Tigran the Great the rise and fall of an empire between two seas

(ORDO NEWS) — After the decline of the great Hellenistic empires created by the generals of Alexander the Great, a new contender for world domination came to the forefront of history at the beginning of the 1st century BC.

His name was Tigran II, and he headed a small Armenian state. In the same way, Alexander, at the beginning of his reign, had only the resources of little Macedon at his disposal. Otherwise, the starting conditions of the two ancient conquerors are very different: Tigran began his career as a hostage in a foreign land.

Despite this, he defeated the Parthians, defeated the huge Syrian kingdom and created, albeit briefly, his own empire, stretching from the Mediterranean to the Caspian and from Judea to the Caucasus. What do we know about this commander and ruler who was not afraid to challenge Rome itself? Naked Science is investigating.

In 95 BC, the fourth king of the Artashesid dynasty, Tigran II, ascended the throne of the state of Greater Armenia. True, he did this, as we would now say, in a remote format.

The fact is that at the end of the 2nd century BC, the Armenian king Artavazd I, the eldest son of the founder of the dynasty, continuing the aggressive policy of his father, faced the powerful Parthian kingdom (on the territory of modern Iran).

Although some historians believe that it was the Parthians who were engaged in the conquests. It is difficult to say who is right here, because both states were developing at that moment (primarily due to wars), and we will talk about the difficult state of historical sources for this period below.

How much does royal freedom cost

Be that as it may, the Parthian king Mithridates II around 120 BC inflicted a crushing defeat on the Armenian king Artavazd. And in order to exclude further conflicts with such a warlike neighbor, he took the son of his younger brother hostage.

Artavazd died in 115 BC, leaving no direct heirs. And the throne was taken by his brother, about whom we know almost nothing at all, except for the name of himself (Tigran I) and his closest relatives. That is, now the hostage in Parthia was no longer the nephew, but the son of the king – the future Tigran the Great.

Tigran the Great the rise and fall of an empire between two seas 2Very often, we can get an idea of ​​what the ancient rulers looked like only from the finds of coins of the corresponding coinage. Coin with the profile of the Parthian king Mithridates II

There is a hypothesis that Tigran II was elevated to the Armenian throne by Mithridates II, who was very interested in a dynastic marriage between one of his daughters and a former prisoner.

Maybe Mithridates had such a plan, but in reality it turned out quite differently. Having become king, Tigran simply paid off, giving the Parthians, according to Strabo, “70 valleys in Armenia.”

Let’s digress for a while from the history of the novice ruler and talk about where we generally get information about that era. It should be noted right away that everything we know about Tigran the Great is taken from Roman sources.

The authors of some of them are frankly negative towards the king of Greater Armenia (for example, Appian or Plutarch) – as we will show later, the Romans had no reason to love him.

The medieval Armenian historian Movses Khorenatsi basically uses one source – the works of the Roman Jewish historian Josephus Flavius. And slightly modifies them in the process of retelling. We will take all this into account, but now we will return to the 1st century BC.

There is a hypothesis that Tigran II was elevated to the Armenian throne by Mithridates II, who was very interested in a dynastic marriage between one of his daughters and a former prisoner. Maybe Mithridates had such a plan, but in reality it turned out quite differently. Having become king, Tigran simply paid off, giving the Parthians, according to Strabo, “70 valleys in Armenia.”

Let’s digress for a while from the history of the novice ruler and talk about where we generally get information about that era. It should be noted right away that everything we know about Tigran the Great is taken from Roman sources.

The authors of some of them are frankly negative towards the king of Greater Armenia (for example, Appian or Plutarch) – as we will show later, the Romans had no reason to love him.

The medieval Armenian historian Movses Khorenatsi basically uses one source – the works of the Roman Jewish historian Josephus Flavius. And slightly modifies them in the process of retelling. We will take all this into account, but now we will return to the 1st century BC.

I must say that the map of Western Asia and Transcaucasia of that period looks colorful. The king of Parthia, having taken a ransom from Tigranes and releasing him in peace, took up the remnants of the Seleucid state (the Kingdom of Syria).

The Pontic kingdom (its main part lay in Asia Minor) was getting closer and closer to the war with the Roman Republic. In Cilicia (part of Asia Minor), formally under the control of Rome, a pirate freemen raged. Rome itself was on the brink of civil war.

But the valleys will have to be returned !

Such was the situation by the time Tigranes, the fourth of the Artashesids, began to conquer his empire. And he began precisely from those lands with which he paid off the Parthian king.

In 94 BC, he entered into a military-political alliance with the powerful Pontic ruler Mithridates VI Eupator, taking his daughter Cleopatra as his wife. With such an ally (from whom he did not even need help, but simply non-intervention), Tigranes defeated the Parthians in several battles in 91-85 BC.

In addition to returning those same 70 Armenian valleys, he captured the territories of modern Eastern Syria and Northern Iraq. Also, according to the peace treaty, he received the title of “king of kings” .

And then the sources are very confused in the testimony. The fact is that Roman historians were not very interested in how exactly Tigran II subjugated the lands. Great Armenia appears in ancient sources when it is already the largest state in the Middle East, and its clash with Rome is inevitable.

The Armenian kingdom of Tigranes developed into a great power after his victory over Parthia in 85 BC and the annexation of Syria and Phoenicia (83 BC). We do not know exactly how this connection took place. Most sources agree that Tigran conquered these lands.

But at the same time, the Roman historian Gnaeus Pompey Trog says that the Syrians themselves called Tigranes and voluntarily recognized his authority.

An unusual picture for those times when they preferred to fight rather than surrender, isn’t it? Pompey Trog lived in the 1st century BC, and his information could be quite fresh, only his works are known to us only in the retelling of the Roman historian Justin, who lived much later (2nd-3rd centuries AD).

Suppose we did not believe Pompey Trogus and decided that Tigranes conquered the Syrian kingdom. Let’s turn to other sources. Appian quite unequivocally writes that the Seleucid king of Syria, Antiochus X Euseb, was killed in the process of this conquest, in 83 BC.

At the same time, Josephus claims that the Syrian ruler died in a military clash with the Parthians around 90 BC. The modern historian Ruben Manaseryan, in his work on the conquests of Tigranes, writes that Appian is wrong in the question of the year of the death of Antiochus X – his description of Syria of that period contains a number of errors.

When Antiochus X died in battle with the Parthians, Philip I, a protege of the Parthians, became king of Syria. The locals were not happy with the new king. Palace intrigues began, as a result of which the elites, opposed to Philip, could well turn to Tigran for help.

But at the same time, those groups that supported the protégés of the Parthians would resist – just the one that both Josephus and Strabo write about. Thus, both hypotheses converge into one whole: the Armenian ruler was indeed called to the Syrian kingdom. But along the way we had to fight.

We load and go

Thus, by the middle of the 70s BC, Tigran the Great became the most powerful ruler of Western Asia and Transcaucasia. The scope of the state he created is quite felt on the map – it is several times larger than the territory of that Armenia, on the throne of which he ascended in 95 BC.

Having achieved this result, Tigran begins to devote more time to public administration. It must be said that his domestic policy was rather peculiar: a significant place in it was occupied by the resettlement of conquered or sworn peoples.

Tigran the Great the rise and fall of an empire between two seas 3Tigran II at the mint in Antioch

This is not Tigran’s know-how, something similar was practiced by his grandfather, Artashes I, who needed to populate the rather deserted Armenian Highlands. But under the grandson of the resettlement took on a completely different scale.

The inhabitants of Judea, Cappadocia, Cilicia, Phoenicians, Arabs (the Arab tribes swore allegiance to Tigran after the defeat of the Parthians) were forcibly driven to new places: from Armavir to the capital of the empire under construction – Tigranakert.

The following point should be noted: as a result of such a migration and mixing of peoples, the Armenia of Tigran II was a crossroads of Western and Eastern cultures. At the same time, the king himself supported precisely the Hellenistic, Western traditions and restrained the Eastern, Iranian ones.

In the Hellenistic tradition, he also built his new capital. Under him, it was already the third capital of Greater Armenia after Artashat and Antioch (now the Turkish city of Antakya on the Mediterranean coast): the ruler moved his residence as new conquests took place.

Tigran the Great the rise and fall of an empire between two seas 4Coin with the profile of Tigran the Great

Construction to the south-west of Lake Van (the territory of modern Turkey) Tigranakert is the highest point of the heyday of the empire of Tigranes.

No, they still fought on the outskirts, and the tsar himself led the military campaigns, despite his advanced age. But in general, one gets the feeling that he completed the formation of his state and was engaged in the organization of peaceful life. And I missed a very important point.

What can help a relative turn out to be?

The Pontic king, and part-time father-in-law of Tigran Mithridates VI Eupator fought with Rome for a long time. There was a period when the Armenian monarch also helped him, who conquered Cappadocia for the son of Mithridates, but basically Pontus fought with Rome on his own.

Military campaigns, known in history as the Mithridatic Wars, went on for some time with varying success. And in 74 BC, the ruler of the Pontics, according to Rome, became too insolent, and consul Lucius Licinius Lucullus led the legions against him.

In modern times, he is more likely to be remembered for the notorious “Lucullus feasts” he gave to would-be voters in Rome in an attempt to rise to power.

However, besides this, he was still a young man distinguished by his courage on the battlefield, and later, becoming a commander, more than once won victories over a serious opponent.

Tigran the Great the rise and fall of an empire between two seas 5Lucullus was a warrior and commander, but he is remembered as a man who organized holidays of gluttony

So, at the end of 72 BC, he utterly defeated the Pontic army, Mithridates Evpator fled and asked for asylum from Tigran the Great, in Tigranakert.

Tigran’s position at this point is not very clear to historians. On the one hand, he clearly did not intend to provide military assistance to Mithridates, but on the other hand, he accepted his father-in-law, realizing that Lucullus would demand his extradition, which happened in 70 BC. Rome declared war on Armenia.

In the spring of 69 BC, Lucullus crossed the Euphrates, passed through the Armenian province of Sophena, crossed the Tigris and reached Tigranakert. And here again, an unimaginable number of discrepancies and direct distortions begin in the sources. Let’s try to figure them out.

Appian claims that under the command of Lucullus there were only two legions (about tens of thousands of people) and 500 horsemen. At the same time, he describes the forces and intentions of Tigran as follows:

“Tigran, having collected 250 thousand infantry and horsemen about 50 thousand, sent about 6 thousand of them to Tigranakert; they broke through the fortifications of the Romans to the garrison and, taking the king’s wife, returned again.

With the rest of the army, Tigranes himself moved to Lucullus. Mithridates <…> advised him not to engage in battle with the Romans, but, surrounding them with only cavalry and devastating the land, try to bring them to starvation in the same way as he himself under Cyzicus, brought to exhaustion by Lucullus, lost everything without a fight army.

Tigranes, having laughed at his military plan, moved forward, ready to join the battle. Seeing the small number of the Romans, he mockingly said about them: “If they are ambassadors, then there are many of them, but if they are enemies, then they are too few.”

It looks absurd: two legions of that time are less than 10 thousand people. No, we certainly remember the ratio of sides and losses in the battle of Issus or the battle of Gaugamela, but usually the results of those battles are attributed to the military genius of Alexander the Great.

Lucullus, although he was an excellent military leader, was still not the same as Alexander the Great. And by that time, his opponent had already demonstrated his military leadership talents to the entire Western Asia and Transcaucasia.

Why pity them, infidel, write more!

Let’s turn to other sources. Plutarch believed that under the walls of Tigranakert, Lucullus brought 24 cohorts (about the same 10 thousand as Appian), as well as 3 thousand horsemen and a thousand slingers.

At the same time, he estimated the forces of the Armenian side as follows: 150 thousand infantry, 55 thousand horsemen and 20 thousand slingers. That is, almost like Appian, a completely absurd balance of power.

But there are other data as well. Memnon of Heracles indicates that the army of Tigranes consisted of 80 thousand soldiers, Phlegon from Thrall gives a close estimate – 40 thousand infantry and 30 thousand horsemen.

In addition, both of these historians suggest that allied units were added along the way to those two legions that came with Lucullus (for example, from the Cappadocian ruler). Thus, the forces of the parties already look comparable.

In general, historians usually assume that Plutarch gave the most reliable information, since he used Roman primary sources – the works of Sallust and Titus Livius, which, in turn, relied on the official reports of Lucullus to the Senate.

Could Plutarch be wrong after his predecessors? Of course, if, for example, Lucullus distorted the data in his reports. Agree, the victory of two legions over 200 thousand enemies looks much more impressive than with equal forces.

Tigran the Great the rise and fall of an empire between two seas 6It is generally accepted that Plutarch impartially expounded ancient history in his writings. But in the case of Tigran the Great, this impartiality is doubtful

Plutarch looks extremely biased when he talks about the war with Tigranes in the biography of Lucullus.

For example, he describes the meeting of the “king of kings” and the envoy Lucullus, who demanded that Tigranes extradite Mithridates, as follows: “Tigranes tried to listen to him with an imperturbable face and a mock smile, but those present did not hide how much he was struck by the directness of this young man’s speech.

Almost for the first time he had to hear the voice of a free man – for the first time in the twenty-five years that he reigned, or, rather, mocked the peoples.

From this passage it is quite clear on whose side the author’s sympathies are, which must also be taken into account. Recall that in these same 25 years, Rome destroyed many states, while turning a huge number of their inhabitants into slaves.

Against this background, arguments about “mockery of the peoples” in relation to another state modern to Rome look very one-sided.

The beginning of the end of an empire

The very course of the battle of Tigranakert, which took place on October 6, 69 BC, is presented by the sources in a no less confusing way. But since we are more interested in the outcome of the battle and the events that followed it, we will not analyze this moment.

Whoever the sources are right, the outcome of the battle is known: the battlefield was left to the Romans. Tigran and Mithridates fled with the remnants of the army, and the inhabitants of Tigranakert, most of whom were forcibly relocated to this city, opened the gates of the Armenian capital in front of Lucullus. This was the beginning of the decline of the empire of Tigran the Great.

It may seem strange that we are not talking about the losses of the parties. But the problem is that we simply don’t have data that looks even remotely reliable. Plutarch claims that the losses of the Armenian infantry amounted to 100 thousand people, few of the cavalry were saved.

At the same time, the Romans lost five people killed and about a hundred wounded. Yes, in the battle of Issus, the army of Alexander the Great lost about 500 people against 50 thousand losses of the Persians, and at Gaugamela 1200 against 30-40 thousand, but still not five people against 100 thousand, as Lucullus obviously reported.

Alas, the postscripts relating to enemy losses appeared in military documents at about the same time as the first military documents.

A reliable indicator that the loss situation was much different is subsequent events. Having traditionally plundered the surrendered Tigranakert, Lucullus rushed after Tigranes and Mithridates.

If the losses of the latter were as great as Plutarch writes about, then Artashat, one of the former capitals of Greater Armenia, should have become the goal of the Romans. But something went wrong again. There are two versions of events.

Tigran the Great the rise and fall of an empire between two seas 7Remains of the fortress wall of ancient Tigranakert

The first says that in September 68 BC, Tigran II, with the support of Mithridates Eupator, gave a general battle to the troops of Lucullus and defeated them. It must be said that only a sparing mention of the event by Dio Cassius can confirm this hypothesis.

But the second version is no less curious: according to it, Lucullus successfully pursued the Armenian-Pontic army, but he was prevented… by the onset of cold.

As you can see, bringing in “General Frost” as an argument that influences the course of the campaign is also an ancient idea. And, as usual, for some reason, this interferes with only one side. In any case, the confrontation ended because Lucullus called the Senate to Rome.

After the departure of the Romans, Tigran II led and successfully conducted a campaign in Asia Minor. But these military successes did not seriously affect anything. Against the Armenian monarch, his son, Tigran Jr., revolted.

The king defeated the offspring’s army, but he asked for help from Rome and it was provided: in 66 BC, Pompey the Great led a 50,000-strong army to Armenia.

Tigran the Great the rise and fall of an empire between two seas 8

Considering that at the same time, incited by Rome, the Parthians rebelled against the power of Tigranes, the situation was extremely difficult: it was almost impossible to wage war on two fronts, and on one of them against the largest commander of his time, and there was no chance of a successful outcome. frankly little.

The Armenian “King of Kings,” or Shahinshah (such was his official title), signed the peace treaty proposed by Pompey. According to him, Tigran lost all the Parthian lands, Syria, Cilicia, and also had to pay 6 thousand talents in silver.

In addition, he was obliged to cede to Tigran Jr. (after that he was for some time considered the co-ruler of his father) part of the primordially Armenian lands. However, after some time, the rebellious prince also rebelled against Rome, he was executed, and the lands were returned to Tigran II.

This completes the story of the commander and conqueror – for the last ten years he has practically stepped aside from power, allowing his son, the future king Artavazd II, to rule, and died in 55 BC at the age of 85.

In Imitation of Plutarch: An Extract from Comparative Lives

At the very beginning, we involuntarily compared Tigran II with Alexander the Great, noting that their starting positions were very different starting from age: Alexander became king at 20, Tigran at 45.

And if Alexander came to power “without burdens”, then Tigran began his career as a sovereign as a hostage in a foreign and powerful empire. But each of them conquered vast territories, and both fought against very difficult opponents.

Persia did not become a huge kingdom because its rulers were weak or unbelligerent, but Alexander defeated the Persians. The situation that had developed by the beginning of the conquests of Tigranes, we showed above – not a single state of that time was peaceful or harmless.

The same Parthia, in a matter of decades, managed to defeat the Roman legions led by Crassus , that is, she is a serious force. Only very talented commanders could put together huge empires from the lands of such opponents. And Tigran succeeded.

Tigran the Great the rise and fall of an empire between two seas 9Alexander the Great at the Battle of Issus. Mosaic fragment in Pompeii

But Alexander’s empire did not collapse during his lifetime. Of course, it is difficult to compare directly here either: the Macedonian king died at the age of 32, he generally ruled much less than his Armenian counterpart. But still, relying on the history of his empire, let’s try to understand why the kingdom of Tigranes did not last long within its maximum borders.

Three reasons can be identified. Two of them concern differences in management. Let’s talk about the first one. If you carefully read the sources, then the fact that Tigran manages to fight everywhere attracts attention: the names of his commanders are mentioned, but they act more as assistants than independent commanders in a tactical sense. Whereas the commanders of Alexander, as the empire grows, fight completely independently.

While Alexander was alive, his empire stood because there were people next to him who were personally devoted to him. And only after his death, the state began to fall apart in the wars of the Diadochi (former commanders), although Antigonus One-Eyed tried to resist this process.

Tigran the Great the rise and fall of an empire between two seas 10Alexander at the altar before the Battle of Gaugamela. Engraving by André Castagnet (1898–1899)

There were no such people near Tigran. Plutarch writes that the Armenian king used Eastern traditions in his reign: intrigues, clash of interests, and so on. As we have already noted, Tigran sought to Hellenize his kingdom, but it was precisely the style of government that could be eastern, Iranian.

Perhaps that is why he did not particularly single out one of the commanders, not wanting to risk the fact that, according to Eastern tradition, he would try to arrange a change of power. But because of this, there were no capable military leaders personally devoted to him next to him.

The second difference between Alexander and Tigranes concerns how they governed the conquered territories. The first acted simply: he took an oath of allegiance from the local nobility, left his people in control of the situation and allowed the population to live their former life – only as part of his empire.

Over time, he recruited even phalangists from local residents – to replace the Macedonians who returned to their homeland or died. But, firstly, they went to this service voluntarily (also by competition), and secondly, the lives of individuals, and not entire communities, were changing in this way.

Tigran treated the conquered peoples differently. He represented his empire in a very specific way, and he needed people to embody the image. But it is one thing to drive slaves to build a city, and quite another to resettle part of the people.

The Old Testament describes more than one such forced migration and their sad results. Actually, Tigran also did not end up with anything good. It was the representatives of the resettled peoples, dissatisfied with their fate, who opened the gates of Tigranakert before Lucullus.

Tigran the Great the rise and fall of an empire between two seas 11Tigran the Great surrounded by vassals, Italian illustration of the 19th century

Of course, it is impossible to state directly: if Tigranes had surrounded himself with loyal commanders and had not resettled peoples, his empire would have stood longer. There are many more factors, we have identified only the main differences that we can find in the sources.

But we talked about three reasons, but named only two. The third reason is Rom. A great empire, which just at that moment was at the beginning of its heyday. Tigranes had no chance to avoid a collision with her: sooner or later the Romans would come to the land of his kingdom and conquer, like all the territories that they could reach.

Of course, it can be said that Tigranes should have used the tactics that Mithridates Eupator once suggested to him: to avoid head-on collisions with the Romans, cutting off their communications with the cavalry in order to defeat them, first exhausting them with hunger and thirst to the limit.

However, this is more of a theory: the Parthians, who destroyed the army of Crassus in this way, had a huge, sparsely populated foreground , which they could give to the legionnaires for ruin. The most densely populated regions of Greater Armenia were much closer to the Romans, which is why this method frankly did not suit Tigranes.

But even despite this, Tigran the Great, judging by Dio Cassius, turned out to be a very difficult opponent for the Romans. One can only guess how much larger and more powerful his state could become if he did not face such an invincible enemy as Rome in the times of Pompey and Caesar.

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