Tiridates I of Armenia

Tiridates I of Armenia

Tiridates I (Trdat I) ruled as the king of Armenia from 63 to either 75 or 88 CE). Considered the founder of the Arsacid dynasty proper, his reign got off to a rocky start with invasions from Rome and Parthia but, once crowned in a lavish ceremony in Rome conducted by Nero himself, the Armenian king would rule for a relatively peaceful and highly prosperous two decades. When exactly his reign ended is disputed due to conflicting ancient sources, but he was (probably) succeeded by his son Sanatruk II who continued with his father's success in balancing Armenia on the diplomatic tightrope it seemed destined to forever occupy between the region's two superpowers.

Succession

Tiridates I of Armenia was the brother of the Parthian king Vologases I (aka Vagharsh, r. c. 51- up to 80 CE, dates disputed) who invaded Armenia in 52 CE for the specific purpose of setting Tiridates on the throne. The Roman Empire was not, though, content to passively permit Parthia into what they considered a buffer zone between the two great powers. Further, an embassy arrived in Rome which represented the pro-Roman faction in Armenia and they asked for direct assistance. Consequently, Roman emperor Nero (r. 54-68 CE) sent an army under his best general Gnaeus Domitius Corbulo in 54 CE to restore Roman influence in the region.

Tiridates was supported by most of the Armenian people who were more sympathetic to Parthia than to Rome for historical & cultural reasons.

First, Corbulo was given the task of securing both Syria and the small kingdom of Sophene (Dsopk) to beef up Rome's presence in the region and remind Parthia who they were up against. Then, when Parthia declared Armenia a vassal state in 58 CE, Corbulo moved northwards and attacked Armenia itself. By the time the Romans arrived in Tiridates' kingdom, Vologases had been forced to withdraw to deal with internal troubles in Parthia but Tiridates remained at the Armenian capital of Artaxata (Artashat). Tiridates was actually supported by most of the Armenian people who were more sympathetic to Parthia than to Rome for historical and cultural reasons.

Corbulo proved again to be a very capable field commander and with logistical support from Roman ships on the Black Sea, he took and destroyed the two most important cites - Artaxata and Tigranocerta. By 60 CE he could claim to rule over all of the kingdom of Armenia and Tiridates was forced to flee back to his brother in Parthia. In the same year, Tigranes V, who had impressive royal connections being the grandson of Herod the Great, was set on the throne as a pro-Roman monarch, but he would only last until the Parthians sent an army to besiege him in what was left of Tigranocerta. Thereafter, Tigranes disappears from the pages of history after the briefest of cameo appearances in the Armenian king lists.

In 62 CE Parthia won victory against a Roman army (significantly, perhaps, no longer commanded by Corbulo), but in 63 CE the Romans and Corbulo returned and their threat was sufficient for the Treaty of Rhandia to be drawn up (named after the site in western Armenia). It was now agreed that Parthia had the right to nominate Armenian kings, Rome the right to crown them, and both powers would rule equally over Armenia with the king as their representative. Nero was thus given the privilege of crowning Tiridates in Rome in a lavish spectacle that did much to show the power and global reach of the Roman Empire.

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The Coronation of Tiridates

In 66 CE, then, Tiridates symbolically presented his crown to an effigy of Nero and then travelled to the great city of Rome to receive it back again from the hands of the emperor. Taking a land route, an impressive entourage, which included the soon-to-be king's wife (wearing a golden helmet and face mask instead of a veil), his children, extended family and 3,000 courtiers, nobles, priests and bodyguards from Armenia, Parthia and Rome, plodded westwards. When Nero had offered to meet the travel expenses he had perhaps not imagined quite such a guest list. It was no surprise either that when the whole troupe arrived in Naples after nine months on the road, they were late. A round of gladiator and athletic games opened the festivities before the actual coronation in the Forum of Rome. There, kneeling before the emperor, Tiridates had to recite what would become the familiar eastern formula of submission:

Master…I have come to thee, my god, to worship thee as I do Mithras. The destiny thou spinnest for me shall be mine, for thou art my Fortune and my Fate. (Payaslian, 29)

Nero replied:

You have done well by coming here to enjoy my presence in person. What your father has not left to you and what your brothers did not preserve for you, I do accord to you, and I make you King of Armenia, so that you, as well as they, may know that I have the power to take away and to grant kingdoms. (Kurkjian, 78)

The king was then crowned and allowed to sit on a throne next to Nero, albeit a slightly lower one than the Roman emperor's. The celebrations then continued in the Theatre of Pompey which Nero, true to form, had decked out completely in glittering gold and Tyrian purple canopies as a flamboyant imperial bonus. The Romans loved a spectacle and Tiridates' coronation certainly gave them one; indeed, thereafter, the day of the celebration carried the epithet “golden”. When the party was over Nero gave Tiridates a parting gift of 2 million sesterces and sent him on his way to rebuild Armenia.

A Prosperous Reign

With such a flurry of ancient sources gushing over Tiridates' coronation, it is rather disappointing that we know so little of the rest of his reign. We do know that the Romans next placed a handful of garrisons in the area to ensure the Treaty of Rhandia was adhered to but generally, there was, as planned by all three sides, a sustained period of peace.

An inscription from Garni reveals that Tiridates was now calling himself “the Sun” & “Supreme Ruler of Armenia”.

The kingdom's prosperity, based on natural resources, agriculture and trade permitted Tiridates to build a new summer residence at Garni. A magnificent fortified complex built from white limestone, it boasted all the amenities of any palace anywhere in the Classical world. There were Roman baths, gardens, courtyards, mosaic-floored rooms and even a full-scale Roman temple for the king when in residence (which still stands today). An inscription from Garni reveals that Tiridates was now calling himself “the Sun” and “Supreme Ruler of Armenia”. Other notable projects of the period included the rebuilding of Artaxata after its destruction by Corbulo and which Roman writers record was renamed Neronia in honour of the king's great benefactor. A temple north of that city was dedicated to the god Tir. Finally, a number of estates were set aside by the king for pilgrims to pay homage to some of his relatives, after all, he was the Sun god Helios now. The agricultural production and consequent tribute from these sites also gave a handy boost to the royal treasury.

Notwithstanding the good times, there would soon be a reminder of Armenia's status as a client kingdom. Roman emperor Vespasian (r. 69-79 CE) made absolutely sure that no more territories in the region would fall to the Parthian ruling dynasty by annexing the kingdoms of Commagene and Lesser Armenia in 72 CE. In the same year (or perhaps the next) the nomadic Alani people temporarily invaded Armenia but Tiridates remained unscathed. There was perhaps also an Armenian invasion of Iberia (modern Georgia) but details are lacking in the now silent historical record.

Successor & Arsacid Dynasty

Tiridates I is considered the founder of the long-ruling Arsacid dynasty (Arshakuni) which would last until 428 CE. The dynasty had actually had its first king in 12 CE with the succession of Vonon (Vonones) but the instability of the Armenian throne and many short-reigning monarchs after Vonon has resulted in some historians taking Tiridates, with his more stable regime and that of his successors, as the true founder of the dynasty. When Tiridates died he was (probably) succeeded by his son Sanatruk II who would rule until 109 CE.

This article was made possible with generous support from the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research and the Knights of Vartan Fund for Armenian Studies.


Tiridates I

Assorted References

…I wanted his second brother, Tiridates, to be king of Armenia—putting him in position to break with Rome, which opposed him militarily. Upon orders from Nero, the Roman general Corbulo secured Armenia, but his operations were broken off by the exchange of ambassadors. An agreement was finally reached: in 66…

When Tiridates of Armenia acknowledged the Roman emperor Nero as his supreme lord, he performed a Mithraic ceremony, indicating that the god of contract and of friendship established good relations between the Armenians and the mighty Romans. The kings of Commagene (southeast of Turkey) venerated Mithra.…

Association with

…authorities believe that a brother, Tiridates I, succeeded Arsaces about 248 and ruled until 211 other authorities consider Arsaces I and Tiridates I to be the same person.)

…years a Parthian prince named Tiridates had made himself king of Armenia with the support of its people. In response, Nero’s new government took vigorous action, appointing an able general, Gnaeus Domitius Corbulo, to the command. Prolonged military operations by Corbulo led in 66 to a new settlement Tiridates was…


Ascension

In 53 Roman governor of Cappadocia, Paelignus, invaded Armenia and ravaged the country, then under an Iberian usurper King Radamisto. Syrian governor Quadratus sent a force to repair these outrages but he was recalled so as not to provoke a war with Parthia. King Vologases I of Parthia took the opportunity and invaded Armenia, conquering Artaxata and proclaiming his brother Tiridates as king. A winter epidemic forced him to withdraw his troops from Armenia, allowing Radamisto to come back and punish locals as traitors who eventually revolted and replaced him with the Parthian prince Tiridates in early 55. Radamisto escaped along with his wife Zenobia. Zenobia, was captured but Tiridates treated her like a royal queen. Radamisto himself returned to Iberia and was soon put to death by his father Parasmanes I of Iberia for having plotted against the royal power.


Monarches similar to or like Tiridates I of Armenia

Monarchy in the Ancient Near East which existed from 321 BC to 428 AD. Its history is divided into successive reigns by three royal dynasties: Orontid (321 BC–200 BC), Artaxiad (189 BC–12 AD) and Arsacid (52–428). Formed from the territory of the Kingdom of Ararat (860 BC–590 BC) after it was conquered by the Median Empire in 590 BC. The satrapy became a kingdom in 321 BC during the reign of the Orontid dynasty after the conquest of Persia by Alexander the Great, which was then incorporated as one of the Hellenistic kingdoms of the Seleucid Empire. Wikipedia

Major Iranian political and cultural power in ancient Iran from 247 BC to 224 AD. Its latter name comes from its founder, Arsaces I, who led the Parni tribe in conquering the region of Parthia in Iran's northeast, then a satrapy under Andragoras, in rebellion against the Seleucid Empire. Mithridates I (r. Wikipedia

Royal prince of the Pharnavazid dynasty of the Kingdom of Iberia who reigned over the Kingdom of Armenia from 51 to 53 and 54 to 55. Considered a usurper and tyrant, who was overthrown in a rebellion supported by the Parthian Empire. Wikipedia

Fought between the Roman Empire and the Parthian Empire over control of Armenia, a vital buffer state between the two realms. Armenia had been a Roman client state since the days of Emperor Augustus, but in 52/53, the Parthians succeeded in installing their own candidate, Tiridates, on the Armenian throne. Wikipedia

The King of Kings of the Parthian Empire from 51 to 78. The son and successor of Vonones II (r. Wikipedia

The history of Armenia covers the topics related to the history of the Republic of Armenia, as well as the Armenian people, the Armenian language, and the regions historically and geographically considered Armenian. Armenia lies in the highlands surrounding the Biblical mountains of Ararat. Wikipedia

List of the monarchs of Armenia, for more information on ancient Armenia and Armenians, please see History of Armenia. For information on the medieval Armenian Kingdom in Cilicia, please see the separate page Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia. Wikipedia

Arsacid prince, who ruled as King of Kings of Parthian Empire from 8 to 12, and then subsequently as king of Armenia from 12 to 18. The eldest son of Phraates IV ((r. Wikipedia

King of the Parthian Empire from 40 to 51. Adopted son of Artabanus II. Wikipedia

Armenian Prince of the Arsacid dynasty of Armenia who lived in the second half of the 4th century and possibly first half of the 5th century. Son born to the Armenian Monarchs Khosrov IV and Zruanduxt, while his brother was Tigranes. Wikipedia

Prince who served as a Roman Client King of Arsacid Armenia. Vologases served as a co-king with his brother Arsaces III from 378 until 386. Wikipedia


Contents

Tiridates I was one of the sons born to Vonones II, king of Media Atropatene and later king of Parthia, by a Greek concubine. [8] Virtually nothing is known about Tiridates' youth, which he spent in Media Atropatene. "Tiridates" means "given by Tir". Tir was the Armeno-Parthian god of literature, science and art based on the Avestan Tishtrya and fused with the Greek Apollo. [9]

In 51 AD the Roman procurator of Cappadocia, Julius Paelignus, invaded Armenia and ravaged the country, then under an Iberian usurper Rhadamistus. Rhadamistus had killed his uncle Mithridates, the legitimate king of Armenia, by luring the Roman garrison that was protecting him outside of the fortress of Gornea. [10] Acting without instruction, Paelignus recognized Rhadamistus as the new king of Armenia. Syrian governor Ummidius Quadratus sent Helvidius Priscus with a legion to repair these outrages, but he was recalled so as not to provoke a war with Parthia. [10]

In 52 AD King Vologases I of Parthia took the opportunity to invade Armenia, conquering Artaxata (Artashat in Armenia) and proclaiming his younger brother Tiridates I as king. [11] This action violated the treaty that had been signed by the Roman emperor Augustus and Parthian king Phraates IV which gave the Romans the explicit right to appoint and crown the kings of Armenia. [12] Vologases I considered the throne of Armenia to have been once the property of his ancestors, now usurped by a foreign monarch in virtue of a crime. [13] A winter epidemic as well as an insurrection initiated by his son Vardanes forced him to withdraw his troops from Armenia, allowing Rhadamistus to come back and punish locals as traitors they eventually revolted and replaced him with the prince Tiridates I in early 55. [14] Rhadamistus escaped along with his wife Zenobia who was pregnant. Unable to continue fleeing, she asked her husband to end her life rather than be captured. Rhadamistus stabbed her with a Median dagger and flung her body into the river Araxes. Zenobia was not fatally injured and was recovered by shepherds who sent her to Tiridates. Tiridates I received her kindly and treated her as a member of the monarchy. [15] Rhadamistus himself returned to Iberia and was soon put to death by his father Parasmanes I of Iberia for having plotted against the royal power. [10]


Tiridates I of Armenia

Tiridates I (Armenian: Տրդատ Ա, Trdat A Parthian: , Tīridāt Greek: Τιριδάτης, Tiridátes) was King of Armenia beginning in 53 AD and the founder of the Arsacid dynasty of Armenia. The dates of his birth and death are unknown. His early reign was marked by a brief interruption towards the end of the year 54 and a much longer one from 58 to 63 AD. In an agreement to resolve the Roman-Parthian conflict in and over Armenia, Tiridates I (one of the brothers of Vologases I of Parthia) was crowned king of Armenia by the Roman emperor Nero in 66 AD in the future, the king of Armenia was to be a Parthian prince, but his appointment required approval from the Romans. Even though this made Armenia a client kingdom, various contemporary Roman sources thought that Nero had de facto ceded Armenia to the Parthian Empire.

In addition to being a king, Tiridates I was also a Zoroastrian priest and was accompanied by other magi on his journey to Rome in 66 AD. In the early 20th century, Franz Cumont speculated that Tiridates was instrumental in the development of Mithraism which became the main religion of the Roman Army and spread across the whole empire. Furthermore, during his reign, he started reforming the administrative structure of Armenia, a reform which was continued by his successors, and which brought many Iranian customs and offices into it.

Tiridates I is one of the principal characters in George Frideric Handel's opera Radamisto and Reinhard Keiser's opera Octavia.

Tiridates I was one of the sons born to Vonones II, king of Media Atropatene and later king of Parthia, by a Greek concubine. Virtually nothing is known about Tiridates' youth, which he spent in Media Atropatene. "Tiridates" means "given by Tir". Tir was the Armeno-Parthian god of literature, science and art based on the Avestan Tishtrya and fused with the Greek Apollo.

In 51 AD the Roman procurator of Cappadocia, Julius Paelignus, invaded Armenia and ravaged the country, then under an Iberian usurper Rhadamistus. Rhadamistus had killed his uncle Mithridates, the legitimate king of Armenia, by luring the Roman garrison that was protecting him outside of the fortress of Gornea. Acting without instruction, Paelignus recognized Rhadamistus as the new king of Armenia. Syrian governor Ummidius Quadratus sent Helvidius Priscus with a legion to repair these outrages, but he was recalled so as not to provoke a war with Parthia.

In 52 AD King Vologases I of Parthia took the opportunity to invade Armenia, conquering Artaxata (Artashat in Armenia) and proclaiming his younger brother Tiridates I as king. This action violated the treaty that had been signed by the Roman emperor Augustus and Parthian king Phraates IV which gave the Romans the explicit right to appoint and crown the kings of Armenia. Vologases I considered the throne of Armenia to have been once the property of his ancestors, now usurped by a foreign monarch in virtue of a crime. A winter epidemic as well as an insurrection initiated by his son Vardanes forced him to withdraw his troops from Armenia, allowing Rhadamistus to come back and punish locals as traitors they eventually revolted and replaced him with the prince Tiridates I in early 55. Rhadamistus escaped along with his wife Zenobia who was pregnant. Unable to continue fleeing, she asked her husband to end her life rather than be captured. Rhadamistus stabbed her with a Median dagger and flung her body into the river Araxes. Zenobia was not fatally injured and was recovered by shepherds who sent her to Tiridates. Tiridates I received her kindly and treated her as a member of the monarchy. Rhadamistus himself returned to Iberia and was soon put to death by his father Parasmanes I of Iberia for having plotted against the royal power.

War with Rome

Unhappy with the growing Parthian influence at their doorstep, Roman Emperor Nero sent General Corbulo with a large army to the east in order to restore Roman client kings. A Hasmonean named Aristobulus was given Lesser Armenia (Nicopolis and Satala) and Sohaemus of Emesa received Armenia Sophene. In the spring of 58, Corbulo entered Greater Armenia from Cappadocia and advanced towards Artaxata, while Parasmanes I of Iberia attacked from the north, and Antiochus IV of Commagene attacked from the southwest. Supported by his brother, Tiridates I sent flying columns to raid the Romans far and wide. Corbulo retaliated using the same tactics and the use of the Moschoi tribes who raided outlying regions of Armenia. Tiridates I fled from the capital, and Corbulo burned Artaxata to the ground. In the summer, Corbulo began moving towards Tigranocerta through rough terrain and passing through the Taronitida (Taron), where several of his commanders died in an ambush by the Armenian resistance however, the city opened its doors, with the exception of one of the citadels, which was destroyed in the ensuing assault. By this time the majority of Armenians had abandoned resistance and accepted the prince favored by Rome.

Nero gave the crown to the last royal descendant of the Kings of Cappadocia, the grandson of Glaphyra (daughter of Archelaus of Cappadocia) and Alexander of Judea (the brother of Herod Archelaus and the son of Herod the Great), who assumed the Armenian name Tigranes (his uncle was Tigranes V). His son, named Gaius Julius Alexander, married Iotapa, the daughter of Antiochus IV of Commagene and was made King of Cilicia. Nero was hailed vigorously in public for this initial victory and Corbulo was appointed governor of Syria as a reward. A guard of 1000 legionary soldiers, three auxiliary cohorts and two wings of horses were allotted to Tigranes in order to defend the country. Border districts were bestowed to Roman allies that assisted Corbulo including Polemon, Parasmanes, Aristobolus and Antiochus.

Vologases I was infuriated by the fact that an alien now sat on the Armenian throne but hesitated to reinstate his brother as he was engaged in a conflict with the Hyrcanians who were revolting. Tigranes invaded the Kingdom of Adiabene and deposed its King Monobazes in 61, who was a vassal of Parthians.

Vologases I considered this an act of aggression from Rome and started a campaign to restore Tiridates I to the Armenian throne. He placed under the command of spahbod Moneses a well-disciplined force of cataphracts along with Adiabenian auxiliaries and ordered him to expel Tigranes from Armenia. Having quelled the Hyrcanian revolt, Vologases I gathered the strength of his dominions and embarked toward Armenia. Corbulo, having been informed of the impending attack, sent two legions under the commands of Verulanus Severus and Vettius Bolanus to the assistance of Tigranes with secret directions that they should act with caution rather than vigour. He also dispatched a message to Nero, urging him to send a second commander with the explicit purpose of defending Armenia as Syria was now also in peril. Corbulo placed the remainder of the legions on the banks of the Euphrates and armed irregular troops of the nearby provinces. Since the region was deficient in water, he erected forts over the fountains and concealed the rivulets by heaping sand over them.

Moneses marched towards Tigranocerta but failed to break the defense of the city walls as his troops were unfit for a long siege. Corbulo, although eminently successful thought it prudent to use his good fortune with moderation. He sent a Roman centurion by the name of Casperius to the camp of Vologases I in Nisibis located 37 miles (60 km) from Tigranocerta with the demand to raise the siege. Because of a recent locust storm and the scarcity of fodder for his horses Vologases I agreed to raise the siege of Tigranocerta and petitioned to be granted Armenia in order to achieve a firm peace. Vologases I demanded that both the Roman and Parthian troops should evacuate Armenia, that Tigranes should be dethroned, and that the position of Tiridates I be recognized. The Roman government declined to accede to these arrangements and sent Lucius Caesennius Paetus, governor of Cappadocia, to settle the question by bringing Armenia under direct Roman administration.

Paetus was an incapable commander and suffered a humiliating defeat at the Battle of Rhandeia in 62, losing the legions of XII Fulminata commanded by Calvisius Sabinus and IIII Scythica commanded by Funisulanus Vettonianus. The command of the troops was returned to Corbulo, who the following year led a strong army into Melitene and beyond into Armenia, eliminating all of the regional governors he suspected were pro-Parthian. Finally in Rhandeia, Corbulo and Tiridates I met to make a peace agreement. The location of Rhandeia suited both Tiridates I and Corbulo. It appealed to Tiridates I because that is where his army had beaten the Romans and sent them away under a capitulation on the other hand, it appealed to Corbulo because he was about to wipe out the ill repute earned before in the same location. When Tiridates I arrived at the Roman camp he took off his royal diadem and placed it on the ground near a statue of Nero, agreeing to receive it back only from Nero in Rome. Tiridates I was recognized as the vassal king of Armenia a Roman garrison would remain in the country permanently, in Sophene while Artaxata would be reconstructed. Corbulo left his son-in-law Annius Vinicianus to accompany Tiridates I to Rome in order to attest his own fidelity to Nero.

Visiting Rome

Prior to embarking for Rome, Tiridates I visited his mother and two brothers in Media Atropatene and Parthia. On his long trek he was accompanied by his wife and children and two of his brothers. His escort included an imposing retinue, comprising many feudal lords, several sages, 3,000 Parthian horsemen, and also a large number of Romans. His route lay across Thrace, through Illyria, on the eastern shores of the Adriatic and Picenum, in northeastern Italy. The journey took nine months, and Tiridates I rode on horseback, with his children and queen at his side. The children of Vologases, Monobazes and Pacorus also accompanied Tiridates I.

Cassius Dio, a second-century Roman historian, described Tiridates I favorably at the time of his arrival: "Tiridates himself was in the prime of his life, a notable figure by reason of his youth, beauty, family, and intelligence." Nero greeted Tiridates I at Neapolis (Naples) in October, sending a state chariot to carry the visitor over the last few miles. No one was allowed to approach the emperor armed, but Tiridates I maintained his dignity by refusing to remove his sword as he approached the ruler of the Roman Empire (though as a compromise, he agreed to have his sword firmly fastened in the sheath, so that it could not be drawn). At Puteolis (modern Pozzuoli, near Naples) Nero ordered athletic games to be staged in honor of his guest. The Armenian king himself had an opportunity to display his ability as a marksman by shooting an arrow through the bodies of two buffaloes. The event at Puteolis also marked the first attested appearance of female gladiators:

Nero admired him for this action [(Tiridates' refusal to remove his sword)] and entertained him in many ways, especially by giving a gladiatorial exhibition at Puteoli. It was under the direction of Patrobius, one of his freedmen, who managed to make it a most brilliant and costly affair, as may be seen from the fact that on one of the days not a person but Ethiopians—men, women, and children𠅊ppeared in the theatre.

The climax of the ceremonies was reserved for the capital. Rome was profusely decorated with flags, torches, garlands and bunting, and was gorgeously illuminated at night with great crowds of people seen everywhere.

On the day after Tiridates I's arrival, Nero came to the Forum clothed in triumphal vestments and surrounded by dignitaries and soldiers, all resplendent in expensive attire and glittering armor. While Nero sat on the imperial throne, Tiridates I and his retinue advanced between two lines of soldiers. Arriving in front of the dais, Tiridates I knelt, with hands clasped on his breast. After the thundering shouts and acclamations excited by this spectacle had subsided, Tiridates I addressed the emperor:

My Lord, I am a descendant of Arsakes and the brother of the Kings Vologases and Pacorus. I have come to you who are my god I have worshipped you as the [sun] I shall be whatever you would order me to be, because you are my destiny and fortune.

You have done well by coming here to enjoy my presence in person. What your father has not left to you and what your brothers did not preserve for you, I do accord to you, and I make you King of Armenia, so that you, as well as they, may know that I have the power to take away and to grant kingdoms.

Tiridates I then mounted the steps of the platform and knelt, while Nero placed the royal diadem on his head. As the young king was about to kneel a second time, Nero lifted him by his right hand and after kissing him, made him sit at his side on a chair a little lower than his own. Meanwhile, the populace gave tumultuous ovations to both rulers. A Praetor, speaking to the audience, interpreted and explained the words of Tiridates, who spoke in Greek. According to Pliny the Elder, Tiridates I then introduced Nero to magian feasts (magicis cenis). Tacitus claimed that Tiridates I was also interested in all things Roman.

Public festivities continued for some time after the coronation ceremony. The interior of the Theatre of Pompey and every piece of its furniture was entirely gilded for the occasion for this reason, Rome thenceforth recalled that date as "the Golden Day." Daytime festivities were on a scale no less lavish than those of the night: Royal purple awnings stretched as protection against the heat of the sun. Nero, clad in green and wearing a chariot driver's headdress, took part in a chariot race. At the evening banquets, Nero, in gold-embroidered vestments, sang and played the lyre with zither accompaniment. Tiridates I was amazed and disgusted by Nero's extravagance, but he had only praise for Corbulo and expressed to Corbulo his surprise at his serving such a master.[38] He made no concealment of his views to Nero's face and said to him sarcastically: "Sire, you have a wonderful servant in the person of Corbulo."

In memory of these events, the Senate honored Nero with the laurel wreath and the title of Imperator, or commander-in-chief of the armies. No reception comparable to this in magnitude and splendor is recorded in the history of Rome. Besides the enormous sum spent in festivities, the Roman Government bore the entire cost of the journey of Tiridates I and his retinue, both from and to their homeland. Nero also made a gift to Tiridates I of fifty million sesterces.

On his journey back to Armenia, Tiridates I viewed an exhibition of pancratium. When seeing that one of the contestants fell on his back and was being beaten by his opponents, Tiridates I saw exclaimed: "That's an unfair contest. It isn't fair that a man who has fallen should be beaten."

Later, Nero summoned the Parthian King Vologases I to Rome several times, but when the invitations became burdensome to Vologases I, he sent back a dispatch to this effect: "It is far easier for you than for me to traverse so great a body of water. Therefore, if you will come to Asia, we can then arrange to meet each other."

It has been suggested that the visit of Tiridates I, an event that greatly impressed contemporaries, was adapted by Christians to become the story of the adoration of the Christ Child by the Three Magi. The Christian legend changed Rome into Bethlehem, the birthplace of the Ruler of the coming Kingdom of God, and replaced Tiridates I with that contemporary king who was already connected with Christianity through the Acts of St. Thomas: Gondophares, otherwise known as Kaspar.

Fragile Peace

Peace prevailed at this time throughout the Roman Empire. Nero therefore closed the gates of the Temple of Janus, which were never shut save in times of universal peace. When Tiridates I returned to Armenia, he took with him a great number of skilled artisans for the reconstruction of Artaxata. He renamed the capital Neronia in honor of the emperor he embellished the royal residence at Garni, nearby, with colonnades and monuments of dazzling richness and also the addition of a new temple. Trade between the two continents also grew, allowing Armenia to secure its independence from Rome. Rome now counted upon Armenia as a loyal ally, even after Nero's death and through the entire duration of Vespasian's rule in the East. Peace was a considerable victory for Nero politically.

The immediate dividend of the peace was Rome's ability to turn its full attention to the mounting problems at Judea, which broke into open warfare culminating in the First Jewish-Roman War just one year after Tiridates' coronation. Large numbers of legions were diverted to Judea from Syria, which would otherwise have been impossible. Nero became very popular in the eastern provinces of Rome and with the Armenians and Parthians. The name of Legio XII Fulminata discovered carved on a mountain in Gobustan (in modern Azerbaijan), attests to the presence of Roman soldiers by the shores of the Caspian Sea in 89 AD, farther east than any previously known Roman inscription. The peace between Parthia and Rome lasted 50 years, until emperor Trajan invaded Armenia in 114.

War with Alans and Aftermath

In 72 the Alans, a warlike nomadic Sarmatian tribe, made an incursion into Media Atropatene as well as various districts of northern Armenia. Tiridates I and his brother Pacorus, King of Media Atropatene, faced them at a number of battles, during one of which Tiridates I was briefly captured, narrowly escaping being taken alive. He was lassoed from a distance and caught, but he quickly managed to whip out his sword and slash the rope in time. The Alans withdrew with a lot of booty after plundering Armenia and Media Atropatene. The King of Iberia asked for protection against the Alans from Vespasian, who helped reconstruct the fortress of Harmozica around the Iberian capital Mtskheta, near modern Tbilisi. An Aramaic inscription found near Tbilisi indicates that Tiridates I also warred with Iberia during his final years. The exact date of the end of Tiridates I's reign is unknown various sources name Sanatruces as his successor. It is known that Tiridates' nephew, Axidares, the son of Pacorus II of Parthia, was King of Armenia by 110.

Franz Cumont in Les Réligions Orientales dans le Paganisme Romain ("The Oriental Religions in Roman Paganism") pointed out that Tiridates I was instrumental in the development of Mithraism in Rome, which ultimately became the most dominant Roman religion throughout the empire.

Tiridates I is one of the principal characters in George Frideric Handel's opera Radamisto and Reinhard Keiser's opera Octavia.


Tiridates II of Armenia

Tiridates II (Armenian: Տրդատ Բ , flourished second half of the 2nd century - died ca. 256), known in Armenian sources as Khosrov, [1] was an Armenian Parthian Prince who served as a Roman Client King of Armenia.

Tiridates II was the son and heir of the Armenian King Khosrov I, [2] by an unnamed mother. Tiridates II was the namesake of his ancestor, Tiridates I of Armenia and of his Parthian ancestors who ruled with this name as King. As a part of the Armenian Arsacid period, [3] he was also known as Khosrov. [4]

During the last years of his father's reign in 214-216, Tiridates II with his family where under Roman detention for unknown reasons which provoked a major uprising in Armenia against Rome. [5] In 215, the Roman emperor Caracalla with the Roman army had invaded Armenia [6] to end the uprising.

In 217 Khosrov I had died and Tiridates II succeeded his father as King of Armenia. [7] Tiridates II was granted the Armenian Crown [8] by Caracalla. [9] He was declared King of Armenia upon Caracalla's assassination [10] which was on April 8, 217.

Tiridates II ruled as King of Armenia from 217 until his death in 252. [11] After the death of Caracalla, Macrinus became the new Roman emperor and not so long after Tiridates II received his Armenian Kingship, Macrinus agreed to release Tiridates II's mother from Roman captivity. [12] After the Battle of Nisibis in 217 and the treaty that occurred after between Rome and Parthia, Tiridates II was officially restored to his Armenian throne [13] and his rule over Armenia was officially recognised.

At an unknown date during his reign, there's the possibility that the Mamikonian family immigrated from Bactria to Armenia. [14] Tiridates II was first the King in Armenia to persecute Christians in the country which continued with his predecessors. [15]

Partly due to his long reign, Tiridates II became one of the most powerful and most influential monarchs from the Arsacid dynasty. [16] In 224, the Parthian Empire was destroyed the last King who was Tiridates II's paternal uncle, Artabanus V of Parthia was killed by Ardashir I, the first king of the Sassanid Empire. [17]

In 226-228, Ardashir I after annexing Parthia wanted to expand his Empire which including conquering Armenia. Into two years of the conflict, the armies of the Romans, Scythians and the Kushans withdrew. [18] Tiridates II with his army was left in the end alone to continue fighting against Ardashir I. [19]

Tiridates II put up a stubborn resistance against Ardashir I [20] and wasn't defeated after no less than ten years of fighting. [21] After twelve years of fighting with Tiridates II, Ardashir I withdrew his army and left Armenia. [22] Tiridates II's military conflict with Ardashir I highlights the strength of Armenia in the time of Tiridates II. [23] Tiridates II died in 256 and was succeeded by his son, Khosrov II of Armenia. [24]


A Brief History Of Armenia

There are several theories about the history of Armenia. Legends opine that the descendants of bisbisnipote (great great grandson) of Noah, Hayk are known as the Armenians. It is said that after the floods, Noah’s Ark ran aground on Mount Ararat. Since then to mark this tradition, the Armenians call it their country and the place came to be known as Hayastan.

However, historians have spoken differently about the history of Armenia. Historians have linked the origin of Armenians to the birth of a tribal group in Hayasa-Azzi between 1500 BC-1200 BC. The tribals lived to the west of the Armenian plateau.

As the Hayasa-Azzi lived close to the Hittite empire, violent confrontations often broke out between the two. The clashes continued till the end of the Bronze age when the Hayasa-Azzi was finally defeated by the Hittites.

The rise of Urartu Kingdom

According to the history of Armenia, the Armenian empire fell under a group of kingdoms, referred to as Nairi (land of rivers) by the Assyrians between 1200 and 800 BC. These kingdoms finally assimilated with the kingdom of Urartu.

The kingdom of Urartu is a civilization that developed in between 800 and 600 BC is the East Asia minor and the Caucasus. The kingdom was known as the first Armenian empire.

King Aramu was the first to unite the empire as per the history of Armenia. The empire stretched from the Black Sea to the Caspian Sea and also spread across the majority of Eastern Turkey.

The Urartu kingdom enjoyed its maximum prosperity under King Sardui II. He extended the borders of the kingdom beyond River Tigris and river Euphrates, much similar to Lake Aleppo and Urmia.

Urartu was also known as the ‘kingdom of Ararat.’ Through the various manuscripts about the history of Armenia, it is learned that Urartu and Armenia were often referred to as the same country.

The Behistun’s inscription, carved in three languages in 520 BC is a prime example. Built under the orders of Persia’s Darius the great, the inscription refers to the kingdom as Harminuia in Elamite, Armenia in Old Persian, and Urartu in Babylon.

Between the end of the seventh century and early sixth century, the Urartu kingdom was substituted by the Armenian kingdom. Orontid, the Armenian dynasty ruled over this empire.

The Rule of the Orontid dynasty, the Birth of Armenian Kingdom

The dynasty of Orontid established their rule over the empire of Armenia after the fall of the Urartu kingdom in 600 BC. The Orontids had captured the Armenian empire during the invasion of the Medes and the Scythians. Around this period, the Armenians took to Iranians traditions and names.

The Orontids acted as provincial governors or satraps to the Persian kings. However, after the death of Persia’s Cambyses II, the Armenians led a revolution that was disrupted by Persia’s Darius the I.

Soon after the changes in the Persian Empire, the Armenian empire too was divided into many satrapies. In 480 BC, the satrapies had assigned troops for the Xerxes invasion. The proximity of the Persians and the Armenians were broken by the Macedonian conquest.

After the invasion of Alexander the Great, the Persian empire crumbled, and just like other regions, the Armenian empire was soon divided into two parts.

One region, Sophene or great Armenia was located between the Tigris headwaters Euphrates’s middle course. Later it was bifurcated into Sophene and Armenia.

The other region, Armenia Pontica or little Armenia was located between the headwaters of Ali and Lico and the Euphrates.

According to the history of Armenia, the different regions were subjected to different fates. Little Armenia came under the rule of the very powerful king Pontus in the second century BC.

Meanwhile, Sophene lost its independence and survived under the rule of king Cappadocia for a brief period.

A different Armenian history says that Great Armenia established itself as a state by escaping the rule of the Seleucids. The Seleucids could not capture the region because of its mountainous region which acted as a barrier against Greek invasions. The other reason was the Persian characteristics ingrained in the Armenians that involuntarily opposed Greek influence.

Armenia’s Second Kingdom

As per Strabo, during this time the Armenians started speaking one language, the Armenian language. Soon the Armenians announced their independence with the defeat of the Seleucides by the Roman empire.

Between 95 to 66 BC, under the leadership of Tigranes II the Great, the empire spread from the Caucasus to the present eastern region of Turkey, from Syria to Lebanon and across the ‘kingdom of three seas’- the Caspian Sea, the Black Sea, and the Mediterranean sea.

The capital of the second Armenian empire which was born cannot be located to date. However, Tigranes II succumbed in the hands of the Roman troops, and the Armenian major was ruled by the Romans.

The Advent of Rome

In 37 AD the Armenians were forced to surrender under the Parthians soon to be taken over by the Roman after 10 years. The Romans lost the empire shortly after.

Under Nero’s rule between 55-63 AD, the Romans again fought against the Parthians ruling over Armenia. Capturing the Armenian empire in 60 AD and losing it in 62 AD, the Romans finally captured the region in 63 AD. However, In the battle of Rhandeia, the Parthians lost. The Parthian king forcibly signed a treaty assigning his brother Tiridates the throne of Armenia. The crowning of the king took place under Nero’s rule. Thus rose Armenia’s Arcadis dynasty.

Armenia Christianized

The Armenian history records the Armenians as the first to officially be termed as Christians after its conversion in 301 AD, long before the Romans adapted to it.

According to the King Tiridates’ historic Agatangelo, the Christianization took place due to a clash between king Tiridates III and Son of Anak, Gregory.

The Armenian history says that Gregory was instructed to make sacrifices to goddess Anahit which he refused in the name of his faith for Christianity. Upon his refusal, he was subjected to severe torture which didn’t deter him from his opinion. Finally, he was ordered to be thrown into a deep well filled with snakes, a place where none had been before. But Gregory survived his time in the well with the blessings of a widow.

Meanwhile, several attempts were made by Diocletian, a Roman emperor, to seduce Hripsime. Smelling the danger, Hripsime had escaped to Armenia to seek protection.

Amidst this, Tiridates fell in love with Hripsime and wanted to be with her. After several rejections from Hripsime, Tiridates tortured and killed her.

As a traditional punishment marked in the history of Armenia, the king was transformed into a wild boar. He came back to his human form after rescuing Gregory from the pit after thirteen years.

Witnessing the miracle of being transformed into the human form, Tiridates decided to take to Christianity. He also baptized the Armenians and the official religion of the Armenians came into being.

Soon Gregory and Tiridates started destroying the Pegan’s worship places and started building churches.

The Armenian history also speaks about a vision of Jesus Christ that Gregory saw. Following the vision, Gregory built a church in Vagarshapat. The place came to be known as the Etchmiadzin meaning a place where the only-begotten descended.

Soon the Pegan priests were taught about Christianity. They became ministers of the new religion. Pegan children went on to priests in churches. Thereafter, Gregory left the kingdom and settled as a hermit. His son became a bishop and head of the church.

Despite several historical theories about Armenians, the period of 301 AD- the Christianization of Armenians and 404 AD- the initiation of the Armenian alphabets by Mesrop Mashtots will remain evidence of the Armenian history.

The clash of the Three-Byzantine, Arab, and Seljuk

In 591, the Persians were crushed by the Emperor Maurice of Byzantine. The emperor captured a vast part of Armenian territory. In 629 AD, Emperor Heraclius completed the capture only to lose it to Muslim Arabs in 645 AD. Following this, the Armenians came under the Caliph rule.

Being ruled by a prince, the region soon came under the pressure of being converted to Islam. However, a treaty was signed which allowed the Armenians to practice Christianity.

The Armenians went through an economic, political, and cultural renaissance between 884-1045 AD until captured by Byzantium.

Ani, a new capital was founded which had a population of 200,000 people and 1001 churches. Armenian history says that at this time the population of European capitals had not reached 20,000.

Armenia gained prosperity after Ani came into the picture. It is said that Armenia was said to have a political impact on neighboring countries after Ani was built. However, the country’s loyalty faded as the feudal system became powerful in the region,

The greater Armenia was finally conquered by the Seljuk Turks In 1071 AD. Fearing slavery and death, several families fled from Armenia to settled places like Poland, Cilicia, etc.

It is mention-worthy that among the escapists was Ani’s last king, Rupen, Gagik II’s relative who settled in Cilicia.

The Death of the Armenian Independence

In 1080, Rupen founded the Cilician kingdom also known as Little Armenia or Armenia Minor after arriving on the Mediterranean Sea’s Gulf of Alexandretta.

Thus the Rupenid dynasty was found which was a part of the Bagratid dynasty. Sis Sis became the capital of the kingdom. Although being squeezed between several Muslim states, the Christian kingdom was able to establish a powerful relationship with important Italian maritime cities that have been prospering for three hundred years. Colonies were built by Genoa, Venice, and Pisa on the kingdom’s coast.

The Mamelukes invaded Cilicia in the latter part of the fourteenth century. In 1375 the capital of Sis was captured by them which brought an end to the ongoing reign.

The last independent king of the Armenian kingdom, Leo VI escaped for exile in Paris where he breathed his last is 1393.

In the Armenian history, Armenia lost its sovereignty during this period for atleast the next six centuries and was ruled by several foreign kings.

The Dominating Rule of the Ottoman and Persian

The Armenian culture lost itself in the period between the fall of the Cilician empire and the end of the seventeenth century.

Tamerlane forced his rule in Eastern Europe and Central Anatolia at the end of the fourteenth century but soon his kingdom was crushed.

The Ottoman Empire and the Safavids dynasty in Central Iran rose during the middle of the fifteenth century. The two dynasties battled against each other for about a hundred years for capturing Caucasus areas and Eastern Anatolia.

The fight came to an end with the victory of the Ottomans. In 1585, the Ottomans successfully conquered Armenia’s eastern part.

At the onset of the seventeenth century, the Ottomans were forced to leave the Armenian territory by Shah Abbas I who failed in his repeated attempts.

While he was withdrawing from the kingdom, he demanded the Armenians migrate from Julfa city.

Following the incident, the city of New Julfa was founded by the migrants in Esfahan where they had settled. The region prospered commercially and culturally throughout the 17th century and early 18th century. The economic activities took place from India to Britain and Italy.

In 1736, the enmity between Persians and Ottomans settled with the defeat of the Ottomans by the Persians. The Persians established rule over the southern part of Transcaucasia which included Armenia.

As portrayed in the history of Armenia, the Persian Armenia soon feel into the hands of Russia and became a part of the USSR due to the Treaties of Gulistan and Turkmanchay,1813 and 1828, respectively.

The Armenian region which was still under the Ottomans aimed at getting independence. Revolution started in the latter part of the 19th century with the formation of revolutionary committees based on a model by the nihilists of Russia.

Sultan Abdul-Hamid struck back fiercely and the first mass killing of the Armenians took place in 1894, August-September.

The second Armenian massacre happened in 1895-1896 during which thousands of Armenians were slaughtered by Hamidiés.

Thus started the Armenian massacre which was to continue for the next thirty years under the regime of various Turks.

The Massacre

As the ‘Union and Progress’ party rose, the Armenians living in Turkey continued to suffer. The ‘young Turks’ tried to establish the supremacy of the Turks in the Ottoman region.

As the Turks had lost the Ottoman region in Europe, hey decided that the only way to expand was to reunite the Turks of Central Asia namely Tatars, Uzbeks, Kazakhs etc.

The idea of Pan-Turkism in the history of Armenia originated from two main cultures. The first ideology was that of Marxism which taught the Young Turks about equality which said that all Ottomans must be equal, if so then all Ottomans must be Turks and in turn Muslims.

The second ideology focused on the Turks of the steppes of Central Asia and their reunion as the expansion of the European region was getting out of hand.

The idea of Pan Turkism was opposed by Christians, Armenians, Indo-Europeans, and Kurdish minorities. The Kurds being Muslims had no problem in getting along with the Turks. But the Christians and Armenians being of completely different origins posed a problem in accepting the Turks. Thus, they had to be removed.

In a view to eliminating the Armenians, in 1909 the massacre of Adana was led by the Turks who grabbed the opportunity at the eruption of the first world war.

During this period, the young Turks started eliminating the Armenians referred to as “Metz Yeghèrn,’ the Great Crime, the Armenian Genocide.

The initial genocide of the 20th century took place between 1915 to 1923. The history of Armenia recorded the massacre of nearly 1.5 people. The Armenian genocide let to the deportation and death of people in the Syrian desert.

The survivors of the Armenian Genocide sought refuge in the Republic of Armenia.

The Republic of Armenia was born after the battle of Sardaraparat in which the Armenians defeated the Turks. Many people also took refuge in Syria, Israel, Europe, the United States, Egypt, and Lebanon.

In 1920, after the war, the Treaty of Sèvres forced the Turks to free the Armenians and hand over Armenia’s Ottoman territories.

The Turkish national movement rejected the treaty. The leader of the movement, Mustafa Kemal toppled the Ottoman sultanate and announced a national secular republic.

On 24th September, the Turks with the help of the Russians waged the Armenian-Turkish war. The war ended with the Treaty of Alexandropol signed on 2nd December 1920. The treaty marked the victory of the Turks.

However, on December 4th, Yerevan of Armenia was occupied by the Soviet Eleventh Army. This marked the end of the independent Democratic Republic.

Armenia became a part of the Soviet Union on 4th March 4th, 1922.

On 11 September 1922 the Treaty of Kars was signed which made Turkey give up the Batumi port in exchange for cities like Iğdır, Kars, and Ardahan.

The communist economic system-aided Soviet Armenia. It became an industrial economy from an agricultural one. Several villages transformed into cities. The Transcaucasian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic broke down in 1936.

Thereafter, Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan gained the title of independent republics of the USSR.

During the fifteenth anniversary of the Armenian genocide, the Armenians protested on the streets for the incident to be recognized by the Russian government. However, the order was restored by the Soviet troops.

To steer clear of further protests, a monument was built honoring the ones who died in the Armenian genocide.

In Yerevan, a memorial was constructed in 1967 which consisted of a 44-meter stele. This symbolized the rebirth of the Armenians. The monument also had twelve monoliths in a circle which signified the twelve provinces which now belonged to the Turkish territories.

A flame burning in the center of the circle represents the memory of the deceased in the Armenian genocide. A 100-meters long memorial hall leading to the monument displays the names of the villages where the Armenian genocide took place.

Nagorno-Karabakh War

Armenia announced its independence on 23 August 1990 which was a year prior to the downfall of the Soviet Union. But Armenia’s independence wasn’t acknowledged officially until 21 September 1991. On this day the new Republic of Armenia was declared.

The history of Armenia mentions that the rivalry between Armenia and Azerbaijan regarding the Nagorno-Karabakh territory kept growing and resulted in war. The war continued even after a cease-fire notice in 1994 and is still unresolved.

Present Armenia

Since Armenia’s independence, it has gone through several developments even after blocked borders with Azerbaijan and Turkey. It has been referred to as “the Tiger of the Caucasus” since then and is appreciated for its high growth rate.

The region receives funds worth $1.5 billion every year which accounts for about 20% of the GDP. Although poverty exists, the government involves the export of powerful technology and human capital for development.

However, after the violent history of Armenia, it has been able to establish itself as a country that promises growth and has successfully maintained friendly relations with neighboring countries like Russia, Iran, and Georgia.

The development is funded by the international network of expats of the diaspora, who pay $ 1.5 billion each year: about 20% of GDP. Poverty is still widespread: to fight it the government supports exports focused on high technology and human capital and, although in the last five years the economic boom has been resized, Armenia is still a country with a strong growth thanks to the friendly relations maintained with the other neighboring Countries: Russia, Georgia, and Iran.


How Armenia &ldquoInvented&rdquo Christendom

ONLY A WEEK PRIOR TO HIS ATTACK on Poland in September, 1939, Adolf Hitler reportedly delivered a secret talk to members of his General Staff, urging them to wipe out the Polish race. “After all,” he argued, “who remembers today the extermination of the Armenians?”

Hitler was referring to the genocide of nearly 1.5 million Armenian Christians at the hands of Ottoman Turks from 1915 to 1923 in what is now eastern Turkey. Turkish authorities deny the atrocities ever took place, but the story of bloodbath in Armenia is one of the well-documented tragedies of our time.

Still, it’s unfortunate that Armenia (today located directly east of Turkey and west of the Caspian Sea) is now known for this story above any other. It says nothing about the people of Armenia, or the part they have played in global Christianity. For contribute they did, in a manner that might surprise even a seasoned church historian.

Tortured for Christ

No man has more stature in the Armenian church today than Gregory the Illuminator. While not the first to bring Christianity to Armenia, Gregory is, at least in the minds of Armenians, the nation’s spiritual father and the people’s patron saint.

Born into a wealthy family around 257, Gregory nevertheless had a rough beginning—his biographer, Agathangelos, tells us Gregory’s father murdered the Armenian king and paid for it with his life. But the boy was rescued from the chaos following the murder, and his new guardians raised him as a Christian in Cappadocia (east-central Turkey). There, according to Agathangelos, Gregory “became acquainted with the Scriptures of God, and drew near to the fear of the Lord.”

When Gregory’s tutors told him of his father’s wickedness, Gregory approached the murdered king’s son, Tiridates, to offer his service (all the while concealing his identity). Tiridates accepted Gregory’s offer, but when Gregory refused to worship Anahit, an idol the king had raised in gratitude for military successes, Tiridates became furious: “You have come and joined us as a stranger and foreigner. How then are you able to worship that God whom I do not worship?”

Tiridates tortured Gregory, hanging him upside-down and flogging him, then fastening blocks of wood to his legs and tightening them. When these tactics failed, he tried even more gruesome measures. Still the saint refused to bow the knee. Tiridates then learned that Gregory was the son of his father’s murderer, and he ordered that the missionary be thrown into a “bottommost pit” filled with dead bodies and other filth. There Gregory sat for 13 years, surviving only on bread a widow threw down each day after receiving instruction to do so in a dream.

Converting the King

At about this time a beautiful woman named Rhipsime arrived in Armenia, fleeing an enforced marriage to the Roman emperor Diocletian. Tiridates took a liking to her too, and took her forcibly when she refused to come to him. But “strengthened by the Holy Spirit,” she fought off his advances and escaped. Furious, Tiridates ordered her execution, and that night Rhipsime burned at the stake. Her abbess Gaiane soon followed her in death, along with 35 other companions.

The king, still lusting after Rhipsime, mourned her death for six days, then prepared to go hunting. But God visited on him a horrible punishment—Agathangelos calls it demon possession—reducing him to insanity and throwing his court into chaos. Tiridates’ sister had a vision to send for Gregory, imprisoned so long ago. People laughed at the idea Gregory might still be alive, but recurrent visions finally convinced a nobleman, Awtay, to visit his pit. Astonished to find the missionary living, Awtay brought him to meet the king, who was feeding with swine outside the city.

Tiridates, along with other possessed members of his court, rushed at Gregory. But Gregory “immediately knelt in prayer, and they returned to sobriety.” Tiridates then pleaded for Gregory’s forgiveness, and the king and his whole court repented of their sin and confessed faith in Christ.

Assessing Gregory’s Legacy

Scholars disagree over how much Agathangelos’s history can be taken at face-value. After all, he wrote his book in 460 (Tiridates is believed by Armenians to have converted in 301), and much of his story has elements of hagiography that lead one to wonder whether the events ever happened. But even skeptics acknowledge that Gregory was a real person with considerable ecclesiastical influence in Armenia—the signature of his son and successor Aristakes can be found among those ratifying the Council of Nicaea in 325. And even if we can document little about the man, his pre-eminence among Armenia’s heroes of the faith is unassailable.

Why? First, Gregory persuaded the king to build a string of churches across Armenia, beginning with Holy Etchmiadzin— according to some scholars the oldest cathedral site in the world and an important pilgrimage site for all Armenians. The seat of the Armenian church would pass to other cities, but Gregory “established” Christianity in Armenia via this church.

Gregory also introduced Christian liturgy to Armenia. These rites consisted of psalmody, scriptural readings, and prayers recited in Greek or Syriac. After Mesrop Mashtots invented an Armenian alphabet at the beginning of the fifth century, both the Bible and the liturgy were translated into the Armenian language.

Most importantly, Gregory set in motion the mass conversion of Armenia to Christianity. According to Agathangelos, the king ordered all pagan shrines to be torn down, and Gregory proceeded to baptize more than 190,000 people into the new faith. Whether the nation converted as quickly as Agathangelos implies is difficult to discern. Certainly by the fifth century, Armenia was well on its way to becoming a “Christian” nation.

Armenia is an ancient—if not the oldest—model for what we now call Christendom. Church historian Kenneth Scott Latourette notes that the Armenian church “was an instance of what was to be seen again and again, a group adoption of the Christian faith engineered by the accepted leaders and issuing in an ecclesiastical structure which became identified with a particular people, state, or nation.”

Certainly the Roman Empire is a prime example of this, but Armenia is at least as old, and perhaps a more impressive example given the invasions and persecution it endured at the hands of the Turks (and before them, Arabs and Persians). Indeed even Byzantium attempted to bring Armenia within its orbit, but the nation resisted, arguing that its apostolic origins were on par with Rome.

So lest you assume Rome is our first example of Christendom, think again. Long may Armenia’s church endure. CH

By Steven Gertz

[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #85 in 2005]


Watch the video: Arsacid dynasty of Armenia