The Ancient City of Artashat – Armenia

The Ancient City of Artashat - ArmeniaA contemporary of Artashes, Greek historian Polybius called Artashes the “Lord of the greatest part of Armenia. Strabo confirmed: “Armenia has grown through the efforts of Artashes, and everyone in his state was monolingual, that is, Armenian-speaking.”

This valuable information from Strabo indicates that Artashes managed to unite all the Armenian-speaking territories in one state. These events played an important role in the further development of Armenian statehood.

The task of paramount importance for Artashes was the construction of a new capital of Greater Armenia. The former capital Armavir no longer corresponded to the requirements of the period.

When in 180 BC Artashes decided to found the new capital Artashat, his main advisor in this matter became the Carthaginian commander Hannibal who had fled to the Middle East. Having spent 17 years in continuous wars and having been defeated by Rome, one of the greatest and most talented commanders of antiquity had been forced to flee to the East.

Artashes received him in Armenia with great honors, thus, in fact, providing him with political refuge.

Hannibal was immensely surprised by the scale of the construction of new settlements throughout Armenia, and, well-versed in the intricacies of urban planning and, in particular, the construction of fortifications, took part in this large-scale construction with great enthusiasm.

Greek writer Plutarch writes: “It is said that the Carthaginian, Hannibal, after Antiochus had finally lost the war with the Romans, went to the court of Artaxias of Armenia, to whom he gave many useful tips and instructions.

By the way, he noticed a land, extremely well-located and beautiful but lying in desolation, and, making preliminary estimates for the future city, called Artaxata, showed him the terrain, and convinced him to build it up.

The king was pleased and told Hannibal that he himself should take over the construction. A large and very beautiful city emerged, to which the king gave his name and proclaimed it the capital of Armenia. ”

Such is the background to the creation of Artashat in the fertile Ararat valley, 10 kilometers southeast of the modern city of Artashat where the sources of the Araks and Metsamor rivers merge.

The name of the city of Artashat literally means “the joy of Artashes”. Later, when the new capital had already been designed by Hannibal and the main construction works had been carried out, the city received the second name “Armenian Carthage”.

Armenian historian Movses Khorenatsi in the 5th century described the construction of Artashat as follows: “Artashes went to the confluence of Araks and Metsamor and, having chosen a hill here, built a city on it and called it by his name Artashat.

Araks supplied him with a cedar forest, so, after building the city quickly and without great effort, he built a temple in it and moved the statue of Artemis and all the idols of his ancestors there from Bagaran; however, he placed the statue of Apollo outside the city along the road.”

It is noteworthy that the waters of the Araks River, in fact, were used to transport entire structures from the upper sections of the river to the construction sites of Artashat.

Old Artashat was located on the site of the current Khor Virap monastery complex. It was lying on ten hills and occupied an area of 400-500 hectares. Traces of the walls and buildings of the former city are still visible in this territory.

By the way, before that in the same place was a more ancient fortress of the Urartu period. According to experts, the fortress and palace of Artashes, most likely, were located on the hill of Khor Virap.

The outskirts of the city were surrounded by fortifications about 10 kilometers long which were connected to each other by narrow corridors between the hills. Thus, a reliable defensive system was created.

The city was protected from three sides by a river and a wide moat filled with water from the fourth. It was the confluence of the Araks and Metsamor rivers, as well as the presence of hills that played a decisive role when Artashes and Hannibal chose a place for the capital.

Artashat was named “Armenian Carthage” because it looked like Hannibal’s hometown. It was made so in accordance with a previously developed project and the structure of the neighborhoods.

Artashat’s geographical position was very favorable – on this section of the Ararat valley, the main trade routes intersected from south to north and from east to west. And it is not by chance that for six centuries, Artashat has been the political, economic, and cultural center of Greater Armenia.

Ruben Shukhyan

Armenian Carthage. Artashes and Hannibal (english subtitles)

Ararat Province, Khor Virap, Ancient Artashat Ruins, Ancient Dvin Ruins, Vazgen Sargsyan Museum

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