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Encyclopedia >> Armenological Encyclopedia >> The Establishment of Feudal System in Armenia

 The Establishment of Feudal System in Armenia


In the transition period from Old Age to Middle Age the feudal (avatatirakan-ավատատիրական) relations began to develop in Armenia during the reign of Arsacid Dynasty (Arshakuni Dynasty). The word “avat-ավատ” means “i havat-ի հավատ” (“faith”),  i. e. “to serve faithfully”.

From the ancient times the social relations in Armenia had been developing in the form of royal landowning. The rural communities were the major producing households, which were the main taxpayers. Artaxias I intended to demarcate private community landowning by the land reform. But the expansion of   nobility’s farms at the expense of rural communities greatly increased, leading to division of the national landowning into private estates, i.e. into feudal households. Thus, the feudal relations were established. On the one hand, the owners of farms enlarged the private landowning, on the other hand, the households of the rural communities gradually reduced.

In Hellenistic countries and regions of Ancient East (Egypt, Asoriq (Syria), Asia Minor), that had been transformed into Roman provinces, the transition to feudal relations was а slow process because of the slaveholding system crisis. 

Though the royal power and the main taxpayer to royal treasury, i. e the rural community, which was based on the national landowning system were both preserved in Armenia, the establishment of feudal relationships developed in normal way. The new peculiarities of social relationships in Armenia were mainly due to it. 

In Armenia Feudalism derived from the nakharar system that had patriarchal roots and was a part of the royal power. 

The foreign powers’ expansionist policy was broken down by this process, and became the reason for decrease of Arshakuni Dynasty in 428. Yeghishe noted that the kingdom passed into hands of Armenian nakharars-նախարար, which meant that the nakharar system became the bearer of the statehood. 

Armenian statehood was preserved through the Middle Ages by the efforts of nakharar system. In the Middle Ages the Armenian statehood was spread in the Eastern part of Greater Armenia headed by Vachagan the Pious (Barepasht), then in confederation of Armenian kingdoms headed by Bagratid dynasty  (Bagratuni dynasty), during the reign of Zakaryan dynasty, princedoms of Sassoun, Artsakh and Syunik, and in the form of Armenian kingdom in Cilicia.

The forms of feudal landowning. There were various landowning forms in the Middle Ages. The state i. e. royal and feudal large land areas were the most powerful ones. 

The King was the supreme governor of Greater Armenia. In accordance with the development of feudal relationships the state or royal lands were demarcated, the number of lands of nobility increased and the nakharars’ families became the main landowners. Tiridates III granted many lands to church too. Thus, church became one of the major landowners. The one-tenth of the harvest was paid to church, which was called tithe.

The hereditable large private lands were called homeland. The Kings frequently made land awards. These kind of estates were called Grants (Pargevakanq-պարգևականք). The King also made lifelong and heritable awards to the representatives of Council of Respected Citizens (avagani-ավագանի) for different services. The donation was restored in the case of receiver’s death. And if the receiver terminated his service, the Royal court took back all these estates.

A special form of landowning was the so-called Gandzagin-գանձագին. These were private lands which were subjected to trading. Due to it the ishkhans-իշխաններ and church enlarged their estates. 

As a result of the growth of nakharar heritable lands, the Royal lands were reduced and eshtablished in the royal town of Midland (Mijnashkharh-Միջնաշխարհ). 

In the IV century the lands of Midland were divided among the Royal court, nakharars, and the church. The centre of Royal lands was Armenian Vostan province the capital of which was Artashat. It was the political, economical and cultural centre of the Armenia from the ancient times. The King, the Queen and the Prince lived in Ayrarat. At that period the minor nobiliary (sepuhakan-սեպուհական) landowning was formed. The other members of the royal family were granted lands in Arberan, Aghihovit and Hashteanq provinces. 

Feudal hierarchy. The king was the head of feudal hierarchy in Armenia. The second layer in the social division of the Armenian nobility was occupied by nakharars, i. e. bdeshkhs-բդեշխ (border governers) and ministers (gortsakalner).

The principle of the feudal system was: “The vassal of my vassal is not my vassal’’. 

The Armenian society was composed of higher class, i. e. the Free (azatner-ազատներ) and lower class, i. e the non-free (anazatner-անազատներ). The Free class was composed of nobility, i. e. nakharars, ishkhans owning provinces and also the clergy. The secular representatives of the Free served in cavalry. Over the time an aristocratic class was formed from Arsacid dynasty  (Arshakuni dynasty), called the ostaniks. 

The non-free (anazatner-անազատներ)  class was composed of citizens, i. e.  relatively privileged merchants and  craftsmen, the peasants, and also the urban and rural plebeians  (ramikner-ռամիկներ), who could serve only in infantry. 

The King and the governmental system. The Royal court was located in capital during the period of Armenian kingdoms. The state was governed by the King as it was in ancient times. The King had the power to declare war, to conclude an armistice, to conduct foreign affairs (to send and receive ambassadors, to negotiate with other countries).

The state departments i.e. ministries (gortsakalutyunner-գործակալություններ) played a significant governmental and defensive role. Each Ministry was responsible for the certain field of the State government.

The Ministry headed by hazarpet-հազարապետ was the economical-tax department of the State and was also responsible for the administration of pubic works (building of city fortifications, roads and bridges, canals and afforestation, etc.) or State obligations.

Military affairs were conducted by the supreme commander of the armed forces of Greater Armenia called sparapet-սպարապետ. The royal cavalry was always at his disposal and the armed forces of nakharars and home guard were under his control during the war.

The royal estates, the Treasury and the education of Arshakuni sepuhs (minor noblemen) were under the control of the administration of royal household (Mardpetoutyune-մարդպետություն) headed by Armenian Grand Chamberlain (Hayr Mardpet-Հայր Մարդպետ). The Royal Guard (Maghkhazutyun-մաղխազություն) was headed by maghkhaz-մաղխազ, i. e. the commander of Royal Court and guard.

The chief judge of Ancient Armenia was Hierophant, but from the IV century the leader of Armenian Apostolic Church became Catholicos. The protection of the rights concerning family and church belonged to him.

The Chivalry was headed by crowned knight, who was responsible for palace ceremonies and reception of ambassadors from foreign countries.

The shahap-շահապ of Artashat was the mayor of the capital. The King granted this position to one of the loyal noblemen. 

The major nakharar families were privileged to rule the Ministries (գործակալություններ), Hazarapetutyun-հազարապետություն was managed by the houses of Gnuni, then Amatuni, the military service (sparapetutyun-սպարապետություն) was managed by the house of Mamikonyan, cavalry (aspetutyun-ասպետություն) by the house of Bagratuni, royal household (Mardpetutyun-մարդպետություն) was headed by the house of Mardpetuni and the royal guard (maghkhazutyun-մաղխազություն) was headed by the house of Khorkhoruni. The important state documents were the Throne registrar (gahnamak-Գահնամակ) and the Military registrar (Zoranamak-Զորանամակ) which defined the order of Armenian nakharars according to their official post, power and army.

The Military registrar defined each nakharar’s place in the royal court. The more powerful nakharars, i. e. the owners of borderland States (bdeshkhs) sat beside the King, on the special pillows. 

The country’s most important issues were discussed in national assembly. In the second half of the IV century its responsibilities transferred to the church assembly headed by the Armenian Catholicos. 

The Army. The Armenian regular army which had a thousand years of military proficiency experience, was 100-200 thousand, including cavalry and infantry. The Armenian King and nakharars had a certain number of cavalry. The Armenian Heavy Cavalry (Ayrudzi- այրուձի, (man and horse, horseman)) was formed by the unification of cavalry forces. The Armenian army gathered when it was necessary. 

The King’s cavalry was composed of azats, i. e. free Heavy Cavalry, that was headed by the Armenian Commander-in chief (Sparapet-սպարապետ). It was situated in the strategically important places of Armenia, in  Vostan Hayots and in the place where the royal army was located. 

The royal capital was defended by the heavy cavalry which was composed of special cavalry detachments and were headed by Commander-in-chief (sparapet-սպարապետ), Chief guard (maghkhaz-մաղխազ) and Mardpet-մարդպետ. At the same time royal guard that was composed of selected archers and located in royal court was responsible for the King’s defense. 

As it was stated in the Military registrar, the number of cavalry of nakharar houses reached 85 thousand. The power of Armenian army was restored by the military reforms made by King Pap.

According to the number of troops, the senior nakharars were called the byuravorner-բյուրավորներ (Syuni, Cadmea) i. e. they had more than 10000 soldiers, the thousands (Gugarats, Aghdznyats, Bznunyats, Bagratuni,  Khorkhoruni, etc) that had 1000-4000 cavaliers. The ones that had less cavalry  were called the hundreds, the fifties ( Tagryan, Sodatsi, Gukann, Patsparuni, etc.) and the tenths. According to the King’s and Nakharar’s decision plebeian (ramik-ռամիկ) heavy cavalry was formed. 

The armament of the Armenian army were arrows, bows, spears, shields, slings, lances, pole-axes, etc. Stone throwing and gate destructing (catapult and etc) machines were of special importance. There were also reconnaissance units in the army. 

The Population.  Armenia preserved national homogeneity also in Middle Ages. People lived in cities (Artashat, Dvin, Nakhijevan, Yervandashat, Zarehavan, Karin, Khlat, Manazikert, Tigranakert, Van, Zarishat, etc) and in villages. Free and dependant peasants had some property: a land from rural community, a house, agricultural tools and cattle. The peasant family was called yerd-երդ and paid taxes.

The peasants’ dependence on the major landowners grew in accordance with the development of feudal system. In Middle Ages the rural community was still the main manufacturer. The community supported the peasants in different political situations and tax increase. The collection of tax and the swop between the village and the city was done by food. The craftsmen also played a special role in rural life. (smiths, masons, carpenters, etc). 

The urban life and the international trade. The part of Armenian urban population was composed of merchants and craftsmen. The monasteries like the capital and the major cities became the centers of art and science. As the international roads passed through Armenia, the class of merchants was very diverse in cities. Besides Armenians, there were also many Persians, Assyrians and other nationalities that were engaged in the international trading along the Silk Road. Caravans came from China, India, and Persia. Along with the Chinese silk the caravans coming from the East brought spices, pearls, precious stones and ornaments. 

Dvin, Nakhijevan, Ervandashat, Zarehavan, Karin were on big and well-built Artashat-Satagh road. Manazikert in Apahuniq province and Zarishat in Aghihovit province were on Artshat-Tigranakert road. Tigranakert was located at the intersection of Asia Minor and Mesopotamia roads.

Van was a significant trading and commercial centre. Dvin became a large city that had approximately 100 thousand population. 

The foreign currency circulation in Armenia was mainly conditioned by the characteristics of the international trade. There was a custom-house in Artashat, where the duty, the so-called bazh-բաժ, was charged from the imported goods.

The Map “The Tabula Peutingeriana” made by Roman geograph Castorius of the fourth century contained detailed information about the Armenian trade roads of the Early Middle Ages.

The territory between the Roman Empire and Armenia is shown by roman miles (approximately 1.5 km). Among the other roads, the royal avenue that connected Tigranaket to Arashat was also noted on the map. 

The “Itinerary” (“Mghonachapq’’-Մղոնաչափք) by Anania Shirakatsi is a remarkable source concerning the trade roads of Armenia. According to “Itinerary” six roads from Dvin led to the important centers of Western Asian countries.

Shahap and his officials kept order in Artashat. They sat in citadel, i. e. in castle.

There were state storages of wheat and other products in large cities.

The market played a special role in the urban life. The merchants’ shops, craftsmen’s workshops were in the market territory within the city wall. The part of craftsmen served the royal court, the other part was engaged in the process of production of goods. Armenian architectures, builders, masons were very well-known.

 Armenian masters in Vagharshapat participated in royal construction as well as in the construction of the city’s wall. The Royal castle was in citadel. The Mother Cathedral was built in front of the castle. Artashat avenue connected Vagharshapat and Artashat cities.

The product of gunsmiths, weavers, goldsmiths and painters (weapons, carpets, and other textures, jewellery, paints, etc ) were well-known out of Armenia. The development of Ceramics was also significant. 

The Armenian nobility lived in square next to the royal castle in citadel. The theatre was also there. Many tragedies were staged there. Performances in the other cities   were organized in city squares. The merchants and craftsmen lived in some districts of the city. 

Plebeians mainly lived in cities and in their suburbs. They were primarily engaged in gardening and grain growing. The peasants from villages brought their agricultural products to the market.

By the establishment of the hierarchy of Armenian Apostolic Church the churches were built in the central part of the cities and villages. 

The building of churches gave a new significance to the plan of the city and villages. Parochial schools were built near the churches. 

The Armenian urban life flourished during the reign of Bagratid and Cilicia kingdoms. 

Danielyan E.