Armenia restored its full independence in 190 BC – king Artashes

Armenia under the Yervanduni dynasty


Soon became a satrapy of the mighty
Achemenide Persia, and later part of the Seleucid Empire. It restored its full
independence in 190 BC under the king Artashes I, founder of the Artashesian dynasty
(the Artaxiads).

The kingdom started to expand and reached its peak

During the reign of Tigran II, also
called Tigran the Great (95-55 BC). Under Tigran, Armenia ascended to a pinnacle of
power unique in its history and became the strongest state in Asia Minor. Extensive
territories were taken from Parthia, which was compelled to sign a treaty of alliance.
Iberia (Georgia), Caucasian Albania, and Atropatene had already accepted Tigran’
suzerainty when the Syrians offered him their crown (83 BC). Tigran penetrated as far
south as Ptolemais (modern Akko in Israel). As a result, the empire of Tigran II stretched
from the Caspian Sea in the East to the Mediterranean Sea in West, and from
Mesopotamia in the South to the river Kura in North. Political strengthening and
territorial expansion of Armenia was accompanied also by unprecedented cultural
development, with rich cultural heritage of Urartu intermixing with Hellenistic features.
As a result Armenia during the Artashesian period became one of the most Hellenized
and culturally advanced countries of Asia Minor.

After the death of Tigran II,

Armenia was reduced back to its ethnic Armenian territory
and found itself in the middle of a long war campaign between Rome and Persia, with
each superpower trying to have Armenia as its ally, as the military assistance with
Armenia was crucial for gaining political superiority in Asia Minor.
Arshakunian dynasty, Second Armenian Kingdom

In the middle of the I century AD a new royal dynasty

– The Arshakuni (the Arsacids) –
was established in Armenia. This dynasty was related to the royal family of Persia, which
bared the same family name. At this period Armenia and Persia enjoyed a long period of
peace and cooperation, until in 251 AD the Sassanid dynasty came to power in Persia.
Regarding Armenia as the ally of the overthrown dynasty, the Sassanids adopted anti-
Armenian policy, trying to eliminate the Armenian state and to assimilate the Armenian
nation. Since the Armenian religion of that period bared similarities to both
Zoroastrianism and Greco-Roman polytheism, in the realization of their anti-Armenian
policy the Sassanids were trying to capitalize on the religious closeness. In order to
deprive the Persians of this advantage, the Armenian king Trdat III in 301 AD declared
Christianity the state religion of Armenia, thus making Armenia the first Christian state in
the world, with Gregory the Illuminator as the first head (Catholicos) of the Armenian
Apostolic Church. Christianity was officially legalized in the Roman Empire 12 years
after Armenia became officially Christian.

King Artashes’s funeral

The titles of King Artashes I, according to the Aramaic
inscriptions on boundary stones

The titles of Armenian kings of the Artaxiad (Artashesian) dynasty are known mainly
owing to coin legends and rather scanty data of ancient historiographers. Artaxiads
were usually represented by a short title of ‘king’ or ‘great king’. We see different
variants of short titles in Greek: ‘king’, ‘great king’ and the title ‘king of kings’ on the
coins of Tigran II (95-55 BC).

The same titles were inherited by his son Artavazd II (55-
34 BC). The only exception was the coin of Tigran III (20-8 BC) with the legend reading
‘Great king Tigran, Philhellenos and Philopatoros’. These epithets were adopted by
him as a sign of his pro-Parthian orientation and anti-Roman stance.

Artashes (Artaxias) I (189-161 BC), founder of the Armenian Artaxiad dynasty,
wore a more pompous and longer titulature. The former of his titles has come to our
knowledge owing to Aramaic inscriptions on the boundary stones erected by him to
show the demarcation of lands. Such boundary stones were first discovered at the
beginning of the past century on the shores of Lake Sevan, Armenia.

Disintegration of the centralized Ervandid (Orontid) Armenian state in the
middle of the 3rd century BC created favorable conditions for the political expansion
of the Seleucids in Armenia.

To further strengthen his influence in the region,
Antiochus III incited a war against the Armenian king Ervand, sending there an
armed detachment led by his then strategos Artashes who was appointed a viceroy
of Armenia.

Upon invading Armenia, Artashes began struggling with king Ervand
for the Armenian throne and ended with exterminating the Ervandid dynasty to the
last representative. The history of confrontation between Ervand and Artashes is
described by Movses Khorenatsi in detail.

You can download the PDFOpens in a new tab. Armenian Journal of Near Eastern Studies, 2017 by Hasmik Margaryan

Garo Kotchounian

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