Tigranakert, the Antique Capital of the Armenian Kingdom

Many Armenian kings established new cities for their reign, transferring the capital of the state to those and populating them with artisans and farmers, merchants and soldiers, including those captured in wars with neighboring countries. Sometimes more than one such cities were founded. The names of that localities and capitals were mainly given in honor of their founders.

This way in the distant past such cities, as Yervandakert and Yervandashat, named after Yervand (Orontes) IV, several Arshamashats in Sophene and Armenian Commagene, Vagharshapat and Artashat in Ararat’s valley, and a few dozen cities in various regions of Kingdom of Armenia appeared.

But most of such cities were founded by king Tigranes II the Great, one of the most significant and revered Armenian kings who has ruled during 1st century BC. He was perhaps the only one of Armenian monarchs who can be rightfully called an emperor.

Tigranes the Great established about ten cities, many of which to this day proudly bear his name. Most known among them, extensively descripted by Armenian, Greek, Roman authors, Tigranakert (Armenian: Տիգրանակերտ) or Tigranocerta (Greek: Τιγρανόκερτα, Tigranόkerta), one of the capitals of the Armenian Kingdom, was founded around 70 BC as a capital city for Tigranes the Great’s empire, which at the time stretched to Palestine, Nabataea and the Persian Gulf. It was exactly in Tigranakert in 95 BC Tigranes the Great was crowned.

Situated in the north of the country, on the banks of the Araks, Artashat was no longer strategically well placed to be a capital, being too far from new trade routes, and Tigranes the Great had to pick up a new place much to the southwest in the ancient Armenian province of Aghdznik or Arzanene, although until now the exact location of capital Tigranakert has not been identified. Localization of Tigranakert, first of all, was connected with two of the major cities of Aghdznik Amid (nowadays Diyarbakir) and Nprkert or Meiafarakin (today’s Silvan).

The city of Amid-Diyarbakir was located on the right bank of Tigris river, on the border between Greater Armenia and Mesopotamia, almost 60 kilometers to south-west of Nprkert city, near one of the large bends of Tigris river. In ancient times the city was known as Amid, name of which is a variant of the Armenian “amtun” (“hamtun”, literally meaning “mutual house”). The city was a large settlement where local government bodies of the region were located. The Armenian princely surname Amatuni occurred from the “amtun” toponym.

Many people have been trying to link the name Diyarbakir with Arabic “diar”, the plural form of the word “gift” (“district”) and tribal name “bakr”. However, the etymology of the toponym is different and goes back to the much older roots of Assyrian-Chaldean “deir” (“holy”) and ancient Armenian “bagher” (“gods”, “temples”).

Transformation of the word “deir” or “dar” to “diar” and “bagher” to “baker”, “bakir”, “bakr” and “pahr” is very common for that region of Greater Armenia. But what else, besides the status of a major city and the center of Sophene, is the connection between Tigranakert and Amid-Diyarbakir?

The fact is that, according to Armenian historian Movses Khorenatsi, the fortifications and powerful walls of Amid-Diyarbakir were built in the middle of 6th century BC under king Tigranes of Yervanduni (Orontid) dynasty. Historians and authors, sometimes not closely following their sources, mistook Amid-Diyarbakir with Tigranakert and Tigranes the Great with Tigranes of Yervandunis.

However, the full identity of the names, as well as the fact that Amid-Diyarbakir remained the largest center of Armenian reality and a large Armenian-populated city throughout its history, resulted in confusing the Diyarbakir with the capital Tigranakert. Some even tried to etymologically deduce name Diyarbakir from Tigranakert.

But in addition to the just-quoted true etymology of the toponyms Amid-Amedu-Amtun and Deir-Dar-Bagher, the more significant difference between two cities is that Diyarbakir lies on the right bank of Tigris which was outside of the borders of Greater Armenia, while Tigranakert was situated in the Armenian Kingdom.

Tigranes the Great, being a far-sighted politician (as was confirmed by the subsequent history of the Armenian-Roman confrontation), would not base his capital outside the borders of his country, which he wanted to preserve and later retained even during the loss of imperial territories.

In the first half of 20th century the German researcher Lehmann Haupt tried to localize Tigranakert on the site of Nprkert, another ancient city of Aghdznik, based on analysis of a variety of sources. For several centuries of its history Nprkert has had several names: Nprkert, Tigranakert, Meiafarakin, Martiropolis, and now Sylvan (a Kurdish tribal name, which originated under the direct influence of the Armenian language). The overwhelming majority of Armenologists today supports precisely this localization of Tigranes the Great’s Tigranakert.

So, founded by Tigranes the Great, the capital city of Tigranakert was located on the site of ancient city Nprkert, in the southernmost spurs of the Taurus Mountains; in the upper reaches of the Nprkert river, the right tributary of one of the main components of the Tigris river; in the extreme south of Sasun, where hard-to-reach Sasun mountains are proceeded by the Nprkert or Diyarbakir mountain valley.

Despite the almost proven identity of Tigranakert with Npkert, many researchers continue to advance new versions of its localization. For example, B. Harutyunyan and T. Sinclair put Tigranakert to the east of Kahird (near Batman, Turkey), in the valley of Arzn (Harzan) river, otherwise called Nikeporion by Greeks, where other researchers place the ancient city of Shukarabu. I. Kippert and N. Adonts are doubtful about such localization, leaning in favor of Nprkert. Though the sources clearly indicate Tigranakert was in the gavar of Nprkert, and not Arzn.

Nowadays ruins of fortress walls and towers, palaces of Tigranakert are situated in Silvan and its environs. Tigranakert was connected to other ancient capital of Armenia, Artashat, with the main roads of ancient and medieval Armenia and the whole region, the so-called “King’s Prospectus”. There was another royal road going through the city built by the Persian king Cyrus.

The third road led through Sasun to the valley of Aratsani. Today a little to the north from there are the ruins of the ancient city of Haldi or Altini, in the vicinity of which, among the cliffs of Kohler (Kylar), the main hero of Armenia’s national epic “Daredevils of Sassoun” David of Sassoun usually sharpened his famous Tur-Kaytsak (“lightning sword”).

The population of Tigranakert was mostly made up of merchants and artisans. According to rather contradictory data, the population reached one hundred thousand people, the overwhelming majority of which were Armenians.

Greeks, Semites, Assyrians, Cappadocians and Cilicians (mostly Armenians) lived in Tigranakert as well. All these strangers were taken captive by Tigranes the Great in the conquest between Cappadocia, Eastern Cilicia, Assyria, as well as Palestine and Phoenicia, and were brought in as residents of the new capital. Many of them remained in Armenia, the rest after the campaign of Lucullus in 69 BC returned to their homelands.

According to descriptions of ancient Greek and Roman authors, Tigranakert was surrounded by high walls with a city fortress, warehouses, stables and barracks within. Outside the city, in its north-west side was the magnificent royal palace of Tigranes the Great with adjoining buildings. Simultaneously with the foundation of the city in the 1st century BC a large ancient theater was built, the ruins of which are still preserved. After Tigranes the city no longer had the status of not only the capital city, but also of any large and significant center, but remained the center of Sophene until 6th century AD.

King Tigranes II the Great
Ruins of the city Tigranakert – Nprkert


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5 comments

  1. The fortification identified as the “Ruins of the city Tigranakert – Nprkert” is of Levon Kla in Gilikia, not Tigranagert.

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