Artsruni dynasty

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Emblem of the Artsrunis, a Coat of arms of Armenia
Territorial area of the Artsrunids
Parent houseOrontid dynasty
Founded69 BC
FounderMithrobarzanes (Mithrobuzanes)
Current headExtinct
Final rulerSeneqerim-Hovhannes
Dissolution1080 AD

The Artsruni (Armenian: Արծրունի; also transliterated as Ardzruni) were an ancient noble (princely) family of Armenia.[1]

Background and history[edit]

The Artsrunis claimed descent from Sennacherib, King of Assyria (705 BC–681 BC).[1] It mirrors the Bagratuni claim of Davidic descent and the Mamikonian claim of descent from the royal Han dynasty and is usually interpreted as a piece of genealogical mythology. The Armenian historian Movses Khorenatsi is the first to mention this claim, writing that Sennacherib's sons fled to Armenia after murdering him and founded the clans of the Artsruni and Gnuni. Chorene in turn was in all likelihood inspired by Biblical tradition:

"And it came to pass, as he was worshipping in the house of Nisroch his god, that Adramelech and Sharezer his sons smote him with the sword; and they escaped into the land of Armenia, and Esarhaddon his son reigned in his stead." (Isaiah XXXVII, 38)[2]

According to the genealogist and historian Cyril Toumanoff, as well as historian M. Chahin, the Artsruni family were an offshoot of the earlier Orontids,[1][3] Professor James Russell proposed the idea that the Artsrunis derived their name from the Urartian word artsibini ('eagle'), which survived in Armenian as artsiv (արծիվ). Other scholars have suggested that this was actually an Armenian word that was loaned into Urartian.[4][5] The eagle was a totemic animal for the Artsrunis; in a legend, the progenitor of the Artsrunis is said to have been abandoned as a child but rescued by an eagle.[6]

The Expansion of the House of Artsruni

Toumanoff suggests that Mithrobarzanes, the viceroy of Tigranes the Great in Sophene in 69 B.C., may have been the earliest attested member of the family.[1] During the reign of the Arsacid dynasty over Armenia, the Artsrunis ruled the princely estates of Greater and Lesser Aghbak in Vaspurakan (around modern Başkale, Turkey), southeast of Lake Van, gradually annexing the surrounding territory.[1]

In the middle of the 4th century the family was deposed. Chavash survived, and recovered power. In 369 the state was led by Meruzhan Artsruni who guided Persian troops to Armenia, exchanged Christianity for Mazdaism,[1] and defeated the General (sparapet) Mamikonian. The latter recovered power soon after, however, and Meruzhan was killed.

Assumed depiction of Gagik I Artsruni in the vine-scroll relief on the eastern facade of the Church of the Holy Cross (915–921)
The Artsruni statesman Khutlubuga, 13th century CE. Church of the Holy Sign. Haghpat Monastery, southern wall.[7]

Around 772 the Artsruni presided over the families of Amatuni, Rshtuni, Teruni of Dariunq (before a possession of the Bagratuni) and ruled the regions of Maku, Artaz, Great Zab Valley and Van river.[citation needed] In the same 8th century, the Bagratid dynasty, re-established the monarch of Armenia, and the Artsrunis were "among its most powerful vassals and rivals".[1] When the territory of historical Armenia was, about a century later, succeeded by several subkingdoms (each of whom were rule by "lesser princes"), the area of Vaspurakan came to be ruled in by the Artsrunis, who, in 908, received their investiture from their Abbasid suzerains.[1] Thus, Khatcḥik-Gagik II Artsruni was the first of the Artsrunis to rule Vaspurakan under Abbasid suzerainty.[1]

Gagik I of Vaspurakan claimed the title of "King of Armenia" from the Bagratuni dynasty until his death in 936 or 943.

In the beginning of the 11th century, the Artsruni settled westwards in Cappadocia, retreating from eastern invaders. In 1021, Seneqerim-Hovhannes of Vaspurakan was given Sebaste, Evdokia, and possibly Amasia as fiefdom from the Byzantine emperor Basil II in return for his entire kingdom.[8] He and 14,000 of his retainers settled in the Theme of Sebasteia, while the Kingdom of Vaspurakan became the Byzantine theme of Vasprakania, which lasted for fifty years until 1071.[9]

Cultural legacy[edit]

The Artsrunis were patrons of the arts, which, as Toumanoff states, is evidenced in the "splendid tenth-century monuments of architecture and of fresco and miniature painting especially in the palace and the church of Aghtamar". These two constructions were built on the order of Khachik Gagik II.[1] In the ninth and tenth centuries, a member of the house, Tovma Artsruni, wrote The History of the House of Artsruni.[1]

In popular culture[edit]

Umberto Eco introduced the character of Artsruni, a nobleman and alchemist in Cilicia, in his fantastic novel Baudolino.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Toumanoff 1986, pp. 664–665.
  2. ^ Kurkjian, Vahan (1958). "A History of Armenia". Retrieved 2008-02-16.
  3. ^ Chahin, M. (2001). The Kingdom of Armenia: A History. Psychology Press. p. 226. ISBN 978-0700714520. The Artsruni Princes were, like the Artaxiads, related to the ancient Orontid line.
  4. ^ Robert Beekes. Historic Phonology of Classical Armenian. p. 203.
  5. ^ Hrach Martirosyan. The place of Armenian in the Indo-European language family: the relationship with Greek and Indo-Iranian. Leiden University. 2013. p. 96.
  6. ^ Hovannisian, Richard G. (1997). The Armenian people from ancient to modern times: from antiquity to the fourteenth century. Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 19–36. ISBN 0-312-10168-6.
  7. ^ Hakobyan, Zaruhi A. (2021). "The Frescoes of the Haghpat Monastery in the Historical-Confessional Context of the 13th Century". Actual Problems of Theory and History of Art. 11: 265. doi:10.18688/aa2111-02-21.
  8. ^ Arshag Alboyadjian: "History of the Armenians of Evdokia" New Star Publishing House, Kairo, 1952, p. 187, original title: Պատմութիւն Եւդոկիոյ Հայոց. Տեղագրական Պատմական Եւ Ազգագրական Տեղեկութիւններով:
  9. ^ McGeer, Nesbitt & Oikonomides 2001, pp. 170–171