Khor Virap

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Khor Virap 2: Artashat (“Joy of Artashes”).

Artashat (“Joy of Artashes”)

The hills of Artashat (“Artaxiasata”) were chosen as the site of a new Armenian capital by the founder of the Artashesian Dynasty, Artashes I. The city was built between 189 and 188 BCE. The city was located in the ancient confluence of the Arax and Metsamor Rivers on 12 small and large hills. Excavations uncovered a large settlement from the early Bronze Age and a newly discovered Urartian city. Artashat was built over these ruins. According to Plutarch and Strabo, the city's site and design was attributed to the Carthaginian general Hannibal, who, during the Battle of Magnesia (190 BCE), was defeated by Antioch the Great, and fled to befriend the young Artashes becoming his advisor:

"It is related that Hannibal, the Carthaginian, after the defeat of Antiochus by the Romans, coming to Artaxias, king of Armenia, pointed out to him many other matters to his advantage, and observing the great natural capacities and the pleasantness of the site, then lying unoccupied and neglected, drew a model of a city for it, and bringing Artaxias thither, showed it to him and encouraged him to build. At which the king being pleased, and desiring him to oversee the work, erected a large and stately city, which was called after his own name, and made metropolis of Armenia.” (Plutarch's Life of Lucullus, XXXI)

Movses Khorenatsi attributes the city's founding exclusively to the desire of the new king:

"Artashat went to the spot where the waters of the Arax and Metsamor intermingle, and being pleased with the hill, he there constructed a city, calling it Artashat, after his own name. The Arax River aided him with (floating) the timber of forests; he therefore carried out the construction easily and quickly, and erected therein a temple, where he placed the idols from Bagaran, including the statue to Artemis. But the statue to Apollo he placed outside the city by the road [where it was meant to stand for the trade god Hermes]."

Later, when the Armenian King Artavazd the II succeeded his father Tigran the Great to the throne (53 BCE), Hellenistic culture attained new heights, including theatre. Artavazd was said to have been an expert in the art form, penning Greek tragedies. One of the most famous descriptions in Armenian history occurred during his reign: the announcement of the defeat of the Roman legions by Armenian forces during a performance of Euripides' “The Bacchae”, when the defeated Roman general Crassus’ right hand was displayed at the climactic moment of the tragedy.

Artashat was the main capital of the country for 600 years, the "Vostann Hayots" (court or seal of the Armenians) and royal seat for the Artashesian and Arshakuni dynasties.

Artashat was occupied in 58 under the command of the Roman general Gnaeus Domitius Corbulo, then burned in 59. In 63, the Armenian Parthian troops defeated the Roman army, after which the emperor Nero acknowledged the rule of King T'rdat with one condition: that T'rdat receive his crown from Nero in Rome. T'rdat (r. 63-88) reconstructed Artashat following his trip to Rome in 66. In 114, the Roman emperor Trajan invaded Armenia and occupied Artashat. When Armenia rebelled against Roman rule in the 2nd century, the city was destroyed in 163 by troops led by Statius Priscus.

Artashat remained the principal political and cultural center of the kingdom until the Persian king Shapur II attacked Armenia and destroyed Artashat's fortress walls and stone structures, burning the rest (364-369).

This text was edited by Professor Zhores Khachatrian, Head of the Ancient Archeology Department of the Archeology and Ethnography Institute of the Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Armenia.