Excerpts from P'awstos Buzand by Manuk Abeghian

Yesterday, Sophene Books published an English translation of Karekin Zarbanalian’s 1865 article on the mysterious P’awstos Buzand. For an entirely different view on P’awstos and his significance as a historian, here, I provide excerpts of interest from Manuk Abeghian’s 1940 article.

Excerpts from "P'awstos Buzand"

by Manuk Abeghian


The History of P’awstos Buzand, according to Ghazar P’arpec’i, is the second History of the Armenians. Yet we do not know a thing about its author. P’awstos’ History is divided into books (դպրութիւնք), of which only Books 3-6 have reached us. The author also wrote Books 1 and 2, but those were left out, and so that we do not seek them in vain, the word “Beginning” was added at the start of the Third Book.

            The Contents of the Sixth Book contain the following line: “Beneath all the chapters that pertain to me, the reader will find ten additional chapters”. Here, the author promises to provide information about himself, however this is not to be found at the end of the book. And [this information] was already missing by the 5th century, because nothing is known about P’awstos even by Ghazar Parpec’i, who lived in the second half of the 5th century. And besides, Ghazar does not speak that respectfully about P’awstos, as when he says “[all this was recounted by] one P’awstos of Buzand”, “a certain historian called P’awstos of Buzand” and “the writing that they call the History of the Armenians”. Ghazar even questions whether the History of P’awstos Buzand was written by a Byzantine: 

“However, because some people have considered certain words employed by him in some passages to be not proper and fitting […] they have expressed doubts that someone having been educated among the Byzantines would say such improper things.” However, speaking at length about Byzantium, he says that “streams of wisdom have issued from that city, as from a royal residence, and prominent scholars have hastened to go there from all parts of the Byzantine land. To this day those streams of knowledge have extended themselves and have flowed to all areas). Now, could the man P’awstos who had studied in such a city amidst such a multitude of scholars have put such unpleasant-sounding things in his history? May it not be so!” 

P’arpec’i thinks that P’awstos, being from Byzantium, must have been “learned” and “educated”. But since he did not consider the History in his name to be the work of a learned man, he says: 


“To my feeble mind also the work is untrustworthy. Perhaps some other bold uneducated person shamelessly put his hand to it and wrote what he pleased. Or, perhaps some incapable per- son, unable to do it properly, altered [the work] in another way and thought to conceal the errors of his impudence under the name of P’awstos.” 


And then he adds that such people existed among the Greeks and Assyrians: 


“…who have done such tampering—writing futile and useless narrations of their own and inserting them into literate books. However, critical folk clearly are able to differentiate between the words of scholars and the chattering of fools.” 


P’awstos Buzand’s History of the Armenians was not valued much from P’arpec’i’s time onward, until the last quarter of the 19th century. Since that time, there has also been more intrigue about the author of the work, who has attracted much opining. Take, for example, the question about P’awstos’ nationality. Some say he was Greek, others that he was Armenian. And there have been philologists who claim that two authors have written his History of the Armenians, and that one part was written by a Greek and another by an Assyrian. If he was Armenian, was he from the Saharhunik clan? And if he was Greek, is he the same old Byzantine bishop P’awstos who lived in the 4th century and is mentioned in the Sixth Book of the work? The question has been raised as to whether the book was written in Greek in the 4th century and translated into Armenian in the 5th century, or whether it was written by an Armenian in the 5th century and attributed to a Greek chronicler named P’awstos Buzand whom we know nothing about? Some have even said that the author was a 4th century Armenian who wrote a brief history in Greek, and that the 5th century translation expanded on the work. And finally, there has been another question as to the relation between P’awstos’ History of the Armenians and the Greek chronicler Procopius’ 6th century History based on partial similarities. Let us now take a brief pause on this last item.

That the Greek historian Procopius has related a piece about Arshak that is similar to an excerpt from P’awstos’ History cannot be taken as proof that P’awstos’ History was originally composed in Greek. Procopius, hailing from Caesarea, could have known Armenian and benefited from P’awstos. Alternatively, he could have had someone translate parts of P’awstos’ History for him, just as there are now many Russian translations of Armenian literature in the hands of Russians who know no Armenian. 

Now it is certainly possible to say that P’awstos’ History of the Armenians was written in the second half of the 5th century, in Armenian, by a patriotic Armenian. Essentially all the contents of Agathangelos’ History were familiar to the author, from which he draws in various parts of his History. He also made use of the Armenian translation of the Holy Bible as well as other works. His language is pure, authentic Armenian, without borrowed words or idioms, and largely in native Armenian style, even in terms of popular turns of phrase and other peculiarities of the work that it is not possible to consider the work a translation.

The work contains allusions in the style of curses or divinations based on 5th century events and excerpts from Koriwn’s book, although not as many as from Agathangelos’. Others have presented a few such examples, of which we will share only one here. The following excerpt can be found as well in Koriwn and Agathangelos. Some say this excerpt was taken by P’awstos from Agathengelos, but it seems likely that both Agathangelos and P’awstos independently used the same excerpt that originated in Koriwn:


“With the grace of God he perfectly conducted the Apostolic course and superintendency of the blessed Church, taking care, encouraging and exhorting everyone to goodness, with day and evening fasts and prayers, inspiring everyone near and far with spiritual zeal, supplications and perfect faith."



“He continued with the grace of God, perfectly, his administration of the blessed Church, exhorting everyone to goodness. And day and night, with fasting and praying and with supplications...” 



        Beyond the similar content in these excerpts, there are also the styles of expression, turns of phrase and other such similarities between P’awstos and Agathangelos that are attributable to Koriwn as their common source. Koriwn’s work, being the oldest [existing] original Armenian composition, and covering the discovery of the alphabet, as well as the lives of Mashtots and Sahak, must have been widely read. Even Ghazar P’arpec’i, who lived at a later time, wrote that he had written that book many times (“We have read [Koriwn] numerous times, and so confirmed our information.”).


        Buzand’s book is the first attempt to record a complete History of the Armenians, including also of ancient times. Such a work was indispensable in the 5th century, when it was not only necessary to strengthen the church, but also, in a secular sense, to develop national and political self-knowledge. The History of the Armenians was to further the tension between these two forces, as two opposing lines of Armenian history (secular-political and ecclesiastic) meet here in the same work—sometimes in parallel, sometimes intertwined, and sometimes one taking precedence over the other.

     The History of Buzand that has reached us covers the period of Armenian history from Trdat’s son Khosrov until the division of Armenia between Iran and Byzantium in 387, a period of about 50 years, covering the reigns of Khosrov, Tiran, Arshak, Pap, Varazdat and Arshak. The ecclesiastic history begins from St. Gregory and the death of his son Aristakes, followed by Vrtanes and the following Catholicoi. Special attention is given to the life of St. Nerses the Great and his works. Information has been provided about a number of clerics. That Buzand discourses as well about a few Assyrian bishops or clerics is not a sign of his allegiance to them, as some have opined. As the author of his History, he has written of Armenian Catholicoi, as well as Assyrian and Greek clerics indiscriminately, both complimenting and reproaching them from a religious standpoint. From this perspective, his History, despite its mystique, is a precious source for Armenian ecclesiastical history. In it, we find opposition of ecclesiastic and secular ranks, the rule of Catholicoi in common life, the remarkable works of St. Nerses the Great, tensions in the formation of an independent, national church, as well as a number of other topics related to ecclesiastic life.


            Now, as for the two types of narratives in P’awstos’ History: The ecclesiastic line pertains to high priests and other clerics, and the secular to kings and generals. The kings, being leaders of the country, of course also make some appearances in ecclesiastic discourse, and of the Catholicoi, Nerses also appears as a character in the secular parts. It is there, in the ecclesiastic discourse, where P’awstos the author primarily appears, telling of miracles, visions, prayers, sermons and admonitions, with the benefit of the Holy Bible, from which he borrows phrases or cites excerpts. It is there that he displays his passion, admonitions, and attacks the kings in the spirit of a Christian teacher and with piety. It goes without saying that the author’s pen also makes such a mark on secular matters, albeit less, and in large part with reference to the Catholicoi and the things they said, as with Vrtanes (Book III, Chapter 11), Nerses (Book IV, Chapter 5), Xad (Book IV, Chapter 12), Ch’unak (Book IV, Chapter 15), and so on, which are in part ecclesiastical discourse. Those ecclesiastical discourses as well come from folk tradition and are expressed in popular style. The chapters containing ecclesiastic discourse are: Book Three—Chapters 2-6, 12-17, 19, Book IV—Chapter 4, 6-10, 44, 56-57, Book V—Chapters 21-31, and Book VI—Chapters 2-16.


     When we accept P’awstos’ History of the Armenians as part of our folk tradition, the work assumes both historical and literary value. It is our only ancient manuscript which, as a piece of folklore, has had an influence upon our people, especially in terms of the portrayal of aristocratic life, patriotic life, social conditions, and even customs, private life, beliefs and so on. Every incident described by P’awstos reveals many aspects of contemporary life at the same time. It is in his History that we see the relations between secular and cleric powers, aristocrats and kings, familial relations among close relatives, the king’s unbounded authority to do anything, even so much as having people killed without penalty, and every manner of intrigue. His History also transmits ideas of the times, illustrations of piety, the wonders of saints, and powerful descriptions of deceptive, thievish and clownish bishops who were only Christian by name (Book VI, Chapters 8-10). At the same time, those interested in private life can benefit immensely from P’awstos’ rich History.


[You can read Abeghian's complete original article here]


Popular posts from this blog

In Defense of Civilization

Learn Classical Armenian!

Movses Khorenatsi's History of the Armenians