The History and Register of the Nobility of Armenia
Armenian nobility has a long history with many interruptions, most
notable of which was the Russian influence. After Armenia regained her independence in 1991 efforts have been made
to revive the influence of the traditional noble houses. Members of the upper class of medieval Armenian society were
known as nakharars and azats, (aznvakans or aznavurs).
Translated from contemporary Armenian the word azat literally means "the one who is free",
a "freeman." The word `Azat" is derived from the Middle Persian word "azat" and equivalent
to modern Persian "âzâd". The lower-aristocratic portion Sassanid Persian society
was dominated by the Azatan, who guarded their status as descendants of ancient Aryan conquerors. The Azatan were
low-level administrators, mostly living on small estates. This knightly caste - which would later serve as the predecessor
to the Medieval European Order of Knights- provided the cavalry backbone of the Sassanid army.
Many - if not the majority - of the ancient Armenian
noble clans traced their origins back to the gods of the old Armenian religion - most of which were based on the Persian Zoroastrian faith
- or to the heroes and patriarchs of the Armenian people. For example, the noble houses of Vahevuni and Mehnuni
were believed to be offspring ofVahagn and Mihr, ancient Armenian deities of fire and war, and heavenly light and
justice respectively. The House of Artzruni traced its origins to Sanasar, son of Mher from the Armenian epos Sasna Tzrer,
i.e. to the same Persian deity Mihr. According to the Armenian aristocratic tradition, the princely houses of Khorkhoruni, Bznuni,Mandakuni, Rshtuni, Manavazian,
Angelea (Angegh tun), Varajnuni, Ohanian, Cartozian, Apahuni, Arran tun and some others, are all believed to be direct
descendants of Nahapet (Patriarch) Hayk, whose epithet was Dyutsazn (from Ancient Greek θεός,
meaning "divine", and Middle Persian saz, meaning "offspring"), or of Hayk's descendants. It
is quite common in all parts of the world for members of the nobility to purport to trace their ancestry back to gods, or
The historians mention various numbers of the Armenian
noble houses during different periods of Armenian history. Sometimes their number is mentioned to be ninety, yet at other
times it reaches up to three hundred. Certainly, the number of the Armenian noble houses did change in the course of time
as the aristocratic class was itself subject to flux.
The first attested Armenian royal dynasty was the Orontids ruling Armenia as a satrapy of
the Persian Empire in the 4th century BC. They are preceded by legendary or semi-legendary patriarchs of Armenian
tradition, first recorded in the HistoryMoses of Chorene (Movses Khorenatsi), written in circa the 7th century.
The noble houses
of Rshtuni, Mokats, Artzruni and others originated from tribal rulers or clans already in antiquity. Some others,
such as the Mamikonians or Aravelians, were granted noble titles and/or offices, such asaspet, 'coronator' and sparapet,
'generalissimo' (from the Persian military office Spahbed -- Middle Persian Spah سپه
"army" bed/bod بد "master"; Old Persian Aspah Paeity) by special decrees of medieval
Armenian kings for their services to the royal court or the nation.
Although the vast majority of the Armenian nobility was of Armenian origin the historical
sources still mention quite significant foreign influxes into the aristocratic class. These assimilated foreign families were
predominantly of Indo-EuropeanPersians, Alans, Medes, Greeks and Romans. The Iranian aristocratic
component was particularly numerous. Many Armenian noble houses were either linked to the Iranian nobility through dynastic
marriages or were Iranians (Persians, Parthians, Medes) by origin. The latter included renowned houses such as those
of theArshakuni, Artashesian, and Pahlavuni (from Sassanid Persian noble family Pahlavani and originally Parthavoni,
indicating Parthian origin from Persia). Examples of non-Armenian but Indo-European noble houses would include
the families of Aravelians and Ropseans; the first were Alans and the latter Romans by origin. origin,
components were never significant among the Armenian nobility and they normally appear at later stages of Armenian history.
Some suggest that the Mamikonian clan originates from a Chinese refugee named Mamgun who for his services
was elevated to the ranks of nobleman by one of the Armenian kings. Some ArmenianChristian historians tend
to derive certain Armenian noble houses from Mesopotamian or other roots. For example, in his History of Armenia, Movses
Khorenatsi traces the family origins of his sponsor prince Sahak Bagratuni to non-Armenian roots. However,
the historical sources prove the existence of the Bagratuni family in the most oldest period of Armenian history
and speak of them as aboriginal Armenians. The linguistic analysis also maintains that the name Bagarat probably
is of Indo-European origin and stems from the Middle Persian wordsBhaga (god) and Arat (plentiful,
rich), i.e. literally "divine plenitude" or "god's richness". It is remarkable that Prince Bagratuni himself
rejected Khorenatsi's version of the origins of his family. Exotic descents were in vogue among the early medieval Armenian
aristocratic families. However, there is no evidence supporting any of these claims of descent.
The institutions and structure of the Armenian nobility
The nobility always played an important role in Armenian
society. This inter alia is evidenced through the evolution of the term naharar. Initially this term referred to
the hereditary governors of the Armenian provinces and was used with the meaning of "ruler" and "governor".
The same title could mean a particularly honorable service (nahararutyun, naharardom) at the Armenian royal court. Examples
of such heritable services or naharardoms are aspetutyun (coronation, which traditionally belonged to the house of Bagratuni),
sparapetutyun (commander-in-chief of the Armenian army, which traditionally belonged to the house of Mamikonean), hazarapetutyun
(chancellery and taxation, which were inheritably managed by the houses of Gnuni and Amatuni), and malhazutyun
(royal guard that was traditionally organized and headed to the house of Khorkhoruni). However, in the course of hereditary
consolidation of gavars (provinces) or royal court services by noble houses, the term naharar has changed its original
meaning and gradually transformed into a generic equivalent of "aristocrat", "nobleman". Accordingly,
the aristocratic families started to be called naharar houses or naharardoms. Along with this analysis, there is another interpretation
of term naharar, which is based on Armenian nah and arar, i.e. "the first created" or "the first borne".
The meaning of term naharar was evolving in parallel
with consolidation of the noble houses' hereditary rights over counties of Great Armenia. For example the county of Great
Albak was traditionally inherited by the noble house of Artzruni, county of Taron by the house of Slkuni, and
the county of Rshtuniq by the house of Rshtuni. Even prior to this consolidation the traditional aristocratic
emblems and coat-of-arms emerge. The latter often is deeply rooted in the ancient kinship and tribal beliefs and totems of
the Armenian clans. Although the information on Armenian heraldry is quite limited, nevertheless it is well known that the
most common symbols were those of the eagle, lion, and mountain ram. For example, the coat-of-arms of the Artashesian dynasty
consisted of two eagles with the symbol of sun in the middle. An eagle holding a sheep was also the house symbol of Bagratuni
naharardom. The dynastic emblem of the Cilician Armenian royal house of Lusignan (Lusinian) reflected
west European heraldic influence and consisted of red lions and crosses on the yellow and blue background of the shield. The
naharar families of ancient Armenia were listed in the so-called Gahnamaks and Zoranamaks, which were the official inventories
or registrars that were positioning the families based on the criteria of honor, virtue and esteem. The difference between
Gahnamak and Zoranamak were in the listing criteria that were determining the esteem почетности
of the noble family. Zoranamak was based on the military strength of the houses, i.e. the number of possessed cavalry and
infantry, responsibility in defending the northern, eastern, southern and western borders of Armenia, as well as the size
of the troops that the noble houses were placing under the command of the king of Armenia in times of military campaigns.
Unlike Zoranamak, Gahnamak was listing the noble houses based on the criteria of political and economic importance of the
houses, size of their estates, their wealth, as well as their connections and influence over the royal courts.
Two other notions of the Armenian nobility relating
to Gahnamak and Zoranamak are those of bardz and pativ. Bardz literally means "cushion". It was the seat that was
occupied by the head of the noble house at the royal table, be it during the council or during the festivities. The word bardz
derives from these cushions on which the lords of houses were seated on special occasions. Bardzes - literally cushioned seats
at the royal table but more broadly the actual status at the royal court - were distributed on the basis of pativ, i.e. literally
the honor and esteem of the noble houses. The latter, most probably wуку fixed in Gahnamaks and Zoranamaks.
Gahnamak (literally: "throne registrar", borrowed from Middle
Persian Gâh namag) - was an official state document, list of places and thrones (bardzes) that the Armenian princes
and naharars were occupying at the royal court of Armenia. The throne of the prince or naharar was defined by his economic
or military strength (according to the Zoranamak, from Middle Persian Zor namag, literally: "strength registrar"),
as well as according to the ancient tradition. Gahnamak was composed and sealed by the King of Armenia, because the naharars
(lords) were considered to be his vassals. Naharar thrones (gahs, i.e. the positions at the royal court) were changing
rarely and were inherited from father to son. Only in special circumstances - such as high treason, cessation of the
family etc. - the king had the right to make some changes in the Gahnamak. The sequence and classification of Armenian lords'
thrones had been defined and observed from the ancient times.
According to Khorenatsi, the first actual listing of lords in the shape of Gahnamak was Armenian king
Vagharshak. According to the recorded sources, the classification of Armenian lords' thrones in the form of Gahnamak existed
throughout the reign of Arshakuni (Arsacide) dynasty (the 1st - 5th centuries). The same system was continued during the Marzpanian
period in the history of Armenia (the 5th - 7th centuries), i.e. during the supremacy of the Sasanian kings of Persia.
There are significant discrepancies and inaccuracies in the data of Gahnamaks of different centuries regarding the number
of princely houses and degrees of their thrones. According to the Gahnamak of the 4th century preserved in "The Deeds
of Nerses", during the reign of king Arshak II (350-368) the number of the Armenian aristocratic houses reached
400. However the author of "The Deeds" mentions the family names of only 167 lords, 13 of whom did not have a throne.
The author himself explains that he is incapable of listing all of them.Armenian historian of the 13th century Stepanos
Orbelian also mentions 400 naharar thrones, who had "throne and respect" at the royal court of king Trdat III
(287-332). Pavstos Buzand mentions 900 princely lords, who carried honorary services at the royal court and who
sat on a special throne (gah) or cushion (bardz).
The Gahnamak is believed to be written by Armenian Catholic Sahak Parthev (387-439), whose surname indicates
distant Persian origin from the Parthav or Parthian clan. Sahak Parthev made the registrar available to the SasanianPersian court,
mentioning a total of 70 Armenian naharars. In another source of the 4th century 86 naharars were listed. According to the
Arab chronologist Yacoubi (the 9th century) there were 113 lords in the administrative province of Arminiya, whereas another
Arab historian, Yacout al-Hamavi (the 12-13th centuries) the number of Armenian principalities was 118. Armenian historians
Agathangelos, Pavstos Buzand, Yeghishe, Lazar Parbetsi, Movses Khorenatsi, Sebeos and others also provided numerous data and
information about Armenian princely houses and lords. However, the Gahnamaks and lists of naharars (princely houses), based
on these data and information, remain incomplete.
The Internal divisions
The Armenian nobility had an internal division. The social pyramid of the Armenian nobility was headed by the king,
in Armenian arqa. The term arqa originates from the common Aryan root that has equivalents in the name for monarchs in other Indo-European
languages: arxatos in Greek, raja in Indo-Aryan, regia or regnum in Latin, roi in French, and reis in Persian.
The sons of the king, i.e. princes, were called
sepuh. The elder son, who was also the crown prince and was called avag sepuh, had a particular role. In the case of king's
death the avag sepuh automatically would inherit the crown, unless there were other prior arrangements.
The second layer in the social division of the
Armenian nobility was occupied by bdeshkhs. Bdeshkh was a ruler of a big borderland province of historical Great Armenia.
They were de facto viceroys and by their privileges were very close to the king. Bdeshkhs had their own armies, taxation and
duties system, and could even produce their own coins.
The third layer of the Armenian aristocracy after the king and the bdeshkhs was composed by ishkhans, i.e.
princes. Ishkhan normally would have a hereditary estate known as hayreniq and residence caste - dastakert. Armenian princely
houses (or clans) were headed by tanuter. By its meaning the word tun (house) is very close to tohm (clan). Accordingly, tanuter
meant "houselord" or "lord of the clan".
Organizationally, the Armenian nobility was headed by Grand Duke - metz ishxan or ishxanac
ishxan in Armenian, who in some historical chronicles is also called metzametz. He was the marshal of Armenian nobility and
had special privileges and duties. For example, in case of king's death and if there was no inheriting sepuh (crown prince),
it was the grand duke who would temporarily take the responsibilities and perform the duties of the king until the issues
of succession to the throne are resolved. In reality, however, the successions to the throne would be arranged in advance
or would be resolved in the course of feuds and intestine strives.
The Social Pyramid of the Nobility of Great Armenia
Ishkhanats ishkhan (grand duke)
division, however, reflects the specific tradition of Great Armenia in its early period in history. Naturally, in time the
social structure of nobility was undergoing changes that would the specifics of Armenian territories, historical era, and
the specifics social relations. For example, in medieval times the names and composition of the nobility of the Armenian Kingdom
of Cilicia (Kilikia) underwent certain changes:
Ishkhan (or Metz Ishkhan)
Tagavor or Inqnakal
Paronats Paron (or Metz Paron)
Armenia adopted many peculiarities of west European classification of the nobility, such as paron (deriving from "baron"),
ter or sinyor (senior), berdater (castle lord) etc. Besides, in Cilicia emerged Armenian knighthood which was also considered
to be part of the nobility despite the fact that knights themselves - called dziawor и hetzelwor - did not always originate
Some other features
also suffered changes. For example, whereas the salutation for the noblemen in Great Armenia was tiar or ter, in Cilician
Armenia a new form of salutation was added to these, namely paron. The latter became the most popular form of greeting and
gradually changed its meaning to the equivalent of "mister" in modern Armenian.
In late mediaeval Armenia and in the new age a variety of
nobility titles existed in different nahangs (provinces) of the country. For example, in Artsakh of the Khamsa period (i.e.
period of "five principalities") the title of ishkhan (prince) was used in its local equivalent - that of melik
(a 'devaluated' Arabic word for king). Below melik - or sometimes in parallel with it - was the title of yuzbashi (from? the
Turkish officer rank, literally "lord of the hundred" warriors).
With the annexation of eastern Armenia - i.e. Karabakh, Yerevan, Nakhichevan and Kars provinces
- into the Russian Empire the titles, traditions and social institutions of the Russian nobility become dominant among the
Armenian aristocrats as they were integrated into the imperial nobility Russian (rather western) style.
Families of the Armenian Kingdom of Kilikia (Cilicia)
The Princely Families of late Medieval Armenia
Artzruni-Mahkanaberdci (princes of Mahkanaberd)
Artzruni-Kogovit (princes of Kogovit)
(Orbelian) (princes of Siunik)
(princes of Bjni, Garni, Geghard, Noravank)
Zakarian (princes of Armenia)
The Princely Families of Gandzak
Meliks of Getashen
Meliks of Khachakap
The Princely Families
11 melik houses
Vardavantsi, Melik Vartavantsi, Tutundji Vartavantsi, Tutundjian de Vartavan (Vardavan[k],
Siunik); [Offshoots of the Orbeli? (Prof. Hewsen)]. Later "bey(s)" in Egypt (under Fuad Ist & Farouk). Persian
The Armenian Princely Families of Artsakh (Karabakh)
Aranshahik (9th century - )
Dopian (11th - 16th centuries) (meliks of Tzar or Upper Khachen)
Vakhtangian (meliks of Haterk or Central Khachen)
The Meliks of Khamsa
- 19th century)
Melik Hasan-Jalalian (meliks of
Khachen before 1755)
Melik-Mirzakhanian (meliks of
Khachen-Khndzristan after 1755)
(meliks of Varanda)
Melik-Avanian (meliks of Dizak)
Melik-Beglarian (meliks of Gulistan)
Melik-Mejlumian (meliks of Jraberd)
(meliks of Jraberd before 1783)
(meliks of Jraberd in 1783 - 1814)
(meliks of Jraberd since 1814 - beginning of the 1850s)
The Armenian Princely Families of 18th century
Argutian - Argutinskiy-Dolgorukiy
Loris-Melikian - Loris-Melikov (meliks of
Madatian - Madatov
Melikian - Melikov
(meliks of Gegharquniq)
Pirumian - Pirumov
Fate and the Present State of the Armenian Nobility
The history of the Armenian nobility is as dramatic
as that of the Armenian people. Sometimes, during internal feud entire noble houses would be exterminated. Many Armenian aristocratic
families perished during wars with foreign invaders, notably Arabs and Turks. The latter quickly realized that
the Armenian statehood is based on the national aristocracy and thus adopted policies of annihilation of the Armenian nobility.
For example, in 705 theostikan (governor under the Arab caliphate) of Armenia deceitfully invited around 800 Armenian
noblemen together with their guards to Nakhichevan as if for negotiations and massacred them all. Nevertheless, some Armenian
noble houses lived through this tragedy and continued their efforts to liberate the country. Some descendants of the Armenian
nobility achieved high-ranking positions at foreign royal courts. For example, the offspring of the Armenian noble house of
Artzruni became influential grandees at the Georgian court. The Georgian branch of the Armenian noble family of
Bagratuni was enthroned as Bagrationi and became the reigning house in Georgia. An entire line of noblemen of the Armenian
descent was inheritably reigning in Byzantium. As a result of dynastic marriages the descendants of the Armenian royal
house of Lusignan (Lusinian), once ruling over Cilicia and Cyprus, merged with the representatives of west European royal
dynasty of Savoy reigning in parts of Italy. Some other offspring of naharar houses originated medieval Armenian aristocratic
houses, such as Cartozian, Proshian, Kyurikian, Orbelian, Artzrunis of Mahkanaberd, Tornikian etc. These played significant
role in the struggle for liberation of Armenia and revival of the Armenian statehood. In the 13th century particularly prominent
were the Cartozian princes - brothers Zaqare and Ivane - whose military strength and political influence in the united Armenian-Georgian
state was so significant that they were de facto the fully-fledged rulers of the Armenian territories. The last strongholds
of the Armenian statehood were preserved by the semi-dependent princes (meliks) of Karabakh-Artsakh, also known as melikdoms
of Khamsa (from Arabic word meaning "five principalities). These principalities preserved their status until the annexation
of eastern Armenia into the Russian Empire. The Russian emperors were either accepting the noble title of the Armenian aristocracy
or themselves were raising prominent representatives of the Armenian origin in an effort to use the potential of the Armenian
nobility. During this period the noble houses of Madatian (Madatov), Lazarian (Lazarev), Beybutian (Beybutov), Pirumyan (Pirumov),
Loris-Melikian (Loris-Melikov) emerged.
The aristocratic tradition in Armenia suffered another blow during the Bolshevik regime. Then the nobility
was dissolved as a social class and the noblemen underwent systematic oppression. Many representatives of the Armenian aristocracy
were repressed, sentenced to prisons and work camps, or just executed. Those who survived by miracle were forced to hide their
aristocratic origins by changing family names and obliterating their family histories. Only very few managed to preserve their
family traditions by leaving Communist regime and moving to other countries.
The Formal Steps to Revival
With the end of Communist regime and independence of Armenia in 1991
important steps were made to revive the traditions of the Armenian nobility. In October 1992 the Union of the Armenian Noblemen
(UAN) was created. The Union is registered at the Ministry of Justice of Armenia as a public non-governmental organization.
The UAN is headed by Doctor and Academician Gevorg Pirumyan, Marshal of Nobility.
The Union of the Armenian Noblemen has around 400 members representing
aristocratic houses of Armenia. Membership in the Union is open to descendants of old and new Armenian noble families, as
well as to the foreign titled nobility that reside in Armenia and abroad, regardless their political or religious views, and
age and sex. The UAN conducts its activities in accordance with its Charter, the Constitution and legislation of Armenia,
and the international law. The main goals of the Union of the Armenian Noblemen are:
Restoration of the Armenian nobility and its past role and significance in the society and
Reinstatement of the best traditions of
the Armenian nobility and reestablishment of criteria for the noblemen's honor, morals and ethics;
Restoration of the heraldry of the noble dynasties and their genealogy;
Gathering, storing and scientific systemization of archival materials, research in the history
of the Armenian nobility and specific dynasties;
of the history of Armenian nobility and dynasties, families and their ancestors to the general public through the mass media
and public lectures.
Union of the Armenian Noblemen looks forward to the active participation of the representatives and descendants of the Armenian
nobility in the revival of the best traditions of the Armenian aristocracy. A special attention will be paid to familiarization
of the Armenian youth with the aristocratic traditions of the ancestors.
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