple and direct, and, at the same time, so beautiful, that there is nothing to be compared with it.

The Armenian translation of the Bible is the foundation-stone of Armenian Christianity. Perhaps no translation of the Scriptures has ever made so deep an impression on a people as this one has made on the Armenians. By them it was taken as a symbolical history of their own country. Did not the events recorded in the very first chapters happen in Armenia? and also the second Creation after the Flood? Did not their beloved mountain, Ararat, figure in the latter story? In the Bible they found even the names of their national heroes, Haik and Vahagn, though, as we have seen, for the latter names only the translators are responsible. Other Bible stories resemble the records of Armenian history. Moses led his tribe from the land of bondage into a land of freedom, just as Haik did. All the stories of suffering under a foreign yoke and of revolt against oppression have their parallels in the annals of Armenia.


151:1 Translations of Moses of Khorene: Latin (with Armenian text), Whiston (G. & G.), London, 1736; Italian, Cappelletti (G.), Venice, 1841; Tommaseo (H.), Venice, 1849-50; German, Lauer (M.), Regensburg, 1869; French (with Armenian text), Le Vaillant de Florivel (P. E.), Paris, 1841 (2 vols.), and in Langlois’ Collection, vol. ii.; Russian, M. Emin, Moscow.

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