Sebastia (Sivas)

From there, after a day and a half, we reached the large capital city[1] of Sebastia, which is on the grassy plain[2] of Ardokh, that is, Altʿun[3]. We saw many large villages situated next to each other, but they were all in ruins. We only found ten Armenian households in Chʿiftlik and ten in Polis. A thousand pities, for those villages are blessed by goodness and water! Sebastia is a large and wide city with a large population and full of abundance. There is plenty of bread, meat, milk, yoghurt, butter; however there is a shortage of fruit and wine, for the winter here is long. There are two churches here, on the Surb Aswatsatsin (Holy Mother of God), the other Surb Sargis (St. Sergius).[4] The kʿahanas are all learned, but are proud and arrogant. The people are very God-fearing and humble. They say that previously there were 2,000 Armenian households here.[5] Today there are only 600, the rest have fled.[6] A large river[7] flowed around the city, which they called Kizil-Irmak (Halys). Other rivers flowed through the city. The city has two fortified[8] walls and a tall citadel.[9] Outside the city there was a lake and the pool of the Forty Youths,[10] but the water had dried up. At a distance of one day’s travel there was the magnificent monastery of Surb Hreshtakapet (Holy Archangel), which had three hermits, whose abbot was Vardapet Melkʿisēt.[11] Around Sebastia there were many well-known villages, well built and wealthy. There was a village with 1,000 families, but Bingöl and Ēngēl and their environs were totally destroyed by the Celali.[12] Entering [Bingöl and Ēngēl] you will encounter large homes, resembling palaces, with two or three clay ovens[13] in each house, so large that a bull can fit in them, but they are all uninhabited and unpopulated.[14] In the city there is the monastery of the Surb Nshan (Holy Cross),[15] constructed by King Senekʿerim,[16] which has a piece of the True Cross.[17]

The Travel Accounts of Simeon of Poland, trans. G. Bournoutian (Costa Mesa, Ca., 2007), pp. 169-170)

[1] Text reads pʿayitʿakht, from the Persian pāytat (capital city).

[2] Text reads ōva, from the Turkish ova (grassy plain, meadow).

[3] Sebastia is one of the oldest cities of Asia Minor. Present-day Sivas is several kilometres from the ruins of the original Sebastia. The Kizil-Irmak River flows by it. It has two bridges over it. The Armenian monastery of Surb Khachʿ of Ēskishēhir is located there. One of its chapels was supposedly built by the Apostle Thaddeus.

[4] For more details on the Armenians, see GI, I, 286.

[5] For a history of Sebastia, see Hovhannēs Sebastatsʿi, Patmutʿiwn Sebastioy (Erevan, 1974).

[6] According to Bishop Hakob of Erevan, Sivas had 15,000 houses in 1601. By the 18th century, there were 10,000 houses, 2,000 of which belonged to the Armenians, GI, I, 285.

[7] Text reads irmak, from the Turkish ırmak (river).

[8] Text reads hisar, from the Arabic isār (fortress, walls).

[9] Inchichean lists 40 to 50 Armenian households and 150 Turkish homes, GI, , 285.

[10] It refers to the 40 sons of notables from Kayseri, Tokat, and Sivas, who, according to the Armenian martyrologium, refused to give up their faith and were drowned there during Constantine’s reign; see GI, I, 287.

[11] Refers to Bishop Melkʿisēt Sebastatsʿi.

[12] A colophon, inscribed in the Book of Narek in 1604, mentions the terrible destruction caused by the Celali in Sebastia, NA, 288-289. A century later, Inchichean’s numbers indicates a revival, GI, I, 288-289.

[13] Text reads tʿōndir, from the Persian tanūr (clay oven inside the hearth for baking; tandoor in India for cooking meats, as well as bread).

[14] More information on Armenian Sivas can be found in R. Hovhannisian, ed. Armenian Sebastia/Sivas (Costa Mesa, CA, 2004).

[15] Inchichean mentions Surb Nshan, Surb Karapet, and Surb Astuatsatsin, GI, I, 287.

[16] It refers to Artsruni ruler of the 11th century.

[17] The abbot of the monastery was Archbishop Andrēas . The archbishop and the relic of the True Cross are mentioned in a manuscript at the Matenadaran Archives, see NA, 189.