Khor Virap

Back to home

Khor Virap 3: City Precincts. Defenses. Layout.

City Precincts

Ancient Artashat was a rival to the best cities in the Roman Empire and maintained its status as one of the preeminent cities of the near East for 600 years. To the northwest of Khor Virap on the tallest hill (70 meters) is the top of which stood the acropolis of Old Artashat (“Joy of Artashes”) which had a palace and administrative buildings and a military garrison and arsenal. The citadel was double-walled and well protected.

The palace sat at the crest of the hill, on top of a large (2,750 square meters) platform, 5 meters above the hill line, surrounded by its own walls. It is said that Hannibal lived here while in attendance to the king.


The city was built at the confluence of two rivers, the Yeraskh (Arax) and Metsamor, creating a deep channel at Artashat; a formidable natural defense.

As described by Strabon and Tacitus, Artashat's fortress walls ran for over 10,000 meters, 5,000 of which were excavated. The walls surrounded the entire city, including the city hills and the lower town. The second fortress wall in the acropolis was Urartian, reconstructed using Hellenistic military principles of defense; corner turrets were replaced by 13-15 meter diameter round towers. Adding to the city's defense was the erection of narrow walled passes between each hill, forcing citizens to slow their approach and dismount in order to pass, thereby exposing themselves to guards above. Five of the city's gates were discovered, averaging a width of 1.5-2 meters in width, each with a pair of towers and built so that theroad leading to the gate passed near the walls, providing additional protection.


The city was sophisticated in other ways, with running water, waste disposal, and public baths. The city received its drinking water from Vedi, via large (45x55 cm) white-clay pipes. The water system was enough for 100,000 people. Smaller (10 cm) pipes carried the water to the city's upper districts. Drenage chanels were uncovered in different parts of the city. Armenians were familiar with the construction techniques of a new type of structures – baths – quite common in the Greko-Roman world . Two private baths were discovered on Hill 8 and a third thermal bath next to the Tir-Apollo temple, which used water from the Arax River.

Tigran II (140 – c. 55 BC), is known to have settled the city with captives from 12 Hellenistic cities. Artashat occupied about 400 hectares of territory and at its apex had a population in the 1st-2nd centuries of around 150,000, making it one of the largest cities in the ancient world. Artashat was one of the largest cities of the Hellenistic world and remained Armenia’s capital for 600 years, as a symbol of its power and independence.

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.