2020, Volume 17, Issue 3

Back to the Table of Contents

Armen Ye. Petrosyan
Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography, National Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Armenia
Yerevan, Armenia

King Artavasdes and the Anagram of his Name in the Ancient Armenian Epic

Voprosy onomastiki, 2020, Volume 17, Issue 3, pp. 9–22 (in Russian)
DOI: 10.15826/vopr_onom.2020.17.3.032

Received on 26 February 2020

Abstract: The paper deals with the ancient Armenian epic Vipasank known from the book of the 5th century historian Movses Khorenatsi (Moses Chorenensis). The author considers its plot both contextually, against the backdrop of Caucasian peoples’ mythology, and historically, by drawing parallels with real-life figures that might have served as prototypes for the legendary epic kings and heroes. It is noted that obvious character analogies and linguistic similarities do not suggest any genetic relatedness between the Armenian and the neighbouring Caucasion traditions but are a result of cultural borrowings and language contacts. The author points out the culture-driven evolution of traditional beliefs that caused changes in the original epic plot. The story of Artavasdes, the son and the successor of the legendary king Artaxias who defeated the Alan army and stole the Alan princess Satenik, serves as an example of this development. The entire logic of the epic suggests that in its archaic version, Artavasdes was the son of Argavan, head of the vishapazuns (“dragonids”), which is proved by multiple text allusions and the plot development. Based on the peculiarities of Indo-European poetic language, first noted by Ferdinand de Saussure, the paper highlights its tendency to encrypt the names of gods or heroes by repeating sounds and sound combinations. The author gives a close analysis of one obscure passage of the Vipasank epic and draws a hypothesis that it contains an anagram of the name of Artavasdes, which, after the adoption of Christianity, must have alluded to the secret relation between Satenik and Argavan. This, in turn, enables the author to trace back the evolution of the image of Artavasdes in epic tradition and to explain its ambivalence.

Keywords: anthroponymy, Movses Khorenatsi, ancient Armenian storytellers, king Artavasdes II, Saussurean anagram, Indo-European poetry, Armenian mythology, ancient Armenian epic.


Abaev, V. I. (1945). Nartovskii epos [Tales of the Narts]. Izvestiia Severo-Osetinskogo nauchnoissledovatel’skogo instituta, 10(1), 23–142.

Abaev, V. I. (1958–1989). Istoriko-etimologicheskii slovar’ osetinskogo iazyka [Historical and Etymological Dictionary of the Ossetian Language] (Vols. 1–4). Moscow; Leningrad: Nauka.

Abegyan, M. (1948). Istoriia drevnearmianskoi literatury [History of Ancient Armenian Literature]. Erevan: Izd-vo AN Armenii.

Abegyan, M. (1966). Trudy [Collected Works] (Vol. 1). Erevan: Izd-vo AN Armenii. (In Armenian).

Abramyan, L. A. (2013). Prikovannyi geroi: perekryvaiushchiesia landshafty i mify [The Chained Hero: Overlapping Landscapes and Myths]. Comparative Studies on Regional Powers, 2, 5–25.

Acharyan, R. (1971–1979). Kornevoi slovar’ armianskogo iazyka [Stem Dictionary of the Armenian Language] (Vols. 1–4). Erevan: Izd-vo Erevan. un-ta. (In Armenian).

Ahyan, S. (1982). Les débuts de l’histoire d’Arménie et les trois fonctions indo-européennes. Revue de l’histoire des religions, 199(3), 251–271. https://doi.org/10.3406/rhr.1982.4670

Ardzinba, V. G. (1985). Nartskii siuzhet rozhdeniia geroia iz kamnia [Nart Plot of a Hero Born from Stone]. In B. B. Piotrovsky, V. V. Ivanov, & V. G. Ardzinba (Eds.), Drevniaia Anatoliia [Ancient Anatolia] (pp. 128–168). Moscow: Nauka.

Arutyunyan, S. B. (1987). Otrazhenie nekotorykh osobennostei indoevropeiskoi metriki v drevnearmianskoi poezii i fol’klore [Some Features of the Indo-European Metrics in Ancient Armenian Poetry and Folklore]. Istoriko-filologicheskii zhurnal, 4, 48–60. (In Armenian).

Bobokhian, A. A. (2019). Sviatilishche Kuntara i kamen’ kunkunutstsi [Shrine of Kuntara and the Kunkunutsi Stone]. In A. Bobokhyan et al. (Eds.), Vishap na styke skazki i real’nosti [The Vishaps between Fairy Tale and Reality] (pp. 450–461). Erevan: Izd-vo In-ta arkheologii i etnografii. (In Armenian).

Colarusso, J. (2002). Myths from the Caucasus: The Nart Sagas of the Circassians, Abazas, Abkhaz, and Ubykhs. Princeton, Oxford: Princeton University Press.

Dyachkov-Tarasov, N. (1902). Abadzekhi (istoriko-etnograficheskii ocherk) [Abadzekhi (Historical and Ethnographic Essay]. Tbilisi: [s. n.].

Dyakonov, I. M. (1983). K voprosu o simvole Khaldi [On the Khaldi Symbol]. Drevnii Vostok, 4, 190–194.

Dumézil, G. (1976). Osetinskii epos i mifologiia [Ossetian Epic and Mythology]. Moscow: Nauka.

Dumézil, G. (1990). Skify i narty [Scythians and Narts]. Moscow: Nauka.

Fox, R. L. (2008). Travelling Heroes: Greeks and Their Myths in the Epic Age of Homer. New York: International Edition.

Gadagatl, A. M. (1967). Geroicheskii epos “Narty” i ego genezis [The Heroic “Narts” Epic and its Genesis]. Krasnodar: Krasnodar. kn. izd-vo.

Gamkrelidze, T. V., & Ivanov, V. V. (1984). Indoevropeiskii yazyk i indoevropeitsy [Indo-European Language and Indo-Europeans]. Tbilisi: Izd-vo Tbilis. un-ta.

Haas, V. (1994). Geschichte der hettitischen Religion. Leiden; New York; Koln: Brill.

Ivanov, V. V. (2011). A Probable Structure of a Protoform of the Ancient Armenian Song of Vahagn. Aramazd: Armenian Journal of Near Eastern Studies, 6(1), 7–23.

Ivanov, V. V. (1969). Ispol’zovanie dlia etimologicheskikh issledovanii odnokorennykh slov v poezii na drevnikh indoevropeiskikh iazykakh [Using Cognate Word Combinations in Old Indo-European Language Poetry for Etymological Studies]. In V. N. Toporov, & O. N. Trubachev (Eds.), Etimologiia — 1967 [Etymology — 1967] (pp. 40–56). Moscow: Nauka.

Ivanov, V. V. (1983). Vydelenie raznykh khronologicheskikh sloev v drevnearmianskom i problema pervonachal’noi struktury teksta gimna Va(kh)agnu [Defining Different Chronological Layers in Old-Armenian Language and the Problem of the Original Structure of the Hymn to Va(kh)agn]. Istoriko-filologicheskii zhurnal, 4, 22–43.

Ivanov, V. V. (1999). Izbrannye trudy po semiotike i istorii kul’tury [Selected Works on Semiotics and Cultural History] (Vol. 1). Moscow: Iazyki russkoi kul’tury.

Markwart, J. (1928). Le berceau des Arméniens. Revue des études arméniennes, 8, 210–232.

Martirosyan, G. (1996). Novaia popytka interpretatsii “artakhur khavart” [A New Attempt to Interpret “artakhur khavart”]. Istoriko-filologicheskii zhurnal, 1–2, 311–316. (In Armenian).

Miller, V. F. (2008). Kavkazskie predaniia o velikanakh, prikovannykh k goram [Caucasian Legends about Giants Chained to the Mountains]. In V. F. Miller, Fol’klor narodov Severnogo Kavkaza: teksty, issledovaniia [Folklore of the North Caucasian Peoples: Texts, Research] (pp. 826–837). Moscow: Nauka.

Oganesyan, G. V. (1990). Drevnearmianskaia drama i ee modifikatsii [Ancient Armenian Drama and its Modifications]. Erevan: Izd-vo AN Armenii (In Armenian).

Petrosyan, A. E. (2004). Armianskii Mkher, zapadnyi Mitra i urartskii Khaldi [The Armenian Mher, Western Mithra, and Urartian Khaldi]. In A. Egiazaryan et al. (Eds.), Armianskii epos “Sasunskie udal’tsy” i vsemirnoe epicheskoe nasledie [The Armenian Epic “Daredevils of Sassoun” and the World Epic Heritage] (pp. 42–60). Erevan: Limush.

Petrosyan, A. E. (2006). K voprosu ob istokakh armianskoi traditsionnoi dramy [On the Origins of Armenian Traditional Drama]. Istoriko-filologicheskii zhurnal, 2, 256–284. (In Armenian).

Petrosyan, A. E. (2012). Sootnoshenie armianskikh i severokavkazskikh nartskikh eposov [The Correlation between the Armenian and North Caucasian Nart Epics]. In A. Petrosyan, & A. Egiazaryan (Eds.), Armianskii epos i vsemirnoe epicheskoe nasledie [Armenian Epic and the World Epic Heritage] (Iss. 3, pp. 8–51). Erevan: Gitutiun.

Petrosyan, A. E. (2014a). Nekotorye armiano-zapadnokavkazskie epicheskie paralleli [Some Armenian-West Caucasian Epic Parallels]. In Z. D. Dzhapua (Ed.), Evoliutsiia epicheskoi traditsii [Evolution of the Epic Tradition] (pp. 192–195). Sukhum: NAAR.

Petrosyan, A. E. (2014b). Strukturnye sviazi armianskikh i osetinskogo nartskogo eposov [Structural Connections of the Armenian and Ossetian Nart Epics]. In A. Petrosyan (Ed.), Armianskii epos i vsemirnoe epicheskoe nasledie [Armenian Epic and the World Epic Heritage] (Iss. 4, pp. 47–53). Erevan: Gitutiun.

Petrosyan, A. E. (2016). Armianskaia Satenik / Satinik i kavkazskaia Satana / Satanei [The Armenian Satenik / Satinik and the Caucasian Satana / Satanei]. Vestnik Vladikavkazskogo nauchnogo tsentra, 1, 8–17.

Petrosyan, A. E. (2018). Armianskie dukhi kadzhi: obraz i nazvanie [Armenian Demons Called Kaj: Image and Name]. Voprosy onomastiki, 15(1), 51–64. https://doi.org/10.15826/vopr_onom.2018.15.1.003

Petrosyan, A. E. (2020a). Drevneindoevropeiskii Zmei v armianskoi traditsii i stely vishapy [Ancient Indo-European Serpent in the Armenian Tradition and the Vishap Steles]. In A. Bobokhyan et al. (Eds.), Vishap na styke skazki i real’nosti [The Vishaps between Fairy Tale and Reality] (pp. 146–156). Erevan: Izd-vo In-ta arkheologii i etnografii. (In Armenian).

Petrosyan, A. E. (2020b). Sossiurovskie anagrammy “Pesni Vakhagna” [Saussurean Anagrams in the “Song of Vahagn”]. In N. Kazansky (Ed.), Indoevropeiskoe iazykoznanie i klassicheskaia filologiia — 24 [Indo-European Linguistics and Classical Philology — 24] (pp. 181–189). St Petersburg: ILI RAN.

Petrosyan, A. Y. (2002). The Indo-European and Ancient Near Eastern Sources of the Armenian Epic. Washington: Institute for the Study of Man.

Russell, J. (2006). Argawan: The Indo-European Memory of the Caucasus. Journal of Armenian Studies, 8(2), 110–147.

Sarkisyan, G. Kh. (1966a). Obozhestvlenie i kul’t tsarei v Drevnei Armenii [Deification and Cult of Kings in Ancient Armenia]. Vestnik drevnei istorii, 2, 3–26.

Sarkisyan, G. Kh. (1966b). Armeniia ellinisticheskoi epokhi i Movses Khorenatsi [Armenia of the Hellenistic Era and Movses Khorenatsi]. Erevan: Izd-vo AN Armenii. (In Armenian).

Saussure (de), F. (1977). Trudy po iazykoznaniiu [Works on Linguistics]. Moscow: Progress.

Schwartz, M. (1975). Cautes and Cautopates. In J. R. Hinnells (Ed.), Mithraic Studies — 2 (pp. 406–423). Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Schwartz, M. (2012). Transformations of the Indo-Iranian Snake-Man. Myth, Language, Ethnoarcheology, and Iranian Identity, 45(2), 275–279.

Starobinski, J. (1971). Les mots sous les mots. Les anagrammes de Ferdinand de Saussure. Paris: Gallimard.

Vian, F. (1960). La triade des rois d’Orchomène: Étéoclès, Phlégyas, Minyas. In Hommages à Georges Dumézil (pp. 215–224). Brussels: Latomus.