Armenian versions of Michael the Syrian

The massive world chronicle of Michael the Syrian, composed during the crusader period, survives in a single manuscript in a box in Aleppo.  The box has two locks, each held by a senior figure in two different churches.  Access is difficult.  

Making things worse is that J.-B. Chabot in the early 20th century somehow got access, and somehow surreptiously made a copy.  Quite how you can surreptiously make a copy of something the size of two telephone directories I don’t know, but he did.  He published it with French translation — we may all be grateful for this, since many Syriac books were destroyed in WW1 — but the owners still remember, and are still angry with him.

The opening portion of the chronicle is lost.  But an Armenian version preserves the preface, which Langlois’ edition of 1868 (French only) makes available online.

Few people seem to know much about the Armenian versions of Michael the Syrian.  But from Michael E. Stone, The Armenian texts of Epiphanius of Salamis De mensuris et ponderibus, CSCO 583, Subsidia 105 (2000) — an excellent text, fromwhat little I can see in the preview — on p.25, I learn this:

Vardan Arewelc’i translated Michael’s Chronicle into Armenian in the year 1246, with the assistance of the Syrian priest Ishox and at the request of the Armenian Catholicos Constantine.  See N. Bogharian, Armenian Writers, 296.

He also refers to an article by F. Haase, Die armenischen Rezensionen des syrischen Chronik Michael des Grossen, Oriens Christianus NS 5 (1915), 60-82, 211-284.  That ought to be online somewhere!  Apparently this indicates that more than one version exists or existed.  He also indicates that material from Moses of Chorene contaminates the translation of Vardan Arewelc’i.

 Another link indicates another article: Andrea Schmidt, Die zweifache armenische Rezension der syrischen Chronik Michaels des Grossen, Le Museon 109 (1996), p.299-319.  This seems to be inaccessible to proles like you and I, but searching around the web reveals that this has been mentioned to me before here in a useful set of comments.  Andrea Schmidt has a home page here, with a long bibliography.  I do wish that some of it was online.

I also find D. Weltecke’s article in English on the chronicle here in PDF form.  This useful introduction tells me that there are two versions, published in Jerusalem in 1870 and 1871 (but not what the titles etc are).  A book in German by Dorothea Weltecke, Die “Beschreibung der Zeiten” von Mōr Michael dem Grossen (1126-1199) is online in preview here, where on p.7 we read more about the history of these versions, and a review of previous research.

So … a rather inconclusive result.  I’ve gained a little impression of the subject, but not much.  I was hoping to locate an Armenian text online, although not with much hope.


5 thoughts on “Armenian versions of Michael the Syrian

  1. Hi Roger,

    The two Armenian editions are available for download below.

    (Jerusalem, 1870):

    (Jerusalem, 1871):

    Victor Langlois created a composite French translation based on the manuscripts used in both of the Armenian editions. His work preceded the publication of the Armenian texts, and is a marvel of erudition:

    I am about halfway through making an English translation of the Armenian texts. I began with a Xerox copy of the 1870 edition, and then–mirabile dictu–the 1871 edition became available via Google Books, and then a few months later the 1870 edition became available online! Rather astonishing, from my point of view. It will be at least another year before this is available.

    The two Armenian texts are actually two independent translations of the Syriac, and each contains material not found in the other.

    Today I received an email from Matti Moosa who is making an English translation from the Syriac. How wonderful this is!


  2. Dear Robert,

    Thank you so much for your comment! I am delighted to hear that you are at work on this.

    I wrote an email to you yesterday, but I realise that it must have been to an old address. Matti Moosa and I have been corresponding, because he picked up the translation I made from Langlois of the opening portion. He would probably be better off with something from you!

    Andrea Schmidt is at work on producing a new edition, I believe, but this is years away.

    I am very, very glad to see that you have grabbed hold of Michael in Armenian. How very exciting! And you, of all people, have the knowledge of other Armenian writers to recognise interpolations.

    All the best,


  3. All is good news. I think when we have the English translations of the Syriac and Armenian versions, those interested in the history of the Church, and particularly Eastern Church, should throw a big party!

    It is appalling that such an important work has been difficult to get hold of for many researchers until now (well, maybe a few years from now).

  4. Re: how to make a surreptitious copy

    1. Take notes in shorthand in the reading room. Lots and lots of notes.

    2. Pick the lock or make your own key/s. Make a surreptitious copy over long years when you’re supposedly doing something else in the library. Sell/publish the copy. Profit!

    They’re very lucky that nobody followed Plan #3:

    3. Pick the lock or make your own key/s. Borrow/steal the book and replace it with something around the same weight. Take the book home for as long as you want and do with it whatever you want.

  5. I forgot plan 4:

    4. Arrange to be born with an eidetic memory. Memorize pages while looking at the book. Copy them down later when you get home.

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