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Armenian Legends and Poems [1916] at

p. 124 p. 125




THE country that is called Armenia consists of a large plateau, covered with numerous mountain ranges, which are intersected by many valleys and passes, as well as by rivers and lesser streams of considerable depth. The climate differs in various parts of the country, the meteorological conditions ranging from frost and snow to extreme heat. Over the plains towers Mount Ararat, on which, as we read in the Bible, the Ark rested after the Flood. Here also is the traditional site of the Garden of Eden, and the four rivers mentioned in Genesis as rising in the Garden still flow through the Armenian land.

The origin of the Armenian people is enveloped in mystery, but it is an established fact that Armenia has had a civilisation of its own from a very early date, and that the Armenians are one of the most ancient races in the world. They have had their periods of independence, but, on account of its geographical position, Armenia has seldom figured as one of the great ruling states of the world, although it has repelled by arms invasions of such nations as Assyria. Assyrian records are filled with descriptions of conflicts with Armenian kings; King Assur Nazir Haban (1882-1857 B.C.) gives this account of one of his "victories":--"They (the people of Ararat, or Urardu) fled to the impregnable mountains so that I might not be able to get at them, for the mighty summits were like drawn swords pointing to the skies. Only the birds of heaven soaring on their wings could reach them. In three days I was there, spreading terror in places where they had taken refuge. Their corpses, like autumn leaves, filled the clefts. The rest escaped to distant inaccessible heights."

Notwithstanding the boasts of the Assyrian kings, they did not succeed in permanently crushing the independence of Armenia.

Tigranes the Great brought Armenia more in contact with distant foreign lands. In his time his country began to be considered of importance by Greek and Roman historians. The Romans sent Lucullus to engage in war with Tigranes in order to crush his growing power. This is what--according to Plutarch--Lucullus said of Tigranes:--

"In Armenia Tigranes, King of Kings, is seated, surrounded with that power which

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has wrested Asia from the Parthians, which carries Grecian colonies into Media, subdues Syria and Palestine, cuts off the Seleucidae and carries their wives and daughters into captivity." Cicero says of Tigranes the Great:--"He made the Republic of Rome tremble before the prowess of his arms."

To give even a short outline of Armenian folklore and poetry it is essential to point out those agencies and influences which have served to originate that literature. Hence its literature and history, like those of all countries, are interwoven. Notwithstanding its periods of greatness, Armenia was unable, as we said above, to continue to be a powerful and independent state. Thus we see Armenia serving as a bridge between armies engaged in war, and such has been its fate in all periods, even up to the present time.

It fell successively under the dominion of Assyria, Babylonia, and, finally, of Persia when, after the time of Cyrus, the kingdom of Persia was extended by Darius over nearly the whole of Asia. Although Armenia became a tributary of Persia, it still had its own independent king.

The Median Empire had been founded probably in 677-672 B.C. From that time Iranian influence was strongly felt in the politics, language, and social organisation of Armenia, and the Iranian religion, with its terminology, names of divinities, and many folk-beliefs, permeated Armenian paganism.

Moreover, the Armenians, being the near neighbours of the Persians, closely resembled them in their manner of life and their religion. After the conquest of Alexander the Great, Armenia, like all other Asiatic nations, fell under Greek dominion. Then the Macedonian rule gave way to the Parthian, and the dynasty of the Arsacidae held sway, a king of that race being set over Armenia and founding an independent Armenian dynasty. The Arsacidae introduced Greek civilisation and culture into Armenia. During this period the character of the Armenians changed. Not only their religion but their manners and customs became different from those of the Persians. The rule of Macedonia over Armenia lasted 180 years (330-150 B.C.). The Graecophile Arsacid dynasty lasted 376 years (150 B.C.-226 A.D.). These long periods brought the Armenians into close contact with the Greeks and separated them from the Persians.

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