Arsacid Dynasty of Armenia

Arsacid Dynasty of Armenia

The Arsacid Dynasty (Arshakuni Dynasty) ruled the Kingdom of Armenia from 54 to 428. Formerly a branch of the Parthian Arsacids, they became a distinctly Armenian dynasty. [cite book | last = Olson |first = James | title = An Ethnohistorical Dictionary of the Russian and Soviet Empires | publisher = Greenwood Press |date= 1994 | pages = p. 42] Arsacid Kings reigned intermittently throughout the chaotic years following the fall of the Artaxiad Dynasty until 62 when Tiridates I of Armenia secured Arsacid rule in Armenia. An independent line of Kings was established by Vologases II of Armenia (Valarses/Vagharshak) in 180. Two of the most notable events under Arsacid rule in Armenian history were the conversion of Armenia to Christianity by St. Gregory the Illuminator in 301 and the creation of the Armenian alphabet by Mesrop Mashtots in 405.

Early Arsacids

The first appearance of an Arsacid on the Armenian throne came about in AD 12 when the Parthian King Vonones I was exiled from Parthia due to his pro-Roman policies and Occidental manners. [Josephus, "Jewish Antiquities", 18.42-47] Vonones I briefly acquired the Armenian throne with Roman consent, but Artabanus II demanded his deposition, and as Augustus did not wish to begin a war with the Parthians he deposed Vonones I and sent him to Syria. Wasting no time Artabanus installed his son Orodes on the Armenian throne. Tiberius had no intention of giving up the buffer states of the Eastern frontier and sent his nephew and heir Germanicus to the East, who concluded a treaty with Artabanus, in which he was recognized as king and friend of the Romans.

Armenia was given in 18 to Zeno the son of Polemon I of Pontus, who assumed the Armenian name Artaxias. [Tacitus, Annals, 2.43, 2.56] The Parthians under Artabanus were too distracted by internal strife to oppose the Roman-appointed King. Zeno's reign was remarkably peaceful in Armenian history. Once Zeno died in 34, Artabanus decided to reinstate an Arsacid over the Armenian throne, choosing his eldest son Arsaces as a suitable candidate. The throne was disputed by the younger son of Artabanus, Orodes. Tiberius quickly concentrated more forces on the Roman frontier and once again after a decade of peace, Armenia was to become for twenty-five years the theater of bitter warfare between the two greatest powers of the known world. Tiberius, sent an Iberian named Mithridates, who claimed to be of Arsacid blood. Mithridates successfully recovered Armenia and deposed Arsaces causing much devastation to the country. Surprisingly, Mithridates was summoned back to Rome where he was kept a prisoner, and Armenia was given back to Artabanus who gave the throne to his younger son Orodes. Another civil war erupted in Parthia upon the death of Artabanus. Mithridates was put back on the Armenian throne, with the help of his brother, Pharasmanes I of Iberia, and Roman troops. Civil war continued in Parthia for several years with Gotarzes eventually seizing the throne in 45. In 51, Mithridates’ nephew Radamistus invaded Armenia and killed his uncle. The governor of Cappadocia, Julius Pailinus, decided to conquer Armenia but settled for crowning Radamistus who generously rewarded him. The current Parthian King Vologeses I, saw an opportunity, invaded Armenia and succeeded in forcing the Iberians to withdraw. The harsh winter that followed proved too much for the Parthians who withdrew, leaving the door open for Radamistus to regain his throne. Back in power, according to Tacitus the Iberian was so cruel that the Armenians stormed the palace and forced Radamistus out of the country and Vologeses was able to put his brother Tiridates on the throne.

Between Rome and Parthia

Unhappy with the growing Parthian influence at their doorstep, Roman Emperor Nero sent General Gnaeus Domitius Corbulo with a large army to the east in order to restore Roman client kings. Tiridates escaped and a Roman client king was setup again. The Roman appointed King Tigranes VI invaded the Kingdom of Adiabene in 61, which was a vassal of Parthians. Vologeses considered this as an act of aggression from Rome and restarted a campaign to put Tiridates back on the Armenian throne. Following the Battle of Rhandeia in 62. The command of the Roman troops was again entrusted to Corbulo, who marched into Armenia and set a camp in Rhandeia, where he made a peace agreement with Tiridates upon which Tiridates was recognized king of Armenia but he would be a client of Rome. Tiridates agreed that he would go to Rome to be crowned by Nero. Tiridates ruled Armenia until his death or deposition around 100/110. Osroes I of Parthia invaded Armenia and placed his nephew Axidares, the son of Pacorus II as King of Armenia.This enchroachment on the traditional sphere of influence of the Roman Empire ended the peace since the time of Nero some 50 years earlier and started a new war with the Roman emperor Trajan. [Statius Silvae 5.1; Dio Cassius 68.17.1.; Arrian "Parthica" frs 37/40] Trajan marched towards Armenia on October, 113 to restore a Roman client king in Armenia. At Athens Osroes’ envoys met him, informing him that Axidares had been deposed and asking that the latter's elder brother, Parthamasiris, be granted the throne. Trajan declined and by August 114 he captured Arsamosata where Parthamasiris asked to be crowned, but instead of crowning him, he annexed the kingdom to the Roman Empire. [Dio Cassius 68.17.2-3] Parthamasiris was dismissed and died mysteriously soon afterwards. As a Roman province Armenia was administered along with Cappadocia by Catilius Severus of the gens Claudia.

The Roman senate issued coins on this occasion bearing the following inscription: "ARMENIA ET MESOPOTAMIA IN POTESTATEM P.R. REDACTAE"', thus solidifying Armenia's position as the newest Roman province. A rebellion by a Parthian pretender Sanatruces was put down, though sporadic resistance continued and Vologases III of Parthia managed to secure a sizeable chunk of Armenia just before Trajan's death in August of 117. However, in 118 the new Emperor Hadrian gave up Trajan's conquests including Armenia and made Parthamaspates King of Armenia and Osroene, though Vologases III held most of the country. A compromise with the Parthians was reached eventually and the Parthian Vologases was placed in charge of Armenia. He ruled Armenia until 140 A.D. Vologases IV of Parthia dispatched troops to seize Armenia in 161 and eradicated the Roman legions stationed there under legatus C. Severianus, encouraged by the spahbod Osroes, Parthian troops marched further West into Roman Syria. [Sellwood Coinage of Parthia 257-60, 268-77; Debevoise History of Parthia 245; Dio Cass.71.2.1.] Marcus Aurelius immediately sent Lucius Verus to the Eastern front. In 163, Verus dispatched General Statius Priscus who was recently transferred from Britain with several legions to Armenia from Antioch. Vologases' army surrendered in Artaxata and Priscus installed a Roman puppet, Sohaemus (a Roman senator and consul of Arsacid and Emessan ancestry) on the Armenian throne, deposing a certain Pacorus installed by Vologases III. [HA Marcus Antoninus 9.1, Verus 7.1; Dio Cass. 71.3.] to the Armenian throne. Khosrov was subsequently captured by the Romans, who installed one of their own to take charge of Armenia. However the Armenians themselves revolted against their Roman overlords, and, in a new Rome-Parthia compromise, Khosrov's son, Trdat II (217 - 252 A.D.), was made king of Armenia.

assanids and Armenia

In 224 A.D. Ardashir I overthrew the Arsacids in Parthia and began the new Persian Sassanid dynasty. The Sassanids were determined to restore the old glory of the Achaemenid Persia, making Zoroastrianism the state religion and claiming Armenia as part of the empire. To preserve the autonomy of Arshakuni rule in Armenia, Trdat II sought friendly relations with Rome. This was an unfortunate choice, because the Sassanid king Shapur I defeated the Romans and struck a peace with the emperor Philip, whereby Rome acquiesced to paying tribute and relinquishing control of Greater Armenia. In 252 A.D. Shapur invaded Armenia and, forcing Trdat to flee, installed his own son Hurmazd on the Armenian throne. When Shapur died in 270 A.D., Hurmazd took the Persian throne and his brother Narseh ruled Armenia in his stead. Under Diocletian, Rome tried to install Khosrov II as ruler of Armenia, and between 279 and 287 A.D. he was in possession of the western parts of Armenian territory. But the Sasanids stirred some nobles to revolt, killing Khosrov in the process. When Narseh left to take the Persian throne in 293 A.D., Khosrov's murderer was installed on the Armenian throne. Rome nevertheless defeated Narseh in 298 A.D., and Khosrov's son Trdat III regained control of Armenia with the support of Roman soldiers.


In 314, St. Gregory the Illuminator converted King Tiridates III and members of his court [Academic American Encyclopedia - Page 172 by Grolier Incorporated] (traditionally dated to 301 following Mikayel Chamchian 1784) [Estimated dates vary from 284 to 314. 314 is the date favoured by mainstream scholarship, so Garsoïan ("op.cit." p.82), following the research of Ananian, and Seibt (2002).] .

The Armenian alphabet was created by Saint Mesrop Mashtots in 406 for the purpose of translating the Bible, and Christianization at thus also marks the beginning of Armenian literature.According to Moses of Chorene, Isaac of Armenia made a translation of the Gospel from the Syriac text about 411. This work must have been considered imperfect, for soon afterwards John of Egheghiatz and Joseph of Baghin were sent to Edessa to translate the Scriptures. They journeyed as far as Constantinople, and brought back with them authentic copies of the Greek text. With the help of other copies obtained from Alexandria the Bible was translated again from the Greek according to the text of the Septuagint and Origen's "Hexapla". This version, now in use in the Armenian Church, was completed about 434.


In 337, during the reign of Khosrov III the Small, Shapur II invaded Armenia. Over the following decades, Armenia was once again disputed territory between East Rome and the Sassanid Empire, until a permanent settlement in 387, which remained in place until the Arab conquest of Armenia in 639. Arsacid rulers intermittently (competing with Bagratuni princes) remained in control of some extent of power, as governors ("marzban") under either Byzantine or Persian protectorate, until 428.



*History of Education in Armenia - by Kevork A. Sarafian, G A Sarafean
*The heritage of Armenian literature Vol.1 - by A. J. (Agop Jack) Hacikyan, Nourhan Ouzounian, Edward S. Franchuk, Gabriel Basmajian
*W. Seibt (ed.), "The Christianization of Caucasus (Armenia, Georgia, Albania)" (2002), ISBN 978-3-7001-3016-1

ee also

*List of Armenian Kings
*Armenian nobility

External links

* [ Armenian History; Armenian Highland]
* [ Armenian History: Arshakuni Dynasty by Levon Zekiyan]
* [*.html The Arshakuni Dynasty of Armenia by Vahan M. Kurkjian]

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