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Noratus 7: Khachkar Design. Tax Inscriptions at Noratus

 Khachkar Design

There are thousands of variations on the basic khachkar design, which evolved through its history from a simple cross on a plain background to a stone filled with elaborate and delicately carved patterns and symbols. Developing from the pagan tradition, khachkars borrowed symbols from the old religion and “baptized” them into the new faith.

There is no such thing as a “typical” khachkar but the basic symbol universal to all Khachkars is the central cross. Added to this might be additional crosses and symbols around the cross and, in later periods, in the framing, cornice and pedestal.

Often the cross is set over a Tree of Life with its branches flanking the lower end of the cross. Flanking the upper end were other symbols: fennel seed pods, grape bunches or crosses, representing new life (as well as the blood sacrifice in the crucifixion). Early khachkars might even include a sun and moon on either upper side of the cross. Later khachkars showed the cross on top of a solar disc, the oldest symbol in Armenia. The disc might be filled with patterns of leaves, vines or eternity symbol (spinning sun).

As time went on, symbols became more elaborate and less representative. The Tree of Life became more symbolic, its branches ending in hands clutching the cross, as crosses themselves, or, in the last period, represented by so many extravagant flourishes of geometric design so as to be completely hidden.

The later periods also saw the development of the Amenaprkitch, or “All Savior” cross, which showed the figure of Christ on the cross. The scene could also show the Virgin Mary, Joseph and other figures below the crucifix, with angels or other figures included in the scene.

Tax Inscriptions at Noratus

The inscriptions at Noratus are pieces of time, giving us a unique glimpse into the lives of the authors. Among the more interesting is the 7-line inscription on the south wall of St. Astvatsatsin church inside the village. It is about tax relief. The tax terms used in this inscription are Miisalum (tax-free), Chapogh (accountant), Chapoghi Hak (tax of accountant) and tax gzir (an official under the village head).

In the inscription, the shahna (tax collector, named Sinayi) and demetar (village head) declare that taxes given to gzir and accountant are reduced and abolished for the sake of Zakarian Avak (the son of Prince Ivaneh Zakarian).

It also states that the authorities granted the gzir and accountant the right to use draught-animals for their own use, each a yoke of oxen. This privilege was given to compensate for their loss of income following a reduction of tax (tax collectors earned their wage by taking a portion of taxes collected). The start of the inscription alludes to this loss:

“To pay tax neither to the gzir nor the accountant”.

Original text edited by the International Council on Monuments and Sites-Armenia and the Institute of Archeology and Ethnography of the National Academy of Sciences.