01 August 2013, 14:53
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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.
All of these accomplishments did not exist in 96 B.C., when he took the throne. There were only hostile neighbors – Parthia, with whom Tigran had his private reckonings, and Rome, which was making every effort to dominate the entire Eastern Mediterranean region.
First of all, the King of Greater Armenia added to his kingdom the Sofena (Tzophq) – one of the three historically formed independent Armenian states. The best Armenian craftsmen lived in this unified land, rich with metal resources. It took Tigran only a year to create a combat-ready army. Soon he also had an advanced military industry. The more countries were annexed into his empire, the more generously he paid his soldiers.
They were excellent warriors, but sometimes they were left without action – some countries voluntari ly expressed their intention to become Tigran’s protectorates. For example, this was the case with Syria and Phoenicia. The King of the Greater Armenia had many supporters in Syria. After the subjugation of the Northern Mesopotamia, the trade route that connected Central and Eastern Asia with the Middle East was under Tigran’s control. Wealthy cities, whose interests involved security, continuation of their privileges, and international trade, wanted to be under Tigran’s protective shield. It was during Tigran’s reign that Syria was able “to breath freely, and enjoyed peace for fourteen years” (Justinian). One of Tigran’s wisest political moves was the treaty with Arabian nomadic tribes about guarding the trade routes along the southern borders: they charged custom tolls to enrich the royal treasury – the main collection was done at the crossing of the Euphrates River.
Even the proud Eupator Mithridates VI, King of Pontus, sought a treaty with its mighty neighbor, Armenia, during the confrontation between Rome and Pontus. It was the only way to stop the expansion of Rome. Tigran accepted the ambassadors and the luxurious gifts of Mithridates. The signed treaty was enforced by the marriage of Tigran and the daughter of Mithridates, Cleopatra. The bride was seventeen, and the groom was forty-seven years old. In fact, thirty years later, when the union with Pontus was not needed anymore, Tigran divorced Cleopatra. “They came to an agreement, according which the cities and lands belonged to Mithridates, and people and all that could have been transported – to Tigran” (Justinian).
Tigran’s armies made three campaigns to Cappadocia. The alliance with Mithridates was beneficial for the Armenian king. He secured the western borders of the country, where the King of Cappadocia, Ariobarzanes I Romanophile, created an outpost for the Roman expansion into Asia Minor. Eight years later, Tigran easily solved his conf lict with Parthia. The long anticipated moment to return the “debt” - territories, paid in exchange for his freedom, arrived. Crushing the Parthian army, he took over the seventy valleys, conquered Adiabena and Media-Atropatena. (And by the way, the King of Atropatena, Mithridates, was married to Tigran’s daughter.) The Parthian Arshakids were doomed – Tigran’s troops continued their march and reached Arshakids’ summer residence, the capital city of Ecbatana. Tigran burned down the royal castle known as Adrapana, located ten kilometers away from the capital, and destroyed the Ninevia and Arbela districts of Adiabena. Usually, he forbid destruction (there being no need to damage his own lands), but in this case the feeling of revenge took over. The Parthians surrendered Mesopotamia, along with Migdonia and Osroena, to Tigran as well as the title “The King of Kings.” The authority of Tigran was accepted by the regions which had been the “vassals” of Parthia before its fall.
The Phoenician citadel Ptolemaida was also subjugated by Tigran. It seemed that nothing could threaten the peace and prosperity of Armenia.
The King was standing on the wall of the fortress and looking over the vicinity. His lips were tightly pressed together – Tigran just got a report that Lucullus laid siege to Tigranakert.

The Son Against the Father
Tigran stood across from Pompeus and looked at his son. There was pain in his eyes.
In his mind one picture of the Roman invasion was followed by another: the Battle of Tigranakert, the retreat of the Armenian troops to the North, the Battle of Aratsani…
When Tigran took over the Cilician Plains and Comagena, he closely approached Mountainous Cilicia. Even prior to that the Roman Senate was concerned with Tigran’s kingdom, which rose so high in its power. Tigran already had confrontations with the Roman troops in Cappadocia, now a new source of conf lict was Eupator Mithridates VI – after a heavy defeat from the Romans, he made an escape to Armenia and found sanctuary in Tigranakert. Tigran refused Rome’s demand to surrender the refugee, saying that he does not betray his relatives, “The whole world and my own conscience would condemn me if I should surrender the father of my wife to the enemy.” In spring of 69 B.C. the Roman troops laid siege to Tigranakert. The garrison of the fortress defended the city for five months under the pressing attacks of the Romans – their arrows were showering the attackers, and burning oil was destroying the siege machines of the Romans. The warriors were not only defending the city; the outcome of this battle determined the outcome of the war. The royal treasury was still in Tigranakert – money that would allow hiring soldiers and provide weapons and food supplies for future battles against the Romans.
Fortunately, the group sent by Tigran successfully completed the daring operation of getting the royal treasury and Tigran’s harem out of the city. Romans did not understand what had happened: the Armenian horsemen dashed like the wind through their lines, the gates opened for them and were shut just as swiftly. Later at night, they repeated the same maneuver, with the King’s wives, concubines, children, and part of the royal treasury.
Nevertheless, on October 6, 69 B.C., the God of War turned away from Tigran – the Battle of Tigranakert was lost. His army was gathered too hastily, and Lucullus was too sly. He had sent against Tigran’s front lines a single cohort of cavalrymen, and Lucullus himself, with the complete army of the Roman infantry attacked from the rear. It’s true that Lucullus later ordered his biographers to write that he fought in the battle with an open sword. The Armenian forces could not reposition quickly enough on the rough terrain, and the unexpected attack from the rear became the critical decisive factor. Fortunately, Tigran with his guards were able to escape. Mithridates later wrote in his letter to the Parthian king that “the Romans present misfortunes of Tigran as their own victory.” As a result of Tigran’s defeat Tigranakert was lost. The Greek mercenaries, who were following the course of the battle, came to an agreement with the Romans and surrendered the city. The invaders mercilessly looted it, Lucullus took the remaining treasures, and his legionnaires got eight thousand talents.
Tigran, in the meantime, sought an alliance with his former foe, Parthia. But the Parthian King, Phraates, had already received an offer from the Romans: to take their side, or to keep his neutrality. Naturally, he preferred not to get involved in a conflict between the two empires. The whole winter Tigran and Mithridates spent in hasty preparations. This time the army was organized on the Roman model – Tigran believed that large military divisions lack mobility. The Roman system of maniples was more flexible and mobile. Lucullus, who was hoping that Tigran would be the first to either ask for peace, or to move into a battle, was forced to start advancing in the springtime - the Roman people preferred winners! Artashat was in Lucullus’ way. The Romans crossed the River Tuvr. Here they encountered the first surprise – the wheat fields were still green. When they started their march in the South it was the start of the harvest. Now Lucullus realized that he was going to have problems with his food supplies. And that was not the only problem – the Armenian army was waiting for him by the River Aratsani. Tigran was the first to attack while the Romans were still crossing the river. The light cavalry of Tigran used a well-known strategy - the simulation of an escape. The Romans began chasing the horsemen, and the Armenians shot their arrows back at them. On the opposite bank the main forces of the Armenians were waiting for the Romans. Lucullus was forced to retreat: his losses were much too great. Soon, it unexpectedly got colder – it started snowing in September, and his army began revolting. Under pressure of his soldiers Lucullus was forced to move back to Mesopotamia. Chasing the Romans, Tigran got engaged in one more battle and returned his Southern provinces. The Roman Senate, dissatisfied with the actions of Lucullus, transferred the “exclusive authority” for the Eastern Campaign to Pompeus.
It was at exactly this moment that Tigran got stabbed in the back – his son, Tigran Jr. raised a rebellion against him. His son hoped to receive the crown of Armenia from Pompeus as a reward for his treachery. Tigran was forced to interrupt his victorious march to Cappadocia. The son couldn’t overthrow his father, although Phraates III gave him his soldiers. Being defeated at Artashat, he escaped to Ctesiphone, where he married the daughter of Phraates.
For the Romans, however, the father was a more appropriate ally than his son – the Rome was on the verge of war with Parthia. The army of Pompeus was standing at the walls of Artashat. And Tigran decided to take an unprecedented act ion. The Armenian King, crushing the army of the Parthians at Artashat, in his position as the victor decided to offer a “peace treaty” to Pompeus. He, alone, without any guards went to the Roman camp. On the border of their camp he was asked to surrender his sword and get down from his horse. He complied. And when he entered Pompeus’ tent he put down his royal crown. Pompeus understood Tigran’s goodwill gesture; he immediately acknowledged Tigran as the King of Greater Armenia and placed the crown back on Tigran’s head. The young traitor was sitting to the left of Pompeus. He did not even stand up, upon seeing his father. He just followed the crown with a predatory glance. A peace treaty was signed between Rome and Armenia, with the surrender of all territories that had been annexed to Armenia, but keeping its sovereignty and royal power. Tigran, probably, foresaw all of these; the only thing he did not expect was the possibility that all three of his sons with Cleopatra – Mithridates’ grandsons – would betray him.
Tigran stood in front of Pompeus and looked at his own son. There was a great disappointment in his eyes – his heir betrayed not only his father, but also his father’s whole life’s work.

Tigran the Great put all his efforts into making his empire wealthy and powerful; an empire where the Armenian people could live in peace. In becoming Rome’s ally, he avoided a devastating war on two fronts – with Rome and Parthia; and by doing it he preserved the wholeness of the Greater Armenia.

Yerevan Magazine, Fall, N2, 2008

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24/08/2008 16:37 | Magazine

The king of kings