Matthew of Edessa

Matthew of Edessa #

Introduction #

by Robert Bedrosian

Մատթէոս Ուռհայեցի, chronicler.

Matthew of Edessa’s Chronicle is a valuable source for the history of the Middle East in the 10th-12th centuries. Matthew’s work describes the period from 952 to 1129. Appended to it is a continuation by Gregory the Priest, which describes events from 1137 to 1162. Western scholars have used the Chronicle primarily for its unique information on the Crusades. It contains, additionally, invaluable information on Byzantium, the Arabs, Saljuqs, Persians, and especially the Armenians, both secular and clerical, both lords and louts. Along with this, Matthew describes such diverse phenomena as urban mobs, siege warfare, and confessional disputes, and he presents a welter of remarkable material of interest to many disciplines, including folklore and anthropology. Curiously, the Chronicle also may be of some value to the history of astronomy, as it seems to describe, under different dates, the social impact of the supernova of 1054. This astounding phenomenon, which was visible for two years, was the background of a series of prophecies related by our author.

Matthew wrote his work in three parts, over many years. Part I was written during an eight-year period (1102-1110), and Part II was written during a fifteen-year period (1110-1125). Then, for ten years, Matthew wrote nothing, expecting that others would continue the work. Seeing that this did not happen, he wrote Part III, probably during 1136-1137. Part I covers the period from 952 to 1052; Part II, from 1053 to 1102; and Part III, from 1102 to 1129. Thus, the book follows a geometric sequence with common ratio ½.

Nothing certain is known about Matthew’s life. Only in one place does he speak of himself, as “I, Matthew, a priest from Edessa.” From his worldview it is clear that he was a God-fearing Christian (that is, an anti-Chalcedonian, Oriental Orthodox Christian). He is not unswervingly loyal to any individual, and criticizes secular and clerical folk, Christians and Muslims of different persuasions. Acts of noteworthy cruelty and kindness are recorded by him without particular bias.

The city of Edessa (Ur’ha/Urfa), whose medieval history is an important focus of Matthew’s Chronicle, played a major role in the development of Armenian literary culture. It was a cosmopolitan center of Syrian, Armenian, and Jewish culture from remote antiquity, and later was influenced somewhat by Greek Hellenism. To the north was the city of Melitene, and to the west was Sophene, cradles of Armenian culture. While it is conventional to regard Armenian settlement in and around Cilicia—which Matthew describes—as a specifically medieval phenomenon, this is not the case. An Armenian population has been documented as residing in the area from at least the fourth century. In fact, the renowned historian of fourth-century Armenian events, P’awstos Buzand, himself probably hailed from Faustinopolos or Podandus/Bozanti, just north of the Cilician Gates.

Events of the 10th-12th centuries vastly increased the Armenian population in this area. There were several causes for this. First, since the early 10th century, the Byzantine empire had been following a policy of annexing the lands of Armenian grandees in eastern Asia Minor. Armenian kings and nobles were coaxed or compelled to leave, and received, in exchange, territories in western areas, that is, in Cappadocia, northern Syria, Cilicia, and also in northern Mesopotamia. The Seljuk raids and invasions of Asia Minor, beginning in the 1020s, were a second important stimulus for Armenian emigration to Cilicia. Many prominent lords, with their gentry and their bishops, left the area. The bulk of the population, however, could not or would not leave, and so remained. Matthew chronicles all this: the Byzantine annexations, the movement of the Armenian population, the Saljuq invasions, the Byzantine reactions, the Crusades, the Cilician Armenian kingdoms and regional statelets. He describes events in the Caucasus, among the Georgians and Aghuans, and mentions the Armenian statelets by the Caspian Sea.

At the time Matthew was writing—as well as before and after—Armenians of various faiths and speaking numerous languages, lived in a vast stretch of territory, from Georgia in the north, through eastern, central, and western Asia Minor, western Persia, northern Mesopotamia, the Levant, and Egypt. They were Christians and Muslims of various persuasions, some pre-Christian and non-Christian elements (such as pagans, sun-worshippers, Zoroastrians, and Jews), as well as “heretics” or sectarians (such as the Paulicians and Tondrakians), some of the latter with ties to other radical movements of the day. At the time Matthew was writing—as well as before and after—large Armenian noble families, “dynastic condominiums,” as Cyril Toumanoff calls them, functioned in place of (or alongside) political states. Some, like the Pahlawunids (and the Bagratids before them), controlled territories and enterprises throughout the Middle East as well as the Catholicosate of the Armenian Church. The Church itself often served as a surrogate or ghost state among the Armenians, in the absence of political states. Matthew speaks of the “House of the Armenians” throughout his work (as he collectively styles these Christian communities). In addition, he is an invaluable source for the Muslim Armenians, whose descendants continue to live in the same areas occupied by their Christian and non-Christian ancestors.

Matthew, although he disparages his own abilities, is a fine stylist. His grabar is straightforward, his prose is graceful and pleasurable to read, at times seeming almost like modern Armenian. Readers who like human duplicity with a medieval patina will find much to savor in Matthew’s compilation. One need only change the clothing styles, the types of weapons, and the declared motives, and the general historical processes chronicled by Matthew could be transferred to our own day. Even the places and the peoples are the same.

The present work #

This edition presents the Classical Armenian and English in parallel format with word-by-word grammatical tagging of the Armenian text and English gloss. The Classical Armenian and English texts are from the 2023 Sophene edition translated by Robert Bedrosian.

References #

  1. Bedrosian, R. (2020). Matthew of Edessa’s Chronicle. Sophene.

  2. Matthew of Edessa. (1898). Chronicle. Armenian. Adamean, M. M., & Ter-Mikayelean (Eds.). Matt’e’os Ur’hayets’i, Zhamanakagrut’iwn. Vagharshapat.

  3. Dulaurier, É. (1858). Chronique de Matthieu d’Edesse (962-1136) avec la Con-tinuation de Grégoire le prêtre jusqu’en 1162. Paris.

  4. Dostourian, A. (1993; 2nd ed., 2013). Armenia and the Crusades: Tenth to Twelfth Centuries. The Chronicle of Matthew of Edessa. Belmont.

  5. Der Nersessian, S. (1969). The Kingdom of Cilician Armenia. In K. M. Setton & R. L. Wolff (Eds.) History of the Crusades, Volume II: The Later Crusades, 1189-1311 (pp. 630-659). University of Wisconsin Press.

  6. MacEvitt, C. The Chronicle of Matthew of Edessa: Apocalypse, the First Crusade, and the Armenian Diaspora. Dumbarton Oaks Papers, 61, 157-181.

  7. Andrews, T. L. (2009). Prolegomena to a Critical Edition of the Chronicle of Matthew of Edessa, with a Discussion of Computer-Aided Methods Used to Edit the Text. Oxford University.

Additional resources #

  1. Moosa, M. (2014). The Syriac Chronicle of Michael Rabo: A Universal History from the Creation. Beth Antioch Press.

  2. Bedrosian, R. (1979). The Turco-Mongol invasions and the lords of Armenia inthe 13-14th centuries. Columbia University, New York, NY.

  3. Dadoyan, S. B. (1997). The Fatimid Armenians, Cultural & Political Interac-tion in the Near East. New York.

  4. Dadoyan, S. B. (2011). The Armenians in the Medieval Islamic World, Paradigms of Interaction in the Seventh to Fourteenth Centuries, Volume 1 (7th to 11th centuries). New Brunswick.

  5. Dadoyan, S. B. (2013). The Armenians in the Medieval Islamic World, Paradigms of Interaction in the Seventh to Fourteenth Centuries, Volume 2 (7th to 14th centuries). New Brunswick.

  6. Dadoyan, S. B. (2014). The Armenians in the Medieval Islamic World, Paradigms of Interaction in the Seventh to Fourteenth Centuries, Volume 3 (13th to 14th centuries). New Brunswick.

  7. Dédéyan, G. (1986). Le peuplement arménien aux frontières de la Cilicieaux IVe-Ve siècles. In D. Kouymjian (Ed.). Armenian Studies in Memoriam Haig Berberian (pp. 215-227). Lisbon.

  8. Dédéyan, G. (1996). L’Arménie et Byzance. In Byzantina Sorbonensia. Paris.