The Armenian Name of the Milky Way Galaxy

The Armenian Name of the Milky Way GalaxyAncient Armenians were well-informed in astronomy. In fact, the oldest known observatories are located in Armenia. Karahunj dated to 4,200 BC and the observatory at Metsamor dated to 2,800 BC gave the ancient Armenians the opportunity to develop refined knowledge of geometry.

This knowledge would allow the Armenians to measure distances, longitudes, latitudes, imagine the world as round, and predict lunar and solar eclipses a millennium before the Egyptians. Many astronomical terms, manuscripts, petroglyphs, and monuments created thousands of years ago testify to the wealth of the Armenians’ astronomical knowledge.

Since their childhood, every Armenian villager has known the name of the Milky Way, which can be translated as “the straw thief’s way” or “the way of a man who had stolen the straw”. This name comes from the pagan Armenian legend dedicated to Vahagn, the god of fire in the Armenian pantheon. Remarkably, the name of the deity is of considerable age and is related to the Sanskrit words “vah” and “agn”, meaning “god” and “fire” respectively.

Armenian historian Movses Khorenatsi recorded a legend devoted to Vahagn. The god stole some straw from the Assyrian king Barsham and brought it to Armenia once in a very cold winter. As Vahagn was making his way to Armenia, some part of the stolen straw dropped on the heaven, giving birth to the Milky Way. In fact, Vahagn himself was brought to existence by fire out from a reed straw, as the song dedicated to his birth recounts:

In travail were heaven and earth,
In travail, too, the purple sea!
The travail held in the sea the small red reed.
Through the hollow of the stalk came forth smoke,
Through the hollow of the stalk came forth flame,
And out of the flame a youth ran!
Fiery hair had he,
Ay, too, he had flaming beard,
And his eyes, they were as suns!

by Source: Hayk Harutyunyan, Byurakan Observatory

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