The Mamikonian Clan

The Mamikonian clan was a noble family which dominated Armenian politics between the 4th and 8th century. They ruled the Armenian regions of Taron, Sasun, Bagrevand and others. Their patron saint was Saint Yovhannes Karapet (John the Baptist) whose monastery of the same name (also known as Glak) they fiercely defended against the Sassanid invaders.

The origin of the Mamikonians is shrouded in the mists of antiquity. Moses of Chorene in his History of Armenia (5th century) claims that three centuries earlier two Chinese noblemen, Mamik and Konak, rose against their half-brother, Chenbakur, the Emperor of Chenk, or China. They were defeated and fled to the king of Parthia who, braving the Emperor’s demands to extradite the culprits, sent them to live in Armenia, where Mamik became the progenitor of the Mamikonians.

Another 5th-century Armenian historian, Faustus of Byzantium, seconded the story. In his History of Armenia, he twice mentions that the Mamikonians descended from the Han Dynasty of China and as such were not inferior to the Arshakid rulers of Armenia. This genealogical legend may have been part of the Mamikonians’ political agenda, as it served to add prestige to their name. Although it echoes the Bagratids’ claim of Davidic descent and the Artsruni’s claim of the royal Assyrian ancestry, some Armenian historians tended to interpret it as something more than a piece of genealogical mythology. A theory from the 1920s postulated that the Chenk mentioned in the Armenian sources were not the Chinese but probably from a different ethnic group from Transoxania, such as the Tocharians. Edward Gibbon in his The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire also believed that the founder of Mamikonian clan was not Chinese but merely from the territory of the Chinese Empire and ascribes a Scythian origin to Mamgon stating that at the time the borders of the Chinese Empire reached as far West as Sogdiana.

Another reconstruction, similar to the previous ones but without references whatsoever to distant China, has that the family originally immigrated from Bactriana (present northern Afghanistan) under the reign of Tiridates II of Armenia, likely coinciding with the accession of theSassanids in Iran.

Cyril Toumanoff, (en) Studies in Christian Caucasian History (Georgetown University Press, 1963), pp. 209; 211—212, n. 238.
The Princes Mamikonian (the Mamikonids) claimed descent from the Emperors of China and bore the gentilitial title of Chenbakur, but appear to have been the immemorial dynasts of Tayk’, on the Armeno-Georgian confines, possibly of Georgian origin; at any rate, the Mamikonid onomastics, and the dynastic patronymic in the first place, betray a Georgian connexion (Cyril Toumanoff, Studies in Christian Caucasian History, p. 209).
The imperial Chinese origin of the Mamikonids is asserted by Faustus, 5.4, 37, Sebēos, 2, and by Ps. Moses, 2.81, the latter two indicating that the title borne by their imperial ancestors was čen-bakur. The first element of that title is the ethnicon ‘Chinese’, the second, a rendering of the Iranian bağpūr, itself a translation of the Chinese Imperial title of t’ien-tzu (‘Son of Heaven’): Markwart, Streifzüge 133—134; Süd-armenien 77-78 (the thought, however, that it was the King of the Kushans, who also entitled himself ‘Son of Heaven’ [devaputra], and not the Emperor of China who was meant here); Justi, Namenbuch 240. Actually, the Georgian origin of the Mamikonids seems more likely. In the first place, they were dynasts of the proto-Caucasian and half-Georgian Tayk’; in the second, there are philological data to support it. The basic element of their nomen gentilicium and most likely their gentilitial title, mamik or mamak, is a composite of the Armenian diminutive suffix -ik/-ak and the Georgian word mama or ‘father’: Adontz, Armenija 402—403, 405. Also, the praenomen Mušeł, found among them, is a Georgian territorial epithet, formed with the addition of the Georgian suffix -el (Armenianized as -eł) to the name of the chief city of Tarawn, Muš: Adontz, op. cit. 398; Markwart, Süd-armenien 157 n. 1. Adontz explained the Chinese tradition by a confusion, prompted by the love of exotic origins, between the ethnicon čen and that of the Georgian Čan-ians (Tzanni) or Lazi (for whom, see I at n. 55; Gugushvili, Division 56, 64), who were settled in the neighbourhood of Tayk’. … The two Mamikonid princely Houses of Georgia and the Russian Empire are the Liparitids and the T’umanids. The former appeared in Iberia c. 876; was invested with the office of High Constable of Georgia; returned, in the main branch, to Armenia in 1177, or possibly even earlier; and reigned as the Third Dynasty of Siunia [25] from c. 1200 to the mid-fifteenth century. It was subdivided, in the remaining Georgian branch, into the following houses: Jambakur(ian) [= čenbakur]-Orbeliani, Barat’ašvili, Solağašvili, Kaxaberije-Čiĵavaje, and possibly Abašije. … The other house of T’umanids, removed to Georgia from Armenia-in-Exille (Cilicia) after the twelfth century: Fifteenth Cent. Bagr. 179 n. 59; Spiski 83-85; Dolgorukov III 483; GHA(f) 2 (1953) 471; cf. Zacharias the Deacon, Sofis 48. (Cyril Toumanoff, Studies in Christian Caucasian History, p. 211—212, n. 238).

source: wiki

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