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Sunday, 13 March 2011

Arsacid (Արշակունի, اشکان) Armenia: A Glossary of words and titles

Recently I was researching about the Arshakuni era of Armenia. They ruled sporadically between 12 - 384 AD. The Romans would at times invade and either rule directly or place a king of their own choice on the throne, such as Julius Sohaemus in the reign of emperor Antoninus. The Arshakuni dynasty had also ruled Iran until being driven out by Ardashir Sassan in 226 AD.

The following is a list I have compiled of titles used in the kingdom of Armenia during their reign.
Almost all the titles are Iranian in origin.
The social order that existed during the Arshakuni dynasty of Armenia. However it more or less predated it and continued after its demise.


  • Ardar (Middle Persian- Arda)= Righteous.
  • Arg (Middle Persian)= Fort/Citadel of a city
  • Argbed (Middle Persian- Arga Pati)= The Master of the Fort
  • Anazat Ramik= Artisans and Merchants.
  • Arkayaduster= The daughter of the king. In ancient and medieval Armenia the princess had no right to succeed to the throne unlike in western monarchies.
  • Ashkara (Old Persian-Khshathra)= The Realm
  • Aspet (Middle Persian-Aspa Pati)= Commander of the cavalry. An inherited title in the Bagratuni family.
  • Avag= Title meaning "Senior".
  • Avag Sepuh= The heir apparent of each Nakharar. Also the Prince was known by this title.
  • Aznavur= A designation of a nobleman.
  • Azat= (Middle Persian-Azadhan)= Means "the free people" and this caste always composed the cavalry of the army.
  • Aznvakan= A later version of Azat.
  • Azg (Old Persian-Zantu)= The clan
  • Bakhtar Park= The Divine Fortune of the remains of a dead king, that would protect the kingdom.Elaborate tombs were contructed to containt the remains of the kings.When the Arshakuni ruled Iran Arbela was their tomb and Kamakh for Armenia. Both were located at the extreme west of those domains. The tomb at Arbela was destroyed by the Roman emperor Caracalla in 216 AD, at the begining of the reign of Artabanus IV (Vahan) who would later die in battle against the rebel Ardashir Sassan. When the the Persian Shah Shapur II invaded Armenia in 337 AD he destroyed the tomb at Kamakh and took the remains of the Arshakuni kings to Persia. Vasak Mamikonian is said to have defeated Shapur II in Iran and returned the remains of the dead kings to a new mausoleum built at Aghtsk.
Kamakh was the burial place of the Arshakuni kings of Armenia, their tombs are cut into the cliff face that overlooks the river Euphrates.Most of the walls of the citadel date from that era. There was also a Mithraic temple. The citadel was the original town.  
  • Banak (Middle Persian- Bana Kat - Base Town)= The army camp
  • Bardz (Middle Persian- Burzen - Exalted)= Name specifically for the pillow used by the Nahabed of the Nakharar when invited for an audience with the king, sat according to presidence.
  • Bdeshkh (Middle Persian-Bezashk)= Acted as an administrator of one of the four regions. These four regions of Armenia more or less matched the cardinal points. Technically he was a vassal of the King but in reality he ruled with his own army, treasury and laws. They were second only to the king. And like the Nahabed, the Bdeshkh was an inherited title.This had also been the system in Iran when it too was ruled by the Arshakuni, however when the Sassanian Persian dynasty came to power in 226 AD they revived the old Achaemenid "Satrapy" system, of many provinces under a "Iran Spahbed" (Master of Iran's Army). In the reign of Shah Khosrow I (531 - 579 AD) he restored the Bezashk system in Iran. The Kamasarakan family ruled the northern regions of Armenia for the king. They were of the Karin family, which ruled the south of Iran for the Sassanian kings. 
  • Berd (Middle Persian-Bord)= Castle or Fort
  • Catholicos (Greek- concerning the general)= Head of the Armenian Apostolic Church. The first few generations were fom the Suren family
  • Dasapet (Old Persian- Datha Pati)= Leader of a brigade of ten men.
  • Dastakert (Middle Persian-Dastgird-"stone built")=The estate of a prince, normally a palace.
  • Dpir (Middle Persian-Dbher)= Scribe, unlike in Iran they did not form a separate caste in the kingdom of Armenia.
  • Gah (Middle Persian- "Place" or "Time")= The throne of the Kings of Armenia.
  • Gah Namag (Middle Persian- Gah Nameh- Place/Time List)= List or book of presidence at the royal court for those Nakharar seated with the king.
  • Gaherets= An honorific title bestowed on a man of the kings choice, regardless of his seniority or backround. This was because the office of Gaherets was responsible for arranging the Gahnamag and he had to be trustworthy and not biased.
  • Gusan (Middle Persian-Gosan)=Minstrel. 
  • Gyughapet= Head of a village
  • Hargpet (Middle Persian- Harag Pati)= Treasurer, almost always a member of the Amatuni family held this position.
  • Hazarapet (Middle Persian- Hazara Pati)= Prime minister, it was a hereditary title of the Gnuni family.
  • Hrovartak (Middle Persian-Fravartak)=Royal charter.
  • Kartukharapet= Foreign minister.
  • Kond (Middle Persian-Gund)= Army camp
  • Kurm= Priestly caste predating Christianity. It might derive from the Sanskrit word Kurmi or be an abbreviation of aHURa Mazda. However, in Zoroastrian tradition, it was Ahriman who created evil beings, called "Kyrm", which also mean "worm".
  • Kusakal= A governor of a region and a non-hereditary title.
  • Maksapet= Governor of trade.
  • Malkhaz (Aramaic- Malak Aziz-"King Strong")= The Bodyguard of the king, an inherited title normally in the Khorkhoruni family. Aramaic was the official language of the Persian empire from 500 BC and this title seems to be a vestige from that time. It also reveals that the king would not choose someone of his own ethnicity to guard him.
  • Mard (Middle Persian- Mard)= Man
  • Mardpet (Middle Persian- Marza Pati)= The governor of the kings own lands, including the royal cities. An inherited title from which the family name Mardpetuni comes from.
  • Metsamets (Middle Persian- Mahista Mahist-"Great of Great")= An honorific title for the Nahapet and Tanuter.
  • Nahapet (Middle Persian-Nakha Pati)= Leader of the Nakharar and an inherited title, if there was no direct male heir then the nearest male relative would inherit. He answered to the Bdeshkh.
  • Nakharar (Middle Persian- Nakhvadar)= A land owning family, ruled by a Bdeshkh. They would marry within their extended family to keep their wealth. Each family had its own Kurm/Bishop
  • Park (Pahlavi-Farr)= Divine fortune bestowed by the God of Justice, Mihr, that the king would possess even after death.
  • Pasanik= Armed guard 
  • Pativ= The crest or coat of arms of a Bdeshkh and Nakharar.
  • Payl (Armenian-"shine")= Responsible for issuing the Zora Namag and also acted as Regent to Princes.
  • Seghanaped= Chamberlain of the royal court.
  • Sepuh (Middle Persian-Sepah)= Junior members of the Nakharar.
  • Shinakan= The masses, farmers, labourers and slaves.
  • Spanda (Middle Persian-Spenta)= To sacrifice.
  • Sparapet (Middle Persian- Spah Pati)= Commander of the kings army. This was a hereditary title of the Mamikonian family.
  • Spasalar (Middle Persian-Spah Salar)= An alternate name for Sparapet.
  • Tag (Old Persian- Takht- "throne" )= The word for Crown in Armenian.
  • Tagavor= King, in the pre-Christian Arshakuni era he was referred to as "Brother of the Sun"
  • Tanuter (Middle Persian- Tukhar)= The earlier name for the head of a land owning family, later the word Nahapet came into use.
  • Ter (Middle Persian- Tir, the god of rain and fertility)= Said to originally have been a title given to the head of the most senior family in the kingdom (Bdeshkh?). Since Tir was a god of fertility then granting the head of the most senior family this title must have implied they were the "fertility of the kingdom". It later came to be used by the Christian priesthood. Armenian surnames today that have the affix Ter have a priestly origin.
  • Tohm (Old Persian-Tauma)=House, also the name for the male lineage in a family.
  • Tohmapet= The head of the clan.
  • Tohmerg = Clan battle cry.
  • Vaspurakan (Middle Persian-Aspwaragan)= Heir to the throne, the Prince. This name was already used in the time of king Artashes (Artaxias 190-60 BC) and solely referred to the region of lake Van. It seems that at least in the time of the Hakamanish (Achaemenian) empire this region was a princely possession.
  • Vostan= The royal estate or land, directly owned by the crown unlike Bdeshkh or Nakharar lands. This included the royal cities as well such as Artashat and Dvin.
  • Vostikan (Middle Persian- Wistakhm)= The ruler of Armenia for the Caliph.
  • Zora Namag (Middle Persian-Zur e Nameh-"Names of strength")= A grand mobilisation notice. Apparently it was in the form of a tetrahedron, a segment being sent to each Bdeshkh to record the total number of military manpower available. Under each Bdeshkh were around 22 Nakharar. These families were recorded along with their military forces.There is a record of a grand total of 124,000 men. 84,000 were of the nakharar and 40,000 the King’s own regiments. The miltary ranking was also reflected in the Gahnamag.

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