1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Moses of Chorene

MOSES OF CHORENE, Armenian historian, was a native of Khor'ni in Taron, a district of the Armenian province of Turuberan. According to the History of Armenia which bears his name he was a pupil of the two fathers of Armenian literature, the patriarch or catholicos Sahak the Great and the vartabed Mesrob. Shortly after 431 he was sent by these men to Alexandria to study the Greek language and literature, and thus prepare himself 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[1] — such as, that he was the nephew of Mesrob, 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 Taron; but these accounts must be received with great caution. This remark applies especially to the statement of Thomas Ardsruni,[2] 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.

The History of Armenia,[3] or, as the more exact title runs, the Genealogical Account of Great Armenia, consists of three books, and reaches down to the death of Saint Mesrob, in the second year of Yazdegerd II. (Feb. 17, 440).[4] 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 Sebeos),[5] 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 A.D. 383, 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.[6] 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 permanent 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[7] and Dulaurier[8] 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 3rd century it is proved by the contemporary Graeco-Roman 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 contemporaries of Moses himself. What can be thought of a writer who assigns to Yazdegerd I. (399-420) the eleven years of his predecessor Bahram IV., and the twentyone years of Yazdegerd I. to his successor Bahram V. (420-439)? A. von Gutschmid[9] at one time attempted to explain this unhistorical character of the narrative from a tendency arising out of the peculiar ecclesiastical and political circumstances 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 came 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 ethnographical nomenclature of a later period and similar anachronisms[10] 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 Geography, a point on which all doubt is excluded by a number of individual affinities,[11] not to speak of the similarity in geographical terminology. The critical decision as to the authorship of the Geography must settle the question for the History also.

The Geography is a meagre sketch, based mainly on the Chorography 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 text[12] contains names like “Russians” and “Crimea," Saint Martin in his edition[13] denied that it was written by Moses, and assigned its origin to the 10th century. It was shown, however, by L. Indjidjean[14] that these are interpolations, which are not found in better manuscripts. And in fact it is quite evident that a book which gives the division of the Sassanid Empire into four spahbehships in pure old Persian names cannot possibly have been composed at a long interval after the time of the Sassanidae. 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 Chosroes I. (531–579).[15] Accordingly K. P. Patkanow,[16] 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. If the limits within which the Geography was composed are to be more nearly defined, we may say that, from isolated traces of Arab rule[17] (which in Armenia dates from 651), it must have been written certainly after that year, and perhaps about the year 657.[18]

Another extant work of Moses is a Manual of Rhetoric, in ten books, dedicated to his pupil Theodorus. 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, 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 the Rhetoric 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 are — the Letter to Sahak Arderuni; the History of the Holy Mother of God and her Image (in the cloister of Hogotsvanch in the district Andzevatsi of the province of Vaspurakan), which is also addressed to Sahak; and the Panegyric on Saint Rhipsime. Of the sacred poems attributed 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 following are regarded by the historians of Armenian literature as spurious: a History (distinct from the Panegyric) of the wanderings 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.

Literature. — The date of the History of Moses has been discussed in many monographs. See especially the brochure of A. Carriere, Nouvelles sources de Moise de Khoren (Vienna, 1893), who sets it in the 8th century. A Russian critic, J. Khalateants, arrives at a similar conclusion in his Armianskie Epos (Moscow, 1896). F. C. Conybeare, in an article on "The date of Moses of Khoren," in the Byzantinische Zeitschrift, vol. x., and in a second in vol. ii, entitled "The Relation of the Paschal Chronicle to Malalas," challenges Professor Carriere's arguments, and contends that the History of Moses is a late 5th-century work, much interpolated in the immediately succeeding centuries.

(A. v. G.; F. C. C.)


  1. Collected by Langlois, Collection des historiens de l'armenie, ii 47 seq.
  2. In Brosset, Collection d'historiens armeniens, i. 68.
  3. The oldest MS. is that of S. Lazaro of the 12th century. Collations 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 Valliant de Florival (Venice and Paris, s.a., 1841), 2 vols. 8vo.
  4. The commencement of this king's reign has been fixed by Noldeke (Geschichte der Sassaniden aus Tabari, p. 423) as 4t August 438; and this date has subsequently been established by documentary evidence from the fact of the martyrdom of Pethion (see Hoffmann, Ausziige aus syrischen Akten persischer Martyrer, p. 67).
  5. Translated in Langlois, i. 195 seq.
  6. For the following statements, the evidence may be found in the article "Ueber die Glaubwurdigkeit der Armenischen Geschichte des Moses von Khoren," by Alfred von Gutschmid, in the Berichte der Phil. histor. Classe der konigl. sachs. Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften (i876), p. I seq.
  7. The Epic Songs of Ancient Armenia (Arm.) (Moscow, 1850).
  8. “Etudes sur les chants historiques at les traditions populaires de l'ancienne Armenie," in the Journ. asiat., iv., see. 19 (1852), p. 5 seq.
  9. "Ueber die Glaubwiirdigkeit," &c., p. 8 seq. II
  10. 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 back to Aram, an older contemporary of Ninus; and in the passage iii. 18, according to which Shapur II. penetrated to Bithynia, although the Persians did not reach that till 608.
  11. See the confusion, common to both books, between Cappadocia I. and Armenia I., in consequence of which Mazaca and Mt Argaeus are transferred to the latter locality (Hist. i. 14; Geogr. Saint Martin's ed., ii. 354); also the passages which treat of China and Dchenbakur (Hist. ii. 81; Geogr. ii. 376), &c.
  12. Edition with translation by Whiston (London, 1736, 4to).
  13. In the Memoires historiques et geographiques sur l'Armenie (Paris, 1819, 8vo), ii. 310 seq.
  14. Antiquities of Armenia (Arm.), iii. 303 seq.
  15. See Noldeke's Tabari, p. 155; seq.
  16. Armjanskaja geographija vii. waka por. Ch. (pripisiwawschajasja Moiseju Chorenskomu) (St Petersburg, 1877, 8vo). Before him Kiepert (in the Monatsb. d. Berliner Akad. (1873, p. 599 seq.) had substantially arrived at the right conclusion when he assigned the portions of the Geography referring to Armenia to the time between Justinian and Maurice. (See also Abhandlungen der koniglichen Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften zu Gottingen, philol. hist. Klasse, Neue Folge, Band iii. Nro. 2, 1901) (in which Dr J. Marquart edits with commentary under the title Eransahr the sections of the geography relating to Persia).
  17. The passage about the trade of Basra, which was founded in 635, is decisive on this point (Saint Martin's edition, ii. 368).
  18. The peculiar interest which the author (Saint Martin, 11. 340) takes in the origin of the Slavs in Thrace is best explained by the war against them which called the emperor Constans II. away from the East in the year 657. In other respects the writer displays the most complete indifference, and even ignorance, with regard to the state of affairs in the West.