Client Armenia in the Period of Rome’s Henchmen

After the death of Tigran IV, the Artashesid dynasty ceased to exist, but Rome did not dare to complicate their relations with Armenia. Emperor Augustus (reigned in 27 BC – 14 AD) realized that attempting to expand his empire could bring unpredictable and negative outcomes.After the death of Tigran IV, the Artashesid dynasty ceased to exist, but Rome did not dare to complicate their relations with Armenia. Emperor Augustus (reigned in 27 BC – 14 AD) realized that attempting to expand his empire could bring unpredictable and negative outcomes.

He was content with the existence of a system of dependent of client states. Among these countries was the kingdom of Greater Armenia. Rome appointed to the throne of Armenia only individuals who were far relatives of the Artashesid dynasty, who were named the traditional Armenian names “Artashes” and “Tigran”, and who took an oath of loyalty to the emperor.

According to the program of Augustus, the king of Atropatene-Marastan Ariobarzanes was crowned the king of Armenia. Ariobarzanes was most likely related to the Artashesid dynasty through his father. With this step, Rome sought to maintain a united and strong kingdom of Armenia-Atropatene to safeguard the eastern borders of the empire from its long-time enemy Parthia.

However, the appointment of a foreigner as a king of Armenia led to violent uprisings, which in 2 AD turned into a large-scale anti-Roman rebellion. The grandson of Augustus arrived in Armenia to suppress the rebellion.

The fortress of Artagers – the center of the uprising – resisted heroically. Suffering enormous losses, the fortress was finally conquered, and negotiations between the sides commenced. During the negotiations, the leader of the rebels Addon unexpectedly stabbed Gaius Caesar with his dagger and committed suicide.

After suppressing the uprising, the Romans proclaimed Ariobarzanes (reigned 2 AD – 4 AD) the king of Armenia. He was not destined to rule for a long time because he would himself become a victim to a conspiracy organized by the Armenian nobility.

At the request of Augustus, the son of Ariobarzanes Artavazd IV was appointed the king of Armenia (reigned in 4 AD – 6 AD), but he would also become a victim of a conspiracy.

Shortly, Augustus’s new candidate to the Armenian throne Tigran V arrived in Armenia. Tigran was the grandson of the King of Judea Herod the Great and was possibly related to the Artaxiad Dynasty through his mother.

Resisting the new Roman candidate for kingship in Armenia, the Armenians restored the sister of Tigran IV Erato as Queen of Armenia (reigned in 6 AD – 12 AD, co-ruled with her brother from 10 BC to 2 AD). After co-ruling for some time, Erato and Tigran were overthrown for unknown reasons in the year 12.

Augustus appointed Vonones I of Parthia the new king of Armenia (reigned in 12 – 18). Not much is known about the fate of this king.

In 18, with the consent of the Armenians, the Prince of Pontus Zeno-Artaxias (Artashes III) was appointed the king of Armenia (18-34) by the Roman Emperor Tiberius (reigned in 14 – 34). The new king was very popular among the Armenian nobility as he had been raised in an Armenian environment.

He not only had a great command of the Armenian language but also pursued the state interests of Armenia. And it is not by chance that the Armenians gave him the dynastic name “Artashes”.

Roman historian Tacitus wrote: “As soon as they put the crown on Zeno’s head, the crowd honoring him began to greet him as Artashes.” Zeno-Artashes was the only Roman client king not overthrown by Armenians.

After Zeno-Artashes, Rome presented the Armenian crown to the Iberian prince Mithridates of Iberia (reigned in 35 – 37 and 47 – 51). His reign in Armenia was marked by a severe anti-Roman uprising led by sparapet Gisak Dimaksyan, thanks to which Mithridates was exiled. Armenia restored its independence which would be maintained until 43.

The long and heroic struggle of the Armenian people against Rome and their freedom-loving character were reflected in the accurate allegory of Roman poet Virgil – “Araxes River not tolerating bridges”, that is, Armenia not tolerating alien domination.

Rome, however, would carry on the same policy. After Sanatruk I, Mithridates was again appointed king of Armenia. In 51, Mithridates and his family were assassinated by his nephew Rhadamistus. Rhadamistus would then seize the Armenian throne.

Tacitus delightfully portrayed the principles of Rome’s policy in their client countries, particularly in Armenia: “All external crimes should be accepted with joy, the seeds of hatred should be planted… Let Rhadamistus reign, but he has to be hated and denounced because this will be more profitable for us than if he gets exiled from Armenia with glory.”

Such a harsh reality forced the Armenians to seek an alternative alliance, and it was at this time when Parthia began to restore its former power. Armenia had to make a crucial choice between Rome and Parthia.

Hovhannisyan P.


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