Movses Khorenatsi

Movses Khorenatsi (ca. 410–490s AD; Armenian: Մովսէս Խորենացի, pronounced [mɔvˈsɛs χɔɾɛnɑˈtsʰi], also written as Movses Xorenac‘i and Moses of Khoren, Moses of Chorene, and Moses Chorenensis in Latin sources) was a prominent Armenian historian from the late antique period and the author of the History of the Armenians.


Movses Khorenatsi
St.Movses Khorenatsi.jpg
A painting of Movses Khorenatsi by Hovnatan Hovnatanian (1730–1801)
Bornca. 410 AD
Taron, Kingdom of Armenia
Died490s AD
Sassanid Armenia
Venerated inArmenian Apostolic Church
FeastFeast of the Holy Translators in October.[1]

Movses's History of the Armenians was the first attempt at a universal history of Armenia and remains the only known general account of early Armenian history. It traces Armenian history from its origins to the fifth century, during which Movses claimed to have lived. His history had an enormous impact on Armenian historiography and was used and quoted extensively by later medieval Armenian authors. He is called the "father of Armenian history" (patmahayr) in Armenian, and is sometimes referred to as the "Armenian Herodotus."[2] Movses's history is also valued for its unique material on the old oral traditions in Armenia before its conversion to Christianity.

Movses identified himself as a young disciple of Mesrop Mashtots, inventor of the Armenian alphabet. Moreover, he claimed to have written his history at the behest of Prince Sahak of the Bagratuni dynasty. He is recognized by the Armenian Apostolic Church as one of the Holy Translators.[3] The exact time period during which Movses lived and wrote has been the subject of debate among scholars since the nineteenth century, with some scholars dating him to the seventh to ninth centuries rather than the fifth.[4]


Early life and educationEdit

Movses's biographical details are given at the very end of the History of the Armenians, but additional information provided by later medieval Armenian historians have allowed modern scholars to piece together additional information on him. Movses was believed to have been born in the village of Khorni (also spelled as Khoron and Khoronk) in the Armenian province of Taron or Turuberan sometime in 410.[5] However, some scholars contend that if he was born here, he would have then been known as Movses of Khorneh or Khoron.[6] They instead move the location of his birth from Taron to the Armenian province of Syunik, in the village of Khorena in the region of Harband.[7]

He received his education in Syunik' and was later sent to be taught under the auspices of Mesrop Mashtots,[8] the creator of the Armenian alphabet, and Catholicos Sahak Partev. In having considerable difficulty translating the Bible from Koine Greek to Classical Armenian, Mesrop and Sahak felt the need to send Movses and several of their other students to Alexandria, Egypt, at that time the center of education and learning, so that they themselves learn the Koine Greek and Syriac languages, as well as grammar, oratory, theology and philosophy.[9]

Return to ArmeniaEdit

The students left Armenia sometime between 432 and 435. First they went to Edessa where they studied at the local libraries. Then they moved towards Jerusalem and Alexandria. After studying in Alexandria for seven years, Movses and his classmates returned to Armenia, only to find that Mesrop and Sahak had died. Movses expressed his grief in a lament at the end of History of the Armenians:

While they [Mesrop and Sahak] awaited our return to celebrate their student’s accomplishments [i.e., Movses’], we hastened from Byzantium, expecting that we would be dancing and singing at a wedding...and instead, I found myself grieving at the foot of our teachers' graves...I did not even arrive in time to see their eyes close nor hear them speak their final words.[10]

To further complicate their problems, the atmosphere in Armenia that Movses and the other students had returned to was one that was extremely hostile and they were viewed with contempt by the native population. While later Armenian historians blamed this on an ignorant populace, Sassanid Persian policy and ideology were also at fault, since its rulers "could not tolerate highly educated young scholars fresh from Greek centers of learning."[11] Given this atmosphere and persecution by the Persians, Movses went into hiding in a village near Vagharshapat and lived in relative seclusion for several decades.

Movses depicted in a 14th-century Armenian manuscript.

Gyut, Catholicos of All Armenians (461–471), one day met Movses while traveling through the area and, unaware of his true identity, invited him to supper with several of his students. Movses was initially silent, but after Gyut's students encouraged him to speak, Movses made a marvelous speech at the dinner table. One of the Catholicos' students was able to identify Movses as a person Gyut had been searching for; it was soon understood that Gyut was one of Movses' former classmates and friends.[12] Gyut embraced Movses brought his friend back from seclusion and appointed him to be a bishop in Bagrevan.

History of the ArmeniansEdit

Serving as a bishop, Movses was approached by Prince Sahak Bagratuni (died in 482 during Charmana battle against Persian army), who, having heard of Movses' reputation, asked him to write a history of Armenia, especially the biographies of Armenian kings and the origins of the Armenian nakharar families.[13] Armenian historian Artashes Matevosyan placed Movses' completion of History to the year 474 CE based on his research on the Chronicle by the sixth century Armenian historian Atanas Taronatsi.[14]

One of his primary reasons for taking up Sahak Bagratuni's request is given in the first part of Patmutyun Hayots, or History of the Armenians: "For even though we are small and very limited in numbers and have been conquered many times by foreign kingdoms, yet too, many acts of bravery have been performed in our land, worthy of being written and remembered, but of which no one has bothered to write down."[15] His work is a first historical record that covered the whole history of Armenia from a very ancient period until the death of the historian. His History served as a textbook to study the history of Armenia until the eighteenth century. Movses' history also gives a rich description of the oral traditions that were popular among the Armenians of the time, such as the romance story of Artashes and Satenik and the birth of the god Vahagn. Movses lived for several more years, and he died sometime in the late 490s CE.

Literary influenceEdit

Three possible early references to Movses in other sources are usually identified. The first one is in Łazar Parpetsi’s History of the Armenians (about 495 or 500 A.D.), where the author details the persecution of several notable Armenian individuals, including the “blessed Movses the philosopher,” identified by some scholars as Movses Khorenatsi.[16][17] But there is no indication in Parpetsi that this Movses had "composed any historical works."[18] The second one is the Book of Letters (sixth century), which contains a short theological treatise by "Movses Khorenatsi."[19] However, this treatise, not being an historical work, cannot be convincingly attributed to the historian Movses.[20] The third possible early reference is in a tenth-eleventh centuries manuscript containing a list of dates attributed to Athanasius (Atanas) of Taron (sixth century): under the year 474, the list has "Moses of Chorene, philosopher and writer." This mention is, however, considered as too uncertain.[20]

Early scholarshipEdit

Beginning in the nineteenth century, as a part of a general trend in those years to reexamine critically classical sources, Movses' History was cast into doubt. The conclusions reached by Alfred von Gutschmid ushered in the "hypercritical phase"[21][22] of the study of Movses' work. Many European and Armenian scholars writing at the turn of the twentieth century reduced its importance as a historical source and dated the History to sometime in the seventh to ninth centuries.[4] Stepan Malkhasyants, an Armenian philologist and expert of Classical Armenian literature, likened this early critical period from the late nineteenth to early twentieth centuries to a "competition," whereby one scholar attempted to outperform the other in their criticism of Movses.[23]

Modern studiesEdit

In the early decades of the twentieth century, scholars such as F. C. Conybeare, Manuk Abeghian, and Stepan Malkhasyants rejected the conclusions of the scholars of the hypercritical school and placed Khorenatsi back in the fifth century.[24] Additionally, ethnographic and archaeological research during this time confirmed a number of claims made by Khorenatsi.[24]

Earlier critical points were revived[25] in the second half of the twentieth century.[26][27] For instance Robert W. Thomson, the former holder of the chair in Armenian Studies at Harvard University and the translator of several classical Armenian works, claimed that Movses' account contained various anachronisms.[28] His approach in evaluating Movses's work was criticized when the English translation of History of the Armenians appeared in 1978.[17][29][30] The points he raised have since been challenged.[31] Vrej Nersessian, the Curator of the Christian Middle East Section at the British Library, took issue with many of Thomson's points, including his later dating of the writing and his contention that Movses was merely writing an apologist work for the Bagratunis:

If so, how does one explain then Moses’s complete preoccupation with the events preceding A.D. 440 and his silence regarding the events leading up the Arab incursions and occupation of Armenia between 640–642? Moreover, if the definite purpose of the History was for “boosting the reputation of the Bagratuni family” then these events should have been central theme of his history; the skilful handling of which brought the Bagratid pre-eminence.... The ecclesiastical interests do not point to the eighth century. There is no echo of the Chalcedonian controversy which engaged the Armenians from 451 to 641 when the ecclesiastical unity formulated by the council of Theodosiopolis was renounced.[30]

Gagik Sargsyan, an Armenian scholar of the Classics and a leading biographer of Movses, also criticized Thomson for "anachronistic hypercriticism" and for stubbornly rehashing and "even exaggerating the statements once put forward" by the late nineteenth and early twentieth-century scholars, particularly by Grigor Khalatiants (1858–1912).[32] Sargsyan noted that Thomson, in condemning Movses' failure to mention his sources, ignored the fact that "an antique or medieval author may have had his own rules of mentioning the sources distinct from the rules of modern scientific ethics."[33] Thomson's allegation of Movses' plagiarism and supposed distortion of sources was also countered by scholars who contended that Thomson was "treating a medieval author with the standards" of twentieth century historiography and pointed out that numerous classical historians, Greek and Roman alike, engaged in the same practice.[30][34] Aram Topchyan, a research fellow at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem of Armenian Studies, agreed with this view and noted that it was odd that Thomson would fault Movses for failing to mention his sources because this was an accepted practice among all classical historians.[35]

Today, Movses Khorenatsi's work is recognized as an important source for the research of Urartian and early Armenian history.[36][37] It was Movses Khorenatsi's account of the ancient city of Van with its cuneiform inscriptions which lead the Société Asiatique of Paris to finance the expedition of Friedrich Eduard Schulz, who there discovered the previously unknown Urartian language.[38]


The following works are also attributed to Movses:[9]

  • Letter on the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
  • Homily on Christ's Transfiguration
  • History of Rhipsime and Her Companions
  • Hymns used in Armenian Church Worship
  • Commentaries on the Armenian Grammarians
  • Explanations of Armenian Church Offices

Published editionsEdit


  • — (1843). Patmutyun Hayots [History of Armenia]. Venice: St. Lazar.
  • Malxaseanc‘, Stepan (1913). Movsēs Xorenac'i Patmut'iwn Hayoc [History of Armenia]. Tiflis.
  • — (1984). Patmutyun Hayots [History of Armenia]. Erevan. (A facsimile reproduction in three volumes of the original title as published in Venice in 1784–1786).
  • Sargsyan, A.B. (1991). Patmutyun Hayots [History of Armenia]. Erevan: Armenian Academy of Sciences.
  • Malxasyanc‘, Step‘an (1997). Movses Xorenac'i, Hayoc' Patmut'yun (PDF). Erevan: "Hayastan" hratarakč'ut'yun. (Translation into modern Armenian with introduction and notes).






  1. ^ See The Armenian Church. Holy Translators Archived 2009-04-06 at the Wayback Machine.
  2. ^ Chahin, Mack. The Kingdom of Armenia: A History (London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2001), p. 181. ISBN 0-7007-1452-9.
  3. ^ (in Armenian) Traina, Giusto. "Movses Khorenatsu 'Dasakan' avandutyan Hayots patmutyan A grki glukhin mej" [The 'Classical' Tradition of Movses Khorenatsi in Chapter 5 of Book I in the History of Armenians] Patma-Banasirakan Handes 134 (1992): pp. 28–32.
  4. ^ a b Topchyan, Aram. The Problem of the Greek Sources of Movsēs Xorenacʻi's History of Armenia. Leuven: Peeters Publishers, 2006, pp. 5–14, notes 21–22, 31–33.
  5. ^ For this reason, some have also referred to him as Movses of Taron.[citation needed]
  6. ^ (in Armenian) Malkhasiants, Stepan. "Nakhaban" [Introduction], in Hayots patmutyun, E dar [History of the Armenians, 5th Century], ed. Gagik Sargsyan (Yerevan: Hayastan, 1997), p. 7. ISBN 5-540-01192-9.
  7. ^ Malkhasiants, "Nakhaban," p. 7.
  8. ^ Great historians from antiquity to 1800: an international dictionary, by Lucian Boia, 1989 – 417 pages, P. 9
  9. ^ a b (in Armenian) Sargsyan, Gagik Kh. s.v. "Movses Khorenatsi," Armenian Soviet Encyclopedia, vol. 8, pp. 40–41.
  10. ^ (in Armenian) Movses Khorenatsi. Hayots patmutyun, E dar [History of the Armenians, 5th Century], annotated translation and commentary by Stepan Malkhasiants, and ed. Gagik Kh. Sargsyan (Yerevan: Hayastan, 1997), 3.68, p. 276. ISBN 5-540-01192-9.
  11. ^ Hacikyan, Agop Jack, Gabriel Basmajian, Edward S. Franchuk, and Nourhan Ouzounian. The Heritage of Armenian Literature: From the Oral Tradition to the Golden Age, Vol. I. Detroit: Wayne State University, 2000, p. 307.
  12. ^ Malkhasiants. "Nakhaban," p. 15.
  13. ^ Malkhasiants. "Nakhaban," p. 16.
  14. ^ (in Armenian) Matevosyan, Artashes S. "Movses Khorenatsin yev Atanas Taronatsu zhamanakagrutyune" [Movses Khorenatsi and Atanas Taronatsi's Chronicle] Patma-Banasirakan Handes 124 (1989): p. 226.
  15. ^ Movses Khorenatsi. History of the Armenians, 1.4, pp. 70–71.
  16. ^ (in Armenian) Hasratyan, Morus. “Vorn e Movses Khorenatsu tsnndavayre?” [Where was Movses Khorenatsi’s birthplace?] Lraber Hasarakakan Gituyunneri 12 (1969): pp. 81–90.
  17. ^ a b (in Armenian) Hovhannisyan, Petros. "Review of History of the Armenians." Banber Yerevani Hamalsarani 45 (1982), pp. 237–239.
  18. ^ Thomson, Robert W. "Introduction" in Moses Khorenats'i. History of the Armenians. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, p. 3.
  19. ^ Brock, S. P. "Review of The Incarnation: A Study of the Doctrine of the Incarnation in the Armenian Church in the 5th and 6th centuries according to the Book of Letters," Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 46 (1983): pp. 159–160.
  20. ^ a b (in French) See Annie and Jean-Pierre Mahé's introduction to their translation of Moïse de Khorène Histoire de l'Arménie (Paris: Gallimard, 1993), p. 13.
  21. ^ (in French) Jean-Pierre Mahé's review of Aram Topchyan's The Problem of the Greek Sources of Movsēs Xorenac‘i's History of Armenia, in Revue des Études Arméniennes 30 (2005–2007), p. 505.
  22. ^ (in French) Traina, Giusto. "Moïse de Khorène et l'Empire sassanide," in Rika Gyselen (ed.), Des Indo-Grecs aux Sassanides: Données pour l'histoire et la géographie historique. Peeters Publishers, 2007, p. 158. ISBN 978-2-9521376-1-4.
  23. ^ Malkhasiants. "Nakhaban," pp. 2–5.
  24. ^ a b Hacikyan et al. Heritage of Armenian Literature, pp. 305–306.
  25. ^ (in French) Aram Toptchyan. "Moïse de Khorène" in Claude Mutafian (ed.), Arménie, la magie de l'écrit. Somogy, 2007, p. 143. ISBN 978-2-7572-0057-5.
  26. ^ Toumanoff, Cyril. "On the Date of Pseudo-Moses of Chorene," Handes Amsorya 75 (1961): pp. 467–471.
  27. ^ Malkhasiants. "Nakhaban," pp. 3–5, 47–50.
  28. ^ Thomson, Robert W. "Armenian Literary Culture through the 11th Century." in Richard G. Hovannisian (ed.) The Armenian People from Ancient to Modern Times: The Dynastic Periods: From Antiquity to the Fourteenth Century. St. Martin's Press, 1997. ISBN 0-312-10168-6.
  29. ^ Ter-Petrosyan, Levon (1980). "Moses Khorenats'i, History of the Armenians. Translation and Commentary on the Literary Sources by Robert W. Thomson (Review)". Patma-Banasirakan Handes (in Armenian) (1): 268–270.
  30. ^ a b c Nersessian, Vrej. "Review of History of the Armenians." Journal of Ecclesiastical History 30 (October 1979): pp. 479–480.
  31. ^ See (in Armenian) Albert Musheghyan, “Vortegh e gtnvel Movses Khorenatsu hishatakvats Byutanyan?” [Where was the Bithynia Mentioned by Movses Khorenatsi?] Patma-Banasirakan Handes 1 (1990) and idem (in Armenian) “Vaspurakan termini nshanakutyune Hay dasakan matenagrutyan mej” [The Meaning of the Term ‘Vaspurakan’ in Classical Armenian Literature] Iran Nameh 2–3 (1996).
  32. ^ Sarkissian, Gaguik [Gagik Kh. Sargsyan]. The "History of Armenia" by Movses Khorenatzi, trans. by Gourgen A. Gevorkian. Yerevan: Yerevan University Press, 1991, pp. 58–59.
  33. ^ Sarkissian. "History of Armenia" by Movses Khorenatzi, p. 76.
  34. ^ Sarkissian. "History of Armenia" by Movses Khorenatzi, p. 80.
  35. ^ Topchyan. Problem of the Greek Sources, pp. 33–35.
  36. ^ Cotterell, Arthur. The Encyclopedia of Ancient Civilizations. 1980, p. 117. "It is interesting that Moses Khorenatsi, writing in the eighth century and regarded as the father of Armenian history, indicates his awareness of elements of continuity between Urartian and Armenian history."
  37. ^ Piotrovskiĭ, Boris B. The Ancient Civilization of Urartu. New York: Cowles Book Co., 1969, p. 13; Hovhannisyan, Konstantine. Erebuni (Yerevan: Hayastan, 1973), p. 65.
  38. ^ Lang, D. M. (1979). Review of “Moses Khorenats’i”: History of the Armenians, by R. W. Thomson & Moses Khorenats’i. Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, 42(3), 574–575.

External linksEdit