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Home :: History of Armenia
History of Armenia
The ten-winged bridge of Tigranakert over the Western Tigris
According to Assyrian sources, in IX-VIII BC the Kingdom of Urartu (Urarat or Ararat in Old Hebrew) reached the top of its power by virtue of its developed craftsmanship, canal-building, agriculture and masoniy. King Artashes I the Kind (189-160 BC), the founder of the Artashesian Dynasty, established a powerful and independent Armenian State. He launched a series of construction and public administration activities. He built the capital Artashat, a splendid example of the Hellenistic city in the East. He also had border posts (Phallus-like monuments of worship and warning signs for enemies) erected in the country. In his account of the reunifications undertaken by Artashes, the Greek geographer and historian Strabo (I c.) wrote, 'all the people are monolingual.' This is the new stage of affluence of the Annenian Ksgdom began. It reached the peak of its glory during the reign of Artashes' grandson, Tigranes II the Great (95-55 BC). Armenia 'from sea to sea' (from the Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean) became one of the most powerful states in East, Artavazd II, Tigranes's son (55-34 BC) wrote plays and practiced rhetoric. He was a big fan of Hellenistic culture and theatre. He built the theatre (amphitheatre) in Artashat. Following his invasion of Asia, Marc Anthony captured the Armenian King Artavazd and took him to Egypt as a gift to Cleopatra. The captive was pre mised freedom if he bowed down to the Egyptian queen. Artavazd refused to abase himself by saying, 'instead of saving my own skin and taking care of myself, I am obliged to bequeath the Armenian pride, nobility and dignity to my successors.' The pampered poet, the lover: of revelry and hunting, preferred death to disgrace. He was decapitated in 31 BC. Tacitus referred to this deed as 'Anthony's crime.'

Later, when at the beginning of XVII c. the Persian King Shah Abbas was wreaking havoc in occupied Armenia, the story found an unexpected echo in the fresco of the eminent Italian artist Tiepolo. It depicts the enslaved Armenian King Artavazd and Queen Cleopatra.

In the course of time, the Armenian land expanded and became more organized. The nation was consistently shaping its role in the region. The country was becoming an important junction of the East-West and North-South strategic and trade routes. In his portrayal of the peoples of the world, I. Kant wrote, 'Armenians were held in high regard and gladly hosted anywhere from China to Portugal.'

But let us go back to Armenia in the period when it was divided between two empires, none of which was strong enough to keep it in its entirety. On the other hand, the role of Armenia as a State and Armenians as a highly cultured, efficient and lively people was so great that these empires were constantly in a life-and-death struggle for the country. Thus, it was between Romans and Parthians - the two powerful adversaries of the time - that the last act of the Artashesian dynasty was staged (I c.).

The role of a junction was not only hard but also fatal for Armenia and its people. It is difficult to believe tiiat Armenians, nevertheless, managed to survive the countless collisions between empires and religions and even use their creative potential throughout history. The Russian philosopher P. Florenski notes that Armenians devote the better part of their vital powers to the arts.

 Having traveled along a very original and at the same time controversial path of development and self-affirmation, Armenians converted to Christianity. Christianity expressed more fully the worldview of the governing circles and the middle classes of the society, as well as their political and psychological mentality. Having regard to the fragility of the unified State, the authorities of the time decided to strengthen the internal ties through Christianity. The State of Armenia was the first to adopt Christianity as its official religion during the reign of Trdat III the Great from the Arshakouni dynasty. In 301 AD, 13 years earlier than in Rome, Christianity was declared a State religion in Armenia. All pagan temples, statues and images were demolished. So were the rich pagan archives. A magnificent and unique culture of millennia was eradicated and destroyed.

Why did Armenians denounce paganism? Why did they convert to Christianity? What was the cause of such haste when the State had Rome and Persia as its neighbours. This step may be accounted for by political reasons as well as the new meaning bestowed on various advantages offered by the cruel neighborhood of powerful states. But, more importantly, there was the issue of self-preservation of the nation through an independent and autonomous way of thinking. A number of arguments may be put forward in support of the achievement of Christianity.


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