We know King Vramshapuh (reigned in 389 – 414) as the one under whom Mesrop Mashtots and Sahak Partev set out to search for “Armenian letters” and create the Armenian alphabet. However, Vramshapuh is also known as a ruler that was forced to look for new ways to control Armenia, which was experiencing a severe crisis at that time.
Armenia was at the time divided into two parts, and the processes of feudalization were mercilessly weakening the integrity of the state. The attempts to strengthen the king’s power and make it absolute initiated by Arshak II and Pap failed and met resistance from both the nakharars and the church. The city of Arshakavan was burned down, while Pap was accused of murdering the Catholicos.
By the 4th century, two nakharar clans had emerged in the country and became engaged in a confrontation for domination. These were the Artsruni and the Mamikonyan clans. Artsrunis sought to depose the Arshakunis and return the pagan religion – and make friends with the Persians, of course. The Mamikonyans also had a claim to the power, and Manvel from the clan managed to rule the country for 7 years with royal honors.
Internal discord and struggle between the pro-Roman and pro-Persian nakharar clans led to the partition of Armenia in 387. The western part lost its independent status, while in the eastern part, the Arshakuni dynasty and the heir to the throne, Vramshapuh, continued to rule.
Vramshapuh realized all the hardships in establishing relations with the aristocracy. Therefore, he abandoned absolutist aspirations and sought to establish a government that would take into account the interests of the nakharars and at the same time stay powerful enough.
Vramshapuh tried to mend relations between the fighting nakharar clans. He also acted as a mediator between them and the Sassanids. He additionally established good relations with Byzantium.
But, of course, his most important decision was to send Mashtots to create the alphabet. In a political context, this was a huge step towards nation-building in Armenia. In fact, Vramshapuh with this decision changed the whole course of Armenian history.
The initiatives of Mesrop Mashtots were approved by the Christian communities of Mesopotamia. Relations between the Armenian and Assyrian churches began to improve. This plot is often forgotten due to the split between the Orthodox and Nestorians. However, thanks to the support of the Assyrians, the Armenian Church won approval from Yazdegerd I during the period of religious tolerance in Iran.
The creation of the alphabet and the beginning of public education consolidated the foundation of the Armenian Apostolic Church and the establishment of its autonomous status. The Church was supported by the Persian court since the mentioned fact and close contact with the Assyrian Church alienated Armenia from Rome. Despite the turbulent situation, this allowed the country to temporarily reside somewhat independently of the pressures of both Rome and Iran.
Mesrop Mashtots established schools in Western Armenia, and by creating separate alphabets for Iberia and Aghvank, he achieved neutrality for the entire region that, despite having separate churches and separate writing systems, had strong local connections. This is the contribution of not only the Teacher but also King Vramshapuh himself who was thus able to smooth out the internal split.
However, this situation could not last long, largely due to the departure of the king himself. While Vramshapuh could maintain the balance, his son Artashes IV was inexperienced. The nakharars did not favor him and made a trial over him, insulting him.
Everything got to the point that the Persian court heard from them that they did not need a king over Armenia. Sahak Partev took the side of the king, although the church did not like the royal power. But it was too late – the nakharars won, and Artashes was overthrown. Armenia became a province of Iran.
Vramshapuh took a large step in an attempt to maintain the integrity of the state, trying to establish a balance and doing a great deed by initiating searches for own Armenian writing. However, the processes of the destruction of Armenia were inevitable, and the weakness of his son was enough for the country to cease to exist. Still, although the desire of Vramshapuh and the act of Mesrop Mashtots did not save the state, they saved the nation itself from assimilation.
Artur Hakobyan, Antitopor