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The Formation of Armenian Identity in the First Millenium

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In tracing three possible answers to the question what the 'first millennium' might be for the Armenians, various layers of the Armenian tradition constitutive of the formation of Armenian identity are presented. Three periods are distinguished: the Nairian-Urartian stretching from about 1200 bce to the conquest of the Armenian plateau by the Achaemenids; followed by the Zoroastrian phase, in which political, religious, social, and cultural institutions in Armenia were closely related to Iranian ones, lasting until the adoption of Christianity as state religion in Armenia at the beginning of the fourth century. This heralds the third and last phase considered in this contribution, concluding with the cornerstone of Armenian identity formation in the direction given to Armenia and its Church by Yovhannēs Ōjnec'i (John of Odzun, d. 728), who opted for a moderate form of Miaphysitism after the rejection of the Council of Chalcedon. The developments in each of the three periods are measured against the criteria Smith considered central for the presence of an ethnie, while attention is given to the Iranian aspects of Armenian society, the presence of a Hellenistic strand in its culture, and its western turn upon the adoption of Christianity.

Affiliations: 1: University of Oxford;, Email:


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