Anania Shirakatsi

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Anania Shirakatsi
2014 Erywań, Matenadaran (07).jpg
1963 statue by Grigor Badalian at the entrance of the Matenadaran, Yerevan, Armenia
Born610 AD
Shirak, Armenia
Known forAshkharatsuyts
Scientific career
FieldsMathematics, astronomy

Anania Shirakatsi (Anania Širakac'i, Armenian: Անանիա Շիրակացի; 610–685 AD), also known as Ananias of Shirak or Širak) was an Armenian philosopher, mathematician, astronomer, geographer and alchemist. His most famous works are Ashkharatsuyts (Geography) and Cosmography and the Calendar. Robert H. Hewsen describes him as "Armenia's First Scientist".[1]


Scholars do not agree on where Anania was born. Some historians believe that he was born in Shirakavan; others, that the village of Anania in Shirak or the city of Ani was his birthplace.[2] [3] Unlike many other notable figures, Anania left behind an autobiography. It is known that he was the son of John (Hovhannes) of Shirak and possibly a member of the noble Kamsarakan or Arsharuni princes of the region.[4] It is believed that he received his primary education at a school named Dprevank', and that from a very early age he found himself attracted to mathematics.[3][5] He left Armenia and traveled abroad for eleven years in the hopes of getting a better education.

Upon the recommendation of several of his friends who were returning from Constantinople, he decided to find a suitable teacher in Trebizond in the Byzantine Empire. There he met and fell under the tutelage of a renowned Greek scholar who spoke Armenian, Tychikos, and spent eight years learning mathematics there.[6] Anania profited greatly from his mentor's teachings, as evidenced from the writings in his autobiography, "[I] acquired a perfect knowledge of mathematics. In addition, he also learned a few elements of other sciences."[7] He left Byzantium and returned to his homeland in 651, determined to spread his knowledge among his fellow Armenians, opening a school that taught the quadrivium and authoring textbooks to educate his students.[3]


Armenian calendar[edit]

The education center Anania established could not have come at a better time and was a welcoming sight during an era when the study of mathematics was waning. After teaching for only several years, he had gained a famous reputation all throughout Armenia and abroad.[8] The beginning of one of his most significant accomplishments came in 667 when the Armenian Apostolic Church invited him to Dvin and asked him to modify the Armenian calendar from a movable to fixed system.[3][9] Taking into account the incompatibilities of the seven-day week, the lunar month, and the solar year, he worked for two years and devised a system that was based on cycle of 532 years.[9] Anania's solution, though, was never adopted by the Church.


Among all his works, Anania is best known for writing the Ashkharhatsuyts (Geography). Up until recently, it was attributed to the Armenian historian Movses Khorenatsi but it is now believed by a number of experts such as Robert Hewsen and Suren T. Yeremyan to have been authored by Anania himself.[10] Babken Harutyunyan, head of Chair of the History of Armenia at Yerevan State University, however disputes this and maintains that Movses Khorenatsi was the true author on the basis "that all the manuscripts of the 'Ashxarhatsoyts' preserving the author's name, without exception, point at the Patmahayr [father of history] Movses Xorenatsi as an author of the work."[11]

The Ashkharhatsuyts is a historical atlas that gives detailed information on the fifteen provinces of Armenia. Anania gives general information on "the earth, its surface, climatic belts, seas" and also includes information on Armenia's neighbors.[12] The oldest extant manuscript in the field of Armenian geography preserved at the Matenadaran in Yerevan is Anania's Ashkharhatsuyts.[12]


Anania also authored Cosmography and the Calendar, a 48 chapter work that discusses astronomy, meteorology, and physical geography.[13] He described the world as "being like an egg with a spherical yolk (the globe) surrounded by a layer of white (the atmosphere) and covered with a hard shell (the sky)."[14] He also believed "that the Milky Way is a mass of dense but faintly luminous stars and agreed with earlier philosophers that the moon was a dark body by nature whose only light was that which it reflected from the sun."[14]


Anania is considered the founder of the study of the natural sciences in Armenia.[3] For centuries, his works were used at schools in Armenia as textbooks. The Anania Shirakatsi Medal is an Armenian State Award for scientists in the economics and natural sciences, engineers and inventors. In 2005, the Central Bank of the Republic of Armenia issued an Anania Shirakatsi commemorative coin.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hewsen, Robert H. (2001). Armenia: A Historical Atlas. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-33228-4. The dedication page states:
    "Dedicated to
    Ananias of Shirak
    Armenia's First Scientist"
  2. ^ Greenwood, Tim. "A Reassessment of the Life and Mathematical Problems of Anani Širakac'i." Revue des Études Arméniennes, 33 (2011), pp. 131-86.
  3. ^ a b c d e (in Armenian) Tumanyan, Benik, Artashes A. Matevosyan, Vazgen K. Chaloyan, Ashot A. Abrahamyan and Nikoghos Tahmizyan. «Անանիա Շիրակացի» (Anania Shirakatsi). Armenian Soviet Encyclopedia. vol. i. Yerevan: Armenian Academy of Sciences, 1974, pp. 362-364.
  4. ^ Hewsen, Robert H. (Spring 1968). "Science in Seventh-Century Armenia: Ananias of Širak". Isis. History of Science Society. 59 (1): 32–45. doi:10.1086/350333. JSTOR 227850.
  5. ^ Hacikyan, Agop J; Basmajian, Gabriel; Franchuk, Edward S.; Ouzounian, Nourhan, eds. (2002). The Heritage of Armenian Literature, Vol. 2: From the Sixth to the Eighteenth Century. Detroit: Wayne State University Press. p. 56. ISBN 0-8143-3023-1.
  6. ^ Approximately one third of Anania's autobiography is devoted to Tychikos' life. A brief biography is given by Hewsen in "Seventh-Century Armenia", p. 35.
  7. ^ Hachikyan et al. Heritage of Armenian Literature, p. 56.
  8. ^ Hewsen. "Seventh-Century Armenia", p. 35.
  9. ^ a b Hewsen. "Seventh-Century Armenia", pp. 35-36.
  10. ^ This, however, does not mean the debate on its authorship is over. For a history on the scholarly debate on the authorship of the Ashkharhatsuyts, see the "Preface" and "Introduction" in Robert Hewsen's The Geography of Ananias of Širak: Ašxarhacoyc, the Long and the Short Recensions. Wiesbaden: Dr. Ludwig Reichert, 1992, ISBN 3-88226-485-3 and Babken Harutyunyan's article, "Historical Geography."
  11. ^ Haroutunian, Babken. "Historical Geography." Matenadaran. Accessed March 7, 2009.
  12. ^ a b The Heritage: Geography. Matenadaran. Accessed March 7, 2009.
  13. ^ Hewsen. "Seventh-Century Armenia", pp. 40-41.
  14. ^ a b Hewsen. "Seventh-Century Armenia", p. 36.

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