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Sparapet (Old Armenian : սպարապետ ) was a military title and office in ancient and medieval Armenia. Under the Arsacid dynasty of Armenia, the sparapet was the supreme commander of the kingdom's armed forces. During the Arsacid period and for some time afterwards, the office was held hereditarily by the senior member of the House of Mamikonian. Later in history, the title was held by members of other noble houses, such as the Bagratuni and Pahlavuni dynasties. The title was used in the medieval Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia, where the bearer of the title was also called gundstabl (գունդստաբլ), from the Byzantine and Western title of constable.



The word sparapet is of Iranian origin, ultimately deriving from Proto-Iranian *spādapati- (“commander of the army”), which is composed of *cwáHdaH (“army”) and *pati- (“lord”). [1] The word was borrowed into Armenian several times from different Iranian languages, yielding the alternative forms asparapet, aspayapet, and spayapet; the most common form, sparapet, was borrowed from Parthian. [1] It is cognates with Middle Persian spahbed (whence modern Persian: سپهبد, romanized: sepahbod) and Georgian spaspet . [2]

Sparapet has been translated into English as "grand marshal," "commander-in-chief," and "high constable." [3] [4]


The exact period in which the office of sparapet emerged in Armenia is not known for certain. [5] Historian Suren Yeremian believed it to have been instituted in the 2nd century BCE during the reign of Artaxias I, although according to another historian, it was established under the Arsacids, along with the other major hereditary state offices of Armenia. [6] [7]

In Arsacid Armenia, the sparapet was at all times in control of the royal cavalry units called the ayrudzi, and during times of war was the supreme commander of all military units of the Kingdom of Armenia. [8] It is not clear to what extent the functions of the office coincided with that of the Sasanian spahbed. [2] The title of sparapet came with considerable prestige and power, which gave its hereditary holders, the Mamikonians, a degree of influence rivalling that of the ruling Arsacids. [2] [9] Historian Nicholas Adontz writes:

The Mamikonean as sparapets, were said to stand above all the zoravark' or military commanders. The Armenian army was made up of many contingents furnished by the princely houses. Each of these detachments was commanded by its own prince, but the supreme command belonged to the hereditary sparapets, the Mamikonean house, who, in this sense stood 'above all the princes and their armies'. [2]

In the late 4th century, the Arsacid king Varazdat ordered the murder of sparapet Mushegh Mamikonian and appointed a non-Mamikonian, Bat Saharuni, to the office. [2] This was short-lived, however, as Mushegh's kinsman Manuel Mamikonian soon returned to Armenia and drove Varazdat out of the country. [2] After the dethroning of the last Arsacid king of Armenia in 428, the Mamikonians continued to hold the title of sparapet under Sasanian rule. [10] In the first half of the 8th century, during the period of Arab rule in Armenia, the office of sparapet was usurped by the Bagratunis, the traditional rivals of the Mamikonians. [3] Later on, the title was borne by members of the Pahlavuni family. [10]

In the medieval Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia, the title of sparapet or gundstabl was no longer the hereditary privilege of one house. [10] It was held by members of the Rubenid and Hethumid dynasties, as well as representatives of other noble houses. [10]

Modern usage

The 18th century commander Mkhitar Sparapet led the Armenian efforts for independence in the Syunik province of Armenia.

The title "Sparapet of Syunik" (Սյունյաց սպարապետ) was held by the Garegin Nzhdeh, as supreme commander of the Republic of Mountainous Armenia, in 1920–21. [11] [12]

The title is also used for the Grand Commander of the Knights of Vartan, an Armenian-American fraternal order. The title was held by Alex Manoogian during his leadership of that organization. [13]

Vazgen Sargsyan, Armenia's Defense Minister in 1991-92 and 1995–99, [14] is often informally referred to as Sparapet in recognition of his leadership during the First Nagorno-Karabakh War. [15] [16]

Related Research Articles

Aspet was a hereditary military title of the Armenian nobility, usually found within the Bagratuni family.

Mamikonian or Mamikonean was an aristocratic dynasty which dominated Armenian politics between the 4th and 8th century. They were the most notable noble house in Early Christian Armenia after the ruling Arsacid dynasty and held the hereditary positions of sparapet and dayeak, allowing them to play the role of kingmaker for the later Armenian kings. They ruled over extensive territories, including the Armenian regions of Tayk, Taron, Sasun, and Bagrevand, among others. The Mamikonians had a reputation as supporters of the Roman Empire in Armenia against Sasanian Iran, although they also served as viceroys under Persian rule. Their influence over Armenian affairs began to decline at the end of the 6th century and suffered a final, decisive blow after a failed rebellion against Arab rule over Armenia in 774/75.

Pahlavuni was an Armenian noble family, a branch of the Kamsarakan, that rose to prominence in the late 10th century during the last years of the Bagratuni monarchy.

The Armenian nobility was a class of persons which enjoyed certain privileges relative to other members of society under the laws and customs of various regimes of Armenia. Governments which recognized or conferred nobility were the Kingdom of Van, Satrapy of Armenia, Kingdom of Armenia, Bagratid Kingdom of Armenia (885-1045) and the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia (1198-1375). The Armenian kingdoms of Vanand (963-1065), Syunik (987-1170), and Lori (978-1113) had a system of nobility that was similar to the nobility of Cilicia.

Pap, was king of Armenia from 370 until 374/375, and a member of the Arsacid dynasty. His reign saw a short, but notable period of stabilization after years of political turmoil. Although Armenia had been conquered and devastated by the Sassanid king Shapur II in 367/368, Pap was restored to the throne at a young age with Roman assistance in 370. Early in his reign, Armenia and Rome won a joint victory over the Persians at the Battle of Bagavan, and some former territories of the kingdom were reconquered by the efforts of his sparapet (general-in-chief) Mushegh Mamikonian. Although Pap's reign began with a reconciliation of the monarchy, nobility and church, his relations with the church soon deteriorated. Pap allegedly had the Patriarch of Armenia, Nerses I, poisoned, although some later historians doubt this narrative. Pap also eventually ran afoul of the Romans, who suspected him of colluding with the Persians. The emperor Valens unsuccessfully attempted to assassinate him in 373/374, but ultimately succeeded in having him killed in 374/375. He was succeeded by his nephew Varazdat as king.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Spahbed</span> Middle Persian army title

Spāhbed is a Middle Persian title meaning "army chief" used chiefly in the Sasanian Empire. Originally there was a single spāhbed, called the Ērān-spāhbed, who functioned as the generalissimo of the Sasanian army. From the time of Khosrow I on, the office was split in four, with a spāhbed for each of the cardinal directions. After the Muslim conquest of Persia, the spāhbed of the East managed to retain his authority over the inaccessible mountainous region of Tabaristan on the southern shore of the Caspian Sea, where the title, often in its Islamic form ispahbadh, survived as a regnal title until the Mongol conquests of the 13th century. An equivalent title of Persian origin, ispahsālār or sipahsālār, gained great currency across the Muslim world in the 10th–15th centuries.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Vardan Mamikonian</span> Armenian general and saint

Vardan Mamikonian was an Armenian military leader who led a rebellion against Sasanian Iran in 450–451. He was the head of the Mamikonian noble family and holder of the hereditary title of sparapet, the supreme commander of the Armenian armed forces. Vardan and most of his comrades died at the Battle of Avarayr in 451, but their sacrifice was immortalized in the works of the Armenian historians Yeghishe and Ghazar Parpetsi. He is regarded as a national hero among Armenians and venerated as a martyr and a saint of the Armenian Church. Vardan and the rebellion he led are commemorated in numerous works of art and literature. According to Arshag Chobanian, "To the Armenian nation, Vartan [...] is the most beloved figure, the most sacred in their history, the symbolical hero who typifies the national spirit."

Varazdat was the king of Arsacid Armenia from 374/375 until 378. He was installed on the throne by the Roman emperor Valens after the assassination of his kinsman King Pap.

Khosrov III the Small was the king of Arsacid Armenia c. 330–338/339.

The Siuni or Siwni dynasty was an ancient Armenian princely dynasty which ruled the province of Siwnikʻ, with which the dynasty shared its name. They were one of the most important and powerful princely houses in antique and early medieval Armenia.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mushegh I Mamikonian</span> Armenian military officer

Mushegh I Mamikonian was an Armenian military officer from the Mamikonian family, who occupied the hereditary office of sparapet (generalissimo) of the Kingdom of Armenia under the Arsacid kings Pap and Varazdat. He took part in the Armenian resistance against the forces of the Sasanian monarch Shapur II, notably taking part in the Battle of Bagavan, where the Iranian forces were defeated. He was the regent of Armenia under the young and inexperienced Varazdat, who eventually suspected him of posing a danger to his rule, and thus had him executed, in 377/8.

Arshak III, also known as Arsaces III, Arsak III and Arshak III-Vagharshak, was a prince who served as a Roman client king of Arsacid Armenia from 378 until 387. Arshak III is often known as the last serving Roman client king of Armenia. During his reign, the part of Armenia that Arshak III governed was under Roman rule from the Peace of Acilisene.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bagratid Armenia</span> Armenian state ruled by the Bagratuni dynasty (885–1045)

The Bagratid Kingdom of Armenia, also known as Bagratid Armenia, was an independent Armenian state established by Ashot I Bagratuni of the Bagratuni dynasty in the early 880s following nearly two centuries of foreign domination of Greater Armenia under Arab Umayyad and Abbasid rule. With each of the two contemporary powers in the region—the Abbasids and Byzantines—too preoccupied to concentrate their forces in subjugating the region, and with the dissipation of several of the Armenian nakharar noble families, Ashot succeeded in asserting himself as the leading figure of a movement to dislodge the Arabs from Armenia.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Battle of Bagavan</span>

The Battle of Bagavan or the Battle of Vagabanta was fought in 371 near the settlement of Bagavan, in the district of Bagrevand in Greater Armenia, between a joint Roman-Armenian force and a Sassanid army, with the Romans and Armenians emerging victorious. It is recorded by the Roman historian Ammianus Marcellinus, as well as the Armenian historian Faustus of Byzantium.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bagratuni dynasty</span> Royal dynasty of Armenia

The Bagratuni or Bagratid dynasty was an Armenian royal dynasty which ruled the medieval Kingdom of Armenia from c. 885 until 1045. Originating as vassals of the Kingdom of Armenia of antiquity, they rose to become the most prominent Armenian noble family during the period of Arab rule in Armenia, eventually establishing their own independent kingdom. Their domain included regions of Armenia such as Shirak, Bagrevand, Kogovit, Syunik, Lori, Vaspurakan, Vanand and Taron. Many historians, such as Cyril Toumanoff, Nicholas Adontz and Ronald Suny, consider them to be the progenitors of the Georgian royal Bagrationi dynasty.

Zarmandukht was the consort of King Pap of Arsacid Armenia, who ruled from 370 to 374. She was regent of Armenia during the minority of her sons, co-rulers Arsaces (Arshak) III and Vologases (Vagharshak) II, who ruled from 378 to 386/387.

Vologases also known as Vologases III and Vagharsh III was a Prince who served as a Roman Client King of Arsacid Armenia. Vologases served as a co-king with his brother Arsaces III from 378 until 386.

Vardandukht, was a Queen consort of Armenia, as the wife of Arsaces III who was the last serving Roman Client King of Arsacid Armenia. Arsaces III reigned from 378 until his death in 387.

Mushegh III Mamikonian was an Armenian sparapet that fought against the Arabs during the Muslim conquest of Persia. He was killed during the Battle of al-Qādisiyyah in 636.

The Bagratuni family tree describes the heritage of the Bagratuni family in Armenia and Georgia.


  1. 1 2 Perikhanyan, A. G. (1993). Материалы к этимологическому словарю древнеармянского языка: часть 1 [Materials for the Etymological Dictionary of the Old Armenian Language. Part 1] (in Russian), Yerevan: Armenian Academy of Sciences, p. 18.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Bedrosian 1983.
  3. 1 2 Garsoian 2005.
  4. Toumanoff 1963, p. 132.
  5. Bedrosian 1983, p. 6.
  6. Eremyan 1987, p. 97.
  7. Krkyasharyan 1994, p. 233.
  8. Eremyan 1984, pp. 140–141.
  9. Eremyan 1984, p. 141.
  10. 1 2 3 4 Hambardzumyan 1985.
  11. "Նժդեհ Գարեգին". (in Armenian). Armenian Encyclopedia. Դեկտեմբերի 25-ին հռչակվել է Սյունիքի ինքնավարությունը, Նժդեհն ընտրվել է Սյունյաց սպարապետ:
  12. "Որ զանգը զուր չհնչի". Aravot (in Armenian). 27 April 2011. 1920 թվականի դեկտեմբերին Տաթեւում գումարված համազանգեզուրյան առաջին համագումարում Սյունիքը հռչակվեց ինքնավար: Նժդեհն ընտրվեց Սյունյաց սպարապետ՝ դիկտատորի իրավունքներով:
  13. "Alex Manoogyan". Retrieved 15 November 2014.
  14. "Vazgen Sargsyan". Government of the Republic of Armenia. Archived from the original on June 20, 2014. Retrieved 30 March 2013.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  15. "50th Anniversary of Birth of Sparapet". Yerevan State University. 20 March 2009. Retrieved 3 July 2014.
  16. "Armenians commemorate Sparapet Vazgen Sargsyan". A1plus . 5 March 2014. Retrieved 3 July 2014.


See also