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Garni 5: The “Founding Stone”

The “Founding Stone”

The stone in front of you, with a large khachkar carving on its top side, bears a Greek inscription. This “Helios stone” is also called the “founding stone”, used to date the Hellenistic temple and palace to the 1st century. The inscription reads in part,

“Helios! T'rdat the Great, King of Armenia, when the ruler built the agarak (castle) for the queen and this inaccessible fortress in the eleventh year of his reign, Meneus with the Ter's permission, being a liturg of the great sparapet (general), by way of gratitude (purchased) in the presence of witness Matheus…'

The inscription refers to the construction of the palace in the eleventh year of T’rdat I’s reign, confirmed by other records. Other contemporary accounts by the Greco-Roman historians Dion Cassius and Tacitus mention the journey to Rome by T'rdat I, where he ceremonially received his crown from the hands of the Emperor Nero in 65, who honored the Armenian king with lavish gifts as compensation for the destruction of the Armenian capital Artashat by Corbulonus and the devastating campaigns against Armenia by Roman legions in 59-60.

The Greek name for sun “Helios” is also a meaning for the name Mythra, a god to whom an idol stood in the temple inner sanctum.

The inscription is on the side face of a large stone, the top of which was later carved into a khachkar (stone cross). It was left untouched for centuries until excavators uncovered the khachkar, and rolling it over to its side, discovered the Greek inscription. The inscription was important in dating the temple to the 1st century, and not the 2nd, which previous historians had favored, mistaking T'rdat I for a later king.

The text was edited by ICOMOS/Armenia NGO.