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The Bulgars in Armenia - a key to the earliest Bulgarian history

Armenia in the Late Antiquity - Movses Horenaci and his “History of Armenia”

During the late antiquity and the early medieval times Armenia was a constant military and political ground for the struggle between Rome and Parthia, Rome and Sassanid Persia, Sassanid Persia and Byzantium, Byzantium and the Arab caliphate. The earliest Armenian history is connected with the dynasty of the Ervandakanides (Orontides) and comprises the time from the break-up of Achaemenid Persia up to the II c. BC. The Seleucid satraps Artashes (Artaksius) and Zarekh (Zariadr) conquered the Armenian highlands, but after the defeat of Antioch III by Rome (190/189 BC) at Magnesia, they entered in negotiations with the victors. Artashes proclaimed himself for king of Great Armenia, Zarekh - of Sophene, and it was the beginning of the epoch of the Arashesides.

Since mid-III c. BC the newly formed Parthian state was the rising power in the east and a century later, after successful wars against the Seleucides in the west, its boundaries reached the river of Euphrates in Northern Mesopotamia. During the reign of Mithridates II (123-87 BC) Parthia was already a neighbour of Great Armenia of Tigran II (95-55 BC) and of Rome. At the end of the I c. BC and the beginning of the I c. AD Armenia became the battle-ground between the two great powers. The dynasty of the Artashesides went slowly on a decline and in the second half of the I c. AD it was replaced on the throne by the Parthian dynasty of the Arshakides. This naturalized dynasty was to rule Armenia, with small interruptions, for almost four centuries. Although in 226 AD in the east Parthia was replaced by the new Persian empire of the Sassanides, the Arshakides kept ruling Armenia till 428 AD when the country lost all sings of a state sovereignty in both its Roman and Parthian parts, in which it was divided into in 387 AD. And as it often happens in such turning points in the history of the peoples, the broken sword was replaced by the pen and the word. Catholicos Sakhak Partev (389-439 AD) inspired Mesrop Mashtoc (362-440 AD) in the creation of the Armenian alphabet and translated the Bible in Armenian. At the same time a number of their students (Mambre, David the Invincible, Egishe, Josep, Eznak, Moshe, etc.) were sent to the west in order to prepare themselves for the task of the translation and the use of the liturgical books. Among these students was Movses Horenaci. Besides the liturgical there also appeared a secular literature, especially works in the historiography. And as the western Roman historiography was in a decline at that time, while the eastern (Byzantine)  one was still looking for its new image, the V c. Ad became the century of the Armenian historiography. The names of Agathangel, Favstos Buzand, Egishe, Lasar Parpeci stand next to that of Movses Horenaci as the founders of the Armenian Christian historiographical tradition. The Bulgar ethnicon appears more than once in their works but it was mentioned for a first time exactly by Movses Horenaci.

What do we know about him and his “History of Armenia”? M. Horenaci was born around 410 AD and according to the “Chronograph” of Samuel Aneci (XII c.), died in 490 AD. Initially, he studied under Catholicos Sakhak and Mesrop Mashtoc and when they decided to produce the final edition of  Septuagint in Armenian, Horenaci, together with other talented men, went to the west in order to prepare himself for the task. The first stop in their travel to Alexandria was at Edessa and it was there that Horenaci saw the famous Edessa archive. N. Emin suggests that the Nineveh archive of the  Parthian kings still contained something from the archive of the Seleucides, notwithstanding the fact that one part of the archive had been already transferred to Ecbatana. Mar Abas Katina had the material for his history taken exactly from from the Nineveh archive and brought it to the royal archive at Nisibin. Later the whole archive of Nisibin was transferred to Edessa. There was also stored the temple archive of Sinope at Pontus. Even the “Temple history” of Ani on Euphrates is connected to the Edessa archive. Its first part was written  by the priest Olympius (Olyump) and describes events happened up to the II c. AD. The second part was written by Bardacan (154-222 AD) - a native of Edessa. The similarities between the informations of the “Temple history”, especially of its first part, to those provided by the last Aramaic inscriptions and Strabo are so striking, and at the time of Artashes I (189-160 BC) at that, that the Armenian historians suppose Strabo and Olympius relied on a common original source. If such a hypothetical source did exist, its author was most probably the king historian Artavazd II (55-34 BC) (For more details see [1]). Thus the archive used by M. Horenaci had been old and reliable enough in order the shed off our scepticism regarding the reliability of the evidence presented. In his work M. Horenaci refers repeatedly to the problem of the archive sources and it was obvious that the Edessa archive was of paramount importance for the creation of his history [See book II, 10; 27; 38, etc.]. Eusebius of Caesarea also wrote about the Edessa archive. The famous “Chronicle of Edessa” apparently had also its source from there. After Edessa M. Horenaci went to Alexandria where he probably had access to the works of Cyrillus of Alexandria or Olympiodorus. On his way to the Athens a sea storm diverted his ship to Italy and from there, via Greece and Asia Minor, M. Horenaci returned to Armenia in 440 AD only to find that his teachers were already dead. At the end of his stormy and dedicated to the interest of his people life M. Horenaci was asked by the great nakharar (prince) Sakhak Bagratune to compose a history of Armenia. This task was accomplished by him between the years of 483 and 485 AD. In the first part Horenaci presented the legendary history of the Armenian people up to the time of Alexander of Macedon. The second part, and especially after the reign of Artashes I (189-160 BC), however, already has concrete correlations with the Greco-Roman historiography [2].

The archaeology also confirms the reliability of the Horenaci's data. There were discovered the small stone pyramids bearing the name of Artashes, which marked the former land boundaries in Armenia. According to the armenists the main sources for Horenaci's history were: Mar Abas Katina - for book II, 1-9; the “Chronographiai” of Sextus Julius Africanus (III c. AD) from the Creation of the world to 221 AD - for b. II, 10-25 (N. Emin also includes the archives of Edessa and Sinope among the sources for the “Chronographiai”); Lebubna - for b. II, 26-36; Olympius and Bardacan - b. II, 36-66; Agathangel - b. II, 67-92, etc. The second part of Horenaci's history with the description of the event around the adoption of Christianity by Armenia and the death of the first Christian ruler Trdat III (298-314 AD). It is exactly there were the most controversial questions concerning the early Bulgarian history arise.

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1. Sarkisjan G., the “History of Armenia” of Movses Horenaci, Erevan, 1991;
Horenaci M., History of Armenia, Erevan, 1990, p. XXXII, etc.

2. See for example Polybius, The Histories, b. XXV, 2, 12; b. XXXI,  1, 17, 5-6.