Moses of Chorene: author of an influential History of Armenia.
In his History of Armenia, Moses of Chorene describes the past of the Armenians from the earliest stages until the death of Moses’ teacher Mesrop Mashtots, the monk who had created the Armenian alphabet, in 439 CE. It consists of three books
- Book 1 Early history, including myths about Hayk, the founder of Armenia;
- Book 2 Ancient history: the origins of Armenia as kingdom, the Hellenistic period, the rise of Christianity until the conversion of king Tiridates III by Gregory the Illuminator (301 CE);
- Book 3 Christian Armenia: the division of Armenia between the Roman and Sasanian empires until the death of Mesrop Mashtots.
- Epilogue: the sad state of Armenia in Moses’ own age.
From the History of Armenia, we learn that Moses studied in Alexandria and visited Constantinople and Rome. We know a bit more about him as a historian. Because he identifies himself as student of Mesrop Mashtots, he may be dated to the fifth century. On the other hand, the fact that the History is not quoted prior to the tenth century, the fact that he is not mentioned in any contemporary account of the disciples of Mesrop Mashtots, and the fact that it supports the Bagratid family (which rose to royal power in 884 CE), suggests that the History of Armenia was written much later. This has of course implications for the reliability of those sections of the narrative that are based on oral traditions. Perhaps the work was at some point revised.
As sources, the author uses the Bible, the historical works of Eusebius of Caesarea, the Jewish Antiquities of Flavius Josephus, the History of the Church by Socrates, and Armenian traditions, both oral and written (e.g., the anonymous Epic Histories and the works of Agathangełus). He also claims to have had access to extracts from the archives of the Parthians made by one Mar Abas Catina, but to the best of our knowledge, no such archives have existed, although Mar Abas Catina was not invented by Moses.
The quality of History of Armenia is very uneven. For example, Moses attributed information which we know to be from a certain author to other authors. He makes grave errors: king Artaxias, who united Armenia at the beginning of the second century BCE, is merely a name. On the other hand, he has recorded several very ancient Armenian myths, like the story of the good-natured giant Hayk defeating the evil Bel and the story of Ara the Handsome and queen Semiramis.
Moses of Chorene is also mentioned as the author of books on rhetorics and several homilies. He may be a historical person, even when we do not know when he lived exactly. The Armenian Geography, however, was in fact written by a seventh-century author named Ananias.