Project description

In the course of their history the Armenians have had intense cultural exchanges between peoples of different ethnic, linguistic and religious backgrounds. Indeed, the geographical space of the Armenian plateau or the larger area extending from the southern feet of the Caucasus mountains to Anatolia and northern Mesopotamia (henceforth CAM) has been a locus of such encounters throughout centuries. This landmass was a necessary passageway for Eurasian powers expanding towards it from all directions. Yet, it was removed from the main centres of political and military power, notably Constantinople, Baghdad, Cairo, and Qaraqorum. Between the mid-9th and the mid-14th centuries CAM was rarely subject to centralised, hegemonic cultural, political, and religious control over sustained periods. One of the main hypothesis that drives this project is that such poly-centrism enhanced fluidity, boundary-crossings, cross-pollination between multiple and shifting elite cultures, and engendered a shared vocabulary of social and religious discourses. Articulated in texts, depicted on artifacts, and minted on coins, the intensive circulation of ideas, goods, images, and mental constructs in CAM has never been studied systematically. The goal of ArmEn is to fill this gap and position CAM in a wider scholarly debate on entanglements in Eurasian history and Global Middle Ages, on a par with other more intensively studied areas, such as medieval Spain (Iberia), Sicily, ‘the Mediterranean’ complex, Central Asia, or the Balkans.

In order to test the proposed spatial framework of entanglements, ArmEn will focus on the large body of Armenian sources, to be explored through a comparative and connected approach, for two inter-related reasons:

  1. The Armenians constituted the group most widely dispersed and integrated in the space of CAM, and engaged intellectually, politically (including via mixed marriages), militarily, religiously, and commercially with Muslim Arabs, Christian Arabs, subjects of the Byzantine Empire, Syriac Christians, Georgians, Caucasian Albanians, a number of Turko-Muslim dynasties, Kurds, Iranians, Western Europeans, and Mongols.

Populations and Religions in CAM


2) Armenian sources reflect the dynamic connections between all these cultures synoptically and diachronically, covering regions for which no other evidence exists. Yet, they must be brought into conversation with Arabic, Syriac, Greek, Georgian, Turkish, and Persian evidence to fully grasp entanglements across ethnic, linguistic and religious communities and their bearing on the socio-political landscape of CAM.

The project will pay a particular attention on written sources expressed through genres habitually not employed in historical research: epics, poetry, apocalypses, religious polemics, hagiography, homilies, legends. An initial literary analysis, informed by methodologies of inter-textuality, narratology, and rhetorical strategies of othering, will be connected to the locations of their composition or wider areas of circulation, patrons/commissioners, and authors/narrators (when known). The notorious lack of archival/documentary sources will be mitigated by tapping into historiography, colophons (particularly rich in the Armenian tradition), inscriptions, numismatics, registers of Islamic pious foundations (waqf-s), legal texts, and monastic donations.

Textual and material sources

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