The Code of Honor of the Armenian Warrior – Parallels With Samurai and Knights

The Code of Honor of the Armenian Warrior

The elements mentioned above (see here) of the code of honor of the Armenian army have a noticeable similarity to the elements included in medieval European chivalry and in the codes of honor of Japanese samurai.

So, samurai Yamamoto Tsunetomo in his work “Hagakure” (“In the Shadow of Leaves “, 1716) notes the need for a soldier to be ready for self-sacrifice:

“Bushido – the way of the warrior – means death. When there are two ways to choose, choose the one that leads to death. Do not argue! Direct the thought to the path you preferred and go!

The question involuntarily arises: ‘Why should I die when it isn’t beneficial? Why should I pay with my life for nothing?’ This is the usual reasoning of selfish people.

When a choice has to be made, do not let thoughts of gain shake your mind. Considering that we all prefer life to death, this preference determines our choice. Think of the dishonor awaiting you, when you, in an effort to gain, suddenly make a mistake. Think of the pitiful fate of a man who has not achieved his goal and continues to live.

Remember that your death does not drop your dignity. Death does not dishonor…

The fulfillment of duty must be immaculate and your name untainted.

…A samurai must give his body and soul to his prince; besides, he must be wise, merciful, and courageous.

Wherever I am – In the deaf mountains or under the ground – at any time and everywhere, my duty obliges me to protect the interests of my lord. It is the duty of everyone who is a subject of Nabeshima. This is the backbone of our religion, unchanging and eternal.

Never, during my whole life, should I have my own judgments about the plans of my master and lord. Do not do otherwise throughout your life. Even after death, I will be resurrected seven times to protect my lord’s house from unhappiness.

I take an oath to perform four tasks:
Not to retreat when doing duty.
Be useful to my master.
Be respectful to parents.
Be great in mercy.”

It is especially noteworthy that the honor codes of the Armenian army of the Arshakuni era and the Japanese samurai contain the same requirement: honor and faithful service to the overlord. The sovereign is more precious than life in both systems.

On this occasion, Pavstos gives us some more evidence. It relates to a case that occurred in Persia:

“On one of these days, it happened that the Armenian king Arshak went to investigate one of the stables of the Persian king where the main horseman of the Persian king was sitting.

When he saw the king, he didn’t pay attention or show respect to him. On the contrary, he subjected him to ridicule and reproach in Persian, saying: ‘King of Armenian goats, come here and have a seat at this sheaf of hay.’

These words enraged the commander and sparapet of Greater Armenia Vasak from the Mamikonyan clan. He drew his sword that was hanging on his side and beheaded the Persian king’s main horseman on the spot because he could not tolerate the insult to his king. He considered it much better to accept death than to hear any insults and dishonor inflicted upon his sovereign” (book 4, chapter 16).

The calls of the author of the Japanese “Hagakure” not to be afraid of death and to maintain one’s reputation of a brave man were almost literally reproduced by Sparapet Manvel in the order partially given above:

“I ordered him to be obedient and submissive to King Arshak, to be loyal, to try and work, to fight for the Armenian country. Accept death for the country with joy like your brave ancestors. For, he said, this is a just and pleasing case for God, and if you do that, God will not abandon you.

On the earth, leave the name of the brave, and devote your justice to heaven. Do not be afraid of death at all but trust in the one who created and approved everything. Stay away from deceit, vice, and evil, and with a pure heart and faithfulness, serve the Lord God.

Feel free to die for the pious Armenian country for this is death for God, for His churches, for believers, and for the inborn rulers of this country, for the Arshakuni” (book 5, chapter 44).

This fragment clearly shows with what skill and faith the Armenian leaders used the Christian doctrine as an ideology in the wars that continued for the freedom of Armenia.

“Death for Armenia is death for God,” argued Sparapet Manvel and, of course, other Armenian commanders of the 4th century.

Thus, they created the necessary harmony between the code of honor of the Armenian soldier (in particular, with his main ideological thesis of self-sacrifice in the name of the Fatherland) formed in a much more ancient period and consecrated in innumerable battles with the relatively recently acquired Christian faith and religious feelings.

With the same faith that death for the Fatherland is a godly cause, Armenian Christian soldiers fought in all subsequent centuries.

Knighthood in Europe as a special feudal military class has been formed by the end of the 8th century. The activities and social significance of this class were most clearly manifested during the crusades of the 11th-14th centuries.

The knights didn’t have any general legal code of honor. But based on their prayers and other surviving texts, experts identified the following mandatory requirements of knightly behavior: loyalty to the overlord, selfless bravery, contempt for difficulties and dangers, protection of the Christian church and its ministers, support for orphaned or sick members of knightly families, generosity, and perfect life before God and people.

It is easy to see that these requirements, like Bushido, partially coincide with the code of the Armenian warrior of the 4th-5th centuries.

However, the most interesting thing is that the first and fourth points of the list, representing the value system of the Armenian army, are very different from the European and Japanese military-feudal value systems known to us. Namely, they represent a truly unusual hierarchy.


a) according to the first requirement, the primary and main duty assumed by an Armenian soldier was to serve the kingdom and the entire Armenian world;

b) according to the fourth requirement, a noble Armenian soldier considered the service and protection of the Armenian people (in fact, all of its classes) more important and high priority than the fulfillment of the code stipulated in paragraphs 5 through 8 – that is, commitment to family, the ethnos, martial comrades, and even the Christian faith and the church.

More precisely, family, ethnos, comrades-in-arms, and the church all were included in the concept of the Armenian nation — the people. Moreover, the Christians of Armenia and the Armenian people were identified with each other, and the church was perceived as an Armenian national structure. As was said above, the value systems of the Japanese samurai and the European knights simply did not know such priorities.

Another historical parallel. In neighboring Armenia, Byzantium, patriotic feelings and the very word “fatherland”, as evidenced by Charles Diehl in the book “The main problems of the Byzantine history”, appeared only in the 10th century. Meanwhile, the Armenian sources of the 5th century show that already in those times and even much earlier, there was a clear awareness of Armenia-Fatherland in the Armenian reality.

Most often, the notion of fatherland was expressed by the terms “Armenian World”, “Armenian Country”, and “Armenian Kingdom.” But the term “Fatherland”, as in the excerpt from Khorenatsi’s works above, was also used quite frequently.

“He was a hardworking and loving husband of the fatherland, ready to die for the fatherland rather than see alien sons trampling on their own borders and foreign men ruling over their blood relatives” (1, 13).

Pavstos’s work also contains other passages confirming and supplementing the system of values of the Armenian army. However, unlike the separate chapter on Mushegh Mamikonyan, they are more concise, brief, and less systematized.

An excerpt from the book “The Value System of the Armenian Warrior” by Armen Ayvazian Read also: The Value System of the Armenian Warrior,Warriors of Armenia Preferred Death to Staying in a Foreign Land

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