Attempts to attribute the Armenian language to a certain language family didn’t yield any results. After all, the Armenian language differs too much from other languages. That’s why it is now the sole member of its language group within the Indo-European language family.
A key component of the Armenian language is the Armenian alphabet invented (or rather, recovered) by Mesrop Mashtots in the 5th century. The Armenian alphabet wasn’t a mere copy of existing alphabets. It was recovered by Mesrop Mashtots and his disciples, among them historian Movses Khorenatsi, after expansive scientific research.
One could call the study of Mashtots a linguistic expedition, over the course of which Mashtots’s young disciples traveled to Persia, Egypt, Greece, and Rome to in-depth study the Armenian language. In the end, Mesrop Mashtots came up with the Armenian alphabet, a writing system that was designed to perfectly correspond to the verbal characteristics of the Armenian language.
The Armenian alphabet’s accuracy is proven by its age. It is known that with time, the linguistic features of a language change. Some languages even die out. The uniqueness of the Armenian alphabet allows its use it in both Classical and modern Armenian dialects. Even though the vocabulary of the Armenian language has changed, its sound characteristics remain the same.
Remarkably, Mesrop Mashtots was also the creator of the Georgian alphabet.
Until recently, it was widely accepted that prior to the introduction of the Armenian alphabet by Mashtots, Armenians had used the Persian alphabet. In fact, it used to be considered that the Armenians had never had their own writing system before the invention of Mashtots.
Indeed, in the years of the rule of the Armenian Arsacid dynasty – a branch of the Parthian Arsacid dynasty – all official documents and correspondence were done in Persian. The absence of material evidence lead to the opinion that Armenians didn’t have an alphabet before Mashtots.
Several years ago, a group composed of young researchers in Yerevan attempted to decipher mysterious inscriptions dating to the times of the Kingdom of Van (Urartu). The key to the understanding of the inscriptions was the ancient Armenian language. Having deciphered the cuneiform inscriptions, the scientists concluded that the inscriptions contain the ancient Armenian alphabet.
Speaking of the Armenian writing, one should mention the first Armenian historians and writers. Their works allowed a significant share of ancient Armenian knowledge to reach our days.
Mar Abas Katina (3rd century BC), a secretary of king Vagharshak II, is the first known Armenian historian. Receiving the permission of the Persian King Arsaces I to access the archives of Nineveh containing the contents of Babylonian libraries, Mar Abas Katina wrote the history of Armenia starting from its first kings. In fact, Movses Khorenatsi would base many of his works on the books of Mar Abas Katina.
Another notable Armenian historian is Agathangelos (4th – 5th centuries AD), the secretary of Armenian King Trdat III, who wrote the history of Christianity’s spreading in Armenia. No less remarkable is historian Pavstos Byuzand who wrote the history of Armenia in the 4th century. Apart from that, the first Catholicos of Armenia Gregory the Illuminator authored several prayers and preachments in Armenian.
5th-century historian Movses Khorenatsi is maybe the most significant contributor to our knowledge of the ancient Armenian history. Apart from composing his colossal “History of Armenia”, Khorenatsi with the help of Armenian Catholicos Sahak translated the Bible into Armenian.
Some Armenian authors shaped the history of Armenia with works of less grandiose scope, albeit of no less importance. Among them is a 7th-century historian Hovhannes Mamikonian who recorded the history of the Mamikonian princely dynasty, as well as Tovma Artsruni who recorded the history of the Artsruni princely dynasty.
Armenian authors have also been strong in the fields of science and philosophy. The most renowned Armenian philosopher is David the Invincible (6th century). Among scientific doers, probably the most notable author is philosopher, mathematician, and astronomer Anania Shirakatsi, an author of Armenian grammar and rhetoric books.
The establishment of Armenian book printing in the 16th century played an exceptionally important role in the development of the Armenian literature. Armenians living all around the world were actively engaged in founding printing houses. In the 17th century, Armenians established printing houses in Venice, Milan, Paris, Amsterdam, Leipzig, Constantinople, London, Smyrna, Tiflis, Astrakhan, Saint Petersburg, as well as in Armenia. Later, having moved to the US, Armenians would also carry on their printing traditions in the New World.
Knowledge is an inseparable part of the Armenian identity. For centuries, Armenians have been protecting the books containing their history, culture, and religion from the hands of the oppressors. Their heroic effort is a part of the reason the Armenian nation exists today. The works saved by Armenians’ ancestors from water, fire, and the enemy’s sword are now safeguarded at the Mesrop Mashtots Institute of Ancient Manuscripts, commonly referred to as Matenadaran. In fact, many of those works have been saved thanks to Armenians devoting all of their time to rewriting the precious texts of their ancestors.
Ancient manuscripts of Matenadaran