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Arche Seleukeia








Koinon Hellenon

History Units

Armenia - Hayasdan, as the Armenians call their country - emerges into the broad daylight of history from the haze of her legendary past through a long line of kings of the Haikazian Dynasty. In 612 BC the Medes destroyed Nineveh and brought the Assyrian power to an end. The Assyrians, Armenia's eternal antagonist was no more. Some 50 years later, king Tigran I formed an alliance with Cyrus the Great of Persia, founder of Achaemenid dynasty who conquered the lands controlled by the Medes and Tigran I enlarged the Armenian kingdom. Tigrans the First had three sons; the third son's name was Vahagn the Dragonfighter. The Armenian pagan tradition covered Vahagn with glory and legends: he was even deified and worshipped like Hercules. However, the era of peace ended as a number of weak and insignificant kings ruled Armenia over the following years, and finally the country became tributary to Persia. An inscription on a rock from around 520 BC called the Behistun Stone, found in Iran, mentions 'Armina' in the list of countries Darius I controlled. The dynasty of Hayk ended: the kings of Armenia were henceforward anointed by the Persian kings but the the position of Armenia was especially privileged in the Persian Empire. During the following centuries the Armenian troops fought for Persia in all major battles. King Vahe Haykazuni , the last offspring of the Hayk dynasty, died together with his offspring in 331 BC, leading the Armenian cavalry at Gaugamela against Alexander of Macedon. While his overlord Darius, king of Persia, fled the battleground leaving his army behind, Vahe chose to fight to the end and die as a true warrior king. The Armenioi as the Greeks called them became well known for the valour of their horsemen.

The strategic position of the region lying athwart the east-west military and trade routes, both along the valley of the Araxes leading from Iran to Cappadocia and more particularly through the Mesopotamian plain dominated by the Armenian plateau, made it far too important to permit its concession to a rival power. The ancient kingdom of Armenia thus suffered the attentions of either the Roman Empire or Parthia for centuries. Straddling the mountains between the two vast states, where the Zagros meet the Taurus, Armenia has long been a bone of contention. The kingdom represents a strategic ‘high-ground’ dominating the northern curve of the Fertile Crescent. Armenia remains a great prize for any would-be empire. Long under the Achaemenid Persian aegis, the kingdom has a very strong cultural flavour of that land. The Armenians have long been open to influence from Persian culture, with Ahura Mazda and Mithras being the chief gods of the nobility and wealthy elite, and Persian costume being adopted universally throughout the kingdom.

Feudalism was a powerful social and political organization in Armenia. Originating in remote antiquity, it survived the kingdom and the loss of independence. Its influence was both beneficial and baneful. It was one of the directing forces of its destiny, the other being the geographical determinism. The influence of the semi-feudal monarchy of Parthia was so great in Armenia as to create some confusion between the two peoples. Many terms of Armenian feudality are of Parthian origin, such naharar, nahapet, sepouh, azat. The Parthians were considered allies by most of Armenians at this time, this is especially true in Greater Armenia or Armenia Proper, where as Armenians of Armenia Minor and Anatolia had more of a Graeco-Roman stance. Indeed the Parthians stood very close to Armenia, many of the Parthian noble houses had their branches in Armenia.

The nobility always played an important role in the Armenian society. The history of the Armenian nobility is as old as that of the Armenian people. Its roots trace back to the ancient tribal society, these chieftains and leaders being the best members of the clans and tribes, who became renowned for their power, wisdom, courage and glorious and heroic deeds. Although the vast majority of the Armenian nobility was of Armenian origin, the historical sources still mention quite significant foreign influxes into the aristocratic class. These assimilated foreign families were predominantly of Indo-European (Aryan) origin, such as Iranians, Alanians, Greeks and Romans. The Iranian aristocratic component was particularly numerous. Many Armenian noble houses were either linked to the Iranian nobility through dynastic marriages or were Iranians (Persians, Parthians, Medians) by their origin. Most of the ancient Armenian noble families were tracing their origins to historic or legendary heroes or even ancient gods, such as Hayk or Vahagn.

The social pyramid of the Armenian nobility was headed by the king, in Armenian arkah. The Armenian kings themselves, far from residing normally in their capitals, continued to lay out hunting preserves or partez and they chose to move about the country making use of rich and elaborate, but transportable, tents or pavilions. The sons of the king, princes, were called sepuh and the crown prince was called avag sepuh. In the case of king's death it was avag sepuh who automatically would inherit the crown, unless there were other prior arrangements. There were three main estates in Armenia; those of the great lords (nakharars), those of the lesser nobility (azats), and what may be called the third estate consisted of the artisans (ramiks) and peasants (shinakans).

The nakharars or princely lords of the country were the real owners and masters of the land who constituted the most solid structure of the Armenian aristocracy. Leading this class were the four bdeshkhs or satraps of the frontier princedoms, descendants of formerly independent rulers. A Bdeshkh was a ruler of a large borderland province of historical Great Armenia. They were de facto viceroys and by their privileges were very close to the king. Bdeshkhs had their own armies, taxation and duties system, and could even produce their own coins.

The nakharars and the azats, also known as aznwakans or aznavurs, formed the principal armed forces of the country. They were called the "army of the noble legions" (azatagund banak) or "noblemen's troops" (azatazork). The attack of such heavy cavalrymen is said to have been irresistible. The nakharars were jealous of their personal dignity and official rank in state functions. Besides blood relationship and old ancestry, they took pride in their personal valor and courage. At the head of each of these families was its senior member, called in Armenian nahapet or more commonly tanuter "lord of the house,". It was these men who personally led the Gund (host) into battle.

The artisans, as well as the shinakans (peasants) belonged to the class of anazats (non-free) or ramiks (plebeians). The shinakan enjoyed certain personal liberties; he could not be forced to contract marriage against his wish. He also took part in the deliberations of national interest.

Armenian tradition has preserved several legends concerning the origin of the Armenian nation. The most important of these tells of Hayk (Hayg or Haig), the eponymous hero of the Armenians who called themselves Hye (Hay) and their country Hayk' or Hayasdan. It is said that Hayk built the fortress of Haykaberd at the site of Dyutsaznamart, as well as Haykashen in the county (gavar) Harq of the province (Nahang) Tauruberan. Hayk Nahapet was the founder of the dynasty of the first patriarchs and kings of ancient Armenia and the source of many ancient Armenian aristocratic houses.

With the fall of the Persian Empire to Alexander the Great of Macedonia in 331 B.C., the Greeks appointed a new satrap, of the Eruandid (mighty hero) clan who had ruled from Armavir as early as 400 BC. The Greeks called them Orontid, and the first ruler named Mithranes became the governing satrap of all of Armenia. The Ervanduni Dynasty as they became known, governed the country for some 200 years, while Asia became acquainted with the Hellenic culture of the invading Greeks. Alexander himself never entered the country, and the control of the plateau by his Seleucid successors was intermittent. Under the Ervanduni Dynasty Armenia regained independence after the death of Alexander the Macedonian, becoming a vassal kingdom of the Seleucids largely in name only. The Greek Empire of the Seleucids, which stretched across Asia and Europe, was one in which cities rapidly grew, spreading Hellenistic architecture, religion and philosophies. Armenian culture absorbed Greek influences as well. The campaigns of Alexander shifted the position of Armenia for centuries from that of an intrinsic component part of the Achaemenid empire to that of a disputed borderland at the limit of the classical and the Iranian worlds. Politically, these Armenian rulers were forced to resist the repeated, though always short-lived, attempts of the Seleucids to establish their rule over the country, as well as the growing power of the Parthians.

The unquestionable presence in Armenia of Hellenic culture and the opening of the country to world trade, evidenced by the presence of coin hoards, did not succeed in obliterating earlier Armenian traditions. The political and cultural ties with the Iranian world remained and Achaemenid Aramaic remained the official written language of the Armenian chancellery. Intermarriages between the Iranian and Armenian royal houses continued to be celebrated with great pomp, as was that of the sister of the Armenian king Artavazd II to the Parthian prince Pacorus at which the head of Crassus was used during a performance of Euripides' Bacchae. This may have had some influence on the wavering Armenian king's adherence to the Parthian alliance and his abandoning the Roman cause.

The kingdom of Cappadocia had been reduced by the Macedonian commander Eumenes. But Ariarat in alliance with Ardoates, King of the Armens, fought and killed the Macedonian general and expelled the Macedonians from the country. The date of the founding of the Cappadocian kingdom through the aid of the Armenian king must have been about 270 B.C. Another Armenian king whose name is unknown, had, according to Memnon of Heraclea, tendered shelter and aid to Ziaelas, son of the King of Bithynia, and enabled him to occupy his father's throne, which he did from 250 to 228. In 212 Antiochus III Megas gave his sister Antiochis in marriage to King Kserks (Xerxes) of Sophene, who acknowledged his suzerainty and paid him tribute.

Artashes and Zareh, the governors of Armenia, appointed by Seleucus the Great, sided with the Romans and declared the independence of two new kingdoms created by themselves. These were the Artashesian (Greater Armenia) and Zarehian (Sophene) Kingdoms of Armenia established as a result of Antiochos III Megas's defeat by the Romans in the Battle of Magnesia. In the invasion of Armenia by Seleucus in 165 B.C., Artashes suffered defeat, but he soon recovered his rights.

The country enjoyed peace and prosperity under the rule of Vagharshak, who came to throne in 149 BC. He set up the institute of nobility in his kingdom and established the new senior official ranking system. Vagharshak made the city of Armavir his royal residence. Several Greek inscriptions from around that period found in Armavir witness about the influence of the Greek culture in Armenia.

During the reigns of the successors of Artashes I, the Parthians under Mithridates I invaded many Seleucian possessions in the East. Their conquests were expanded by the succeeding king, Mithridates II (123-88 B.C.), who had waged war also on Artavazd, the son of Artashes I, and carried away as hostage the young Tigranes (Tigran II), the king's nephew.

Tigran II, younger brother of Artavazd II and ruler of Armenia from 95 to 54 B.C., obtained the throne by ceding to the Parthians the districts which their predecessors had wrested from the Medes and Iberians, a seizure which supplied the excuse for the expedition of Mithridates II of Parthia. A quarrel arose between him and King Ardan (or Vardan) of Sophene, and Tigran attacked the latter, vanquished him and took over his domain. When the Armenians of Sophene were thus suppressed, Tigran's kingdom then extended from the valley of the Kur to Melitine and Cappadocia. Mithridates VI of Pontus, who aspired to the annexation of Cappadocia, sought an alliance with Tigran by marrying one of his daughters to him. So by the treaty which followed the marriage, Cleopatra, a girl of courage as well as high education, became the Queen of Armenia.

The ensuing invasion of Cappadocia in 93 B.C. compelled Ariobarzan, its king, to yield and hurry to Rome for aid. His appeal won a ready response. The great Roman general Sulla came to Asia Minor, reinstated Ariobarzan on his throne and forced the Armenian army to retreat to the east bank of the Euphrates. The Eastern allies did not, however, admit defeat. The civil war which raged in Rome in 90 B.C. gave them the opportunity of regaining their advantage on the field of battle, and once more Ariobarzan was put to flight.

Tigran's star was now in the ascendency. When Parthia's great king, Mithridates II, died in 86, Tigran felt himself equal to the task of proving his supremacy over the Parthians. He recaptured the lands which had been ceded to them, and marched still further to seize Atropene, Gordiene and a part of Mesopotamia, thus once more subjugating the territory of old Nairi-Urartu. To this were soon added the domains of Adiabene, Mygdonia and Osrhoene. The Armenian armies penetrated further into Greater Media and reduced its capital, Ecbatana, in whose royal palace Tigran had once been held as a hostage. It of course followed that he had now become the "King of Kings," a title which he inscribed on his coins. So the supremacy of Asia, which had belonged to Parthia under the Achaemenids and Seleucid's, was in this triumphant moment transferred to Armenia.

Tigran's glory attained its apogee when he was invited to Antioch in 83 B.C., and offered the crown of the Seleucid dynasty. Syria, which had long been torn by internal strife, under Tigran's rule enjoyed full peace for eighteen years. His power reached even beyond the confines of Syria proper, to include Palestine on the south and Cilicia on the west. But like most Oriental monarchies, his kingdom was only an assembling of uncongenial peoples, with no cohesion.

He created a standing army of around 100,000 men which was comprised of large numbers of cavalry(mostly of the Armenian aristocratic class of azats) he also created separate bodies of footmen, archers, and pikemen, with that of the allied nations the total force of Tigran's army was at its height with perhaps 300,000 men. Allied peoples included Georgians, Adiabenians, Caucasian Albanians, Atropatenes, Cappadocians, Gordeyenes (Armenians of Korduk) and many other tribes and peoples who were all comrades in arms with the main body consisting of battle hardened Armenian troops.