Armenian noble family that was an offshoot of the Kāren Pahlav, one of the seven great houses of Iran claiming Arsacid origin.


KAMSARAKAN, Armenian noble family that was an offshoot of the Kāren Pahlav, one of the seven great houses of Iran claiming Arsacid origin. The Kamsarakans reigned in two princely states, both situated in the region of Ayrarat (Ararat)-Aršarunikʿ, with the old Armenian capital of Eruandašat as their capital and with the fortresses of Bagaran (presend-day Pakran) and Artagers (Artogerassa), and Širak (Sirakenē) with the fortress (and later city) of Ani. The family’s chief name was derived from Prince Kamsar, who died in 325. It derived also the name of Aršaruni from one of its principalities, which distinguished it from the related houses of Abelian (princes of Abełunikʿ), Gabelian, Havenni and, possibly, Dziunakan; after the 8th century, it bore, in memory of its origin, the surname of Pahlavuni. Enjoying from the beginning the prestige of being the cousins of the royal Arsacids (Movsēs Xorenacʿi, 2.72, 90), the Kamsarakans also acquired, after the downfall of the Arsacids in 428, a considerable political weight owing to their quasi-margravial position on the northern frontier of the realm. Of the four broad classes in the relative precedence of the Armenian princes, the Kamsarakans can be placed in the second, and the feudal aid they were expected to render to their suzerain, the king of Armenia, was fixed at 600 horses.

The geographical situation of its principalities prevented this house from being in any special way involved in Armino-Iranian relations. Upon the Roman annexation of the west Arminian kingdom in 390, Gazavon II Kamsarak, hitherto the leader of the pro-Roman princes, moved, together with some of them, to the side of the Iranian vassal, the king of east Armenia. On the other hand, the Kamsarakans, under Aršavir II, took part in the anti-Iranian insurrection of 451 and, again with his son and successor Narses, in that of 482-84. On the whole they followed a pro-Byzantine policy and took an active part in the life of that empire. Three Kamsarak brothers were generals in the imperial service under Justinian I: Narses, duke (dux) of the Thebais, Aratius or Hrahat, duke of Palestine (Adontz, pp. 164, 447-48), and Sahak (Isaac), executed by Totila, the king of Ostrogoths, in 546. Another Isaac, who appears to have been a member of the Kamsarakan family, was imperial exarch of Italy in 625-43. Narses II Kamsarakan was the presiding prince of Armenia for the emperor in the years 689/90-691 and held the high Byzantine position of curopalate; and another presumable Kamsarak, the patrician Arsaber or Aršavir, rose against the emperor in 808.

The Kamsarakans took part in the anti-Arab revolt of Armenia in 771-72. After its failure, they found themselves among the victims of the disaster and were obliged to sell their double princedom to the Bagratids. Nevertheless, in the last years of the Armenian monarchy, as restored by the Bagratids, they, as Pahlavuni princes Bdjni and Nig, again rose to play a significant role. Upon the destruction of the Bagratid monarchy and the abdication in 1045-46 of Prince Gregory II (who received from the court of Constantinople the rank of magistros and the office of duke of Mesopotamia, Vaspurakan, and Taraun) in favor of the emperor, the Pahlavunis moved to Armenia-in-exile in Cilicia, where, known now as Hetʿumids, they dominated this last phase of Armenia’s political history as princes of Lambrun and, after 1226, as kings of Armenia. On their extinction in the 14th century, the rights to the Armenian crown passed through inheritance to the Lusignans of Cyprus and, subsequently, to the house of Savoy. Another branch of this house, the Zachariads-Mkhargrdzeli, played a decisive role in the history of Georgia from the 12th to the 14th century and has survived to this day.

Culturally, the Kamsarakans, and especially the Pahlavunis, but also the Mkhargrdzelis, contributed greatly to the development of Armenian architecture, raising splendid churches, such as the 10th-century church of St. Gregory built by Abughamr I Pahlavuni, palaces, and castles.



Armenian sources. Pʿawstos Buzandatsʿi (Faustus), Patmutʿiwn Hayocʿ 3.11, 16, 21; 4.4, 19.; tr. Robert Bedrosian as Pʿawstos Buzand’s History of the Armenians, New York, 1985. This book was most likely written in the 5th century, though it has been suggested that Faustus wrote it before the the invention of the Armenian alphabet, and, therefore, it was originally in Greek or Syriac and the present text is just a translation. In spite of a detrimental textual tradition, it is our most important source for the history of the Kamsarakans and their principality. Unfortunately, only books 3-5 have survived, covering the period from 314 to 387. Ełiše (Eliseus), Ełišei vasn Vardanay ew Hayocʿ Paterazmin, ed. E. Ter-Minasean, Erevan, 1957, 3, 5-6, 8; tr. Robert W. Thompson as Elishe: History of Vardan and the Armenian War, Cambridge, Mass., 1982 (story of the Armenian insurrection of 451, traditionally believed to have been written in the 6th century). Łazar Pʿarpecʿi (Lazarus of Pʿarpi), Patmutʿiwn Hayocʿ 34- 36, 39, 42-43, 45, 47, 57, 62- 63, 71, 74, 79-81, 86, 96; tr. Robert W. Thompson as The History of Lazar Pʿarpecʿi, Atlanta, 1991 (a continuation of Faustus’s history, from 387 to 485, written at the end of the 5th or the beginning of the 6th cent.). Łevond (Leontius), Patmutʿiwn 39; tr. Zaven Arzoumanian as History of Lewond, the Eminent Vardapat of the Armenians, Wynnewood, Penn., 1982 (written at the end of the 8th cent., covering the period from the 740s to 788). Movsēs Xorenacʿi (Pseudo-Moses Khorenatsʿi), Patmutʿiwn Hayocʿ, 2.27, 28, 42, 71-73, 90; 3.29, 31-32, 38, 43, 48, 50, 65; tr. Robert W. Thompson as Moses Khorenatsʿi: History of the Armenians, Cambridge, Mass., 1978. The final redaction of this book dates from the latter part of the 8th century, but it contains valuable historical traditions, which may have been recorded for the first time in the 5th century, the alleged floruit of Moses. Stepʿannos Asołik (Stephen/Stephanus of Taron), Asoghkan patmutʿiwn 2.2; tr. as Histoire universelle, part 1, Paris, 1883; part 2, Paris, 1917 (only the 3rd book and parts of the 4th book of this work are of value as a source, much of the rest being based on Pseudo-Moses, brought down to 1004, the author’s own epoch).

Byzantine sources. Procopius of Caesarea, Bellum persicum 1.15 (Works, 1.1-2); tr. Moḥammad Saʿidi as Janghā-ye Irān oRum, Tehran, 1338 Š./1959.

Idem, Bellum gothicum (Works 1.5-7) 6.16, 18; 20, 26-27, 29; 7.13, 18, 19, 24. Idem, Works, tr. H. B. Dewing, Cambridge, Mass., 1953-61.

Modern studies. Nicholas Adontz, Armenia in the Period of Justinian: The Political Conditions Based on the Naxarar System, tr. and partially rev. Nina G. Garsoïan, Lisbon, 1970, pp. 237-8, 344 and passim.

Idem, “L’âge et l’origine de l’empereur Basile Ier (867-886),” Byzantion 9, 1934, repr. in Idem, ṰÉtudes arméno-byzantines, Bibliothèque arménienne de la Fondation Calouste Gulbenkian, Lisbon, 1965, p. 103.

René Grousset, Histoire de l’Arménie des origines à 1701, Paris, 1947, repr., Paris, 1973, passim.

Ferdinand Justi, Iranisches Namenbuch, Marburg, 1895, pp. 30, 113, 102, 223, 425.

Sahak Kogean, Kamsarakannerĕ: tearkʿ Širakay ew Aršaruneacʿ (The Kamsarakans: Lords of Širak and Arsarunik), Vienna, 1926.

J. Laurent, L’Arménie entre Byzance et l’Islam, Paris, 1919, pp. 96-97.

M. Leroy, “Grégoire Magistros et les traductions arméniennes des auteurs grecs,” Annuaire de l’Institute de Philologie et d’Histoire orientales et slaves 3, Brussels, 1935, Table général.

Count Wipertus Hugo Rüdt de Collenberg The Rupenides, Hethumides and Lusignans: The Structure of the Armeno-Cilician, Dynasties, Paris, 1963, Tables II, III, IV, pp. 47, 55-77, 78.

Cyrille Toumanoff, “Armenia and Georgia,” in Cambridge Medieval History IV, 1966, pp. 597, 609, 619.

Idem, Studies in Christian Caucasian History, Washington, D.C., 1963, pp. 206-7 and nn. 236, 223-52.

Idem, Manuel de généalogie et de chronologie pour l’histoire de la Caucasie chrétienne: Arménie, Géorgie, Rome, 1976, pp. 262-301, 530.

François Tournebize, “Arscharouniq,” in Dictionnaire d’histoire et de géographie ecclésiastiques, Paris, 1912-, IV, p. 745.

(C. Toumanoff)

Originally Published: December 15, 2010

Last Updated: April 20, 2012

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Vol. XV, Fasc. 5, pp. 453-455