To Everett L. Wheeler’s review of The Armenian Military in the Byzantine Empire:
Conflict and Alliance under Justinian and Maurice (Alfortville: Sigest, 2012)
by Dr. Armen Ayvazyan, PhD in History and Political Science
I considered it a great honor, both for myself and my book, The Armenian Military
in the Byzantine Empire: Conflict and Alliance under Justinian and Maurice
(hereafter – the AM), that it was reviewed in The Journal of Military History
(hereafter – JMH, 2013, No. 1, pp. 318-320), one of the most authoritative periodicals
in the field it designates. The review, written by Everett L. Wheeler of the Duke
University, presents the contents, the imprint and other particulars of the publication
as follows: Glendale, Calif. (sic): Editions Sigest, 2012. ISBN: 978-2-91-732939-9
(sic). Note on Armenian personal names and toponyms. Illustrations. Maps. Notes.
Appendixes. Bibliography. Index. Pp. 127.
In fact, the AM was printed in Alfortville (Paris, France) rather than Glendale
(California, USA)! The words Glendale and California are nowhere to be found in
the AM. The questions as to why and how they could have appeared in its review
are disturbing. One may even wonder whether the reviewer has ever held the book
in his hands, especially if considered that no page references are provided. Incidentally
– or perhaps not incidentally – two of the four dashes within the ISBN number are
misplaced too, not an inconsequential mistake in our digital age (the correct ISBN
is 978-2-917329-39-9). These curious mistakes are only the first indications
of the utterly unprofessional and tendentious character of Wheeler’s review.
In one and a half pages the reviewer manages to accuse me of representing “a super-nationalistic
branch of Armenian historiography prominent since 1991,” while branding my book
as “amateurish,” “‘old military history’ in one of its worst forms, featuring presentism
and excessively speculative reconstructions of campaigns,” a “curious diatribe,”
etc. Apparently to ensure full indoctrination of the uninitiated reader, the indictment
in nationalism is reiterated in the closing sentence: “the work exemplifies a branch
of contemporary nationalistic Armenian historiography better than serious scholarship.”
To see how successfully Wheeler is able to support these sweeping, politically colored,
and offensive denunciations, below I will respond to all of his criticisms.
On nationalism and Armenian historiography
Wheeler charges that “an idealized view of ancient Armenia (apparently identified
with the current Republic) and Armenian culture underlies the narrative, in which
patriotic desires for independence and autonomy inspire rebel leaders rather than
the personal motives that Procopius asserts.”
The sentence above lacks clarity and cohesion. The nonsensical allegation that the
AM somehow identifies the current Republic of Armenia with ancient Armenia
is mystifying. No criterion is offered to check the veracity of such a bizarre claim.
Does Wheeler suggest that the AM identifies current Republic of Armenia with
ancient Armenia territorially or perhaps by its state system, to name just two aspects?
Or does he suggest that the AM idealizes the current Republic (the grave
social deficiencies of which its author has been a loud and vocal opponent, parenthetically)?
But nowhere in the AM are the Republic of Armenia, or the word ‘Republic,’
even mentioned and neither is any ahistorical attempt made to project the present-day
realities on the sixth century. The same question poses itself again: has Wheeler
read or seen the book he undertook to review? Or, at least, has he unfolded and
read its colour Map (inset), which does not even include the territory of the Republic
Wheeler is bluntly denying the “patriotic desires for independence and autonomy”
of the Armenian rebels in 538-539, arguing that they acted according to their “personal
motives.” The truth, however, is that the personal motives are inseparably interconnected
with the collective ones: the ethnopolitical mobilization of the Armenian rebels,
and, what is more, their armed resistance to the imperial policies could not have
taken place without the ideological component of “patriotic desires,” irrespective
of how much the latter were conditioned by purely personal material motivations.
Most important, the “patriotic desires” of ancient and medieval Armenians, including
their nobility and clergy, are abundantly represented in the Armenian (as well as
non-Armenian) primary sources, of which Wheeler does not seem to have a solid grasp.
It is the classic Armenian literature, especially historiography which, from the
fifth century onwards, had been accentuating the Armenians’ patriotism or “nationalism.”
This is a well-known and academically recognized truth, and to deny it, as Wheeler
does without substantiation, is sad and ignorant of primary sources. If it were
not an established historical fact then many Western historians should also be branded
as representatives of “a super-nationalistic branch of Armenian historiography prominent
since 1991.” Prof. Walter E. Kaegi, to take just one example, would certainly be
among them for his observations about the Armenians’ “impulse to local autonomy,”
their “will to remain distinctively Armenian,” that “in no other region of the Byzantine
Empire… did the local inhabitants have a tradition of being so well armed and prone
to rely on themselves and their own family groupings and notables,” and that both
the Arabs and the Byzantines had to take into consideration the “intractability
and formidable character of the Armenians.” These quotes are provided in the
AM (p. 107), but Wheeler has either not read or just chosen to overlook
As a matter of fact, Kaegi is not at all alone and such conclusions have been an
encyclopedic knowledge in the West long before 1991. As early as 1967, the Encyclopedia
Americana, enumerating the “factors [that] contributed to the development
of a strong sense of [Armenian] national consciousness, centuries before its advent
on the Western European scene,” underlined, in particular, that “the martyrdom of
Vartan Mamikonian [451 AD] provided Armenia with a national hero, further reinforcing
the Armenian sense of isolation, self-reliance, and ethnocentrism.” Likewise,
The New Encyclopedia Britannica (1984) speaks about “the strongly individualistic
Armenian people,” who “retained a fiercely independent spirit” from the ancient
times up to the modern period. “Armenian nationalism,” again, is mentioned as
one of the factors, which made Armenia difficult to govern by the Arabs in the seventh
The pertinent issues of ancient Armenian identity, including Armenian linguistic
nationalism and the system of values of Armenia’s military class, have been analyzed
in some of my other studies, conducted in full accordance with modern Western theoretical
thought and on the basis of Armenian and non-Armenian primary sources. These
studies are evoked and adequately referred to in the AM, mainly in Part II.
Wheeler, however, avoids either appraising or refuting them, presenting instead
a bouquet of derisive Soviet-type political labels.
On the other hand, if we follow Wheeler’s logic, then his assumed date of activation
for “a super-nationalistic branch of Armenian historiography,” the year of 1991
(that is, since Armenia gained its newest independence), should be significantly
pushed back – by about fifteen centuries, because, as noted, classical Armenian
historiography had also been markedly demonstrating patriotic (“nationalistic”)
motivations. Akin to Wheeler’s condemnation of the AM’s present-day author,
the “idealization” of Armenia by classical Armenian authors was reprehended by Nina
Garsoian, one of the pillars of the American Armenian Studies, in her following
“Pavstos Buzand and Movses Khorenatzi’s narrative reflects their own ideals – single,
united Armenia which stands firm against the threats of Zoroastrian Persia… They
stress the unity of the Armenian Church... They ignore the deep Iranian influence
on the Armenian society and institutions...”
At least, as highlighted by these quotes, Garsoian, unlike Wheeler, recognizes the
“patriotic desires for independence and autonomy” of the ancient Armenians and their
intellectual elite. However, as a major advocate of the hypothesis about ancient
Armenia’s near total Iranization, Garsoian disagrees with both Buzand and Khorenatzi
– and, by extension, with the vast corpus of classical Armenian historiography –
on the cultural substance of ancient Armenian society.
On Armenia’s “Iranization”
This brings Wheeler to detecting the next mortal fault in the AM, namely,
that “nothing [has been] said about Armenia’s iranization (lowercased by Wheeler
– A.A.) through the Parthian Arsacid Dynasty (66-428).”
But to what purpose should anything have been said about Armenia’s hypothetical
Iranization in a book which is concerned primarily with military history and covers
mostly the sixth century realities? Wheeler’s censure is reminiscent of the mandatory
Soviet ideological requirement to provide quotations from Marx, Engels, and Lenin
in all academic writings, regardless of their subject matter.
Furthermore, I do not subscribe to the unconvincing assumptions of “Armenia’s Iranization.”
Exaggerated beyond measure by its proponents, this theory is especially wrong for
the historical period between the fourth and sixth centuries AD – and the AM
deals mainly with the sixth century. Here are just a few of my objections, put in
brief: Armenia and the Armenian monarchs had fallen out with the Iranian rulers
since at least 224 AD, when the Sassanids ousted the Parthian Arsacids from power.
Many bloody wars had been fought between Armenia and Sassanid Persia in the
third, fourth and fifth centuries. Armenia adopted Christianity in the early fourth
century, while Iran was officially Zoroastrian until its Islamization in the seventh.
Despite borrowings from old and middle Persian, the Armenian language had been strongly
dominant in all Armenia since before Christ’s era, as evidenced by Strabo (see his
Geography, XI.14.5-6). Furthermore, in 405 AD the Armenians introduced their
own script, which almost immediately brought about national literature in a whole
variety of genres. In the fourth-sixth centuries AD, Armenia was, as a result, culturally
different from Iran in language, religion, literature, law, education system, architecture,
music as well as in many other important respects. In short, demanding from a historian
to speak about Armenia’s Iranization in the period under discussion is a misconception.
(And neither did the strong Iranian influence on Armenia amount to cultural “Iranization”
in the earlier period; however that is a topic for another discussion.)
Concerning the AM’s Part II
Wheeler’s unequivocal assessment of the second part of my book (“On Imperial Prejudice
and Expedient Omission of Armenians in Maurice’s Strategikon,” pp. 95-113)
as “a curious diatribe” is suggested on the basis of a single argument, namely that
“in Maurice’s day Roman territory included three-fourths of Armenia.” Since Wheeler
adds nothing else in this regard, the reader could be pushed to surmise – this is
the best possible conjecture I can come up with – that the Armenians could not have
been qualified as Eastern Roman Empire’s possible military opponents and, thus,
their omission from Maurice’s relevant list could not, and should not, be questioned
in any way.
However, as the AM’s analysis has amply demonstrated, the Armenians were
both real and potential enemies of the Byzantine Empire. Wheeler has failed to notice
three Armenian insurrections during Maurice’s reign, which should have sufficed
to prove the point. He has also failed to notice that the Armenian armed forces
in the eastern/Persian part of Armenia continued to be engaged against the Byzantines
as vassals of the Sassanids (by the way, the three-fourths of Armenia were under
the Empire’s control only from 591 to 602, while before and after this decennium
the proportional control of Armenia’s territory by these two feuding empires often
maintained a reverse position). Further, the reviewer has simply ignored the Armenian
primary sources, in particular, the seventh-century History of Bishop Sebeos,
where Maurice verbatim qualifies the Armenians, and their armed forces based in
Armenia proper, as genuine hostiles to his Empire. Above all, Wheeler overlooks
the contemporary historical setting, which manifested the existing hostility between
the Armenians residing in Byzantine part of Armenia and the Empire. These sources,
questions and factors are amply discussed in the AM’s Part II.
Observably, this piece – labeled by Wheeler as “a curious diatribe” – has been adequately
appreciated by the international community of historians of the late Roman and Byzantine
history as well as political scientists. In a positive review of the AM (Ancient
Warfare, 2012, VI, 5, pp. 54-55), Ian Hughes, author of Belisarius: The Last Roman
General and Aetius: Attila's Nemesis, assesses the same Part II as
“extremely interesting and insightful,” cautioning at the same time that “there
is a need to read the section through in its entirety before forming any judgements,
as the conclusions are left to the end.” (And this is exactly what has not been
done by Wheeler regarding the whole book.)
It is also worth quoting in full the evaluation of the same section by Dr. Ilkka
Syvanne, Vice Chairman of the Finnish Society for Byzantine Studies and author of
The Age of Hippotoxotai. Art of War in Roman Revival and Disaster 491-63:
“The second essay expounds a persuasive set of reasons about why the Armenians were
omitted from the list of enemies in the Strategikon. While doing this, it
also unearths some deep-rooted cultural prejudices within the Roman Empire. On the
basis of these findings, it is also easy to see why the Arabs were similarly left
out of the same list. The original questions put forward here allow the author to
reveal explicitly the continuity of – and interplay between – Roman and Byzantine
traditional policies against Armenia’s independent or autonomous status on the one
hand and ethnic bias against the Armenians in Roman and Byzantine society on the
other hand. Ayvazyan illustrates how important a role the Armenians played in the
Roman military and how varied, and sometimes hostile, the Roman elites’ reactions
were towards them. After reading Ayvazyan’s analysis, it becomes abundantly clear
that the root source of the military effectiveness of the Armenian princes and their
retinues was their fiercely independent nature. This in turn could cause the Roman
government to adopt hostile and counterproductive measures to quell their traditionally
self-reliant spirit, as exemplified in Maurice’s ill-conceived project of transferring
the Armenian military from Armenia to the Balkans (see “Foreword,” in the AM,
By Wheeler’s bizarre standards, Syvanne, alongside the authors of Britannica
and Americana Encyclopedias and Prof. Kaegi, should have been also automatically
qualified as representatives of “a super-nationalistic branch of Armenian historiography.”
Yet, for some reason, Wheeler has bestowed that unrealistic title on me only.
The same section of the AM, as a separate article, was published, both in
English and Russian, by such specialized peer-reviewed journals as the Medieval Warfare
(2012, II.4, pp. 33-36) and Вестник Московского университета [Сер. 12]. Политические
науки [Journal of the Moscow State University. Political Science series]
(2012, N 1, pp. 25-37).
On “old military history,” “presentism” and modern terminology
To uphold his claim that the AM represents “’old military history’ in one
of its worst forms, featuring presentism and excessively speculative reconstructions
of campaigns,” Wheeler parenthetically offers two short-formulated examples: “e.g.,
political assassination as ‘special operations’ and Sittas’s death in battle as
a planned operation of ‘elite commandos’.”
Certainly, not all political assassinations can be termed as “special operations,”
but only those which entail the following basics: the initial secret planning of
the assassination, its implementation by a highly-trained military unit which uses
unconventional tactics and combat skills. In addition, special operations typically
employ elements of surprise, stealth, self-reliance, speed, and occasionally special
equipment. The assassination of Gontharis in Libya (Byzantine Africa) in May 546,
carried out by the Armenian squad of Artabanes, utilized all these features
(for Procopius’s detailed account and its analysis, see AM, pp. 26-30, 86-90).
Hence, characterizing this assassination as a “special operation” is thoroughly
Professional historians have practiced the reasonable application of modern terminology
to ancient realities always and on all spheres of human activity. If we consider
the military-political-intelligence aspects only, such terms as scorched-earth policy,
guerrilla tactics, irregular warfare, counterinsurgency, psychological warfare,
tactical planning, strategic advice, public propaganda, espionage, covert action,
covert operation, political influence operation, paramilitary operation, influencing
political parties, and many others have been increasingly used by military historians.
“Special Operations,” the term that unnerved Wheeler, has been the title, and major
theme, of a recent book on medieval warfare. It would be more than appropriate
to quote in this regard Col. Rose Mary Sheldon, Head of the Department of History
at the same Virginia Military Institute where the Journal of Military History is
published (incidentally, Sheldon’s review of The Complete Roman Legions precedes
Wheeler’s review of the AM in the same issue of the JMH):
“The ancients certainly did not have our technology, and they rarely used the same
terminology… Yet to use a term like HUMINT is not inaccurate when describing the
collection of intelligence by human means. A spy is a spy, and eavesdropping is
eavesdropping whether done by human ear or an electronic device.”
To paraphrase Sheldon, a special operation is a special operation whether carried
out with a machine gun with a silencer or a double-edged sword. The same argument
is basically true for the term “the detachment of elite commandos,” which has been
used in the AM only once (p. 69) and in a clearly figurative sense: the killing
of a Roman general in battle was extremely difficult and rarely accomplished, and
it could have been performed only by the best of the best.
To sum up, contrary to Wheeler’s pontification, the rational use of modern terminology
in a historical study is neither “old military history,” nor, moreover, “one of
its worst forms.”
On the significance of the 538-539 rebellion and efficiency of the Armenian
Wheeler’s review carries on with more fault-finding: “Procopius’s skeletal account
is fattened with hyperbole about the revolt’s significance and the quality and efficiency
of the Armenian forces, for which maxims of Sun Tzu and Sun Pin are cited for support…
If the revolt were as significant as here alleged, the “Satrapies” of southwestern
Armenia, victims of the same 536 reforms, curiously abstained from participation.”
By rejecting this rebellion’s significance, the JMH’s reviewer blatantly – and deliberately
(assuming he has read the book at all) – ignores major historical facts, which have
been amply elucidated in the AM. Here is their brief, but sufficient summary.
First, the two-year duration of this rebellion best attests to its magnitude
(ironically, Wheeler admits the AM’s conclusion that it lasted for two consecutive
years, 538-539: “occasionally a nail is correctly hit on the head,” admits he, with
excessive arrogance). Second, to quell the Armenian uprising, the Emperor
Justinian was forced to send against the rebels two armies, headed by foremost generals
of his day. Third, the first campaign and its decisive battle against the
Armenian rebels ended with humiliating defeat; moreover, during the battle, Sittas,
the Roman grand marshal (magister militum), recognized by his contemporaries
as an equal to the great Belisarius, was killed by the Armenians. These facts are
more than enough to comprehend the military significance of the rebellion. Many
other facts revealing its robust logistical capacity, military potential, and critical
geopolitical implications (especially, unleashing a new war between the Sassanid
Iran and Byzantine Empire) are abundantly presented in the AM. Again, Wheeler
either has not read the book or intentionally ignored the facts.
It is not at all clear whether the semi-independent “Satrapies” of southwestern
Armenia participated in this Armenian liberation attempt. Though there is no direct
evidence about their participation, as has been noted in the AM, “completely
ruling out the presence in this [rebel-controlled] territory of other Armenian princely
houses only on the basis that their names have not survived is rather excessive”
(p. 33, note 27). In any case, the unusual strength of the Armenian rebel army does
allow for a tentative supposition about their full or partial participation.
The writings of several classical theoreticians of warfare as well as Byzantine
and Iranian treatises on strategy and tactics have served as auxiliary material
for penetrating into the thinking and mindsets behind the military campaigns analyzed
in the AM. Wheeler thoroughly misinterprets when he implies that the maxims
of Sun Tzu and Sun Bin have been used to directly support the AM’s conclusions
about the efficiency of the Armenian forces. Instead of pointlessly rejecting the
use of the classics, Wheeler should have tried to determine whether the author of
the AM was able to productively use them or not. The AM’s related arguments
about the exchange of tactical elements employed by the Persian, Roman, and Armenian
military forces as well as the interaction and mutual borrowings of Sassanid and
late Roman military theories (pp. 40-41, 71, 77), not surprisingly, have remained
unappreciated in his review, too.
On the identification of Oinokhalakon with Avnik
Wheeler disagrees also with the AM’s identification of Avnik as the location of
the decisive battle between the Armenians and Romans in 539. (As will be shown below,
he denies even the actuality of the battle itself.) He reasons that “Avnik, without
prominence in Armenian sources, is an unlikely kalak (city) in a largely
un-urbanized Armenia.” He further inaccurately claims that it was “Michael Chamchian
(1738-1832), who argued that Procopius’s toponym Oinokhalakon combines Avnik, allegedly
pronounced Onik in classical Armenian, and Armenian kalak (city).” In point
of fact, the last explanation was elaborated by me (pp. 61-62), while Chamchian
made the same identification without any explanations whatsoever, though presumably
on the same basis.
If I had the slightest intention to “fatten” my study (as maliciously alleged by
Wheeler), I could have (and perhaps should have! – I must accept) devoted a whole
chapter on the etymology and history of Avnik/Oinokhalakon, especially because the
relevant materials are not available in English. As a scholarly publication, however,
the AM regularly delegates its reader to the references in the footnotes,
for a good deal of additional information. Wheeler, inexpertly, did not take the
trouble of familiarizing himself with the diversified literature on Avnik cited
in three consecutive footnotes on page 62, Nos. 114-116. The reviewer’s ignorance
in Armenian language (both Classical and modern), could not serve as an excuse here,
since, as a scholar, he is supposed to abstain from passing judgment on – actually
scorning – anything he is unable to peruse. In any case, below I will provide the
most important details from the literature cited in the AM‘s mentioned footnotes
that effectively reinforce its argumentation in support of the sameness of Avnik
Concerning the Armenian word kalak (city), however, Wheeler could have consulted
the specialized literature in English, too. As is clear from Pavstos Buzand’s fifth
century text, in ancient and early medieval times kalak designated ‘city’
both in the broad and narrow senses, meaning, in the latter case, “a fortified,
garrisoned, and walled stronghold; a fortress,” or, as Nina Garsoian suggests in
her extensive annotation on kalak, a “walled enclosure, city,” and even a
“walled hunting preserve.” Hence, Wheeler’s statement on impossibility of Avnik
being a kalak is inapt, irrespective of whether, in the sixth century, it
was just a stronghold, a fortress or a bigger walled settlement.
The second known written reference to Avnik (after Procopius’s Oinokhalakon) belongs
to Byzantine Emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus (905–959). In his famous De
Administrando Imperio, Avnik (Abnikon) features as an important and populous
fortress or city, strategically and commercially tightly interconnected with
Theodosiopolis. The same term of kavstron, translated by the Byzantinists both
as “city” (Jenkins) and “fortress” (Bartikyan), is applied by Constantine VII, simultaneously,
to Theodosiopolis, Avnik, and Manzikert. This strategic linkage between Theodosiopolis
and Avnik fully supports the AM’s reconstruction of the 539 military campaign in
Armenia, whereby the Armenian rebels retreated to Avnik and Sittas moved against
them from Theodosiopolis (see the AM, pp. 61-67 and also Map 1).
That Avnik is Procopius’s Oinokhalachon becomes a convincing certainty, if one considers
also this fortress/city’s name variants, preserved in various Armenian primary sources
(note that in Armenian berd means “fortress”): Avnik, Avnkaberd, Avnkoberd,
Avnkuberd, Vornik, Vornkaberd, Unik, Onik, Ornik, Ornkaberd.
As is easy to see, this toponym was widely known not only by its basic name of Avnik,
but also with the variants that incorporated also the second component with the
meaning of “fortress” (berd), which exactly corresponds to Oino[k]-khalak(on),
that is Avnik/Onik-fortress/city.
Neither is Wheeler’s assertion true about Avnik being “without prominence” in the
Armenian sources. The eleventh century History by Aristakes Lastivertzi relates
that, in 1054, Tughril Beg (ca. 990-1063), the first sultan of the Seljuk Empire,
approached “the impregnable fortress of Avnik, where he spotted scores of people
and cattle; nevertheless, [deeply] impressed by just its invulnerable appearance,
he refused to consider attacking it” and led his army in another direction.
Ever since, this fortress has been mentioned in the later Armenian as well as non-Armenian
sources, featuring conspicuously during Mongol invasions too (see the literature
cited in footnotes 114-116 of the AM).
Wheeler’s loosely formulated, if uncorroborated, objection about Avnik being “without
prominence” in the Armenian sources could further extend to imply that Avnik could
not be Procopius’s Oinokhalakon, because the Armenian sources had not mentioned
Avnik before the 11th century. This line of reasoning could also rashly deny Avnik’s
identification with Abnikon, rationalizing that the latter had been mentioned by
Constantin VII two centuries before Avnik was cited by an Armenian source (Aristakes
Lastivertzi). However, such a refutation would be doomed, because Constantin’s De
Administrando Imperio correctly located this “city/fortress” in the canton
of Basean (Phasiane). By the same perverse logic, it could be further claimed that
the Armenian rebellion of 538-539 had never happened, because the Armenian sources
are completely silent about it! Naturally, the rebellion’s actuality cannot be questioned
by such a willful refutation.
There were hundreds of fortresses in ancient and medieval Armenia, and it should
not be surprising that dozens of them were mentioned in Armenian sources centuries
after their foundation, or that the written historical records regarding many of
them have not reached us at all. Such lack of historical evidence is partly
due to the fact that scores of Armenian classic and medieval texts have been destroyed
during numerous foreign invasions and other national calamities that have befallen
Thus, linguistically, etymologically, historically and geographically, the identification
of Avnik with Oinokhalakon may, I believe, be considered as perfectly accurate.
Wheeler against the primary sources, again!
As shown above, Wheeler chooses to refute, in just one or two vague phrases, the
major findings of the AM, which have been substantiated by numerous facts
and arguments. Another example of such refutations is represented by his following
imprecise sentence, intended to prove the nationalism of the AM’s author:
“Byzantine Hellenization of Armenians and their integration into the Byzantine elite
(e.g., the emperors Maurice and Heraclius possibly had Armenian blood) are deplored.”
Since no page of the AM is mentioned, nor any passage from it quoted, it
is difficult to be certain as to what text exactly Wheeler is referring to. His
claim is nevertheless clear: Byzantine policies towards Armenia should have been
greeted, rather than “deplored.” Contrary, yet again, to Wheeler’s dogmatic stance,
the contemporary Armenian primary sources – and not the AM’s author! – were
openly deploring the Byzantine policies of incorporation and assimilation, so amiably
termed by Wheeler as “Byzantine Hellenization of Armenians and their integration
into the Byzantine elite.” The seventh century Armenian historian Sebeos, expressing
the opinion of a large portion of Armenian society, was harshly critical of Maurice’s
policies of removal of the Armenian military forces from Armenia or, as he put it,
“the perfidious plot by Maurice to empty Armenia of Armenian princes.” The AM
is a product of historical research and its conclusions are based on the primary
sources, while Wheeler’s whole unfavorable judgment betrays current ideological
banalities and underlying political (or geopolitical) preferences. Projecting the
thoughts and ideas of the primary sources on the author of the AM is an unfortunate
attempt at distortion of the historical record.
Isn’t it natural then that Wheeler launches a frontal assault against all ancient
and medieval Armenian literature, unduly devaluating it thus: “Armenian-language
sources (of controversial historical value).” Not just particular pieces of evidence
in these sources are rejected as erratic or unreliable, but the value of
the entire voluminous national historiography, rare in most languages, is ludicrously
declared controversial – an insensate posture.
Next, Wheeler tries to twist Procopius’s concrete evidence regarding the Battle
of Avnik, too. It was not, writes Wheeler, “a pitched battle fully planned by the
rebels pace Ayvazyan, rather than the skirmish Procopius describes.” In this passing
manner, without any argumentation, two of the major points of the AM are
flatly rejected: that the military engagement near Avnik was a pitched battle, and
that it was fully planned by the rebels. Meanwhile, Procopius describes very clearly
the character of this engagement:
“…since both [Roman and Armenian] armies were on exceedingly difficult ground where
precipices abounded, they did not fight in one place, but scattered about among
the ridges and ravines.”
As is evident from Procopius’s account, this was a battle on the rough terrain where
two armies adopted a scattered formation and engaged in numerous isolated combats
against each other’s fragmented units. Thus, the primary source itself unambiguously
resolves the question of whether this was a battle or just a skirmish in favor of
the former. Wheeler ascribes to me what was related by Procopius, openly distorting
his valuable report and, concurrently, slighting the AM’s in-depth analysis
of this battle.
Further, rather than me, it was Martindale and Syvanne who first rightly categorized
the character of this battle, reasonably suggesting that “the ridges and ravines
forced both the Armenians and the Romans to adopt a scattered formation,” which
was “so unusual” as even to push Procopius of Caesarea to pay attention. Another
Western scholar, Whately, in his PhD dissertation on Descriptions of Battle in the
‘Wars’ of Procopius preceded me in specifying the battle of Avnik as a “pitched”
one. Again, all of these remarks and their authors were specifically referred
to in the AM, but Wheeler has chosen to zero in on me only.
As for the battle of Avnik being preplanned by the Armenian rebel command, the AM
is putting forward a whole interrelated set of arguments in favor of this version
of events. Rather than trying to refute them, Wheeler, again, presents a flat and
hollow rejection, which does not qualify as a serious scholarly critique.
Dissemination of inaccurate information of personal character
Wheeler identifies me as “an Armenian historian and political scientist associated
with the Ararat Center for Strategic Research.” Thus he tries to belittle even my
career, since I am more than just an “associate” of the Ararat Center; I have been
its founding and only Director ever since its establishment in 2006. The other important
point here is that Wheeler fails to mention my much more relevant affiliation (as
far as the AM is concerned) with the Matenadaran, the Yerevan Institute
of Ancient Manuscripts, where I have been working as a research scholar since 1990
(with several intermissions, connected with my professional career). He could have
easily found accurate and freely available information about me on the Internet,
including on my personal website www.hayq.org.
But he chose not to.
Conclusion: On amateurism
Wheeler, unfortunately, has failed to objectively evaluate my book. He took a non-
scholarly path of vicious labeling and empty accusations, which amount to mudslinging
against both the AM and its author. His methodology of historical research
is flawed, with demonstrable infusion of current political-ideological contents.
He has been unable even to properly (if at all!) read the AM, truly a small
book, which he disparages as just “two articles.”
Wheeler castigates the AM as an “amateurish volume.” This is a daring statement
for someone who has not made any serious contribution to the study of history of
Armenia. His brashness is even more unwarranted, when one considers his very limited
command of both the primary and secondary sources of the historical theme he claims
to assess: while the AM uses multi-lingual primary sources and secondary
literature with proper research methodology, Wheeler often does not know even the
subject he is commenting on. In view of his ignorance of Armenian and Russian, Wheeler
should have been appreciative, at least, of the considerable portions of historical
research in these languages that the AM made available for the English-speaking
reader for the first time. But the lack of integrity of judgement did not allow
him to do that either. Indeed, as it has been amply shown above, Wheeler himself
typifies all the characteristics of a dilettante in the military history of Armenia
and Armenian Studies at large.
All in all, I am open and would be only too glad to draw on constructive criticisms.
Certainly the AM could have, and does have, deficiencies. To address those
that have been detected by myself, the book’s new, second edition, which will be
published soon, has been revised and considerably expanded.
PS. When my response was ready for forwarding to the JMH,
I came across a related piece, written two decades earlier. In 1995, David Braund
of the University of Exeter responded to Wheeler’s review of his book Georgia in
Antiquity (Oxford University Press, 1994). Braund notes, in particular,
that he had “never received a review so distorted, unsubstantiated and simply unpleasant
as that” by Wheeler. Braund finds Wheeler’s denunciations as “vague and laden with
bile,” his “veiled suggestion” of plagiarism as “false and outrageous.” He objects
“to his petulance,” and further characterizes Wheeler’s arguments as “annoying,”
“silly,” “rather puzzling,” etc.
Braund’s conclusions, of course, are not surprising. It appears that Wheeler has
. See Kaegi, Walter E. Byzantium and the Early Islamic Conquests
University Press, 1992), pp. 189, 198, 202, cf. a separate chapter on “Byzantium,
Armenia, Armenians, and early Islamic conquests,” ibid
., pp. 181-204.
. Encyclopedia Americana
, International Ed. (New York: Americana Corp.,
1967, Vol. 2), p. 332.
. The New Encyclopedia Britannica. Macropedia
(Fifteenth ed., Vol. 18,
Chicago, 1984), pp. 1039, 1042.
. Ibid., p. 1042.
. “Mother Tongue and the Origins of Nationalism: A Comparative Analysis of the
Armenian and European Primary Sources,” Armenian Folia Anglistika
Journal of English Studies), No. 1 (2), 2006, pp. 123-131 (this is an abridged version
of the eponymous study published as a separate book in Yerevan, 2001, in Arm.);
The Code of Honor of the Armenian Military, the 4-5th centuries
2000, in Arm.); “Ancient Armenia as a Nation-State,” (in Arm.) Echmiadzin, 2005,
No. 5, pp. 123-138.
. Гарсоян, Н. Г. “Армения в IV в. (К вопросу уточнения терминов «Армения» и «верность»)”,
Լրաբեր Հասարակական Գիտությունների, [Garsoian, N. G., “Armenia in the 4th century
(on the question of clarifying the terms ‘Armenia’ and ‘loyalty’)” Journal of Social
Studies of the Armenian Academy of Sciences
], 1971, No. 3. pp. 55-56.
. The Russian version was titled as “Geopolitical Determinant of Imperial Prejudices
and Byzantine Military Pragmatism (from Maurice’s Strategikon
. Some of the terms cited above are derived from Sheldon, Rose Mary, “The Ancient
Imperative: Clandestine Operations and Covert Action,” International Journal of
Intelligence and Counterintelligence
Vol. 10, No. 3 (Fall 1997), pp. 299-315.
. Harari, Yuval Noah. Special Operations in the Age of Chivalry, 1100-1550
(Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 2007, repr. in 2009, 248pp.).
. Sheldon, Rose Mary. Espionage in the Ancient World: An Annotated Bibliography
(Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 2003), p. 8.
. Pavstos Buzand, History of Armenia
. Transl. and commentary by S.
Malkhasiantz, Yerevan State University Press, 1987 (in Arm.) (see pp. 83, 359, 427,
442, notes 59 and 201); cf. The Epic Histories Attributed to Pawstos Buzand (Buzandaran
. Translation and commentary by Nina Garsoian (Cambridge, Mass.։
Harvard University Press, 1989), pp. 535-536.
. Constantine Porphyrogenitus, De Administrando Imperio
. Greek text
edited by Gy. Moravcsik, English translation by R. J. H. Jenkins. New, revised edition
(Dumbarton Oaks Center for Byzantine Studies, Washington D. C., 1967), Ch. 45, pp.
208, 211, 213, 288
. Ibid.; cf. Բյուզանդական աղբյուրներ։ Հ. Բ, Կոնստանտին Ծիրանածին։ Թարգմ. բնագրից,
առաջաբան և ծան. Հրաչ Բարթիկյանի [Byzantine Sources
. Vol. II, Constantine
. The preface, transl. into Armenian from the original and
commentary by H. M. Bartikyan], Yerevan, 1970, pp. 15-18, 232 (note 21).
. Aristakes Lastivertzi, History
(Venice, 1901, in Arm.), p. 80; idem.
(Tiflis, 1912, p. 100, in Arm.).
. See Միքայէլ Յովհաննէսեան, Հայաստանի բերդերը [Michael Hovannisian, The Fortresses
], Venice, 1970.
. Here it will suffice to mention only the pillage and destruction of 10,000
manuscripts by Seljuk Turks in the fortress of Baghaberd in 1170 (Stepanos Orbelian,
The History of Syunik
. Rendered into modern Armenian and commented by A.
Abrahamyan, Yerevan, 1986. in Arm., p. 280) or the thousands of manuscripts destroyed
during the Armenian Genocide of 1915-1922.
. In July 2012, almost immediately after the publication of the AM, I managed
to visit the site of the battle of Avnik (currently in modern Turkey) and climbed
up the Avnik fortress itself. The personal observation of the terrain additionally
corroborated my findings. I will be commenting on the resulting insights and new
valuable visual materials in the second edition of the book.
. Procopius of Caesaria, History of the Wars: The Persian War.
I, Books 1-2. With an English translation by H. B. Dewing, London: William Heinemann-New
York: The Macmillan Co., 1914 (Loeb Classical Library, English and Greek Edition),
. Syvanne (Syvänne), Ilkka. The Age of Hippotoxotai. Art of War in Roman Revival
and Disaster 491-636
. PhD Dissertation in History (the University of Tampere,
Finland, 2004), pp. 440, 441 (note 1); quoted in the AM, p. 67. Cf. Martindale,
J. R. The Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire: Volume III. AD 527—641
(Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 1992), p. 1162.
. Whately, Conor Campbell. Descriptions of Battle in the ‘Wars’ of Procopius
PhD Dissertation in Classics and Ancient History, the University of Warwick, 2009,
pp. 155-157, 167-168, 188-189, 195, 199, the battle in question is specifically
identified as a pitched one on pp. 155 (note 28) and 199; quoted in the AM
p. 25, note 7.
. David Braund, “Response: Georgia in Antiquity
Again,” Bryn Mawr Classical
, 95.09.28, retrieved from http://bmcr.brynmawr.edu/1995/95.09.28.html
Copyright © 2013 Dr. Armen Ayazyan
Written by Armen Ayvazyan, PhD. If you have questions or comments on this
article, please contact Dr. Armen Ayvazyan at:
About the author:
Dr. Armen Ayvazyan (Aivazian) is the Director of the "Ararat" Center for Strategic Research and Senior Researcher in the Matenadaran,
the Yerevan Institute of Medieval Manuscripts. He holds doctoral degrees in History (1992) and Political Science (2004).
From 1992 to 1994 he worked as Assistant to the President of Armenia, Adviser to the Foreign Minister of Armenia, and Acting Head of the Armenian
Delegation to the Conference (now Organization) on Security and Cooperation in Europe at Vienna. For more information on Dr. Ayvazyan, please visit:
http://www.hayq.org/. Author of "The Armenian Military in the Byzantine Empire Conflict and Alliance under Justinian and Maurice".
Published online: 03/31/2013.
* Views expressed by contributors are their own and do not necessarily represent
those of MHO.