Bargain with Parthians
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 Euphratean
Armenia was 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.
Rome drawn into imbroglio
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 gains supremacy
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 Seleucidae, was in this triumphant moment transferred
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
Building of a new capital
The expansion of his domain to the south and west made
necessary the creation of a new and more centrally located capital. Artashat
(Artaxata), the old capital, isolated in a remote province, lay too far to the
north. Tigran therefore built in the southern part of Armenia the new city of
Tigranocerta (Tigranakert), named in his honor. It was probably northwest of
Nissibin, at the foot of the spurs of the Taurus chain.
As one enthusiastic writer says, the city seemed to spring from the earth as if
by enchantment. In the splendor of its palaces, gardens and parks, in the
richness of its ornaments and stored treasure, it is thought by some to have
rivalled Nineveh and Babylon. Its walls were fifty "brasses" or fathoms
(300 feet) high, and stables for the horses were built into their lower parts.
The royal palace was in the suburbs, surrounded by a park, in which were many
dens for wild game and ponds for fish. Tigran also constructed a strong fort
near the palace.
By royal order, the grandees of Armenia were compelled to
transfer their residence to the new city. Thousands of Greek families were
deported from Asia Minor, as were others from Adiabene, Assyria, Gordiene and
Arabian Mesopotamia, to build up the population of the new capital, which at
once took on a cosmopolitan character.
Tigran's public appearances were spectacular. He displayed
all the pomp and magnificence becoming to a successor of Darius or Xerxes.
Theoretically an equal of the gods, he clothed himself in a tunic striped in
white and purple, and a mantle entirely purple. He always
wore everywhere (even when hunting) a tiara of precious stones. Four of his
vassal kings stood about his throne, and when he rode forth on horseback, they
ran on foot before and beside him. When he received persons upon affairs of
state, these kinglets stood around him, "with crossed hands."
As polygamy was the rule in the East, great numbers of
concubines were kept in a gynaecium, where Cleopatra ruled as Queen. Although
the entire region was oriental in all traditions, under the influence of the
scholarly Queen, Greek manners and culture were to a certain degree introduced
into the kingdom. The royal princes were taught the Greek language and sciences.
Tigran himself, called upon to occupy the throne of the Seleucidae, could not
have been a stranger to Greek art and letters. A theater was built in
Tigranocerta, and the King invited Greek actors there to give performances in
their own language. According to historians the plays performed were of the
Bacchic or sensual type. Metrodorus, the Greek writer, a native of Scepsis, in
Troy, once a minister of Mithridates, spent several years in the palace, writing
the life and achievements of Tigran. Unfortunately, his history has not been
discovered. Another famous Greek, Amphicrates, the rhetorician, was among those
invited to Tigranocerta. Artavazd, the King's son, wrote dramas and histories in
Greek. Remains of his works survived as late as the first century A.D.
Tigran was forty-seven years of age when he married
Cleopatra. By her he had three sons, two of whom were slain by his own hand; one
of them during a rebellion, when the son took up arms against his father. On
another occasion, while hunting, Tigran fell from his horse, and a second son,
instead of rushing to his aid, picked up his father's crown and placed it on his
own head; whereupon the infuriated King struck him dead. The third of these
sons, also named Tigran, having expressed profound regret and sympathy for his
father at the time of this accident, was given a crown by Tigran, but later on
he too revolted against his father. The son, Artavazd, who succeeded Tigran, was
not the child of Cleopatra.
Despite some objectionable aspects of his social, domestic
and public life, Tigran deserves honor as a torch-bearer of Hellenistic culture.
"The two great kings of Pontus and Armenia," says Jacques de Morgan, "were the last ones capable of reproducing in their states
the beautiful civilization of Hellas."
Contradicting Mommsen's assertion that the Armenian and
Pontian struggles were reactionary movements, Professor Manandian claims that
Tigran's progressive measures met strong opposition in Armenia from the old
partisans of Oriental ways of life. He further declares — and is supported by
other scholars — that the conquests and achievements, as well as the wealth and
prosperity attributed by Khorenatsi to Tigran I, should be credited to
Tigran II, the Great. Khorenatsi, misled by ancient popular songs and
traditions, ascribed even the building of Tigranocerta to Tigran I, who lived
560 years before "the Great."
His empire short-lived
However, great though Tigran II was in ability, the empire
created by him was doomed to be short-lived and a mere flash of lightning in
history because of Roman ruthlessness and the mad audacity of his father-in‑law
Mithridates. The verbal treaty made between Sulla and Mithridates in 84 B.C.,
was only an armistice. Murena, the Roman governor of Asia, arbitrarily and
without the approval of the Roman Senate, renewed hostilities, but his attacks
were repulsed. Mithridates appealed to Rome for peace, but in vain; the internal
politics of Rome required brilliant victories abroad. Lucullus came to Asia with
a powerful army and navy, and Mithridates, forsaken by his own officers, was
badly beaten, even his son seeking favor with the invaders. There was nothing
left for him but to take refuge in Armenia. Tigran alone hesitatingly promised
him aid, though it meant fighting not only the Romans but also the Parthians,
who (according to Gutschmid) held a bitter grudge against him and were already
formally at war with him. Plutarch, always ready to besmirch Tigran, attributes
to him a cold and unconcerned attitude towards his father-in‑law. Other
historians give us a different picture of Tigran, who in answering a demand by
Lucullus for the surrender of Mithridates, replied: "The whole world and my own
conscience would condemn me if I should surrender the father of my wife to the
Oppressions of Lucullus
The outcome was inevitable. The entire territory of Pontus
was seized by the Romans and pillaged. The large and flourishing cities of Heraclea
(modern Eregli) and Amisus (modern Samsun) were ruthlessly sacked and destroyed.
Not content with enormous sums of money demanded as war indemnity from the
impoverished population, all private property — lands, houses, personal
adornments of women — were subjected to heavy taxes. The people, reduced to
bankruptcy by the rapacious conqueror, had, in the space of only fourteen years,
acquired a debt of 2,000 talents, about $20,000,000.
Lucullus had been secretly planning a sudden assault on
Armenia, without a declaration of war. Immediately after the rejection of his
peremptory demand for the person of Mithridates, the Romans marched upon
Tigranocerta. Upon his return from a Phoenician expedition, Tigran had refused
to believe the news of the appearance of Romans on Armenian soil; but now,
facing the cold reality, he issued orders for resistance, at least to the extent
of retarding the movements of the enemy. But it was now too late. One of his
generals, Mihrbarzan, at the head of an infantry division and 3,000 cavalry, was
defeated and slain in an engagement with the vanguard of the Roman army under
Sextellus. The Armenian troops were dispersed Tigran, upon hearing of this
disaster, fled to the northern part of his country, leaving his treasure and
wives in Tigranocerta. Another Roman force under Murena pursued him hotly and
seized his baggage. Meanwhile, Sextellus invested the new capital and captured
the suburbs and the palaces situated outside the walls.
Allies in Tigran's army
Tigran still possessed enormous resources in the form of
territory, money, soldiers and munitions. Encamped on a plateau on the northern
slope of the Armenian Taurus, he reinforced and reorganized his army. In
response to his appeal, the Kings of Adiabene, Atropatenes, Iberia and Albania
came to his aid, as well as some Arabian chiefs. Having thus collected an army,
whose numbers some estimate as high as 100,000, and learning that Lucullus had
laid siege to his capital with a comparatively small force, Tigran disregarded
the advice of Mithridates to surround the enemy and cut off its supplies, and
instead, thought only of rescuing his treasures. A corps of 6,000 of his cavalry
succeeded in piercing the enemy lines by night and bringing off the women and a
part of the valuables.
Now emboldened by this achievement, Tigran sallied forth with
his main army, in the hope of scattering the besiegers. When he reached a height from which Tigranocerta was
visible in the distance, Lucullus left Murena with 6,000 cavalry to watch the
city and prevent a sortie, and himself marched with 10,000 infantry and some
horsemen to meet the King. "If they are coming as emissaries," Plutarch
represents Tigran as saying,
as he looked down in some perplexity upon the small advancing force, "they are
too many; if as antagonists, they are very few." The story that he made such a
remark is derided by Manandian, in view of the inaccuracy of the quoted strength
of the two armies. Plutarch gives 14,000 to 15,000 as the number of Lucullus's
troops; Ammianus and Mommsen accept this estimate and place the strength of
Tigran's host at 300,000. This great disparity of 1 to 20 has been questioned by
several scholars, who propose 70,000 to 80,000 as the number of the Armenian
army, and add to the Roman forces the number of their Anatolian allies, another
15,000, thus reducing the ratio 1 against 2, or thereabouts.
It was an autumn day, October 6th, 69 B.C.
when this milestone in Armenian history was reached. Lucullus began the attack
by leading two cohorts up a hill which Tigran had neglected to occupy. From
there the Romans dashed down upon the cavalrymen, who recoiling from the shock,
fell back upon the infantry, throwing the latter into disorder. Within a short
time the army of Tigran was defeated and scattered, and the King in flight lost
his tiara and diadem.
Tigran and Mithridates could not avoid the fact that their
situation was critical. All the provinces lying south of Taurus were lost. Greek
troops entrusted with the defense of Tigranocerta mutinied, and despite the
efforts of Mancius, the commander of the place, these mercenaries surrendered to
the Romans the portions of the city they were supposed to defend. So with the
promise of the Romans that the wives and property of the alien citizens be
spared and they be repatriated to their respective homelands, Tigranocerta fell.
The city was then given up to plunder. The booty was enormous; the treasury
alone contained 8,000 talents in gold coin, not to mention other riches hoarded
there. Each Roman soldier received 800 drachmas as his share of the spoil. In
the still uncompleted theatre, the victory honoring Lucullus was celebrated.
Lucullus spent the winter (69‑68 B.C.)
in Gordiene, seeking alliances among the petty kings of the neighborhood, who
were ready to shake off the yoke of Tigran. The
Roman labored to win the friendship of Phraates, who had succeeded old Sanatruk
on the throne of Persia. Phraates, however, held aloof, for he had received
messages from Tigran and Mithridates which informed him that the Romans were
casting greedy eyes upon his empire, too. Lucullus had in fact been
contemplating an attack upon the Parthians, but his army was not just then in
condition to undertake a campaign. He broke camp around the end of spring, to
cross the mountains separating the valley of the Tigris from the plain of Mush,
and arrived in Armenia at the right season, when the wheat was not yet ripened.
Tigran's army, reinforced by Mithridates, had taken strong
positions on hills, while the cavalry, commanded by the King himself, endeavored
to cut the Roman's supply line. Lucullus, at the head of his legions, ascending
the valley of Arzania, marched towards Artashat (Artaxata). This ancient capital
of Armenia contained much wealth, including the remainder of King Tigran's
Tigran, maneuvering to draw the Romans away, marched along
the opposite bank of the river, menacing the enemy's rear. The armies met in
battle in September, 68. The Median cavalry and Iberian lancers at first seemed
invincible, but when Roman infantry forded the river and attacked them, they
took to flight. While these fugitives were being pursued by the Roman horsemen,
Tigran attacked the legions, and Mithridates harassed them from the rear. For a
moment the Romans were in real peril, but Lucullus, plunging desperately with
his cavalry into Tigran's own regiment, threw Mithridates into confusion. The
armies drew apart after both had suffered heavy losses, but the result was
indecisive, and the allies were able to execute an orderly retreat and occupy
new positions in force.
Lucullus retires from Armenia
Artashat was still far out of reach of the Romans, and the
Armenian summer was near its end. After the Roman army had marched a few stages,
its advance was halted by a sudden cold wave and heavy snowfall. This, climaxing
his failure to crush Tigran during several months of campaigning, discouraged
Lucullus. He abandoned the project of reducing Artashat, and moved back towards the South, consoling himself with the capture of
the city of Nissibin, in Mygdonia, whose governor was Guras, Tigran's brother.
During the eight years of this campaign, with no decisive victory, the Roman
army appeared to have become a mere convoy for the loot which Lucullus took from
cities, temples and palaces for his own private gain, and which made him a
wealthy man and a noted gourmand for the rest of his days.
As Lucullus withdrew into Mesopotamia, Tigran and Mithridates
returned to their countries. The King of Pontus even fought an engagement
against a lieutenant of Lucullus and killed 7,000 of his troops. The allies took
the offensive soon after this, again invading Cappadocia and driving the Romans
out of Pontus. Tigran eventually became the master of all the provinces north of
the Tigris River. So the Romans lost all the gains of recent years; the great
victories of Lucullus vanished like a dream.
Tigran in his old age had the misfortune of seeing his home
broken up by domestic dissensions. Although the children which Cleopatra gave
him were impatient to reign, none of them did. Zareh, who was the first to
revolt, together with several other malcontents, lost his life in battle.
Enemy aided by Tigran's son
Rome could maintain her Asiatic possessions only by
continuing the mortal struggle to crush Tigran and Mithridates. Pompey, who
succeeded Lucullus in 66 B.C., was now at the head of
considerable forces in Cilicia. After spending the winter in that country, he
marched against Mithridates. The King of Pontus had been struggling hard to win
an alliance with the Parthians, but the emissaries of Pompey forestalled him and
succeeded in concluding a pact with Phraates. As for the younger Tigran, Pompey
offered to Phraates, his father-in‑law, aid in undertaking a powerful diversion
in his favor in Armenia. While Pompey, at the very first encounter, put
Mithridates to flight, Phraates and young Tigran penetrated into Armenia,
compelling the old king to retire to the mountains; but they lost much time and
drained their strength in a siege of Artashat, which offered a stiff resistance.
Phraates, lest a longer absence augment domestic troubles, finally returned to
his country. The younger Tigran was defeated by his father and fled to the Roman
Tigran II surrenders
Pompey set out towards Artashat with his army, but was still fifteen miles away when the heralds of old Tigran appeared, followed by the
King himself. He had come humbly to ask for peace. At the gate of the camp, a
lictor helped him to alight from his horse. When he saw Pompey, he removed his
diadem, and was about to prostrate himself before the Roman general, but the
latter prevented him, made him sit by his side, and consented to a peace, on
condition that Tigran renounce his acquisitions in Syria and Asia Minor, and pay
6,000 talents indemnity and recognize young Tigran as the King of Sophene.
The aged, weary monarch accepted these terms, promising to
the Roman troops a gratuity of fifty drachmas per soldier, one thousand per
centurion, and one talent to each tribune. But his son, who had hoped to occupy
the throne of Armenia, could not conceal his discontent. He carried on secret
intrigues with the Parthians which were presently discovered, and he was put in
chains by Pompey. This was a violation of such international law as prevailed
then, and was a humiliation inflicted upon the King of the Parthians. Phraates
sought the liberation of his son-in‑law but in vain; young Tigran, his wife and
children were sent to Rome to be paraded in the triumph of Pompey. The peace
granted by Pompey obliterated all the conquests of Tigran the Great, and reduced
Armenia's terrain once more to her ancient borders.
There were a number of reasons for Armenia's greatness being
so short-lived. She was surrounded by an agglomeration of peoples whom she could
not assimilate until she could overcome the powerful Roman and Parthian
influences upon them. Also, Armenia herself was disrupted by internal strifes,
the result of her feudal form of government. This explains to some degree why
the attempt of Tigran the Great had been unique in his country's history, and
why he, notwithstanding his mistakes and defeats, represents a brilliant page in
the story of Armenia.