Mesrop Mashtots

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Mesrop Mashtots
Portrait of Mashtots by Stepanos Nersissian (1882)
Bornc. 362
Hatsik, Taron Province, Kingdom of Armenia
(Now Güven village of Korkut, Muş Province, Turkey)
DiedFebruary 17, 440
Vagharshapat, Sasanian Armenia
Venerated inArmenian Apostolic Church
Armenian Catholic Church
Roman Catholic Church
Eastern Orthodox Church
Major shrineSaint Mesrop Mashtots Cathedral in Oshakan, Armenia
FeastThe Armenian Church remembers St. Mesrop (together with St. Sahak), twice each year, first in July and then again on the Feast of the Holy Translators in October;[1] February 17 in the Roman Catholic Church.

Mesrop Mashtots (listen; Armenian: Մեսրոպ Մաշտոց Mesrop Maštoc'; Eastern Armenian: [mɛsˈɾop maʃˈtotsʰ]; Western Armenian: [mɛsˈɾob maʃˈtotsʰ]; 362 – February 17, 440 AD) was an Armenian linguist, composer, theologian, statesman, and hymnologist in the Sasanian Empire. He is venerated as a saint in the Armenian Apostolic, Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox Churches.[2]

He is best known for inventing the Armenian alphabet c. 405 AD, which was a fundamental step in strengthening Armenian national identity.[3] He is also considered to be the creator of the Caucasian Albanian and Georgian alphabets by a number of scholars.[4][5][6][7][8][9]


Fresco of Mesrop by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1696-1770)
Mesrop in a 1776 Armenian manuscript

Mashtots was born in a noble family ("from the house of an azat" according to Anania Shirakatsi) in the settlement of Hatsekats in Taron(identified as the village of Hatsik in the Mush plain),[10] and died in Vagharshapat. He was the son of a man named Vardan.[11] Koryun, his pupil and biographer,[12] writes that Mashtots received a good education and was versed in the Greek and Persian languages. On account of his piety and learning, Mesrop was appointed secretary to King Khosrov IV, in charge of writing royal decrees and edicts in Persian and Greek.

Leaving the court, Mashtots took the holy orders and withdrew to a monastery with a few companions, leading a life of great austerity for several years. In 394, with the blessing of Sahak Part'ev, Mashtots set out on a proselytizing mission. With the support of Prince Shampith, he preached the Gospel in the district of Goghtn near the river Araxes, converting many.

The Amaras Monastery in Artsakh, where Mesrop set up the first school that used his script.[13]

Encouraged by the patriarch and the king, Mesrop founded numerous schools in different parts of the country, in which the youth were taught the new alphabet. He himself taught at the Amaras monastery of the Armenian province of Artsakh (located in the contemporary Martuni region of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic).[citation needed] However, his activity was not confined to Eastern Armenia. Provided with letters from the Catholicos, he went to Constantinople and obtained from emperor Theodosius the Younger permission to preach and teach in his Armenian possessions. Having returned to Eastern Armenia to report to the patriarch, his first thought was to provide religious literature for his countrymen. He sent some of his numerous disciples to Edessa, Constantinople, Athens, Antioch, Alexandria, and other centers of learning, to study the Greek language and bring back the masterpieces of Greek literature. The most famous of his pupils were John of Egheghiatz, Joseph of Baghin, Yeznik, Koriun, Moses of Chorene, and John Mandakuni.

Verses of Mesrop Mashtots

The first monument of Armenian literature is the version of the Holy Scriptures. Isaac, says Moses of Chorene, made a translation of the Bible from the Syriac text about 411. This work was considered imperfect, for soon afterwards John of Egheghiatz and Joseph of Baghin were sent to Edessa to translate the Scriptures. They journeyed as far as Constantinople and brought back authentic copies of the Greek text with them. With the help of other copies obtained from Alexandria, the Bible was translated again from the Greek according to the text of the Septuagint and Origen's Hexapla. This version, now in use in the Armenian Church, was completed about 434.

Gravesite of Mesrop Mashtots in the village of Oshakan

The decrees of the first three ecumenical councils — Nicæa, Constantinople, and Ephesus — and the national liturgy (so far written in Syriac) were also translated into Armenian, the latter being revised on the liturgy of St. Basil, though retaining characteristics of its own. Many works of the Greek Fathers were also translated into Armenian. The loss of the Greek originals has given some of those versions a special importance; thus, the second part of Eusebius's Chronicle, of which only a few fragments exist in Greek, has been preserved entirely in Armenian. In the midst of his literary labors, Mashtots revisited the districts he had evangelized in his earlier years, and, after the death of Isaac in 439, looked after the spiritual administration of the patriarchate. He survived his friend and master by only six months. Armenians read his name in the Canon of the Liturgy and celebrate his memory on 19 February.

Mashtots is buried at a chapel in Oshakan, a historical village 8 km (5.0 miles) southwest from the town of Ashtarak. He is listed officially in the Roman Martyrology of the Roman Catholic Church; his feast day is February 17.


Mesrop creating the Armenian alphabet, by Francesco Maggiotto (1750-1805)

Armenia lost its independence in 387 and was divided between the Byzantine Empire and Persia, which received about four-fifths of its territory. Western Armenia was governed by Byzantine generals, while an Armenian king ruled as Persian vassal over eastern Armenia. The principal events of this period are the invention of the Armenian alphabet, the revision of the liturgy, the creation of an ecclesiastical and national literature, and the revision of hierarchical relations. Three men are prominently associated with this work: Mashtots, Part'ev, and King Vramshapuh, who succeeded his brother Khosrov IV in 389.

Armenians probably had an alphabet of their own, as historical writers reference an "Armenian alphabet" before Mashtots,[14][15] but used Greek, Persian, and Syriac scripts to translate Christian texts, none of which was well suited for representing the many complex sounds of their native tongue. The Holy Scriptures and the liturgy were, to a large extent, unintelligible to the faithful and required the intervention of translators and interpreters.

Mashtots was assisted in inventing a national alphabet by Sahak and Vramshapuh. He consulted Daniel, a bishop of Mesopotamia, and Rufinus, a monk of Samosata, on the matter and created an alphabet of thirty-six letters; two more (long O (Օ, օ) and F (Ֆ, ֆ)) were added in the twelfth century.

The first sentence in Armenian written down by Mesrop after he invented the letters was the opening line of Solomon's Book of Proverbs:

Ճանաչել զիմաստութիւն եւ զխրատ, իմանալ զբանս հանճարոյ:
Čanačʿel zimastutʿiwn ew zxrat, imanal zbans hančaroy.
«To know wisdom and instruction; to perceive the words of understanding.»

— Book of Proverbs, 1:2.

The invention of the alphabet around 405 was the beginning of Armenian literature and proved a powerful factor in the building of national spirit. "The result of the work of Isaac and Mesrop", says St. Martin,[16] "was to separate for ever the Armenians from the other peoples of the East, to make of them a distinct nation, and to strengthen them in the Christian Faith by forbidding or rendering profane all the foreign alphabetic scripts which were employed for transcribing the books of the heathens and of the followers of Zoroaster. To Mesrop we owe the preservation of the language and literature of Armenia; but for his work, the people would have been absorbed by the Persians and Syrians, and would have disappeared like so many nations of the East".

Medieval Armenian sources also claim that Mashtots invented the Georgian and Caucasian Albanian alphabets around the same time. Most scholars link the creation of the Georgian script to the process of Christianization of Iberia, a core Georgian kingdom of Kartli.[17] The alphabet was therefore most probably created between the conversion of Iberia under King Mirian III (326 or 337) and the Bir el Qutt inscriptions of 430,[18] contemporaneously with the Armenian alphabet.[19]


The statue of Mesrop Mashtots and Koryun (kneeling) in front of Matenadaran, Yerevan

Virtually every town in Armenia has a street named after Mashtots. In Yerevan, Mashtots Avenue is one of the most important in the city center, which was previously known as Lenin Avenue. There is a statue of him at the Matenadaran, one at the church he was buried at in Oshakan village, and one at the monument to the Armenian alphabet found on the skirts of Mt. Aragats, north of Ohanavan Village. Stamps have been issued with his image by both the Soviet Union and by post-Soviet Armenia.

The Order of St. Mesrop Mashtots, established in 1993, is awarded for significant achievements in economic development of the Republic of Armenia or for accomplishments in science, culture, education or public service, and for activities promoting those fields.


Mashtots also produced a number of liturgical compositions. Some of the works attributed to him are: «Մեղայ քեզ Տէր» (Meġay k’ez Tēr, “I have sinned against you, Lord”), «Ողորմեա ինձ Աստուած» (Voġormea inj Astuac, “Have mercy on me, God”), «Անկանիմ առաջի քո» (Ankanim aṙaǰi k’o, “I kneel before you”) and «Ողորմեա» (Voġormea, “Miserere”), all of which are hymns of repentance.[citation needed]

Documentary films[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ See St. Sahak and St. Mesrop Feasts
  2. ^ St. Mesrop MashtotsArmenian theologian and linguistEncyclopedia Britannica
  3. ^ Hacikyan, Agop Jack; Basmajian, Gabriel; Franchuk, Edward S.; Ouzounian, Nourhan (2000). The Heritage of Armenian Literature: From the Oral Tradition to the Golden Age. Detroit: Wayne State University Press. p. 91. ISBN 9780814328156.
  4. ^ Glen Warren Bowersock; Peter Robert Lamont Brown; Oleg Grabar, eds. (1999). Late Antiquity: A Guide to the Postclassical World. Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-51173-5.
  5. ^ Rayfield, Donald (2000). The Literature of Georgia: A History (2nd rev. ed.). Surrey: Curzon Press. p. 19. ISBN 0700711635.
  6. ^ Grenoble, Lenore A. (2003). Language policy in the Soviet Union. Dordrecht [u.a.]: Kluwer Acad. Publ. p. 116. ISBN 1402012985.
  7. ^ Bowersock, G.W.; Brown, Peter; Grabar, Oleg, eds. (1999). Late antiquity: a guide to the postclassical world (2nd ed.). Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard Univ. Press. p. 289. ISBN 0-674-51173-5.
  8. ^ Jost, Gippert (2011). "The script of the Caucasian Albanians in the light of the Sinai palimpsests". Die Entstehung der kaukasischen Alphabete als kulturhistorisches Phänomen: Referate des internationalen Symposions (Wien, 1.-4. Dezember 2005) = The creation of the Caucasian alphabets as phenomenon of cultural history. Vienna: Austrian Academy of Sciences Press. pp. 39–50. ISBN 9783700170884.
  9. ^ Der Nersessian, Sirarpie (1969). The Armenians. London: Thames & Hudson. p. 85. After the Armenian alphabet Mesrop also devised one for the Georgians and another for the Caucasian Albanians.
  10. ^ J. M. Thierry, "Notes de géographie historique sur le Vaspurakan", REByz 1976 vol34.
  11. ^ Ghazar Parpetsi, History of Armenia, 5th to 6th century
  12. ^ Curtin, D. P. (November 2012). Life of Mashtots. Dalcassian Publishing Company. ISBN 9798868905360.
  13. ^ Viviano, Frank. “The Rebirth of Armenia,” National Geographic Magazine, March 2004
  14. ^ Hilkens, Andy (2020). "Language, Literacy and Historical Apologetics: Hippolytus of Rome's lists of literate peoples in the Syriac tradition". Journal of Eastern Christian Studies. 72 (1–2): 1–32 – via
  15. ^ Philostratus, The Life of Apollonius of Tyana, Book II, Chapter II, pp. 120–121, tr. by F. C. Conybeare, 1912
  16. ^ Histoire du Bas-Empire de Lebeau, V, 320.
  17. ^ B. G. Hewitt (1995). Georgian: A Structural Reference Grammar. John Benjamins Publishing. p. 4. ISBN 978-90-272-3802-3. Retrieved 19 September 2013.
  18. ^ Hewitt, p. 4
  19. ^ Barbara A. West; Oceania (2010-05-19). Encyclopedia of the Peoples of Asia. Infobase. p. 230. ISBN 9781438119137. Archaeological work in the last decade has confirmed that a Georgian alphabet did exist very early in Georgia's history, with the first examples being dated from the fifth century C.E.


  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainVaschalde, A. A. (1911). "Mesrob". In Herbermann, Charles (ed.). Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 10. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

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