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History of the Rubenian Dynasty

The History of the Rubenian Dynasty by Vahram Rabuni is a remarkable work of medieval Armenian literature. It was commissioned by King Leo (Levon) III (1270-1289), who requested from Vahram a continuation of Vipasanutyun, which was composed in the first half of the 11th century by Nerses Shnorhali (“the Gracious”) in verse.

Little is known about Vahram except that he served in the royal court of King Leo (he may have also served in the court of Leo’s father, King Hetum I, although this is not confirmed). What we do know is that Vahram was present when Leo was anointed king in 1270, and even made a public address on the occasion. We also know that Leo commissioned at least one other work (a theological treatise) from Vahram. Beyond these few items, there is not much that we can confirm about Vahram’s life.

Vahram’s History starts with the fall of King Gagik II and the Bagratuni dynasty. Faced with the threat of repeated invasions, Gagik agreed to cede the medieval capital of Ani to the Byzantines. In exchange, Gagik would receive Caesarea and some other parts of Cappadocia, which, as Vahram informs us, came with difficulties given the enmity between the Armenians of Cilicia and the Greeks of Caesarea.

Gagik had heard that Markus, the metropolitan (Greek) bishop of Caesarea, had a dog named Armen (the exonym of Armenians). Obviously, Gagik wasn’t too happy to hear this. So, he arranged for a banquet with Markus, who brought along his beloved dog. At some point, Gagik asks Markus what his dog’s name is. Markus, fearing the worst or saving face, makes up a name, to which the dog does not respond. Finally, someone calls out “Armen!” and the dog comes running. That’s when Gagik threw Markus into a large sack with the dog and beat the sack until the dog mauled Markus to shreds. The Greeks ultimately avenge Markus’ death, and that’s where the story of the rise of the Rubenian dynasty begins…

The History is composed in 1,420 lines of verse, the first 1,284 lines of which are all in monorhyme, meaning that they all end with the same suffix—here, -եալ (-yal). The remaining 136 lines of the poem alternate between 9 sets of monoryhmes in multiples of 8 lines, as follows:

-16 lines ending with -ի (-ee),
-16 lines ending with -եալ (-yal),
-16 lines ending with -է (ē),
-16 lines ending with -եալ (-yal),
-16 lines ending with -աւ (-av),
-8 lines ending with -ին (-een),
-8 lines ending with -ոյ (-o),
-8 lines ending with -է (ē),
-32 lines end with -ի (-ee).

Known in Armenian as ոտանավոր (‘votanavor’), these poems are for orating or reciting, and it is in this remarkable format that we are transmitted the History.

This release comes with the first and only English translation, in prose. Although this prose translation contains no trace of the poetic and aesthetic value of the original work, it makes for a short and accessible history of the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia over a 200 year period (from c. 1050 to 1250). The English text is also heavily annotated, with a map of key locations.