The Paulician Movement in the West of Armenia

The Paulician Movement in the West of ArmeniaThe Paris Commune (18 March – 28 May, 1871) is considered the first historical example of a socialistic state. But we want to tell you the history of the medieval Paulician movement, which is several centuries older. The achievements of the movement are quite astounding.

In the ancient city of Samosata on the right bank of the Euphrates River, one Armenian named Constantine began to preach the teachings of Paul the Apostle in the second half of the 7th century. Constantine would soon adopt the name Silvanus, which had been the name of one of Paul’s disciples. Silvanus established the Paulician Church, which gave a beginning to one of the broadest movements in the East.

Paulician movement’s vision implied that the world was based on two concepts – concepts of the good and evil. The former essentially corresponds to well-being, the roots of which are located within the earth rather than in the imaginary heavenly kingdom. Paulicians preached that it is necessary to establish bliss in this world instead of waiting for it after death, as it is with Christianity.

Paulicians also accepted that everyone regardless of their descent, social status, and condition are equals. Brings to the mind the ideas of socialism, doesn’t it? The movement opposed large landowning, religious rites, and, interestingly, church hierarchy. The new ideas quickly and widely spread among the common people. Many considered the movement as a way to the freedom from oppressors. Paulicians established independent communes that were subject neither to the church nor the feudal lords. They also refused to pay taxes.

In 720, the Armenian Church of Dvin summoned a meeting, on which the Paulicians were declared heretics and their teachings heresy. The Church anathematized them and forbid any marriage with them. Oppressions against the Paulicians commenced, though the clergymen didn’t manage to eradicate the movement – on the contrary, it became even more intense.

The movement turned into an uprising and embraced central and southern regions of Armenia, which at the time were controlled by the Arabs. Taking advantage of the danger of the movement for feudal lords, the aristocracy entered into an agreement with the Arabs, eventually receiving support from the emir to uproot the Paulicians.

The movement was driven out from the central and eastern areas of Armenia only to spread to southeastern and western regions. The movement also spread to the eastern provinces of the Byzantine Empire, especially among Armenians and Greeks. One after another, large communes would be established.

In the Byzantine Empire, Paulicians were subjected to oppression, which toughened up with Queen Theodora’s (c. 815 – after 867) coming to power. In ca. 843, one Karbeas became the new leader of the Paulician movement. He would establish the Paulician state, the capital of which became the newly-founded city of Tephrike (modern Divriği, Turkey) built on the banks of the Euphrates River.

The Paulician state embraced a large territory, which roughly corresponded to one of the regions of Lesser Armenia. Essentially, the movement created a state independent from both the Byzantine Empire and the Arab Caliphate. The Paulician state attracted oppressed and penniless peasants who were encouraged by the idea of justice and fairness.

The Paulicians would soon set up raids on the Byzantine Empire. With Karbeas as the commander, the Paulican army several times won battles against the Empire. Karbeas’ successor and the last leader of the Paulician principality of Tephrike Chrysocheres (ruled 863 – 872) also achieved military success, sweeping through Asia Minor. Basil I tried to pressure Chrysocheres, but to no avail. Even peaceful promises didn’t stop the advancements of the Paulicians. The army of Chrysocheres would plunder Nicaea, Nicomedia, Ancyra, Ephesus, and many other cities.

The earnestly concerned Byzantine Emperor was forced to organize a campaign against Tephrike. In the battle of Tephrike, the Paulicians defeated the Byzantine army and went onto a counteroffensive to ultimately conquer Ancyra.

Only by the second half of the 9th century, the Byzantine Empire managed to bring the Paulician movement to a stop. After a series of campaigns, Basil I seized and plundered Tephrika. Approximately 100 thousand Paulicians were killed throughout Armenia, though some accounts estimate the number of victims to have nearly been 400 thousand.

Are there many examples of a free, fairness-based, and well-armed state neighboring two powerful empires, the ideas of which would be ahead of its time by centuries?

Zaven Grigoryan


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