12.04.04, Pogossian, The Letter of Love and Concord

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Donald Kagay

The Medieval Review 12.04.04

Pogossian, Zaroui. The Letter of Love and Concord: A Revised Diplomatic Edition with Historical and Textual Comments and English Translation. The Medieval Mediterranean. Leiden: Koninklijke Brill NV, 2010. Pp. xi, 495. ISBN: 978-90-04-19189-1.

Reviewed by:
Donald Kagay
Albany State University

BLIC "-//The Medieval Review//DTD tei2.xml.dtd//EN" "tei2.xml.dtd"> This work, which represents the first truly accurate edition and English translation of one of the enigmatic yet fascinating ur-texts of medieval Armenian history, is the result of an immense amount of both philological and historiographical study and assessment. As such, Professor Pogossian's book deserves to be heartily applauded by crusade and Byzantine historians alike.

Although a clear forgery that came into being during the first decades of Europe's crusading movement, The Letter of Love and Concord stands as one of the great religious and historical texts of Armenia's Cilician period of the eleventh and twelfth centuries, when the Rubenian dynasty walked a political and military tightrope between its Byzantine and Islamic neighbors. The work clearly reflects the Armenian strategy of moving ever closer to the Roman Catholic Church and the states of Western Europe, especially after many of these polities were linked in the crusading movement in the 1090s.

Professor Pogossian's work in bringing together the manuscripts of the Letter--which are scattered in libraries across the Middle East, Europe, and the United States--and fashioning them into a critical edition is in itself a remarkable achievement. Of the seventy-one manuscripts of the Letter that remain, the author has used fully fifty-four for her edition. Her discussion of these various manuscripts shows both a thorough familiarity with Armenian philology as well as an encyclopedic knowledge of the region's religious texts and its complicated medieval history. The end-result of Pogossian's scholarly work is an edition of the Letter that is placed squarely in an Anatolian historical setting, bridging the Islamic and Byzantine worlds of the first generations of the Western crusades.

Surely the most interesting feature of the author's multi-faceted accomplishment in this work is the Letter itself, for which she provides an English translation for the first time in the text's long history. Even a superficial reading of the epistle shows some of the epic qualities of the forgery. Tying his work both to the Armenian dynasty and its desire to establish connections with the rulers of Western Europe, the author of the Letter, who was well acquainted with Armenian clerical texts of the eleventh and twelfth centuries, establishes a pseudo-history in which Armenia's principal civil and religious leaders, King Trdat III "the Great" (AD 250-330) and Saint Gregory "the Illuminator" (c. AD 257-331), met with some of the most significant figures of the contemporary Roman Empire, Emperor Constantine I "the Great" (c. AD 272-337) and Pope Sylvester I (r. AD 314-335). This fictitious meeting was the stage for a lavish exchange of gifts and stories that explained exactly how Armenia had come to Christianity while rejecting the vile paganism of its region and of the eastern Roman world in which it lived. In addition to the "historical" assertions concerning its religious orthodoxy that would eventually be accepted by the Roman church, the Letter also has Trdat posit a claim to a greater Armenia that would act as a buffer between Byzantium, the Seljuk Turks, and the western states of Christendom. The document also contains the dire prediction that the "nation of the Armenians will suffer with agony until they expire." This prophecy, which was borne out with the fall of Trdat's dynasty in the fourth century, was also supposedly fulfilled with the triumph of Armenia's Rubenian line in the twelfth. In large part, the meeting of the Armenian and Roman leaders chronicled in the Letter was marked by the exchange of miracle stories between Gregory and Sylvester. These included the Armenian patriarch's healing of the "deaf, lame, blind...disabled...and handicapped" as well as the pope's taming of a dragon that frequented the Capitoline Hill. They also related the destruction of another dragon and unicorn who had been terrorizing the Roman countryside. The Armenian king, bolstered by the religious encouragement of Saint Gregory, was able to kill the pair and restore peace to the Roman hills. The Letter also relates the prime experience of Constantine's military life. Unlike Eusebius's account, which places this event at the Milvian Bridge across the Tiber, the Armenian text sets it "on the other side of the mighty river Danube." Even Constantine's enemies change. In Eusebius, the Roman emperor fought an army commanded by his adversary, Licinius; in the Letter, he battled against a barbarian tribe, the Goths. Both accounts, however, proclaimed the prediction of his victory with the apparition of a cross accompanied with the luminous epigraph, "You will win with this." The essence of Constantine's conversion story thus does not change.

The most significant portion of the Letter was the establishment of the Armenian patriarch, Gregory the Illuminator, as one of pillars of the Western Church--fit to stand beside the ecclesiastical leaders of Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, and Rome. This claim was supposedly born out by the existence of the Church of the Resurrection on the hill of Golgotha in Jerusalem, which had long served as refuge for Armenian pilgrims to the holy city. The Letter ends with a renewal of the assertion that it was written in Latin at the command of Emperor Constantine and Pope Sylvester. An Armenian version was then produced under the authority of King Trdat and Saint Gregory.

Unlike the Donation of Constantine which anchors the papal claim to the lands of western Europe, the Letter of Love and Concord, which also utilized the pivotally important emperor to verify its assertions, was much more interested in establishing Armenia's place in the western church. Tying together in a formal setting figures that actually never met each other, the author of the work voices the hope that an evanescent Armenian church might take its rightful place in western ecclesiastical circles. By the imagined past that it projects, the Letter sees Armenia's future moving away from its old Byzantine and Islamic masters and coming to a fruitful partnership with the European powers streaming into the eastern Mediterranean at the head of crusading armies.

Professor Pogossian should be thanked by a wide range of medievalists for this brilliant edition and careful English translation of the Letter of Love and Concord, which will surely be the starting point for much future research on Armenia of the early crusader era.

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Donald Kagay

Albany State University