Category Archives: ARCHAEOLOGY


Part II: Drought, Locust swarm

Arsen E. Harutyunyan

Numerous evidences about weather anomalies and climate changes, especially intense heat, water scarcity, seed drying, locust and larva activation, as well as about drought have been preserved in colophons of the Armenian manuscripts, chronicles, as well as in ethnographic materials and folklore, which are reflected in epigraphic monuments too. In fact, in order to prevent drought people often performed the rain-related and hay land rituals, erected monuments, sacrificed animals etc.



Part II: Solar Eclipse, Sea Storm

Arsen E. Harutyunyan

Some evidence on solar eclipse and sea storm, in particular about shipwrecks, drownings and other similar cases are preserved in Armenian epigraphy. The literary figures and researchers have often referred to the phenomenon of solar and lunar eclipses in cosmological and book-keeping literature. It was also reflected in mythology and folklore. The epigraphic mentions about this phenomenon are preserved in the epigraphs of the pedestal of wall placed khachkar (cross-stone) of Kosh (erected in 1195), on the back side of khachkar located not far from Arakelots (Apostles) Monastery (in 1267), as well as on the memorial of “Tsak Khach” (Hole Cross) of Ashtarak (in 1268).

As for the cases of shipwreck and drown caused by the sea storm, besides in the literary sources, particularly the evidence kept in the colophons of manuscripts, remarkable episodes have been preserved in epigraphs, too. Among them is noteworthy the epitaph dated back to 1141, which is preserved in the cemetery of Vardenik village of Gegharkunik province of Armenia. According to the epitaph, Avtandil, the son of Avan, entered a boat with grass-woven slippers and drowned due to the storm of the sea (in this case: lake Sevan). Another epigraphic evidence is known from Jerusalem. An inscribed stone dated 1724 is placed on the northern wall of St. Gregory the Illuminator church built on the eastern part of the Holy Sepulchre temple. According to the content of the inscription, the ship of pilgrims en route from Constantinople to Jerusalem had sank, as a result of which more than three hundred pilgrims (more than two hundred Armenians, more than a hundred Greeks, several Turkish sailors) were drowned. This terrible case is evidenced in the colophon of a contemporary manuscript, too (M 616/B), whose scribe Deacon Martiros Karbetsi miraculously survived from the same disaster.


Part I: Earthquake

Arsen E. Harutyunyan
The epigraphic inscriptions of medieval Armenia are of various content. The building, donative inscriptions approving the legal norms and epigraphic texts created on other events provide reliable evidence on the celestial and geological phenomena, in particular about earthquakes, solar eclipse, draught, sea storm and other similar cases. With the given study we have made an attempt for the first time to explain the mentions about natural disasters and celestial phenomena, evidenced in Armenian epigraphs, in the first turn – the earthquakes. The memorial inscriptions of the 10th-19th centuries in the monasteries of Karkop, Haghpat, Sanahin, the khachkar of Kosh (cross-stone) embedded into the wall, inscriptions from the villages of Areni, Vardenik, Lichk, Arinj, Mayakovski and other settlements and monuments shed light on the chronology of earthquakes, the topographical features and the cause-sequential manifestations of natural disasters that took place in the Armenian Highland.

Significantly, similar cases were also documented and were traditionally evidenced within the epigraphic context compiled in different occasions of memorial inscriptions (building ones, erection of a monument, epitaph, etc.). The epigraphic inscriptions enable us to definitely state that the celestial phenomena, in particular solar eclipse was often preceded by earthquakes, which was not once evidenced also in the works of chroniclers.


And other similar epigraphs


Arsen E. Harutyunyan
Tatev monastery is one of the famous historical, religious-cultural centers of medieval Armenia, whose epigraphic inscriptions have a great importance for the study of the history of Armenia. Numerous epigraphs are preserved on the walls of churches and memorial monuments of the monastery and many of them remain unpublished till today. A mirror-writing cryptography dated to 1537 is preserved on the southern wall of St. Paul-Peter Cathedral of the monastery, whose decipherment has been the main occasion of this publication. The study revealed the names of bishops Ter Anton, Ter Stepanos and Father Kirakos – most likely visitor-donators who visited Tatev monastery as a pilgrim and gave some donation, for which their names were allowed to be mentioned on the walls of the church as the “Book of Life”. In the result of this discovery, the number of Armenian mirror-writing cryptographs was added by one more (as they are known from Kurtan, Tanahat monastery, Litchk, Sevanavank, Haghpatavank etc.).

The study confirms that the desire to codify belonged to the bishops, who more likely came to Tatev monastery from the diocese of Gegharkunik. The paleographic features and uneven lines of the inscription have numerous similarities to the donative inscription of St. Gregory the Illuminator Church dated to 1532, on the basis of which it can be assumed, that the author and scribe of the newfound cryptography is the same monk Nerses, who is evidenced at the end of the epigraph of the abovementioned church.


Ashot G. Manucharyan

Inside the Armenian medieval church in the Georgian town of Tetritskaro (თეთრიწყარო = White Spring) there is a khachkar (cross stone) with a lapidary inscription.

We assume that the khachkar was moved from the Samshvilde fortress, whose ruins are located 5 km southeast of Tetritskaro town. Shamshvilde was the early capital of the Armenian kingdom of Tashir-Dzoraget.

The lapidary inscription on the khachkar consists of 13 lines. It was created by master Vard in 1051 in memory of himself and his brother Aghbayrik, who was a priest.

At the end of the inscription, prince of princes Smbat of the Tashir-Dzoraget kingdom (972-1118) is mentioned. He was the brother of King David Anhoghin of Tashir-Dzoraget (989/996-1048/50). Prince of princes Smbat was the commander-inchief of the Tashir-Dzoraget kingdom. He died between 1051-1061


Part 3. The Church of St. Gregory the Illuminator (St. Helena Chapel)


Michael E. Stone (Jerusalem), Khachik A. Harutyunyan
One of the oldest and most beautiful buildings of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is the Armenian St. Gregory the Illuminator Church (commonly known as the Chapel of St. Helena) located in the eastern part and on the lower level of the Holy Sepulchre Church, just a few steps away from the Armenian small chapel called “The Division of the Garment”. There is a narrow entrance, from which the gradually widening stairs descend to the spacious hall of the church.

There are two altars in the church. The main altar is dedicated to St. Gregory, right of which there is a small altar dedicated to St. John the Baptist. According to the Armenian tradition, the relics of St. John were buried under this small altar, by St. Gregory the Illuminator during his visit to Jerusalem in the early 4th century.

The church is rich in extensive and short Armenian inscriptions, the total number of which, according to our calculations, reaches about six dozen. 13 of them are regular inscriptions in Erkat‘agir (uncial) script, carved on small khachkars in different parts of the church, which were mainly published and are known to scholars. The rest of the inscriptions are mostly made by the simple scratching method, and are marked by their irregular writing. The oldest dated Armenian inscription in this chapel seems to be a graffito scratched in 1451 (see no 1), after which we have discovered another graffito scratched on the outside of the cupola in 1666 by an unknown Ter (= priest) Kirakos (see no 2).

Within the limits of the present article, we selectively present 16 inscriptions of the most complete, leaving the others for the forthcoming collection of the project “The Armenian Inscriptions of the Holy Land and Sinai”. In addition to the presented graffiti, in the second part of this article, we discuss three inscriptions that have already been published in order to make some corrections and additions to them.



Arsen E. Harutyunyan
For studying the medieval history of Yerevan, in addition to the information transmitted in the writings of chroniclers, important original sources are also extant epigraphic inscriptions, which have been preserved for the most part on church walls, cross-stones (khachkars) and gravestones. Medieval Yerevan, which appears in the manuscript memorabilia mainly as a rural area, and since the 15th century as a city, was a populated territory rich in churches in which, among other things, manuscripts were copied.

The study of the epigraphic heritage of Yerevan was carried out by archaeologist, expert in epigraphy Karo Ghafadaryan, who presented 293 epigraphic inscriptions on the pages of his monograph published in 1975. Despite this circumstance, the history of Yerevan by epigraphic evidence has never been the subject of special research. Undoubtedly, commemorative inscriptions are silent witnesses of the medieval history of the city, the construction and reconstruction of its churches, donations, spiritual and cultural life. Based on commemorative inscriptions, it can be stated that the churches of the settlements that were once close to Yerevan, and that have now entered the city plan (Nork, Avan, Noragavit, Kanaker, etc.), as well as the churches of the central part of Yerevan, almost in all medieval periods were active and played an important role. Despite the great destruction caused by the earthquake of 1679, at the end of the 17th century, church construction and cultural life in the city and its environs survived the time of its revival.

It should be noted that medieval Yerevan as a place rich in gardens is repeatedly mentioned especially in the dedicatory inscriptions of the 13th century preserved in the monasteries of Kecharis, Harich, Haghartsin, the Church of St. Gregory the Illuminator (Tigran Honentz) in Ani, Katoghike of Yerevan and on the walls of other monasteries and churches. The donors, hoping to receive the liturgy, donated a garden located in Yerevan or a part of the garden to a certain spiritual center, for which a memorial inscription was created. For example, in 1204, a certain Vardmbel acquired a quarter of the garden in Yerevan called Megitoni, and donated it to the Church of St. Gregory the Illuminator in Kecharis Monastery. In response to this, two liturgies were served in his honor. According to another commemorative inscription created during the construction of a lintel for the church of Surb Nshan (Holy Sign) of the same monastery, Paron (lord) Vard donated his own garden in Yerevan, called Chmshka, to the Church of St. Gregory the Illuminator in Kecharis, in response to which friar Petros appointed eight masses – four in honor of Vard and four in honor of Aniar.


Part 2. The Pillars of the Entrance to the Church and the Southern Wall


Michael E. Stone (Jerusalem), Khachik A. Harutyunyan
The southern entrance of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is decorated with 11 marble pillars, which were erected about nine centuries ago, and today they are presented to us almost unharmed. These pillars and the whole entrance are rightly considered to be one of the finest works of architecture of the Crusades period. We have designated the pillars by numbers 1-11 from left to right for easiness. On the outside, there is also one more pillar on the right side of the stairs ascending to Golgotha, which is the twelfth pillar.

On all the mentioned pillars there are inscriptions in different languages (Greek, Arabic, Assyrian, Georgian, Latin) inscribed by pilgrims and visitors, including also a great number of Armenian inscriptions, in which mainly the names of pilgrims are mentioned, and sometimes inscriptions consisting of one or two sentences are discerned.

It should be noted, that in the course of the time various signs, letters, sentences, one incised on the other, countless touches of pilgrims (even today the same phenomenon is noticed) make some inscriptions on the pillars extremely difficult to decipher at present, and some of them have been badly damaged and one or two letters are barely discerned, thus, giving an opportunity to decipher at least the language of the inscription.

There are also Armenian inscriptions on the outside wall (southern) of the church at full length of the stairs, ascending to Golgotha. All those inscriptions, as a rule, are scratched by some sharp instrument; they are not distinguished with proportionality and regularity, although in separate cases also a more serious approach and regularity can be noticed.

In total, we have found more than sixty inscriptions on the mentioned pillars and wall. In this article we present only 22 of them. In some cases, we have tried to date the inscriptions by their paleographical features or due to the identification of the mentioned persons.


Part 1. The Chapel of John the Evangelist and Its Inscriptions


Michael E. Stone (Jerusalem)-Member of Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities
Khachik A. Harutyunyan-Candidate of Sciences in Philology
Over the centuries the Holy Sepulchre has been and continues to be one of the main sanctuaries of the Christian world up to our days. Armenians and other Christian peoples have visited this Basilica, renewed their vow with God, obtained new holy places, extended or lost them, celebrated holy masses there, and copied manuscripts. Indeed, in the colophons of some Armenian manuscripts it is possible to see the Holy Sepulchre as a place of copying. With the hope of leaving their names in the book of life and being mentioned in future (this phenomenon is wellknown and widespread in the colophons of the Armenian manuscripts) the Armenian pilgrims have engraved numerous graffiti in the different sites in the complex forming the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

In this series of articles, we present the Armenian inscriptions of the Holy Sepulchre. In the first part we present one of the Armenian sites of the Holy Sepulchre – the Chapel of John the Evangelist and its inscriptions. The chapel is located in the eastern part of the courtyard of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Rev. John Hannah (Hovhannes Hanna), a well-known scholar of Jerusalem’s history, writes that the chapel was built in the same place where, according to legend, John the Evangelist and the Mother of God stood during the crucifixion of Christ (John 26:26-27). There is no information about the date of construction of the chapel, but it was probably built  before the 6th CE century, as it is mentioned in the famous “List” of Anastas Vardapet, who presumably visited the Holy places in the middle of the 6th century.

In total, we have managed to find 8 inscriptions there, 5 of which are in the Chapel, and the other 3 are graffiti incised at the entrance of the Chapel.