The Life of St. Nina - The Georgian Chronicle


The Life of St. Nina

The Georgian Chronicle

Translator's Preface

The Georgian Chronicle occupies an unusual position among Armenian historical sources. Unlike the majority of Armenian literary sources, this work was not originally composed in Armenian. The original was written in Georgian in separate sections by several individuals between the 6-13th centuries. Sometime in the late 12th or early 13th centuries, an unknown cleric translated or abridged the then extant Chronicle into classical Armenian. It is this medieval Armenian rendering which is translated here. The Chronicle describes the history of Iberia/Georgia, Armenia's northern neighbor, from legendary times to the 12th century, and is a rich source of unique information on such topics as Caucasian ethnography, Armeno-Georgian relations, the history of Iran, the history of the Jewish community of Georgia and its role in the Christianization of the country; the birth of Islam,and the coming of the Saljuqs.


Considerable controversy surrounds this work. Since the Georgian original which the medieval Armenian writer used has not survived, the very nature of the work is in question. Was the Armenian a translation, an abridgement, or a version of the Georgian? Based on currently available Georgian sources, this question cannot be resolved. This is because until relatively recently, the only complete Georgian text was an early 18th century revision (work of a commission appointed by King Vaxtang VI) which, regrettably, expanded some passages and removed and/or rearranged other passages. This 18th century text also incorporated additional documents from the 13-14th centuries. Fortunately, the individual books of the Chronicle (pre-Vaxtang revision) survived as separate works. However, as a result of the zeal of Georgian editors, no full, unadulterated Georgian text of the Chronicle predates the Armenian version. For this reason alone the Armenian version is valuable.

All eight extant Armenian manuscripts derive from a single exemplar made between 1279 and 1311 and housed at the Matenadaran in Erevan, Armenia. M.F. Brosset published a French translation of it in Additions et eclaircissements a l'Histoire de la Georgie (St. Petersburg,1851). The classical Armenian text, translated in the present volume, was published by At'. T'iroyan as Hamarhot patmut'iwn vrats' (Concise/Abridged History of the Georgians) in Venice in 1884. T'iroyan hlmself added the title, based on a colophon appearing in the Chronicle. All surviving copies are defective, terminating abruptly in mid-sentence. There is considerable variation in the spelling of names of people and places and occasional anachronlsms, such as references to "Baghdad", and the "Turks" and "hejub". To date the most detailed study of the Chronicle is Ilia Abuladze's comparatlve analysis of the Armenian text and the corresponding Georgian passages (Tbilisi,1953, in Georgian). Yustin Abuladze (1901) concluded that the Armenlan was a translation of the Georgian, and that since the Armenian is much shorter, the original Georgian must have been shorter. I. Javaxishvili, on the other hand, thought the Armenian was an abridgement. S. Kakabadze considered it a variant or version of the Georgian. Father Nerses Akinian suggested that the translator/adaptor may have been an Armenian diophysite, perhaps Simeon Pghndzahanets'i. Apparently the Armenian chroniclers Mxit'ar of Ani (12th century) and Mxit'ar Ayrivanets'i (13th century) used the Chronicle in its Armenian edition, while the historian Step'annos Orbelean (d.1304) referenced the Chronicle in Georgian.

Unlike the Georgian original, which was a collectlon of individual books written by different authors having different styles, the Armenian version is one man's work. The style is straightorward and more chronographical than literary. Occasionally, Armenian equivalents for Georgian words are provided parenthetically, and it seems that the translator/adaptor had Armenian sources such as Agat'angeghos and Movses Xorenats'i by his side and drew upon them for additional details.

The present translation follows C. Toumanoff's proposed chronologies for the regnal years of kings and other officials, and also his distinction between Iberia (or East Georgia) prior to 1008 and Georgia (the union of East and West Georgia) thereafter. For further information on Iberia/Georgia see C. Toumanoff's Studies in Christian Caucasian History (Georgetown, 1963), W.E.B. Allen's History of the Georgian People (New York, 1971, reprint of the 1932 edition), and D.M. Lang's Lives and Legends of the Georgian Saints (Crestwood, N.Y., 1976). The transliteration employed is a modification of the Library of Congress system.

A Note on Pagination

The printed editions of these online texts show the page number at the top of the page. In the right margin the pagination of the classical Armenian (grabar) text also is provided. We have made the following alterations for the online texts: the page number of the printed English editions (Sources of the Armenian Tradition series) appears in square brackets, in the text. For example [101] this text would be located on page 101, and [102] this text would be on page 102. The grabar pagination is as follows. This sentence corresponds to the information found on page 91 of the classical Armenian text [g91] and what follows is on page 92.

Robert Bedrosian
New York, 1991

Juansher's Concise History of the Georgians

[The original manuscript lacks this title or attribution to Juansher.]

Chapter 8.

At that time the venerable Nune [Nino], Mother of Iberia, came to Mts'xet'a and was there for three months. The queen of Iberia, Soghome Salome], inquired of her whence she had come. Nino replied:

Hear from the beginning [information] about me. Once it happened that the Frankish (Branjats') people fought with Rome, and a man named Zaboghon, a Cappadocian, triumphed over them through the power of Christ, and seized the king and his army. Astounded, they requested the grace of baptism, and it was administered to them. [The victors] sent to their land [men] illuminated in Christ. Zaboghon himself went along with them, and converted the Frankish people to Christianity. Going to the king, [Zaboghon] received [36] numerous gifts from him and then went to Jerusalem to revere the holy places. There he discovered two orphans who had come from Klastrat following the death of their Christian parents. One was Yubnaz; his sister was Susan, [g44] who served the Bethlehemite Niop'or. Zaboghon married Susan and went to the city of Klastrat. I am their daughter. When I was twelve years old, they went to Jerusalem, and my father went to a retreat, entrusting me to God and to the grace of Christ, so that I be dedicated as a virgin to the Heavenly Bridegroom. I entered the home of Niap'or, an Armenian man from the city of Dwin, and served him for two years. Daily I learned about the dispensation of Christ our God, about how He was martyred and regarding where the winding-sheets of our Lord were. And they taught me that what had been written in prophecies had been fulfilled in the Lord, that He was crucified, resurrected, had ascended to Heaven, and would come again. Pilate's wife had requested the grave shroud and believed in Christ. She went to her home in Pontus. After some time it fell to the evangelist Luke, who knew what she had done. They say that Peter had taken with him the veil (varshamak), that the jacket (patmuchann) [of Christ] had reached the Tsmakayin country and was in the city of Mts'xet'a; and that the Cross of the Lord lay buried at Jerusalem and would become manifest when It chose. I [37] heard all of this and went to the Patriarch, and he blessed me. Then I went to Rome, that perchance I would find there a portion of Christ's grace. With my sight fixed on the Living Hope, I found the monastery of Paul wherein three hundred virgins were dwelling. Temptations were visited upon us there, and we came to Armenia. But the emperor wrote a letter to Trdat who sought after and found us by the wine-presses of the vineyards. [g45] Despite the king's efforts, he was unable to wed the bride of Christ, Hrip'sime. He killed thirty-seven of us by sword. The others were dispersed. I remained under a rose bush which had not blossomed. Raising my eyes, I saw the souls of the saints moving through the sky. A clerical commander with a fiery army came before them, having a censer in his hand. Censing at the saints, he turned thence with them and they passed behind a curtain. Then I protested to the Lord, saying: 'Jesus my Lord, why did you leave me here?' Then [a voice] said unto me: 'Fear not, for you too shall ascend to your sisters. But now go to the northern region, where the harvest is abundant, but where there is no cultivator (mshak)'. In this short time, that thorny bush had blossomed with flowering roses. Arising, I went to Armenian Urbanis, wintered there, and in the month of June I came to the mountain of Chawaxet'. I came to lake P'arwana where I saw fishermen fishing, and shepherds by the shore. And I heard them swearing by Aramazd and Zade-- for [38] I knew the Armenian language, having studied it at the home of Niop'or Dwinets'i. Asking them where they were from, they replied: 'from Darb, Lrbin, Sap'ursl, K'intser, Rhapat of Mts'xet'a where the false gods are glorified and where the kings rule. The river which flows from this lake goes there'. Isolating myself, I lay my head down and slept. I had been given a document in Latin, sealed with a ring, and the writing on the seal was in the name of Jesus Christ. The man who had given me the letter said: 'Arise, go and preach what is written here'. But I said to him: 'Who am I, but an ignorant, weak woman'? He replied: 'In the grace of Christianity and in the Land of Life, which is Heavenly Jerusalem, there is neither male no female. Speak not of weakness and ignorance, [g46] for Christ is the might of God, and the wisdom of God. Furthermore, Mary Magdalene preached the resurrection of Christ to the Apostles and to many others, yet there was no shame either for the speaker or for the listeners'. Opening the document, I found there concisely written the entire power of the Gospel, comprised in ten statements. When I read this and learned from it, I awoke. As requested by the Lord I came, following the river from the west until the water turned eastward. I reached Urbnis and remained there for a month. Then, following some merchants, I came to Mts'xet'a. On the day of the festival of Aramazd, [I followed] the king and the entire public. There I saw [ 39] a man, in copper armor, wearing a gold helmet adorned with two emeralds and one crystal. In his hand he held a sword like lightning. He moved, terrifying the people who trembled and said: 'Woe to us, for we erred in sacrificing, or sinned by deed with the Jews or mages, and Aramazd will kill us'. To the right [of Aramazd] was a golden image named Gats'a, to his left, a silver image named Gayim. Then I recalled what Yubnagh, the patriarch of Jerusalem had said to me: 'You shall reach the country of warriors against the true God'. Distraught, I wept and beseeched God for mercy on those gone astray, and I said: ' God of my father and mother, silence these diabolical images and destroy them so that they recognize you as the sole true God'. Suddenly a very strong wind arose, there was the rumbling of thunder, a storm of lightning, hail stones weighing a lter each, a foul, loathsome odor, a heavy darkness, and the images became undiscernible. The crowd scattered and hid. The next day the king and all the people went forth seeking to discover the cause of these events. Then some said: 'T'rujan the Chaldean god and our Aramazd [g47] have been enemies from the beginning. Once our god ruined [T'rujan] with water, and now he is taking revenge'. But others spoke the truth, saying: 'God the Great Who struck the king of Armenia and then cured him again together with all Armenia, worked this miracle'. I found the crystal gem [40] and went to the Banch'i tree which they call the Shielder of king Bartom, and for six days I prayed there. On the day of the great Transfiguration of the Lord, when the Lord displayed the image of the Father to the principal Apostles and prophets, a maid-servant of the king, named Shushan, came to me and seeing me was astonished. Bringing a Latin translator, [she] questioned me, taking pity on me as a foreigner. She wanted to take me to court. But I did not go with her. Instead, I went thence and found a woman named Anastu, the wife of the man who tended the royal garden; and she received me with delight. I was at their home for nine months. It happened that they had no child, and were therefore very sad. Then a luminous man said to me: 'Enter the garden, take soil from the base of the fir bush by the roses, give it to them to eat in the name of the Lord, and I shall give them a child'. I did so, and gave them [the soil] in the name of Jesus Christ God of Sabayovt', Who came in humility and shall come in His glory and judge the world equitably. Hearing this, they believed in Christ and received the promised child. I left their home and dwelled for three months outside the wall in a tamarisk grove. Having fashioned a cross, I worshipped the Holy Trinity before it, day and night. Day after day I went to the Jews because of the language, and for information about the Lord's robe. The priest Abiathar (Abiat'ar) and his daughter Sidonia (Sidona) [g48] and six Jewish women additionally believed in the [41][second] coming of Christ. Asking Abiathar, they learned the truth.

Now when the wise queen heard all of this, she was astounded and believed what she had heard. When she learned about the great miracle which had happened to her father Trdatios, she became yet more confirmed in the faith, and glorified God in His ineffable glory.