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Kingdom of Armenia (antiquity)

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Title: Kingdom of Armenia (antiquity)  
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Kingdom of Armenia (antiquity)

Kingdom of Armenia
Satrapy, Kingdom, Empire, Province

331 BC–428 AD

Top: standard of the Artaxiad dynasty
Bottom: standard of the Arsacid dynasty

Armenia its greatest extent under Tigranes the Great, 69 BC (including vassals)
Capital Armavir (331–210 BC)
Yervandashat (210–176 BC)
Artashat (176–77 BC; 69–120 AD)
Tigranocerta (77–69 BC)
Vagharshapat (120–330)
Dvin (336–428)
Languages Armenian (native language)
Iranian (Parthian and Pahlavi)
Religion Armenian polytheism and Zoroastrianism:[1] 3rd century BC – 301 AD
Christianity (Armenian Church) : from 301 AD
Government Monarchy
King, King of Kings
 •  321–317 BC Orontes III
 •  422–428 Artaxias IV
Historical era Antiquity, Middle Ages
 •  Satrapy of Armenia is formed c. 533 BC
 •  Orontes III 331 BC
 •  Battle of Rhandeia 61 AD
 •  Christianity national religion 301 AD
 •  Western Armenia conquered by Byzantium 387
 •  Armenia conquered by Persia 428 AD
 •  321 BC 400,000 km² (154,441 sq mi)
 •  69 BC 750,000 km² (289,577 sq mi)
 •  301 AD 350,000 km² (135,136 sq mi)
 •  428 AD 120,000 km² (46,332 sq mi)
 •  69 BC est. 20,000,000 
     Density 26.7 /km²  (69.1 /sq mi)
 •  301 AD est. 3,000,000 
     Density 8.6 /km²  (22.2 /sq mi)
Currency Taghand
Today part of  Armenia

Kingdom of Armenia, also the Kingdom of Greater Armenia,[2] or simply Greater Armenia (Armenian: Մեծ Հայք Mets Hayk[3]; Latin: Armenia Maior), was a monarchy which existed from 321 BC to 428 AD. Its history is divided into successive reigns by three royal dynasties: Orontid (321 BC–200 BC), [4] [5] Artaxiad (189 BC–12 AD) and Arsacid (52–428).

The root of the kingdom lies in one of the satrapies of the Achaemenid Empire of Persia called Armenia (Satrapy of Armenia), which was formed from the territory of the Kingdom of Ararat after it was conquered by the Median Empire in 590 BC. The satrapy became a kingdom in 321 BC during the reign of the Orontid dynasty after the conquest of Persia by Alexander the Great, which was then incorporated as one of the Hellenistic kingdoms of the Seleucid Empire.

Under the Seleucid Empire (312-63 BC), the Armenian throne was divided in two – Armenia Maior and Sophene – both of which passed to members of the Artaxiad dynasty in 189 BC. During the Roman Republic's eastern expansion, the Kingdom of Armenia, under Tigranes the Great, reached its peak, from 83 to 69 BC, after it reincorporated Sophene and conquered the remaining territories of the falling Seleucid Empire, effectively ending its existence and raising Armenia into an empire for a brief period, until it was itself conquered by Rome in 69 BC. The remaining Artaxiad kings ruled as clients of Rome until they were overthrown in 12 AD due to their possible allegiance to Rome's main rival, Parthia.

During the Roman-Parthian Wars, the Arsacid dynasty of Armenia was founded when Tiridates I, a member of the Parthian Arsacid dynasty, was proclaimed King of Armenia in 52. Throughout most of its history during this period, Armenia was heavily contested between Rome and Parthia, and the Armenian nobility was divided among pro-Roman, pro-Parthian or neutrals. From 114 to 118, Armenia briefly became a province of the Roman Empire under Emperor Trajan. The Kingdom of Armenia often served as a client state or vassal at the frontier of the two large empires and their successors, the Byzantine and Sassanid empires. In 301, Tiridates III proclaimed Christianity as the state religion of Armenia, making the Armenian kingdom the first state to embrace Christianity officially.

During the Byzantine–Sasanian wars, Armenia was ultimately partitioned into Byzantine Armenia in 387 and Persian Armenia in 428.


  • History 1
    • Origins 1.1
    • Orontid Dynasty 1.2
    • Artaxiad Dynasty 1.3
    • Roman rule 1.4
    • Arsacid Dynasty 1.5
  • Army 2
    • Under Tigranes the Great 2.1
    • Ayrudzi 2.2
    • Legio I Armeniaca-Armenian First Legion 2.3
    • Legio II Armeniaca-Armenian Second Legion 2.4
  • Mythology and pre-Christian religion 3
    • Zoroastrianism 3.1
  • Literature 4
  • Language 5
  • Capitals 6
  • Political geography 7
    • Provinces 7.1
  • Maps 8
  • References 9
  • Further reading 10
  • External links 11



The geographic Armenian Highlands, then known as the highlands of Ararat (Assyrian: Urartu), was originally inhabited by Proto-Armenian tribes which did not yet constitute a unitary state or nation. The highlands were first united by tribes in the vicinity of lake Van into the Kingdom of Van (Urartian: Biainili). The kingdom competed with Assyria over supremacy in the highlands of Ararat and the Fertile Crescent.

Both kingdoms fell to satrapy called Armenia (Old Persian: Armina, Elamite: Harminuya, Akkadian: Urashtu). The Orontid dynasty ruled as satraps of the Achaemenid Empire for three centuries until the empire's defeat against Alexander the Great's Macedonian Empire at the Battle of Gaugamela in 331 BC. After Alexander's death in 323 BC, a Macedonian general named Neoptolemus obtained Armenia until he died in 321 BC and the Orontids returned, not as satraps, but as kings.

Orontid Dynasty

Orontes III and the ruler of Lesser Armenia, Mithridates, recognized themselves independent, thus elevating the former Armenian satrapy into a kingdom, giving birth to the kingdoms of Armenia and Lesser Armenia. Orontes III also defeated the Thessalian commander Menon, who wanted to capture Sper's gold mines.

Weakened by the Seleucid Empire which succeeded the Macedonian Empire, the last Orontid king, Orontes IV, was overthrown in 200/201 BC and the kingdom was taken over by an Armenian commander of the Seleucid Empire, Artashes I, who is presumed to be a member of Orontid Dynasty.

Artaxiad Dynasty

Tigran II's Great Armenia
Map of Armenia and the Roman client states in eastern Asia Minor, ca. 50 AD, before the Roman-Parthian War and the annexation of the client kingdoms into the Empire

The Seleucid Empire's influence over Armenia had weakened after it was defeated by the Romans in the Battle of Magnesia in 190 BC. A Hellenistic Armenian state was thus founded in the same year by Artaxias I alongside the Armenian kingdom of Sophene led by Zariadres. Artaxias seized Yervandashat, united the Armenian Highland at the expense of neighboring tribes and founded the new royal capital of Artaxata near the Araxes River.[6] According to Strabo and Plutarch, Hannibal Barca received hospitality at the Armenian court of Artaxias I. The authors add an apocryphal story of how Hannibal planned and supervised the building of Artaxata.[7] The new city was laid on a strategic position at the juncture of trade routes that connected the Ancient Greek world with Bactria, India and the Black Sea which permitted the Armenians to prosper.[6] Tigranes the Great saw opportunity for expansion in the constant civil strife to the south. In 83 BC, at the invitation of one of the factions in the interminable civil wars, he entered Syria, and soon established himself as ruler of Syria, putting the Seleucid Empire virtually at an end and ruled peacefully for 17 years. During the zenith of his rule, Tigranes the Great, extended Armenia's territory outside of the Armenian Highland over parts of the Caucasus and the area that is now south-eastern Turkey, Iran, Syria and Lebanon, becoming one of the most powerful states in the Roman East.

Roman rule

Roman coin of 141 AD, showing emperor Antoninus Pius holding a crown on the Armenia King's head

Armenia came under the Ancient Roman sphere of influence in 66 BC, after the battle of Tigranocerta and the final defeat of Armenia's ally, Mithridates VI of Pontus. Mark Antony invaded and defeated the kingdom in 34 BC, but Romans lost hegemony during the Final war of the Roman Republic in 32–30 BC. In 20 BC, Augustus negotiated a truce with the Parthians, making Armenia a buffer zone between the two major powers.

Augustus installed Tigranes V as king of Armenia in AD 6, but ruled with Erato of Armenia. The Romans then installed Mithridates of Armenia as client king. Mithridates was arrested by Caligula, but later restored by Claudius. Subsequently, Armenia was often a focus of contention between Rome and Parthia, with both major powers supporting opposing sovereigns and usurpers. The Parthians forced Armenia into submission in AD 37, but in AD 47 the Romans retook control of the kingdom. In AD 51 Armenia fell to an Iberian invasion sponsored by Parthia, led by Rhadamistus. Tigranes VI of Armenia ruled from AD 58, again installed by Roman support. The period of turmoil ends in AD 66, when Tiridates I of Armenia was crowned king of Armenia by Nero. For the remaining duration of the Armenian kingdom, Rome still considered it a client kingdom de jure, but the ruling dynasty was of Parthian extraction, and contemporary Roman writers thought that Nero had de facto yielded Armenia to the Parthians.[8]

Arsacid Dynasty

Under Nero, the Romans fought a campaign (55–63) against the Parthian Empire, which had invaded the Kingdom of Armenia, allied with the Romans. After gaining Armenia in 60, then losing it in 62, the Romans sent the legion XV Apollinaris from Pannonia to Gnaeus Domitius Corbulo, legatus of Syria. In 63, strengthened further by the legions III Gallica, V Macedonica, X Fretensis and XXII, General Corbulo entered into the territories of Vologases I of Parthia, who then returned the Armenian kingdom to Tiridates.

Another campaign was led by Emperor Lucius Verus in 162–165, after Vologases IV of Parthia had invaded Armenia and installed his chief general on its throne. To counter the Parthian threat, Verus set out for the east. His army won significant victories and retook the capital. Sohaemus, a Roman citizen of Armenian heritage, was installed as the new client king. But during an epidemic within the Roman forces, Parthians retook most of their lost territory in 166. Sohaemus retreated to Syria, аnd Arsacid’s dynasty was restored power over Armenia.

After the fall of the Arsacid Dynasty in Persia, the succeeding Sasanian Empire aspired to reestablish Persian control. The Sassanid Persians occupied Armenia in 252. However, in 287, Tiridates III the Great was established King of Armenia by the Roman armies. After Gregory the Illuminator's spreading of Christianity in Armenia, Tiridates accepted Christianity and made it his kingdom's official religion. The traditional date for Armenia's conversion to Christianity is established at 301, which precedes the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great's conversion and the Edict of Milan by a dozen years.

In 387, the Kingdom of Armenia was split between the Eastern Roman Empire and the Persians. Western Armenia quickly became a province of the Roman Empire under the name of Armenia Minor, and becoming later Byzantine Armenia; Eastern Armenia remained a kingdom within Persia until 428, when the local nobility overthrew the king, and the Sassanids installed a governor in his place, beginning the so-called Marzpanate period over Persian Armenia. Those parts of historical Armenia remained thus in firm Persian hands until the Muslim conquest of Persia, while the Byzantine parts were also conquered by the invading Arabs in the course of the 7th century. In 885, after years of Roman, Persian, and Arab rule, Armenia regained its independence under the Bagratid dynasty.


Armenian foot soldiers wearing the traditional Mithraic caps.

The Kingdom of Armenia had an army of 100,000 to 120,000.

Under Tigranes the Great

The army of Kingdom of Armenia was at peak under the reign of Roman army with its legions posed a much greater challenge to the Armenians.[9]

Note that the numbers given by Israelite historians of the time were probably exaggerated, considering the fact that the Hasmonean Jews lost the war against Tigranes.


From ancient times in Armenia there existed "Azatavrear" cavalry which consisted of the Armenian elite. "Azatavrear" cavalry was the main part of the Armenian king's court. Later, in medieval times "Azatavrear" cavalry or Armenian heavy cavalry was collected from nobles (youngest sons of Armenian lords) and was known as AYRUDZI (man and horse, horseman). During times of peace, Armenian cavalry was divided into a number of small groups which took the role of guarding the King and his family as well as Armenian lords. Some part of the Armenian cavalry was always patrolling the Armenian borders under the command of an Armenian general (sparapet). The Group of Armenian cavalry whose main mission was the protection of the Armenian king and his family in ancient period consisted of 6000 heavily armored horsemen, and in medieval period of 3000 horsemen. During times of war, the number of Armenian cavalry could be anywhere from 10,000 to 20,000 horsemen or more. Beside Armenian Heavy cavalry there was Armenian light cavalry, which mainly consisted of horsemen archers.[11]

Legio I Armeniaca-Armenian First Legion

"Legio Armeniaca" translated from Latin as "Armenian Legion" and "prima" as "first". The Armenian First Legion was one of the later period Roman empire legions. This Legion is mentioned in the late-antique text known as Notitia Dignitatum. It is most likely that Armenian First Legion was formed in the 2nd or 3rd centuries AD, in the Western part of Kingdom of Armenia and that its mission was to protect the Armenian lands from intrusion. It should first have been the garrison of Armenian lands which had been under the control of Roman Empire. Armenian First Legion took part in the ill-fated Persian campaign of the emperor Julianus Apostata in 363.

Legio II Armeniaca-Armenian Second Legion

"Legio Armeniaca" translated from Latin as "Armenian Legion" and "Secunda" as "Second". Armenian Second Legion like Armenian First legion was one of the later period Roman Empire legions. This legion is also mentioned in the Notitia Dignitatum. Armenian Second Legion was probably created at the end of the 3rd century or in the beginning of the 4th century. Armenian Second Legion had a permanent camp in one of the Northern provinces of the Orient. This legion built a camp in Satala. Armenian Second legion is furthermore mentioned in the year 360AD as a part of the garrison of Bezabda (anciently called Phoencia) at the upper Tigris. In Bezabda Armenian Second Legion served together with Legions Parthica and II Flavia. In 390AD Bezabda was taken by the Persians and a terrible bloodbath ensued against the inhabitants and garrison. Nevertheless, the legion seems to have survived this battle, because it appears in Notitia Dignitatum which was written in the 5th century.

Later on Armenian Second legion became a part of the Byzantine army.

Mythology and pre-Christian religion

The pre-Christian Armenian pantheon included:

  • Aramazd - Cognate of the Iranian Ahura Mazda (or Ormazd). Head of the pantheon, identified with Zeus in the interpretatio graeca.
  • Amanor and/or Vanatur - God of the Armenian new year, Navasard, at the end of July. His temple was located in Diyadin.
  • Anahit - Cognate of the Iranian Anahita. The goddess of fertility and birth, and daughter or wife of Aramazd, Anahit is identified with Artemis and Aphrodite. Temples dedicated to Anahit were established in Armavir, Artashat, Ashtishat.
  • Ara the Beautiful - a dying-and-rising god slain in a war against Semiramis.
  • Astghik - Cognate of the Semitic Ishtar. Fertility goddess and consort of Vahagn, sharing a temple with him at Derik. The holiday of Vardavar was originally in honor of Astghik.
  • Barsamin - God of sky and weather, probably derived from the Semitic god Baal Shamin.
  • Hayk - Legendary forefather of the Armenian people, archer, and slayer of the Titan Bel.
  • Mihr - Cognate with the Persian Mithra. God of the sun and light, son of Aramazd, the brother of Anahit and Nane. His center of worship was located in Bagaharich, and the temple of Garni was dedicated to him.
  • Nane - Possible cognate of the Sumerian Nanaya. Daughter of Aramazd, war and motherhood goddess. Her cult was related to Anahit, both of their temples located near each other in Gavar.
  • Tir or Tiur - God of wisdom, culture, science and studies, he also was an interpreter of dreams. He was the messenger of the gods and was associated with Apollo. Tir's temple was located near Artashat.
  • Tsovinar - Also called Nar, she was the goddess of rain, sea and water, though she was actually a fiery being who forced rain to fall.
  • Vahagn - Cognate of the Iranian Verethragna. The storm god and herculean dragon slayer. Derik housed the central temple to Vahagn.

During the 1st century AD, Christianity spread through Armenia due to (according to legend) the efforts of the apostles Bartholomew and Thaddeus. After persecutions by kings Sanatruk, Axidares, Khosrov I, and Tiridates III, Christianity was adopted as the state religion by Tiridates III after he was converted by Gregory the Illuminator. Armenia's adoption of Christianity as the state religion (the first country to do so), distinguished it from Parthian and Mazdaen influence.[12]


Until the late Parthian period, Armenia was a predominantly Zoroastian-adhering land.[1] With the advent of Christianity, both paganism and Zoroastrianism gradually started to diminish.


Little is known about pre-Christian Armenian literature. Many literature pieces known to us were saved and then presented to us by Moses of Chorene. This is a pagan Armenian song, telling about the birth of Vahagn.


Before the Armenian alphabet was created Armenians used Aramaic and Greek alphabets, the last of which had a great influence on Armenian alphabet. The Armenian alphabet was created by Saint Mesrop Mashtots and Isaac of Armenia (Sahak Partev) in AD 405 primarily for a Bible translation into the Armenian language. Traditionally, the following phrase translated from Solomon's Book of Proverbs is said to be the first sentence to be written down in Armenian by Mashtots:

Mesrop Mashtots, the creator of Armenian Alphabet, by Francesco Maggiotto (1750–1805)

By the 2nd century BC, according to Strabo, the inhabitants of Greater Armenia spoke the Armenian language, implying that modern Armenians are descended from that population.[13][14]


  • Yervandashat – The ancient town sits upon an escarpment overlooking the junction of the Arax River and Akhurian River. According to Movses Kagankatvatsi, Orontes IV founded Yervandashat to replace Armavir as his capital after Armavir had been left dry by a shift of the Arax. The archaeological site has not been subject of major research, but preliminarily, the fortifications and some remains of palaces have been uncovered. Ancient Yervandashat was destroyed by the army of the Persian King Shapur II in the 360s.
  • Artashat – King Artashes I founded Artashat in 185 BC in the region of Vostan within the historical province of Ayrarat (Ararat), at the point where Araks river was joined by Metsamor river during that ancient eras, near the heights of Khor Virap. The story of the foundation is given by the Armenian historian Movses Khorenatsi of the 5th century: "Artashes traveled to the location of the confluence of the Yeraskh and Metsamor [rivers] and taking a liking to the position of the hills (adjacent to Mount Ararat), he chose it as the location of his new city, naming it after himself."[15] According to the accounts given by Greek historians Plutarch and Strabo, Artashat is said to have been chosen and developed on the advice of the Carthaginian general Hannibal. The city's strategic position in Araks valley on the silk road soon made Artashat a centre of bustling economic activity and thriving international trade, linking Persia and Mesopotamia with the Caucasus and Asia Minor. Its economic wealth can be gauged in the numerous bathhouses, markets, workshops administrative buildings that sprang up during the reign of Artashes I. The city had its own treasury and customs. The amphitheatre of Artashat was built during the reign of king Artavasdes II (55–34 BC). The remains of the huge walls surrounding the city built by King Artashes I could be found in the area. After losing its status as a capital to Vagharshapat and Dvin respectively, Artashat gradually lost its significance.
  • Tigranakert was founded by the Armenian emperor Tigranes the Great in the 1st century BC. Tigranakert was founded as the new capital of the Armenian Empire in order to be in a more central position within the boundaries of the expanding empire. Its population was 120,000 and it also had many temples and an amphitheater.
  • Mashtots and the home of the first manuscripts library in Armenia founded in 480 AD. Starting from the 6th century, the city had lost its importance—especially after the transfer of the seat of the Catholicosate to Dvin in 452—until the foundation of the Bagratid Kingdom of Armenia in 885. After the fall of the Bagratid dynasty in 1045, the city gradually became an insignificant place until 1441 when the seat of the Armenian Catholicosate was transferred from the Cilician town of Sis back to Etchmiadzin.
  • Dvin – The ancient city of Dvin was built by Khosrov III the Small in 335 on a site of an ancient settlement and fortress from the 3rd millennium BC. Since then the city had been used as the primary residence of the Armenian kings of the Arshakuni Dynasty. Dvin had a population of about 100,000 citizens who were in various professions including arts and crafts, trade, fishing, etc. After the fall of the Armenian Kingdom in 428, Dvin became the residence of Sassanid-appointed marzpans (governors), Byzantine kouropalates and later Umayyad and Abbasid-appointed ostikans (governors), all of whom were of senior nakharar stock. In 640 Dvin was the center of the emirate of Arminia.

Political geography

Kingdom of Armenia was bordered by Caucasian Albania in the east, by Caucasian Iberia in the north, by the Roman Empire in the west and by Parthia, later succeeded by Sasanian Empire. The border between Caucasian Iberia and Kingdom of Armenia was Kur river, which was also the border between Caucasian Albania and Kingdom of Armenia.

After 331 BC Armenia was divided into Karin, Ekeghik and Derjan and to the south, where after many battles with Seleucid Empire he reunited Tmorik. But Artashes I wasn't able to reunite Lesser Armenia and Corduene, Sophene, and the work started by him, ended his grandson Tigranes the Great. During Artashes I's reign the Kingdom of Armenia covered 350,000 km2 (135,000 sq mi). At its peak, under Tigranes II the Great, it covered 3,000,000 km2 (1,158,000 sq mi), incorporating, besides Armenia Major, Iberia, Albania, Cappadocia, Cilicia, Armenian Mesopotamia, Osroene, Adiabene, Syria, Assyria, Judea and Atropatene. Parthia and also some Arab tribes were vassals of Tigranes the Great. Lesser Armenia's area was 100,000 km2 (39,000 sq mi).


Regions of Greater Armenia (Arsacid Armenia).
Historical provinces of Greater Armenia

The 15 provinces of the Kingdom of Armenia with their capitals are as follows:

Other Armenian regions:



  1. ^ a b Mary Boyce. Zoroastrians: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices Psychology Press, 2001 ISBN 0415239028 p 84
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ Mach Chahin (2001). Kingdom of Armenia. Surrey: Routledge. p185–190.
  5. ^
  6. ^ a b
  7. ^ Bournoutian, George A. (2006). A Concise History of the Armenian People: From Ancient Times to the Present. Costa Mesa, CA: Mazda, p. 29. ISBN 1-56859-141-1.
  8. ^ Redgate, Anne Elizabeth (2000). The Armenians (First ed.). Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishers Inc. pp. 88–91. ISBN 0-631-22037-2.
  9. ^
  10. ^ Gevork Nazaryan, Armenian Empire.
  11. ^ Armenian heavy Cavalry (Ayrudzi). Retrieved on 2013-11-24.
  12. ^ Christians in Asia before 1500 by Ian Gilman and Hans-Joachim Klimkeit, Routledge, 11 Jan 2013, p.92-93
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^ (Armenian) Movses Khorenatsi. History of Armenia, 5th Century (Հայոց Պատմություն, Ե Դար). Annotated translation and commentary by Stepan Malkhasyants. Gagik Sargsyan (ed.) Yerevan: Hayastan Publishing, 1997, 2.49, p. 164. ISBN 5-540-01192-9.

Further reading

  • M. Chahin, The Kingdom of Armenia (1987, reissued 1991)
  • Vahan Kurkjian, Tigran the Great (1958)
  • Ashkharbek Kalantar, Armenia: From the Stone Age to the Middle Ages, Civilisations du Proche Orient, Se´rie 1, Vol. 2, Recherches et Publications, Neuchâtel, Paris, 1994;ISBN 978-2-940032-01-3
  • Ashkharbek Kalantar, The Mediaeval Inscriptions of Vanstan, Armenia, Civilisations du Proche-Orient: Series 2 – Philologie – CDPOP 2, Vol. 2, Recherches et Publications, Neuchâtel, Paris, 1999;ISBN 978-2-940032-11-2
  • Ashkharbek Kalantar, Materials on Armenian and Urartian History (with a contribution by Mirjo Salvini), Civilisations du Proche-Orient: Series 4 – Hors Série – CPOHS 3, Neuchâtel, Paris, 2004;ISBN 978-2-940032-14-3

External links

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