The Life of Mashtoc'

The Life of Mashtoc' is a biography of Mesrop Mashtoc', creator of the Armenian alphabet, written by Mashtoc"s youngest pupil, Koriwn (19). The author implies that he wrote his work several years after the death of Mesrop at the request of the then acting Catholicos Yovsep'. However, according to Ghazar P'arpec'i, Koriwn's superior, Catholicos Yovsep' was taken prisoner and martyred by the Iranians shortly after the battle of Awarayr (45O-451) (20). It is difficult to see how Koriwn could have received his directive from Yovsep' to write concerning Mashtoc' after Yovsep"s arrest in 450-451. Furthermore, prince Vasak Siwnik', who defected to the Iranians during the battle and subsequently was transformed into the traitor par excellence in Armenian literature, is praised by Koriwn as a brave and wise man (21). It appears, therefore, that this work was written before the Armenian rebellion.

Koriwn notes that his teacher passed away in the first year of the Iraniam king Yazdgard II, son of Vahram, i.e., in 44O, (22) and that Mesrop's colleague Sahak died in 439 (23). He states elsewhere that the students of Sahak assembled "year after year" to honor their teacher's memory (24). Thus Manuk Abeghyan calculated that Koriwn wrote his biography not immediately after Mashtoc's death, but around 443. This is supported by another of Koriwn's remarks, namely that three years after Mashtoc's death (25) Vahan Amatuni constructed a church over his grave (26). Abeghyan suggested that the Life of Mashtoc' was written during the period 443-51 (27). There seems to be no grounds for challenging this proposal .

The little that is known about the author is gleaned from two statements he makes about himself in Mesrop's biography. In chapter 12, Koriwn mentions that after receiving his education, he was sent with other students to various unspecified districts of Armenia to teach the new alphabet (28). In chapter 19 he says that he studied in Constantinople and then returned to Armenia bringing, along with other manuscripts, the canons of the Council of Ephesus (29). Thus Koriwn's homecoming took place after 431, the year of the Council.

Because Koriwn's work is a biography of a cultural figure and not a political or military history of Armenia, the Life contains little detailed information about the Mamikoneans or the sparapetut'iwn. From chapter 12, one learns that Catholicos Sahak personally taught the alphabet to the Mamikonean folk (orear) --"foremost among whom was Vardan, also called Vardkan". (30). Sahak's special ministrations are perfectly understandable, since Vardan was Sahak's own grandson. In chapter 26 Koriwn presents a partial list of dignitaries attending the burial of Mashtoc'. The relevant portion translates: "[Present] from the military, the first [or foremost, arajnumn] was named Vahan of the Amatuni family [azg] who was the hazarapet of Greater Armenia, and the second was Hmayeak of the Mamikonean clan [tohm]..." (31). In scholarly literature the hazarapet usually is associated with civil rather than military matters (32). According to Koriwn's list, however, the phrase "from the military [i zinuorakan koghmanen]" suggests that in the period following the abolition of the Armenian Arsacids (428), the hazarapet's function may have been altered to include military duties.

The only sparapet mentioned by name in the Life is Anatolis, commander-in-chief of Byzantine Armenia. In chapter 16, Mashtoc' was received warmly by Anatolis (called spayapet) who wrote to emperor Theodosius informing him of Mastoc's plans to teach the alphabet in Western Armenia (33). When Mashtoc' returned from Constantinople, he presented the emperor's rescripta to Anatolis, now called the sparapet of Armenia [sparapetn Hayoc'] (34).