World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Armenian Empire

Article Id: WHEBN0008574873
Reproduction Date:

Title: Armenian Empire  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: List of empires, List of largest empires, Artaxiad Dynasty, Cyrrhus, Timeline of Armenian history
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Armenian Empire

This article is about the Kingdom of Armenia during antiquity. For a list of other Armenian Kingdoms, see Kingdom of Armenia.
Template:Infobox former country/autocat
Kingdom of Armenia
Մեծ Հայք
Metz Hayk
Satrapy, Kingdom, Empire, Province

321 BC–428 AD

Arsacid Dynasty

Tigranes II the Great, 69 BC (including vassals)
Languages Armenian (native language)
Religion Armenian mythology
Hellenism: 3rd century BC - 301 AD
Christianity: from 301 AD
Government Monarchy
King, King of Kings
 -  321–317 BC Orontes III
 -  422–428 Artaxias IV
Historical era Antiquity, Middle Ages
 -  Satrapy of Armenia is formed c. 533 BC
 -  Orontes III 321 BC 321 BC
 -  Armenian Empire
 -  Battle of Rhandeia 61 AD
 -  Christianity national religion 301 AD
 -  Western Armenia conquered by Byzantium 387
 -  Armenia conquered by Persia 428 428 AD
 -  Reestablishment of the Armenian Kingdom 884
 -  321 BC 400,000 km² (154,441 sq mi)
 -  69 BC 500,000 km² (193,051 sq mi)
 -  301 AD 350,000 km² (135,136 sq mi)
 -  428 AD 120,000 km² (46,332 sq mi)
 -  69 BC est. 20,000,000 
     Density 40 /km²  (103.6 /sq mi)
 -  301 AD est. 3,000,000 
     Density 8.6 /km²  (22.2 /sq mi)
Currency Taghand
Today part of  Armenia

The ancient Kingdom of Armenia (Armenian: Մեծ Հայք Metz Hayk) was a monarchy which existed for six centuries from 321 BC to 428 AD. Its history is divided into successive reigns by three royal dynasties: Orontid (321–200 BC), Artaxiad (189 BC–12 AD) and Arsacid (52–428).

The root of the kingdom lies in one of the satrapies of the Achaemenid Empire of Persia called Armenia, which was formed from the territory of the Kingdom of Ararat after it was conquered by the Median Empire in 590 BC. The satrapy became a kingdom in 321 BC during the reign of the Orontid dynasty after the conquest of Persia by Alexander the Great, which was then incorporated as one of the Hellenistic kingdoms of the Seleucid Empire.

Under the Seleucid Empire, the Armenian throne was divided in two – Armenia Major and Sophene – both of which passed to members of the Artaxiad dynasty in 189 BC. During the Roman Republic's eastern expansion, the Kingdom of Armenia, under Tigranes the Great, reached its peak, from 83 to 69 BC, after it reincorporated Sophene and conquered the remaining territories of the falling Seleucid Empire, effectively ending its existence and raising Armenia into an empire for a brief period, until it was itself conquered by Rome in 69 BC. The remaining Artaxiad kings ruled as clients of Rome until they were overthrown in 12 AD due to their possible allegiance to Rome's main rival, Parthia.

During the Roman-Parthian Wars, the Arsacid dynasty of Armenia was founded when Tiridates I, a member of the Parthian Arsacid dynasty, was proclaimed King of Armenia in 52. Throughout most of its history during this period, Armenia was heavily contested between Rome and Parthia, and the Armenian nobility was divided among pro-Roman, pro-Parthian or neutrals. From 114 to 118, Armenia briefly became a province of the Roman Empire under Emperor Trajan. The Kingdom of Armenia often served as a client state or vassal at the frontier of the two large empires and their successors, the Byzantine and Sassanid empires. In 301, Tiridates III proclaimed Christianity as the state religion of Armenia, making the Armenian kingdom the first state to embrace Christianity officially.

During the Byzantine–Sasanian wars, Armenia was ultimately partitioned into Byzantine Armenia in 387 and Persian Armenia in 428.

Today, when not referring to United Armenia, Greater Armenia generally refers to the kingdom's borders under the Arsacid dynasty.



The geographic Armenian Highlands, then known as the highlands of Ararat (Assyrian: Urartu), was originally inhabited by ancient Armenian tribes which did not yet constitute a unitary state. It was first united by Proto-Armenian tribes in the vicinity of lake Van into the Kingdom of Van (Proto-Armenian: 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 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

Main article: 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 an Armenian commander of the Seleucid Empire, Artashes I, who is presumed to be a member of Orontid Dynasty.

Artaxiad Dynasty

Main article: 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 Highland at the expense of neighboring tribes and founded the new royal capital of Artaxata near the Araxes River.[1] 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.[2] 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.[1] Tigranes the Great saw 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.

Roman rule

Main article: Roman Armenia

Armenia came under the Ancient Roman sphere of influence in 66 BC, after the battle of Tigranocerta and the final defeat of Armenia's ally, Mithridates VI of Pontus. Mark Antony invaded and defeated the kingdom in 34 BC, but Romans lost hegemony during the Final war of the Roman Republic in 32-30 BC. In 20 BC, Augustus negotiated a truce with the Parthians, making Armenia a buffer zone between the two major powers.

Augustus installed Tigranes V as king of Armenia in AD 6, but ruled with Erato of Armenia. The Romans then installed Mithridates of Armenia as client king. Mithridates was arrested by Caligula, but later restored by Claudius. Subsequently, Armenia was often a focus of contention between Rome and Parthia, with both major powers supporting opposing sovereigns and usurpers. The Parthians forced Armenia into submission in AD 37, but in AD 47 the Romans retook control of the kingdom. In AD 51 Armenia fell to an Iberian invasion sponsored by Parthia, led by Rhadamistus. Tigranes VI of Armenia ruled from AD 58, again installed by Roman support. The period of turmoil ends in AD 66, when Tiridates I of Armenia was crowned king of Armenia by Nero. For the remaining duration of the Armenian kingdom, Rome still considered it a client kingdom de jure, but the ruling dynasty was of Parthian extraction, and contemporary Roman writers thought that Nero had de facto yielded Armenia to the Parthians.[3]

Arsacid Dynasty

Main article: Arsacid Dynasty of Armenia

Under Nero, the Romans fought a campaign (55–63) against the Parthian Empire, which had invaded the Kingdom of Armenia, allied with the Romans. After gaining Armenia in 60, then losing it in 62, the Romans sent the legion XV Apollinaris from Pannonia to Gnaeus Domitius Corbulo, legatus of Syria. In 63, strengthened further by the legions III Gallica, V Macedonica, X Fretensis and XXII, General Corbulo entered into the territories of Vologases I of Parthia, who then returned the Armenian kingdom to Tiridates.

Another campaign was led by Emperor Lucius Verus in 162–165, after Vologases IV of Parthia had invaded Armenia and installed his chief general on its throne. To counter the Parthian threat, Verus set out for the east. His army won significant victories and retook the capital. Sohaemus, a Roman citizen of Armenian heritage, was installed as the new client king. But during an epidemic within the Roman forces, Parthians retook most of their lost territory in 166. Sohaemus retreated to Syria, аnd Arsacid’s dynasty was restored power over Armenia.

After the fall of the Arsacid Dynasty in Persia, the succeeding Sassanian Dynasty aspired to reestablish Persian control. The Sassanid Persians occupied Armenia in 252. However, in 287, Tiridates III the Great was established King of Armenia by the Roman armies. After Gregory the Illuminator's spreading of Christianity in Armenia, Tiridates accepted Christianity and made it his kingdom's official religion. The traditional date for Armenia's conversion to Christianity is established at 301, which precedes the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great's conversion and the Edict of Milan by a dozen years.

In 387, the Kingdom of Armenia was split between the Eastern Roman Empire and the Persians. Western Armenia quickly became a province of the Roman Empire under the name of Armenia Minor; Eastern Armenia remained a kingdom within Persia until 428, when the local nobility overthrew the king, and the Sassanids installed a governor in his place. In 885, after years of Roman, Persian, and Arab rule, Armenia regained its independence under the Bagratid dynasty.


The Kingdom of Armenia had an army of 100,000 to 120,000.

Under Tigranes the Great

The army of Kingdom of Armenia was at peak under the reign of Tigranes the Great. According to the author of Judith, his army included chariots and 12,000 cavalrymen, probably indicating heavy cavalry or cataphracts, commonly used by Seleucids and Parthians. He also had 120,000 infantrymen and 12,000 mounted archers, which were also an important feature of the Parthian army. Like the Seleucids, the bulk of Tigranes' army were foot soldiers. The Jewish historian Josephus talks of 500,000 men in total, including the camp followers. These latter were the camels, donkeys, and mules for the baggage; innumerable sheep, cattle, and goats for the food supply which was abundant for each man, and much gold and silver. As a result, the marching Armenian army was "a huge, irregular force, too many to count, like locusts or the dust of the earth". It was thus not unlike the other enormous Eastern armies of the time. Regardless, the smaller Cappadocian, Graeco-Phoenician, and Nabataean armies were no match for the sheer number of soldiers. However, the organized Roman army with its legions posed a much greater challenge to the Armenians.[4]

Note that the numbers given by Israelite historians of the time were probably exaggerated, considering the fact that the Hasmonean Jews lost the war against Tigranes.



From ancient times in Armenia there existed "Azatavrear" cavalry which consisted of the Armenian elite. "Azatavrear" cavalry was the main part of the Armenian king's court. Later, in medieval times "Azatavrear" cavalry or Armenian heavy cavalry was collected from nobles (youngest sons of Armenian lords) and was known as AYRUDZI (man and horse, horseman). During times of peace, Armenian cavalry was divided into a number of small groups which took the role of guarding the King and his family as well as Armenian lords. Some part of the Armenian cavalry was always patrolling the Armenian borders under the command of an Armenian general (sparapet). The Group of Armenian cavalry whose main mission was the protection of the Armenian king and his family in ancient period consisted of 6000 heavily armored horsemen, and in medieval period of 3000 horsemen. During times of war, the number of Armenian cavalry could be anywhere from 10,000 to 20,000 horsemen or more. Beside Armenian Heavy cavalry there was Armenian light cavalry, which mainly consisted of horsemen archers.[5]

Legio I Armeniaca-Armenian First Legion

"Legio Armeniaca" translated from Latin as "Armenian Legion" and "prima" as "first". The Armenian First Legion was one of the later period Roman empire legions. This Legion is mentioned in the late-antique text known as Notitia Dignitatum. It is most likely that Armenian First Legion was formed in the 2nd or 3rd centuries AD, in the Western part of Kingdom of Armenia and that its mission was to protect the Armenian lands from intrusion. It should first have been the garrison of Armenian lands which had been under the control of Roman Empire. Armenian First Legion took part in the ill-fated Persian campaign of the emperor Julianus Apostata in 363.

Legio II Armeniaca-Armenian Second Legion

"Legio Armeniaca" translated from Latin as "Armenian Legion" and "Secunda" as "Second". Armenian Second Legion like Armenian First legion was one of the later period Roman Empire legions. This legion is also mentioned in the Notitia Dignitatum. Armenian Second Legion was probably created at the end of the 3rd century or in the beginning of the 4th century. Armenian Second Legion had a permanent camp in one of the Northern provinces of the Orient. This legion built a camp in Satala. Armenian Second legion is furthermore mentioned in the year 360AD as a part of the garrison of Bezabda (anciently called Phoencia) at the upper Tigris. In Bezabda Armenian Second Legion served together with Legions Parthica and II Flavia. In 390AD Bezabda was taken by the Persians and a terrible bloodbath ensued against the inhabitants and garrison. Nevertheless the legion seems to have survived this battle, because it appears in Notitia Dignitatum which was written in the 5th century.

Later on Armenian Second legion became a part of the Byzantine army.


Main article: Armenian mythology

The pantheon of Armenian gods formed during the nucleation of the Proto-Armenian tribes that, at the initial stage of their existence, inherited the essential elements of paganism from the Proto-Indo-European tribes that inhabited the Armenian Plateau. Beliefs of the ancient Armenians were associated with the worship of many cults, mainly the cult of ancestors, the worship of heavenly bodies (the cult of the Sun, the Moon cult, the cult of Heaven) and the worship of certain creatures (lions, eagles, bulls). The main cult, however, was the worship of gods of the Armenian pantheon. The supreme god was the common Indo-European god Ap (as the starting point) followed by Vanatur. Later, due to the influence of Armenian-Persian relations, god the Creator was identified as Aramazd, and during the era of Hellenistic influence, he was identified with Zeus. Armenian mythology is one of the mythologies' that had a god of hospitality.

  • Aramazd - The father of all the gods and goddesses, Aramazd created the heavens and the earth. The first two letters in his name, "AR", are the Armenian root for sun, light, and life. Worshiped as a sun-god, Aramazd was considered to be the source of earth’s fertility. His feast Am'nor, or New Year, was celebrated on March 21 in the old Armenian calendar. Aramazd's main sanctuary was one of the principal cult centers of Ancient Armenia.
  • Anahit - The goddess of fertility and birth, and daughter or wife of Aramazd, Anahit is identified with Artemis and Aphrodite. "Great Lady Anahit", one of the most loved and honored Armenian goddesses, was often sculptured with a child in her hands, and with a particular hair style of Armenian women. Temples dedicated to Anahit were established in Armavir, Artashat, Ashtishat. A mountain in the Roman district of Sophene was thought to be Anahit's throne (Ator Anahta).
  • Vahagn - The third god of the Armenian Pantheon, Vahagn is the god of thunder and lightning, and a herculean hero noted for slaying dragons. He was also worshiped as a sun-god and a god of courage. Vahagn's main sanctuary was located in the Ashtishat (a region in ancient Armenia). Vahagn was also a god of war to whom Armenian kings and warlords would pray before engaging in battle.
  • Astghik - Goddess of love, beauty and water, wife or lover of Vahagn and often sculptured without clothes. Her temple in Ashtishat was called "the room of Vahagn", where she met her lover. Astghik is still honored nowadays by Armenians worldwide by the Vartavar feast where people celebrate by Water fights.
  • Nane - The daughter of Aramazd, Nane was considered the goddess of war, motherhood and wisdom. Her cult was closely connected with that of Anahit, and her temple was located in Gavar, near Anahit's temple.
  • Ara 'Ara the Beautiful’- the god of spring, flora, agriculture, sowing and water. He is associated with Osiris, Vishnu and Dionysus, as the symbol of new life.
  • Mihr - The god of light, heaven and sun. He was the son of Aramazd, the brother of Anahit and Nane. His main worship was located in Bagaharich. The pagan temple of Garni was dedicated to him.
  • Tir - God of wisdom, culture, science and studies, he also was an interpreter of dreams. He was the messenger of the gods and was associated with Apollo. Tir's temple was located near Artashat.
  • Amanor or Vanatur (same god with different names) - Amanor was the deity of Armenian new year. His feast, Navasard (New year), was held at the end of July. His temple was located in Bhagavan.
  • Tsovinar - Also called Nar, she was the goddess of rain, sea and water, though she was actually a fiery being who forced rain to fall.
  • Spandaramet - The god of the dungeon and the kingdom of the dead, he was identified with the Greek god Hades.
  • Aray - A little-known war god.
  • Barsamin - God of sky and weather, probably derived from the semitic god Baal Shamin
  • Vanatur- God of hospitality.

Hellenism became dominant in Kingdom of Armenia starting from the 3rd century BC and ending in 301 AD, when the kingdom adopted Christianity as state religion.

Various legends tie the origin of the Armenian Church to the Apostles. Apostolic succession is an important concept for many churches, especially those in the east. The legend of the healing of Abgar V of Edessa by the facecloth of Jesus has been appropriated by the Armenian Church by claiming that Abgar was a prince of Armenia.[6] The more common tradition claims that Thaddaeus, one of the Seventy Apostles was sent to Armenia from nearby Edessa by Abgar (uncle of King Sanatrook of Armenia) to evangelize. The details of the story vary widely, but in all stories Thaddeus converted Sandookdht, the king's daughter. In some versions Sanatrook was also converted, but later apostatized. In other versions, he was never converted, but was always hostile to Christianity. In any case, Sanatrook martyred both Thaddeus and Sandookdht. Some versions have the apostle Bartholomew arriving in Armenia about the same time to also be martyred.[7] Though these stories are considered historically questionable by modern scholars, Christianity must have reached Armenia at an early date as persecutions against Christians in 110, 230, and 287 were recorded by outside writers Eusebius and Tertullian.[8]

The Kingdom of Armenia was the first state to adopt Christianity as its religion[9] when St. Gregory the Illuminator converted King Tiridates III and members of his court,[10] an event dated to AD 301. Gregory, trained in Christianity and ordained to the presbyterate at Caesarea, returned to his native land to preach about 287, the same time that Tiridates III took the throne. Tiridates owed his position to the Roman Emperor Diocletian, a noted persecutor of Christianity. In addition, he became aware that Gregory was a son of Anak, the man who assassinated his father. Consequently Tiridates imprisoned Gregory in an underground pit, called Khor Virap, for 13 years. In 301, 37 Christian virgins, among whom was Saint Nune (St. Nino for Georgia), who later became the founder of the Georgian Orthodox Church, fleeing Roman persecution, came to Armenia. Tiridates desired one of them, Rhipsime, to be his wife, but she turned him down. In a rage, he martyred the whole group of them. Soon afterward, according to legend, God struck him with an illness that left him crawling around like a beast. (The story is reminiscent of Nebuchadnezzar II in Daniel 4.) Khosrovidukht, the king’s sister, had a dream in which she was told that the persecution of Christians must stop. She related this to Tiridates, who released Gregory from prison. Gregory then healed Tiridates who then converted to Christianity and immediately declared Armenia to be a Christian nation, becoming the first official Christian state.


Little is known about pre-Christian Armenian literature. Many literature pieces known to us were saved and then presented to us by Moses of Chorene. This is a pagan Armenian song, telling about the birth of Vahagn.



Main article: Armenian language
Main article: Armenian alphabet

Before Armenian alphabet was created Armenians used Aramean and Greek alphabets, the last of which had a great influence on Armenian alphabet. The Armenian alphabet was created by Saint Mesrop Mashtots and Isaac of Armenia (Sahak Partev) in AD 405 primarily for a Bible translation into the Armenian language. Traditionally, the following phrase translated from Solomon's Book of Proverbs is said to be the first sentence to be written down in Armenian by Mashtots:

Template:Cquote . Although it's taught, that the Armenian alphabet was created in 405 AD. There was also an alphabet comprising 300 symbols, used only in Pagan temples. Early in the 5th century, Classical Armenian, or Grabar, was one of the great languages of the Near East and Asia Minor. Although an autonomous branch within the Indo-European family of languages, it had some affinities to Middle Iranian, Greek and the Balto-Slavic languages, but belonged to none of them. It was characterized by a system of inflection unlike the other languages, as well as a flexible and liberal use of combining root words to create derivative and compound words by the application of certain agglutinative affixes. By the 2nd century BC, the population of Greater Armenia spoke Armenian, implying that today’s Armenians are the direct descendants of those speakers.[11][12][13][14]


Main article: Armenian architecture

Bright example of Armenian architecture is Garni Temple. The structures of the fortress of Garni are in perfect harmony with the surrounding nature. The fortress is situated in a picturesque mountain locality and commands a broad panorama of orchards, fields and mountain slopes covered with motley carpets of varicoloured grasses, of the jagged and precipitous canyon of the Azat river.

Strategically, the place for building this fortress was very cleverly chosen. In very ancient times (the 3rd millennium BC) a cyclopic fortress existed there. According to a cuneiform record found on the territory of Garni, the fortress was conquered by Argishti I, the king of Urartu, in the first half of the 8th century BC. In the epoch of the Armenian rulers of the Ervandids, Artashesids and Arshakids dynasties (since the 3rd century BC to the 4th century AD) Garni was a summer residence of the kings and the place where their troops were stationed,

The fortress of Garni stands on a triangular cape which dominates the locality and juts into the river. A deep gorge and steep mountain slopes serve as a natural impregnable obstacle, and therefore the fortress wall was put up only on the side of the plain. It was put together of large square-shaped slabs of basalt placed flat on top of each other without mortar and fastened together with iron cramps sealed with lead. The evenly spaced rectangular towers and the concave shape of the middle of the most vulnerable northern wall, which increased the effectiveness of flank shooting, added much to the defense capacity of the fortress and, at the same time, enhanced its artistic merits.

The palace complex included several disconnected buildings: a temple, a presence chamber, a columned tall, a residential block. a bath-house. etc. They were situated around the vast main square of the fortress, in its southern part, away from the entranceway, where they formed all ensemble. In the northern part there probably were the premises of the service staff, the king’s guards and the garrison.

The summit of the cape was crowned with a temple which overlooked the square by its main northern façade. The temple, the artistic center of the complex, is on the central axis passing through the fortress gate.

The temple was built in the second half of the 1st century BC and dedicated to a heathen god, probably to Mithra (Mihr in Armenian), the god of the sun whose figure stood in the depth of the sanctuary (naos). After Christianity had been proclaimed the state religion in Armenia in 301, the temple was probably used as a summer residence of the kings. A chronicle describes it as "a house of coolness".

In its style, the temple, a six-column periptere, resembles similar structures in Asia Minor (baths at Sagala and Pergamum), Syria (Baalbek) and Rome. Its architectural shapes are basically-Hellenistic but local traditions also show in it. It should be noted that a rectangle-based religious edifice with columns and a pediment was known on the territory of the Armenian upland back in the epoch of the Urartians; such, for instance, was the temple in Musasir (the 9th to 8th centuries BC), a representation of which can be seen on an ancient Assyrian bas-relief. Quite possibly, this type of architecture influenced the overall composition of Armenia's heathen temples in general, and that of Garni temple, especially the outlines of certain details and the interior decoration.

The temple stands on a high podium with a two-step base and is surrounded with 24 Ionic columns. A broad nine-step stairway leads up to the podium. The sides of the stairway are decorated with bas-relief, placed symmetrically relative to the main axis of the building, showing kneeling Atlantes with uplifted hands who seemed to support the torches which used to stand higher. This sculptural motif is flown from later monuments of East Roman provinces, such a Niha in Syria (the 1st century AD). In front of a rectangular stone-floored naos there is a shallow pronaos with antae and an entrance-way framed in a platband. The small size of the sanctuary shows that it contained only a statue of the deity, and that worship was performed in the pronaos.

The bases of the columns resemble those of Attic temples in their shapes, the shafts are smooth, the Ionic capitals are decorated with clean-cut moulded, rather than hewn, volutes and ovae and leaf ornaments which differ from column to column — a characteristic feature of Armenian monuments. The shape of the corner capitals is most interesting — on them as distinct from the inside columns, the volutes of the adjacent front sides are turned at a right angle, and the floral ornament of the lateral sides are more graceful in their composition.

The richly ornamented entablature is distinguished by the overhanging upper part of the architrave and frieze. This feature is also to be seen in the later monuments of Syria (2nd century) and Italy (4th century). As distinct from these works of Hellenistic art, however, the ornamentation of the entablature of Garni temple is more variegated. The frieze shows fronds of acanthus combined with flowers and rosettes of various shapes and outlines. Besides acanthus, it also features laurel and oak leaves, as well as grapes, pomegranate and other floral motives characteristic of the Orient.

The cornice is ornamented with dummy spillways shaped as lions’ heads with bared teeth. These, along with oxen, often occurred in Urartu murals, on arms and seals. Contrasting with the flat bas-relief leaf ornament of the cornice, they created the rhythm of the crowning details of lateral façades, connected with the columns.

The pediment was smooth. The soffits of the architrave, the ceilings of the portico and the wings of the temple were decorated with floral ornaments, octagon and diamond-shaped ornamented caissons. Carving on hard basalt, rather than on the soft marble characteristic of Roman architecture, is evidence of the fact that all structures in the cities of that epoch — Armavir, Yervandashat, Vagarshapat, etc. — were created by Armenian craftsmen. Their style shows in the variety of ornamental motifs, in the depiction of specimens of local flora in ornaments and flat carvings.

The temple’s proportions differ somewhat from the proportions of other antique structures. Its composition is based on the contrast between the horizontal divisions of the podium and the entablature and the vertical columns which rose sharply against the background of the sky. The temple makes an impressive sight from many remote and close observation points.

A two-storey palace situated to the west of the temple was another edifice distinguished for its artistic merits and size (about 15 by 40 m). Its southern part, a presence chamber 9.65 by 19.92 m, was an oblong premise, its ground floor roofing resting on eight square pillars arranged along the longitudinal axis. The walls were punctuated with pilasters, aligned with the pillars. There were niches between them.

A rectangular premise at the north-eastern fortress wall, dated to the 3rd or 4th century, had a similar composition. Just as in the columned hall of Bagineti fortified town near Mtskheta, Georgia, its wooden roofing rested on the inner wooden pillars with stone basis and, possibly, with carved wooden capitals. It seems that the longitudinal side of this architecturally richly decorated premise had wide openings affording a view of the beautiful panorama of the green valley of the Azat river and the picturesque slopes of the far-off mountains.

The northern part of the palace was taken up by residential quarters. Judging by the fragments that have survived to this day, the composition of the façade of this part, which overlooked the square, had risalitas. The premises of the basement served auxiliary purposes. One of them was a winery, for instance. In one of the rooms one can see traces of dark-red plastering, which seems to indicate that the residential and presence chambers of the palace were richly ornamented.

The bath-house is situated in the northern part of the square. at an angle to the residential block. Built in the 3rd century, it comprised no less than five premises serving various purposes, four of which had apses at their end walls. The first apsidal room from the east was a dressing room, the second one, a cold water bathroom, the third and fourth ones, warm and hot water bathrooms respectively. The bathhouse had a water reservoir, with a heating room in the basement. The floors were faced with baked bricks covered with a layer of polished stucco. They rested on round pillars and were heated from below with hot air and smoke which came to the underfloor space from the heater.

A notion of the interior decoration can be obtained from the fragments of two-layer plasterwork which survived in several rooms — the white lower layer and the pink upper layer — as well as from the floors with remnants of stone mosaics of 15 hues. Of special interest is the soft-colour mosaic of the dressing room floor dating back to the 3rd or 4th century, an outstanding example of monumental painting in central Armenia. The theme of the mosaic decoration of the 2.91 by 3.14 m floor draws upon Greek mythology.

Against the light-green background, representing the sea, there are inlaid pictures of the gods of the Ocean and the Sea, framed with a "wattled" ornament, fishes, nereids and ichthyocentauri. A wide pink band runs the perimeter of the mosaic. The tonal transitions of the water surface create the impression of wave movement. Greek inscriptions name the deities and nereids which are skillfully executed by craftsmen who obviously had a good knowledge of anatomy. Human figures with faces of Oriental type are depicted in a most specific manner. A Greek inscription over the heads of the gods says: "Work and gain nothing".

The bath-house of Garni. in its composition and in that it had rooms with various temperatures with the hypocaust heating system, has much in common with the antique bathhouses of Syria and Asia Minor, especially with the bathhouses in Mtskheta — Armazi (2nd or 3rd century) in Georgia, in Dura-Europos and in Antioch on the Orontes (3rd century).

On the fortress grounds archeologists found fragments of various works of art. Among them a marble torso of what looks like a man’s figure in anitique attire merits special attention. The torso is harmoniously proportioned. The folds of an engirdled tunic draped around a calmly standing figure are well rendered. The figure has much in common with a marble woman’s figurine found in Artashat and dating back to the end of the 2nd and the beginning of the 1st century BC.

Also well preserved is a great number of superbly executed fragments of column bases, plasters, window and door plathands, cornice stones, etc., which undoubtedly belonged to various monumental buildings. Judging by the remnants, one of these buildings was a four-apse Christian temple of the 7th century built in place of the ruins of the palace’s presence-chamber. Numerous structures on the territory of the settlement adjacent to the fortress as well as handicraft articles indicate a high level of Christian art which flourished there in the 4th to the 17th centuries.

The monuments of Garni show that although Armenia’s Hellenistic architecture was connected with the architecture of Hellenistic countries, it had distinguishing features all its own.


  1. pagan temple
  2. 7th-century church
  3. pillared hall
  4. palace
  5. bath-house
  6. outer gate
  7. curtain wall


Template:Armenian statehood

  • Yervandashat – The ancient town sits upon an escarpment overlooking the junction of the Arax River and Akhurian River. According to Movses Kagankatvatsi, Orontes IV founded Yervandashat to replace Armavir as his capital after Armavir had been left dry by a shift of the Arax. The archaeological site has not been subject of major research, but preliminarily, the fortifications and some remains of palaces have been uncovered. Ancient Yervandashat was destroyed by the army of the Persian King Shapur II in the 360s.
  • Artashat – King Artashes I founded Artashat in 185 BC in the region of Vostan within the historical province of Ayrarat (Ararat), at the point where Araks river was joined by Metsamor river during that ancient eras, near the heights of Khor Virap. The story of the foundation is given by the Armenian historian Movses Khorenatsi of the 5th century: "Artashes traveled to the location of the confluence of the Yeraskh and Metsamor [rivers] and taking a liking to the position of the hills (adjacent to Mount Ararat), he chose it as the location of his new city, naming it after himself."[15] According to the accounts given by Greek historians Plutarch and Strabo, Artashat is said to have been chosen and developed on the advice of the Carthaginian general Hannibal. The city's strategic position in Araks valley on the silk road soon made Artashat a centre of bustling economic activity and thriving international trade, linking Persia and Mesopotamia with the Caucasus and Asia Minor. Its economic wealth can be gauged in the numerous bathhouses, markets, workshops administrative buildings that sprang up during the reign of Artashes I. The city had its own treasury and customs. The amphitheatre of Artashat was built during the reign of king Artavasdes II (55–34 BC). The remains of the huge walls surrounding the city built by King Artashes I could be found in the area. After losing its status as a capital to Vagharshapat and Dvin respectively, Artashat gradually lost its significance.
  • Tigranakert was founded by the Armenian emperor Tigranes the Great in the 1st century BC. Tigranakert was founded as the new capital of the Armenian Empire in order to be in a more central position within the boundaries of the expanding empire. Its population was 120,000 and it also had many temples and an amphitheater.
  • Vagharshapat – In the first half of the 1st century, during the reign of the Armenian Arshakuni king Vologases I (Vagharsh I) (117–144), the old town of Vardgesavan was renovated and renamed Vaghasrhapat (Վաղարշապատ), which still persists as the official appellation of the city. The original name, as preserved by Byzantine historian; Procopius ("Persian Wars"), was Valashabad—"Valash/Balash city" named after king Balash/Valash/Valarsh of Armenia. The name evolved into its later form by the shift in the medial L into a Gh, which is common in Armenian language. Khorenatsi mentions that the town of Vardges was totally rebuilt and fenced by Vagharsh I to become known as Noarakaghak (The New City) or Vagharshapat. The city served as a capital for the Ashakuni Kingdom of Armenia between 120–330 AD and remained the country's most important city until the end of the 4th century. When Christianity became the state religion of Armenia, Vagharshapat was time by time called Ejmiatsin after the name of the Mother Cathedral. Starting from 301, the city has become the spiritual centre of all the Armenian nation, being the home of the Armenian Catholicosate, one of the oldest religious organisations in the world. Vagharshapat was home to one of the oldest schools established by Saint Mashtots and the home of the first manuscripts library in Armenia founded in 480 AD. Starting from the 6th century, the city had lost its importance—especially after the transfer of the seat of the Catholicosate to Dvin in 452—until the foundation of the Bagratid Kingdom of Armenia in 885. After the fall of the Bagratid dynasty in 1045, the city gradually became an insignificant place until 1441 when the seat of the Armenian Catholicosate was transferred from the Cilician town of Sis back to Etchmiadzin.
  • Dvin – The ancient city of Dvin was built by Khosrov III the Small in 335 on a site of an ancient settlement and fortress from the 3rd millennium BC. Since then the city had been used as the primary residence of the Armenian kings of the Arshakuni Dynasty. Dvin had a population of about 100,000 citizens who were in various professions including arts and crafts, trade, fishing, etc. After the fall of the Armenian Kingdom in 428, Dvin became the residence of Sassanid-appointed marzpans (governors), Byzantine kouropalates and later Umayyad and Abbasid-appointed ostikans (governors), all of whom were of senior nakharar stock. In 640 Dvin was the center of the emirate of Arminia.

Political Geography

Kingdom of Armenia was bordered by Caucasian Albania in the east, by Caucasian Iberia in the north, by the Roman Empire in the west and by Parthia, later succeeded by Sassanid Empire. The border between Caucasian Iberia and Kingdom of Armenia was Kur river, which was also the border between Caucasian Albania and Kingdom of Armenia.

After 331 BC Armenia was divided into Lesser Armenia (a region of the Kingdom of Pontus), the Kingdom of Armenia (corresponding to Armenia Major) and the Kingdom of Sophene. In 189 BC when Artashes I's reign began, many neighboring countries (Media, Caucasian Iberia, Seleucid Empire) using the weakening of the kingdom, conquered the remote parts of the kingdom. Strabo says, that Artashes I raided to the east and reunited Caspiane and Paytakaran, then raided to the north, where Smbat Bagratuni defeated Georgian army, reuniting Gugark (Strabo also notes, that Georgians recognized themselves as vassals of the Kingdom of Armenia), to the west, reuniting Karin, Ekeghik and Derjan and to the south, where after many battles with Seleucid Empire he reunited Tmorik. But Artashes I wasn't able to reunite Lesser Armenia and Corduene, Sophene, and the work started by him, ended his grandson Tigranes the Great. During Artashes I's reign the Kingdom of Armenia covered 350,000 km2 (135,000 sq mi). At its peak, under Tigranes II the Great, it covered 3,000,000 km2 (1,158,000 sq mi), incorporating, besides Armenia Major, Iberia, Albania, Cappadocia, Cilicia, Armenian Mesopotamia, Osroene, Adiabene, Syria, Assyria, Judea and Atropatene. Parthia and also some Arab tribes were vassals of Tigranes the Great. Lesser Armenia's area was 100,000 km2 (39,000 sq mi).


Here is a list of the 15 provinces of the Kingdom of Armenia with their capital:

Other Armenian regions:



Further reading

  • M. Chahin, The Kingdom of Armenia (1987, reissued 1991)
  • Vahan Kurkjian, Tigran the Great (1958)
  • Ashkharbek Kalantar, Armenia: From the Stone Age to the Middle Ages, Civilisations du Proche Orient, Se´rie 1, Vol. 2, Recherches et Publications, Neuchâtel, Paris, 1994;ISBN 978-2-940032-01-3
  • Ashkharbek Kalantar, The Mediaeval Inscriptions of Vanstan, Armenia, Civilisations du Proche-Orient: Series 2 - Philologie - CDPOP 2, Vol. 2, Recherches et Publications, Neuchâtel, Paris, 1999;ISBN 978-2-940032-11-2
  • Ashkharbek Kalantar, Materials on Armenian and Urartian History (with a contribution by Mirjo Salvini), Civilisations du Proche-Orient: Series 4 - Hors Série - CPOHS 3, Neuchâtel, Paris, 2004;ISBN 978-2-940032-14-3

External links

  • Video of pictures from Armenian Lands - Historical Armenia
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from World eBook Library are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.