Isabelle Augé, professor, University of Montpellier III

Language Family and Linguistic Characteristics

Armenian belongs to the Indo-European language family. As demonstrated at the end of the nineteenth century by the linguist Heinrich Hübschmann, it forms a separate branch on its own.


Strictly speaking, there are no attestations of the Armenian language until the fifth century CE, either in its own writing system or in any other system of transcription, and its accession to the status of a written language apparently took place in a single step, at the beginning of the fifth century. The sources attribute the creation of the Armenian alphabet to Mesrop Maštoc‘, who died in 441 CE, but the circumstances of this creation remain controversial. Major translation projects, from Greek and Syriac, began afterwards, in order to make important religious texts, in particular the Septuagint and the Church fathers, available to Armenians. This first phase is responsible for few original works, which flourished, by contrast, from the seventh century; after this period the taste of Armenian authors for historical subjects remained constant.

Chronological and Geographical Extent

We envisage the study of medieval Armenian sources in a broad chronology, from the fifth to the fourteenth century, with, as we will see, a geographical extent which changes according to the period.

Evolution of the Language and Idiomatic Variation

From the eleventh century, it is convenient to differentiate, as we will do in presenting the sources, the texts written in Greater Armenia - under Turkish, Mamluk and Mongol occupation, according to the period - from those written under the principality (later the kingdom) of Armenian Cilicia. There are several notable differences in the conditions of production of texts and linguistic influences, since the Armenians of Cilicia were in regular contact with the Franks. Thus, while from the eleventh century, historians wrote in a classical form of Armenian containing numerous hellenisms, the language evolved greatly from the twelfth century, in particular in the kingdom of Cilicia. This form of Armenian is well-known thanks to the work of the linguist J. Karst, numerous translations produced by Father Mxit‘ariste Ł. Ališan, as well as by Armenian historians such as Edouard Dulaurier and Victor Langlois. This linguistic evolution is already discernable in an author such as Matt‘ēos Uṙhayec‘i (Matthieu d’Edesse). While the language of this author, who worked in the beginning of the twelfth century, is still classical Armenian, it is already heavily influenced by the vernacular, evident, for example in the simplified grammatical constructions.

Text Corpus for the study of Peace

Historiographical Sources

Armenian historigraphical sources may be presented chronologically, according political and military events which shook the country. A brief initial period from the creation of the alphabet to the restoration of the Armenian kingdom by Bagratides in 884 can be distinguished. During this period, the Armenians lived under foreign domination, divided for the first time between the Persians and the Romans (later the Byzantines), before this state of affairs was swept away by the Arab invasions, which made Armenia a province of the Caliphate. These upheavals are described in certain major works, among which the narrative of Pseudo-Sebēos is perhaps the most detailed. From 884, the Armenian kingdom was restored, but this ephemeral period of independence ended in 1045, when the Byzantines took Ani. The historian and Catholicos Yovhannēs Drasxanakertc‘i produced one of the major works of this period. The town of Ani, capital of the kindgom, only remained in Byzantine hands for a few years before falling to the Seljuk invasions. These events, along with other factors, resulted in the migration of numerous Armenians to Cappadocia, and then Cilicia. They founded there a principality, later a kingdom, which fell to the attacks of the Mamluks in 1375.

Other Armenian sources

Historiographical sources constitute the most important part, from a quantative point of view, of studied documents. We have, nonetheless, chosen to make several assays into other typological fields, in order to supplement their information.

Armenian sources conserve a fairly significant number of letters, in particular those exchanged by civil and religious authorities with leaders of neighbouring states or the heads of Christian and Muslim religious communities. For example, the Armenian catholicoi, separated from the Catholic/Orthodox church since the seventh century, very often exchanged correspondance with the Greek patriarchs or the Roman popes. It will be important to take account of the vocabulary used in religious negotiations in the study of the terminology of peace. We have chosen to include in the corpus an epistolary collection, that of the Catholicos Nersēs Šnorhali (the Gracious), who, during the second half of the twelfth century, held talks with the Greeks and was constantly in correspondance with his congregation, whether in Cilicia, where he himself resided, or in Greater Armenia, under foreign domination. This correspondance, which was compiled by another great figure of Armenian Christianity, Nersēs Lambronac‘i, allows us to broaden the field of study from a typological point of view. The Armenians of Cilicia were involved in the crusades, which led to the production of poetic texts by the catholicoi destined to memorialise certain important evends. Thus Nersēs Šnorhali wrote an elegy on the taking of Edessa - following its capture by Zengî in 1146 - and his successor in the catholical seat, Grigor Tłay, is the author of a similar text concerning the capture of Jerusalem by Saladin. These two documents are, therefore, the final to be included in our corpus.

These texts thus reflect a significant corpus. Although this selection necessarily relects a decision to restrict the range of texts consulted, we do not rule out, of course, the possibility of working on other sources, such as colophons, particularly well-represented in Armenian manuscripts, and inscriptions, in the future.


Text editions and tools

The majority of sources, up to the tenth century, are edited in Matenagirk‘ Hayoc‘, Antélias, from 2003 (15 volumes published to date). For later material we have consulted more recent editions. For all of the works studied, we have indicated, where they exist, translations into modern European languages.


  • French Armenian dictionary: A. Calfa, Dictionnaire arménien-français, 6e édition, Lisbonne, 1991.
    • Armenian-Armenian dictionary : Nor Baṙgirk‘ haykazean lezowi [New dictionary of the Armenian language], 2 vols., Venise, 1837.
    • Dictionary of Middle Armenian : Ṙ. S. Łazaryan et H. M. Avetisyan, Miǰin Hayereni baṙaran [Dictionary of Middle Armenian], 2 vols., Erevan, 1987-1992.