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Armenian warrior

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The Armenian warrior of the early fourth century is pictured by Phaustos as the man of the elite class "accustomed to the fatigue of combats, armed in all places, — lances, swords and hatchets. . . , expert archers whose strokes were sure. Men full of courage, never turning their back to the foe, iron-plated cavaliers, heads protected by a helmet, with flags and standards, and the sound of trumpets ringing." The attack of such heavy cavalrymen is said to have been irresistible. "Ashot the Great spread terror," declares Ardzruni, "his blow was so impetuous that he overthrew in death more horsemen together with their mounts, than those whom he slaughtered by sword. No enemy, not one, was capable of resisting him." Here is a description by Thomas, of a furious combat: "The sparkling of lances, and armours, the blazing of swords and the whiz of arrows resembled a conflagration, a thundering flame bolting out of the clouds; the mountain seemed to be all on fire . . . , the strangers (Arabs) suffered a terrific disaster."

Heavy armament required exceptional physical fitness, which, in fact, was possessed by the nakharars and azats. Of Prince Gourgen, Thomas says: "I ask myself in profound amazement, how could he sustain the burden of toil without sinking, while fervently rushing p322forward, to keep up the superabundant physical force required in endless combats."

There are many other testimonials to the same effect. This natural gift was further developed by training from an early age. "The Mamikonian princes particularly educated in the art, could use with the same dexterity, both the right hand and the left. They cleave the adversary in two by one stroke of the sword, hammering with such a force that in one instance the mace buried itself in an iron gate, and it has been impossible to pull it out until now." (Ghazar).

The spiritual atmosphere of the Middle Ages also has played a part in the moulding of the character of the Armenian military noblemen. They had formulated some kind of martial ethics in which generous and chivalrous principles, Christian faith, asperity (roughness of temper) and pride in their force were blended. Honorable death was achieved only in combat, in their estimation. Manuel Mamikonian, in his sick bed, displayed to a group of visitors, headed by the king (Arshak III) and the queen (Vardandoukht), the innumerable scars or wounds on his body. "No spot, even as large as a silver coin was left without the mark of injury. Then he said: 'Ever since my youth I spent my life in battles, all these wounds have I received in fighting, why would I not have been given to fall on the battlefield, instead of thus dying like an animal! I would prefer rather to die in combat in defense of my country, of the churches and of the servants of God. How happy I would have been facing death in defending my country for the safety of the churches and of the ministers of God. Also for the Arshakunis — the proper masters of our land, and for our women and children, for the devout people, for brothers, companions and intimate friends. My lot is now an ignoble death in bed.' " (Phaustos V.44).c

Almost in similar words are depicted the fine accomplishments of the sparapet Mushegh Mamikonian, who had spent, a few years earlier, all his life in defense of his country, of the Christian Church, and his own lords and masters. He had not suffered even one furrow (kori) of Armenian territory to be seized by an enemy (Ibid. V.20).

The historian Aristakes of Lastivert, narrating the battle of Manazkert waged between the Byzantines and Seljuk Turks, in 1070, remarks: "The Armenian soldiers of the Emperor Diogenes Romanos, although inwardly detached from the party of the emperor, p323nevertheless, preferred death, so that they may leave the precious remembrance of loyalty and courage."