Artsakh During the Bagratid Period – The Aranshahik Dynasty

Artsakh During the Bagratid Period

During the period of the strengthening of the Bagratid monarchy, power in Artsakh passed back to the local Armenian dynasty of Aranshahiks.

Aranshahiks can be considered one of the oldest aristocratic families in the history of mankind. “Aranshahik” (Armenian: Առանշահիկներ) means a kind of “shahs” (i.e. monarchs) originating from Aran, one of the great-grandchildren of Sisak, who had been the first ruler of the Armenian province of Syunik (hence the alternative name of Syunik, Sisakan).

Movses Kaghankatvatsi (7th century), a native of Artsakh and a historian from eastern Armenia, writes about the foundation of the Aranshahik dynasty. Kaghankatvatsi largely repeats the narration of the two chapters of 5th-century Armenian historian Movses Khorenatsi’s “History of Armenia.”

According to Khorenatsi, Sisak was the son of Gegham and grandson of Hayk, the main character of the heroic epic about the foundation of the Armenian people. According to the Armenian tradition, Hayk was the son of Torgom (Togarma) and the great-great-grandson of Japheth, the son of biblical Noah.

According to the descriptions of Khorenatsi and Kaghankatvatsi, Aran entered history thanks to the king of Armenia Vagarshak I when he instructed him to dominate on his behalf over the eastern provinces of his kingdom. This story can be found in chapter four of the first book of the “History of the Country of Aghvank” of Kaghankatvatsi and in chapter five of the “History of Armenia” of Khorenatsi:

“Establishing order among the inhabitants of the north, he [Vagarshak] convened [the representatives] of alien wild tribes living in the northern plain, at the foot of the Caucasus Mountains, and in the valleys and gorges to the south up until the place where the plain begins and ordered them to stop robbery and treachery and submissively pay royal taxes.

Then, [the king] appointed leaders and rulers for them, at the head of which, on the orders of Vagharshak, was appointed an individual from the Sisak clan, one of the descendants of Japheth named Aran who inherited the valleys and mountains of the country of Aghvank from the Yeraskh River to the Hnarakert fortress.

Because of his [Aran’s] mild disposition, this country was called Aghvank, for he himself was nicknamed Aghu. Many of the brave and noble [men] of the descendants of this Aran, as some say, were appointed by Vagharshak Partev as governors and hazarapets [tax authorities].”

Further in the text, Kaghankatvatsi directly points out the connection between Aranshahiks and the progenitor of Armenians Hayk. One of the chapters of his book describes the bloody conflict between the autochthonous Aranshahiks and the alien princely clan of Mihranians (Mihranids), who were Armenianized Persians Christians who had seized the Gardman district of Artsakh in the 7th century and temporarily overshadowed the local rulers.

Kaghankatvatsi calls the Aranshahiks the “Hayk dynasty.” Kirakos Gandzaketsi, a 13th-century historian and author of his own “History of Armenia”, complements Kaghankatvatsi and emphasizes that Aran, as well as kings Urnair, Vache, Vachagan, and other representatives of Aranshahiks originated from Hayk.


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