Thursday 16 March 2017

Armenia - Between Two Empires (part 1).

Armenia - A Timeline
From 361 - 499 AD

Shapur II claims Mesopotamia and Armenia forcing Arshak, King of Armenia to flee. Loyalties of the Armenian nobles are split between accepting Persian dominance or remain with the West. King Arshak meets with Constantius, but the emperor dies before the conclusion of any agreement.

 Julian, now emperor, launches a campaign against Persia but dies during the campaign leaving his successor Jovianus to concede a humiliating treaty giving up gains made during the campaign and the cessation of support to Armenia.   

The Roman Empire now split in two spheres, the Armenians renewed their appeal for assistance with eastern Rome. Negotiations stumbled over a number of issues including religious ones prompting Rome to conclude a treaty with Persia essentially leaving Armenia to her own devices.

Vassak Mamikonian continues the struggle against Persia devastating the districts of Sophene and Akilisene. The Persians pin Vassak in the province of Ararat and King Arshak makes an appeal to Shahpur for a reconciliation to which the King of Persia accepts. During the royal welcome and feast, King Arshak was seized and sent to the fortress of Oblivion (Anhoush berd) were he met his end.

 The son of the slain king and exiled in Constantinople, Pap returned to Armenia escorted by an Imperial legion. The Jovianus treaty, which had left Armenia to the mercy of Persia, was now revoked by Valens.

Under Roman suzerainty the young king had to overcome conflicts with unruly nobles and the recurring friction between Church and state. To resolve the issue, Theodosius the Great and Shahpur III concluded the partition of Armenia with the larger portion becoming a vassal state under Persian suzerainty and the smaller portion formed a Roman province.

Khosrov appointed King of Armenia by Shapur III exceeds his authority during his six year period and is replaced by his brother Vramshapouh. Vramshapouh won the confidence of Shapur III as well as of the pro-Roman party of his country. With the accession of Yazdegert I, Vramshapouh’s reign would confront new trials.

Abda, a fanatical Assyrian bishop, set fire to a Mazdeian temple in Susa. Overnight, the tolerance shown toward Christians is irreparably damaged.   

The new Persian king, Bahram V is confronted by Rome for the persecution of Christians in Armenia. His first expedition into Armenia under Mihr-Nerseh meets with defeat and Bahram V is forced to suspend operations. A peace treaty ensuring tolerance to both parties in each Armenia was signed.

Bahram V placed Artashir, the son of Vramshapouh, as the King of Armenia. Artashir proved incapable of coping with the intractable aristocracy and was summoned to Ctesiphon and later deprived of his title and power. Armenia was now reduced in status to a Persian province ending the 376 rule of the Armenian-Arshakid dynasty.

The Marzbanate
Armenia was now governed by Marzbans. Nominated by the Persian King, a Marzban was invested with supreme power, but he could not interfere with the age-long privileges of the Armenian nakharars which included the retaining an army to protect their domains. To an extent, the province of Armenia enjoyed certain autonomy; maintaining its own courts, schools and maintaining a military force. The question of religious freedom became a source of friction during a number of periods as Christianity was seen to bring Armenia closer to Byzantium. On three occasions this escalated to a situation requiring excessive methods to control.

King Yazdegert II (438‑457) was set on a path to revive the empire of Cyrus and to place all Asia under Persian influence. He began with repudiating the Hundred Years' Treaty of 420 and invaded the Byzantine territories of Mesopotamia destroying a number of cities, burning churches and seizing captives.

Unable to counter the Persian threat, the Emperor Theodosius II concluded a peace treaty which included the surrender of Persian Christians who had taken refuge in the Byzantine domain.

Yazdegert II now campaigned against the Kushans. The long struggle ended after dealing the Kushans a severe defeat at Marvroud, near the River Murghab.  Next, Yazdegert II blocked the passages through the Caucasian Mountains to stop the incursions by the Mazkouts or Black Huns. To do this, the great wall called the Jora Bahag or Gate of Jor-Derbend was re-built.  

Returning to internal issues, Yazdegert II viewed the Christians of Armenia as a problem as their ties with Eastern Rome exerted an influence over the northern territories including the mountain Kingdoms of Iberia and Albania.

Against the advice of counselors, Yazdegert II imposed heavy taxes and appointing Mazdeian mages to key judicial posts. This did not hasten the result expected so an edict was made forcing Armenians to ‘give up’ Christianity. An assembly of bishops and nakharars rejected the edict forcing Yazdegert II to call the chief dignitaries of Armenia to Ctesiphon. Threatened with imprisonment the delegation returned to Armenia accompanied by 700 magi who were given the task of converting the entire country in twelve months. The experiment proved unworkable and in July the peasants of Douin rose in revolt driving the Mages off.

Yazdegert II had rushed an army to Trans-Caucasia to block any assistance from those parts. The Armenians gathered forces to defend key locations and sent a delegation to Constantinople for aid. Not wanting to antagonize the King of Persia, Constantinople refused aid as it was too occupied with a major threat coming from the Huns.

A civil war ensued with pro-Persia followers from central Armenia faced a pro-West faction lead by Vardan. The conflict turned against Vardan who sent a last appeal to Yazdegert II pledging Armenian loyalty if religious freedom could be observed. Returning from a less than successful campaign against the Kushans, Yazdegert accepted the reconciliation from Vardan and declared a general amnesty.

The reconciliation was received with mixed feeling by the Nationalists and their suspicions proved correct as hostilities resumed in the spring with Imperial troops under Mihr-Nerseh crossing the Arax River to seize the Caucasus defiles blocking any assistance by the tribal allies of the Armenians.  

Now isolated, the Armenians faced their greatest crisis as the Persian King had been assured of the absolute neutrality of the Byzantine government. Despite the bleak outlook, Vardan and his colleagues assemble all their forces for a final confrontation in the vicinity of Artaz. 

On the plain of Avarair an outnumbered Armenian army met the Sassanid host. The result was a Pyrrhic victory for the Sassanid as the Armenians remained defiant and continued the war. Confronted by pressing issues elsewhere, Yazdegert II ordered the Marzban Muskhan to cease hostilities and declare a general amnesty. Unconvinced of its sincerity, the war continued with much guerilla activity with the Persians suffering a number of setbacks. Another solution was needed.

To resolve the conflict a number of pro-Persian Armenian leaders responsible by starting the conflict through their treacherous actions, they were summoned to Ctesiphon for trial. Those found guilty were stripped of their offices and imprisoned.

During this period, the Kushans made another incursion into Persia prompting Yazdegert II to ready a third expedition. This met with a number of reverses including friction within the army and the King being chastised by the Magi for the offenses committed in Armenia.

Peroz, the eldest son of Yazdegert II ascended the throne in 459 and used persuasive means to bring the Armenians into the state religion. Showered with gifts and promotions King Perez lured new followers that many Armenians viewed the rise of a pro-Persian party as a serious threat.

King Vakhtank of Iberia (Georgia) revolted against Persia which moved Armenian nakharars (nobles) to urge Vahan to join the Iberians which he did. Hearing of the revolt, the Persian Marzban eluded capture but lost possession of the treasury. In the four years following, the Armenians were victorious in a number of engagements; Agori, Nersehapat, Erez and Shdev and guerilla warfare continued in not only Armenia but also in Iberia.

 King Peroz dies during his final campaign against the Hephtalites. Succeeding to the throne of his brother,

Valash resolved the Armenian question leading to the Treaty of Nuvarsak. This set a compromise between the court of Ctesiphon and the Armenian clergy and nobility. Vahan was appointed Marzban (485 – 505) affording Armenia a period of peace and prosperity. In contrast, Persia was occupied with pressing issues; internal unrest and conflict against Byzantium. 

Map: By Cplakidas - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

No comments:

Post a Comment