The history of Armenia is rooted in deep antiquity and is inextricably linked with the history of the entire ancient world. But often, knowing in detail the history of Rome and Ancient Greece, we are much less aware of the events that took place in ancient times in Armenia, which found itself at the crossroads of civilizations of the West and the East. For many reasons, she did not get into the textbooks in the proper volume and is unfamiliar to those who are interested in history. Let's try to correct this injustice at least a little.
All roads go through Armenia
The Armenian Highlands in the north of Western Asia are one of the centers of the emergence of human civilization. Already in time immemorial, the first settlements appeared here, and from the end of the II millennium BC, the process of the formation of the Armenian people began.
However, the territory, which did not have natural barriers on all sides, was open not only for trade caravans, but also for the armies of all kinds of conquerors from all over the world. Its military-strategic and commercial importance was one of the causes of conflicts between the powers of the Mediterranean and Western Asia. Since ancient times, Armenia has become an arena for numerous wars, and its people have become a participant in them. Assyrians and Medes, Scythians and Cimmerians, Parthians, Greeks and Romans passed the stony roads of Armenia.
One of the first written mentions of Armenia we find in the ancient Greek writer, historian and at the same time the commander of the 5th century BC Xenophon. His major work, Anabasis, or The Retreat of Ten Thousands, had an enormous impact on Greek and Latin literature. The work describes the retreat of ten thousand Greek mercenary hoplites from Mesopotamia to the north, to the Black Sea, in 401-400 BC, after the Battle of Kunax, which was unsuccessful for them. The Greeks went to the sea through Armenia.
Xenophon refers to her as "a vast and rich country", with an established society, clear social hierarchy and self-government. The locals grew barley and grapes, from which they made wine and raisins. The commander also noted that the country is known for its horses, which were raised for the Persian army. He also mentions its ruler Ervand I (Orontes), the founder of the Ervandid dynasty.
But Xenophon passed along the roads of Armenia not as a conqueror, but by chance. Other generals ended up in these places for other purposes. Throughout its ancient history, the Armenian state was forced to wage a continuous struggle for independence - both against its closest neighbors and against numerous empire builders who came from the West and the East. The Armenian people came under attack from almost all the conquerors of the Ancient World and subsequent eras, known in history, but did not disappear, preserving, moreover, their faith, language and traditions. The former conquerors were lost in history, while Armenia remained.
Since the beginning of time
Even more than written sources, archaeological finds say. Traces of early cultures dating back to the 6th millennium BC have been found on the territory of the Armenian Highlands. The data of archaeological excavations confirm that the inhabitants of the Armenian Highlands in ancient times mastered many crafts. Already in the V-IV millennia BC, they knew how to smelt copper, and in the II millennium BC - iron.According to one of the hypotheses, the technology of smelting iron was invented here, which is quite possible, since it is in Armenia that there are deposits of metals that were widely used in ancient times: iron, copper, lead and tin.
Not far from the settlement of Metsamor, located in the Ararat valley, one of the largest metallurgical complexes of antiquity was found, dating back to the III-I millennia BC. Here tin and copper were smelted, from which bronze was obtained, which was sent to Egypt and Babylon. Armenia was a profitable trading partner and military ally. In the XVI-XV centuries BC, these countries fought with the Hittite Empire and sought to conclude an alliance with Armenia, which could supply them with bronze - a strategic metal of that time, necessary for the production of weapons. In the royal tombs of Metsamor, unique and rare objects originating from Babylon and Egypt and confirming wide trade and cultural ties were discovered. In 1968, the Historical and Archaeological Museum was opened in Metsamor, which collected and stored more than 22 thousand ancient exhibits.
During the excavations of the Areni cave in the Vayots Dzor region, in the south of modern Armenia, they found the oldest shoe ever discovered made of processed leather. Experts from Oxford and the University of California at Irvine, using the radiocarbon method, found that the find is 5, 5 thousand years old. The boot found belongs to the period from 3627 to 3377 BC. Thus, it was made 400 years earlier than Stonehenge was built, and almost a thousand years before the construction of the pyramids of Giza in Egypt.
Remnants of barley, wheat and even apricots were also found in the cave. The oldest wine-making rooms in the world for the distillation and storage of wine and many items of ceramic dishes were also found here. Large vessels dug into the ground, located in the back of the cave, were intended to store food supplies.
In the mounds near the village of Lchashen, on the shores of Lake Sevan, four- and two-wheeled wooden carts, as well as war chariots of the 3rd millennium BC were found. Gold jewelry, many bronze items (figurines of animals and birds, weapons, swords with scabbards and battle axes), household utensils (silver bowls, mirrors, a copper cauldron), wood products (spoons, bowls, tables) and much other. Scientists note that all these findings indicate a high level of development of sedentary agricultural and cattle-breeding inhabitants of the Sevan basin even in the pre-Urartian period.
Urartu - the land of stone fortresses
In the XIII-XII centuries BC, in the vicinity of Lake Van, an alliance of the Nairi tribes emerged, on the basis of which the state of Urartu appeared by the 9th century BC. Created to protect against regular attacks of the Assyrians from the south, in the first quarter of the 1st millennium BC it occupied a dominant position among the states of Western Asia, and in the first half of the 8th century BC it prevailed over its constant rival - Assyria, which is considered the first world empire in history of mankind.
The natural resources of the Armenian Highlands initially created the economic prerequisites for the emergence of a state here, but the opportunity to establish such a state appeared only in the Iron Age. The local population was able to resist the Assyrian army, hardened in numerous wars of conquest, only after the appearance of the technology of melting and processing of iron. Iron tools made it easier to process stone, from which they began to build numerous defensive fortresses on the Armenian Highlands - as already mentioned, it has no natural barriers.
The process of rallying the tribes and developing the technology of building fortresses continued for centuries.Although in a direct collision the Urartian army lost to the Assyrian, the fortresses built by the Urarts no longer allowed the Assyrian army to penetrate far into the interior of the country. The harsh winter climate, unusual for conquerors from the south, also complicated the task. Offensive operations had to be carried out only in the summer, but now the Assyrians were forced to carry heavy siege weapons with them, which required more time for the campaign.
One of the fortresses built in the Urartian period was Erebuni, which gave rise to the modern capital of Armenia - Yerevan. The fortress was erected by the king of Urartu Argishti I (786-764 BC) in 782 BC on the Arin-Berd hill near modern Yerevan. It became a stronghold for the consolidation of the Urarts in the Ararat valley.
During this period, Urartu experienced its heyday and Argishti I was concerned about expanding the borders of the state and strengthening its economic well-being. The Urarts were fluent in the technologies of artificial irrigation, and their application in the Ararat valley provided extremely favorable conditions for farming. As a result, the canals laid at Argishti I provided the lands with the necessary irrigation. The fertile lands of the valley began to bring rich harvests, for the preservation of which several large granaries were erected in Erebuni.
Founded 29 years before Rome, Erebuni consisted of a hilltop citadel with a triangular shape and city blocks located at its foot. On the southwestern side of the citadel, overlooking Mount Ararat, was the royal palace.
During the reign of Argishti I, Urartu was at the zenith of its power and became the most powerful state in Western Asia. The Urarts have firmly taken possession of the area around Lake Urmia and the territories of the Transcaucasus. Expanding the borders of their power to the south, the Urarts blocked trade routes from Asia Minor to Assyria, inflicting an economic blow on their eternal rival and depriving him of the supply of strategic goods - horses and iron.
The state of Urartu had a strong cultural influence on the countries located in the northern part of Western Asia and in the Caucasus. In addition, it acted as an intermediary in relations between the states of the East and the population of the North Caucasus and the Black Sea region. During his reign, Argishti I waged an intense struggle with Assyria at its northern borders and eventually emerged victorious from it.
But at the end of the 7th century - 6th century BC, the balance of power in Western Asia changed. Assyria and Urartu faced new opponents, who eventually destroyed both states. Urartu was opposed by the Scythians and Cimmerians from the north, and the Medes from the southeast. The Medes, one after another, destroyed most of the Urartian fortresses and conquered the Urartian lands. After their arrival in the Armenian Highlands, there is a prolonged cultural decline. Urartian cities are falling into decay, and some are even fading away.
The majority of the population of the Armenian Highlands in the next few centuries was mainly engaged in agriculture. There is a regression to the level of communal tribal life. But at the same time, the hydraulic structures erected in the times of Urartu, which are necessary for agriculture, are maintained in working order.
From Media to Alexander the Great
In the 6th century BC, the Armenian Highlands and the former lands of Urartu were absorbed by Media, a state inhabited by Iranian-speaking tribes. Together with the Babylonians, the Medes divided the lands of the Assyrian state. Now Media is at the pinnacle of power in the region, owning, in addition to the Armenian Highlands, all of today's Iran, Northern Mesopotamia and the eastern part of Asia Minor.
But around 550 BC, Media was conquered by the related Persians, led by King Cyrus II of the Achaemenid dynasty. So Armenia was included in the Persian Empire, which united most of the countries of the Near and Middle East.
After the Persian conquest, the population of the Armenian Highlands was strongly influenced by Iranian culture. During this period, Zoroastrianism began to spread among the Armenians, which held out here until the adoption of Christianity.
By the end of the 4th century BC, the borders of the Achaemenid state stretched from the Indus River in the east to the Aegean Sea in the west, from the first rapids of the Nile in the south and to Transcaucasia in the north. The population of the empire was, presumably, from 25 to 50 million people, which corresponded to half the population of the Earth in the 5th-4th centuries BC. The management of such a state caused a lot of difficulties. Every now and then numerous conquered peoples tried to get out of the power of the Persians.
The representative of the younger branch of the Achaemenids, Darius I, who ascended the Persian throne shortly after the death of Cyrus II, began his reign with the restoration of all the privileges of the Persian nobility, canceled by his predecessor, which provoked unrest among the peoples subject to the Persians. The first to revolt were the Elamites and the Babylonians. The flames of rebellion engulfed the entire country and soon reached Armenia.
It was the time of the reign of Darius I that the first surviving mention of Armenia under his own name is dated. On the territory of Media, conquered by the Persians, at an altitude of 105 meters from the road connecting the first metropolis of mankind - Babylon - and the Median city of Ecbatana, by order of the king, a bas-relief was carved into the rock about seven meters high and 22 meters wide.
One of the largest epigraphic monuments of antiquity, a trilingual cuneiform text in the ancient Persian, Elamite and Akkadian languages (it was spoken by the Babylonians and Assyrians) informed travelers about the events of 523-521 BC: the accession of Darius and the suppression of the rebellious peoples. Darius calls Armenia by the name of Armin, and in the Babylonian version of the Behistun inscription it is mentioned under the name of Urartu - this allows us to say that we are talking about the same country.
The inscription on the Behistun rock has survived to this day. More than two and a half thousand years ago, the ancient sculptors, having completed the work, went down and destroyed the stone steps behind them in order to exclude any possibility of going up to the monument again.
Armenia was under the rule of the Persians for more than two centuries (550-330 BC). The last kings of the Achaemenid dynasty were no longer interested in internal Armenian affairs. Armenia received a respite, which led to the flourishing of trade and agriculture: the population was engaged in agriculture and cattle breeding, they planted gardens and vineyards, and iron agricultural implements were used in everyday life. Cattle breeding and horse breeding were especially developed among Armenians. Part of the tribute to the Achaemenids was paid with horses. This is exactly how the previously mentioned Xenophon finds Armenia, passing towards the Black Sea from Mesopotamia.
Armenia was one of the satrapies in the Achaemenid state. During this period, the country was headed by the Ervandid dynasty, the foundation of which was laid by Ervand I. Armenian cavalry and infantry were a permanent part of the Persian army.
During the Persian campaign (334-331 BC) of Alexander the Great, the Armenian troops under the command of Ervand II put up powerful resistance to the Macedonian troops, ensuring the withdrawal of the Persian king Darius III after the battle of Issus, which made it possible to postpone the fall of the Achaemenid state. Despite the fact that, returning to Armenia, Yervand II proclaims himself an autocratic king, he remains faithful to Darius to the end. Two years later, he commanded the Armenian contingent of the Persian army during the Battle of Gaugamela, in October 331 BC, in which he died.
In greek robes
According to the ancient Greek historian and author of the "General History" Polybius, it was the previously mentioned "Anabasis" of Xenophon that inspired Alexander the Great to conquer Asia.
Having won a decisive victory at Gaugamela, Alexander defeated King Darius III and incorporated Persia into his empire.At the same time, the Macedonian himself did not pass through Armenia: the country remained aloof from his military campaigns and was not conquered either by him or by his successors. And although nominally Armenia was annexed by the Macedonians, only the rulers of the southern regions recognized Alexander's power - and then only formally.
After the death of the Macedonian king in 323 BC, his vast power fell apart, and since then Armenia has become completely free even from nominal Macedonian control. During the division of Alexander's empire among his military leaders, Armenia is not mentioned among the satrapies divided by them among themselves. Over the next two decades, the Armenian lands gained independence for the first time since the fall of Urartu.
From the end of the 4th century BC, independent or semi-independent states began to form on the territory of Armenia. The western part of the land in the upper reaches of the rivers Lycus, Galis and Euphrates was occupied by Little Armenia. Under Alexander and for some time after his death, Lesser Armenia was formally under the rule of the Macedonians, but already in 322-321 BC an independent kingdom arose here. Many forests and good pastures favored the development of sheep and horse breeding. Metalworking developed from crafts. In the north, Lesser Armenia bordered on Pontus, in the south - with Syria, in the west - with Cappadocia, and in the east, along the Euphrates River, there was a border with Greater Armenia.
To the east of the headwaters of the Euphrates, along the upper course of the Tigris and on vast lands around Lake Van, Great (Big) Armenia was located. It occupied the main territory of ancient Urartu - the central part of the Armenian Highlands. To the north-east of Greater Armenia, in the valley of the Araks River, was the Ayrarat kingdom with its capital in the city of Armavir, located on the site of the Urartian Argishtikhinili.
In the southwest, separated by the middle Euphrates and the fertile plain of Melitena, were Sophena and Commagene. Sophena was located close to important trade routes and was famous for its fertile lands: there were good conditions for the development of winemaking. Earlier than in other Armenian lands, money circulation appeared in Sofen and they began to mint local coins. Sophena and Commagene often acted as buffer states between Parthia and Armenia on the one hand and Syria and Rome on the other.
Starting from the IV century BC, after the campaigns of Alexander the Great and the collapse of his empire, a new era began in the history of Ancient Armenia - the era of Hellenism. In the III-I centuries BC, the development of Armenian culture experienced a turning point. If in the previous historical period Armenia, being politically dependent on the Achaemenids, fell under the influence of Persian culture, then with the spread of Hellenism it found itself under the influence of Western, Greek culture.
But even in the Hellenistic era, as throughout its history, Armenia retained its originality and customs, and external factors only helped it keep up with the times and make a cultural contribution to the history of all mankind. Remaining themselves, the Armenian kingdoms seemed to be dressed in beautiful Greek robes, allowing them to seem like their own in the Hellenistic world and to play a significant role in it, helping to interact between the West and the East.
However, the reluctance to unite led to the gradual subordination of the Armenian states to the Seleucid state - a fragment of the empire of Alexander the Great. As a result of an agreement with other generals, the king's bodyguard and his commander Seleucus I received the Persian satrapy Babylonia, and then, after a series of wars, subdued most of the Middle Eastern territories of the empire of Alexander the Great.
But soon a new empire appeared in the world, the heavy tread of the legions of which was felt in Asia Minor. In 190 BC, at the Battle of Magnesia (Asia Minor), the Romans defeated the army of King Antiochus III, thereby breaking the power of the Seleucid state.Taking advantage of the weakening of the Seleucids, the rulers of Greater Armenia and Sophenes proclaimed themselves kings, thus restoring the independence of Armenia.
The king of Great Armenia Artashes I (189-160 BC) did not limit himself to restoring the independence of these lands: he made many campaigns and united under his rule almost all the lands inhabited by Armenians, with the exception of Sofena and Lesser Armenia. Artashes I carried out an administrative-land reform, delimiting private and communal land holdings and establishing border stones with inscriptions, encouraged the development of crafts and agriculture, patronized trade, laid roads and built cities. According to the ancient Greek historian and geographer Strabo, under Artashes, not even an inch of uncultivated land remained in Armenia. Armenia continues to play a prominent role in international relations and maintain ties with many countries.
So, after fleeing from Carthage, one of the greatest generals of antiquity, Hannibal, enters the service of Antiochus III, but after the already mentioned defeat he hurries to take refuge in Armenia, which has just proclaimed independence from the Seleucid empire. All the time while the Roman troops were in Asia Minor, Hannibal remained in Armenia - outside the sphere of Roman influence.
Here he participated in the training of the Armenian army and the construction of the new capital of the country, Artashat, in the Ararat valley. The former capital, Armavir, no longer matched the growing and strengthening state.
Founded in 166 BC on the banks of the Araks River, at the foot of Mount Ararat, at the intersection of the most important trade routes of its time, including the Great Silk Road from China to Europe, Artashat was to become the center of a new power, conquering with its beauty and luxury.
As Plutarch writes, Hannibal noticed the area, extremely well located and beautiful, but lying in desolation, and, having made preliminary sketches of the plan of the future city, showed Artashes this area and persuaded to build it up. The king was pleased and asked Hannibal to take over the construction himself. Located on the main road to the ports of the Black Sea, Artashat has become both a political and an important trade center for handicrafts and trade. Because of the participation of Hannibal, the ancient authors called Artashat the Armenian Carthage.
In the spring of 146 BC, Hannibal's homeland - African Carthage - will be completely destroyed by the Romans after the victory in the Third Punic War. But soon the Roman legions will approach the Armenian Carthage.
Empire from Egypt to the Caucasus
The peak of the power of Ancient Armenia fell on the reign of the grandson of Artashes I, the fourth king of the Artashesid dynasty, Tigran II the Great (140-55 BC). He remained in history as an active ruler, a talented commander and diplomat. First of all, Tigran II strove to complete the unification of the Armenian lands, begun by his grandfather.
In 94 BC, Tigran II annexed Sophena to Great Armenia. Another Armenian kingdom - Lesser Armenia - was under the rule of the Pontic king Mithridates VI Eupator. But he offered Tigranes an alliance against neighboring states, to which the Armenian king agreed. The union was sealed by the marriage of Tigran II and the daughter of Mithridates Cleopatra, which in the future made possible the unification of the two states. Thus, Little Armenia remained under the rule of Mithridates, but in response, the Pontic king helped Tigranes seize the Roman regions off the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Later, this union will play a fatal role in the history of Greater Armenia.
Under Tigranes the Great, Armenia achieved the largest expansion in history - from Judea and Syria to Georgia and Caucasian Albania (modern territories of Azerbaijan). The vast empire stretched from the Mediterranean in the west to the Caspian in the east, from the Mesopotamia of the Tigris and Euphrates in the south to the foothills of the Greater Caucasus in the north.In the 1st century BC, the power of Tigranes II the Great approached the borders of Egypt. The Roman historian Sallust mentions a large Armenian diaspora living on the banks of the Nile.
In 77 BC, near Lake Van Tigran II founded the new capital of the state - Tigranakert. Ancient historians of that time describe the walls of the majestic city 25 meters high, in the thickness of which were stables, luxurious palaces and public buildings, as well as the city theater and the royal country park.
The new capital was intended to become one of the main cultural centers of the East, the center of science, literature and art. Tigran resettled the inhabitants of other Hellenistic cities in Asia Minor and Syria to his capital.
Thus, by the end of the 80s BC, led by King Tigran II the Great, the Armenian Empire became one of the world powers and a hegemon in the whole of Western Asia. Armenia controls the most important trade routes from India and China to Europe. Under Tigran II, both domestic and foreign trade developed rapidly. To expand and support it, the ruler minted his own coins.
At the same time, in his policy, Tigran, to the greatest extent, had to reckon with neighboring states, whose interests he inevitably hurt in striving for the expansion of the state. First of all, these were Rome and the Parthian kingdom - the former satrapy, which got stronger and expanded after the decline of the Seleucid state. Parthia stretched from Babylonia through Iran to the Indus Valley.
But first of all, Tigran, who had established his hegemony over Western Asia, became a dangerous enemy for the Romans. Despite the fact that he apparently tried to avoid a conflict with Rome, his father-in-law, the Pontic king Mithridates VI, managed to drag Armenia into a confrontation with Rome. Having suffered a defeat from the Romans in 70 BC, he fled to Armenia - to his son-in-law Tigranes the Great. When the ambassadors of the Roman commander Lucullus who arrived for Mithridates came to ask for his extradition, Tigranes refused them, threatening to answer with weapons.
With great difficulty, Tigran forced Lucullus to leave Armenia. But Rome consistently sent four more generals to Armenia: Fannius, Fabius, Sornat and Triarius. And all four were completely defeated. Then the Roman Senate sent to the east one of the outstanding Roman generals and political figures of his time - Pompey.
Pompey captures the Pontic kingdom, concludes an alliance with Parthia against Armenia and enters Armenia. He approaches Artashat in 66 BC. Caught between two enemies, Tigran chooses the lesser of evils. He and Pompey signed a peace treaty, according to which Armenia renounces territorial acquisitions in favor of Rome and pays a huge indemnity. In return, the king retains the throne in Armenia proper (in his hereditary possessions). The country is declared "a friend and ally of the Roman people." The Artashat Treaty of 66 BC marked the beginning of the process of involving Armenia in the sphere of influence of Rome.
Between Rome and Parthia
During the reign of Artavazd II (55-34 BC) - the son and successor of Tigran the Great - Armenia still retains the role of a strong state. But its position between two ambitious and powerful neighbors - Rome and Parthia - turned out to be difficult. Artavazd II, who adhered to a mostly neutral policy, after the defeat of the Romans at the Battle of Carrhae with the Parthians in 53 BC, did not miss the opportunity to expand the borders of Armenia in the west at the expense of Roman possessions.
Two decades later, in 36-34 BC, the Roman general Mark Anthony began a new war with Parthia and Armenia, relying on the help of the Egyptian queen Cleopatra. By cunning, Anthony was able to lure Artavazd into his camp, ostensibly for negotiations, and took him prisoner. Artashat was captured and plundered. Artavazd himself, chained in gold chains, was taken with the whole family to Egypt and donated to Cleopatra.
The Armenian king led the Roman commander in a triumphal procession, and then, three years later, he was executed in Alexandria at the request of Cleopatra - allegedly for the cruel treatment of one of her relatives by Tigran the Great.
To commemorate the victory over Armenia, Mark Anthony ordered the minting of gold and silver coins, which had on one side his image, and in front of him - the crown of Armenia. An inscription was drawn in a circle: “Anthony. Defeated Armenia”. On the other side of the coin were the words: "To the Queen of Queens - Cleopatra."
In 30 BC, with the help of the allied Parthia, the son of Artavazd, Artashes II (30-20 BC), became the Armenian king. He avenges his father's execution and defeats the Roman garrisons left by Anthony in Armenia. During his short reign, Artashes strengthens the state, pursuing a skillful foreign and domestic policy. However, as a result of the conspiracy, he was killed. After that, the decline of the ancient Armenian state of the Artashesid dynasty begins.
This was followed by more than half a century of confrontation between Rome and Parthia for domination in Armenia. Both empires strove to confirm their candidates for the Armenian throne.
Nero's military campaign
Under the Emperor Octavian Augustus, Armenia is already undoubtedly included in the sphere of influence of Rome. The process of the Romanization of Armenia is sharply intensified and is accompanied by a series of Roman henchmen on the Armenian throne, endless conspiracies and invasions of foreign troops. However, in 52-53 the Parthians managed to establish on the throne their protege - Trdat I.
At this time, Nero ascends to the Roman imperial throne. The young emperor decides to punish the daring adversary. The new Roman-Parthian War was the only major foreign campaign of Nero during his reign. It began with the rapid success of the Roman troops led by the talented general Gnei, Domitius Corbulo.
He managed to defeat the forces loyal to Trdat, take both Armenian capitals - Tigranakert and Artashat (the latter was destroyed by them) - and elevate a Roman protege to the Armenian throne, after which he left the country. However, after a few years, the Parthians, who had previously been busy suppressing uprisings in Parthia itself, turned their attention to the lost Armenia and, after several unsuccessful campaigns, were able to inflict a heavy defeat on the Romans at the Battle of Randei.
The conflict over Armenia ended up in a kind of dead end, and the parties had to come to a compromise. According to the peace treaty, the Roman and Parthian troops had to leave Armenia, the Roman fortifications on the Euphrates River were destroyed, and the borders of the Armenian state were completely restored. Rome recognized Trdat as king of Armenia, but as a vassal of Rome. Trdat goes to Rome, where he was solemnly crowned by the emperor Nero in 66. Nero, considering himself obliged to restore Artashat, gave Trdat a significant amount of money as compensation and sent artisans to restore the city. The restored Artashat was then called Neronia.
From that moment, Armenia turns into a buffer state between Rome and Parthia under the control of the Armenian branch of the Arshakid dynasty. The revival of Iranian customs and beliefs under Tiridates, a zealous follower of Zoroastrianism, undermined the romanization trend evident in Armenia in the previous century.
Salvation in Christianity
In the middle of the 3rd century AD, Armenia was subjected to destructive invasions from the side of the new enemy of the Sassanid kingdom - Persia. Formed on the territory of modern Iraq and Iran as a result of the fall of the Parthian state, Sassanid Persia inherited all its ambitions. Armenia again finds itself between two fires - Rome and Persia.
But in 298, in the city of Nusaybin (Mesopotamia), Rome and Persia conclude a peace treaty. The Romans took control of Armenia from the Persians, as well as Mesopotamia and a number of lands in the Upper Tigris basin. The Romans established their protege Trdat III on the Armenian throne.Thus, if from the second half of the III century Armenia was de facto in political dependence on Rome, then after the signing of the Nisibiss peace treaty it was officially, de jure, referred to the sphere of influence of the Roman Empire.
At the same time, the country is ravaged by war. Its nobility is disunited: some of it was guided by the Romans, some by the Persians. Each side had its own arguments in favor or against the pro-Roman or pro-Persian course. It became obvious that Armenia cannot stay in such a state indefinitely. Sooner or later, it would have been swallowed up by one of the neighbors: either Rome or Sassanian Persia. In the first, they adhered to the classical paganism of the Greco-Roman sense, in the second - Zoroastrianism, the most widespread and influential religion in the region.
Submission to Rome could turn at first only into the loss of statehood. However, submission to the Persians threatened the Armenian people with rapid and irrevocable assimilation and, as a result, inevitable disappearance. Even though the Armenian beliefs did not duplicate, they had many similarities with the Persian Zoroastrianism.
By this time, in the II-III centuries AD, Christianity had already spread widely in the regions adjacent to Armenia. The country was connected by cultural and trade ties with the ancient centers of Christianity - Antioch and Edessa. By the end of the 3rd century, Christian communities already existed throughout the country, while the first Christians appeared in Armenia as early as the 1st century AD. Now their number was already quite large and the new religion found its supporters in all strata of the Armenian society. Even the king's sister, if she was not among the Christians, patronized them.
In such conditions, Trdat III decided to change the state religion. In 301 he proclaimed Christianity with it - and thus Armenia became the first Christian state in the world. This put an end to the process of Iranization of Armenian culture and averted the threat of the assimilation of Armenians by Zoroastrian Persia.
But by the end of the century, a new blow awaited Armenia. In 387, neighbors - the Roman Empire and Persia - divided the country. The west of Armenia came under the rule of Rome, the east - Persia, in each of the parts they put vassal kings. The threat of assimilation and departure from the historical stage is again hanging over the Armenian people.
The next saving step for the preservation of national unity and faith was the creation of the modern Armenian alphabet by the Armenian monk and scholar Mesrop Mashtots in 406. However, historians argue whether he created it or recreated it using ancient Armenian letters that have not survived to this day. Mashtots opened schools all over Armenia, was engaged in Bible translations and preached Christianity.
In the conditions of the weakening of the Armenian statehood and its subsequent complete loss, these steps allowed the people not to interrupt their history, going back to ancient times, and to withstand the struggle for existence already in new historical periods - the Middle Ages and the New Time, where even more difficult times and new ones awaited the Armenians. tests.