The kingdom of Urartu (ca. 870 - 590 B.C.) was the first kingdom we know to have been centered in the region of what is now greater Armenia. The earliest mention of this kingdom comes from the campaign records of the Assyrian king Ashur-nasirpal (ca. 884 - 859 B.C.). The history of Urartu is one of constant struggle with the neighboring Assyrian state. For a brief period the Assyrian kingdom fell into decline, and this allowed Urartu to gain a strong foothold in the region, spreading from the western Euphrates to the eastern Caspian lowlands, and extending from Lake Urmia in the south to the Caucasus in the north. This region became a center for vineyards and grain production; its stores of copper and iron ensured it became a hub of trade in bronze and iron weaponry. Remnants of metal tools, weapons, and pottery have been found and preserved in museums in Armenia. Urartuan cauldrons and decorative shields have been found in both Greek-speaking and Transcaucasian regions.
Arame is the first Urartuan king to be mentioned, his name recorded by the Assyrian king Shalmaneser III (ca. 860 - 825 B.C.). This Arame may have been the historical figure on whom is based Ara the Handsome, the legendary founder of the Armenian people described by Moses of Khoren more than a thousand years later. The Assyrian king Shammur-amat (ca. 810 - 805) is supposed by some to have lent his name to Queen Semiramis, the alluring rival in Moses of Khoren's story, who eventually led to Ara to his downfall.
The historical kingdom of Urartu itself eventually came to a period of decline. The kings Tiglath-pileser III (ca. 745 - 727 B.C.) and Sargon II (ca. 722 - 705 B.C.) reversed the decline of their Assyrian kingdom and began a long campaign against the Urartuans. The Assyrian records indicate that Urartu was at this time under attack by the Cimmerians from the north, and it seems that the two-front war was more than Urartu could sustain. Urartu was overrun and the Cimmerians poured through to attack Assyria itself. Soon thereafter, Urartu joined forces with Assyria, which was not only embroiled in conflict with the Cimmerians and the newly arrived Scythians in the north, but also with the Babylonian state to the south.
The subsequent history of Urartu falls into greater and greater obscurity. Urartu and Assyria both fell into great decline, opening up a power vacuum in the region which was filled by the Medes, Babylonians, and Egyptians. The Babylonians and Medes divided the Assyrian empire between them, but Urartu seems to have fallen solely under Median control by ca. 605-585 B.C.
The oldest Armenian text is the Bible, translated from Greek in the early fifth century. (The beginning and completion dates cannot be determined with precision, but late texts which refer to the Bible provide us with a date ante quem.) Though some have argued that the Armenians referred to the Hebrew Old Testament, there is little evidence to support this. It is likely that the New Testament was translated before the Old Testament, and here it is possible that there was Syriac influence, though the matter has not been carefully studied. This reading comes from Matthew 5:1-16.
1 - Ew teseal zžołovurdsn el i leaṙn: ew ibrew nstaw and` matean aṙ na ašakertkʿ nora
2 - Ew bacʿeal zberan iwr usucʿanēr znosa ew asēr:
3 - erani ałkʿatacʿ hogwov, zi nocʿa ē arkʿayutʿiwn erknicʿ :
4 - Erani sgaworacʿ, zi nokʿa mxitʿarescʿin :
5 - Erani hezocʿ, zi nokʿa žaṙangescʿen zerkir :
6 - Erani or kʿałcʿeal carawi icʿen ardarutʿean, zi nokʿa yagescʿin
7 - Erani ołormacacʿ, zi nokʿa ołormutʿiwn gtcʿen
8 - Erani aynocʿik` or surb en srtiwkʿ, zi nokʿa zAstuac tescʿen :
9 - Erani xałałararacʿ, zi nokʿa ordikʿ Astucoy kočʿescʿin :
10 - Erani or halaceal icʿen vasn ardarutʿean, zi nocʿa ē arkʿayutʿiwn erknicʿ :
11 - Erani ē jez` yoržam naxaticʿen zjez ew halacescʿen, ew asicʿen zamenayn ban čʿar zjēnǰ sut vasn im :
12 - Cʿncacʿēkʿ ew urax lerukʿ, zi varjkʿ jer bazum en yerkins: zi ayspēs halacecʿin zmargarēsn or yaṙaǰ kʿan zjez ēin :
13 - Dukʿ ēkʿ ał erkri: apa tʿē ałn anhami i⁰w yałicʿi: očʿ imikʿ azdicʿē aynuhetew, baycʿ etʿē ənkenul artakʿs, ew koxan linel i mardkanē :
14 - Dukʿ ēkʿ loys aškarhi, očʿ karē kʿałakʿ tʿakʿčʿel` or i veray lerin kaycʿē
15 - Ew očʿ lucʿanen črag ew dnen ənd gruanaw, ayl i veray aštanaki, ew loys tay amenecʿun or i tann icʿen
16 - Aynpēs lusaworescʿē loys jer aṙaǰi mardkan, orpēs zi tescʿen zgorcs jer baris, ew pʿaṙaworescʿen zhayr jer or yerkins ē :
1 Ew teseal zžołovurdsn el i leaṙn: ew ibrew nstaw and` matean aṙ na ašakertkʿ nora 2 Ew bacʿeal zberan iwr usucʿanēr znosa ew asēr: 3 erani ałkʿatacʿ hogwov, zi nocʿa ē arkʿayutʿiwn erknicʿ : 4 Erani sgaworacʿ, zi nokʿa mxitʿarescʿin : 5 Erani hezocʿ, zi nokʿa žaṙangescʿen zerkir : 6 Erani or kʿałcʿeal carawi icʿen ardarutʿean, zi nokʿa yagescʿin 7 Erani ołormacacʿ, zi nokʿa ołormutʿiwn gtcʿen 8 Erani aynocʿik` or surb en srtiwkʿ, zi nokʿa zAstuac tescʿen : 9 Erani xałałararacʿ, zi nokʿa ordikʿ Astucoy kočʿescʿin : 10 Erani or halaceal icʿen vasn ardarutʿean, zi nocʿa ē arkʿayutʿiwn erknicʿ : 11 Erani ē jez` yoržam naxaticʿen zjez ew halacescʿen, ew asicʿen zamenayn ban čʿar zjēnǰ sut vasn im : 12 Cʿncacʿēkʿ ew urax lerukʿ, zi varjkʿ jer bazum en yerkins: zi ayspēs halacecʿin zmargarēsn or yaṙaǰ kʿan zjez ēin : 13 Dukʿ ēkʿ ał erkri: apa tʿē ałn anhami i⁰w yałicʿi: očʿ imikʿ azdicʿē aynuhetew, baycʿ etʿē ənkenul artakʿs, ew koxan linel i mardkanē : 14 Dukʿ ēkʿ loys aškarhi, očʿ karē kʿałakʿ tʿakʿčʿel` or i veray lerin kaycʿē 15 Ew očʿ lucʿanen črag ew dnen ənd gruanaw, ayl i veray aštanaki, ew loys tay amenecʿun or i tann icʿen 16 Aynpēs lusaworescʿē loys jer aṙaǰi mardkan, orpēs zi tescʿen zgorcs jer baris, ew pʿaṙaworescʿen zhayr jer or yerkins ē :
1 And seeing the multitudes, he went up onto a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him: 2 And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying, 3 Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. 5 Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. 6 Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. 7 Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. 8 Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. 9 Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. 10 Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteouness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. 12 Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you. 13 Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt has lost its savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. 14 Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid. 15 Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. 16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.
The Armenian alphabet was created in roughly 406 AD by a cleric named Mesrop Mastoc, initially as a vehicle for translation of the Bible. The most likely source of the alphabet is the Greek alphabet: like Greek, Armenian is read left to right; vowels are represented by separate characters, unlike nearby Semitic scripts; certain letters of the Armenian alphabet are reminiscent of the Greek, in particular the use of a digraph u to represent the sound u as in the Greek; and the use of letters to represent numerals follows the Greek method. Below is a list of the letters of the Armenian alphabet, together with their names, numerical values, and a guide to their pronunciation.
|A a||ayb||1||a as in 'father'|
|B b||ben||2||b as in 'boy'|
|G g||gim||3||g as in 'good'|
|D d||da||4||d as in 'dog'|
|E e||ečʿ||5||e as in 'bet', initially ye as in 'yes'|
|Z z||za||6||z as in 'zebra'|
|Ē ē||ē||7||ei as in 'eight'|
|Ə ə||etʿ||8||u as in 'but'|
|Tʿ tʿ||tʿo||9||t, aspirated, as in 'top'|
|Ž ž||žē||10||g as in 'rouge'|
|I i||ini||20||ee as in 'queen'|
|L l||liwn||30||l as in 'lamb'|
|X x||xē||40||ch as in (German pronunciation of) 'Bach'|
|C c||ca||50||t's as in 'what's up?'|
|K k||ken||60||k, unaspirated, as in 'skip'|
|H h||ho||70||h as in 'hope'|
|J j||ja||80||ds as in 'heads'|
|Ł ł||łat||90||ll as in 'ball', or ch as in Scots English 'loch', but voiced|
|Č č||čē||100||tch, unaspirated, as in 'matchbox'|
|M m||men||200||m as in 'map'|
|Y y||yi||300||y as in 'yes', also as in 'boy'|
|N n||nu||400||n as in 'now'|
|Š š||ša||500||sh as in 'ship'|
|O o||o||600||oa as in 'boat', initially vo as in 'vote'|
|Čʿ čʿ||čʿa||700||tch, aspirated, as in 'match'|
|P p||pē||800||p, unaspirated, as in 'spot'|
|J̌ ǰ||ǰē||900||j as in 'jump'|
|Ṙ ṙ||ṙa||1000||r as in 'run', but trilled|
|S s||sē||2000||s as in 'sip'|
|V v||vew||3000||v as in 'vat'|
|T t||tiwn||4000||t, unaspirated, as in 'stop'|
|R r||rē||5000||r as in 'run'|
|Cʿ cʿ||cʿo||6000||ts, aspirated, as in 'hats'|
|W w||hiwn||7000||w as in 'wet'|
|Pʿ pʿ||pʿiwr||8000||p, aspirated, as in 'pot'|
|Kʿ kʿ||kʿē||9000||k, aspirated, as in 'kit'|
As mentioned above, the digraph u represents the single vowel sound u. The schwa ə is written only in initial position for monosyllabic words and for words derived from these by nominal composition. In modern printed texts it is written in polysyllabic words when hyphenated.
Beginning in the twelfth century, the letter O/o is used where one would usually find the diphthong aw. The letter F/f was introduced to represent the corresponding foreign sound, as in the f of English 'father'. Greek omega was usually represented by ov.
The phonological system of Classical Armenian consists of 29 consonants and 7 simple vowels. The consonants may be organized according to articulation as in the following chart.
Conventional pronunciation renders ł as the voiced counterpart of x , thereby lending it a fricative quality. The evidence from the classical period, however, seems to point to a heavy lateral articulation, as in Modern English 'ball'. The spelling gaył for the usual gayl shows that the distinction was not absolute within the language itself. It was also used to render the Greek lambda, as in titłos < Gk. titlos and Pawłos < Gk. Paulos.
v and w are conventionally pronounced differently, as their English counterparts. In the classical period, however, they do not seem to have been distinct phonemes, but rather allographs: v was used initially, initially in the second element of compounds, and after o with w w used elsewhere.
The vowels may be similarly organized, as in the following chart:
There is no evidence for a distinction of vowel quantities in Classical Armenian.
Modern convention pronounces initial e as ye; the evidence for such pronunciation extending back to the classical period is unclear, since archaic texts often transcribe with initial e Greek names beginning with epsilon or the alpha-iota diphthong. The word for Jerusalem, which however would have had an initial glide, is written simply as Erosałēm, indicating that e was preceded by the glide y at least in some instances. Similarly, the pronunciation of initial o as vo seems to be post-classical.
Below is a list of the diphthongs of Classical Armenian. In some instances the conventional pronunciation diverges from the classical rendering.
In many instances the stress of a word shifts due to addition of a morpheme. This shift may cause the originally stressed vowel to change or drop altogether. The general rules for such alternation are listed below with a few illustrative examples.
|Stressed V /||Full Form||Reduced Form|
|i / zero||sirt 'heart'||G srti [sərti]|
|amis 'month'||G amsoy [amso]|
|tʿiw 'number'||G tʿuoy [tʿəwo]|
|elikʿ 'he reads'||1 sg. lkʿi [ləkʿi]|
|u / zero||kʿun 'sleep'||G kʿnoy [kʿəno]|
|hur 'fire'||G hroy [həro]|
|ump 'he entered'||1 sg. mti [məti]|
|ē / i||vēm 'stone'||G vimi [vimi]|
|ēǰ 'side'||G iǰi [iǰi]|
|ēǰ 'he descended'||1 sg. iǰi [iǰi]|
|oy / u||loys 'light'||G lusoy [luso]|
|koys 'virgin'||G kusi [kusi]|
|ecʿoycʿ 'he showed'||1 sg. cʿucʿi [cʿucʿi]|
|ea / e||matean 'house'||G mateni [mateni]|
|seneak 'room'||G seneki [seneki]|
|sireacʿ 'he loved'||1 sg. sirecʿi [sirecʿi]|
|ew / iw||ewł 'oil'||G iwłoy [iwło]|
There are some exceptions to these rules. Other vowels undergo no change under change of stress.
There are also some general tendencies of alternation between consonants in certain environments.
Classical Armenian nouns and adjectives display two numbers, singular and plural, and seven cases: Nominative, Accusative, Genitive, Dative, Locative, Ablative, and Instrumental. There is no purely grammatical gender of the sort found in languages such as Latin. There are several declension paradigms, which broadly fall into two categories: those with variable stems and those with invariable stems. One should note that stem variation is a phenomenon distinct from vocalic alternation. Vowel alternation occurs automatically whenever there is a change of stress due to the addition of a morpheme, and it therefore bears no relation to patterns of declension.
Nouns with invariable stems may be divided into two groups: those ending in a vowel, and those ending in a consonant. Of those ending in a consonant, there are four declensions, categorized according to the vowel found in the genitive plural: a, i, u, o. The nouns am 'year', ban 'word', cov 'sea', and beran 'mouth' illustrate the declension.
Nouns ending in -eay follow the i-declension, e.g. hreay 'Jew', G sg. hrei; N pl. hreaykʿ, G pl. hreicʿ, etc.
Some nouns of the u-declension have an ablative singular ending in -uē, e.g. spas 'service', G sg. spasu, Ab sg. spasuē.
Some nouns of the o-declension optionally have the ending -i in the Locative case, for example mēǰ 'middle':
Proper nouns of the a-declension are characterized by the ending -ay in the genitive, dative, locative, and ablative singular. Tigran provides an example:
A large number of nouns and adjectives have invariable stems ending in the vowel -i. These fall into two declensions, the o-declension and the a-declension. The a-declension has a special Locative ending -oǰ and Ablative ending -oǰē. The nouns hogi 'spirit, soul' and tełi 'place' illustrate the o- and a-declensions, respectively.
Adjectives derived from place names by means of the suffix -acʿi follow the declension of hogi, with G plural in -wocʿ, e.g. Atʿenacʿi 'Athenian, one from Athens', G pl. Atʿenacʿwocʿ. On the other hand, nouns with the suffix -acʿi which are not derived from place names follow the declension of tełi, e.g. dracʿi, G pl. dracʿeacʿ 'neighbor' derived from durkʿ 'door'.
Verbal forms in Classical Armenian are built from two stems, the present and the aorist. One or both of these stems may contain a suffix inserted between the root and the inflectional vowel (in the present), or between root and ending (in the aorist). The present stem is the base for an indicative mood, subjunctive and (negative) imperative. The indicative mood separates into two tenses: present and imperfect. Nominal forms may arise from the present stem, namely an infinitive and participle. Inasmuch as verbal aspect is distinguished in Classical Armenian, the present system forms denote a developing or continuous action, while the aorist forms refer to an action's completion.
The present indicative of the verb 'to be' illustrates the endings of the present indicative of all verbs. The forms are as follows.
Note that e + y > ē, so that the endings are -m, -s, -y, -mkʿ, -ykʿ, -n.
The forms of the present indicative are comprised of a stem, characteristic vowel, and the present indicative endings. There are five possible characteristic vowels: e, i, a, u, o. The endings are the same as those listed above for the verb 'to be'. sirem 'I love', sirim 'I am loved', lam 'I weep', hełum 'I pour', and gom 'I exist' illustrate the paradigms.
*gom is the sole verb of the o-class. It is only recorded in third person forms.
The present infinitive is built from the present stem by addition of a characteristic vowel and the suffix -l. The characteristic vowel exhibited by a given verb is the same as that found in the present indicative forms, with the exception that verbs in -em and -im both exhibit the vowel e in the infinitive. Thus the verbs above form the infinitives sirel 'to love', lal 'to weep', hełul 'to pour', gol 'to exist'. The infinitive is declined as an o-type singular noun:
In the post-classical era infinitives in -il appear in order to distinguish verbs in -im.
The imperfect indicative is built from the same stem as the present indicative, but makes no distinction between verbal stems ending in -e or -i. Therefore verbal pairs such as sirem 'I love' and sirim 'I am loved' lose their distinction in the imperfect. The conjugation is as follows.
The third person singular is one syllable shorter than the other forms.
In the post-classical period -em and -im verbs were distinguished in the third person singular by means of an innovative ending -iwr: sirēr 'he loved', siriwr 'he was loved'.
The present subjunctive is formed from the present tense stem with its characteristic vowel, to which the suffix -icʿ is added, and to this the usual present indicative endings. With the endings, however, only forms in -em, -im and -um are distinguished. For example, sirem forms sire + icʿ + em > siricʿem, sirim forms siri + icʿ + im > siricʿim. Verbs with present indicative in -am take present subjunctive endings in -em, so that lam forms la + icʿ + em > laycʿem. But hełum forms hełu + icʿ + um > hełucʿum.
Although formation of the passive will be treated more fully, later, it is important to point out here that verbs in -am make in the subjunctive a distinction between active and passive which is not found in the indicative. In the same fashion that allows sirem 'I love' to be opposed to sirim 'I am loved', so in the subjunctive ałam 'I grind' distinguishes the active ałaycʿem from the passive ałaycʿim.
Conjugation follows the pattern of the indicative, as the paradigms below illustrate:
|3 sg.||siricʿē||siricʿi||laycʿē||hełucʿu||gucʿē (< *goycʿē)|
The form gucʿē is often used in the adverbial sense of 'perhaps'. The verb 'to be' has the following present subjunctive forms:
In the second person one also finds forms adopted from the aorist: second person singular -ijir and plural -ijikʿ. These forms are typically employed in the role of futures or imperatives. The singular form is generally, and the plural form occasionally, used in a passive sense, e.g. sirijir 'be thou loved' and sirijikʿ 'be ye loved'.
The present imperative is used only in prohibitive statements, accompanied by the negative particle mi. Only the second person singular present imperative has distinct forms, the others being the same as the present indicative. Formation is based on the present stem with characteristic vowel, to which is added the ending -r. Thus
|2 sg.||mi sirer||mi sirir||mi lar||mi hełur|
The imperative of 'to be' is used only in the expression słj er 'be thou well, greetings', translating the Greek chaire. The second person plural, of course, is słj ēkʿ 'be ye well, greetings' (Gk. chairete).
Word order in Classical Armenian is free, with words placed toward the beginning of an utterance gaining prominence. In Biblical translations, the word order often follows that of the Greek text.
Word order may affect the congruence between an adjective an the word it modifies. Attributive adjectives are undeclined when they precede a noun, declined when they follow the noun. For example, in John 10.32 one finds bazum gorcs baris. Here, bazum is the uninflected N/Ac singular form of the adjective bazum, -acʿ 'much, many'; gorcs is the inflected Ac plural form of the noun gorc, -ocʿ 'work, deed'; baris is the inflected Ac plural of the adjective bari, -eacʿ 'good'. In predicate sentences, the predicated adjective is in the Nominative case and singular, even if the subject is plural, unless the adjective follows the copula directly. Thus one might have azat en Haykʿ 'The Armenians are free', but vardapetkʿ en imastumkʿ 'Teachers are wise.'
The verb agrees with its subject in person and number. Coordinated subjects require a plural verb. Singular subjects with collective meaning may have either singular or plural verb forms.
Armenian has a wealth of words functioning as prepositions. Many of these, however, are adverbs or collocations of a simple preposition and a noun, which in turn govern a noun in the genitive. Prepositions generally precede the noun they govern, but some follow the noun as a postposition. There are six basic prepositions, listed in the chart below with the cases they govern and their meaning appropriate to each case.
|aṙ||Acc.||to, toward (motion toward a person)|
|Loc.||beside, Fr. chez|
|Inst.||beside, in the time of (with person's name), in addition to|
|ənd||Acc.||through, along, by way of, against, during|
|Gen.||instead of, in exchange for|
|Loc.||with, in the company of|
|Abl.||one after another (e.g. year by year)|
|i||Acc.||to, into, upon|
|Loc.||in, at, under|
|Abl.||from, out of, away from; out of (in partitive sense); by (agent in passive sentence)|
|cʿ||Acc.||to, up to|
The prepositions z and cʿ are inseparable from the following noun; similarly i, which becomes y before vowels.
Below are listed some of the more frequent adverbs used as prepositions. They all govern the genitive case.
|Adverb||Meaning with Genitive|
|aṙaǰi||in front of, before (of time)|
|vasn, ałazaw||concerning, because of|
|het||with, after (of time)|
|yet, zkni||after, following|
|pʿoxanak||instead of, for, on behalf of|
The word handerc may govern the Instrumental case in the sense 'with, in the company of'. It may come either before or after the noun it governs.
Common compound prepositions are i veray 'above' and i mēǰ 'amidst'. They take the genitive case, which may be placed between the two components, e.g. i hroy mēǰ 'in the fire, in the midst of the fire'.