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E01131: Agathangelos’ History of Armenia, also known as the History and Life of St Gregory (written in Armenian in the middle of the 5th c.) recounts the conversion of Armenia by *Gregory the Illuminator (converter of Armenia, S00251). Overview entry.

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posted on 2016-02-18, 00:00 authored by naleksidze
Agathangelos, History of Armenia.


A rhetorical prologue to the narrative.

The History begins with the seizure of power within Persia by the Sasanians and the overthrowing of the Parthian dynasty in 226. Soon thereafter the Sasanians attack Armenia in their attempts to remove the ruling Arsacid dynasty. Sasanian Artašir wages war against the Armenian king Khosrov but unsuccessfully, being unable to defeat him in combat; hence he resorts to treachery. Artašir sends a certain Armenian nobleman Anak to the king to befriend him and to assassinate him, which Anak completes. Khosrov’s allies retaliate and exterminate Anak’s entire family. Thereupon, Artašir invades Armenia, occupies it and puts an army from the Roman Empire, which was present on behalf of the Armenians, to flight. Then he puts Khosrov’s entire family to death. Only two children survive the carnage of the two families (of Anak and Khosrov): Khosrov’s youngest son Trdat, the future king of Armenia, and Anak’s son Gregory, Armenia’s future enlightener.

The children are educated in entirely different circumstances. Trdat is tutored in Rome, under the care of a certain nobleman Licinius. As a valiant general, Trdat aids the emperor Diocletian in his battle against the Goths, which Diocletian would have definitely lost without Trdat’s support. To express his gratitude, Diocletian sends Trdat to Armenia and establishes him on his father’s throne. Trdat discovers that Armenia is in the hands of the Persians, so he slaughters them and forces them out of his realm.

Meanwhile Gregory is raised in Caesarea/Kaisareia of Cappadocia and becomes a Christian. He learns of his father’s deeds and decides to atone for his father’s treachery against Trdat by entering Trdat’s service. One day Trdat decides to pay homage to Anahit, his favourite goddess of fertility and orders Gregory to place a wreath before the golden statue. Gregory refuses to do so and thus earns the king’s wrath. Trdat orders most horrible tortures on him but Gregory remains firm. Then it is revealed to Trdat that Gregory is Anak’s son, and in utter rage Trdat orders that he be thrown into a deep pit (Xor Virap) under the fort of Artašat. Gregory remains there for thirteen years, protected by God and fed daily by an old woman who brings him bread and water.

Meanwhile a group of nuns arrive in Armenia, in their attempts to escape Diocletian. The group is led by the virgins Hripsimē and Gayanē. Just like Diocletian before him, Trdat wishes to woo Hripsimē, but he is equally unsuccessfully, and eventually tortures the entire company of virgins to death. (For details, see E00497)

As divine punishment, while on a hunting expedition, Trdat is suddenly transformed into a boar and begins to roam the forest. Trdat’s sister Xosroviduxt is told in a vision that only Gregory can heal Trdat, so he is brought out of the pit, and through prayers and intercessions Trdat is cured. Thereupon the royal court and the king himself are converted to Christianity. Immediately the conversion of the entire Armenia is undertaken and people are baptised en masse. (See E00500)

The Teaching of Gregory

The Vision of Gregory (see $E01134)

Gregory and the King travel the length and breadth of the country, baptising people and destroying pagan temples and erecting new martyr shrines instead. Multitudes are cured. (See $E00126)

The king decides to consecrate Gregory as katholikos (patriarch) of Armenia, and to this end summons a council. Gregory initially refuses, but an angel of God appears to the king and to Gregory and convinces them to proceed with the consecration. Gregory is consecrated in Caesarea and is put in charge of organising the Armenian Church.

Gregory brings relics of *John the Baptist (S00020) and *Athenogenes, martyr of Nicomedia (S00065). He destroys pagan temples and builds martyr shrines. (See E00102). Following this, Gregory baptises the king and the people in the Euphrates.

Gregory initiates missionary activities to the Armenian provinces and other areas of the Caucasus. King Trdat makes his covenant with the people: to obey the divine commandments ardently and frankly, without any doubting, and to believe in the Creator.

Towards the end of his life, Gregory retires from active life in order to live as a hermit. Gregory's two sons are brought to Armenia. At the king’s request, Gregory ordains his son *Aristakēs (S00836) to succeed him as katholikos.

Gregory and Trdat visit Constantine, an event of great pomp, which is described in considerable detail.

The Council of Nicaea is held, attended by Gregory's son, the katholikos Aristakēs. Aristakēs returns to Armenia with the Nicene canons to which Gregory makes his own additions, and after this Gregory finally dies in peace.

Summary: N. Aleksidze.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Gregory the Illuminator, converter of Armenia : S00251

Saint Name in Source


Type of Evidence

Literary - Other narrative texts (including Histories) Literary - Hagiographical - Lives of saint


  • 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 - Liturgical Activity

  • Service for the Saint

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Cult Activities - Miracles

Healing diseases and disabilities Healing diseases and disabilities

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Monarchs and their family Ecclesiastics - bishops Relatives of the saint Pagans Soldiers

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - unspecified


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.


Edition: Thomson, R.W., Agathangelos, Patmowtiwnhayots' (History of the Armenians) a Facsimile Reproduction of the 1909 Tiflis Edition (Delmar NY, Caravan Books, 1980). 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).

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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