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E00497: Agathangelos' History of Armenia, written in Armenian, in the second half of the 5th c., tells the story, set in the early 4th c., of the martyrdom and death at Artašat on the orders of King Trdat of the virgins *Hripsimē (Armenian virgin and martyr of Roman origin, S00645), *Gayanē (Armenian martyr and companion of Hripsimē, S00260) and their companions.

online resource
posted on 2015-05-14, 00:00 authored by naleksidze
Agathangelos, History of Armenia, 137-210

In those days the Emperor Diocletian sought for a wife. He sent out painters who could reproduce the image of the most beautiful women in his empire. They arrived in Rome and found there a convent of virgins. Their leader was called Gayanē (S00260) and her protegée's name was Hripsimē. The messengers forcibly made their way into the convent. The painters were amazed by Hripsimē's beauty, and having painted her image brought it to the emperor.

The emperor was overwhelmed by the virgin's beauty and rapidly dispatched envoys throughout his realm to celebrate his upcoming wedding. Meanwhile Diocletian was beguiled by Satan, stirred up persecution against the churches, and began worshipping idols. The holy virgins offered lengthy prayers to God, who wished to save them and made them flee to the land of Armenia.

So they arrived and established themselves in the city of Vałaršapat, the capital of Armenia. But the emperor's searchers and messengers tracked them down. Having heard that they were hiding in Armenia, Diocletian sent a letter to Armenia's king Trdat and asked him to find and send back to him the escaped holy virgins. After a few days of searching, their whereabouts was discovered. The king had a legion of infantry keep armed guard over the place where they had been found.

But soon Hripsimē's beauty became widely known among the dwellers of Vałaršapat and knowledge of it reached the king too. Thus, she was brought into the king's presence. The king wished to take her but could not overcome the virgin by force, as she was strengthened by the Holy Spirit. She tore the king's robe and royal garment, and, opening the door by force, she went out, with no-one able to hold her.

Then she fled to the north-east, to the city of Artašat. She prayed intensely and, after she finished her prayers, the king's chief-executioners found her and bound her. They tried to pull out her tongue and she let them. Then they burned her alive, and thrust stones into her entrails, and, while she was still alive, they plucked out her eyes and then dismembered her limb by limb.

The faithful ones, the companions of the martyr, came and sought to wrap and bury her body, but many of them were killed too. Thus the powerful and mighty king was defeated by a single girl. Then he was suddenly saddened by the virgin's death and mourned bitterly. He still could not believe that she was dead and asked the executioners to bring her to him.

But then, enraged, he commanded to first have Gayanē's tongue pulled out and for her then to be put to death, since she had dared to corrupt Hripsimē with her advice. Thus Gayanē and the rest of the women were tortured and were burned at the stake. The executioners pierced the skin of the soles of their feet and put in tubes, and by blowing flayed the three saints alive, from below up to their breasts. They then pierced their gullets and pulled out their tongues, and forced stones into their entrails. Finally, because they were still alive, they cut off their heads with a sword. Thus, thirty seven of the seventy refugees were tortured and killed.

Արդ՝ ի քսան եւ ի վեց ամսոյն հոռի կատարեցաւ սուրբն Հռիփսիմէ դասուն սրբով, երեսուն եւ երեք նահատակակից ընկերաւքն հանդերձ. եւ ի քսան եւ եաւթն ամսոյն հոռի՝ սուրբն Գայիանէ երկու իւրովք ընկերաւքն, որք ընդ նմա պատերազմեալք պսակեցան եւ առին զպսակն յաղթութեան։

'So on the twenty-sixth of the month of Hori [February], saint Hripsimē died with the holy company of thirty-three fellow martyrs; and on the twenty-seventh of the month of Hori saint Gayanē with her two companions, who with her fought the fight and were crowned and received the palm of victory.

The Greek translation of this story continues with the following detail, which is absent from the Armenian as known to us:

'The bodies of the saints remained for a long time where they were, exhaling a sweet odour. All the people were amazed that a sweet odour instead of a foul smell was given off by their holy and undefiled bodies.'

Agathangalos’s History then continues, to show how the deaths of Hripsimē and Gayanē eventually led to the conversion of King Trdat and of all Armenia to Christianity, since the martyrdom of the holy virgins and the king’s subsequent torturing of *Gregory the Illuminator (S00251), caused him to be turned into the form of a boar; from which he was only saved by listening to Gregory and turning to Christianity.

Text: Thomson 1980, 78-112. Translation: Thomson 2010, 213-274. Summary: Nikoloz Aleksidze.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Gayanē, Armenian martyr and companion of Hripsimē : S00260 Rhipsime, an Armenian virgin and martyr, ob. c. 290 : S00645 Gregory the Illuminator, converter of Armenia : S00251

Type of Evidence

Literary - Other narrative texts (including Histories)


  • Armenian

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region


Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Hadamakert Հադամակերտ Hadamakert Başkale

Major author/Major anonymous work


Cult activities - Festivals

  • Saint’s feast

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle during lifetime Miracles experienced by the saint Changing abilities and properties of the body Apparition, vision, dream, revelation

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Monarchs and their family Soldiers


The History of Armenia, attributed to a certain Agathangelos, is the main account of Armenia's conversion to Christianity by Gregory the Illuminator in the fourth century. The History covers the period between the demise of the Arsacid royal line in Iran soon after 224 to the death of Gregory sometime after the Council of Nicaea in 325. The author claims to have been commissioned by King Trdat, Armenia's first Christian king, to chronicle the events. This gloss has caused multiple discussions: the current scholarly consensus is that the surviving text of Agathangelos is likely to be of the period circa 450-470. It cannot predate the development of the Armenian script in the first third of the 5th century and must predate the Epic Histories of the late 5th, because these quote from Agathangelos. In R. Thomson's words: 'The author of the History ascribed to Agathangelos attempted to create a picture of Gregory as the founder of the Armenian Church based on traditions mostly oral but also [possibly] written. His effort was neither the first word, nor the last in that process, but the History of Agathangelos did eventually become the enshrined version of the events. As such it joined those other classics of Armenian literature which defined the past as a source of inspiration and a model for emulation in the future'. (Thomson 2010, 8). Despite this, the image of Gregory in the Armenian tradition has been constantly evolving and was repeatedly adapted to immediate rhetorical and political aims. The story of Gregory and his heroic suffering became popular in both the Christian East and West and appears in numerous versions in other languages, including Syriac, Arabic, Georgian, Greek and Latin. Despite this, for the purpose of the present database, only the Armenian version will be utilised, unless specified otherwise. This is justified by the fact that other versions seem to be much later than the original 5th century text.


The story of the virgins Hripsimē and Gayanē, which serves as the prelude to the conversion of King Trdat and Armenia to Christianity, is perhaps the most widely known and disseminated narrative in medieval Armenia, and is also known in many other languages. For example Hripsimē is known as Arsema in the Ethiopian Church, where at least three churches bear her name. Agathangelos' account, although probably highly fictionalized, serves as the source for all other variants of the story, including the later Armenian story that tried to identify *Nino (Georgia's illuminator, S00072), as one of the companions of the seventy virgins who fled Diocletian's persecutions to Armenia.


Edition: Thomson, R.W., (ed.) Agathangelos, Patmowtiwn hayots' (History of the Armenians) a Facsimile Reproduction of the 1909 Tiflis Edition (Delmar NY: Caravan Books, 1980), 78-112. Translation: Thomson, R.W., The Lives of Saint Gregory: The Armenian, Greek, Arabic, and Syriac Versions of the History Attributed to Agathangelos (Ann Arbor: Caravan Books, 2010), 213-274. Studies: Outtier, B., and Thierry, M., "Histoire des saintes Hripsimiennes," Syria 67: 3/4 (1990), 695-733.

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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