Tigranakert, the Capital of the Armenian Kingdom

Many Armenian kings founded new cities for their reign, transferring the capital of the state to them, populating them with craftsmen, free (azat) farmers, merchants, and warriors, including those captured in wars with neighbors and other countries.

Often not one, but two or even several such cities were founded. The names of these cities and capitals were mainly given in honor of their founders.

Thus, at the confluence of the Ahuryan and Araks rivers in the distant past, two cities appeared bearing the name of Yervand – Yervandakert and Yervandashat, in Tsopk and Armenian Commagene – several Arshamashats (the Greeks called them in their own way – Arsamea), in the Ararat valley – Vagharshapat and Artashat, and several dozen cities in various regions of Greater Armenia.

But the most cities were founded by Tigran II Mets (Tigran the Great) – one of the most significant and revered Armenian kings, who ruled in the 1st century BC, perhaps the only one of our monarchs who can rightfully be called an emperor.

Tigran the Great founded about ten cities, many of which still proudly bear his name. First of all, of course, it is necessary to dwell in Tigranakert – the capital of the Armenian kingdom, which Tigran Mets founded in the 70s BC as a capital city for his empire, which stretched at that time up to Palestine, Nabatea and the Persian Gulf.

Artashat, which remained in the north of the country, on the bank of the Araks, could no longer satisfy the status of a capital, being too far from new trade routes, and Tigran Mets chose a place much southwest for his new capital, namely in the gavar of Nprkert ashkhara Akhdznik of Greater Armenia.

This is where disagreements and disputes begin in Armenian studies. To this day, it is not possible to unequivocally confirm one or another location of the capital Tigranakert.

Extensive and enthusiastic descriptions of this city have remained from Armenian, Greek, Roman authors, a lot of fateful events of Armenian history are associated with it, however, its location remains controversial to this day.

The localization of Tigranakert is primarily associated with two of the major cities of Akhdznik – Amid (subsequently – Diyarbakir) and Nprkert or Maya-Farkin (today’s Silvan).

As for Amid-Diyarbakir, this city is located on the right bank of the Tigris River, on the border between Greater Armenia and the Armenian Mesopotamia, almost 60 kilometers southwest of Nprkert, at a major bend of the Tigris.

In ancient times, the city was known as Amid (Amedu), which is a variant of the Armenian Amtuna (Khamtun) and translates literally as “common house”, in the sense of a large settlement where local government bodies were located.

Subsequently, the Armenian princely surname Amatuni originated from the toponym Amtun. Many try to derive the name Diyarbakir from the Arabic “diar” – the plural form of the word “dar” (region, gavar) and the tribal name “bakr”.

However, the etymology of the toponym is different and goes back to much more ancient roots – the Assyrian-Chaldean Deyr (Armenian Dar or Der) with the meaning “holy” and the ancient Armenian Bager – gods, temples, temples.

The transformation of the name Deyr or Dar into Diar, and Bager – into Baker, Bakir, Bakr, and Pakhr is quite often found precisely in this part of Greater Armenia. But on what else, besides the status of a large city and the center of the gavar Mets Tsopk, is the connection of Tigranakert with Amid-Diyarbakir based?

The fact is that, according to Movses Khorenatsi, the fortifications and powerful walls of Amid-Diyarbakir were erected in the middle of the 6th century BC by King Tigran Yervanduni (Haikazuni). As often happens, subsequent historians and authors, not following their sources too closely, sometimes began to call Amid-Diyarbakir Tigranakert, while they had in mind a completely different Tigran.

However, the complete identity of the names, as well as the fact that Amid-Diyarbakir remained the largest center of Armenian reality and a large Armenian-populated city throughout its history, have led to the fact that today many researchers, as well as most laymen, consider Diyarbakir to be the capital of Tigranakert. Some even try to etymologically derive Diyarbakir from the name Tigranakert.

However, in addition to the just mentioned true etymology of the toponyms Amid-Amedu-Amtun and Deyr-Dar-Bager, against the localization of Tigranakert in the place of this city is also the fact that the latter lies on the right bank of the Tigris – that is, outside the boundaries of Greater Armenia, although in another Armenian region (Ayots Midzagetk – Armenian Mesopotamia).

Tigran, being a far-sighted politician (as was confirmed by the subsequent history of the Armenian-Roman confrontation), would not have founded his capital outside the borders of Greater Armenia, which he wanted to preserve and preserved with the loss of imperial territories.

In the first half of the 20th century, the German researcher Lehmann Haupt, based on an analysis of many sources, decided to localize the royal Tigranakert at the site of another ancient city of Akhdznik – Nprkert, after which the entire adjacent extensive gavar was named.

Nprkert, in the name of which the name of the ancient legendary Sumerian planet Nibiru is preserved (the name itself goes back to the Armenian Naver), had several names throughout its many centuries of history – actually Nprkert, Tigranakert, Maya-Farkin, Martyropolis, and now it is called Silvan (a Kurdish tribal name that arose under the direct influence of the Armenian language). The overwhelming majority of Armenian studies today support precisely this localization of Tigranakert.

So, the royal city of Tigranakert, founded by Tigran the Great, was located at the site of the ancient Nprkert, in the southernmost foothills of the Armenian Main Taurus, in the upper reaches of the river Nprkert – a right tributary of one of the main components of the Tigris – the river Kakhird or Ba-Tman, in the extreme south of Sasun, where the inaccessible Sasun mountains are replaced by the Nprkert or Diyarbakir mountain valley.

It was here that Tigran the Great was crowned in 95 BC. Subsequently, after losing its status as a capital, Tigranakert remained the center of the province of Fourth Armenia, founded under Justinian, until the middle of the 6th century.

Today in Silvan itself and its surroundings there are ruins and remains of the capital Tigranakert – ruins of fortress walls and towers, palaces, other large structures. With the old capital of Armenia, Artashat, Tigranakert was connected by one of the main roads of ancient and medieval Armenia and the entire region – the so-called “Royal Avenue” (Arkunakan Pohota).

Another royal road passed through the city – laid by the Persian king Cyrus, the third road led through Sasun (villages Nerzhik and Shenik) to the Aratsani valley. A little to the north are the ruins of the ancient city of Khaldi or Altini, in the vicinity of which, among the rocks of Koler (Kyular), Sasuntsi David usually sharpened his famous sword Tur-Kaytsak.

The population of the royal Tigranakert mostly consisted of merchants and craftsmen. According to quite contradictory data, the population of this city reached up to one hundred thousand people, the overwhelming majority of whom were Armenians.

In addition to that, Tigranakert was home to Greeks, Jews, Assyrians (Aisors), as well as Cappadocians and Cilicians (among the latter, referred to not by ethnic but by territorial feature, the majority were again Armenians).

All these foreigners were captured by Tigran during the conquest of Cappadocia, Eastern Cilicia, Asorika (Syria), Assyrian Mesopotamia (Asorvots Midzagetk), as well as Palestine and Phoenicia and driven in as residents of the new capital. Many of them remained in Armenia, others returned to their native places after the campaign of Lucullus in 69 BC.

According to descriptions by ancient Greek and Roman authors, Tigranakert was surrounded by high fortress walls with towers, among which were built a city fortress (midjnaberd), warehouses, barracks, stables, etc.

Outside the city, on its north-western side, was located the magnificent royal palace of Tigran with adjacent buildings. When the city was founded, in the 1st century BC, a large building of an ancient theatre was built here, the ruins of which are still preserved. After Tigran, the city no longer had not only the capital but also the status of any major and significant center.

Despite the almost proven identity of Tigranakert with Nprkert, many researchers continue to put forward new versions regarding its localization.

Thus, B.Arutyunyan and T.Sinclair place the royal Tigranakert east of Kakhird (Ba-Tman), in the valley of the Arzn (Kharzan) river, called Nikiphorion by the Greeks, where other researchers place the ancient city of Shukarabu. I.Kippert and N.Adonts are skeptical about such localization, leaning in favor of Nprkert.

And then, the sources clearly indicate Tigranakert in the Nprkert gavar, not Arzn. In addition, our Arkuni Pohota led from Artashat to Amid-Diyarbakir, passing exactly through Nprkert. Other Tigranakerts founded by Tigran the Great are more unambiguously localized, to which we will go next time.

by Grigor Beglaryan

Translated by Vigen Avetisyan

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