Cultures > Kingdom of Armenia

Kingdom of Armenia

Background

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 Iranian invaders from the neighbouring East (Medes, followed by Achaemenid Persians) in the 6th century BC. Its territory was reorganized into a 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 a commander of the Seleucid Empire, Artashes I, who is presumed to be related to the Orontid dynasty himself.

Artaxiad Dynasty

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 Highlands at the expense of neighboring tribes and founded the new royal capital of Artaxata near the Araxes River.[7] 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.

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.[7] Tigranes the Great saw an 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.

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