This book review is from Volume XXXVI of the Canadian Journal of History/Annales canadiennes d'histoire (April 2001), pp. 212-213. The original pagination has not been kept intact and the paragraphing has been altered for web use. This web edition © 2001 Dennis R. Papazian.
The Armenians, by A. Elizabeth Redgate. Oxford, Blackwell, 1999. 320
pp. $59.95 U.S.
Most books on Armenian history are written either by Armenians, their friends, or their enemies. It is a distinct pleasure, therefore, to find an outstanding book on Armenian history written by a person with no Armenian ties, positive or negative. In this work, A.E. Redgate has brought to bear her considerable knowledge of history and her careful use of primary sources to provide us with a book which is learned, objective, well-argued, and eminently readable.
Redgate covers in accurate detail 2,000 years of Armenia's 3,000 year old history with intelligence, balance and sensitivity. Unfortunately, she dedicates only 24 pages out of 300 pages to the "Third Millennium," the period following the Seljuk victory over the Armenians and the Byzantine in 1071 at Manazkert (Manzikert) in Armenia. In fact, she gives relatively little attention to the important Cilician kingdom of the Armenians in the late Middle Ages and its intimate relations with the Crusaders. Yet, if a person could have only one book on Armenian history, this is the book. On the other hand, if one is more interested in more modern times, one should rather choose The Armenian People, Volume II, Foreign Dominion to Statehood: The Fifteenth to the Twentieth Century, edited by Richard Hovannisian (New York, St. Martin's Press, 1997).
Redgate approaches her subject appropriately as an essay in comparative history. As she says in
her preface, she was motivated not by any "personal connection" but by "a conviction that
Armenian history is just as relevant to the history of the lands and peoples which have shared the
heritage of the Greco-Roman civilization and of JudeoChristian religion as that of the Anglo-Saxons." This correct view of Armenian integration in the Greco-Roman world and Judeo-Christian religion is strongly supported by another important book written recently by Adrian
Hastings, The Construction of Nationalism: Ethnicity, Religion and Nationalism (Cambridge,
Cambridge University Press, 1997), which sees the Armenians as one of only three nations which
have survived from ancient to modern times.
What Redgate does is to bring the Armenians back on the stage of European history, a place which they occupied until the dreadful genocide of 1915 in Ottoman Turkey. She deals with the origins of the Armenian people, their first kingdom which originated circa 1000 B.C., the rule of the Medes, Persians and the Greeks (590-190 B.C.); autonomy, empire and the struggle with Rome (189 B.C.-A.D. 63), Christianization (circa 300-circa 428), Partition by the Byzantine and Persians (circa 428-640), Arab rule and the revival of Kingship (circa 640-884), the early Bagratuni kings (884-1071), Armenia and Europe to circa A.D. 1100, and, finally, the third millennium, 1071 to the present. She covers not only political history but also social and religious history.
Redgate is acutely aware that the Armenians are an Indo-European people who settled on the Armenian plateau, what is now eastern Anatolia, at an early date, and that Armenian civilization was first related to that of Mesopotamia, whose people call Armenia the high country. As power and civilization moved to the Indo-European Persians in the East and the Romans and Byzantine Greeks in the West, Armenia and her culture straddled both East and West, making Armenia one of the crossroads of the world. Armenia's early adoption of the Christian religion (circa 301), although of a type which later was incorrectly considered Monophysite, tied Armenia firmly to the West as Christianity moved from being a Middle Eastern religion to a primarily Western one.
Armenia was conquered during the early expansion of Islam. As long as the Caliphate remained
strong, Armenia continued to prosper, and a new Bagratid kingdom was established as a centre of
manufacturing and trade. But when central authority broke down, marauding bands of Central
Asiatic Turks lay waste to the land and turned it back into pasturage. It was the Mongol
invasions, however, which served as the final coup de grace destroying the old feudal
In the chapter "Armenians and Europe," Redgate demonstrates the numerous Armenian ties with Europe in the twelfth century. She rightly concludes, "despite their geographical position and their entanglement with Assyrians, Urartians, Persians, Arabs, and Turks, both ancient and early medieval Armenians have a European significance. It is not only that their origins were western and their language Indo-European, it is also that Armenians contributed to western life, in the Christian period particularly . . . ."
Unfortunately, Redgate gives only scant space to the Cilician kingdom of Armenia and the close fraternization of the Armenian aristocracy with the Crusader nobility, yet she has the necessary accurate detail if not the wide sweep. She also gives only scant attention to the genocide of the Armenians by the Young Turk government of the Ottoman Empire in 1915-16, the seminal point of modern Armenian history, and to the first and second Armenian republics. Nevertheless, what little she does say is accurate and informative.
The book is supported by a number of well-presented maps, pictures, tables, bibliography and index. It is well worth reading by the intellectual public, serious students, and scholars.
|University of Michigan-Dearborn||
Dennis R. Papazian
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