Parandzem (4th century) was the wife of King Arshak II and mother of King Pap. She was the daughter of the influential Syunik prince Andovk from the ancient Armenian family of Syuni whose possessions were second only to the King’s in size.
Andovk is known for his struggle against the Persian invaders. With the joint Armenian-Roman army, he defeated the Shahanshah of Iran Shapur II the Great, forcing him to recognize the independence of Armenia and the reign of Arshak II. Later, having entrenched himself in the city of Tigranakert, Andovk successfully defended himself from the attacks of the Persians.
Andovk’s mother was from the eminent family of Mamikonyans, the family that gave birth to the legendary Vardan Mamikonyan who would lead an unequal struggle against the Persians in one of the most important battles in Armenian history.
The life path of Queen Parandzem has come down to us in a not so unambiguous form as we would like. It is known that she was very generously endowed by nature in terms of physical beauty, had a good disposition, and, according to chroniclers, was distinguished by modesty – a rare trait for royal individuals.
However, Armenian historian Pavstos Byuzand (of Byzantium) called her “an impious woman who does not have fear of God.”
Be that as it may, we will not go into these ups and downs but will instead focus on that single and brave deed of Parandzem for which she is worth remembering and respecting.
Parandzem ascended the throne in a difficult time for Armenia – a time of turmoil and strife when the country, located at the junction of warring civilizations, was forced to maneuver between Byzantium and Persia, as well as lead desperate resistance to the endless Persian raids.
During the war with the Sassanids, the Persians launched another attack on Armenia which failed miserably, partly thanks to the leadership of sparapet Vasak Mamikonyan. Shah Shapur II, seeing that brute force would not persuade the Armenian king Arshak II, decided to resort to an insidious trick. Shapur invited Arshak to peace talks.
When Arshak with Vasak Mamikonyan arrived, he was immediately arrested and thrown into prison, while his sparapet was brutally skinned. In captivity, Arshak was unable to stop the Sassanian invasion.
And although the Armenian troops at times managed to defeat the enemy, in the end, they were unable to repel the invasion, especially because (according to Pavstos Byuzand and Movses Khorenatsi) some of the noble Armenian nakharars treacherously went over to the side of the Persian shah.
After some time, Arshak was visited by an Armenian named Drastamat, a traitor, a former close associate of the Armenian ruler. He asked Shapur for permission to feed and comfort his former king, and the latter allowed him to do so for his merits.
Drastamat tried to revive Arshak and amuse him with music. But wine hit the head of the deposed, depressed king, and he stabbed himself in the heart with the table knife brought to cut fruits and food, instantly dying. Seeing this, Drastamat rushed to him, pulled the knife out of his heart, and stabbed himself.
Having lost her husband, Queen Parandzem bravely assumed responsibility for the country and led a truly heroic defense. Together with the state treasures, loyal nakharars, and a select garrison of 11 thousand soldiers, she took refuge in the fortress of Artagers which would be besieged by the Persians.
Despite the harsh winter and severe famine, the fortress held firmly for over a year, and the Armenians successfully repelled the enemy’s attacks. But what the Persians did not manage to do was done by a terrible plague – an epidemic. The sudden outbreak of an epidemic claimed hundreds of lives, and the ranks of the defenders became greatly thinned.
Parandzem would personally visit the watchtowers, inspiring the wounded and exhausted soldiers, helping them light the fires. The queen hoped to the last for the promised assistance from Byzantium, which never arrived.
When the defenders began to die in great numbers, Parandzem ordered the gates to be opened and perforce surrendered to the enemy. Thus, in 368 or 369, the besiegers took possession of untold royal treasures, and Parandzem was delivered to Shah Shapur II.
Shapur, wishing to humiliate her, allowed anyone to perform with the deposed queen a vile and bestial act of copulation. And then, along with other her companions, she was impaled on the shafts of carts.
The death of the queen would not remain unrevenged. The revenge was delivered to Shapur by none other than the son of Parandzem – Pap. In 371, in the famous battle at the foot of Mount Npat on the Dzirav plain, the newly proclaimed King Pap together with the brave sparapet Mushegh Mamikonyan defeated the huge Persian army of Shapur II and expelled the Persians from the country. After that, Pap took up the return of the outlying territories lost under his father Arshak, and Shapur was forced to recognize Pap as the King of Greater Armenia.
Source: Ավանդական Հայերը (Traditional Armenians)