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Garni 2: History. The compound

The fortress of Garni dates to the oldest periods of inhabitation in Armenia and is located in one of Armenia’s most spectacular settings. Built on a triangular plot of land jutting out over the Azat River Gorge, it is naturally protected on two sides by sheer cliffs that drop 100 meters to the valley floor, connected by the 180 meter long defensive wall facing you.

Its exact origins are uncertain, but excavations have uncovered an early Bronze Age settlement with dwellings and numerous artifacts while the original walls date to the Bronze and Iron Ages. The Urartian period (8th-6th cc BC) saw the reinforcement of the walls and the erection of a temple, the foot print for the current 1st century structure.

The current arrangement dates to the 3rd-2nd centuries BCE, in the wake of Alexander the Great's invasion of Persia, when the Hellenistic culture was first introduced into Armenia. Some of the outer walls and a few foundations date to this period, but its most famous monuments, the temple of Mythra and the Roman baths, date 500 years later, to the reign of Arshakuni King T'rdat I.

At the time the Romans were in a protracted battle with the Parthians for control of the Near East, using Armenia as their battleground. Each power propped up or deposed a rival king, until T'rdat I deposed the Roman candidate in the year 54 CE. In retaliation, Rome invaded Armenia in the year 57, razing the capital at Artashat in 58. The Romans were about to annex Armenia outright when their troops were surrounded and defeated by T'rdat's armies at Kharput (Kharberd) in 62. Facing pressure from the Parthians, T'rdat then sued for peace with the Romans, laying down his diadem before an effigy of Nero, promising to receive it back from the emperor in Rome. T'rdat arrived at Rome and received his crown from Nero, kneeling before him and saying,

“Master . . . I have come to thee, my god, to worship thee as I do Mythras (Mythra). The destiny thou spinnest for me shall be mine, for thou art my Fortune and my Fate, (Dio, LXII; vol. VIII)

Pliny the Elder reported that the Armenian king initiated Nero into certain Magian rites, and it is at this time that the cult of Mythra was introduced into the Roman pantheon. Nero gave T'rdat two million sesterces and Roman engineers to rebuild his capital, which he did, naming it Neroneia in honor of Nero. At the same time T'rdat commissioned a Temple to Mythra at Garni, sometime around the year 66. The site was repaired and enlarged around 72. In addition, T'rdat built a palace for his sister-queen Khosrovadukht and had a Greek inscription engraved in stone referring to himself as “the sun” (“Helios”) and “supreme ruler of Greater Armenia.”

The compound

The compound includes the outer wall and fortifications, garrison and servant quarters, the 1st century temple to Mythra and summer palace, and a 3rd century Roman Bath.

The text was edited by ICOMOS/Armenia NGO.