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The history of Armenia is one which is as chequered and as fascinating as any other in the realm of human civilisation, and Armenian culture itself has well stood the test of time.

Sons of the MountainsEdit

Long before the establishment of modern Armenia, the Caucasus and the lands of eastern Anatolia were under the rule of the Hatti or Hittites, a warlike people who reached their zenith by the time of the battle of Qadesh (1274BCE), and were able to project power southwards into Mesopotamia and Syria and even clashed with the ancient Egyptians but soon disappeared centuries afterward. The reasons why the Hittite civilisation collapsed is still being debated, but what is not in dispute however is that in the wake of Hittite extinction, several new nations appeared in their place: Lydia; Phrygia; Tabal (in Cilicia) and Urartu.

The kingdom of Urartu was located in the highlands of the Caucasus and proved powerful enough to become the arch-nemesis of the Assyrians to the south. By the late 9th century BCE, the state expanded north into the Caucasus, where an Urartian presence was established at sites like Karmir Blur and Armavir, and made its presence felt beyond the formidable Zagros Mountains into northwestern Iran. Urartian power however, did not last: sometime in the second half of the seventh century B.C., every Urartian site known from excavations in Anatolia, Iran, and the Caucasus was destroyed, and, judging from artifact evidence, closely in time to one another. Some scholars have suggested that the people responsible for the disappearance of Urartu were the nomadic Scythians and/or the Medes.

The Satrapy PeriodEdit

By 612BCE, the Urartian homelands were controlled by Medes and later by the Persians, to whom they paid tribute and under whose hegemony the foundations of modern Armenia were established by a group of Iranic-speaking nobles called the Yervanduni (or to non-Iranic speaking people today, the Orontids).

The first Orontid king was a warrior named Arvand - or rather, Orontes - and he gained control of Armavir and surrounding lands for having fought alongside Artaxerxes II at Cunaxa in 401BCE, and was quite a tiger of a man. Shrewd and cunning, Orontes was a cunning man and stayed true to his name (which ment "mighty warrior") by invading Asia Minor and asserting independence after Artaxerxes II died. The Armenians were soon known for the quality of their cavalry, which frequently featured in a shock role and would fight and die first for the Achaemenid shahs, and much later for the Greek-born Diadochi dynasts.

Generally, Orontid kings after Orontes would set Armenian foreign policy as supporting the whichever party was winning, while keeping themselves independent where possible. After Darius, the last Achaemenid shah, fled for Sogdiana (where he was assasinated) and the whole Persian empire fell to Alexander the Great, Armenia was maintained in the Alexandrine Empire, but kept its independence after his death, surviving smack between the Pontic kingdom, the Seleucid empire and the Parthians, from whom a future dynasty of monarchs would be selected centuries later.

Fall of the OrontidsEdit

One of the biggest problems facing the kingdom of Armenia was that it practised the giving out of appanages to kings' sons when they died. While this in theory was meant to keep family ties intact by keeping all sons happy and content, over time it caused the Armenian nation to split into three parts and become politically divided, making them easy prey later on for more centralised powers later on. At the onset of Orontid collapse, there wasn't just "Armenia", but there was Greater Armenia, Commagene and Sophene. As a result, Armenia, once poised to make the greatest gains from the falling out of the Diadochi, ended up as the vassals of one of them — the Seleucid Empire.

The ArtaxiadsEdit

The Armenians had to wait until the battle of Magnesia which saw the Romans victorious over the Seleucids. In 190BCE, the Armenian territories were reunified under the new Artaxiad dynasty, which established a new capital, Artashat, built — as the Romans wrote it — by none other than the refugee Hannibal Barca of Carthage himself.

Hannibal aside, we must now speak of the king of the Armenians, or Artaxias. Artaxias was a military commander who claimed descent from the now ineffectual Orontids, although there is no way to prove this yet. What we know, however, was that through diplomacy and force, Artaxias sought to retake all the Armenian lands. This was accomplished three generations later by Tigranes II in 95BCE. Under his reign, the Armenian kingdom enjoyed an expansion of its territories, and soon straddled lands from the Caspian to the edges of Egypt and Palestine, and made an empire founding four capitals. During the reign of Tigranes II, Greek culture, originally introduced with the fall of the Achaemenids, was intensified; by the time of his death the Armenians were somewhat Hellenicised although they kept the Iranic religion of their forefathers.

The Eagle Among WolvesEdit

As skilled a governor and general Tigranes II was, however, his biggest flaw was that he chose the wrong friends. Tigranes II had established ties with Pontus, a neighbouring kingdom on the south-western shore of the Black Sea, and Pontus in turn was at war with the Romans, who were making their presence felt in Asia Minor. An army was sent out by Lucius Licinius Lucullus to the east, and managed to overrun most of Armenian by 68BCE, although the harsh and unforgiving winter in that mountainous land forced Lucullus to retreat southwards into Mesopotamia for winter lodgings.

Tigranes II however could not breathe easily yet. The Roman senate sent Gnaeus Pompey to finish the job, and the Pontic king, Mithridates, soon died, leaving Tigranes alone. To make matters worse for the now geriatric king, his son also decided to launch a coup with Parthian help. There was only one thing left to do: Tigranes II surrendered to Pompey and with Roman help, captured his son who was then sent off in exile to die in Rome.

By accepting Pompey's help, Armenia was now firmly in the sphere of Roman control. Once the Romans had broken the prestige of the Artaxiad kings, Armenia was now little more than a football to be kicked about between the Romans, Egyptians and Parthians. The last king, Artavases III was deposed and sent into exile in 12CE. In the way of Artavases' deposition, Armenia was by now a client state of Rome, with a new line of kings imported from Parthia known as the Arsacids. Even so, Armenia would remain a contested territory between the Romans and Parthians (and much later, the Arabs), and would not become independent until the emergence of the Bagratids in the 10th century.

ReferencesEdit

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