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  • East Roman Anti-Armenian Polemic, Ninth to Eleventh Centuries
  • Tia Kolbaba


While several scholars have studied examples of East Roman1 anti-Armenian polemic and edited important texts, an overview of anti-Armenian texts is still a desideratum.2 Such a study would contribute to our understanding of heresiology,3 of the eastern provinces of the empire during the tenth-century [End Page 121] expansion to the east and the late eleventh-century collapse of the eastern border, and of East Roman mentalities more generally. This paper is a first step toward such a comprehensive account of relations between the Armenian and Constantinopolitan churches in the Middle Ages: an overview of anti-Armenian rhetoric in the ninth through eleventh centuries. I begin in the ninth century because the earliest cluster of extant texts against Armenians by East Romans dates to the patriarchates of Photios of Constantinople (858–867, 877–886). I end this study in the middle of the eleventh century—not because anti-Armenian polemic ends then, but because the late eleventh and twelfth centuries bring a new set of issues and a new historical context. Two huge changes affect East Roman texts about the Armenians after 1081. First, the emperor Alexios I Komnenos (1081–1118) and his family shore up their legitimacy by being and presenting themselves as reformers of the church and the scourge of heretics.4 Anti-Armenian texts of this period are as much about the legitimacy of the Komnenoi as about Armenians specifically. Second, the historical situation in the eastern provinces changes radically in the late eleventh century. Turkish incursions after the battle of Manzikert in 1071 are followed by the arrival of crusaders in the east in the last years of the century. Crusaders and Armenians tend to find one another’s churches more amenable than the imperial church, and at the end of the twelfth century some Armenians and Latins celebrate a reunion of the churches.5 In these contexts—Komnenian church reform and crusader kingdoms in the east—East Roman anti-Armenian polemic took new forms and was often combined with anti-Latin polemic. This calls for a separate analysis in a separate article.

I have divided the period from c. 850 to c. 1080 into three phases. First, from c. 850 to c. 885 a series of texts in Greek represent one side of a dialogue with the Armenians. The figure behind these texts, which reflect an attempt to reunite the [End Page 122] churches, was the patriarch Photios of Constantinople, although he is not the only East Roman to contribute to the dossier. Second, from c. 900 to the accession of Basil II in 976, anti-Armenian polemic is extremely rare, while Roman correspondence with Armenians subordinates ecclesiastical issues to imperial ones. Finally, from c. 976 to the middle of the eleventh century we see continually increasing tension between Armenians and East Romans.

Before we begin to analyze the ninth-century texts, it is necessary to understand the history of the estrangement between the Armenian and East Roman churches.6 Like many other Christians in western Asia and Egypt, Armenians rejected the decisions of the Council of Chalcedon (451). That council, recognized as the Fourth Ecumenical Council by East Romans and western Christians, was anathema to the Christians who believed that its formula of two natures in Jesus Christ contradicted the previous councils of Nicea (325), Constantinople (381), and Ephesos (431). Called Monophysites and/or Jacobites by their opponents, these non-Chalcedonian7 Christians mostly lived outside the East Roman Empire after the Islamic expansion of the seventh and eighth centuries, and the empire was beleaguered enough in those centuries to have little time for the churches of the east. Like the East Romans, the Armenians had sufficient troubles—constant power struggles among princely families, balancing Roman rulers against Persian or Arab ones—to keep them busy, and reuniting with the church of Constantinople was seldom a high priority.

Moreover, the obstacles to restoration of communion only hardened in the sixth and seventh centuries. In the empire, a bitter and prolonged struggle in the aftermath of Chalcedon had produced martyrs, confessors, reams of written arguments in support...


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