Roman Provincias > Provincia Armenia

Provincia Armenia

Roman History - Pax Romana Decoration

Background

As for Armenia, the southern parts of it have the Taurus situated in front of them, which separates it from the whole of the country between the Euphrates and the Tigris, the country called Mesopotamia; and the eastern parts border on Greater Armenia and Atropatene; and on the north the mountains of Parachoathras that lie above the Caspian Sea, and Albania, and Iberia, and the Caucasus, which last encircles these nations and borders on Armenia, and borders also on the Moschian and Colchian mountains as far as the Tibarani, as they are called; and on the west are these nations and the mountains Paryadres and Scydises in their extent to Lesser Armenia and the river-land of the Euphrates, which latter separates Armenia from Cappadocia and Commagene.

For the Euphrates, having its beginnings on the northern side of the Taurus, flows at first towards the west through Armenia, and then bends towards the south and cuts through the Taurus between Armenia, Cappadocia, and Commagene, and then, after falling outside the Taurus and reaching the borders of Syria, it bends towards the winter-sunrise as far as Babylon, and with the Tigris forms Mesopotamia; and both rivers end in the Persian Gulf. Such, then, is our circuit of Armenia, almost all parts being mountainous and rugged, except the few which verge toward Media.

But since the above-mentioned Taurus takes a new beginning on the far side of the Euphrates opposite Commagene and Melitene, countries formed by that river, Mt. Masius is the mountain which lies above the Mygdonians of Mesopotamia on the south, in whose country is Nisibis, whereas Sophene is situated in the northern parts, between Masius and Antitaurus. The Antitaurus takes its beginning at the Euphrates and the Taurus and ends towards the eastern parts of Armenia, thus on one side enclosing the middle of Sophene, and having on its other side Acilisene, which is situated between the Antitaurus and the river-land of the Euphrates, before that river bends towards the south.

The royal city of Sophene is Carcathiocerta. Above Mt. Masius, far towards the east opposite Gordyene, lies Mt. Niphates; and then comes Mt. Abus, whence flow both the Euphrates and the Araxes, the former towards the west and the latter towards the east; and then Mt. Nibarus, which stretches as far as Media. I have already described the course of the Euphrates. As for the Araxes, it first flows towards the east as far as Atropatene, and then bends towards the west and towards the north and flows first past Azara and then past Artaxata, Armenian cities, and then, passing through the Araxene Plain, empties into the Caspian Sea.

In Armenia itself there are many mountains and many plateaus, in which not even the vine can easily grow; and also many valleys, some only moderately fertile, others very fertile, for instance, the Araxene Plain, through which the Araxes River flows to the extremities of Albania and then empties into the Caspian Sea. After these come Sacasene, this too bordering on Albania and the Cyrus River; and then comes Gogarene. Indeed, the whole of this country abounds in fruits and cultivated trees and evergreens, and even bears the olive. There is also Phauene, a province of Armenia, and Comisene, and Orchistene, which last furnishes the most cavalry.

Chorzene and Cambysene are the most northerly and the most subject to snows, bordering on the Caucasian mountains and Iberia and Colchis. It is said that here, on the passes over the mountains, whole caravans are often swallowed up in the snow when unusually violent snowstorms take place, and that to meet such dangers people carry staves, which they raise to the surface of the snow in order to get air to breathe and to signify their plight to people who come along, so as to obtain assistance, be dug out, and safely escape.

It is said that hollow masses of ice form in the snow which contain good water, in a coat of ice as it were; and also that living creatures breed in the snow (Apollonides9 calls these creatures "scoleces" and Theophanes "thripes"); and that good water is enclosed in these hollow masses which people obtain for drinking by slitting open the coats of ice; and the genesis of these creatures is supposed to be like that of the gnats which spring from the flames and sparks at mines.

According to a report, Armenia, though a small country in earlier times, was enlarged by Artaxias and Zariadris, who formerly were generals of Antiochus the Great, but later, after his defeat, reigned as kings (the former as king of Sophene, Acisene, Odomantis, and certain other countries, and the latter as king of the country round Artaxata), and jointly enlarged their kingdoms by cutting off for themselves parts of the surrounding nations, — I mean by cutting off Caspiane and Phaunitis and Basoropeda from the country of the Medes; and the country along the side of Mt Paryadres and Chorzene and Gogarene, which last is on the far side of the Cyrus River, from that of the Iberians; and Carenitis and Xerxene, which border on Lesser Armenia or else parts of it, from that of the Chalybians and the Mosynoeci; and Acilisene and the country round the Antitaurus from that of the Cataonians; and Taronitis from that of the Syrians; and therefore they all speak the same language, as we are told.

The cities of Armenia are Artaxata, also called Artaxiasata, which was founded by Hannibal for Artaxias the king, and Arxata, both on the Araxes River, Arxata being near the borders of Atropatia, whereas Artaxata is near the Araxene plain, being a beautiful settlement and the royal residence of the country. It is situated on a peninsula-like elbow of land and its walls have the river as protection all round them, except at the isthmus, which is enclosed by a trench and a palisade. Not far from the city the treasuries of Tigranes and Artavasdes, the strong fortresses Babyrsa and Olane. And there were other fortresses on the Euphrates. Of these, Artageras was caused to revolt by Ador, its commandant, but Caesar's generals sacked it after a long siege and destroyed its walls.

There are several rivers in the country, but the best known are the Phasis and the Lycus, which empty into the Pontic Sea (Eratosthenes wrongly writes "Thermodon" instead of "Lycus"), whereas the Cyrus and the Araxes empty into the Caspian Sea, and the Euphrates and the Tigris into the Red Sea.

There are also large lakes in Armenia; one the Mantiane, which being translated means "Blue"; it is the largest salt-water lake after Lake Maeotis, as they say, extending as far as Atropatia; and it also has salt-works. Another is Arsene, also called Thopitis. It contains soda, and it cleanses and restores clothes; but because of this ingredient the water is also unfit for drinking. The Tigris flows through this lake after issuing from the mountainous country near the Niphates; and because of its swiftness it keeps its current unmixed with the lake; whence the name Tigris, since the Median word for "arrow" is "tigris."

And while the river has fish of many kinds, the fish in the lake are of one kind only. Near the recess of the lake the river falls into a pit, and after flowing underground for a considerable distance rises near Chalonitis. Thence the river begins to flow down towards Opis and the wall of Semiramis, as it is called, leaving the Gordiaeans and the whole of Mesopotamia on the right, while the Euphrates, on the contrary, has the same country on the left. Having approached one another and formed Mesopotamia, the former flows through Seleuceia to the Persian Gulf and the latter through Babylon, as I have already said somewhere in my arguments against Eratosthenes and Hipparchus.

There are gold mines in Syspiritis and Caballa, to which Menon was sent by Alexander with soldiers, and he was led up to them by the natives. There are also other mines, in particular those of sandyx, as it is called, which is also called "Armenian" colour, like chalce. The country is so very good for "horse-pasturing," not even inferior to Media, that the Nesaean horses, which were used by the Persian kings, are also bred there. The satrap of Armenia used to send to the Persian king twenty thousand foals every year at the time of the Mithracina. Artavasdes, at the time when he invaded Media with Antony, showed him, apart from the rest of the cavalry, six thousand horses drawn up in battle array in full armour. Not only the Medes and the Armenians pride themselves upon this kind of cavalry, but also the Albanians, for they too use horses in full armour.

As for the wealth and power of the country, the following is no small sign of it, that when Pompey imposed upon Tigranes, the father of Artavasdes, a payment of six thousand talents of silver, he forthwith distributed to the Roman forces as follows: to each soldier fifty drachmas, to each centurion a thousand drachmas, and to each hipparch and chiliarch a talent.

The size of the country is given by Theophanes:30 the breadth one hundred "schoeni," and the length twice as much, putting the "schoenus" at forty stadia; but his estimate is too high; it is nearer the truth to put down as length what he gives as breadth, and as breadth the half, or a little more, of what he gives as breadth. Such, then, is the nature and power of Armenia.

There is an ancient story of the Armenian race to this effect: that Armenus of Armenium, a Thessalian city, which lies between Pherae and Larisa on Lake Boebe, as I have already said, accompanied Jason into Armenia; and Cyrsilus the Pharsalian and Medius the Larisaean, who accompanied Alexander, say that Armenia was named after him, and that, of the followers of Armenus, some took up their abode in Acilisene, which in earlier times was subject to the Sopheni, whereas others took up their abode in Syspiritis, as far as Calachene and Adiabene, outside the Armenian mountains.

They also say that the clothing of the Armenians is Thessalian, for example, the long tunics, which in tragedies are called Thessalian and are girded round the breast; and also the cloaks that are fastened on with clasps, another way in which the tragedians imitated the Thessalians, for the tragedian had to have some alien decoration of this kind; and since the Thessalians in particular wore long robes, probably because they of all the Greeks lived in the most northerly and coldest region, they were the most suitable objects of imitation for actors in their theatrical make‑ups. And they say that their style of horsemanship is Thessalian, both theirs and alike that of the Medes. To this the expedition of Jason and the Jasonian monuments bear witness, some of which were built by the sovereigns of the country, just as the temple of Jason at Abdera was built by Parmenion.

It is thought that the Araxes was given the same name as the Peneius by Armenus and his followers because of its similar to that river, for that river, too, they say, was called Araxes because of the fact that it "cleft" Ossa from Olympus, the cleft called Tempe. And it is said that in ancient times the Araxes in Armenia, after descending from the mountains, spread out and formed a sea in the plains below, since it had anoint outlet, but that Jason, to make it like Tempe, made the cleft through which the water now precipitates itself into the Caspian Sea, and that in consequence of this the Araxene Plain, through which the river flows to its precipitate35 descent, was relieved of the sea. Now this account of the Araxes contains some plausibility, but that of Herodotus not at all; for he says that after flowing out of the country of the Matieni it splits into forty rivers36 and separates the Scythians from the Bactrians. Callisthenes, also, follows Herodotus.

It is also said of certain of the Aenianes that some of them took up their abode in Vitia and others above the Armenians beyond the Abus and the Nibarus. These two mountains are parts of the Taurus, and of these the Abus is near the road that leads into Ecbatana past the temple of Baris. It is also said that certain of the Thracians, those called "Saraparae," that is "Decapitators," took up their abode beyond Armenia near the Guranii and the p337Medes, a fierce and intractable people, mountaineers, scalpers, and beheaders, for this last is the meaning of "Saraparae." I have already discussed Medeia in my account of the Medes;37 and therefore, from all this, it is supposed that both the Medes and the Armenians are in a way kinsmen to the Thessalians and the descendants of Jason and medeia.

This, then, is the ancient account; but the more recent account, and that which begins with Persian times and extends continuously to our own, might appropriately be stated in brief as follows: The Persians and Macedonians were in possession of Armenia; after this, those who held Syria and Media; and the last was Orontes, the descendant of Hydarnes, one of the seven Persians; and then the country was divided into two parts by Artaxias and Zariadris, the generals of Antiochus the Great, who made war against the Romans; and these generals ruled the country, since it was turned over to them by the king; but when the king was defeated, they joined the Romans and were ranked as autonomous, with the title of king.

Now Tigranes was a descendant of Artaxias and held what is properly called Armenia, which lay adjacent to Media and Albania and Iberia, extending as far as Colchis and Cappadocia on the Euxine, whereas the Sophenian Artanes, who held the southern parts and those that lay more to the west than these, was a descendant of Zariadris. But he was overcome by Tigranes, who established himself as lord of all.

The changes of fortune experienced by Tigranes were varied, for at first he was a hostage among the Parthians; and then through them he obtained the privilege of returning home, they receiving as reward therefor seventy valleys in Armenia; but when he had grown in power, he not only took these places back but also devastated their country, both that about Ninus and that about Arbela; and he subjugated to himself the rulers of Atropatene and Gordyaea, and along with these the rest of Mesopotamia, and also crossed the Euphrates and by main strength took Syria itself and Phoenicia; and, exalted to this height, he also founded a city near Iberia, between this place and the Zeugma on the Euphrates; and, having gathered peoples thither from twelve Greek cities which had laid waste, he named it Tigranocerta; but Leucullus, who had waged war against Mithridates, arrived before Tigranes finished his undertaking and not only dismissed the inhabitants to their several home-lands but also attacked and pulled down the city, which was still only half finished, and left it a small village; and he drove Tigranes out of both Syria and Phoenicia.

His successor Artavasdes was indeed prosperous for a time, while he was a friend to the Romans, but when he betrayed Antony to the Parthians in his war against them he paid the penalty for it, for he was carried off prisoner to Alexandreia by Antony and was paraded in chains through the city; and for a time he was kept in prison, but was afterwards slain, when the Actian war broke out. After him several kings reigned, these being subject to Caesar and the Romans; and still to‑day the country is governed in the same way.

Now the sacred rites of the Persians, one and all, are held in honour by both the Medes and the Armenians; but those of Anaïtis are held in exceptional honour by the Armenians, who have built temples in her honour in different places, and especially in Acilisene. Here they dedicate to her service male and female slaves. This, indeed, is not a remarkable thing; but the most illustrious men of the tribe actually consecrate to her their daughters while maidens; and it is the custom for these first to be prostituted in the temple of the goddess for a long time and after this to be given in marriage; and no one disdains to live in wedlock with such a woman.

Something of this kind is told also by Herodotus in his account of the Lydian women, who, one and all, he says, prostitute themselves. And they are so kindly disposed to their paramours that they not only entertain them hospitably but also exchange presents with them, often giving more than they receive, inasmuch as the girls from wealthy homes are supplied with means. However, they do not admit any man that comes along, but probably those of equal rank with themselves.

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Sources

Primary Sources

History Archive: Strabo, Geographica Book XI Chapter XIV

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