1902 Encyclopedia > Moses of Chorene

Moses of Chorene
Armenian historian
(c. 410 c. - 490s AD)

MOSES OF CHORENE was a native of Khor'ni in Taròn, a district of the Armenian province of Turuberan. Accord-ing to the only trustworthy, authority — the History of Armenia which bears his name—he was a pupil of the two fathers of Armenian literature, the patriarch or catho-licos Sahak the Great and the vartabed Mesròb. Shortly after 431 he was sent by these men to Alexandria to study the Greek language and literature, and thus prepare him-self for the task of translating Greek writings into Armenian. Moses took his journey by Edessa and the sacred places of Palestine. After finishing his studies in the Egyptian capital he set sail for Greece ; but the ship was driven by contrary winds to Italy, and he seized the opportunity of paying a flying visit to Rome. He then visited Athens, and towards the end of winter (440) arrived in Constantinople, whence he set out on his homeward journey. On his arrival in Armenia he found that his patrons were both dead. The History of Armenia speaks of its author as an old, infirm man, constantly engaged in the work of translating. In the later Armenian tradition we find other notices of this celebrated man, —such as, that he was the nephew of Mesröb, that he was publicly complimented by the emperor Marcian, that he had been _ordained bishop of Bagrewand by the patriarch Giut, and that he was buried in the church of the Apostolic Cloister _at Mush in the district of Tarön; but these accounts must be received with great caution. This remark applies especially to the statement of Thomas Ardsruni, that Moses, like his Hebrew prototype, lived to the age of 120 years, and recorded his own death in a fourth book of his great work. The same caution must be extended to another tradition, based on an arbitrary construction of a passage in Samuel of Ani, which places his death in the year 489.

Of the works of Moses the best known is the History _ofArmenia, or, as the more exact title runs, the Genealogi-cal Account of Great Armenia. It consists of three books, and reaches down to the death of Saint Mesröb, in the second year of Jazdegerd II. (17th February 440). It is _dedicated to Sahak Bagratuni (who was afterwards chosen to lead the revolted Armenians in the year 481), as the man under whose auspices the work had been undertaken. This work, which in course of time acquired canonical •authority among the Armenians, is partly compiled from sources which we yet possess, viz., the Life of Saint Gregory by Agathangelos, the Armenian translation of the Syriac Doctrine of the Apostle Addai, the Antiquities and the _Jewish War of Josephus, and above all the History of Mar Abas Katina (still preserved in the extract from the book of Sebéos), who, however, did not write, as Moses alleges, in Syriac and Greek, at Nisibis, about 131 B.C., but was a native of Medsurch, and wrote in Syriac alone about 383 A.D., or shortly thereafter. Besides these, Moses refers to a whole array of Greek authorities, which were known to him from his constant use of Eusebius, but which cannot possibly have related all that he makes them relate. Although Moses assures us that he is going to rely entirely upon Greek authors, the contents of his work show that it is mainly drawn from native sources. He is chiefly indebted to the popular ballads and legends of Armenia, and it is to the use of such materials that the work owes its perma-nent value. Its importance for the history of religion and mythology is, in truth, very considerable, a fact which it is the great merit of Emin and Dulaurier to have first pointed out. For political history, on the other hand, it is of much less value than was formerly assumed. In particular, it is not a history of the people or of the country, but a history of the Armenian aristocracy, and, in opposition to the Mamikonian tendency which pervades the rest of the older Armenian historical literature, it is written in the interest of the rival Bagratunians. Down to the 3d century it is proved by the contemporary Grieco-Eoman annals to be utterly untrustworthy ; but even for the times of Armenian Christianity it must be used far more cautiously than has been done, for example, by Gibbon. The worst feature is the confusion in the chronology, which, strange to say, is most hopeless in treating of the con-temporaries of Moses himself. What can be thought of a writer who assigns to Jazdegerd I. (399-420) the eleven years of his predecessor Bahr&m IV., and the twenty-one years of Jazdegerd I. to his successor Bahr&m V. (420-439) 1 The present writer formerly attempted to explain this unhistorical character of the narrative from a tendency arising out of the peculiar ecclesiastical and political cir-cumstances of Armenia, situated as it was between the eastern Roman and the Persian empires, circumstances which were substantially the same in the 5th as they were in the two following centuries. In the course of further investigations, however, he has come to the conclusion that, besides the many false statements which Moses of Khor'ni makes about his authorities, he gives a false account of himself. That is to say, the author of the History of Armenia is not the venerable translator of the 5th century, but some Armenian writing under his name during the years between 634 and 642. The proof is furnished on the one hand by the geographical and ethno-graphical nomenclature of a later period and similar anachronisms,18 which run through the whole book and are often closely incorporated with the narrative itself, and on the other hand by the identity of the author of the History with that of the Geography, a point on which all doubt is excluded by a number of individual affinities,14 not to speak of the similarity in geographical terminology. The critical decision as to the authorship of the Geography settles the question for the History also.

The Geography is a meagre sketch, based mainly on the Choro-graphy of Pappus of Alexandria (in the end of the 4th century), and indirectly on the work of Ptolemy. Only Armenia, the Persian empire, and the neighbouring regions of the East are independently described from local information, and on these sections the value of the little work depends. Since the first published text15 contains names like "Russians " and "Crimea," Saint Martin in his edition w denied that it was written by Moses, and assigned its origin to the 10th century. It was shown, however, by L. Indjidjeau17 that these are interpolations, wdiieh are not found in better manuscripts. And in fact it is quite evident that a book which gives the division of the Sasanid empire into four spahbehships in pure old Persian names cannot possibly have been composed at a long interval after the time of the Sasanida?. But of course it is equally clear that such a book cannot be a genuine work of Moses of Khor'ni ; for that division of the empire dates from the early part of the reign of King Chosrau I. (531-579).18 Accordingly the latest editor, K. P. Patkanow,19 to whom we are indebted for the best text of the Geography, is of opinion that we have in it a writing of the 7th century. In this judgment we must concur; and, if the limits within which the Geography was composed are to he more nearly defined, we may say that, from isolated traces of Arab rule (which in Armenia dates from 651), it must have been written certainly after that year, and perhaps about the year 657.

Another extant work of Moses is a Manual of Rhetoric, in ten books, dedicated to his pupil Theodoras. It is drawn up after Greek models, in the taste of the rhetoric and sophistry of the later imperial period. The examples are taken from Hermogenes, Theon, Aphthonius, and Libanius ; although the author is also acquainted with lost writings, e. g., the Peliades, of Euripides. On account of the divergence of its style from that of the History of Armenia, Armenian scholars have hesitated to ascribe theRhctoric to Moses •of Khor'ni; but, from what has been said above, this is rather to be regarded as a proof of its authenticity.
Smaller works bearing the same honoured name 4 are—the Letter to Sahak Arderuni ; the History of the Holy Mother of God and her linage (in the cloister of Hogotsvanch in the distviqt Andzevatsi of the province of Vaspurakan), which is also addressed to Sahak ; and the Panegyric on Saint Rhipsime. Of the sacred poems attri-buted to him, there is only one short prayer, contained in the hymnal of Sharakan, which can really claim him as its author.
Of works passing under the name of Moses of Khor'ni, the follow-ing are regarded by the historians of Armenian literature as spurious: a History (distinct from the Panegyric) of the xoanderings of Saint Rhipsime and her companions ; a Homily on the transfiguration of •Christ; a Discourse on Wisdom (i. e., the science of grammar) ; the _Commentaries on grammar (an exposition of Dionysius Thrax). In the case of the grammatical writings, it has been suggested that there may have been some confusion between Moses of Khor'ni and •a Moses of Siunich, who lived in the 7th century. (A. v. G.)


Collected by Langlois, Collection des historiáis de VArménie, ii. 47 sq.
In Brosset, Collection d'historiens Armeniens, i. 68.
There is not the slightest allusion elsewhere to any such book.
In Brosset, ii. 387.
The oldest MS. is that of S. Lázaro of the 12th century. Col-lations of MSS. of Etchmiadzin and Jerusalem are given by Agop Garinian, Tiflis, 1858, 4to. The book has been edited and translated by "Whiston, London, 1736, 4to ; and by Le Vaillant de Plorival, Venice and Paris, s.a. (1841), 2 vols. 8vo.
The oldest MS. is that of S. Lázaro of the 12th century. Col-lations of MSS. of Etchmiadzin and Jerusalem are given by Agop Garinian, Tiflis, 1858, 4to. The book has been edited and translated by "Whiston, London, 1736, 4to ; and by Le Vaillant de Plorival, Venice and Paris, s.a. (1841), 2 vols. 8vo.
The commencement of this king's reign has been fixed by Noldeke {Geschichte der Sassaniden aus Tabari, p. 423) as 4th August 438 ; and this date has subsequently been established by documentary evidence from the fact of the martyrdom of Pethion (see Hoffmann, Auszüge aus Syrischen Akten persischer Märtyrer, p. 67).
Translated in Langlois, i. 195 sq.
Por the following statements, the proofs may be found in the article " Ueber die Glaubwürdigkeit der Armenischen Geschichte des Moses von Khorcn," by the present writer, in the Berichte der phil. histor. Classe der Kbnigl. Sachs. Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften, 1876, p. 1 sq.
The Epic Songs of Ancient Armenia (Arm.), Moscow, 1850.
" Etudes sur les chants historiques et les traditions populaires de
l'ancienne Arménie," in the Journ. Asiat., iv., ser. 19 (1852), p. 5 sq.

12 " Ueber die Glaubwiirdigkeit, " &c., p. 8 sq.
13 Instances of these may be found in i. 14, where the arrangement
of Armenian provinces I., II., III., IV., introduced in the year 536, is
carried hack to Aram, an older contemporary of Ninus ; and in the
passage iii. 18, according to which Shâpûr II. penetrated to Bithynia,
although the Persians did not reach that till 608.
14 See the confusion, common to both books, between Cappadocia I.
and Armenia I., in consequence of which Mazaka and Mount Argaus
are transferred to the latter locality (Hist., i. 14 ; Geogr., Saint Martin's
ed., ii. p. 354) ; also the passages which treat of China and Dchenbakur
(Hist., ii. 81 ; Geogr., ii. p. 376), &c.
Ia Edition with translation by Whiston, London, 1736, 4to.
16 In the Mémoires historiques et géographiques sur VArménie (Paris,
1819, 8vo), ii. p. 301 sq.
17 Antiquities of Armenia (Arm.), iii. p. 303 sq.
18 See Noldeke's Tabari, p. 155 sq.
19 Armjanskaja gcographijavii. wâkapo r. Ch. (pripisiw awschajasja
Moiseju Chorenskonm), St Petersburg, 1877, 8vo. Before him
Kiepert (in the Monatsb. d. Berliner Akad., 1873, p. 599 sq. ) had
substantially arrived at the right conclusion when he assigned the
portions of the Geography referring to Armenia to the time between

The above article was written by: Prof. A. von Gutschmid, University of Tübingen.

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