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

The tradition is challenged

This traditional picture of Moses, or at least Moses' own claims in his History, were accepted by the first European scholars to study his work. J. J. Schroder used Moses extensively for his essay on Armenian history in his Thesaurus Linguae Armenicae (1711). [31] The Whiston brothers in their translation of Moses (1736) were not too complimentary about his erudition, but they had no doubts about his fifth-century date, "which is confirmed by Nerses Claiensis of the twelfth century" (!). [32] Brenner (writing in 1724) put Moses' floruit at about 430, immediately after the abolition of the Arsacid monarchy, described at the end of book III. [33] But this conjecture overlooks the references to the deaths of both Sahak and Mashtots' in 439 and 440. Later in the eighteenth century the important Armenian scholar Ch'amch'ean had no doubts about Moses' date and took his claim au pied de la lettre (1784). [34] In the same decade Gibbon, using the Whistons' translation, noted that "deficient as he is in every qualification of a good historian, his local information, his passions and his prejudices, are strongly expressive of a native and contemporary." [35] Ironically, on the same page where Gibbon used Moses for the history of Christianity in Armenia, he also quoted the "contemptible" evidence of the Acta sancti Silvestri, without knowing of Moses' indebtedness to this apocryphal work. [36]


In the early nineteenth century Saint Martin in his valuable Memoires accepted Moses' own account of himself but regarded the Geography as spurious. [37] In the middle of the century Gat'rchean noted that there were difficulties in Moses' chronology, and he had reservations about the accuracy of the archives Moses claimed to be quoting. [38] In a more critical spirit Gutschmid (in 1876) proved the secondary nature of much of Moses' information, but like the several nineteenth-century translators of this History, he did not seriously challenge the date of Moses as a fifth-century historian. [39]

Only at the end of the nineteenth century, notably through the studies of Carriere and Khalateants', [40] was it finally demonstrated that Moses used texts composed later than the mid-fifth century and that the traditional picture of him as a pupil of Mashtots' and Sahak was untenable. Yet for nearly a century— from the 1890s to the present day—there has been no general agreement among Armenian and non-Armenian scholars on the date of this History. Rather than rehearse the long and involved story of this sometimes sterile controversy, [41] it will be more interesting and valuable for us to examine in some detail the various literary sources Moses used. We shall then be in a better position not merely to date the work but also to evaluate as historiography this embodiment of early Armenian tradition.

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31. Schroder, Thesaurus Linguae Armenicae.

32. Whiston, Moses Chorenensis Historiae Armeniacae Libri HI, p. XIX: Scriptor videtur fuisse mediocriter tan turn doctus, et maiore credulitate quam iudicio ex aliorum commentariis historiae suas contexuisse. Cf. Nerses, Opera, 3:343.

33. Brenner, Epitome Commentariorum Moysis Armeni de Origine et Regibus Armenorum et Parthorum, p. I.

34. M. Ch'amch'eants', Patmut'iwn Hayots', vol. i, esp. pp. 10-20.

35. E. Gibbon, History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, chap. 32.

36. Ibid., chap. 20.

37. Saint-Martin, Mémoires historiques et géographiques sur l'Arménie, :301-2.

38. Gat'rchean, Tiezerakan Patmut'iwn, esp. 1:87, 2:489, 518.

39. von Gutschmid, "Uber die Glaubwuerdigkeit der armenischen Geschichte des Moses von Khoren."

40. See their various works in the bibliography.

41. For a succinct discussion of previous-scholarship on Moses Khorenats'i and a bibliography, see Toumanoff, HA 1961.