On the Edges of Christianity

Iceland and Armenia in the Middle Ages

Fimmtudaginn 8. júní 2017 kl. 13–16
Oddi 101

Miðaldastofa Háskóla Íslands gengst fyrir málþingi um Ísland og Armeníu á miðöldum. Þar fjalla íslenskir og armenskir fræðimenn um heimildir um norræna menn og Ísland í arabískum og armenskum miðaldaheimildum, Armena í íslenskum miðaldaheimildum, þar á meðal ermska trúboðsbiskupa sem frá er sagt í Íslendingabók Ara fróða, og armenskar sagnir sem þekktar hafa verið á Íslandi á fyrri tíð. Fyrirlestrarnir verða fluttir á ensku. Allir velkomnir.

Dagskrá

13.00–13.30
Þórir Jónsson Hraundal
Northmen in the Caucasus in the Middle Ages

13.30–14.00
Narek Mkrtchyan
Untold Evidence of Iceland in Early Medieval Armenian Historical Sources

14.00–14.30
Sverrir Jakobsson
Armenians in the North: The Icelandic evidence

14.30–15.00
Kaffihlé

15.00–15.30
Tigran Yepremyan
On History of Christianization of Iceland: the Armenian Episode

15.30–16.00
Halldís Ármannsdóttir
Powerful, virtuous and licentious women:
Two prototypes of women in Armenian sources and Old Icelandic literature

Fyrirlestrarnir verða fluttir á ensku. Allir velkomnir.

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Þórir Jónsson Hraundal

Northmen in the Caucasus in the Middle Ages

Þórir Jónsson Hraundal

Several medieval Arabic works mention Northmen in and around the Caucasus region. While the modern borders did not exist in that period, this talk focuses on descriptions of Northmen mainly in the region where we find Azerbaijan and Dagestan today. The sources in question belong to the Arabic geographical and historical sources of the ninth and tenth centuries, which constitute a separate corpus on the eastwards expansion of Scandinavian peoples in the Viking age. These sources consistently portray the Northmen in contact with the various peoples inhabiting these regions, especially the Khazars and the Volga Bulghars to the north. Of particular importance also is the influence in these parts of both the Byzantine Empire and the Islamic Caliphate. Additionally, we will look briefly at the archaeological and numismatic evidence and how this can possibly connect with the written sources.

Þórir Jónsson Hraundal is director of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Iceland. His research is focused mainly on medieval Arabic texts and their evidence on the Viking expansion.

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Narek Mkrtchyan

Untold Evidence of Iceland in Early Medieval Armenian Historical Sources

Narek Mkrtchyan

The study aims to examine the early medieval Armenian historical sources by uncovering previously untouched information about Iceland, which has been known to Armenians since the 4th century AD. The study is an original research based on primary sources. Particularly, the works of Movses Khorenatsi (approx. 410–490)—father of the Armenian historiography—will be taken into consideration. The evidence of Iceland to Armenians in early medieval ages will be confirmed by equating Iceland with the Thule of Khorenatsi. The toponym of Thule (Թուղիս, Թղիս, Թուլիս in Armenian) in Moses Khorenatsi’s ‘History of the Armenians’ (Պատմություն Հայոց) is connected with the life story of one of the prominent Kings of Armenia, Varazdat (374–378)—the Olympic Champion—who, according to Moses Khorenatsi, was exiled to oceanic island of Thule by the request of the Roman Emperor Theodosius. The paper will also focus on later Armenian historical sources to provide a more comprehensive picture of Armenian interpretation of the Thule.

Further, the paper will investigate the Armenian origin of the word “Thule”, which, in its turn, brings us to dwell on the geographical location of the very Thule. Fortunately, another prominent work of “Movses Khorenatsi, “Asxarhacoyc” (Աշխարհացույց) or “Geography” (5th century AD.) provides us with valuable information on the Thule. This source is even more interesting as the author uses geographical records, e.g. latitude and longitude, when describing the location of Thule. Moreover, the geographical details are quite convincing to lay down the hypothesis that the Thule of Khorenatsi is most certainly Iceland and is not just an island located in northern waters of Atlantic. After exploration of the Great Britain and Scandinavia by Khorenatsi, one can easily show Thule on the world map, which most accurately fits with the location of modern Iceland.

Narek Mkrtchyan is a Ph.D. Candidate at Yerevan State University, Department of World History. He is currently a visiting lecturer in Armenian History at the American University of Armenia. His research interests focus on study of the Armenian history from the comparative perspective of World History. His research interests lie also in the study of historical/political transformation in Central Asia and post-Soviet Space.

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Sverrir Jakobsson

Armenians in the North: The Icelandic evidence

Sverrir Jakobsson

This paper deals with two possible visits from Armenia to the North in the High Middle Ages. The first one is the visit reported in Íslendingabók of three missionaries who may have been from Armenia and “claimed to be bishops”. Whether these bishops came from Armenia or not has been the subject of much discussion, but I will argue that such an interpretation is the most credible one in the circumstances. It remains to be examined what reason such missionaries had to visit Iceland. The context of a possible Armenian mission to Iceland will be examined, in particular whether these Armenians belonged to a heretical Church described in the Alexiad of Anna Comnena.

Following this brief mission, nothing was heard about Armenia in Icelandic sources for a couple of centuries. In 1314, however, there is a notice in the Icelandic annals concerning the visit of Armenian emissaries to the Norwegian court. The context of this mission, previously examined by the Norwegian historian Bjørn Bandlien, can be linked to the crusader kingdom in Cilicia. It seems that Cilician Armenian kings were interested in establishing links with Norwegians, either for strategic support or to trade hunting falcons. The Armenians first arrived in Norway in 1314 during the reign of King Oshin of Armenia (1307–1320) and Håkon V (1299–1319). The situation in which these interactions took place will be described and the significance of the mission evaluated.

Sverrir Jakobsson is a Professor of Medieval History at the University of Iceland. He has done research on the Icelandic medieval World View and medieval identities, as well as the social and political history of Medieval Iceland.

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Tigran Yepremyan

On History of Christianization of Iceland: the Armenian Episode

Tigran Yepremyan

The Byzantine Christian missionaries, and among them the Armenians, played a notable role in the cultural and religious conversion of Scandinavia. Some of the Armenian missionaries reached even as far as Iceland. The Medieval Icelandic sources, namely Íslendingabók, Grágás and Hungrvaka, preserve information about the presence of the Armenian Christian missionaries in Iceland in the 50–60s of 11th century. A prominent medieval Icelandic chronicler Ari Thorgilsson (1067–1148) in his Íslendingabók writes about the visit of three bishops—Petros, Abraham and Stephannos—from Ermland (Armenia) to Iceland. Remarkably, the Christian laws section of the laws of Old Icelandic Commonwealth links them not only to the Western ecclesiastical canons but also to the Greek and Armenian Christianity. However, the problems of early influences from the Eastern Christendom have not been studied closely by scholars. Perhaps, the Old Icelandic sources concerning the Armenian missionaries in Iceland are unique as they show a real historical event beyond the transforming historical narratives of the 12–13th centuries after the Great Schism between the Western and Eastern Churches.

This historic issue has a significant importance for the general narrative of the history of European civilization as it connects separate national histories of two geographically distant nations of Europe – Iceland in the North Western-most and Armenia in the South Eastern-most Europe. Our starting point is that Europe is a civilizational entity rather than simply a geographical one. Such questions of identity often lead to reflections on the historical past, collective memory and shared values. Therefore, I will tackle the historical interactions between Armenia and Iceland in the aforementioned context.

My paper aims to discuss this under researched topic. Using Medieval Icelandic sources, and a comparative historical analysis, I will argue that the Armenian missionaries had a significant input in the spread of the Christian doctrine in Iceland. Although, due to the subsequent course of history the Armenian episode in the Christianization of Iceland remained only an interesting episode without further historical consequences. Few scholars have discussed separate aspects of this issue. However, this historical problem still lacks a comprehensive study and a unified approach. Therefore, I will also attempt to combine primary and secondary sources, scholarly studies and research works to accomplish a fundamental and comprehensive study of this historical question. Additionally, the Armenian penetration to the island of Greenland in the Late Middle Ages will be discussed based on the Medieval Danish sources.

Tigran Yepremyan recently defended his PhD in World History and International Relations from Yerevan State University. Prior to that, he had graduated from the Estonian School of Diplomacy. He is a researcher and content provider at the AGBU Armenian Virtual College. His research interests include also the European Historical Order (Medieval and Modern Period), International Relations, and the Armenian Diaspora.

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Halldís Ármannsdóttir

Powerful, virtuous and licentious women

Two prototypes of women in Armenian sources and Old Icelandic literature

Halldís Ármannsdóttir

In this paper I shall focus on two stories or fables which seem to have influenced Icelandic Saga writing and are also a part of the Armenian culture. The first is an integral part of Armenian history and mythology, i.e., the story of the Assyrian queen Semiramis who ruled Assyria for 42 years according to Icelandic sources. She desired the Armenian king Ara who resisted her advances and consequently lost his life in a fight with her generals. Semiramis was a sorceress and tried unsuccessfully to bring Ara back to life but managed to make people believe in his resurrection and thus kept peace with the Armenians. Many versions of this story are extant but the ones which seem to have influenced the Icelandic sagas are on the one hand written by Diodorus Siculus and on the other by western scholars like Iustinus, Valerius Maximus and Orosius. The latter are rendered in Vincent de Beauvais’ Speculum historiale. The story of Semiramis is also found in more recent Icelandic manuscripts dated in the 18th and 19th centuries.

The narrative of Semiramis is to be found in a nineteenth century manuscript Sjóðurinn. This same manuscript also includes the story of Joseph and Aseneth. The story was originally written in Greek but one of the oldest versions is in Armenian and is believed to be translated from Greek. Aseneth had to convert to Judaism before marrying Joseph and her conversion was seen as symbolic for the Christian faith. Their story was also widespread in England as can be seen in manuscripts from the 12th and 13th century and the text in Speculum historiale seems to rely on a Latin translation made in England. Later the story was translated into Middle-English and mostly found in manuscripts owned by women. The Icelandic text in the nineteenth century manuscript Sjóðurinn seems at first glance to be analogous to the Latin text in Speculum historiale. Those two stories still seem to have been of some interest to nineteenth-century Icelanders and it would be interesting to know whether they were important to women in Iceland as well as in England.

Halldís Ármannsdóttir is a Ph.D. student in Icelandic Medieval Studies at the University of Iceland. She finished her BA in Icelandic studies and Latin from the University of Iceland in 1977 and MA in Icelandic Studies in 2012. Halldís has worked as a secondary school teacher since 1975.