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Old Images, New Interpretations: The Vilification and Vindication of Arshak II, King of Armenia
Kevork B. Bardakjian (University of Michigan, Ann Arbor) [BIO]
Arshak II acceded to the Armenian throne c350 and held power until the mid or late 360s. He ascended the Armenian throne at a time when, shortly after the introduction of Christianity into the country c314, a violent conflict had pitted the crown against the emerging hierarchy of the Church of Armenia. The confrontation manifested itself in the clash of two powerful personalities, Arshak II himself and Nerses the Great, Partew, Patriarch of Armenia. Coaxed by Arshak and the Armenian nobility to lead the Church, Nerses emerged as one of the greatest Armenian ecclesiastical figures of all time. His reforms consolidated the position of the Church and endeared him to the public. Early Armenian historians sing the praises of Nerses as a saintly figure and cast Arshak as a villain of the blackest dye. This paper will examine in historical context the image of Arshak in the works of these historians and in Armenian literature of the 19th–21st centuries, tracing the evolution of Arshak from a dissolute tyrant to an able, farsighted statesman and illustrating a fascinating aspect of the ever changing expressions of Armenian identity.