The Fall of the Artashesid Dynasty, Artashes II

Armenia was surrounded by armed Romans. The invaders looted a great wealth accumulated in Armenian cities and shrines.

The renowned Roman historian Pliny the Elder provides a detailed account of the pillage of the famous temple of the goddess Anahit in the settlement of Eriza, describing how avaricious Roman soldiers dismantled the golden statue of the goddess into separate pieces and divided it amongst themselves. The Armenian people, led by the young and energetic heir of King Artashes, revolted against the Roman invaders.

The country was engulfed in massive anti-Roman armed uprisings, which, however, were suppressed. Artashes was forced to retreat with his army to Parthia. The expansion of Rome to the East drastically changed the political situation in the Near East.

Goddess Anahit

The Parthians understood perfectly well that after Armenia, they would be the next target. It was this circumstance that compelled Gragata IV to change his attitude towards Armenia. As a result, he not only granted political asylum to the Armenian heir and married his daughter off to him, but also provided significant military support for a more intensified fight against the Roman conquerors.

This struggle became more effective after the battle of Actium. The combined Armenian-Parthian army, led by Artashes, entered Armenia, and after winning victories over the Roman legions in several battles, drove them out of the country.

Thanks to these victories, Artashes was anointed king with great ceremony in Artashat (30-20 BC). As subsequent events showed, the new king was a prominent figure. Despite his young age, he demonstrated himself to be an outstanding organizer, an initiative-taking and brave personality.

Upon learning the news of his father’s – Artavazd II’s – execution, he ordered the execution of all Roman soldiers who were in Armenia at the time, a move that sent shock waves through Rome. The young and energetic king was determined to restore the former power of the Armenian Kingdom.

He waged war against the Roman ally, the state of Atropatene, which was a serious and dangerous neighbor, a stronghold for Roman imperialistic policy. In this war, Atropatene suffered a crushing defeat.

Artashes II annexed this country to his kingdom, and took the king captive. Likely, this move explains the inscription “king of kings” on his coins. Artashes II insistently demanded the return of his younger brothers – Tigran and Artavazd from Rome. However, Gaius Octavian rejected his demand, reminding him of the massacre of Romans in Armenia.

The Romans carefully monitored all events happening in Armenia. The pronounced anti-Roman policy of Artashes II, and especially his alliance with Parthia, was significantly contrary to the eastern political interests of Rome, hindering their expansionist programs.

Artavazd II

Under such circumstances, Rome could not reconcile itself with an independent and unwelcome Armenian king, especially since his younger brother – Tigran, who was in Rome, could be put on the throne instead.

Emperor Octavian, who in 27 BC officially proclaimed himself Augustus (“divine”) and established the imperial regime, set himself the task of solving this problem.

Octavian Augustus spared no effort to establish Roman domination and influence in the Near East. This, naturally, was possible only in the case of the elimination of Artashes II.

In 20 BC, the Roman army, led by the adopted son of Augustus and future Emperor Tiberius Claudius, stood at the border of Armenia. Dion Cassius honestly admitted that Augustus sent Tiberius to Armenia “to overthrow Artashes and put Tigran in his place.”

It was at this time that Artashes II was treacherously killed in Artashat. Roman primary sources testify that he was “killed by his relatives.” It would be logical to assume that these “relatives” were instigated by the Romans.

Upon learning of the murder of Artashes, Tiberius freely entered Armenia and began moving towards Artashat. The Romans also brought the new king of Armenia – Artashes’ younger brother with them.

The Last Artashesids. Tigran III was anointed as the Armenian king by Tiberius in the Roman camp, set up not far from Artashat (20-8 BC). This event in Rome was seen as the establishment of Roman rule in Armenia.

And it is no coincidence that it was at this time that coins were minted in Rome with the inscription “Conquered Armenia”. To weaken Armenia, by the order of Augustus, Atropatene was separated from it and Ariobarzan was appointed as its king.

At the end of his reign, Tigran III freed himself from Roman intervention, aligned himself with Parthia, and began to pursue an independent policy.

After the death of Tigran III, his son Tigran IV (8-5 BC) ascended to the throne with Rome’s approval, ruling as a free and independent king. In Rome, this was perceived as a rebellion against him. A Roman historian, a contemporary of these events, reports that “the Armenians caused them the most trouble in the East.”

In 5 BC, Augustus sent Gaius Caesar with a large army to Armenia, who, after deposing Tigran IV, proclaimed Artavazd III (5-2 BC) as king. The king, who had lived for 25 years and was educated in Rome, governed the country according to Roman laws and engaged in rampant plundering of the country. Unable to tolerate such behavior, in 2 BC, the Armenians, led by Tigran IV, expelled him from the country along with his troops.

Tigran IV ascended the throne again, this time together with his sister Erato (2-1 BC). Tigran IV was depicted on his coins with the traditional crown of the Artashesids, and on the reverse of the coin was depicted Erato, with her hair gathered and the Greek inscription “Erato – sister of King Tigran.”

Tigran IV understood perfectly well that Augustus would not tolerate his ascent to the throne, so he made concessions. He sent rich gifts to the emperor and asked to be recognized as the Armenian king, that is, his rule was to be at the will of Augustus.

Not wishing to exacerbate the situation, Augustus agreed, but only on one condition – if Tigran personally comes to Gaius Caesar in Asoric and is anointed by him as king.

Julius Caesar

However, this visit did not take place. In 1 BC, Tigran IV died in battles against Sarmatian nomadic tribes that had invaded the territory of Greater Armenia from the Caucasus plains. As Tacitus vividly described this event, “the Armenians were left without a king, homeless.”

This was fatal for Armenia, as Tigran IV was the last representative of the Artashesid dynasty.

Armenia faced the task of creating a new royal dynasty, which required immediate resolution. Although this was primarily an internal task, it immediately acquired an international political connotation.

by Ovannisyan P.

Translated by Vigen Avetisyan

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