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Roman Province of Armenia

The ancient region of Armenia occupied the bulk of the lower Caucasus mountain region, east of modern Turkey, between the Black and Caspian Seas. Its harsh environment also provided excellent natural resources such as grapes, tobacco and native fruits. Gold, silver, iron, granite and marble were also mined in abundance. While the area is among the earliest of human civilizations, the people who became known as Armenian were first mentioned in Greek sources in approximately 600 BC. They mixed with local inhabitants after arriving from Asia Minor over the previous 2 centuries, and formed their own nation at about the time the Greeks first gave notice.

Armenia's history is rich with many cultures, including its own very deep traditions. Positioned dead center between all the powers of the ancient world, it was often ruled, at least in part by several different nations at a time. The Persians were the first of these to impose their will on Armenia, with client kingdom (satrapy) status lasting roughly from 600 to 400 BC. Even in this early period, Armenia already found itself as a buffer zone between Persian culture in the east and Greek or Hellenistic culture to its west.

By 330 BC, Alexander the Great conquered the region and brought it within the fold of 'western' civilization, though it would continue to play a role as a 'buffer' through to the modern day. After Alexander's death shortly after the conquest, Armenia fell under the sway of Alexander's general, Seleucus I and the Seleucid Dynasty of Syria that followed. It was during this period that the Armenians eventually came into contact with the growing Mediterranean power of Rome. Under the expansionistic campaigns of Antiochus III, the Romans defeated the Seleucids at the battle of Magnesia in 190 BC. Though Armenia was effectively independent for some time, setting up a local dynasty under the Artashesids in 189 BC, conflict with the eastward moving Romans was inevitable.

Under the rule of Tigranes I (the Great), the son-in-law of Mithridates VI of Pontus, Armenia fostered their own imperialistic designs in the early 1st century BC. From 95 to 55 BC Tigranes slowly expanded Armenian influence while Mithridates took advantage of Roman political strife and extended his Kingdom deep into Asia Minor and across the Bosporus into Thracia and Greece. Meanwhile Armenia reached the Mediterranean Sea in the southwest, the Black Sea to its North and West and the Caspian Sea to the east, effectively creating an enormous allied Pontic kingdom in the region. However, despite Rome's political problems, the campaigns of Lucius Cornelius Sulla pushed Mithridates back into Pontus which obviously rippled down to Armenia. Within another generation, the campaigns of Lucius Licinius Lucullus nearly brought both nations into the Roman fold. In 69 BC Lucullus pushed Mithridates into Armenia and followed it up by capturing the Armenian capital of Tigranocerta. Despite his successes though, mutinies within the legions forced his recall just a few years later, and Pompey the Great replaced him. Pompey completed the campaigns of Lucullus with rousing completeness, bringing all of Asia Minor (roughly incorporating modern Turkey), Syria and the Palestine under roman hegemony. Though Armenia retained its own dynastic rule, it was forced into client kingdom status.

Campaigns against remnants of Armenian resistance, and as a direct result of the civil wars between Antony and Octavian, would last another 30 years. From that point on the Hellenization of Armenia that had begun centuries before continued to flourish and the nation was tied ever closer to Rome. However, by this point, while Rome was all powerful in the west, Parthia had emerged as a substantial rival in the east. Much like its early position as a buffer between Greece and Persia, Armenia maintained this stance between Rome and Parthia. In the mid 1st century AD conflict over succession in Armenia brought those two powers into open conflict.

In AD 54, after the death of Claudius and during political strife within Armenia, the Parthian king Vologases I, placed his own brother Tiridates I on the Armenian throne. This invariably led to war, since it was Rome, and not Parthia who held the right of Armenian succession. Over the next several years, under the command of Cnaeus Domitius Corbulo, Roman legions invaded Armenia and the two powers fought a virtual stalemate. By AD 63 a peace treaty was negotiated in which Tiridates would lay down his crown, hence surrendering the Parthian right to place him on the throne, but it was agreed that he would travel to Rome where Nero himself would give him the throne under Roman authority (AD 66). Though this shaky status quo would remain in Armenia for the remainder of Roman (and later Byzantine) influence, Armenia was officially annexed as a province by Trajan in 114 AD. Hadrian, however, would give up all of Trajan's official conquests within a few short years.

In a cultural note, Armenia, after early contacts with the eastern Christian missionaries, adopted to the new religion very quickly. In fact, its spread was so successful that under Tiridates III (238 - 314 AD), Armenia became the first state to adopt Christianity as the official religion (c. 306 - 314 AD). Not only was this indicative of Christianity great success in the east, but actually predates the possible 'conversion' of Constantine the Great. The invasions of Ardahir I of the Sassanid Persians in the 3rd century AD brought great religious strife to native Christians but also created a true sense of nationalism. Though Armenia was soon split in half between Rome (Byzantine) and Persia, it also maintained its own small dynastic independent kingdom. Over the next several centuries, Armenia was faced with constant political struggles from those same Persians and Byzantines and under additional threats from Arabs, Huns and Khazars. Despite this, Armenia has maintained its own unique Christian cultural identity in the heart of the Muslim Middle Eastern world through to the present day.


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Armenia - Related Topic: Asia Minor


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