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

Moses and his sources


Without mentioning any specific kind of source, Moses frequently uses expressions such as "they say" or "as we have heard." He can be referring to tales about Armenian heroes of the past, to various noble families' claims to ancient pedigrees, or to stories about foreign lands. Once he uses the phrase "as is said" to refute a written source, without so noting explicitly; [42] and another time he refers to what "some unreliable men say" (I 22) to give a different version. In this last case he is introducing his theory of a Jewish origin for the Bagratuni family rather than the older tradition of a native Armenian origin. [43]

Far more frequently Moses speaks of a "song," "tale," or "fable" as his source, and several times he quotes from them. Although his terminology is not always consistent, Moses clearly distinguishes between two basic types of unwritten sources, both


of which may be in poetical form and sung (or recited) rather than spoken in ordinary prose. These are the tale and the fable. The distinction is that the former is acceptable as it stands, whereas the latter is usually false in a literal sense; it is an allegory that needs interpretation for use as historical material. Moses uses various terms to describe the ancient stories and legends about the Armenian heroes:

zroyts' "story"; specifically, "unwritten" (angir) at I 10, or "old" (hin) as at II 8. See also I 10; II 37, 81.
gusanakan, I 14, used here as a substantive, "bard, minstrel."
nuag p'andran "song on the lyre," I 6.
erg "song," and other forms, nouns or verbs, derived from that stem. These tales are sung on the lyre (p'andirn), I 24, 31. They may be metrical (t'ueleats' ergk'), I 30. And the singers (ergich'k') are associated notably with the province of Golt'n, I 30; II 49.
vipasan "teller of tales" (vep), usually sung, II 48, 49, 51.
Fables are always called araspel, from which the verb araspelabanel ("to tell fables") is derived. Fables are not to be taken literally because they are exaggerated (II 8), nonsense (I 7; II 70), false (II 42), or even obscene (Fables), though sometimes not very far from the truth (II 52). [44]

More significantly, however, such fables are allegorical. Allegories do have a true meaning (II 49); at least the Greek ones are meaningful, unlike the Persian ones, which he calls absurd (Fables). But they are not literal history and their interpretation may be uncertain (II 70). Moses does not always venture to explain the stories he describes as allegories—that of Hephaistos, for example (I 7), the cryptic proverb involving Niobe (I 18), or the naming of the town Vardges (II 65). But as an example of allegory—that is, the rationalization of myths or legends—Moses notes the description of Azhdahak's descendants as descendants of the dragon. This is an allegorical naming, since Azhdahak means "dragon" (I 30). Similarly, the truth of the fable that mentions Artashes’ red leather strap with golden rings with which he captured Satinik is that lacquer and gold were the bride price he had to pay (II 50). It is also an allegory that the army of Domitian, which invaded Armenia, is described as a person called Domet (II 54). The fable that describes the placing of a dev


in the place of the child Artavazd is given a "more reliable" (rational) explanation: Artavazd was mad (II 61).


Although the Armenian script was not invented until the turn of the fourth and fifth centuries A.D., Moses claims that there were written records in Armenia long before that time and records about Armenia kept in foreign archives. Moses berates the early Armenian kings for not keeping archives like those of the Greeks or Persians; for although the Armenians then had no script of their own, they could have used Greek or Persian—as was the custom for private families or for local records in his own time (I 3). Although Moses is not very clear on this point, by Greek or Persian writing (gir) he does not mean documents in the Armenian language written in a foreign script but rather documents in those foreign languages. There is no evidence that the Armenians ever used a foreign script for their own tongue before Mashtots" attempt to use the Aramaic script of Daniel. [45] But Moses would have been familiar with Greek and Aramaic inscriptions and coins. The Urartian cuneiform inscriptions he naturally ascribes to the Assyrians (I 16).

If the Armenians themselves kept no archives, Moses claims that the Parthian Arsacids (to which line the Armenian Arsacids were directly related) did keep records about Armenia in their archives. There is some confusion here, for Moses makes Nineveh the site of the archives (I 9). Nineveh, however, contained not the Parthian but the Assyrian records. According to Moses these archives had been translated from "Chaldaean" (cuneiform) to Greek at the command of Alexander the Great. And these, claims Moses, were his source for the legendary history of Armenia from the days of the giants down to the reign of Arshak I of Armenia— the famous extract made by "Mar Abas Catina." In I 21 Moses again refers to Persian and Assyrian archives to contrast the intelligent records of these peoples with early Armenian neglect; however, he adds that "in recent times" the Armenians have begun to compose their own records. Presumably Moses is referring to the local archives mentioned in I 3. But it may be an oblique reference to the Histories of Faustos and Lazar to which he was greatly indebted but never mentions by name. Similarly in II 75 the reference to "archival books of the Greeks" is but a misleading description of a medley of Armenian and Greek his-


torical works. [46] In III 1 Moses again bemoans the lack of early records for Armenian history.

On the other hand Moses claims to be quoting from written archives for much of his second book: the temple history of Ani Khamakh (composed by Olympius and translated by Bardaisan— II 48, 66), the archives in Edessa that had been transferred there from Nisibis (by Abgar; II 27), and the temple history of Sinope in Pontus (II 10, 38). Olympius and his History and the archives of Sinope dealing with Armenia are unknown from other sources. But one's confidence in Moses' "archives" is even more shaken by the patently false claim in II 10 that Eusebius in his Church History (book 113) bears withness to the existence in Edessa of archives dealing with Armenia, for Eusebius merely says that in the Edessan archives he had found correspondence between Abgar of Edessa and Jesus Christ. It is Moses, not Eusebius, who makes Abgar an Armenian king, makes Nisibis into an Armenian capital, and elaborates on the material to be found in the archives. It is true that Moses claims to be basing his narrative here on Africanus the chronographer and merely quotes Eusebius for corroboration, but it is not likely that Moses knew the Chronography of Julius Africanus at first hand. [47] And more importantly, although that work has not survived intact, none of the many later historians who used it—including the other Armenian authors—suggests that Julius Africanus concerned himself with the acts of the Armenian kings.


If archives and "temple histories" turn out to be but convenient vessels for Moses' redaction of tradition, if not even inventions of his historical imagination, what of the real authors whom he claims to have used?

At the beginning of his History Moses defends the reliability of the Greek historians, though he does not consider all their pagan fables and narratives to be infallible. He also acknowledges earlier Christian writers who have started their histories with Adam. Moses then proceeds to quote several of the Greek chroniclers but without informing his readers that he has read them at second hand in Eusebius' Chronicle. In view of his extensive borrowings from both the Chronicle and the Church History, it is a cause for suspicion that Moses gives only a passing reference


to Eusebius (II 10), and then in an obscure and deliberately false manner.

In the first book of his History Moses quotes verbatim five historians who supposedly described the early history of the world, and he mentions the names of several others. However, with the exception of a condensed rendering in I 6 of Epiphanius' Contra Haereses 83, Moses has either taken his quotations from Eusebius' Chronicle or has faked his source. Abydenus is frequently mentioned in Eusebius and then in Moses; but in I 5 Moses adds to his source by ascribing to Abydenus the list of Armenian heroes from Hayk to Ara. In I 6 Moses ascribes a quotation from the Oracula Sibyllina to Berossus. But more interestingly, in the same chapter he gives a long account of the origin of certain Armenian place names, which he ascribes to a Greek, Olympiodorus (mentioned again in II 74). There were various Greek writers of that name but none is likely to have had that interest in implausible etymologies for Armenian names that was so dear to Moses (I 6, 12; II 7, 8).

Moses also mentions various Greek historical works without quoting them directly. Polyhistor [48] and Arios were taken from Eusebius. Cephalion is mentioned—again via Eusebius (I 5, 18) —but Moses claims that the Chaldaean books used by Mar Abas Catina are more reliable. These books were kept in the archives at Nineveh, and from them Alexander had a Greek translation made. Making extracts from this Greek text, Mar Abas Catina brought them, with a Syriac translation, to Nisibis. Here the Armenian king Valarshak kept them securely in the palace. These documents supposedly provided Moses with his source material for chapters I 9 to II 9. But since it is precisely that part of the History that gives the story of the origin of the Armenian nation and its history to Parthian times, it is difficult not to treat the narrative of "Mar Abas Catina" with suspicion. Moses was familiar with the idea of Greek translations of Chaldaean books from Eusebius' description of Berossus. He has adapted the idea to Armenian history, attributing to Assyrian sources an intimate knowledge of Armenian traditions and of historical events of the Parthian period after Alexander's death.

More difficult to assess are two references to (apparently) written Armenian sources, the history of the "Web of Chries" (I 19) and the "four rhapsodies" (I 21). Abelyan thought that


they were the same. [49] But after mentioning the former, Moses then quotes extensively from Eusebius' Chronicle; whereas the "four rhapsodies" introduce more specifically Armenian traditions. However, in view of Moses' predilection for inventing written sources, whether these traditions—notably concerning Tigran—were coherently organized in four books is doubtful. Similarly the reference to Gorgias, Banan, and David (I 6) as wise Greek writers is suspect. Moses never mentions the first two again, and he does not attribute any specific information to them. On the other hand, David has been identified with the philosopher David Anyalt', concerning whom a vast mass of legendary material developed. But the fact that he is used here merely to introduce "Olympiodorus," one of Moses' own aliases, makes it impossible to place any reliance on this David as a historical character.

In his second book, Moses quotes or refers to several Greek and Armenian authors who will deserve special discussion later: Eusebius, Josephus, Labubna (the Armenian version of the Syriac Teaching of Addai), and Agathangelos. Moses also mentions by name Hippolytus (II 10), Porphyry (via Eusebius), and Palephatos and Philemon (II 69). These last two are enigmatic; with "many others" they are among the sources for relations between Romans and Parthians. Moses also refers in explicit terms, quoting them but not directly, to Herodotus (II 2, via Theon) and Manetho (II 13, via Eusebius). More suspiciously, Moses adduces Julius Africanus as a source for Armenian history, in particular for the period of Artashes (II 10). And to elevate the exploits of Artashes I above those of Alexander or the greatest Achaemenian kings, Moses introduces quotations describing the Armenian king from numerous obscure or unknown Greek writers: Polycrates, Evagoras, Scamadros, and Phlegonius (II 13).

Around the later Artashes II numerous Armenian legends and poems accrued, some of which Moses quotes. He attributes his description of this Artashes' death and funeral to Ariston of Pella, an author he knew from Eusebius' Church History. In fact, the description of the funeral (II 60) is based on that of Herod in Josephus. Here Moses has again claimed a fake written source for a purely Armenian tradition, and his description is based on an unacknowledged written source. This is a literary


procedure dear to him. As we shall see, Josephus and the Alexander Romance, for example, were particularly important sources from which Moses extracted passages that he could adapt to his own purposes. Similarly Moses (II 75) claims the authority of Firmilian of Caesarea (d. soon after 268) for the history of Armenia down to the reign of Trdat, which he places in 287. Again, Moses knew the name of the Greek writer from Eusebius, but the supposed historical work is a complete fake, replete with extraordinary anachronisms, including the martyrdom of Peter of Alexandria (which occurred in 311.) For his actual account Moses relies on quite different, unacknowledged, written texts.

Reference has already been made to Moses' use of archives supposedly kept in Armenia. He claims to be basing chapters 22-65 of his second book on the temple history of Olympius, priest of Ani Kamakh. But in fact it is primarily to Josephus, Eusebius, Labubna, and Agathangelos that Moses is indebted here, with minor contributions from biblical and hagiographical texts and the Alexander Romance. As for the additions to Olympius' history and its translation into Syriac by Bardaisan (II 66), these are further fancies of Moses' own invention.

The same must be said for the Syriac book of Barsuma, translated into Greek by a Persian, Khofohbut, the former scribe of King Shapuh, who was converted to Christianity (II 70). Moses refers to popular Persian legends, some of which were incorporated into the Karnamak, known in Armenian. But his real source for the wars between Khosrov and Artashir after Artavan's death is not some Persian History but the Armenian Agathangelos.

In his third book Moses no longer claims to be using foreign sources that contain detailed accounts of Armenian traditions. On the other hand, he does not acknowledge the Armenian writers to whom he was principally indebted: Faustos and Lazar. Even Koriun he mentions by name only once (III 60), omitting to note that Koriun's biography of Mashtots' was another of his prime sources.

It is now time to turn from the negative to the positive, from an exposure of frauds to an examination of the texts that Moses did use, with or without acknowledgment. Instead of approaching Moses' source material in the order in which he presents his narrative, I shall discuss his sources by general types. These fall into the following broad categories: biblical writings, both canonical and apocryphal; non-Armenian texts, which can be further subdivided into (pagan) Greek sources, Jewish writers,


Josephus and Philo, and Christian writers, Greek or Syrian (where direct dependence can be shown, Moses always uses an Armenian version of his Greek sources, not the original); and Armenian texts.

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42. I 17 at n. 3, where Moses is referring to Eusebius" Chronicle.

43. Cf. Introduction, p. 40.

44. Cf. the expression in Faustos, III 13: ergs araspelats' vipasanut'eann; see in general Abelyan, Erker, 3:50-83.

45. For Daniel's script see Koriun, pp. 12-13.

46. See II 76 n. 1.

47. See II 10 n. 1.

48. In the Armenian literal rendering: Bazmavep, I 4.

49. Seel 21 n. 2.