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History of the Armenians, Moses Khorenats'i
Commentary on the Literary Sources by R. Thomson

Moses and classical Greek literature

The prime concern of the inventor of the Armenian alphabet, Mashtots', was the translation of texts useful for the church. Naturally the mass of material translated from Greek and Syriac in the first century of Armenian literacy was ecclesiastically oriented, [52] but works by the philosophers Plato and Philo were also rendered into Armenian, and some Armenians were familiar with a far wider range of non-Christian texts in the original Greek. After the fifth century there was a development of interest in Aristotelian philosophy, represented by translations and original commentaries on logic, the translation of Porphyry's Eisagoge, and the translation of works by Aristotle. The study of


grammar and rhetoric, mathematics, and astronomy was also pursued in Armenia. But outside these somewhat technical fields little of the ancient classical literature was rendered into Armenian, and few Armenians showed any interest in Homer, Sophocles, or other literary figures. [53] Moses was no exception. Although he refers several times to stories from the Iliad or Odyssey, he is always quoting at second hand. He used other texts to give the impression that he had received a good classical education.

Moses has several references to ancient Greek deities and legendary heroes. He mentions Hephaistos, the first man and inventor of fire (I 7), but this reference comes from the Armenian version of Eusebius' Chronicle. The heroic exploits of Vahagn are likened to those of Heracles (I 31), but this identification of Vahagn and Heracles was standard in early Armenian literature. [54] Pluto appears in III 62, but this mention comes from the Armenian version of Ps.-Callisthenes' Alexander Romance. The story of Pasiphae and the Minotaur (II 37) seems to be based on Philo, and the reference to Niobe in I 18 may be based on the Book of Chries. Moses mentions the images of Artemis, Heracles, and Apollo (II 12), but he is merely elaborating on Agathangelos and the Armenian Alexander Romance. The reference to the sculptors Scyllas and Dipenes, in the same chapter is probably taken from a patristic source. The reference to Pegasus (II 62) comes from the Alexander Romance.

Moses also refers to Homer and to episodes from the Iliad and Odyssey. His general reference to the Ilian war (I 32) is taken from Eusebius' Chronicle. The similes involving Odysseus' slaughtering Penelope's suitors and the struggle of Lapitha and the Centaurs (II 63) are taken from the Alexander Romance. The comparison between Achilles and Thersites (III 19) comes from the Armenian version of Theon's Progymnasmata or the Armenian version of the Scholia of Nonnus. [55] The reference to Achilles' jumping the Scamander (III 40) is from the Alexander Romance, there being no exact parallel in the Iliad. But the reference to Alexander's being the twenty-fourth descendant of Achilles (II 1) is taken from Eusebius' Chronicle.


None of Moses' references to classical authors is based on a personal reading of the original texts. His reference to Ptolemy and the geographers (I 30) is based on the first section of the Ashkharats'oyts'; the quotation ascribed to Plato (Fables, at note 5) is taken verbatim from the Armenian of Philo, who in turn is quoting a Pythagorean, not Platonic, saying; the reference to Herodotus and the division of the world into three regions (II 2) is taken from the Armenian version of Theon's Progymnasmata; and the assertion that "some histories" tell of Cyrus' conquest of Lydia (II 13) is taken from the Armenian version of Eusebius' Chronicle.

Moses therefore depends for his knowledge of classical mythology and literature on Armenian sources: the translations of Eusebius' Chronicle, of Ps.-Callisthenes' Alexander Romance, of Theon's Progymnasmata, of Nonnus' Scholia, of works by Philo of Alexandria, and perhaps the Book of Chries. Moses does not seem to have quoted Nonnus elsewhere, but Theon provided him with a rhetorical aphorism (I 8)—which Moses attributes to Arshak the Great—and a definition of the art of historical writing (I 1). The Book of Chries is in a rather different category, not least because it is an original Armenian composition traditionally ascribed to Moses himself. Although no definite verbal dependence by Moses on this rhetorical textbook can be proved, it does serve as an illustrative epitome of Armenian interest in classical learning and rhetoric. [56]


Of historical works written in Greek Moses uses widely five that were available in Armenian: Josephus, the Alexander Romance of Ps.-Callisthenes, the Chronicle and Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius of Caesarea, and the Ecclesiastical History of Socrates. There are also numerous parallels between Moses and Malalas. No Armenian version of Malalas is attested, and if Moses is in fact acquainted with this chronicle firsthand, he does not quote it so precisely as he does his other sources. The parallels are these:

II 13 The Pythian oracle concerning Chroesus; cf. Malalas, Chronographia, pp. 155-6.
II 76 The death of Emperor Tacitus in the land of the Tsans; cf. Malalas, pp. 301-2.
II 79 The war of Probus against the Goths, his murder instigated by famine; cf. Malalas, p. 302.
II 83 The signum that appeared to Constantine (this term is not in the Acts of Silvester, Moses' main source for the episode); cf. Malalas, pp. 316-7.
II 87 Shapuh asks Constantine for peace; cf. Malalas, p. 317
II 88 The description of Constantinople; cf. Malalas, p. 320. [57]
III 12 Constantius' death at Mopsuestia; cf. Malalas, pp. 325-6
III 21 The story of Rodanus and Emperor Valentinian; cf. Malalas, p. 339.
III 29 The death of Valentinian, Valens' war against the Goths; cf. Malalas, pp. 341-2.
III 33 Theodosius' destruction of temples; cf. Malalas, p. 343 [58]
II 39 Theodosius and the massacre at Thessalonica; cf. Malalas, p. 347.
III 41 The spelling of Milan — parallel to Malalas' Mizulanum, p. 348.
There are also a few details common to Moses and the Chronicon Pascale not found in Malalas:
II 79 The reference to Cams' sons.
II 88 An addition to Malalas' description of Constantinople.
III 33 Constantine closed (but did not destroy) the pagan temples. [59]
It is difficult to prove that Moses is quoting from either Malalas or the Chronicon Pascale because the verbal parallels are rarely very close. The three writers are indebted to common sources, many of which are now lost. Of Ammianus Marcellinus, whose history (in Latin) is a prime source for the fourth century, Moses shows no knowledge whatever.



Of the historical works that Moses does use, the Alexander Romance is in a special category. [60] Moses uses it not as a source for historical events (that is, for the life of Alexander) but as a mine for literary borrowings, adapting many of its striking phrases, descriptions, or even whole episodes to his own narrative. Just as Moses adapted passages from the books of Maccabees, he does so, though in greater number, from Ps.-Callisthenes. They can be divided into two groups: examples of imagery or brief parallels, and more extended and closer borrowings. Examples of brief verbal parallels are:

I 11 The hill where Bel was slain; Proteus' tomb on an eminence on the island of Pharos (§84).
I 15 Semiramis as "lascivious"; Nectanebo's desires on queen Olympias (§6).
II 12 Bronze images of Artemis, Heracles, and Apollo; those of Heracles and Athena (§274).
II 14 The statue of Barshamin embellished with ivory, crystal, and silver; the tablet with a horoscope made of ivory and crystal (§8).
II 33 The ending of Abgar's letter to Tiberius; Zeuxis' letter to Philip and Olympias (§39).
II 60 The burial of Artashes; that of Darius in §209 (though here Moses depends primarily on Josephus).
II 62 References to Pegasus (cf. §31).
II 63 Trdat Bagratuni enamored of Nazinik; Pausanias enamored of Olympias (§67).
II 79 King Trdat's love of horse riding; that of Alexander (§32).
III 17 Shapuh's title; that of Darius (§103); Shapuh invites Tiran to consultations; Darius asks his generals' advice (§150).
III 21 Valentinian's anger; that of Iollas at being struck by Alexander (§262).
III 32 Khad's abusers are assailed; Alexander slays the guests at his father's second marriage (§58).
III 47 Mesrop reflects on the end of the Armenian kingdom; Nectanebo reflects on the Egyptian kingdom (§4).
III 57 Anatolius' title in Sahak's address; that given to Alexander by the Persians (§203).
III 58 The nobles of western Armenia gather around Mesrop; the levies respond to Alexander's call for soldiers (§71).
In the preceding examples Moses adapted a striking phrase to enliven his own narrative. Some of the brief correspondences might be considered fortuitous were it not for the clear impact that the Alexander Romance had on Moses, as evidence by the following adaptations of whole episodes:
II 46 The battle between Artashes and Eruand and that between Alexander and Darius (§§ 114-16).
II 63 Trdat Bagratuni likened to Odysseus slaughtering Penelope's suitors, and the image of the struggle between Lapiths and Centaurs at Perithous' marriage. Trdat's behavior is modeled on that of Pausanias attempting to snatch away Olympias at a singing festival, and the classical similes come from the account of Alexander at his father's second marriage feast (§§58-9, 67).
III 26 Shapuh's siege of Tigranakert; that of Tyr by Alexander (§100).
III 40 Varazdat's prowess at sport; the description of contests at Pisa (§49).
III 62 The extended description of Alexandria (§§79, 84, 88, 97).


The Alexander Romance served Moses Khorenats'i as a literary source in the sense that he took over passages for descriptive purposes. Quite different was his use of the Jewish Wars by Josephus, for here he adapts passages that originally had nothing to do with Armenia and makes them refer to supposed episodes in Armenian history. The only surviving Armenian translation of Josephus' Wars was made in 1660 by Stephen of Lvov from the Latin version; it was printed in 1787 in Constantinople. However, Conybeare was undoubtedly right in seeing this riot as a translation de novo but as a rehandling or revision of an earlier translation made before the time of Moses. The verbal parallels between this printed text and Moses are so many, so precise, and sometimes so extended, that it is inconceivable that a translation


made from Latin could provide such parallels fortuitously. [61] Moses quotes Josephus by name on five occasions, but each reference is attended by suspicious circumstances.

I 4 Moses refers to two columns erected by Enos, "as Josephus says," but their location was unknown. However, Josephus, Antiquities (I 2.3), does not mention Enos, although he does mention the spot where the columns were erected (Siriad). It is doubtful that Moses was acquainted with the Antiquities as opposed to the Jewish Wars; here the reference to Josephus probably comes at second hand. There are, in fact, two very clear examples of Moses referring to Josephus at second hand:

II 26 Worms grew inside Herod, "as Josephus narrates"; but this is a direct citation from the Armenian version of Eusebius' Chronicle (2:260) and Ecclesiastical History (I 7), where Josephus is indeed mentioned as the source.

II 35 "Josephus bears witness" to Helen's charity. This account of Helen has been taken from the Armenian version of Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History (II 12), where Josephus is quoted.

If these indirect references may be forgiven as literary license, nonetheless on two other occasions Moses definitely distorts his reading of Josephus:
II 10 Moses says that Josephus and others corroborate
Africanus where the latter quotes from the Edessan archives concerning Armenia. But these archives— supposedly brought from Nisibis and Sinope—are a figment of Moses' own imagination. [62]
II 15 Moses says that Josephus corroborates his own fanciful account of the death of Mithridates of Pontus— at the hands of Pontius Pilate's father! He then quotes Jewish Wars (I 6.6); but this passage merely states that news reached Pompey near Jericho of Mithridates' death. Josephus has no reference to the father of Pontius Pilate. Moses provides us with another example of his etymological ingenuity. He seems to imply that the Latin name Pontius is associated with the Anatolian province Pontus.
In light of these mystifications, it is not suprising that Moses frequently uses Josephus without so acknowledging. We may first note some examples of adaptation for literary effect, and then the more interesting examples of the false introduction of Armenia onto the world scene.
II 50, 85 For his accounts of the invasions of Alans and Basilk' Moses adapts Josephus' description of the Alan invasion into Armenia, Wars (VII 7.4), in which Tiridates was nearly captured by being caught in a net and the Parthian king ransomed his wife and harem.

II 60 Part of the description of Artashes' funeral is taken from Josephus' account of Herod's funeral, Wars (I 23-9).

III 45 The description of men in suspended iron chests attacking thieves in a cave is based on Josephus, Wars (I 16.4).

The most elaborate of Moses' adaptations of Josephus' Wars come in book II. Here Moses has two main purposes: to boost the international significance of the Armenian kings Tigran and Artavazd in the wars between Rome and Parthia and to account for the Jewish colonies in Armenia and the Jewish origin of the Bagratuni family, to whom his work is dedicated.

II 14 Josephus (Wars I 5.3) says that Tigran withdrew from the siege of Ptolemais because of Lucullus' ar-
rival in Armenia; Moses changes Lucullus into a "brigand" Vaykun, who gave his name to a district in northeastern Armenia.

II 15 Josephus (Wars I 6.2) says that Scaurus was sent from Armenia (where Pompey was fighting Tigran) to Syria; Moses omits the reference to Armenia and says Scaurus was sent to Syria to fight Tigran (who had left because of Vaykun, as in II 14).

II 16 Josephus (Wars I 8.7) says that Gabinius led an attack on the Parthians; Moses claims that Gabinius opposed Tigran but was forced to retreat.

II 17 Moses makes Tigran the victor over Crassus at Charrae instead of the Parthians (cf. Wars I 8.8).

II 18 Again Tigran and the Armenians, instead of the Parthians, are introduced as the opponents of the Romans—this time under Cassius (cf. Wars I 8.9).

II 19 The Parthian Barzaphran is made into an Armenian —prince of the Rshtunik'—and the Parthian Pacorus, a cup bearer, is made into the Armenian Gnel Gnuni (cf. Wars 113).

II 20 Moses has the Armenians throw Silon back on Vendidius; Josephus (Wars 1 16.4) merely says the latter summoned Silon.

II 23 Moses makes no reference to the Parthians as the object of Antony's war but claims that Artavazd was his target (cf. Wars I 18.5).

II 24 Moses claims that the Armenians, not the Parthians, held prisoner Hyrcanus, the Jewish high priest, and later released him (cf. Wars 122).

II 26 Moses claims that Herod's nephew Joseph was killed by the Armenian army under Abgar; but this was Herod's brother, and he was killed in the mountains near Jericho (Wars I 17.1).

In view of these idiosyncratic elaborations to Josephus, we must look with some caution on Moses' description of the Jewish colonies settled in Armenia in the time of Tigran. In II 14 he tells of Tigran's many Jewish captives taken from Palestine who were then settled in Armavir (II 16). A later colony was settled in Van at the time of Hyrcanus' captivity (II 19). According to Moses the Jews from Armavir were moved to Eruandashat when Eruand built his new capital (II 39). Then when Artashes became king he built another new capital, Artashat; once again


the Jewish captives were moved (II 49). In II 65 Moses refers to the Jewish settlement at Valarshapat established by Tigran. The Jewish colonies in the three towns of Van, Artashat, and Valarshapat are mentioned again in III 35. Here lies the clue, for in that chapter Moses was following the account of Faustos who (IV 55) describes the destruction of those cities by the Persians and the removal of the population, including Jews. Faustos associates the origin of the Jewish communities in Armenia with Tigran, though he does erroneously place this in the time of Hyrcanus' captivity.

What Moses has done with his account of the Jewish colonies in Armenia is parallel to what he did with his account of the origin of Armenian idol worship. The use that Moses made of information in Agathangelos about Armenian paganism was studied in detail long ago, notably by Carriere, [63] who demonstrated clearly enough that Moses knew nothing more about pagan Armenia than what he found in his sources. The important thing is not that Moses presents his information in a different order but that he has explanations. Familiar with the identification of Aramazd with Zeus, Anahit with Artemis, and so forth, Moses is able to claim that statues of the various Greek deities were brought to Armenia by King Artashes I after his war against Chroesus, king of Lydia (II 12). Artashes' son Tigran then built temples for these statues—at the very sites described in Agathangelos that Gregory visited on his idol-smashing journeys. The statue of the Syrian deity Barshamin Tigran brought from Mesopotamia at the time of his wars in Palestine. In other words, the Greek or Syrian origin of these cult statues gave Moses a clue. Choosing a suitable example of Armenian intervention in Greek or Syrian lands—real or imagined—he asserts that this was the occasion for the introduction of specific idols.

Instead of merely repeating his information, Moses integrates the deails into his own framework. True to his dictum of no true history without chronology, Moses fits the information taken from Faustos into his narrative chronologically. He is not an independent witness but is rewriting in vivid terms what was previously known.

Sometimes this attitude to historiography has plausibility, but sometimes it is a complete fraud. Such is the case with the integration of Armenian nobles into the story of Armenian-Parthian-Roman relations based on Josephus and especially with


the justification of the Bagratid claim to a Jewish origin. Here is a clear example of a claim to ancient pedigree—politically valuable when the Bagratuni family had risen to preeminence—carefully elaborated by a series of references to supposedly historical events in far earlier times. Then the argument is clinched by linguistic evidence—a series of far-fetched parallels between biblical and Armenian personal names.

At the time of Nebuchadnezzar, says Moses (I 22), the contemporary Armenian king, the legendary Hracheay, requested the Assyrian monarch for one of his leading Jewish captives, Shambat, whom he settled in Armenia; from Shambat descended the Bagratids. Thus two points are immediately established: the antiquity of the family and their social prominence, Shambat enjoying an honorable position a thousand years before the time Moses claims to be writing, and the Jewish connection proved by etymology. Without so acknowledging, Moses has derived Bagarat from the P'ak'arat of Nehemiah 7:59, who was one of the Jewish captives taken by Nebuchadnezzar. And the name Shambat he has invented to account for Smbat, a Bagratid personal name common in his own day. Moses' explicit etymology for Bagarat is Bagadia, a pseudo-Jewish name (II 63). The later Shambat Bagarat in the early Parthian period was made governor of western Armenia by Valarshak (II 3), and he then acquired the titles aspet and coronant (II 7). From the time of the earliest written Armenian sources these titles were indeed held by the Bagratids. [64] In the reign of Valarshak's son and successor, Arshak, claims Moses, the sons of Bagarat were persecuted for their Judaism. Two were martyred; the others made some concessions but refused to worship idols (II 9). The religious steadfastness of the Bagratids is thus established, as well as their political standing. Tigran also persecuted the Bagratids, says Moses (II 14), but although they still refused to sacrifice they did not lose their office of aspet or the right of crowning.

Moses places the Christian connections of the Bagratids in the earliest days of the church; they are associated with the preaching of Thaddaeus in Edessa—the same apostle who later came to Armenia. Tobias, in whose house Thaddaeus lodged in Edessa, was, according to Moses (II 33), a Jewish Bagratid prince who had fled persecution in Armenia. Moses does explicitly say that Tobias (Bagratuni) was converted, thus the role of the Bagratids in supporting Christianity even before the conversion


of Armenia is definitely implied. This claim would not be irrelevant, since the Mamikonean family—whom the Bagratids had replaced as the dominant force in Armenia and whose role Moses consistently negates—had married into the house of Gregory the Illuminator. But for Moses, Gregory is not the first apostle of Christianity in Armenia; his patrons thus have a more ancient, and hence more honorable, claim to an association with the first apostles.


The other Jewish writer to whose Greek works Moses is indebted is Philo. But here, as with Ps.-Callisthenes, Moses' debt is strictly literary. He has taken expressive phrases or descriptions and adapted them for his own purpose; he has not used Philo to rewrite the history of Armenia. Nonetheless, some of his adaptations are rather bold—as, for example, when Moses applies to himself a phrase of Philo's concerning the rational Logos! So it is not surprising that Moses never acknowledges that he read the Armenian versions of Philo, which were produced in the sixth and seventh centuries. [65]

As with other sources Moses used, one can distinguish the borrowing of an expressive phrase and the direct quotation of a longer passage. In the former category belong:

I 31 The description of Vahagn as the sun god (De Decalogo).
II 37 The origin of the Minotaur (De Animalibus).
III 55 The expression "to fly" (De Animalibus); the lust of Khosrov for the singer, based on Philo's description of the lust of the male crocodile for the female (De Animalibus).
III 65 The attention of the Persians to Sahak's speech; the attitude of the Jews before the giving of the commandments (De Decalogo).
Of a more elaborate nature are the following:
Fables Moses takes a Pythagorean saying from the Quaestiones in Genesin (I 17) and attributes it to Plato.

II 42 The elaborate description of Eruandakert as a girl's

face is based on the description of Samson's face in the In Sampsonem.

III 29 A gnomic expression comes from Philo's De Allegoria.

III 46 The death of Arshak is based on the fate of Phayllus, one of the robbers of the Delphic temple, in the De Providentia.

III 62, 65 There are several borrowings here from the description of Alexandria in the De Animalibus, De Decalogo.

III 65 A proverb from the Quaestiones in Exodum (II 43).

III 68 Most astonishing of all is the attribution to Moses' erudition of the characteristics of the rational Logos (from the Quaestiones in Exodum, II 90). A similar parallel is drawn in the same chapter concerning Mesrop; Moses uses the same words of Mesrop's guiding his pupils as Philo does of reason controlling the passions (cf. Quaestiones in Exodum II 115).

Finally, the rhetorical description of intellectual activity in the very first chapter of Moses' History is based on Philo, notably on the Quaestiones in Genesin, I 12.

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52. See, for example, Thomson, SP 1975.

53. For a general survey of Armenian literature, see Inglisian, "Die Armenische Literatur," in Deeters et al., Armenuch und kaukasische Sprachen.

54. See I 31 n. 5.

55. Where the Armenian texts both have similar phrasing, see III 19 n. 4.

56. For the Book of Chries see Sgarbi, Rendiconti 1969; and for Moses' debt to classical rhetorical traditions, see Abelyan, Erker 3:301-5.

57. But see nn. 6 and 7 to II 88 for various additional parallels.

58. But there is a closer parallel in the Armenian Socrates; see III 33 n. 1.

59. For these three passages, see Conybeare, BZ 1903.

60. For general studies of the Armenian version of the Alexander Romance see Tashian, Usumnasirut'iwnk'; Akinean, Byzantion 1938; Skinner, "Alexander Romance."

61. Conybeare, JTS 1908. No Armenian version of Josephus' Antiquities is attested. There are close verbal parallels between Moses and the 1787 version in the following passages:
Moses, II 14: Josephus, I, 5.3 (p. 28 of the Armenian)
II 15: I 6.2,1 6.6 (pp. 29, 31)
II 16: I 8.7 (p. 37)
II 17: I 8.8 (p. 38)
II 18: I 8.9 (p. 38)
II 19: see Conybeare, JTS 1908
II 23: I 18.5 (p. 69)
II 25: I 21.1 1 (p. 80)
II 60: I 33.9 (p. 121-2)
III 45: I 16.4 (p. 60)
For the Armenian Josephus see further the bibliography in Schreckenberg, Flavius-Josephus-Tradition, p. 100.

62. See above, p. 13.

63. Carriere, Sanctuaires.

64. See II 7 n. 1, and cf. II 8 at n. 31.

65. For the Armenian Philo see Zarp'analean, Matenadaran, pp. 735-48. Lewy, Pseudo-Philonic De Jona, pp. 1-34, is helpful on wider aspects of the Armenian Philo, not merely the De Jona.