IV. ARMENIA: 325–1060

In the year 1060 the Seljuq Turks extended their conquests to Armenia.

That harassed country has felt the claws of rival imperialisms through many centuries, because its mountains hindered its unity of defense while its valleys provided tempting roads between Mesopotamia and the Black Sea. Greece and Persia fought for those roads as highways of trade and war; Xenophon’s Ten Thousand traversed them; Rome and Persia fought for them; Byzantium and Persia, Byzantium and Islam, Russia and Britain. Through all vicissitudes of external pressure or domination, Armenia maintained a practical independence, a vigorous commercial and agricultural economy, a cultural autonomy that produced its own creed, literature, and art. It was the first nation to adopt Christianity as its state religion (303). It took the Monophysite side in the debate about the natures of Christ, refusing to admit that He had shared the infirmities of human flesh. In 491 the Armenian bishops parted from Greek and Roman Christianity and formed an autonomous Armenian Church under its own katholikos. Armenian literature used the Greek language until the early fifth century, when Bishop Mesrob invented a national alphabet, and translated the Bible into the Armenian tongue. Since that time Armenia has had an abundant literature, chiefly in religion and history.

From 642 to 1046 the country was nominally subject to the caliphs, but it remained virtually sovereign and zealously Christian. In the ninth century the Bagratuni family established a dynasty under the title of “Prince of Princes,” built a capital at Ani, and gave the country several generations of progress and relative peace. Ashot III (952–77) was much loved by his people; he founded many churches, hospitals, convents, and almshouses, and (we are told) never sat down to meals without allowing poor men to join him. Under his son Gagik I (990–1020)—how peculiar our names must seem to the Armenians!—prosperity reached its height: schools were numerous, towns were enriched by trade and adorned by art; and Kars rivaled Ani as a center of literature, theology, and philosophy. Ani had impressive palaces and a famous cathedral (c. 980), subtly compounded of Persian and Byzantine styles; here were piers and column clusters, pointed as well as round arches, and other features that later entered into Gothic art. When, in 989, the cupola of St. Sophia in Constantinople was destroyed by an earthquake, the Byzantine emperor assigned the hazardous task of restoring it to Trdat, the architect of the Ani cathedral.32

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