History of the Nation of Archers

Attributed to Grigor of Akner

Translator's Preface


[i] Very little is known about the author of this work which treats the forty-four year period from 1229/30 to 1273. He is presumed to have been born in Cilicia around 1250, and his death has been placed around 1335. Nothing is known about his parents, although by his own testimony Grigor did have a brother, Mxit'ar, who had died by the time Grigor completed his work. A colophon dated 1312/13 speaks of Grigor as the abbot of Akner monastery in Cilicia, a noted center of medieval Armenian scholarship. The most detailed secondary sources on Aknerts'i are those of father Nerse's Akinean in the journal Hande's Amso'reay [Nerse's Akinean, "Grigor k'ahanay Aknerts'i patmagir T'at'arats' Patmut'ean 1250-1335 (Grigor the Priest of Akner, Historian of the History of the T'at'ars)", (1948) pp. 387-403, and, in the same volume, "Akants' kam Akneri vank'e" (The Monastery of Akants' or Akner)", pp. 217-250. More accessible is the introduction to the 1949 English translation of the History of the Nation of Archers made by Robert Blake and Richard Frye which appeared in the Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies (1949) #3-4 pp. 269-283.

The History of the Nation of Archers (hereafter HNA) differs from the works of other Armenian historians of the Mongol period. First, as the product of a Cilician author in his early 20's when the work was completed in 1273, this history lacks the immediacy found in the compilations of eastern Armenian eye-witnesses to the Mongol conquest and domination, such as those of the well-educated and polished churchmen Kirakos Gandzakets'i, Vardan Arewelts'i, and Step'annos O'rbelean. This circumstance probably accounts for some of the chronological inaccuracies committed by Grigor in the early portion of his work. For example, Grigor incorrectly dates the first appearance of the Mongols in the Caucasus to 1214, years earlier than other historians; the defeat of Ghiyath al-Din in 1244 is recorded as occurring in 1239; Arghhun's census of 1253/54 is consigned to 1251/52 by Grigor. For the post-1249 period, however, Grigor is generally accurate. A second difference between Grigor's work and the histories of Kirakos, Vardan, and Step'annos concerns the scope of his undertaking. Aknerts'i wrote a relatively short history of a forty-four year period. Far from being a universal history of the Armenians, the author focused on but two principal areas, Greater Armenia and Cilicia in the thirteenth century, devoting considerable space to the latter. A third important difference is that Grigor, clearly, was not a well-educated or deep individual. His occasional lapses into fantasy compromise the credibility of other information for which he is our only source. Despite its limitations, the HNA remains a valuable source for thirteenth century Armenian and Mongol studies.

[ii] What were Aknerts'i's sources of information? Fr. Akinean observed a number of them. Apparently among the most important were oral accounts of events provided by Armenian visitors to Akner monastery such as Dawit' Bjnets'i, Kirakos Getikts'i, and king Het'um I, people who either were from the East, or had travelled there. One informant, in Akinean's opinion, had been a student of Vanakan vardapet (doctor of the Church). It was from such informed individuals that Grigor learned the meanings of the large number of Mongolian military and juridical terms which he incorporated into the History. Akinean also detected a few written sources, including the Bible, a commentary on the Names of the Hebrews, the Chronography of Michael the Syrian, and the lengthy colophon of Vardan Arewelts'i (1246) providing a legendary genealogy of the Mongols, which Grigor incorporated into his own work with few alterations. It is also possible, as Akinean and Blake suggested, that Grigor may have had access to Vanakan's now-lost history.

The HNA is contained in ms. 32 housed at the Library of the Monastery of St. James in Jerusalem. Ms. 32 commences with the Armenian translation of the Chronography of Michael the Syrian (done by Vardan Arewelts'i in 1246) which concludes with the events of 1195. The Chronography is followed by a continuation made by the same translator or some other person which briefly comments on the period 1216-1229. This section is succeeded by a colophon of the copyist Grigor Aknerts'i, which states that the latter completed his copy of the above portions in 1273, and then adds: "by the grace of God we too shall write what is lacking from it for forty-four years". This is followed immediately by Grigor's HNA which the author apparently saw as a continuation of the chronologies he had been copying. At the end of the History, Grigor stated: "In the year 720 of the Armenian era (A.D. 1271/72) these chronographies were written by the command of the blessed, glorious father Step'annos of this retreat of Akants' with the consent of Vardan, warden of the holy retreat, and of the entire brotherhood of priests and clerics, by the hand of the miserable scribe Grigor, servant of the Word... "(Akinean,"Grigor k'ahanay", p. 390, also R. Blake, op. cit., Introduction, pp. 281-82 n.6). All publications of the Armenian text and all translations of it prior to the issuance of R. Blake's text and English translation have incorrectly named a certain vardapet Maghakia as the author. Two scholars, H. Zhamkoch'yan and Nerse's Akinean, independently established Grigor of Akner as the true writer [Akinean, "Grigor k'ahanay"; Zamkoch'yan, "The Author of the Work HNA" (in Arm.) Scholarly Works of the State University of Erevan 23 (1946) pp. 367-68]. Maghakia, it was revealed, was none other than the 17th century vardapet Maghakia T'oxat'ets'i who had recopied Grigor's work and whose own colophon gave rise to this confusion.

The Armenian text of the HNA first was published in 1870 at Jerusalem based on the oldest extant ms. (#32 of the Patriarchal Library of St. James, Jerusalem) dated 1271, and another ms. dated 1602 [Nshxark' hay matenagrut'ean patmut'iwn T'at'arats' Vardani patmich' haneal i dzer'agir orinakats' (Fragments of Armenian Literature: Vardan the Historian's History of the T'at'ars, printed from manuscript copies (Jerusalem, 1870). Also in 1870 K. Patkanean published the Armenian text in St. Petersburg based on a Venice ms. of 1624 [Maghak'ia Abeghayi patmut'iwn vasn azgin netoghats' (Maghak'ia the Monk's HNA)]. The following year Patkanean published a Russian translation [Istoriia Mongolov inoka Magakii (Maghak'ia the Monk's History of the Mongols]). The History previously had been translated into French by Brosset in 1851 [based on the Venice ms. dated 1624. Ouvrage de Malakia-Abegha, ou Malakia-le-Moine, in M Brosset's Additions et éclaircissements à l'Histoire de la Géorgie (St. Petersburg,1851) pp. 438-67].

[iii] The Armenian text, compared with all previous editions and accompanied by an English translation made by Robert Blake and Richard Frye, was printed in vol. 12 of the Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies #3-4 (1949) pp. 269-443. Appearing in the same journal was Francis Woodman Cleaves' important article, "The Mongolian Names and Terms in the History of the Nation of the Archers by Grigor of Akanc'" (pp. 400-443). Subsequently, in 1954, Blake's text and translation and Cleaves' article were reprinted together in book form [History of the Nation of the Archers (the Mongols) by Grigor of Akants', hitherto ascribed to Maghak'ia the Monk, the Armenian text edited with an English translation and notes by Robert P. Blake and Richard N. Frye (Cambridge, Mass., 1954)]. Blake's translation, without a doubt a great contribution to Armenian and Mongol studies, nonetheless has a sufficient number of inaccuracies to warrant a retranslation. Some of these inaccuracies are due to typographical errors, others to the scholar's unfamiliarity with certain conventions in Classical Armenian and with Armenian place names. The most serious of these mistakes have been identified in Akinean's review of the publication (Hande's Amso'reay, 1955, pp. 275-77). Here are three noteworthy examples among many:

Blake: zMtsbnay berd "the citadel of Nisibis" (ch.3 p.297).
Should Read: zMatsnaberd (=Matsnaberd, a fortress near Gandzak).

Blake: zNorberdn,"the new fortress" (ch.3 p.297)
Should Read: zNorberdn (=Norberd, a fortress near Tawush).

Blake: yurdgahs, "royal tent" (ch. 6 p. 313).
Should Read: yurdgahs (ordugah, "camp").

The present translation was made from the Classical Armenian text issued by Blake and Fry in 1949, and incorporates Akinean's corrections.

For a detailed study of the Mongol invasions see volume five of the Cambridge History of Iran (Cambridge, 1968); for eastern Armenia in particular, see R. Bedrosian, The Turco-Mongol Invasions and the Lords of Armenia in the 13-14th Centuries (New York, 1979). For Cilicia see S. Der Nersessian, "The Kingdom of Cilician Armenia" in History of the Crusades, K. M. Setton, ed. vol. II (Philadelphia, 1969) pp. 630-59 and Ani Atamian Bournoutian, "Cilician Armenia" in The Armenian People from Ancient to Modern Times, R. G. Hovannisian, ed. vol. 1 (New York, 1997), pp. 273-291. Additional bibliography is available in C. Toumanoff's article, "Armenia and Georgia," [Chapter XIV in The Cambridge Medieval History, vol. IV, The Byzantine Empire, part I, (Cambridge, 1966), pp. 593-637]. The maps and accompanying text in R. H. Hewsen, Armenia, A Historical Atlas (Chicago, 2001) pp. 136-141 also are valuable. Three other Cilician sources of relevance to this period are available on other pages of this website: King Het'um II's Chronicle, Smbat Sparapet's Chronicle, and Het'um the Historian's The Flower of Histories of the East.


The transliteration used here is a modification of the new Library of Congress system for Armenian, substituting x for the LOC's kh, for the thirteenth character of the Armenian alphabet (խ). Otherwise we follow the LOC transliteration, which eliminates diacritical marks above or below a character, and substitutes single or double quotation marks to the character's right. In the LOC romanization, the seventh character of the alphabet (է) appears as e', the eighth (ը) as e", the twenty-eighth (ռ) as r', and the thirty-eighth (o), as o'.


Robert Bedrosian
Long Branch, New Jersey, 2003

A Note on Pagination


The following chronological tables may be useful as accompaniments to the translation. The tables open in separate windows, for persistence.

Rulers of Armenia and of Eastern and Western Empires
Kat'oghikoi and Corresponding Secular Rulers of the Armenians
Rulers of Armenia and Iberia/Georgia
Rulers of Mongol Empires

Additional tables are available on another page of this site: Chronological Tables. Maps are available on our Maps Page.

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