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

By: The Scribe on Sunday, November 4, 2007

The light section is the enormous empire that Tigranes the Great of Armenia controlled during his time of power.

Tigranes seemed to be set: he had an enormous amount of territory, vast armies at his disposal, and more than enough resources to boot. What could possibly go wrong? Of course, there was one thing he hadn’t counted on – the return of troublesome in-laws. Indeed, his father-in-law Mithridates IV managed to find refuge in Armenian lands after his peace treaty with Rome, and had been hiding out there ever since.

It was inevitable that Tigranes would eventually have his own conflict with the Romans – the two greatest powers in the world had to come to a head one way or another, since there was only so far either of them could expand before running into each other. The Roman general Lucullus was in control of the army now, and it just so happened that he knew where Mithridates IV was hiding. Rome demanded that Mithridates IV be expelled from Armenia, but naturally, Tigranes simply couldn’t give up his ally and father-in-law.

So, Tigranes went to battle with Rome in 69 BC because his father-in-law needed a place to stay. The battle was held at the city of Tigranocerta in Armenia, and though by all rights it should have been an easy victory, some of the non-Armenian guards betrayed Tigranes in the midst of battle by opening the city gates to the Romans – which forced Tigranes to redirect 6000 of his cavalrymen into the city in order to rescue his wives, children, and other assets. As a result, Tigranes officially lost the battle.

Not one to be shafted from victory, Tigranes and Mithridates regrouped and met Lucullus at the city of Artaxata the following year. The Armenian and Pontic forces were 70,000 strong, and cut a devastating swath through the Roman legions – so bad were the losses that between 68 and 67 BC, Lucullus’ troops staged three mutinies! Finally, Lucullus realized he was fighting a losing battle, and moved the fight in a different direction – instead of continuing to fight on the rough terrain of Northern Armenia, he moved south to plunder lands held by Tigranes’ brother.

Even so, Lucullus’ plan was a failure, and he was not able to defeat or capture either Tigranes or Mithridates. Disgusted in his performance, he was recalled by Rome and replaced with a new general: Pompey the Great. Meanwhile, Mithridates was able to return to Pontus with an army of 8,000 men, and Tigranes proceeded to recover much of his former territory. However, in the process, he fought and defeated his younger son who had accepted an army from Parthia – forcing the man to seek protection under the newest Roman general.

With his lands recovered and fully believing himself secured against Rome, Tigranes’ confidence would become his downfall. In 66 BC, Pompey advanced into Armenia with the younger son of Tigranes allied at his side. Realizing his mistake, Tigranes the Great – now nearly 75 years old – surrendered to Rome. To Rome’s credit, Pompey actually treated Tigranes with great dignity and generosity, allowing the former ‘king of kings’ to retain some portions of his empire in exchange for only 6,000 talents of silver. As for the unfaithful son, both Tigranes and Pompey agreed to send him back to Rome as a prisoner.

And so, until his death in 55 BC, Tigranes the Great – held in great respect by Rome for his military skills and vast territorial accomplishments – was thus allowed to rule Armenia as a Roman ally.

Want to read more?

Tomorrow: More Ancient Standard


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