Tiridates III of Armenia

Tiridates III of Armenia

Infobox Monarch
name =Tiridates III of Armenia
title =King of Armenia

caption =
reign =287 – circa 330
coronation =
full name =
native_lang1 =
predecessor =Khosrov II of Armenia
successor =Khosrov III
suc-type =
heir =
queen =
royal house =Arshakuni
dynasty =
royal anthem =
father =Khosrov II of Armenia
mother =
date of birth =250s A.D.
place of birth =
date of death =circa 330
place of death =
date of burial =
place of burial =Tordan, Armenia|

Tiridates III (or Trdat III; Armenian: _hy. Տրդատ Գ; 250s – circa 330) was the king of Arsacid Armenia (285-339), and is also known as Tiridates the Great _hy. Տրդատ Մեծ; some scholars incorrectly refer to him as Tiridates IV as a result of the fact that Tiridates I of Armenia reigned twice). In 301, Tiridates proclaimed Christianity as the state religion of Armenia, making the nation-state the first in history to do so. [Binns, John. "An Introduction to the Christian Orthodox Churches". Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002, p. 30. ISBN 0-5216-6738-0.] He is recognized as a saint by the Armenian Apostolic Church.

Early Childhood

Tiridates III was the son of Khosrov II of Armenia, the latter being assassinated in 252 by a Parthian agent named Anak under orders from Ardashir I. Anak was captured and executed along with most of his family, while two of his sons one of whom was Saint Gregory the Illuminator were sheltered in Caesaria. Being the only surviving heir to the throne, Tiridates was quickly taken away to Rome soon after his father’s assassination, while still an infant. He was educated in Rome and was well skilled in languages and military tactics;hy icon Grigoryan, V. "«Տրդատ Գ Մեծ»" (Tiridates III the Great). Soviet Armenian Encyclopedia. vol. xii. Yerevan, Armenian SSR, 1987, p. 94.] [hy icon Movses Khorenatsi. "History of Armenia, 5th Century" ("Հայոց Պատմություն, Ե Դար"). Gagik Sarkisyan (ed.) Yerevan: Hayastan Publishing, 1997, 2.79. ISBN 5-5400-1192-9.] in addition, he firmly understood and appreciated Roman law.


In 270 AD the Roman emperor Aurelian engaged the Sassanids, who had now replaced the Parthians, on the eastern front and he was able to drive them back. Tiridates, as the true heir to the now Persian-occupied Armenian throne, came to Armenia and quickly raised an army and drove the enemy out in 287 AD. The Roman-Armenian alliance grew stronger, especially while Diocletian ruled the empire. This can be attributed to the upbringing of Tiridates, the consistent Persian aggressions, and the murder of his father by Anak. With Diocletian's help, Tiridates pushed the Persians out of Armenia. Diocletian left the Armenian state in a quasi-independent and protectorate status possibly to use it as a buffer in case of a Persian attack.


The traditional story of the conversion of the king and the nation tells of how Gregory the Illuminator, the son of Anak, was a Christian convert who, feeling guilt for his own father’s sin, joined the Armenian army and worked as a secretary to the king. Christianity in Armenia had a strong footing by the end of the 3rd century AD but the nation by and large still followed Armenian pagan beliefs. Tiridates III was no exception as he too worshiped various ancient gods. During a pagan religious ceremony Tiridates III ordered Gregory to place a flower wreath at the foot of the statue of the goddess Anahit in Eriza. Gregory refused, proclaiming his Christian faith. This act infuriated the king. His fury was only exacerbated when several individuals declared that Gregory was, in fact, the son of Anak, the traitor who had killed Tiridates’s father. Gregory was tortured and finally thrown in Khor Virap, a deep underground dungeon.

During the years of Gregory’s imprisonment, a group of virgin nuns, lead by Gayane, came to Armenia as they fled the Roman persecution of their Christian faith. Tiridates III heard about the group and the legendary beauty of one of its members, Rhipsime. He brought them to the palace and demanded to marry the beautiful virgin; she refused. The king had the whole group tortured and killed. After this event, he fell ill and according to legend, adopted the behavior of a wild boar, aimlessly wandering around in the forest. The king’s sister, Xosroviduxt, had a dream wherein Gregory was still alive in the dungeon and he was the only one able to cure the king. At this point it had been 13 years since his imprisonment, and the odds of him being alive were slim. But they retrieved him and despite being incredibly malnourished he was still alive. He was reportedly kept alive by a kindhearted woman that threw a loaf of bread down in Khor Virap everyday for him.

Tiridates was brought to Gregory, and was miraculously cured of his illness in 301 AD. [This story is recounted by the Armenian secretary Agathangelos in his "History of St. Gregory and the Conversion of Armenia".] Persuaded by the power of the cure, the king immediately proclaimed Christianity the official state religion. And so, Armenia became the first nation to officially adopt Christianity. Tiridates III appointed Gregory as the first Catholicos of the Armenian Apostolic Church.

Rest of reign

The switch from the traditional pagan Armenian religion to Christianity was not an easy one. Tiridates often used force to impose this new faith upon the people and many armed conflicts ensued, because polytheism was deeply rooted in the Armenian people. An actual battle took place between the king's forces and the pagan camp, resulting in the weakening of polytheistic military strength. Tiridates thus spent the rest of his life trying to eliminate all ancient beliefs and in doing so destroyed countless statues, temples and written documents. As a result, little is known from local sources about ancient Armenian history and culture. The king worked feverishly to spread the faith and died in 330 AD.

According to the Armenian historian Movses Khorenatsi, several members of the nakharar families conspired against Tiridates and eventually poisoned him. [Movses Khorenatsi. "History of the Armenia", 2.92.]


Additional reading

*Translated from the Armenian: Mihran Kurdoghlian, Badmoutioun Hayots, A. hador [Armenian History, volume I] , Athens, Greece, 1994, pg. 96-105.
*The Library of Congress - Armenia - A Country Study
*Yuri Babayan - Tiridates the Great

See also

*Armenian Apostolic Church

NAME= Tiridates III of Armenia

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