Traditions of Royal Hunting in Armenia

Traditions of Royal Hunting in Armenia

King Khosrov II (4th century) remained in history as the founder of the city of Dvin and the initiator of planting a forest named after him.

Once, the Khosrovakert forest was fenced with a stone wall and was conventionally divided into two sections one of which, planted by Prince Vache Mamikonyan, stretched along the bank of the Araks and surrounded Dvin and Artashat in a semicircle.

The second forest massif stretching to the north of Khosrovakert started from the gorge of the Azat River in Garni. It was 15 km long and 10 km wide, and it stretched to the royal palace of Tiknuni near Dvin. This area of the forest was called Tachar-miri – “Sacred Forest” or “Pine Temple”. Over time, both forests joined each other naturally and formed a huge botanical museum, which in the 20th century was declared a state reserve.

Objects of hunting in the forests of Armenia were deer, chamois, fallow deer, goats, leopards, wild boars, wolves, bears, foxes, martens, hares, partridges, quails, pheasants, and ducks. Military camps were usually located near hunting grounds since the forest provided the best food supply opportunities for the army.

The hunt was not only fun but also a good opportunity for the soldiers to demonstrate what the commanders had taught them. Taking out the bow and shooting down a flying bird, catching up with a fast-moving deer and piercing it with a spear at full speed, slaying a boar or a leopard with a sword – all this hardened the warriors, as well as awakened in them belligerence and a spirit of rivalry.

Truly royal amusement was the hunt for lions living in the Armenian part of Mesopotamia. And not just a lion hunt but the most dangerous one – at night with torches. Charioteers drove the lions out of their lairs and set fires in reed beds, not allowing the animals to the places of their constant hunting. The hungry lions roamed for days in search of prey, ready for a deadly fight, and this fueled the excitement of the hunters.

Another famous hunting ground was the Tsnundots – the Forest of Genesis, which stretched along the Akhuryan River where the priests were predicting events and fates by the mysterious rustling of plane trees.

This forest was also enclosed with a wall and inhabited with “fast deer, fallow deer, onagers, and boars which, multiplying, filled the grove for the royal fun during the hunt.”

Since the forest was considered sacred, only members of the “sacred” reigning house could hunt here.

However, the favorite place of the royal hunt was the southern slopes of Masis. In the era of the early Middle Ages, the Ararat slopes were covered with forests. The royal hunt was adorable but no less dangerous. In an impenetrable forest, a crowned hunter was often vigilantly watched not only by a hidden beast but also by a horseman hunting nearby.

Is there a place of conspiracy that is more convenient than the dense forest? It was on a hunt that Persian prince Anak sent by the king Shapur killed Armenian King Khosrov I. King Arshak II also ordered the assassination of his nephew Gnel, in whom the crowned uncle saw a candidate for the throne.

As soon as Prince Slkuni, the owner the Taron region, rebelled against King Trdat III – who had recently adopted Christianity – and lead the movement for the restoration of the pagan cult in Armenia, Prince Mamgun was sent to him as a peaceable mediator. With sweet speeches and promises to mend relations with the king, Mamgun enticed the rebel to himself, after which the hospitable host expressed a desire to entertain the dear guest with a hunt – a logical conclusion to the difficult negotiation process.

In the midst of the hunt, Mamgun noticed how the people of Slkuni scattered through the forest. There was not a minute to lose. Seizing the moment, he approached the prince from behind and shot him from his bow. While Mamgun’s bodyguards were fighting off the warriors who had pounced on them, Mamgun managed to escape from the encirclement and ride off to the detachment waiting for him.

With this detachment, he broke into the princely castle and killed all the men of the disgraced family. For the service rendered, the prince received the hereditary possession of the estate of the rebel, and his clan received the right to be called Mamgonian (Mamikonyan).

Professional hunters observed moderation, remembering the national omen: “If you kill too much game, happiness will leave the house.” But prince Nerses Kamsarakan, the owner of Shirak and Arsharunik, once met a huge herd of wild donkeys – onagers – while hunting. With a spear in his hand, the prince rushed towards them. He entered into such excitement that he stopped only after slaughtering 360 animals.

Wild donkeys, these fast-footed animals, in Armenia, as well as other countries of the region, have been hunted for centuries, though not for meat but mainly for hides, and not with spears or bows. They were caught with lassoes or nets.

The participants of the hunt usually drove the onagers into the nearby lowlands pre-lined with nets. The animals at all gallop entangled in the nets, helplessly fell to the ground, and the jubilant hunters overtook them with whistling and hooting. There was a tradition for men to give the bride a hand-picked, selected onager skin as proof of their dexterity and hunting skills.

Ordinary people hunted for the sake of feeding their family. If several people participated in the hunt, the prey was divided equally, and the head and skin of the animal were delivered to the hunter who struck it.

According to an unwritten law, hunting prey was supposed to be shared with anyone you saw on the way home. At home, part of the game was to be shared with close acquaintances and neighbors. Due to this, returning home, the hunters tried to bypass the big roads.

And since there was a tradition to hide the killed game so that it would not be jinxed, hunters returned to the villages with the onset of darkness. An encounter with a mocker was considered to be a particularly bad omen, and therefore, seeing the “wrong” person, the hunter hurried off the road.

Armen Meruzhanyan

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