The Armenian Contribution to Hellenism and Orthodoxy

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Armenian Hellenism
“The army of the emperor Heraclius fights the Persians”, Pierro della Francesca (1452). Public domain

The links between Armenian culture and Hellenism date back to at least the 6th century BC, as a reference to Armenia was made by the Greek historian Heraclete de Militus in 525 BC.

According to 20th century linguists, the Armenian and Greek languages ​​share a common ancestry, with the two peoples also having similar traditions.

Grecian Delight supports Greece

The Armenians contributed greatly as carriers of the Greek language, civilization and Eastern Orthodoxy, as they were an important part of the Byzantine Empire.

The Armenian Orthodox Church, which was the first Orthodox church in the world to be officially recognized, has followed parallel paths with the Greek Orthodox Church.

Alexander the Great invades Armenia

In 334 BC.

It took three years for the Macedonian army to defeat the Persian King Darius III and destroy the Persian capital of Persepolis.

With the fall of the Persian Empire in 331 BC, Alexander appointed a new satrap, Mithranes of the royal house of Orontes, to rule Armenia.

After the sudden death of Alexander in 323 BC.

Armenia fell under the reign of Seleucus in 311 BC. AD, establishing the Seleucid dynasty. Despite pressure from the Seleucids, the Orontid dynasty continued to control the largest of the three kingdoms into which Armenia had been divided.

Armenia and the Hellenistic influence

Several historians argue that Hellenism was Armenia’s greatest cultural influence, becoming so ingrained in the culture that many characteristics remain to this day.

The Greek language became the official language of the rulers, as can be seen from the Greek inscriptions discovered in Armavir, the first Orontid capital.

The inscriptions indicate the existence of a Greek temple of Apollo and Artemis, served by a predominantly Greek priesthood.

Armenians identified with the Hellenistic culture which shared the zodiac, the pantheon of gods and traditions.

They absorbed Greek philosophy, architecture, and the gods, giving Armenian deities Greek names, and ultimately their human likenesses.

It is said that the Armenian language is influenced by ancient Greek; however, the two languages ​​have developed differently over time.

The Armenians in Byzantium

In the 4th century BC, parts of Armenia known as Western Armenia became part of the Byzantine Empire.

The Armenians prospered in the Byzantine Empire. Many Byzantine emperors were ethnically Armenian, half Armenian, part Armenian, or perhaps Armenian.

Emperor Heraclius, who established the Heraclian dynasty (610-717) was Armenian on his father’s side. Basil I, Romanos I, John I Tzimiskes and Nikephoros II were also Armenians.

In fact, one in five Byzantine emperors and empresses were wholly or partially Armenian.

The Akathist hymn, sung during Orthodox Lent, commemorates the rescue of Constantinople from the Persians and the Avads by the Emperor Heraclius with the miraculous help of the Theotokos, the Virgin Mary.

The Macedonian dynasty, named after Basil I the Macedonian, originally from the theme of Macedonia in Thrace – not geographic Macedonia – ruled during the most glorious period of the Byzantine Empire.

It was a period in which the Empire reached its peak since the Muslim conquests and the Macedonian Renaissance in letters and the arts began.

Moreover, from the 5th century onwards, the Armenians were considered the main constituent of the Byzantine army, the palace guards being chosen from among the bravest Armenians.

According to some scholars, Armenian military might was the basis for the stability and longevity of Byzantium and Hellenism.

In addition, bishops, architects, important military figures and other prominent members of the history of the Byzantine Empire were Armenians, contributing greatly to politics, Greek orthodoxy, and commerce.

The contribution of the Armenian people to the Byzantine Empire, and therefore to Hellenism and Orthodoxy, has been constant throughout its history.

Armenian Hellenism
Byzantine victory over the Bulgarians, of the Skylitzes of Madrid. Public domain

“Basil the Bulgarian killer”

Basil II, also known as the “Slayer of Bulgarians” (976-1025), was one of the most powerful Byzantine emperors, winning territories in the Balkans, Mesopotamia, Armenia and Georgia.

Despised by the Bulgarians for its cruelty, it reclaimed their land after years of war, and with the subsequent subjugation of the Serbs, the Empire regained its former Danubian border for the first time in 400 years.

Basil II increased his domestic authority by attacking the land interests of the military aristocracy and the church.

The expansion of Byzantium by the Armenian Emperor was important for the spread of Hellenism and Orthodoxy in the Balkan territories today.

The reconstruction of Hagia Sophia

A devastating earthquake on October 25, 989 destroyed the great dome of Hagia Sophia, the eternal symbol of Greek Orthodoxy in Constantinople.

After the disaster, the Byzantine emperor Basil II asked the Armenian architect Trdat, the creator of the great churches of Ani and Agina, to repair the dome.

The scale of the destruction of the church was such that reconstruction took almost five years. Hagia Sophia was reopened on May 13, 994.

The magnificent reconstructed dome designed by Trdat remains atop the “Great Church” to this day.

Persecution of Greeks and Armenians by Turks

In the 20th century, the Armenian people and Hellenism both faced violent persecution by the Turkish state, culminating in the destruction in 1922 of the Greek and Armenian population of Smyrna.

In fact, the Armenian Genocide (1915-1916) by the Ottomans during World War I is one of the darkest hours in modern history, as 600,000 to 1,500,000 Armenians were killed.

Greece is one of the countries that officially recognizes the genocide of the Armenians by the Ottomans. It also grants development aid and humanitarian aid to Armenia and has supported the country’s rapprochement with European institutions.

By 2021, a total of 31 countries had now recognized the Armenian genocide, along with Pope Francis and the European Parliament.

Greece was also one of the first countries to recognize Armenia upon its independence, which was won on September 21, 1991. There has been a Greek Embassy in Yerevan since 1993 and a corresponding Armenian Embassy in Athens since. that time.


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