A legend says that the Persian king Shapur II the Great (309-379) did not manage to enslave Armenia even after a number of invasions. His priests advised him to steal the remains of the Armenian kings for the country to lose its power so the Persians would be able to easily conquest it.
Persian troops made a maneuver around Armenia, reached the sources of the Euphrates and the tomb of Ani Kamakh, and stole the remains of the Armenian Artaxiad kings from the burial vault at the pagan temple of the god Aramazd.
The Armenian army managed to stop the Persians and return kings’ remains. But in Christian Armenia, difficulties arose with the burial of pagan kings’ ashes as the clergy opposed their burial in Holy Vagharshapat (Ecthmiatcin).
Then, according to the legend, a special crypt with carved sarcophagi with a bas-relief depicting hunting scenes was constructed in the town of Aghdzk (Աղձք) on the slope of Aragats mountain. For centuries, Aghdzk was considered to be the burial vault of the Artaxiad kings.
In the 19th century, the first excavations carried out in Aghdzk did not yield any results. There were no remains of kings in the crypt. It seemed that King Shapur had achieved his goal: the remains of the great rulers of Armenia disappeared without a trace, and with them, the country lost its greatness and glory as well as its statehood.
In 2015-2016, a new stage of excavations begun. As the deputy director of the scientific research center of cultural-historic heritage, archaeologist Hakob Simonyan revealed, the excavations removed the veil of secrecy from this story, and the legend began to take on historical shape.
Under the masonry of the floor of the church located next to the crypt, three ossuaries with remains were discovered. One of them had a cross, which indicates that these burial sites were built during the Christian period.
What besides the legend testifies that the remains found in the ossuaries could belong to the Armenian kings? Firstly, as Hakob Simonyan said, all the bones are broken, and this may be a consequence of the Persians digging up and carrying away the remains in a hurry.
Secondly, anthropological studies have shown that bones belong to people of different sex and age, which indicates that those individuals were of the same families. “If those were the relics of saints, it would be the bones of adult men, not children and women. That is, the Persians have stolen the remains of all the members of the royal families from the tomb,” he said.
Thirdly, according to the archaeologist, some bones from the ossuaries are charred, and we know that in the pre-Christian era of the Armenian history, the bodies of the kings were cremated.
Hakob Simonyan thinks that the fact that the ossuaries were buried under the altar of an already existing church speaks in favor of his hypothesis. The masonry was dismantled, the boxes were put down, then the masonry was reassembled. Why?
“It was the peak of the war. Armenia fought against the world power of the Sasanians, one of the most powerful countries in the world. And at any moment, the Persians could make another attempt to take away the bones. So, it was necessary to hide them in the most secure place”.
The scientist added that the main crypt was either built to divert eyes or some of the remains were actually buried there. This is still a hypothesis. For more accurate data, laboratory research of the remains is needed, which requires funding in its turn.
Hakob Simonyan showed us what the archaeologists had managed to find in Aghdzk during excavations in 2017, including several early Christian graves with inscriptions in Armenian, the remains of a palace complex, and a paved avenue, in the midst of which a cold stream descended from the top of Mount Aragats. All this, according to Hakob Simonyan, says that in the early Middle Ages, noble people lived in Armenia.
Հայոց արքաների աճյունների առեղծվածը. պեղումներ Աղձքում