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 those 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]


  1. ^ a b 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. ^ a b c d e f Bedrosian 1983.
  3. ^ a b 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. ^ a b c d Hambardzumyan 1985.
  11. ^ "Նժդեհ Գարեգին". (in Armenian). Armenian Encyclopedia Publishing. 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