Armenian Travel Bureau

Inbound travel to the Republic of Armenia

Armenia History From Sea to Shining Sea

From Sea to Shining Sea

In the 1st century BC, Armenia and Parthia (Persia) were engaged in war against the Roman empire. Within this struggle a new King rose, Tigran II (Tigran the Great, reigned 95-56 BC).

Held as a hostage at the court of the Parthian kings, Tigran was released in return for the cession of seventy valleys in the neighborhood of Atropatene. His first act, after his ascension to the throne in 95 BC, was to seize the small kingdom of Sophene, reuniting two separate kingdoms on Armenian territory. What remained was a third part, lesser Armenia, located beyond the Euphrates.

That had been annexed by Mithridates Eupator of Pontus. A treaty of alliance between the two rulers was sealed by the marriage of Tigran to Cleopatra, Mithridates daughter. Internal troubles in Persia, following the death of the Persian King Mithridates the Great, gave Tigran the chance to recover the 70 valleys he had been forced to cede as a young prince.

In victorious campaigns between 88-85 BC he did that and more, occupying northern Mesopotamia and imposing his rule over those who had been under Parthian control. The treaty concluding the war gave Tigran the Parthian title «King of Kings».

Tigran followed this by next turning his arms against western countries, occupying Northern Syria (where he was given the Syrian crown in 83 BC), advancing into Phoenicia and Cilicia, and seizing several Cappadocian cities.

By the year 70 BC, Tigran had become the most powerful ruler of the Near East, his vast empire stretching extending from the Caspian to the Mediterranean and from the Caucasus to Palestine and Cilicia. With his alliance to Pontus, he controlled the entire lands between the three great seas of the ancient world.

Tigran founded the new capital, Tigranakert, at the foot of the Taurus Mountains, west of Lake Van. In order to populate his new city, Tigran forced the inhabitants of twelve Greek cities that he had destroyed relocate there; several Greek scholars came of their own accord and Tigranakert became the principal center for Hellenism in the empire. And his power became legendary as far away as Rome itself.

According to the Greek biographer Plutarch, the Roman general Lucullus said of Tigran II, «In Armenia, Tigran is seated surrounded with that power which (he has) wrested Asia from the Parthians, which carries Greek colonies into Media, subdues Syria and Palestine and cuts off the Seleucids».

Cicero, the Roman orator and politician, added, «He made the Republic of Rome tremble before the powers of his arms».

Rome maintained a neutral position during Tigrans victorious campaigns, but it soon came into conflict with the new empire. In 66 BC Tigran made treaty with the Romans, renouncing his southern territories.

As he surrendered the city and kingdom, he was told by Pompeius he had not lost the Armenian kingdom, but gained the friendship of Rome (Dion Cassius).

Tigran Sr. was forced to pay 6000 talons (about 171 tons) of silver in tribute, and relinquish his new conquests, but he retained Greater Armenia and the Armenian lands he had reunited earlier in his reign. He was also awarded a part of Pontus.

By 56 or 55 BC, Armenia Major (or Greater Armenia) had enjoyed a total of ten peaceful years from 40 years of rule under Tigran the Great. Tigran died at the age of 85, leaving his kingdom to another son, Artavazd II.  

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