Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies
By: Cyrille Toumanoff
An Armenian noble family that was an offshoot of the Kâren-Pahlav, one
of the seven great houses of Iran claiming Arsacid origin.
The Kamsarakans reigned in two princely states, both situated in the
region of Ayrarat (Ararat)-Aršarunik`, with the old Armenian capital of
Eruandašat (q.v.) as their capital and with the fortresses of Bagaran
(q.v., presend-day Pakran) and Artagers (Artogerassa), and Širak (Sirakenê)
with the fortress (and later city) of Ani. The family's chief name was
derived from Prince Kamsar, who died in 325. It derived also the name of
Aršaruni from one of its principalities, which distinguished it from the
related houses of Abelian (princes of Abelunik`), Gabelian, Havenni and,
possibly, Dziunakan; after the 8th century, it bore, in memory of its
origin, the surname of Pahlavuni. Enjoying from the beginning the prestige
of being the cousins of the royal Arsacids (Movsês Xorenac`i, 2.72, 90),
the Kamsarakans also acquired, after the downfall of the Arsacids in 428,
a considerable political weight owing to their quasi-margravial position
on the northern frontier of the realm. Of the four broad classes in the
relative precedence of the Armenian princes, the Kamsarakans can be placed
in the second, and the feudal aid they were expected to render to their
suzerain, the king of Armenia, was fixed at 600 horses.
The geographical situation of its principalities prevented this house
from being in any special way involved in Armino-Iranian relations. Upon
the Roman annexation of the west Arminian kingdom in 390, Gazavon II
Kamsarak, hitherto the leader of the pro-Roman princes, moved, together
with some of them, to the side of the Iranian vassal, the king of east
Armenia. On the other hand, the Kamsarakans, under Aršavir II, took part
in the anti-Iranian insurrection of 451 and, again with his son and
successor Narses, in that of 482-84. On the whole they followed a
pro-Byzantine policy and took an active part in the life of that empire.
Three Kamsarak brothers were generals in the imperial service under
Justinian I: Narses, duke (dux) of The Thebais, Aratius or Hrahat,
duke of Palestine (Adontz, pp. 164, 447-48), and Sahak (Isaac), executed
by Totila, the king of Ostrogoths, in 546. Another Isaac, who appears to
have been a member of the Kamsarakan family, was imperial exarch of Italy
in 625-43. Narses II Kamsarakan was the presiding prince of Armenia for
the emperor in the years 689/90-691 and held the high Byzantine position
of curopalate; and another presumable Kamsarak, the patrician
Arsaber or Aršavir, rose against the emperor in 808.
The Kamsarakans took part in the anti-Arab revolt of Armenia in 771-72.
After its failure, they found themselves among the victims of the disaster
and were obliged to sell their double princedom to the Bagratids (q.v.).
Nevertheless, in the last years of the Armenian monarchy, as restored by
the Bagratids, they, as Pahlavuni princes Bdjni and Nig, again rose to
play a significant role. Upon the destruction of the Bagratid monarchy and
the abdication in 1045-46 of Prince Gregory II (who received from the
court of Constantinople the rank of magistros and the office of duke of
Mesopotamia, Vaspurakan, and Taraun) in favor of the emperor, the
Pahlavunis moved to Armenia-in-exile in Cilicia, where, known now as
they dominated this last phase of Armenia's political history as princes
of Lambrun and, after 1226, as kings of Armenia. On their extinction in
the 14th century, the rights to the Armenian crown passed through
inheritance to the Lusignans of Cyprus and, subsequently, to the house of
Savoy. Another branch of this house, the Zachariads-Mkhargrdzeli, played a
decisive role in the history of Georgia from the 12th to the 14th century
and have survived to this day.
Kamsarakans, and especially the Pahlavunis, but also
the Mkhargrdzelis, contributed greatly to the development of Armenian
architecture, raising splendid churches, such as the 10th-century church
of St. Gregory built by Abughamr I Pahlavuni, palaces, and castles.
(Faustus), Patmut`iwn Hayoc` 3.11, 16,
21; 4.4, 19.; tr. Robert Bedrosian as P`awstos Buzand's History of
the Armenians, New York, 1985. This book was most likely written
in the 5th century, though it has been suggested that Faustus wrote it
before the the invention of the Armenian alphabet, and, therefore, it
was originally in Greek or Syriac and the present text is just a
translation. In spite of a detrimental textual tradition, it is our
most important source for the history of the Kamsarakans and their
principality. Unfortunately, only books 3-5 have survived, covering
the period from 314 to 387.
Eliše (Eliseus), Elišei vasn Vardanay ew
ed. E. Ter-Minasean, Erevan, 1957, 3, 5-6, 8; tr. Robert W. Thompson
as Elishe: History of Vardan and the Armenian War, Cambridge,
Mass., 1982 (story of the Armenian insurrection of 451, traditionally
believed to have been written in the 6th century). Hazar P`arpec`i
(Lazarus of P`arpi), Patmut`iwn Hayoc` 34- 36, 39, 42-43, 45,
47, 57, 62- 63, 71, 74, 79-81, 86, 96; tr. Robert W. Thompson as The
History of Lazar P`arpec`i, Atlanta, 1991 (a continuation of
Faustus' history, from 387 to 485, written at the end of the 5th or
the beginning of the 6th cent.).
Hevond (Leontius), Patmut`iwn 39; tr. Zaven Arzoumanian as History
of Lewond, the Eminent Vardapat of the Armenians, Wynnewood,
Penn., 1982 (written at the end of the 8th cent., covering the period
from the 740s to 788). Movsês Xorenac`i (Pseudo-Moses Khorenats`i), Patmut`iwn
Hayoc`, 2.27, 28, 42, 71-73, 90; 3.29, 31-32, 38, 43, 48, 50, 65;
tr. Robert W. Thompson as Moses Khorenats`i: History of the
Armenians, Cambridge, Mass., 1978. The final redaction of this
book dates from the latter part of the 8th century, but it contains
valuable historical traditions, which may have been recorded for the
first time in the 5th century, the alleged floruit of Moses. Step`annos
Asolik (Stephen/Stephanus of Taron), Asoghkan patmut`iwn 2.2;
tr. as Histoire universelle, part 1, Paris, 1883, part 2,
Paris, 1917 (only the 3rd book and parts of the 4th book of this work
are of value as a source, much of the rest being based on
Pseudo-Moses, brought down to 1004, the author's own epoch).
Procopius of Caesarea, Bellum persicum 1.15 (Works,
1.1-2); tr. Moháammad Sa`idi as Janghâ-ye Irân o Rum,
Tehran, 1338 Š./1959.
Idem, Bellum gothicum (Works
1.5-7) 6.16, 18; 20, 26-27, 29; 7.13, 18, 19, 24.
tr. H. B. Dewing, Cambridge, Mass., 1953-61.
Nicholas Adontz, Armenia in the Period of Justinian: The
Political Conditions Based on the Naxarar System, tr. and
partially rev. Nina G. Garsoïan, Lisbon, 1970, pp. 237-8, 344 and
passim. Idem, "L'âge et l'origine de l'empereur Basile Ier
(867-886)," Byzantion 9, 1934, repr. in Idem, Êtudes
arme‚no-byzantines, Bibliotheàque arme‚nienne de la Founation
Galouste Gulbenkian, Lisbon, 1965, p. 103.
Rene‚ Grousset, Histoire de l'Arme‚nie des origines a 1701,
Paris, 1947, repr., Paris, 1973, passim.
Ferdinand Justi, Iranisches Namenbuch,
Marburg, 1895, pp. 30,
113, 102, 223, 425.
Sahak Kogean, Kamsarakannere¡:
teark` Širakay ew Aršaruneac`
(The Kamsarakans: Lords of Širak and Arsarunik), Vienna, 1926.
Laurent, L'Arme‚nie entre Byzance et l'Islam, Paris, 1919,
M. Leroy, "Gre‚goire Magistros et les traductions
des auteurs grecs," Annuaire de l'Institute de Philologie et
d'Histoire orientales et slaves 3, Brussels, 1935, Table general.
Count Wipertus Hugo Rüdt de Cellenberg The Rupenides, Hethumides
and Lusignans: The Structure of Armeno-Cilician, Dynasties,
Lisbon, 1963, Tables II, III, IV, pp. 47, 55-77, 78.
Toumanoff, "Armenia and Georgia," in Cambridge
Medieval History IV, 1966, pp. 597, 609, 619.
Idem, Studies in
Christian Caucasian History, Georgetown University Press, 1963,
pp. 206-7 and nn. 236, 223-52.
Idem, Manuel de ge‚ne‚alogie et
de chronologie pour l'histoire de la Caucasie chre‚tienne: Arme‚nie,
Ge‚orgie, Rome, 1976, pp. 262-301, 530.
Tournebize, "Arscharouniq," in Dictionnaire
d'histoire et de ge‚ographie eccle‚siastiques, Paris, 1912-,
IV, p. 745.
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Keywords: Parthians, Arsacids, Ashkanians, Ashakanids,
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British Institute of Persian Studies