Artavazd II – Artashesids – Armenia

Artavazd II. After the conclusion of the Artashat Treaty, Tigran II the Great ruled for another 10 years. He died in 55 BC at the age of 85. Tigran the Great left his heir a huge country stretching from the Euphrates to the Caspian Sea and from the northern Mesopotamia to the Kura River, with a developed economy and a powerful army.

In the last years of Tigran the Great’s life, Artavazd was his heir to the throne, who helped his aging father rule the country. The heir was an intellectual personality, a man with a brilliant education, well-rounded and a good connoisseur of the Greek language.

Plutarch testifies that he “invented tragedies, wrote speeches and historical essays”. Artavazd was also a flexible diplomat, a realistic politician, and a military figure. Artavazd II (55-34 BC) ascended to the throne under extremely complex international conditions.

He needed great skill to navigate in the conditions of competition between two powers of the region – the Roman Republic and the Parthian Empire. Each of them tried to ensure Armenia’s support.

This circumstance made the position of Armenia very important, as it depended on which of these powers would gain dominance in the region.

In these military-political conditions, Artavazd II was increasingly inclined towards Parthia. With such a flexible diplomatic policy, Artavazd II maintained the status of a great power in the region.

The Roman-Parthian War and Armenia. The internal political struggle that began in Rome ended in 60 BC. Three prominent political figures of the Republic – Gnaeus Pompey, Julius Caesar, and Marcus Crassus – formed an alliance known as the First Roman Triumvirate.

The triumvirs divided the republic into zones of influence. Marcus Crassus received the East and command of the campaign against Parthia. In 54 BC, a 50,000-strong Roman army commanded by Crassus arrived in Asoric.

He planned to defeat the Parthians, conquer Mesopotamia, countries along the entire coast of the Persian Gulf, and reach India. In this war, Crassus had hopes connected with the “ally and friend of Rome” Armenia, whose cavalry had many times proven its superiority over Parthian cavalry in battles.

The meeting between Artavazd and Crassus took place in 54 BC in Asoric. Artavazd assured that he would provide Crassus with 16,000 cavalry and 24,000 infantry (a total of 30,000 soldiers). This was significant military assistance that could undoubtedly bring victory to the Romans.

At the same time, the Armenian king suggested conducting the military campaign against the Romans not through the deserts of Asoric, but through the southern territory of Armenia. In such a case, the mountainous terrain would deprive the Parthian cavalry of its mobility.

Furthermore, Artavazd wanted to protect Armenia with the help of the Roman army from the invasion of the Parthians. However, Crassus categorically rejected this reasonable proposal by Artavazd and chose the road, albeit shorter, but more dangerous – through the territory bordering Armenia. Dion Cassius explained this step of the Parthians as follows:

“In order for Artavazd – the son of Tigran, who was concerned about the situation in Armenia at that moment, not to provide any help to the Romans.” The calculation of the Parthians proved correct. Artavazd could no longer assist Crassus, about which he immediately informed the Romans.

However, Crassus took this as a betrayal and announced that after the defeat of the Parthians, he would certainly punish Artavazd. Given such an attitude, naturally, Artavazd had to change the direction of his policy and offer an alliance with Orodes II, which he gladly accepted. The Armenian-Parthian treaty was concluded at the end of 54 BC in Artashat.

The treaty was sealed by the marriage of the Armenian king’s sister and the heir to the Parthian throne, Bakur. At this time, Crassus, without changing his tactics, in the spring of 53 BC, crossing the Euphrates, began his campaign against Parthia.

The Parthian army, avoiding the main battle, with small raids, constantly retreated into the depths of the country, cutting off the Romans from supplies and the possibility of retreating. The dry, steppe climate, unusual heat, and diseases demoralized the Roman army.

The most correct move would be to return to the starting positions. On May 6, 53 BC, in the Battle of Carrhae, Parthian commander Suren suddenly and with a double blow completely defeated the Roman army.

The number of those killed exceeded 20,000, and there were 10,000 prisoners of war. Both Crassus and his son were killed. According to Plutarch, Suren sent Crassus’s head to Armenia, where Orodes II was at that moment in the company of high-ranking individuals.

After the feast, the tables had already been removed, and actors were presenting excerpts from the works of Greek authors to those present. At the moment when Crassus’s head was brought in, Euripides’ tragedy “The Bacchae” was being performed.

Actor Jason Tralaci comes on stage with Crassus’s head and says, “From the mountain heights we bring a deer, struck by our glorious blows.”

The scene is met with shouts of joy from the audience. “Crassus’s campaign was a tragedy,” writes the famous historian N. Adontz, “and this scene was its original and logical conclusion.”

Antony’s campaigns. Due to Crassus’s defeat, Rome’s positions in the East were severely shaken. The losses were so large that Rome was not in a position to avenge the Parthians.

On the other hand, the Republic was drawn into a domestic political crisis, which relegated all the pressing issues of foreign policy to the background. Taking advantage of the situation, Parthian troops, led by the heir to the throne, Bakur, went on the offensive and drove the Romans out of Asoric.

The Parthians were assisted by Armenian troops under the command of the general Vasak. The allied troops also liberated Phoenicia, Palestine, and Israel from the Romans. After the conquest of Cilicia, the Parthians invaded the Roman provinces of Asia Minor.

These successes of the Parthians forced Rome’s political forces to smooth out the internal crisis. In 43 BC, the Second Triumvirate was organized, which divided the republic into spheres of influence. Antony received the East.

Events began to develop not in favor of the Armenians. Unexpectedly, the Armenian-Parthian alliance was broken. Orodes was killed by his son Gragat IV, who adopted a pronounced anti-Armenian policy.

In the expected Roman-Parthian armed clash, Armenia could no longer maintain neutrality. According to the plan developed in Rome, the military campaign against Parthia was to take place on the territory of Armenia.

Eventually, the moment of confrontation came. After extensive preparations for the campaign, Antony personally arrived in the East in 36 BC. He had at his disposal an army of 100,000 and 300 wagons with siege equipment.

All this force concentrated in the province of Carin, from where the campaign began. Artavazd provided the Romans with only a 13,000-strong army. Safely and quickly passing through the territory of Armenia, Antony entered Atropatene and moved towards its capital, Fraaspa.

At this moment, Antony made a fatal mistake. Dividing his army, he threw the main forces at Fraaspa. The supply train followed at a sufficient distance from the vanguard. Therefore, the guard troops could do nothing when the Parthians suddenly attacked and surrounded the train. The siege engines were destroyed and burned.

The Romans lost 20,000 warriors just under the walls of Fraaspa, under such conditions it would be foolish to stay in an enemy country without any hope of victory. Therefore, Antony retreated.

A little earlier, refusing to participate in further military actions, Artavazd II returned to Armenia with his army. This step of the Armenian king was seen as a betrayal. Later, Antony blamed the Armenian king for all his failures. Official Rome accepted these accusations.

In the autumn of 36 BC, the Roman army, with heavy losses, retreated towards Armenia. The Parthians weakened the enemy with continuous attacks. On the 27th day of retreat, the Romans reached the Araks River.

Plutarch describes the Romans’ crossing of the river as follows: “When the Romans safely reached the opposite bank of the river and set foot on Armenian soil,.. they kissed the stones and sand, and hugging each other, cried with happiness.”

The total number of Roman losses was 44,000 soldiers, but the Parthians’ losses were no less. Artavazd II provided proper care and treatment for the defeated. Plenty of provisions and care for the wounded saved many lives.

Despite Antony’s desire to take revenge on Artavazd, the moment was inopportune, and he hurried to withdraw his army from Armenia and arrive in Egypt, to his wife Cleopatra.

In an official letter sent to the Roman Senate, Antony, to justify his mistake, explained the enormous military costs and human losses by the alleged betrayal of the Armenian king.

Thinking about how he could offset the huge costs incurred by the treasury and also restore his reputation, Antony planned to conquer and plunder Armenia.

Resorting to a trick, he tried to lure Artavazd into a trap. Antony invited the Armenian king supposedly to discuss the campaign against the Parthians to be undertaken the following year. Artavazd rejected this invitation.

At this time, Antony sends special matchmakers to Artashat, inviting Artavazd to Alexandria to discuss the marriage of the Armenian princess and Alexander – the son of Antony and Cleopatra.

Having received a refusal, Antony with a 60,000-strong army in the summer of 34 BC goes on a campaign to Armenia and heads for Artashat. Wishing to spare the country from destruction and casualties, Artavazd decides to negotiate with the Roman triumvir.

Undoubtedly this was an honest, self-sacrificing, but naive step. During the negotiations, Artavazd and his family were arrested, and later he was sent to Alexandria in chains.

Even the Romans themselves condemned this inhumane act. Dion Cassius writes that Antony, by “deceiving, arresting, and shackling Artavazd, significantly discredited the reputation of the Roman people.”

Tacitus considered this act by Antony an “ignominious act,” and Plutarch a “perfidy.” Having proclaimed Armenia the kingdom of his underage son Alexander and leaving here the Roman cavalry, Antony, having plundered the royal treasury in advance, returned to Egypt with a huge trophy and prisoners.

The heir to the throne Artashes attempted with daring determination to free the captive king and his relatives, but to no avail. Having suffered defeat, Artashes relied on the Parthians and found refuge with them.

In Alexandria, Antony organized a victory march, during which the Armenian king and his family, shackled in golden chains, walked through the streets of the city. The Roman commander called on them to beg for forgiveness, bow down to Cleopatra, and say words of reverence to her.

However, the Armenian king, his wife, and children walked proudly and with dignity. A contemporary Greek historian writes: “They showed the courage of their soul.” Such behavior of the Armenians leaves a deep impression, and an enraged Cleopatra, not forgiving them, ordered them to be thrown into the dungeon.

Because of the extremely tense relations between the triumvirs Antony and Octavian, Rome was drawn into another civil war. The decisive battle between the sides took place on September 2, 31 BC near Cape Actium.

There Antony suffered a complete defeat and fled to Alexandria. Later – in October, by order of Cleopatra, Artavazd was executed. However, Cleopatra and Antony themselves did not live long, the danger of being captured by Gaius Octavian forced them to commit suicide.

The life and martyr’s death of Artavazd II, his genuinely patriotic activity, ensured him an honorable place in the centuries-old Armenian history, and it is no coincidence that during his lifetime he was honored with the epithet “Divine.”

by Ovannisyan P.

Translated by Vigen Avetisyan

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