Tigranes II, more commonly known as
Tigranes the Great (Armenian:
Տիգրան Մեծ, Tigran Mets; Ancient Greek: Τιγράνης
ὁ Μέγας Tigránes ho Mégas; Latin:
(140 – 55 BC) was King of
Armenia under whom the country
became, for a short time, the strongest state to Rome's east. He
was a member of the Artaxiad Royal House. Under his reign, the
Armenian kingdom expanded beyond its traditional boundaries, allowing
Tigranes to claim the title Great King, and involving
Armenia in many
battles against opponents such as the Parthian and Seleucid empires,
and the Roman Republic.
1 Early years
2 Alliance with Pontus
3 Wars against the Parthians and Seleucids
4 Wars against Rome
Pompey and reconciliation with Rome
8 See also
10 Further reading
Tigranes had been a hostage until the age of 45 at the court of King
Mithridates II of Parthia
Mithridates II of Parthia after the Armenian defeat in 105 BC. Other
sources give the date as much earlier, at around 112–111 BC.
After the death of King
Tigranes I in 95 BC,
Tigranes bought his
freedom, according to Strabo, by handing over "seventy valleys" in
Atropatene to the Parthians.
When he came to power, the foundation upon which
Tigranes was to build
his Empire was already in place, a legacy of the founder of the
Artaxiad Dynasty, Artaxias I, and subsequent kings. The mountains of
Armenia, however, formed natural borders between the different regions
of the country and as a result, the feudalistic nakharars had
significant influence over the regions or provinces in which they were
based. This did not suit Tigranes, who wanted to create a centralist
empire. He thus proceeded by consolidating his power within Armenia
before embarking on his campaign.
He deposed Artanes, the last king of Armenian
Sophene and a descendant
Alliance with Pontus
First Mithridatic War
First Mithridatic War (89–85 BC),
Mithridates VI of Pontus, but was careful not to become directly
involved in the war.
He rapidly built up his power and established an alliance with
Mithridates VI, marrying his daughter Cleopatra.
Tigranes agreed to
extend his influence in the East, while Mithridates set to conquer
Roman land in Asia Minor and in Europe. By creating a stronger
Hellenistic state, Mithridates was to contend with the
well-established Roman foothold in Europe. Mithridates executed a
planned general attack on Romans and Italians in Asia Minor, tapping
into local discontent with the Romans and their taxes and urging the
peoples of Asia Minor to raise against foreign influence. The
slaughter of 80,000 people in the province of Asia Minor was known as
the Asiatic Vespers. The two kings' attempts to control
then the massacres resulted in guaranteed Roman intervention. The
senate decided that Lucius Cornelius Sulla, who was then one of the
consuls, would command the army against Mithridates.
Wars against the Parthians and Seleucids
Tigranes the Great's Armenian Empire: Countries, composing parts of
Armenia in 80 BC, with modern borders indicated
After the death of
Mithridates II of Parthia
Mithridates II of Parthia in 88 BC,
advantage of the fact that the
Parthian Empire had been weakened by
Scythian invasions and internal squabbling:
When he acquired power, he recovered these (seventy) valleys, and
devastated the country of the Parthians, the territory about Ninus
(Nineveh), and that about Arbela. He subjected to his authority the
Atropatenians, and the Goryaeans (on the Upper Tigris); by force of
arms he obtained possession also of the rest of
Mesopotamia and, after
crossing the Euphrates, of
Syria and Phoenicea. —Strabo
In 83 BC, after a bloody strife for the throne of Syria, governed by
the Seleucids, the Syrians decided to choose
Tigranes as the protector
of their kingdom and offered him the crown of Syria. Magadates was
appointed as his governor in Antioch. He then conquered Phoenicia
and Cilicia, effectively putting an end to the last remnants of the
Seleucid Empire, though a few holdout cities appear to have recognized
the shadowy boy-king Seleucus VII Philometor as the legitimate king
during his reign. The southern border of his domain reached as far as
Ptolemais (modern Akko). Many of the inhabitants of conquered cities
were sent to his new metropolis of Tigranocerta.
At its height, his empire extended from the
Pontic Alps (in modern
north-eastern Turkey) to Mesopotamia, and from the
Caspian Sea to the
Mediterranean. A series of victories led him to assume the Achaemenid
title of King of Kings, which even the Parthian kings did not assume,
appearing on coins struck after 85 BCE. He was called "Tigranes
the Great" by many Western historians and writers, such as Plutarch.
The "King of Kings" never appeared in public without having four kings
attending him. Cicero, referring to his success in the east, said that
he "made the Republic of Rome tremble before the prowess of his
Tigranes' coins consist of tetradrachms and copper coins having on the
obverse his portrait wearing a decorated Armenian tiara with
ear-flaps. The reverse has a completely original design. There are the
seated Tyche of
Antioch and the river god Orontes at her feet.
Wars against Rome
The King of Kings
Tigranes the Great with four vassal Kings
Mithridates had found refuge in Armenian land after confronting Rome,
considering the fact that
Tigranes was his ally and relative. The
"King of Kings" eventually came into direct contact with Rome. The
Roman commander, Lucullus, demanded the expulsion of Mithridates from
Armenia – to comply with such a demand would be, in effect, to
accept the status of vassal to Rome and this
Charles Rollin, in his Ancient History, says:
Tigranes, to whom
Lucullus had sent an ambassador, though of no great
power in the beginning of his reign, had enlarged it so much by a
series of successes, of which there are few examples, that he was
commonly surnamed "King of Kings." After having overthrown and almost
ruined the family of the kings, successors of the great Seleucus;
after having very often humbled the pride of the Parthians,
transported whole cities of Greeks into Media, conquered all
Palestine, and given laws to the Arabians called Scenites, he reigned
with an authority respected by all the princes of Asia. The people
paid him honors after the manners of the East, even to adoration.
Lucullus' reaction was an attack that was so precipitate that he took
Tigranes by surprise. According to Roman historians Mithrobazanes, one
of Tigranes' generals, told
Tigranes of the Roman approach. Tigranes
was, according to Keaveney, so impressed by Mithrobazanes' courage
that he appointed Mithrobazanes to command an army against Lucullus
– Mithrobazanes was however defeated and killed. After this
Tigranes withdrew north to
Armenia to regroup which left
Lucullus free to put
Tigranocerta under siege.
Tigranes had gathered a large army, he returned to confront
Lucullus. On October 6, 69 BC, Tigranes' much larger force was
decisively defeated by the
Roman army under
Lucullus in the Battle of
Tigranocerta. Tigranes' treatment of the inhabitants (the majority of
the population had been forced to move to the city) led disgruntled
city guards to open the gates of the city to the Romans. Learning of
Tigranes hurriedly sent 6000 cavalrymen to the city in order to
rescue his wives and some of his assets.
Tigranes escaped capture
with a small escort.
On October 6, 68 BC, the Romans approached the old capital of
Artaxata. Tigranes' and Mithridates' combined Armeno-Pontian army of
70,000 men formed up to face them but were resoundingly defeated. Once
again, both Mithridates and
Tigranes evaded capture by the victorious
Romans. However, the Armenian historians claim that the Romans lost
the battle of Artaxata and Lucullus' following withdrawal from the
Armenia in reality was an escape due to the above-mentioned
defeat. The Armenian-Roman wars are depicted in Alexandre Dumas'
Voyage to the Caucasus.
The long campaigning and hardships that Lucullus' troops had endured
for years, combined with a perceived lack of reward in the form of
plunder, led to successive mutinies among the legions in 68–67.
Frustrated by the rough terrain of Northern
Armenia and seeing the
worsening morale of his troops,
Lucullus moved back south and put
Nisibis under siege.
Tigranes concluded (wrongly) that Nisibis would
hold out and sought to regain those parts of
Armenia that the Romans
had captured. Despite his continuous success in battle, Lucullus
could still not capture either one of the monarchs. With Lucullus'
troops now refusing to obey his commands, but agreeing to defend
positions from attack, the Senate sent Gnaeus Pompeius, known as
Pompey, to recall
Lucullus to Rome and take over his command.
Pompey and reconciliation with Rome
Tigranes the Great in Yerevan
In 67 BC
Pompey was given the task of defeating Mithridates and
Pompey first concentrated on attacking Mithridates while
Tigranes by engineering a Parthian attack on
Gordyeyne. Phraates III, the Parthian king, was soon persuaded to
take things a little further than an annexation of Gordyeyne when a
Tigranes (also named Tigranes) went to join the Parthians and
persuaded Phraates to invade
Armenia in an attempt to replace the
Tigranes with the younger.
Tigranes decided not to meet the
invasion in the field but instead ensured that his capital, Artaxata,
was well defended and withdrew to the hill country. Phraates soon
realized that Artaxata would not fall without a protracted siege, the
time for which he could not spare due to his fear of plots at home.
Once Phraates left,
Tigranes came back down from the hills and drove
his son from Armenia. The son then fled to Pompey.
In 66 BC,
Pompey advanced into
Armenia with the younger Tigranes, and
Tigranes the Great, now almost 75 years old, surrendered. Pompey
treated him generously and allowed him to retain his kingdom shorn of
his conquests in return for 6,000 talents/180 tonnes of silver.
His unfaithful son was sent back to Rome as a prisoner.
Tigranes continued to rule
Armenia as an ally of Rome until his death
in 55/54, at age 85.
Over the course of his conquests,
Tigranes founded four cities that
bore his name, including the capital of Tigranocerta
In The Art of War (1521), Italian political philosopher Niccolò
Machiavelli attributes Tigranes' military failure to his excessive
reliance on his cavalry.
According to one count, 24 operas have been composed about Tigranes
the Great by European composers, including by prominent Italian
and German composers, such as
Alessandro Scarlatti (Tigrane, 1715),
Antonio Vivaldi (La virtu trionfante dell'amore e dell'odio ovvero il
Niccolò Piccinni (Tigrane, 1761), Tomaso
Albinoni, Giovanni Bononcini, Francesco Gasparini, Pietro Alessandro
Guglielmi, Johann Adolph Hasse, Giovanni Battista Lampugnani, Vincenzo
Righini, Antonio Tozzi, and others.
According to Razmik Panossian, "In a long history of defeats and
persecution, Tigran the Great’s brief empire of 2,000 years ago is
still a source of pride for Armenian nationalists." The phrase
"sea to sea Armenia" (Armenian: ծովից ծով Հայաստան,
tsovits tsov Hayastan) is a popular expression used by Armenians to
refer to the kingdom of
Tigranes which extended from the Caspian Sea
to the Mediterranean Sea.
Tigranes the Great in 1898 book Illustrated Armenia
and the Armenians
19th-century painting of
Tigranes the Great
Obverse of the 1993 Armenian 500 dram
The Tigran the Great Order of the Republic of Armenia
History of Armenia
^ Gurzadyan, V. G.; Vardanyan, R. (August 2004). "Halley's comet of 87
BC on the coins of Armenian king Tigranes?". Astronomy &
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Western Armenian pronunciation: Dikran Medz
^ Ubbo Emmius (1620). Appendix Genealogica: illustrando operi
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94–64 թթ. [Tigran the Great: The Armenian Struggle Against Rome
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^ a b Strabo. Geographica, 11.14.15.
^ a b c d Kurdoghlian, Mihran (1996). Պատմութիւն Հայոց
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^ Appian. The Civil Wars, 1.55.
^ Strabo. Geographica, 11.14.16.
^ The House Of Seleucus V2 by Edwyn Robert Bevan.
^ Theo Maarten van Lint (2009). "The Formation of Armenian Identity in
the First Millennium". Church History and Religious Culture. 89
^ Boyajian, Zabelle C. (1916). An Anthology of Legends and Poems of
Armenia. Aram Raffi; Viscount Bryce. London: J.M. Dent & sons,
ltd. p. 117.
^ Greenhalgh 1981, p. 74.
^ Rollins, Charles (1844). Ancient History, vol. 4: History of the
Macedonians, the Seleucidae in Syria, and Parthians. New York: R.
Carter. p. 461.
^ Keaveney 1992, pp. 106-107.
^ Keaveney 1992, p. 107.
^ Keaveney 1992, p. 119.
^ The Encyclopaedia of Military History, R E Dupuy and T N Dupuy
^ Greenhalgh 1981, p. 105.
^ Greenhalgh 1981, p. 105, 114.
^ Greenhalgh 1981, p. 114.
^ Greenhalgh 1981, p. 115.
^ Scullard, H.H (1959). From the Gracchi to Nero: A History of Rome
from 133 B.C. to A.D. 68. New York: F.A. Praeger. p. 106.
^ (in French) Chaumont, M. L. "Tigrane le Jeune, fils de Tigrane le
Revue des Études Arméniennes
Revue des Études Arméniennes 28 (2001–2002): pp. 225-247.
^ Fuller, J.F.C. (1965). Julius Caesar: Man, Soldier, and Tyrant.
London: Eyre & Spottiswoode. p. 45.
^ Karapetian, Samvel (2001). Armenian Cultural Monuments in the Region
of Karabakh. Yerevan: "Gitutiun" Publishing House of National Academy
of Sciences of Armenia. p. 213. ISBN 9785808004689. The data
of records referring to these four towns, all of which were called
Tigranakert and differed only by provinces, were often confused, if
the name of the province; Aldznik, Goghtn, Utik or Artsakh...
^ Payaslian, Simon (2007). The History of Armenia. New York: Palgrave
Macmillan. p. 22. ISBN 978-1-4039-7467-9.
^ Kharmandarian, M. S. (1975). Опера «Тигран»
Алессандро Скарлатти. Lraber Hasarakakan
Gitutyunneri (in Russian) (3): 59–69.
^ "Vivaldi as opera composer". Long Beach Opera. Retrieved 31 August
^ Towers, John (1910). Dictionary-catalogue of Operas and Operettas
which Have Been Performed on the Public Stage: Libretti. Acme
Publishing Company. pp. 625–6.
^ Panossian, Razmik (2006). The Armenians: From Kings and Priests to
Merchants and Commissars. New York: Columbia University Press.
p. 42. ISBN 9780231139267.
^ Verluise, Pierre (1995).
Armenia in Crisis: The 1988 Earthquake.
Detroit: Wayne State University Press. p. xxiv.
^ Coe, Barbara (2005). Changing Seasons: Letters from Armenia.
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University of Missouri Press. ISBN 9780826203359.
Keaveney, Arthur (1992). Lucullus: A Life. London: Routledge.
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Primary Sources. Trans. George Bournoutian. Costa Mesa, CA: Mazda
(in Armenian) Manaseryan, Ruben. Տիգրան Մեծ՝
Հայկական Պայքարը Հռոմի և Պարթևաստանի
Դեմ, մ.թ.ա. 94–64 թթ. (Tigran the Great: The Armenian
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Tigranes II the Great". Livius.org. Retrieved 31
Tigranes the Great
Born: 140 BC Died: 55 BC
King of Armenia
95 BC – 55 BC
Philip I and Antiochus XII
83 BC – 69 BC
Kings of Urartu
Orontes I Sakavakyats
Orontes I (satrap)
Darius III (satrap)
Orontes II (satrap)
Tigranes the Great
Tigranes IV with Erato
Roman and Parthian