Anania SHIRAKATSI (612-685)
Anania Shirakatsi is the greatest Armenian scientist of the middle Ages. He was a philosopher, mathematician, cosmologist, chronologist, the founder of exact and natural sciences in Armenia. Having advanced astronomical views for his epoch and having left rich astronomical heritage, Shirakatsi is by right considered to be the founder of astronomy in Armenia.
He was born in Anania village of Shirak (Aneank) or Shirakavan (Yerazgavors). He got his primary education at the local school of Dprevank. Then, realizing the role of mathematical and natural science knowledge in mastering philosophy, with the purpose of being properly educated for 11 years Shirakatsi has toured and studied in various countries of the East, settled in Trabzon and for 8 years he has been an apprentice to Byzantine scientist Tukikos.
Returning to his home country, he developed scientific and educational activity. At the end of 630s he founded a natural science mathematical high school where he paid special attention to the teaching of four sciences (arithmetic, music, geometry, and astronomy), as well as teaching of geography, chronology, philosophy, and Armenian language. Proper to his curriculum, Shirakatsi compiled the work “Knnikon”, separate parts of which: “Cosmology”, “Chronology”, “Map”, the textbook of arithmetic, etc. were later observed as independent works.
Shirakatsi is a supporter of the cosmological demonstration of God’s existence. In his opinion God has not created the whole variety of the world but four elements (fire, air, earth, water). Each of them has double qualities, and the interaction of these elements is the basis of the origin and the development of the material world. Shirakatsi investigates the elements and the qualities physically and cosmologically, with the cosmological regard to the observation he comes to the problem of the structure of the Universe.
In his opinion the Universe is limited, it has two limits; small (the Earth) and large (the upper sky). The upper invisible sky is spherical; it is in the state of endless motion of excessively high velocity. The continuous motion and the sphericity of luminaries, the Sun, the Earth, the Moon and other celestial bodies situated under the lower visible, as well as under the firmament, are due to the motion and shape of the upper sky. The Earth is situated in the centre of the Universe, and its stable balanced state is a result of combination of weight and motion power. There are 7 mobile areas between the firmament and the Earth; the celestial bodies are settled on them and deprived of their own light and heat, get them from the upper sky.
Shirakatsi observed a causal connection between the motion of celestial bodies, the terrestrial space and the processes on the Earth. He grounded the endless and continuous formation and development as a main law of existence and as a reason of nature eternity. Shirakatsi thinks that celestial and terrestrial bodies are formed of the same four elements, which condition the material unity of the Universe. He gave much importance to the experimental cognition, studied the experiment as a means of cognition, a kind of knowledge and a criterion of truth. He proved the truth of his theoretical constructions by observational and experimental examples, natural and simple models (e.g. he described the Universe by the model of an egg). He used scientific methods such as observation, analogy, experiment, etc. He put the problem of consequent change of knowledge, considered the antique science to be the base of Christian world outlook and supported the concept of their non-discrepancy, belief and unity of science.
With amazing physical intuition and critical judgments he supported the spherical hypothesis of the Earth, suggested correct explanation of the layer of the Milky Way (i.e. consisting of numerous weak stars) and developed good understanding of the surface of the Moon as a celestial body. He could correctly explain the eclipses of the Moon and the Sun and had a number of other advanced astronomical views for that period of time.
The chronological works contain many calendar counts, tables, circles, a list of pairs of 532 years, the Armenian and 14 peoples’ month, hour names, etc. With the Catholicos Anastas’s commission he compiled the first Armenian fixed chronology which was denied after the Catholicos’s death. Also to Anania Shirakatsi is related an anonymous chronology, which is compiled on the basis of Armenian and a number of foreign resources. His metrological, meteorological works, and works devoted to precious stones have scientific interest. He criticized astrology, fatalism and witchcraft. His scientific heritage had a significant influence on further development of the Armenian natural science thought, a number of Byzantine scientists’ views as well. Shirakatsi considerably enriched the Armenian and at the same time, the Eastern musicology.
Shirakatsi compiled chronological tables, astronomical textbooks, etc. He left a number of books and letters, which preserved till nowadays. Many of them are preserved in Matenadaran. Shirakatsi’s works are considered the main resource for the explanation of Armenian ancient astronomical terminology, including the names of constellations and stars.