Vardan Arewelts'i's

Compilation of History

Translator's Preface

[i] Vardan Arewelts'i (the "Easterner"), a prominent 13th century Armenian cleric and author, is believed to have been born in 1200-1210. Biographical information about him is found in the History of the Armenians written by his classmate and friend, Kirakos Gandzaket'si, in Vardan's own works, and in the History of the Nation of Archers written by Grigor Aknerts'i. According to these sources, around 1239-1240 Vardan visited Jerusalem on a pilgrimage and then travelled to Cilician Armenia (ca. 1240-1241) where he was received very favorably by King Het'um I and the reigning kat'oghikos, Constantine Bardzraberdts'i (1220-1267). It is possible that Vardan participated in the Council of Sis in 1243, called to settle Church disputes. While in Cilicia, Vardan made the acquaintance of a Syrian priest named Ishox, with whom he translated into Armenian the Chronology of Michael the Syrian. Kirakos Gandzakets'i states that the kat'olikos entrusted Vardan with an encyclical which the latter brought back to eastern Armenia for the signatures of the somewhat reluctant bishops, monks, and princes. Presumably Vardan visited most of these dignitaries in person, a journey which would have taken him from Karin/Erzerum to Ani, Kars, Bjni, Amberd, Haghbat, Sanahin, Getik, Haghartsin, Kech'aru, Hawuts' T'ar', Ayrivank' (Geghard), Yovhanhavank', Saghmosavank', Horomos, to Aghuania, to his teacher Vanakan, and to the Prince of Princes Awak Zak'arean. Vardan then sent the signed document back to the kat'oghikos. In 1264/65 a merchant named Shnorhawor took Vardan to see the Mongol Il-Khan, Hulegu-Khan, and the account of his interview with Hulegu is a most valuable part of the History. Vardan spent his last years at Haghbat and Xor'virap. According to Grigor Aknerts'i, he died in 1271/72, the same year as his friend Kirakos.

It is not known when the author started writing his Compilation of History, a work which belongs to the genre of "universal histories" popular among medieval Armenian writers. It commences with Adam and terminates with the death of Vardan's personal friend Kat'oghikos Constantine in 1267. Sometime in 1266 the still unfinished History was stolen, however it was retrieved one and a half years later. While Vardan tends to concentrate on the history of Armenia, the early portion of his work also speaks about the rulers of Israel, Greece, Persia, and Arabia. As a result of the author's attempt to abridge so much of Middle Eastern history, his style suffers. The list-like presentations of names and the extraneous repetitions in the early section of the work make it tiresome reading. Sources for the period before his own include the Bible and Biblical traditions, the Chronology of Michael the Syrian, plus most of the same Armenian historians utilized by Kirakos Ganzakets'i. Unlike Kirakos, however, Vardan rarely cites his sources. This is a consequence not of the author's desire to conceal this information or to claim it as his own, but of the fact that these sources would have been immediately identifiable by readers. As Vardan approaches his own period, the information becomes more significant. This is especially true for his narration of 11th and 12th century events, since apparently he made use of works now lost, such as Yovhanne's Sarkawag's History, believed to deal with the Saljuqs. Both Vardan and Kirakos Gandzakets'i were students of Yovhanne's Vanakan (d. 1251) whom Vardan refers to as "our glorious father", and both authors made use of Vanakan's now-lost History. Vardan's information on the early Saljuqs is priceless, since he used other sources which have not survived, including a work by "Vahram, son of Tigran", and lost portions of Mxit'ar of Ani's History. Vardan's History is important too from the standpoint of language. Written in a somewhat vulgar form of Classical Armenian, it occasionally provides evidence on the emergence of the um ending typical of later modern Eastern Armenian.

[ii] Regrettably, no critical edition of Vardan's History exists. The Classical Armenian text has been published twice: by J. Emin (Moscow, 1861) and by the Venetian Mxit'arists in 1862. The latter edition is based on a manuscript made in 1307. Among the eight or nine remaining manuscripts of the History, one recopied in 1631 was based on an manuscript dated 1274/75, only three years after Vardan's death. The History was translated in full into Russian by Emin (Moscow, 1861). A partial Russian translation was made by K. Patkanov (St. Petersburg, 1873). Partial French translations appeared in Journal Asiatique (1860 fas. II) and in Recueil des historiens des croisades, Documents arméniens I (Paris, 1869) pp. 431-43 made by E. Dulaurier. A full English translation was made by Robert W. Thomson [The Historical Compilation of Vardan Arewelc'i, Dumbarton Oaks Papers #43, 1989]. Thomson's valuable work includes an extensive introduction and detailed notes to the translation, indicating Vardan's likely sources.

The translation of the passages below (from the Venice, 1862 text) was made in 1976 by the present writer while assembling materials for a study of the Turco-Mongol invasions of Armenia. It includes extracts concerning the Saljuqs, Shaddadids, Zakarids, and Mongols. For a study of the Kurdish Shaddadids, see V. Minorsky, Studies in Caucasian History (London, 1953). For Armenian sources on the Saljuqs, see D. Kouymjian, "Mxit'ar of Ani on the Rise of the Seljuqs," Revue des études arméniennes, 6 (1969) pp. 331-53. For a detailed study of the Saljuq and Mongol periods 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). 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 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 2007

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 the Mongol Empires

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

Continue to Translation

Return to Historical Sources Menu
Return to History Workshop Menu

--   This is a mirror of one of Robert Bedrosian's web pages   --