Nerses Balients

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Nerses Balients, also Nerses Balienc (Armenian: Ներսես Բալիենց) or Nerses Bagh'on (Armenian: Ներսես Բաղոն), was a Christian Armenian monk of the early 14th century. He is mainly known for writing a history of the Kingdom of Cilician Armenia. Though his works are regarded by modern scholars as a valuable source from the time period, they are also regarded as frequently unreliable.


Nerses Balients had been converted to Catholicism by the Dominicans.[1] He was a member of the "United Brothers" (or "Unitarians") founded by the Dominican Barthelemy of Bologna, bishop of Maragha, which advocated a strict union of the Armenian Church with the Catholic Church. According to his writings, Nerses also used to call himself "Bishop of Urmia".[2]

He visited Pope Clement V in Avignon and authored and translated various works while there.


Nerses Balients is the author of a history of the kings of Cilician Armenia, especially as regards their relations with the Mongols.

Combination with Sempad[edit]

Segments of the work of Nerses Balients have been inserted into Sempad's Chronique du Royaume de Petite Arménie, a version of which was compiled by the modern historian Edouard Dulaurier, who added information from Nerses Balients to expand on the period after Sempad's death.[3]


One challenged passage[4] in this work is where Nerses wrote that the Armenian King Hetoum II, during his 1299 offensives in Syria with the Mongols, went with a small force as far as the outskirts of Cairo, and then spent some fifteen days in Jerusalem visiting the Holy Places:

The king of Armenia, back from his raid against the Sultan, went to Jerusalem. He found that all the enemies had been put to flight or exterminated by the Tatars, who had arrived before him. As he entered into Jerusalem, he gathered the Christians, who had been hiding in caverns out of fright. During the 15 days he spent in Jerusalem, he held Christian ceremonies and solemn festivities in the Holy Sepulchre. He was greatly comforted by his visits to the places of the pilgrims. He was still in Jerusalem when he received a certificate from the Khan, bestowing him Jerusalem and the surrounding country. He then returned to join Ghazan in Damas, and spend the winter with him

— Recueil des Historiens des Croisades, Historiens Armeniens I, p.660[5]

Some historians considered Nerses Balient's statement as an indication that Mongols may have conquered, or at least been present in, Jerusalem in 1299. Claude Mutafian, in Le Royaume Arménien de Cilicie mentions the writings and the 14th century Armenian Dominican which claim that the Armenian king visited Jerusalem as it was temporarily removed from Muslim rule.[6] Alain Demurger, in Jacques de Molay, mentions the possibility that the Mongols may have occupied Jerusalem, quoting an Armenian tradition describing that Hethoum celebrated mass in Jerusalem in January 1300.[7] Some scholars, such as Dr. Sylvia Schein, have regarded this statement as an indication that Mongols may have been present in Jerusalem in 1299. In her 1991 book, Schein wrote that the Armenian information about Hetoum's visit was confirmed by Arab chroniclers.[8]

However, other historians have strongly criticized Nerses Balienc's statement, and Schein's interpretation. Dr. Angus Donal Stewart in his 2001 book The Armenian Kingdom and the Mamluks, called the statement by Nerses Balienc an "absurd claim" from an unreliable source, and said that the Arab chroniclers did not confirm it in any way.[9] Another historian, Reuven Amitai, also did a detailed comparison of all of the available primary sources about the events around the Battle of Wadi al-Khazindar, and concluded that the Armenian account was in error, as it did not match up with other similar sources about the same events, was provably full of exaggerations and inaccuracies, and had been written as to glorify the Armenian king Hetoum. Amitai also pointed out that despite Schein's acceptance of the source as genuine, that even the original editor of the work, Edouard Dulaurier, had denied the veracity of the Armenian account.[10]

In his work, Edouard Dulaurier actually writes that Nerses may have added a few fantastic details to exaggerate Hetoum's accomplishments somewhat, specifically disputing one instance in which Nerses claims that Hetoum went as far as Cairo, when Ghazan himself is known to have sent 15,000 men only as far as Gaza.[11]


  1. ^ Mutafian, p.73
  2. ^ Recueil des Historiens des Croisades, Historiens Armeniens I, Chronique du Royaume de Petite Armenie, p. 608
  3. ^ Recueil des Historiens des Croisades, Historiens Arméniens I, Chronique du Royaume de Petite Arménie, Original
  4. ^ Reuven-Amitai, "Mongol Raids into Palestine"
  5. ^ Historiens Armeniens, p.660
  6. ^ Claude Mutafian, p.73
  7. ^ Demurger, p.143
  8. ^ Schein, Fidelis Crucis, p. 163. "According to an Armenian source confirmed by Arab chroniclers, Hetoum II with a small force reached the outskirts of Cairo and then spent some fifteen days in Jerusalem visiting the Holy Places.
  9. ^ Stewart, p. 14. "At one point, 'Arab chroniclers' are cited as being in support of an absurd claim made by a later Armenian source, but on inspection of the citations, they do no such thing." Also Footnote #55, where Stewart further criticizes Schein's work: "The Armenian source cited is the RHC Arm. I version of the 'Chronicle of the Kingdom', but this passage was in fact inserted into the translation of the chronicle by its editor, Dulaurier, and originates in the (unreliable) work of Nerses Balienc... The "Arab chroniclers" cited are Mufaddal (actually a Copt; the edition of Blochet), al-Maqrizi (Quatremere's translation) and al-Nuwayrf. None of these sources confirm Nerses' story in any way; in fact, as is not made clear in the relevant [Schein] footnote, it is not the text of al-Nuwayrf that is cited, but D. P. Little's discussion of the writer in his Introduction to Mamluk Historiography (Montreal, 1970; 24-27), and in that there is absolutely no mention made of any Armenian involvement at all in the events of the year. It is disappointing to find such a cavalier attitude to the Arabic source material."
  10. ^ Mongol Raids, p. 246. "A less charitable attitude can be taken towards the other Armenian source, written by the anonymous continuator of Constable Smpad's work. His account is full of exaggerations and inaccuracies, the first of which is the year given for the campaign (751 of the Armenian calendar which equals 5 Jan. 1302 - 4 Jan. 1303). This unknown writer does not even mention Mulay or the Mongols in the raid into Palestine. In their stead only King Het'um of Armenia is found: after the victory of Hims, the king rushed forward to pursue the fleeing sultan. He was joined by 4,000 of his troops. After eleven days of hard riding, Het'um arrived at a location near Cairo called Doli (which I cannot identify). Throughout the pursuit, the sultan was but 10-12 miles ahead of the king. The latter soon withdrew from Doli because he was afraid of being captured. On his return, Het'um entered Jerusalem and gathered all the Christians from the city who had hitherto hidden in caves. During the 15 days he spent in Jerusalem, Het'um performed magnificent Christian ceremonies and also received a patent from Ghazan granting him the city and its surroundings. Afterwards, Het'um left Jerusalem and rejoined Ghazan in Damascus, spending the rest of the winter with him. Even the editor of this work, Edouard Dulaurier, unequivocally denies the veracity of the account and writes that the author's purpose was to glorify King Het'um. There is little resemblance between the facts described here and the Mamluk works or even the account of the historian Het'um, who certainly cannot be accused of lacking a desire to eulogize the Armenian king. It is quite improbable that the Mamluk writers would have missed an opportunity to attack [the muslim] Ghazan for such a despicable action, i.e., abandoning Muslim territory, especially Jerusalem to Christian depredations."
  11. ^ Recueil des Historiens des Croisades, Historiens Arméniens I, Chronique du Royaume de Petite Arménie, p. 659-660 Note 1, p. 659:
    "The account of the battle of Homs, in which Ghazan routs the Egyptians, on December 23, 1299, can be compared with that of Hayton, De Tartare, cap. XLII, and the narration of M. d'Ohsson, Hist. des Mongols, liv. VI, Chap. vi, t. IV, p.233-240. It is obvious that Nerses Balients added here a few fantastic details, devised to enhance the role played by the king of Armenia Hetoum II, as an auxiliary of the Tartars. We can very certainly put in doubt the pursuing of the Egyptians by this prince, after the battle, as far as the place named Doli by the compiler, which he located near Cairo. Indeed, the Mongol general who had been dispatched with a body of 15,000 men to pursue Sultan Nacer, did not go farther than Gaza, and stopped at the desert limit between Syria and Egypt". End of the note.


Primary sources[edit]

Secondary sources[edit]