Magazine Fall 2008 The king of kings

24 August 2008, 16:37
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The king of kings

The reign of Tigran II was a period of a forceful outward expansion in the history of Armenia. The great Armenian king, a clever politician and strategist, transformed his country into a power-ful state which even threatened the mighty Rome.

The die is cast

The prisoner stood by the window and silently looked into the distance with a furrowed brow.
It was not his imprisonment that bothered the heir to the Armenian throne; he had been a captive for a long time. Taking over the Medians and Babylonians, Parthia frequently invaded Armenian lands. Unable to subdue them, it nevertheless acquired substantial means of applying political pressure on Armenia by holding the nephew of King Artavazd captive.
Standing by the window, Tigran reflected on the news of Artavazd’s death which he received from the messenger from Armenia. That news radically changed Tigran’s status – from that of a hostage to the designated King of Greater Armenia. It goes without saying that Parthia demanded vast territories in return for his freedom – seventy valleys in the South-Eastern provinces – all native Armenian lands. Tigran had to make his first decision as a statesman – to become a King or not, at such a dear price.
Tigran was aware that the aged King of Parthia, Mithridates II set this high ransom knowing that the new King of Greater Armenia might become a dangerous adversary. The years in captivity at the royal court of the Parthians weren’t spent in vain – Tigran was well acquainted with all its internal affairs and could foresee the upcoming turmoil in Parthia. Moreover, he was wise, audaciously intelligent, talented in military arts, and very experienced. These extraordinary qualities could upset Mithridates in his attempts to weaken Armenia and destroy Armenia’s independence.
The Parthian King, however, could not destroy Tigran physically – the murder of an unarmed prisoner, particularly one of royal descent, was against the noble principles of the time period and would negatively affect the international reputation of Parthia. Mithridates knew how to gain a two-fold advantage. The ransom he set would open direct access to the very heart of the Armenian Kingdom – Ararat Valley, where Armenia’s capital, Artashat, and its largest cities were located. Armenia wasn’t just losing land, it would have a great impact on the economy of the country – part of the ransom included the Kapoutan Sea (Lake Urmia). This meant that Armenia would lose the opportunity to get and export to neighboring countries a strategically important natural resource – salt. In addition, the annexation of Armenian territories would inevitably discredit Tirgan in the eyes of his own people, and, most importantly, the nobility - without their support there would be no real power. Tigran was well aware that giving up the territories would inevitably weaken the economy and defense capacities of his country. He also understood that he might lose the trust of the people if he were to cede these lands.
The prisoner stood by the window and silently looked into the distance. The deep wrinkle on his brow disappeared; Tigran had made his choice.

The empire
The King stood on the fortress wall overlooking the surroundings. His lips were curved into a slight smile.
Tigran recalled the time when he returned to his country for his coronation. It was there, in the Greater Armenia’s province of Aghzdnik, where he later established the new capital – Tigranakert. Tigran the Great’s empire could afford to maintain three capital cities simultaneously: the numerous vassal states properly paid their taxes, and the country prospered.
The construction of the new capital wasn’t a whim. Neither of the historic capital cities were suited to be political and cultural centers. Artashat, founded by Artashes I during the first years of his reign, and Antioch, the Seleucid capital that was conquered by Tigran, were located on the outskirts of his country.
In contrast, Tigranakert was located at the very heart of the empire. Tigran thought that he chose a very good location for his capital – it was safely protected by the steep slopes of Tavr from the North, and the royal road of the Achaemenids passed by to the South, connecting the large trading centers of the Empire to the capital.
The King believed that his empire was unbeatable, just like the walls of Tigranakert – fifty cubits (300 feet) high with stables built into their lower ramparts. The city bustled with life: he ordered the relocation of the residents of the twelve conquered Hellenistic city-states as well as the Armenian nobility (some of whom were forced to move under a threat of property confiscation). In addition, Antioch, with its population of 500,000, became the main residence of the Armenian King in the South. Tigran’s famous coins were stamped in Antioch and spread throughout the Armenian Empire.
Tigran greatly extended his domain in the course of his twenty-five year reign – by the end of the first century B.C., the Armenian Kingdom stretched from the Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean and Red Seas (to the border of Egypt), from the Great Media to the mountainous Cilicia and Cappadocia. Tigran’s authority was acknowledged even in Judea and Nabatea. The Empire was prospering – it was not only a period of victorious wars, but also decades of a peaceful life, a blooming economy, culture, and arts.

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