Oral tradition: c. 9th century CE
First set to writing: 1874

The Daredevils of Sasun (Sasna Tsrer)


“David of Sassoun” is the Armenian national folk epic representing the ethos of the Armenian people in their age-old struggle for freedom from invasion and oppression. The epic portrays the Armenian heroes as the defenders against all foreign efforts to subjugate their people. The epic’s center is Sassoun, a sacred place that represents not only the home of the heroes but also Armenia itself.

statue of David of Sassoon

Statue of David of Sassoon in Yerevan, Armenia. Photo courtesy of Barlow Der Mugrdechian.

“David of Sasoun” has no author, but was orally transmitted for more than a thousand years before it was first published in 1874.[1] The priest and ethnographer Garegin Srvandztiants was the first to transcribe the oral epic by discovering a villager from Moush who recited it to him. Part of the enigma of the epic is that it was recited orally for over a millennium before it was first chronicled. There is no record of the epic in classical Armenian literature, yet it represents the authentic voice of the Armenian people.

The oral tradition of the retelling of the epic of David of Sassoun continued well into the early twentieth century, when it was cut short by the Armenian Genocide of 1915. The Genocide ruptured the oral tradition of the epic, as those who could recite it by heart were forced to leave their homeland permanently.

The one-thousand-year history of David of Sassoun (9th-19th c.) spans extraordinary events in Armenian history. Filled with brave heroes who overcome many challenges, the epic came to represent an authentic Armenian world-view that anchored the Armenians to a place and encapsulated their identity as a people constantly defending their beliefs and homeland. The heroes represent the highest values of the Armenian people as they are always willing to sacrifice themselves to protect their way of life. They are also flawed individuals, however, and when they break an oath, they are punished for their mistake.

The epic is comprised of four cycles of four generations of one family: Sanasar and Baghdasar, Lion Mher, David, and Little Mher.[2] The heroes of each generation perform heroic exploits and face similar challenges which must be overcome before they can take their rightful place in society. Sanasar and Baghdasar are divinely born and establish the town of Sassoun. Sanasar is endowed with unusual strength, which he utilizes to battle all who would threaten his domain. His son Lion Mher, so named because he killed a lion with his bare hands, must also prove himself as a worthy successor to his father. Lion Mher’s son David is the epic’s most famous hero. He is born at the moment his parents die, and therefore he grows up as an orphan. The cycle of David is the longest and the most elaborate of any of the cycles and is the one most frequently included in oral recitations, thus giving its name to the entire epic. David’s son, Little Mher, must also fight against injustice in the world. He does not die in the epic but rather awaits the moment when the world is cleansed of its iniquity and he can take his place as the rightful heir of Sassoun.

The official version of the epic, referred to as the “Jubilee Edition,” was published in Yerevan in 1939. This critical edition was compiled by a small team of scholars who compared the extant versions of the epic and produced a unified rendering. In 1964, Artin Shalian translated this “Jubilee Edition” into English, and this was followed by translations into other languages.[3] However, the multiple versions of the epic not incorporated into the critical edition have yet to be fully studied.

The Armenian religious beliefs and sense of identity, based on a common language and literature, inform the epic. Armenians have been a Christian people since the fourth century AD, and the heroes practice their Christian faith. In addition to multiple examples of Christianity woven into the narrative, the epic also reflects the earlier pre-Christian religions of the Armenians. The heroes are reminiscent of early Armenian gods such as Vahakn, the god of thunder, and are also closely associated with the life-giving qualities of water.

The age-old epic of “David of Sassoun” continues to provide new generations of Armenians with the means to connect with their ancestors and to maintain their language, culture, and religion.

[1] Garegin Srvandztiants, Grots u brots yev Sasuntsi Davit kam Mheri tur (Notes and observations and David of Sasoun or Mher’s door) (Constantinople, 1874).

[2] See the “Sassounts’i Davit: The Synopsis of the Official Version of the Epic” in David of Sassoun: Critical Studies of the Armenian Epic, Dickran Kouymjian and Barlow Der Mugrdechian eds. (Fresno, CA: The Press at California State University, Fresno, 2013), pp. 21-33).

[3] Shalian, Artin K., David of Sassoun: The Armenian Folk Epic in Four Cycles (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1964).

Barlow Der Mugrdechian
California State University, Fresno


English Translations of the Epic:

Kudian, Mischa, The Saga of Sassoun: The Armenian Folk Epic Retold (London: Kaye and Ward, l970).

Shalian, Artin K., David of Sassoun. The Armenian Folk Epic in Four Cycles (Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, l964), 377 pages; a metrical translation of the official version

Surmelian, Leon, Daredevils of Sassoun, The Armenian National Epic (Denver, CO: A. Swallow, 1964); a prose translation based on the official version with occasional borrowings from the variants

Tolegian, Aram, David of Sassoun, Armenian Folk Epic (Bookman Associates, 1961)


English Studies of the Epic:

Dickran Kouymjian and Barlow Der Mugrdechian, eds, David of Sassoun: Critical Studies on the Armenian Epic (The Press at California State University, Fresno, 2013).

Khatchadourian, Arpine, David of Sassoun: An Introduction to the Study of the Armenian Epic (Resource Publications, 2016)

Kherdian, David, David of Sassoun (Tavnon Books, 2014).

Yeghiazaryan, A., Daredevils of Sasun: Poetics of an Epic, trans. from Armenian by S. Peter Cowe (Costa Mesa: Mazda Press, 2008), the original Armenian published in Erevan in 1999.


Works in Armenian:

Abeghyan, Manouk, Matenagitout‘youn Sasounts‘i Davit‘ hay zhoghovrdakan vepi masin (Bibliography of the Armenian Folk Epic David of Sassoun) with N. Babyan and A. Mikaelyan (Erevan, 1939)

Harout‘younyan, Sargis, Sasna tsrer. Hay zhoghovrdi vepe (Sasna tsrer. The Armenian Folk Epic) (Erevan, 1977)

Toumanian, Hovhannes, David of Sassoun: Epic Poem in Eastern Armenian and English (Nahapet Publishing, 2013)


The above bibliography was supplied by Barlow Der Mugrdechian (California State University, Fresno).

Painting of the Statue of David of Sassoun in Yerevan, by Agnes Karikaturen (2006)

Illustrations of “David of Sassoun” by  Yervand Kochar (1939)

Painting of “David of Sassoun” by Hakob Kojoyan (1922)

Sasuntsi Davit” Relief by Artashes Hovsepyan, Cafesjian Center for the Arts

Statue of David of Sassoon by the sculptor Varaz Samuelian (1970)


Performance of “Daredevils of Sassoun,” UNESCO

Performance of symphonic poem by composer Airat Ichmouratov, based on the Sasna Tsrer

Garo Nichanian excerpt from oratorio “Birth of David of Sassoun

Ethno-opera performance of “David of Sassoun” by  Arthur Shahnazaryan

Armenian Folk Song Drdo, sung by Aleksan Harutyunyan

Dance performance of “David of Sassoun,” by AGBU AYA Lebanon’s “Arine” dance group

Animated Sasna Tsrer movie by Arman Manaryan (2020). IMDb page.

Interview with Barlow Der Mugrdechian, Director of California State University, Fresno’s Center for Armenian Studies, about new book (co-edited with Dickran Kouymjian) titled “David of Sassoun: Critical Studies on the Armenian Epic.”

Interview with translator/author David Kherdian.