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P'awstos Buzand

P’awstos Buzand
by Karekin Zarbanalian


One of the principal historians of the 4th century was P’awstos Buzand, notable for his exquisite work of literature and for the copious theorizing he has attracted. We can reduce these theories to three categories: First, who was Buzand and what was his nationality? Second, in which language did he compose his History? Third, has the entirety of his composition reached us?
Some say that Buzand was Greek, and others that he was Armenian. Both lack the requisite evidence to defend their position or to be able to refute the other. Accordingly, we must seek answers in the works of the ancients, or better yet, in Buzand’s own work. In the contents of the Sixth Book we find the following colophon: “Beneath all the chapters that pertain to me, the reader will find ten additional chapters.” But only in the fifth and sixth chapters is a bishop named P’awstos mentioned during the Archbishopric of St. Nerses, along with his brother Arhostom, and the historian explicitly says: “Both of them were of Roman [Greek] nationality.” Was this the same P’awstos who authored the work? A clue comes from the last chapter of the Third Book: “End of the third part, in 21 chapters, by the great historian P’awstos, who was a Greek chronicler.”

However, some, not considering this evidence sufficient and observing that Buzand composed his History in Armenian, thought that he was also Armenian and that he was called Buzand (or “Byzantine”) only because he studied in Byzantium (not unlike how some of our translators have been called “Athenian” for having received some schooling in the city). But this hypothesis seems unlikely to us. As supporting evidence, we cited the two aforementioned excerpts; and will now refer to the works of other (contemporary and later) historians, and above P'awstos' own History.

The main historian who refers to Buzand is Ghazar P’arpec'i (a later author) in his History of the Armenians. After praising Agathangelos, Ghazar adds:

“The author of the Second Book is said to be P’awstos Buzand. However, because some have considered certain of his words to be inappropriate, they have expressed doubts that someone having been educated among the Byzantines would say such improper things.” Then, after speaking of the city of Byzantium with great esteem, Ghazar says: “Now, could the man P’awstos who had studied in such a city among so many scholars have put such disagreeable things in his History? May it not be so! To my feeble mind also the work is untrustworthy. Perhaps some other bold uneducated person shamelessly put his hand to it and wrote what he pleased and thought to conceal the errors of his impudence under the name of P’awstos. [That something is amiss] is clear to all who look at the work. Indeed, there are records of such tampering among the Byzantines, but much more among the Assyrians.”

We find P’arpeci’s analysis to be likely. It is true that this excerpt of his contains no information about whether P’awstos was Armenian or Greek; and in fact, the ignorance of an erudite man like P’arpeci regarding this issue gives us more cause for ignorance. And although Buzand’s History may have been written in Greek or Syriac and then translated into Armenian (by himself or another), it appears that the name Buzand also existed among others in the population and there was already uncertainty about P’awstos identity by P’arpec’i's time. Parpec’i, too, with great scruple and out of dignity (so as not to damage P’awstos’ reputation) goes on to praise the citizens of the city, and the absurd elements in P’awstos’ writing he tries to credit to another [unknown] ignorant person, whom he dares to say took and corrupted the work of the wise man P’awstos; moreover, Ghazar states that this is not unusual, for such a custom is found among the Greeks, as well as among the Assyrians.

However, beyond P’arpeci’s obscure words, Buzand’s own book may go some way to revealing his nationality. When it comes to Armenian history, there is a strong dissimilarity in his History relative to other Armenian historians, suggesting that it is unlikely he was Armenian (not to mention his spirit of hatred toward Armenians). Parpec’i’s words pertain to this point, too. Let’s raise a few examples:

The Patriarch, St. Jacob of Nisibis, considered a contemporary of Buzand and a man other historians have suggested was a relative of Saint Gregory the Illuminator, is treated with suspicion by Buzand, who says “he was of Iranian nationality.”

Khorenatsi and later historians say of St. James that Prince Manachir of the Rshtuni clan went to war against the Assyrian bidaxš Bakur and killed him; then, taking his soldiers and peasants as captive, ordered St. Jacob’s eight deacons to be thrown into the sea. Buzand also relates this story, but in his version the eight becomes 800: “And because of [Manachirh’s] savage behavior,” he says “to spite [Yakob], he had 800 men (whom he had in bondage for no offense) brought before him, and ordered that they be hurled into the sea from a promontory.” But rather than mentioning Bakur’s war as the preceding cause of this cruelty, he speaks of Manachir as an evil and senseless man, saying that St. Jacob went to him to admonish him and set him straight, and supposes this admonition to be the cause of the aforementioned senseless act.

P’awstos also relates the story of the blinding of Tiran in a different manner. It is apparent from the writings of our other historians [e.g., Khorenatsi] that Tiran had assisted Julian the Apostate against the Iranians, and when the Iranians emerged victorious, Shapur had Tiran blinded [for colluding with Byzantium]. Buzand attributes this blinding to something else: He says that Tiran had a roan horse that Shapur wanted from him. Tiran, not wanting to slight him, found and sent Shapur another horse resembling his own. And Shapur, learning of the sham, ordered Tiran to be blinded as a punishment.

There are other such accounts which we omit here for the sake of brevity, including the stories of Gnel and Parandzem, Arshak and Pap, and many others. But such ignorance of these would have been unlikely for an Armenian historian, particularly for one who was addressing contemporary people and events. However, even more indicative of his non-Armenian nationality is his hatred, which he uses at every opportunity to deprecate our nation.

There is hardly a more touching event for a patriotic Armenian than the story of St. Gregory and Trdat. The eager acceptance of the preaching of the Gospel throughout all of Armenia, the daily baptisms of thousands, the whole country enjoining in one heart and spirit, the destruction of the temples of idols, and the construction of the houses of God upon their ruins—these are such events that evoke love and astonishment among our people. Yet Buzand speaks of these fortunate times as follows:

“For long since, when [the Armenians] accepted Christianity, they did so by obligation, as though it were a human error, and not in fervent faith. Not knowledgeably with hope and faith, as is necessary, [did] the motley multitude of naxarars and peasants [accept Christianity].”

Finally, as support for the notion that P’awstos was of a different nationality, we can consider the fact that nowhere in his History does he use աշխարհս Հայոց (“[our] land of the Armenians” [possessive]) or թագաւորն մեր (“our king”), but plainly, աշխարհն հայոց (“the land of the Armenians”), թագաւորն հայոց (“the king of the Armenians”), etc. However, when he speaks of the Greeks, he says: “the great Byzantine emperor,” and “the great city of Athens,” and so on.

Despite this evidence, there are other arguments cited by those who consider P’awstos Buzand an Armenian. First, as mentioned previously, they do not consider the name Buzand as indicative of his nationality (i.e., Byzantine), but as an indication of where he was educated, citing examples of some of the Holy Translators who were named “Athenian” for having been educated there, as in the case of Ghazar P’arpec’i, who was called “the Athenian” by Simeon Aparanetsi. Yeghsihe, too, is called Byzantine in the commentary of the Armenian translator of EpiphaniusPanarion. Their intention in using these names is not to indicate the homeland of these authors, but the excellence of their education (although this was not Parpec’i’s intention, as seen above).

A yet stronger argument than this is Buzand’s being called a Saharhuni, because the historian himself in the Third Book of his History says «զմերոյ տոհմի ազգի իշխանն սահառունեաց» (“the prince of [our] Saharhunik’ azg”). But it is also possible that this is either due to Buzand’s clan having intermarried with the Saharhunik’, or else is a transcription error. For as one philologist objects quite rightly, how can Buzand, in that excerpt, mention the name of every prince of every clan, but omit the name of his own? 

Vagharsh, prince of Anjit,
prince Zareh, nahapet of Greater Cop’k’,
Varaz, prince of the land of Shahuni Cop’k’,
Gnit’, prince of Hashtenic’ district, of the Kaminakan tohm,
Vorot’, prince of the district of Vanand,
Shahen, prince of the Anjewac’ik’ tohm,
Atom, prince of Goght’an,
Manawaz, prince of Koghb,
Gorut’, prince of the land of Jori,
Manasp of the Xorxorhunik’, prince of the Maghxazunean tun,
the prince of [our] Saharhunik’ azg,
and Aba, prince of the Gnunik’.

Perhaps there was a prince by the name of Merohdahzat «Մերոհդահզատ» whose name was mistakenly transliterated «մերոյ տոհմի» (mero tohmi) considering Buzand is not even that much a friend of the Saharhunik’, as his story of Bat Saharuni in his Fifth Book suggests [viz., where Bat beheads Mushegh Mamikonean].

Finally, the strongest reason for Buzand’s being Armenian that has been put forth is that his History was written in Armenian. Although some have claimed that the original was composed in Greek or Syriac, and only later translated into Armenian, this hypothesis is disagreeable to some of our best philologists. Even so, the language of composition does not amount to sufficient evidence regarding the writer’s nationality.


There remains a third issue; namely, whether P’awstos’ work has reached us in its entirety or is incomplete. This is because the Buzandaran begins with the Third Book, without any indication of what the first two were. It seems likely that the author may have considered the preceding two books as works of prior historians who had related the stories of Sts. Thaddeus and Gregory the Illuminator (perhaps alluding to the works of Labubna and Agathangelos or Zenob). Hence, in order to remove doubt from the reader’s mind regarding the completeness of the work, it was normal to put “Beginning” at the start of the Third Book (i.e., to indicate that this was the beginning of his History). 

P'awstos Buzand's History of the Armenians 
(Translated by Robert Bedrosian)

The subject of the Buzandaran is a 29-year history. The scope of the work is from the reign of Khosrov II, son of Trdat II, to the reign of Khosrov III, as well as the history of the Catholicosate of Aspurakes.

He succinctly describes the events from Thaddeus’ apostleship to Trdat’s time, because “they were written by the hands of others”, he says, alluding to the works of Labubna and Agathangelos. From the point where their Histories end, his own opulent history begins. When it comes to (St. Gregory) the Illuminator’s sacred line, he gives us a detailed and meticulous account where other historians give us concise and not-so-satisfactory histories. So too regarding the lives of St. Vrtanes, his sons Grigoris and Husik, the latter’s unworthy sons, Pap and Atanagines, and the Assyrian, St. Daniel. And he gives such accounts that, glorifying our church history, also shed great light on political matters.

The Third Book is dedicated to these matters.

But P’awstos does not merely gloss over the political situation in Armenia. In his History, we read about the wars between the Manawazians and the Orduni clans, the war waged by the king of the Mask’ut’k’s’s against Armenia, and how he was shamefully conquered; the rebellion of the bidaxš Bakur; the extermination of the Bznunik’ clan; the wars between Armenia and Iran under the leadership of the great general Vatche, and the unfortunate hazards that came upon him and the royal at which point Buzand ends his Third Book with this sad, calamitous and tumultuous event.

Buzand begins his Fourth Book with the reign of Arshak, son of Tiran, in the middle of Armenia’s troubles and misery, and the appointment of Nerses (St. Nerses I the Great), the Parthian, as patriarch, whose influence on Armenian governance no king in our history has matched, and to whom there is hardly an equal to be found in all Armenian history. His story is captured in Buzand’s Fourth Book: his birth, his going to Caesarea, his ascending the Patriarchal (Catholicosal) throne to deliver the tottering royal throne, his travels to meet Emperor Constantius II, his exile from Byzantium, his second meeting with the emperor, his reconciliation of the emperor with king Arshak, and his return to his homeland.

However, to Nerses’ heart, soul and fatherly impulses, Arshak was unworthy—refusing to listen to the voice of such a beneficent father, he became odious to all of Armenia by his impious actions—listening only to the voice of his own passions, he murdered his nephew Gnel, took his wife Parandzem for himself, and disturbed the peace of Armenia’s royal house. Finally, Arshak, having fallen into the hands of the Iranian king Shapur, went on to suffer, after a life of despair, a yet more despairing death. What moving and eloquent words Buzand uses to describe these events! Pawstos’ Fourth Book concludes with the death of Arshak, interspersed with various other events that taking place in Armenia at the same time, especially regarding Arshak’s relations with Shapur.

[Books 3 and 4 are contained in Volume 1].

Pap succeeded Arshak as a worthy son of his father, and Buzand makes his story the subject of his Fifth Book. He describes the battles between his general, Mushegh, and the Iranian king, contemporary events in the houses of the nakharars, Pap’s impious and disorderly conduct and how he poisoned St. Nerses to death, the unruly king’s deserved death at the hands of the Greek commander, Varazdat’s successorship, the sudden murder of general Mushegh, general Manuel’s return from Iranian captivity, Manuel’s avenging of Mushegh’s death, Varazdat’s dethronement and exile from Armenia, Manuel’s conciliation with the Iranians, and how Meruzhan Arcruni waged war against him (Manuel) with the Iranian troops and was defeated and killed, at which time Manuel enthroned Arshak and then passed away, with which P’awstos concludes his Fifth Book.

The Sixth Book of the Buzandaran can be considered as entirely unworthy following the previous three, for it neither provides a continuation of the preceding events, nor is it written in the same style. Instead, it discourses on the lives of some contemporary bishops in Armenia (with the exception of the first chapter, in which is told the story of how the kingdom of Armenia was divided in two—that is, by Arshak at the order of the Byzantine emperor, and by Xosrov at the order of the Iranian king—and how this weakened the Armenian kingdom).

[Books 5 and 6 are contained in Volume 2].

Lecture by Dr. Jesse Arlen on P'awstos Buzand's History St. Nersess Armenian Seminary: