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International Conference "Sharing Myths, Texts and Sanctuaries in the South Caucasus: Apocryphal Themes in Literatures, Arts and Cults from Late Antiquity to the Middle Ages"

Dienstag 25. Februar 2020, 09:00 Uhr - Mittwoch 26. Februar 2020, 18:00 Uhr

"Sharing Myths, Texts and Sanctuaries in the South Caucasus: Apocryphal Themes in Literatures, Arts and Cults from Late Antiquity to the Middle Ages" - International Conference Regensburg, 25–27 February 2020


The aim of this conference is to inaugurate the study of the South

Caucasus regarded as an organic cultural space. By the South Caucasus

we imply the vast region that stretches from the Black Sea in the west to

the Caspian Sea in the east and from the southern slopes of the Greater

Caucasus in the north to Lake Van in the south. At its centre rises Mount

Ararat which in Biblical exegesis, in mythology, in popular etymology, in

the shaping of sacred space and in visual arts has since remote antiquity

been associated with the universal flood and with the descent of Noah’s


Over millennia, numerous peoples that have inhabited the South

Caucasus have preserved, or have gradually acquired, profound cultural

affinities which justify this innovative approach. In order to make a first

step in this direction we propose to focus on three Christian cultures of the

region, Armenian, Caucasian Albanian and Georgian (here and elsewhere

listed in the alphabetical order), without, however, excluding other

religions present in the South Caucasus. It is for this reason that as our

starting point we have chosen Apocryphal and mythological themes in

texts, in worship and in visual arts: in the Christian East, and notably in

Armenia and in Georgia, the boundaries of the Biblical Canon have never

been as precise as in the Latin West, and Biblical codices often included

various texts which in the West were rejected and forgotten. Apocrypha

thus could become an important medium of cultural transmission. The

references to sacred figures of national histories and to sacred topography

present in apocrypha makes this literature a particularly convenient lens

through which to observe cultural interaction and blending. Divergent

recensions of the same legends have been preserved in Armenian and in

Georgian. Apocryphal literature reflects contacts between different peoples

inhabiting the South Caucasus and even between their different religious


Numerous apocryphal texts enjoyed high popularity along centuries;

some versions were even transmitted orally until early modern period in

local dialects. Most of these sources, written or oral, have never been

verified by any formal authority; consequently, the beliefs and the ideas

that they convey underwent important transformations between their first

introduction into the South Caucasus during Late Antiquity and early

modern times. Moreover, a number of apocryphal motifs in texts and in

visual arts reflect myths shared by peoples belonging to different religious

traditions. Therefore, in order to apprehend the amplitude of the religious

phenomena to which these sources give voice we shall not restrict our

inquiry to Late Antiquity but also extend it to the Middle Ages and even to

later times. Apocryphal sources allow us, therefore, not only to study the

endurance of various motifs in time, but also to build bridges across

linguistic and religious divides of the region.

From the eighth century and until recent times the South Caucasus was

characterised by a highly discontinuous settlement of various ethnic,

linguistic and religious groups across its expanses: Zoroastrians,

Christians and Muslims; the Abkhazians, Armenians, Caucasian

Albanians, Georgians, Kurds and Turkic peoples lived in close

neighbourhood with each other and with numerous other, numerically

smaller, peoples of the Caucasian highlands. With a remarkable steadiness,

various peoples occupied adjacent defiles or even inhabited diverse climatic

zones within a single valley, as well as building neighbouring quarters of a

single town. Multilingualism and close familiarity with the neighbours’

traditions were essential features of the South Caucasus.

Today, however, this region is intersected by multiple state borders, a

number of which remain permanently closed. These borders divide nations

that during the twentieth century have largely lost their multi-ethnic and

multilingual character. As a consequence, autarkic and nationalist

perspectives on philology and historiography have often prevailed in the

national schools. Moreover, also in the West, as in a mirror, various

neighbouring cultures of the South Caucasus have often been treated

independently from each other. Yet a true advance in the study of this

region, which would even make possible a change in the extant scholarly

paradigms, can only be achieved if this compartmentalised approach is

overcome. We hope that this new scholarly undertaking may help to

establish a closer collaboration between the academic worlds of various

South-Caucasian nations and, thus, also to contribute to their mutual


In view of the anchorage of our first conference in Late Antiquity it can

hardly be overstated that the Christianisation of the South-Caucasian

peoples―the Armenians, the Caucasian Albanians and the

Georgians―was deeply entangled. Without taking into consideration the

enduring contacts that existed between the three one cannot account, for

example, of the almost simultaneous rise of their literatures at the

beginning of the fifth century. Furthermore, only a combined approach to

their cultures, and to the region more widely, can enable us to explain

some of the most remarkable developments in South-Caucasian artistic

traditions, such as the simultaneous shaping across the entire region,

between the end of the sixth and first half of the seventh century, of the

famous style in church architecture, which is known as ‘Cross-octagon’.

Below, three of the possible topics of papers are listed:

– Parabiblical sources and elaboration of the accounts of the origins:

universal, national and regional; their role in the development of

historiographic and artistic traditions;

– the relationships between local Christian cultures and their respective

collections of parabiblical sources: how the distinct sets of apocrypha

reflect the shaping of distinct cultural and spiritual individualities (with

regard to the doctrine, the ideas of the divine, the ritual and liturgical

practices, the artistic traditions, the elaboration of religious symbols and

the interpretation of national history); what particular metaphysical

queries, introduced through Christianisation, does each set reflect?

– Parabiblical sources and mysticism; how do the parabiblical sources

reflect and describe religious experience: visions, dreams, theophanies,

divine presence, holiness, sacred space?

Igor Dorfmann-Lazarev


Universität Regensburg, Sammelgebäude, Raum SGLG 314






Heterotopien religiöser Autorität im spätantiken Christentum (FOR 2770)

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