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[Book Review published in the Armenian Review, vol. 45, no.3 (Autumn1992, published April 1994), pp. 72-74.]
Robert W. Thomson, translator, The History of Lazar P'arpec'i, Columbia University Program in Armenian Studies, Suren D. Fesjian Academic Publications No. 4, Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1991, x, 304 pages.

Dickran Kouymjian

    After Agatangeghos (1976) (including a separate volume on the Teachings of St. Gregory [1970]), Movses Khorenatsi (1978), Eghishe (1982), Davit Anhakht (1983), Tovma Artzruni (1985), Vardan Areweltsi (1989), and (19), Robert Thomson, formerly of Harvard, now Calouste Gulbenkian Professor of Armenian at Pembroke College, Oxford University, provides us with the seventh in his continuing series of translations of early Armenian historical texts, the History of Ghazar Parpetsi. As of this writing he has also completed translations of the Georgian Chronicle in its Armenian version and the Law Code of Mkhitar Gosh, both of which should be published soon. Thomson's translation of much of the second and some of the third part of Ghazar's three part history was already published as an appendix to his rendering in English of Eghishe (1982, pp. 251-327). In the latter work there is also a long discussion of the thorny question of the relationship of the Eghishe's History to that of Ghazar's, which is only briefly alluded to in the present volume. As with the early volumes the translation can be regarded critical since the 1904 Tiflis edition was used emendated by the various fragments found since then.1 The organization of the volume is as follows: preface and abbreviations, pp. vii-x, introduction, 3-31, History, 33-245, Letter, 247-266, appendix, 267-275, bibliography, 277-282, and indexes of personal and geographical names, technical terms, scriptural quotations, 283-304. The volume supersedes all earlier translations in any language. Footnotes in the text provide Thomson's usual meticulous textual and historical commentaries and elucidations. The philological, linguistic and historical data in the notes to the text follows the method Robert Thomson has used in his earlier translations. Important words and phrases in Ghazar are cross referenced with their use in Agatangeghos, Eghishe, Movses, and other sources. Biblical citations and allusions are noted with care. In the appendix, Thomson has taken time to discuss at length a few terms and ideas -- dreams, monks and monasteries, patriarchal titles -- the discussion of which would have been too cumbersome for the footnotes. He also provides a translation of the oldest fragment of Ghazar (10-12th century) which can be compared with the same section according to the critical text based on 17th century manuscripts. In the introduction Prof. Thomson reviews the question of when Ghazar wrote. He underlines that Ghazar was of the fifth century, the very last years of it, and unlike Agatangeghos and pseudo-Pawstos Buzandatsi (e.g. the "Buzandaran" or Epic Histories)2 his identity is clear as is his time of writing. Thus, Ghazar is left as the only fifth century Armenian historian whose time and whose identity is certain. Without belaboring the point in this translation, Thomson believes Mosves Khorenatsi to be from a much later century and to have used Ghazar; he has made this point several times and at length in the introduction to the translation of MovsÚs.3 So too, Thomson again places Eghishe in the sixth century; he states emphatically that Ghazar did not use Eghishe, quite the contrary, but again as in the case of MovsÚs, he does not repeat his arguments, presented in detail in the earlier translation of Eghishe.4 Nevertheless, it is curious that Ghazar is not cited by name in a subsequent Armenian history until the tenth century work of Tovma Artzruni, thus creating a certain mystery about the manuscript tradition and the reputation of Parpetsi's work. Since I have already summarized the contents of Ghazar's History elsewhere,5 it would be more useful to point a few of the many observations Robert Thomson has made on the text in his introduction. The important of Amrdolu Monastery at Bitlis in the preservation of the Armenian historical tradition is emphasized (PP. 3-4) by pointing out that the oldest surviving manuscript of Ghazar (1672) was copied there along with the oldest texts of Koriwn's biography of Mashtots and the History of Sebeos. The earliest text of Agatangeghos (1569) was also from Bitlis as were those of Buzandaran Patmutiwnk (1599) and the History of John Catholicos (1680-89). Though Ghazar, like other Armenian historians, presents in detail the details of life in Armenia, he never talks about Armenians living outside the homeland. The suggestion (p.3) is that Armenian life in Byzantium was different, or, in any case, outside the pale of Armenian history. Finally, Thomson tries to grasp the motivation behind history writing for Ghazar and his contemporaries (p.9) : "History has a purpose beyond the telling of enjoyable tales: it is to encourage virtue -- defined broadly as what is right and what is noble -- to castigate vice -- again defined in both moral and social terms -- and to preserve the memory of glorious deeds that will redound to the fame of Armenia." Like the previous Thomson translations, The History of Ghazar P'arpets'i, is translated in graceful English, yet always faithful to the original Armenian. Professor Thomson is to be congratulated for his persistence and erudition. One leaves the text of Ghazar anxiously awaiting the next translation in the series.

Dickran Kouymjian
Haig & Isabel Berberian Professor of Armenian Studies
California State University, Fresno


  1. For a complete discussion of manuscripts, editions, and translations accompanied by a thorough bibliography on Ghazar see the introductory essay to Dickran Kouymjian, Lazar P'arpets'i History of the Armenians and the Letter to Vahan Mamikonean, Delmar, N.Y.: Caravan Books, 1985; the introduction was reprinted in booklet form in 1986
  2. See Nina G. Garso?an, The Epic Histories (Buzandaran Patmut'iwnk'), translation and commentary, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1989; the question of the title was resolved in an earlier article by Anahid Perikhanian, "Sur arm. buzand," Armenian Studies/Etudes armÚniennes: In Memoriam Ha?g BerbÚrian, D. Kouymjian, editor, Lisbon: Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, 1986, pp. 653-658.
  3. Robert W. Thomson, Moses Khorenats'i, History of the Armenians, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1978.
  4. Robert W. Thomson, EghishÚ: History of Vardan and the Armenian War, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1982.
  5. Kouymjian, Lazar P'arpets'i, pp. Ix-xvii.

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