Armenian King Arshak II Arshakuni succeeded his father Tiran in 350 AD and reigned until 368 AD. Arshak II carried out an independent policy aimed at ridding Armenia from the influence of Rome and Persia.
Both Persia and the Roman Empire have been heavily pressurizing Armenia since the early years of Arshak’s reign. He eventually had to enter an agreement with Rome and marry Olympias, the daughter of the late consul Flavius Ablabius. Roman soldier and historian Ammianus Marcellinus would then describe Arshak as a “steadfast and faithful friend” to the Romans.
Nonetheless, over the years of his reign, Arshak II attempted to take Armenia to a new level of power. The king has been highly rewarding loyal officials and severely punishing the disloyal ones. In order to suppress rebellious nakharars (ancient Armenian noble title of the highest order), Arshak established the city of Arshakavan. According to his plan, those criminals that settled in Arshakavan would be given complete amnesty. This resulted in about 150,000 people soon moving to the city.
Arshak also sought to create a large army under his direct command. However, many Armenian nobles didn’t agree with the king’s plan and shortly wiped out Arshakavan along with its inhabitants.
The positions of Arshak heavily weakened after a clash between the Romans and the Persians. The difficult position of the Roman Emperor Jovian forced him to come to a peace with Persian King Shapur II. As a result, a part of Armenia along with Nisbis, Singara, and Castra Maurorum were taken over by Persia.
Having been left alone against Shapur, Arshak II fought a war against Persia in 364 – 368. Initially, the conflict has been quite successful for the Armenian king. Seeing that he can’t subdue Arshak with force, Shapur II resorted to treachery by inviting Arshak and Armenian general Vasak Mamikonyan to Ctesiphon, the capital of the Sassanid Empire.
In spite of his promise of safety, Shapur captured the king and his general and imprisoned them in the Anhush fortress. Mamikonyan was skinned while Arshak was blinded. Imprisoned, Arshak wasn’t able to prevent the Sassanid invasion of Armenia.
In ca. 368, an Armenian named Drastamat visited Arshak in the Anhush fortress. Reminiscing about the glory days, depressed Arshak took Drastamat’s knife and committed suicide. Stricken by what he had just seen, Drastamat took his knife back and killed himself as well.
According to a legend, Shapur ordered to bring Armenian soil and water from Armenia to his palace in order to make sure of Arshak’s loyalty. Shapur then ordered to scatter Armenian soil and water on one half of the palace’s hall and Persian soil on the other.
Then, Shapur began to walk around the hall with Arshak. As soon as the Armenian king stepped on the Persian soil, he felt subdued and considered himself the subject of Shapur. But as soon as Arshak stepped on the Armenian soil, he turned into a rebel and with royal dignity neglected Shapur. Point is, everyone is powerful only on their own land.