Notes from the Medieval Armenian Diaspora

 Christopher MacEvitt writes: 

The text [Matthew of Edessa’s Chronicle] is best read not as a description of a world containing discrete and differentiated peoples and cultures, but prescriptively as an attempt to shape a protean cultural landscape into such a world.

“Matthew’s apocalyptic fears arose from the disquieting sense that Armenians, particularly those living in diasporic communities such as Edessa, were fading from sight, bleached out by Byzantine, Frankish, and Turkish cultural radiation. The Chronicle is Matthew’s search for an explanation of why Armenians were becoming indistinguishable from their neighbors and rulers; he cast the answer in the language of violence, which often stood in for the cultural violence Matthew felt Armenians were suffering. 

Paradoxically, the description and memory of violence in Matthew’s work was a product of a society in which the boundaries separating one religious and ethnic community from another were transparent, crossed and recrossed by soldiers, generals and aristocrats with little sense of any change. Matthew pointed out that Armenians inflicted suffering on each other as often as the Turks or Byzantines did, and to him such “betrayals” were the most fascinating and revealing kind of violence. His real concern was thus Armenian society, proud of its ancient heritage but blind to its current calamities, consuming itself in betrayal and backstabbing.” 

He continues: 

For Matthew the problem tolerance presented was not the absence [of Satan’s power], but its confusing, ambiguous, and anomalous presence. While stories of violence and massacre appealed to Frankish and Muslim chroniclers because they clearly delineated separation among communities, for Matthew violence was not the opposite of tolerance, but phenomenologically the same thing—the social manifestation of Satan’s power in the world. With this view, Matthew’s understanding of the Last Days makes more sense. He had little interest in the final event itself. He never mentioned the return of Jesus Christ or the Last Judgment, and his account of the time leading up to the Apocalypse depended entirely on widely held beliefs about the figure of the Last Emperor, whom Matthew was content to identify as a Byzantine, despite his devotion to Armenian kingship. Matthew did not seek to prepare Armenians for the end of the world, but to open their eyes to the erosion of their culture and community by the military, political, and cultural power of the Byzantines, Turks, and Franks.” 

More here: 

The Chronicle of Matthew of Edessa: Apocalypse, the First Crusade, and the Armenian Diaspora


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