Tigranes the Great: Whom Emperors Feared – Part 2/3 (ca. 95-55 BC)

By: The Scribe on Saturday, November 3, 2007

A coin with the image of Tigranes the Great. It was normal practice for empires to mint coins with pictures of their ruler on it, even in ancient times.Although Tigranes and Mithridates had experienced some great successes in their alliance, the Roman Empire managed to cut a blow to the strongest force Europe at this time. Mithridates IV was defeated – but not beaten – in the First Mithridatic War, and soon after forged a temporary peace settlement with Rome. This had certainly not been part of Tigranes’ plans, and so turning from his Pontic alliance, Tigranes decided to go it alone against the Parthian Empire.

The king under whom he had been held hostage died in 88 BC, and due to excessive internal squabbling and numerous Scythian invasions, Parthia seemed ripe for the taking. Tigranes promptly seized control of Parthia and his seventy valleys, ravaged the countryside, forced compliance out of the lands along the upper Tigris, and swept his army across Mesopotamia, the Euphrates, parts of Syria, and then Phoenicia, taking control of as much territory as possible.

Apparently, breaking the alliance with Mithridates had been a good thing! After a bloody feud in Syria for the throne, in 83 BC the Syrians actually chose Tigranes as their protector, offering him the crown. In acceptance, he destroyed the last remnants of the Seleucid Empire.

Tigranes had no qualms about devastating large territories and shipping off their inhabitants to a new city he’d built called Tigranakert. At the height of his empire, his borders stretched from the Pontic Alps to Mespotamia, and all the way across the Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean. In a bit of a display of machismo, he went as far as Ecbatana in Persia and claimed the title ‘king of kings’ – an arrogant gesture even for him, since neither the Armenians nor the Parthians used this title for their leadership.

Prior to Tigranes’ assumption of power, none of the Armenian kings had issued coins, let alone coins with their own image stamped on them. Taking up the Seleucid tradition – after all, he had taken away their Syrian kingship – Tigranes had coins minted at Antioch and Damascus, and displayed the image of himself wearing an Armenian tiara with ear-flaps. Most of the coins were silver tetradrachms or copper, though a few gold examples have survived.

With so much territory and power, Tigranes seemed set. Who could oppose him now…?

Want to read more?

Tomorrow: The conclusion!


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