FAUSTUS, Arm. Pʿawstos (Latin, “fortunate”), fifth-century author of the Patmutʿiwn Hayocʿ (History of the Armenians) or Buzandaran. He is surnamed Buzand, a word taken to mean either “the Byzantine” or, as Anahit Perikhanian has proposed, “composer of epics”: from OIr *bava(t)-zanta-, cf. NP. zandvāf “Zoroastrian, lit. chanter of the Zand” (pp. 653-57). Buzandaran would mean something like “Epic Histories.” There seems little doubt that, whoever the person Pʿawstos may have been, the History ascribed to him was composed in Armenian by an Armenian steeped in the Iranian traditions of the newly Christianized land, for his description of the events of the fourth century, from the death of St. Gregory the Illuminator to the period just preceding the downfall of the Armenian Arsacid dynasty, are cast in the form of ancient Indo-European epic, specifically, of the Kayanian epic preserved by the Parthians. There are numerous references in Armenian literature to the oral epics of the gusans, “minstrels”; but Pʿawstos (if one excepts the epic of Susan, which, though of very ancient origins, comes down to us in a version of Arab occupation) alone enables us to study such a work in its entirety and nearly original form and to establish its kinship with other expressions of the genre in kindred Indo-European cultures.

The basic pattern to which the Buzandaran belongs is this: In the course of an apocalyptic war, a good and heroic warrior serves a weak or evil king; one or the other or both receive the benefit of spiritual counsel from a divinity or sage, who provides an alternative to fighting, but urges them to pursue war instead; and the end of the dynasty or heroic age ensues. Armenian literature can be triangulated, as it were between Greek and Indian examples, when its Indo-European aspects are studied (see Russel, 1998). Thus, in the oldest complete epic in Indo-European literature, the Iliad of Homer, the sea-nymph Thetis counsels her son, the hero Achilles, who can fight in the dubious war over Helen under the selfish, foolish Agamemnon, but win kleos aphthiton, “immortal fame,” through the epic poet’s later recitation of his deeds, or else return to a long and anonymous old age in Phthia. When Achilles dies, it is to be by a treacherous arrow. The Trojan War ends the Mycenaean age. At the other, eastern, end of the Indo-European world, in the Indian Mahābhārata, the Bhagavad Gītā describes the counsel of Krishna, the incarnation of Vishnu, to the hero Arjuna, who fights a just war, but against his own cousins, under the command of the flawed king Dhritarashtra. Krishna’s advice embodies the religious teaching of yoga, and with the general destruction of the war comes the end of the golden age in India. Closest to Armenia, and maintaining the same structure, is the Kayanian cycle. The Ayādgār ī Zarērān (q.v.) describes the advice of the visionary sage Jāmāsp to king Wištāsp, who will lose his brother, Zarēr, in the war with the Chionites (q.v.), who have demanded that the king renounce Zoroastrianism and return to dēv-worship (as indeed Ahriman [q.v.] had demanded, in the Vīdēvdāt, 19.6-7, of Zarathustra himself, offering as an example the monstrous tyrant Aži Dahāka; for a discussion of this passage, see Russell, 1994, pp. 63-71). The alternative is fruitless immortality in the Bronze Fortress, a place which reappears in the Thousand and One Nights (see alf layla wa layla). Wištāsp explodes in fury, but finally agrees to fight. When Zarēr is slain by treachery, his young son Bastūr (q.v.) escapes from the camp and goes to battle to avenge him. The line of the kavis ended with Wištāsp. The power of this epic theme was strong in Iran: the Pāzand version of the Ardā Wīrāz-nāmag is set at Wištāsp’s court, and the king’s fury, transferred from the Ayādgār, falls upon the sisters of Ardā Wīrāz (q.v.), who do not want him to drink the mang ī wištāspān and undertake his perilous spirit-journey.

Pʿawstos casts the war between the Armenian Arsacids and the Persian Sasanians (principally Šāpūr II) in the tripartite pattern described above, except with three families, instead of three individuals: the heroic Mamikonean naxarars (local dynasts, OIr. naxwadāra-), who are by hereditary privilege the sparapets (commanders-in-chief, OIr. spādapati-) of the royal forces; the Arsacid kings; and the Grigorid patriarchs of the Armenian Church. Material on the latter in Pʿawstos is cast often in the terms, not of epic, but of hagiography, especially Syriac. After an introductory section (bk. 3), the chief characters of these th ree—Mušeł Mamikonean, king Aršak II, and St. Nersēs—are all introduced together (bk. 4, chap. 1). Nersēs curses Aršak, dooming the dynasty, at the murder of the innocent Gnel (4.15: his death on account of his sexually captivating wife Pʿaṙanjem suggests a prototype in the myth of Sīāvōš, Arm. Šawarš, itself an Indo-European topos; cf. the Greek myth of Hippolytos and Phaidra), but Mušeł, who will die, predictably by treachery, serves his liege lord with a dogged, self-sacrificing loyalty most reminiscent of that of the Iranian hero Rostam, who was popular in Armenian storytelling, and whose prototype may have been an Arsacid (see Shahbazi, 1993). In Book 5, chaps. 43-44, the boy Artawazd, son of Vačʿē Mamikonean, escapes to the battlefield in a scene probably derived directly from the episode of Bastūr in the epic of Zarēr. The earthly alternative to war against the Persians, for which the reward promised by the Christian sages is the crown of martyrdom and the ultimate triumph of the true faith in Armenia, is conversion to Zoroastrianism: the evil naxarar Meružan Arcruni chooses this path. Pʿawstos, writing most likely around 470 C.E., would have had in mind as a more contemporary exemplar the traitorous Vasak Siwni; Mušeł then prefigures St. Vardan Mamikonean, whose martyrdom is celebrated by Ełišē vardapet (see EŁIŠĒ) in imagery which owes as much to the biblical Maccabees as to Christian hagiography. Aršak dies in captivity, neither martyr nor traitor, in the Sasanians’ Fortress of Oblivion (Andīmešk, q.v., or Andmšn berd)—a place of obscurity and a kind of suspended animation, somewhat like the Bronze Fortress. Aršak’s interview in the feasting tent of Šāpūr II, where the Armenian king only speaks his true intentions, to fight the Persians, when standing on Armenian soil that the Sasanian monarch, unbeknownst to his guest, has sprinkled over half the floor, derives from a cognate of the myth of Antaeus. The Armenian king’s elegiac moments, attended by the loyal eunuch Drastamat (lit: “welcome”), with feasting and dancers, are reminiscent of the end of Artašēs I, also the subject of an epic (Russell, 1986-87 and 1999; one notes that the son of Artašēs, Artawazd, betrayed him to his death and was cursed; Artawazd was then confined in Ararat to the end of his time, as is Aži Dahāka [see AŽDAHĀ, ŻAḤḤĀK] in Damāvand; the epic image of Aršak’s son, Pap, will be seen below to be used in part on Aži Dahāka as well). The defiant speech of the captured Armenian commander Vasak (4.54) provides a sense of the word play of the oral source of the epic. When accused by Šāpūr of being a fox (Arm. ałuēs), he retorts that the Persian does not take his true measure, for he was once a giant (Arm. skay, lit: “Scythian”; on Armeno-Scythian relations see Russel, 1997). The criticism is literally true, since /alVES/ is only one half of /SKAy/= VASAK.

Aršak begets his successor, Pap, on Pʿaṙanjem, whom he married after slaying Gnel. She devotes him at his birth to the demons (dewkʿ), who appear as snakes curling round him. He practices sodomy, and slays St. Nersēs: these attributes link him to the Christian Satan, who manifested himself as a snake in Eden and later possessed Judas Iscariot to betray Christ; and homosexuality is commonly linked with idolatry and heresy, which are the result of satanic deceit. But the same features apply, as directly, also to Aži Dahāka, the Iranian paradigm of misrule, from whose shoulders snakes sprang, and who, as noted above, was presented by Ahriman to Zarathustra as a paragon of demonolatry. The confluence of Satan and the Iranian monster is exemplified on a monument of medieval Armenian art: the Bagratid Church of the Holy Apostles as Kars has, among the other figures in bas-relief on the drum, a grotesque man threatened by a serpent at either shoulder, strongly resembling Persian depictions of Żaḥḥāk (Aži Dahāka). Though no text identifies this figure, local tradition holds that it is Judas, and Armenians of Kars called the building the Church of the Eleven—not Twelve—Apostles, to exclude the demoniac figure (see Ełišē Čʿarencʿ, p. 21): more recent Armenian folktales about an ōjamanuk “snake-child,” one of which even names him Aždahak (see Hay žołovrdakan hekʿiatʿner, pp. 415-25, dialect of Karabakh), reduce to harmless entertainment what was once a figure of horror (see Russell, 1994-95). The Buzandaran has always stood outside the mainstream of Armenian Christian literature, its archaism perhaps the cause of other writers’ aversion; for although its author champions strongly the new faith, and the element of its literature from one strand of his book, his entire imaginative world is still Parthian. The only compositions akin to his work in Armenia are the epic fragments scattered through the writings of other 5th-century and later writers, and the great folk epic of Sasun, already noted, which, although referred to sporadically in the Middle Ages and early modern times, was not to be recorded until the late 19th century.



Ełišē Čʿarencʿ, Erkir Nairi, Erevan, 1934.

N. G. Garsoian, tr., The Epic Histories (Buzandaran Patmutʿiwnkʿ), Harvard Armenian Texts and Studies 8, Cambridge, Mass., 1989.

Hay žołovrdakan hekʿiatʿner 5/69, ed. B. N. Aṙakʿelyan et al., Erevan, 1966.

Ps.-Pʿawstos, Buzandaran Patmutʿiwnkʿ [The Epic Histories], Classical Armenian Text Reprint Series, gen. ed. J. A. C. Greppin, Delmar, N.Y., 1984 (with intro. by N. G. Garsoian; repr. of the 1883 St. Petersburg ed. by Kʿ. Patkanean).

A. Perikhanian, “Sur arménien buzand,” in D. Kouymjian, ed., Armenian Studies in memoriam Haig Berberian, Lisbon, 1986, pp. 653-57.

J. R. Russell, rev. of D. Monchi-Zadeh, Die Geschichte Zarērs, JAOS 106, 1986, pp. 807-8.

Idem, “Some Iranian Images of Kingship in the Armenian Artaxiad Epic,” REA 20, 1986-87, pp. 253-70.

Idem, “The Ascensio Isaiae and Iran,” in S. Shaked and A. Netzer, eds. Irano-Judaica III, Jerusalem, 1994, pp. 63-71.

Idem, “Problematic Snake Children of Armenia,” REA 25, 1994-95, pp. 77-96.

Idem, “A Parthian Bhagavad Gītā and its Echoes,” in J.-P. Mahé and R. W. Thomson, eds., From Byzantium to Iran: Armenian Studies in Honour of N. G. Garsoian, Atlanta, Ga., 1997, pp. 17-35.

Idem, “Scythian and Avesta in Armenian Vernacular Paternoster and a Zok Paternoster,” Le Muséon 110/1-2, 1997, pp. 91-114.

Idem, “The Armenian Studies of Black Youth (tʿux manuk),” Le Muséon, 1998.

Idem, “An Epic for the Borderlands: Zariadris of Sophene, Aslan the Rebel, Digenes Akrites, and the Mythologem of Alcestis in Armenia,” in R. Hovanisian, ed., Proceedings of the UCLA Conference on Kharbed and Copʿkʿ, May 1998, forthcoming [1999].

S. Shahbazi. “The Parthian Origins of the House of Rustam,” Bulletin of the Asia Institute, N.S. 7, 1993, pp. 155-63.

(James R. Russell)

Originally Published: December 15, 1999

Last Updated: January 24, 2012

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Vol. IX, Fasc. 5, pp. 449-451