Cradle of Civilization

A Blog about the Birth of Our Civilisation and Development

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  • The Fertile Crescent

    The Fertile Crescent is a term for an old fertile area north, east and west of the Arabian Desert in Southwest Asia. The Mesopotamian valley and the Nile valley fall under this term even though the mountain zone around Mesopotamia is the natural zone for the transition in a historical sense.

    As a result of a number of unique geographical factors the Fertile Crescent have an impressive history of early human agricultural activity and culture. Besides the numerous archaeological sites with remains of skeletons and cultural relics the area is known primarily for its excavation sites linked to agricultural origins and development of the Neolithic era.

    It was here, in the forested mountain slopes of the periphery of this area, that agriculture originated in an ecologically restricted environment. The western zone and areas around the upper Euphrates gave growth to the first known Neolithic farming communities with small, round houses , also referred to as Pre Pottery Neolithic A (PPNA) cultures, which dates to just after 10,000 BC and include areas such as Jericho, the world’s oldest city.

    During the subsequent PPNB from 9000 BC these communities developed into larger villages with farming and animal husbandry as the main source of livelihood, with settlement in the two-story, rectangular house. Man now entered in symbiosis with grain and livestock species, with no opportunity to return to hunter – gatherer societies.

    The area west and north of the plains of the Euphrates and Tigris also saw the emergence of early complex societies in the much later Bronze Age (about 4000 BC). There is evidence of written culture and early state formation in this northern steppe area, although the written formation of the states relatively quickly shifted its center of gravity into the Mesopotamian valley and developed there. The area is therefore in very many writers been named “The Cradle of Civilization.”

    The area has experienced a series of upheavals and new formation of states. When Turkey was formed in the aftermath of the genocide against the Pontic Greeks, Armenians and Assyrians perpetrated by the Young Turks during the First World War it is estimated that two-thirds to three-quarters of all Armenians and Assyrians in the region died, and the Pontic Greeks was pushed to Greece.

    Israel was created out of the Ottoman Empire and the conquering of the Palestinian terretories. The existence of large Arab nation states from the Maghreb to the Levant has since represented a potential threat to Israel which should be neutralised when opportunities arise.

    This line of thinking was at the heart of David Ben Gurion’s policies in the 1950s which sought to exacerbate tensions between Christians and Muslims in the Lebanon for the fruits of acquiring regional influence by the dismembering the country and the possible acquisition of additional territory.

    The Christians are now being systematically targeted for genocide in Syria according to Vatican and other sources with contacts on the ground among the besieged Christian community.

    According to reports by the Vatican’s Fides News Agency collected by the Centre for the Study of Interventionism, the US-backed Free Syrian Army rebels and ever more radical spin-off factions are sacking Christian churches, shooting Christians dead in the street, broadcasting ultimatums that all Christians must be cleansed from the rebel-held villages, and even shooting priests.

    It is now time that the genocide against the Pontic Greeks, Assyrians and Armenians is being recognized, that the Israeli occupation, settlements and violence against the Palestinians stop, and that the various minorities in the area start to live their lifes in peace – without violence and threats from majority populations, or from the West, and then specificially from the US.

    War in the Fertile Crescent

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Armenia II

Armenia II

Ancient Armenia




4.2-kiloyear BP Event

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Ancient Armenia

Since prehistoric times, the territory of Armenia has been populated by different tribes. Stone tools from 325,000 years ago have been found in Armenia which indicate the presence of early humans at this time.

The first evidence of human settlement in Armenia dates back to 90,000 BC. Further findings in caves and stone inscriptions are a proof of human settlement in Armenia through Paleolithic period.

In the 1960s excavations in the Yerevan 1 Cave uncovered evidence of ancient human habitation, including the remains of a 48,000-year-old heart, and a human cranial fragment and tooth of a similar age.

The Armenian Highland shows traces of settlement from the Neolithic era. The Shulaveri-Shomu culture (6000 to 4000 BC) of the central Transcaucasus region is one of the earliest known prehistoric cultures in the area.

Shulaveri-Shomu culture has been distinguished during the excavations on the sites of Shomutepe, Babadervis in Western Azerbaijan and at Shulaveris Gora in Eastern Georgia. The discoveries from these sites have revealed that the same cultural features spread on the northern foothills of Lesser Caucasus mountains.

The earliest evidence of domesticated grapes in the world has been found in the general “Shulaveri area”, near the site of Shulaveri gora, in Marneuli Municipality, in southeastern Republic of Georgia. The most recent evidence comes from Gadachrili gora, near the village of Imiri in the same region that date to about 6000 BC.

Especially in recent years as a result of archaeological research in the area of Goytepe, the Shulaveri-Shomutepe culture has been identified as belonging to 7000 BC and the second half of the 6th millennium. Goytepe approximately is one of the largest settlement sites of the Shomutepe culture, and dates back to the 6000 BC.

Domesticated plants, mainly wheat and barley were identified in the excavations of Goytepe. Wheat and barley samples found in Goytepe were beaten, charred and blended. Naked barley and free-threshing wheat are specific to Goytepe because these crops have been found rarely in the Neolithic sites of the Middle East such as in Syria and Turkey.

The Leyla-Tepe culture of ancient Caucasian Albania belongs to the Chalcolithic era. It got its name from the site in the Agdam district of modern day Azerbaijan. Its settlements were distributed on the southern slopes of Central Caucasus, from 4350 until 4000 BC.

The settlement is of a typical Western-Asian variety, closely associated with subsequent civilizations found on the Armenian Highlands. This is evident with the dwellings packed closely together and made of mud bricks with smoke outlets, which closely resemble Armenian tonirs.

The important site of Galayeri, belonging to the Leyla-Tepe archaeological culture, is located in the Qabala District of modern day Azerbaijan. Galayeri is closely connected to early civilizations of Near East.

Structures consisting of clay layers are typical; no mud-brick walls have been detected at Galayeri. Almost all findings have Eastern Anatolian Chalcolithic characteristics. The closest analogues of the Galayeri clay constructions are found at Arslantepe/Melid VII in Temple C.

Leyla-Tepe pottery is very similar to the ‘Chaff-Faced Ware’ of the northern Syria and Mesopotamia. Similar pottery is also found at Kultepe, Azerbaijan. Archaeological site Alikemek Tepesi is located the Jalilabad District (Azerbaijan), in the Mugan plain along the Aras (river).

Some archaeologists speak of the ancient Alikemek-Kul’tepe culture of southeastern Caucasus, that followed the Shulaveri-Shomu culture, and covered the transition from the Neolithic to Chalcolithic periods (c. 4500 BC).

The Alikemek–Kul’tepe culture covered the Ararat Plain, Nakhichevan, the Mil’skoj and Mugan Steppes and the region around Lake Urmia in north-western Iran. Aratashen, a town in the Armavir Province of Armenia located on the Ararat plain, and Khatunakh/Aknashen was also part of this culture.

The first occupation phase at Aratashen was preceramic, going back to 6500 BCE. Parallels are found in the southeastern Trans-Caucasia, and in the northeastern Mesopotamia, especially based on the construction techniques and the lithic and bone tools. Also the pottery, after it appears, is somewhat similar. The best parallels are with Kul Tepe of Nakhichevan to the south, and with the northern Near East, such as the lower levels of Hajji Firuz Tepe, at Dalma Tepe, and at Tilki Tepe.

Some of the world’s oldest things have been found in Armenia, including a sky observatory (5500 BC) and depictions of agriculture (5500 BC). There is also evidence of an early civilisation in Armenia in the Bronze Age and earlier, dating to about 4000 BC.

Archaeological surveys in 2010 and 2011 have resulted in the discovery of the world’s earliest known leather shoe (3500 BC), straw skirt (3900 BC), and wine-making facility (4000 BC) at the Areni-1 cave complex.

An early Bronze-Age culture in the area is the Kura-Araxes culture (4000-2200 BC). The earliest evidence for this culture is found on the Ararat plain; thence it spread to Georgia by 3000 BCE, proceeding westward and to the south-east into an area below the Urmia basin and Lake Van.

Altogether, the Kura–Araxes culture, also known as the Early Transaucasian culture, enveloped a vast area approximately 1,000 km by 500 km, and mostly encompassed, on modern-day territories, the Southern Caucasus (except western Georgia), northwestern Iran, the northeastern Caucasus, eastern Turkey, and as far as Syria.

The name of the culture is derived from the Kura and Araxes river valleys. Kura–Araxes culture is sometimes known as Shengavitian, Karaz (Erzurum), Pulur, and Yanik Tepe (Iranian Azerbaijan, near Lake Urmia) cultures. It gave rise to the later Khirbet Kerak-ware culture found in Syria and Canaan after the fall of the Akkadian Empire.


In the Bronze Age, several cultures and states flourished in the area of Greater Armenia, including the Trialeti-Vanadzor [Kirovakan] culture (2200-1600 BC), named after the Trialeti region of Georgia and the city of Vanadzor, Armenia.

Trialeti culture emerged in the areas of the preceding Kura-Araxes culture. Some scholars speculate that it was an Indo-European culture. The Trialeti culture shows ties with the highly developed cultures of the ancient world, particularly with the Aegean, but also with cultures to the south and east.

The Trialeti-Vanadzor culture flourished in Armenia, southern Georgia, and northeastern Anatolia. It has been speculated that this was an Indo-European culture. Other, possibly related, cultures were spread throughout the Armenia Highlands during this time, namely in the Aragats and Lake Sevan regions.

Black-burnished and monochrome painted wares vessels from the cemeteries of Ani, and Küçük Çatma (Maly Pergit), both in the Kars Province of Turkey, and Sos Höyük IV in Erzurum Province resemble those of Trialeti.

During the final phase of the Middle Bronze Age (c.1700–1500 BC), in addition to the Trialeti-Vanadzor period culture, three other geographically overlapping material culture horizons predominate in the South Caucasus (Transcaucasia) and eastern Anatolia: Karmir-Berd (a.k.a. Tazakend), Karmir-Vank (a.k.a. Kizil Vank, Van-Urmia), and Sevan-Uzerlik (a.k.a. Sevan-Artsakh).

The Trialeti pottery style is believed to have developed into the Late Bronze Age Transcaucasian ceramic ware found throughout much of what is now eastern Turkey. This pottery has been connected to the expansion of the Mushki.


Armani / Armi

Armani, (also given as Armanum) was an ancient kingdom mentioned by Sargon of Akkad and his grandson Naram-Sin of Akkad as stretching from Ibla (which might or might not be Ebla) to Bit-Nanib; its location is heavily debated, and it continued to be mentioned in later Assyrian inscriptions.

Armani was mentioned alongside Ibla in the geographical treaties of Sargon. This led some historians to identify Ibla with Syrian Ebla and Armani with Syrian Armi, an important Bronze Age city-kingdom during the late third millennium BC located in northern Syria.

Naram-Sin gives a long description of his siege of Armanum, his destruction of its walls, and the capture of its king Rid-Adad. Michael C. Astour believes that the Armanum mentioned in the inscriptions of Naram-Sin is not the same city as the Eblaite Armi.

He refuse to identify Armani with Armi, as Naram-Sin makes it clear that the Ibla he sacked (in c. 2240 BC) was a border town of the land of Armani, while the Armi in the Eblaite tablets is a vassal to Ebla and (according to Astour), the Syrian Ebla would have been burned in 2290 BC (based on the political map given in the Eblaite tablets) long before the reign of Naram-Sin.

Armani was attested in the treaties of Sargon in a section that mentions regions located in Assyria and Babylonia or territories adjacent to the east, in contrast to the Syrian Ebla, located in the west. The later King Adad-Nirari I of Assyria also mentions Armani as being located east of the Tigris and on the border between Assyria and Babylon.

Historians who disagree with the identification of Akkadian Armani with Syrian Armi place it (along with Akkadian Ibla) north of the Hamrin Mountains in northern Iraq. The site of Tall Bazi has also been suggested as the location of Armanum.

Kura-Araxes culture

By this time, bronze metallurgy spread to Anatolia from the Transcaucasian Kura-Araxes culture in the late 4th millennium BCE.



Anatolia remained fully in the prehistoric period until it entered the sphere of influence of the Akkadian Empire in the 24th century BCE under Sargon I. The interest of Akkad in the region as far as it is known was for exporting various materials for manufacturing.

While Anatolia was well endowed with copper ores, there is no trace as yet of substantial workings of the tin required to make bronze in Bronze-Age Anatolia. Akkad suffered problematic climate changes in Mesopotamia, as well as a reduction in available manpower that affected trade. This led to the fall of the Akkadians around 2150 BCE at the hands of the Gutians.

The Guti or Quti, also known by the derived exonyms Gutians or Guteans, were a nomadic people of West Asia, around the Zagros Mountains (Modern Iran) during ancient times. Their homeland was known as Gutium.

Conflict between people from Gutium and the Akkadian Empire has been linked to the collapse of the empire, towards the end of the 3rd millennium BCE. The Guti subsequently overran southern Mesopotamia and formed the Gutian dynasty of Sumer. The Sumerian king list suggests that the Guti ruled over Sumer for several generations, following the fall of the Akkadian Empire.

By the 1st millennium BCE, usage of the name Gutium, by the peoples of lowland Mesopotamia, had expanded to include all of western Media, between the Zagros and the Tigris. Various tribes and places to the east and northeast were often referred to as Gutians or Gutium.

For example, Assyrian royal annals use the term Gutians in relation to populations known to have been Medes or Mannaeans. As late as the reign of Cyrus the Great of Persia, the famous general Gubaru (Gobryas) was described as the “governor of Gutium”.

Little is known of the origins, material culture or language of the Guti, as contemporary sources provide few details and no artifacts have been positively identified. As the Gutian language lacks a text corpus, apart from some proper names, its similarities to other languages are impossible to verify. The names of Gutian-Sumerian kings suggest that the language was not closely related to any languages of the region, including Sumerian, Akkadian, Hurrian, Hittite, and Elamite.

W. B. Henning suggested that the different endings of the king names resembled case endings in the Tocharian languages, a branch of Indo-European known from texts found in the Tarim Basin (in the northwest of modern China) dating from the 6th to 8th centuries CE, making Gutian the earliest documented Indo-European language.

He further suggested that they had subsequently migrated to the Tarim. Gamkrelidze and Ivanov explored Henning’s suggestion, as possibly supporting their proposal of an Indo-European Urheimat in the Near East. However, most scholars reject the attempt to connect two groups of languages, Gutian and Tocharian, that were separated by more than two millennia.

The historical Guti have been regarded by several scholars as having contributed to the ethnogenesis of the Kurds. However, Kurds are an Iranian people. The Gutian language is classified as an unclassified language and the Gutians were in extent prior to the split of Indo-Iranian languages.


The Mushki (sometimes transliterated as Muški) were an Iron Age people of Anatolia who appear in sources from Assyria but not from the Hittites. Several authors have connected them with the Moschoi of Greek sources and the Georgian tribe of the Meskhi. Josephus Flavius identified the Moschoi with the Biblical Meshech.

Two different groups are called Muški in Assyrian sources (Diakonoff 1984:115), one from the 12th to the 9th centuries BCE near the confluence of the Arsanias and the Euphrates (“Eastern Mushki”) and the other from the 8th to the 7th centuries BCE in Cappadocia and Cilicia (“Western Mushki”). Earlier Assyrian sources clearly identify the Western Mushki with the Phrygians, but later Greek sources then distinguish between the Phrygians and the Moschoi.

Identification of the Eastern Mushki with the Western Mushki is uncertain, but it is possible that at least some of the Eastern Mushki migrated to Cilicia in the 10th to the 8th centuries BCE. Although almost nothing is known about what language the Eastern or Western Mushki spoke, they have been variously identified as being speakers of a Phrygian, Armenian, Anatolian, or Georgian language.

The Eastern Mushki appear to have moved into Hatti in the 12th century BC, completing the downfall of the collapsing Hittite state (already largely annexed by Assyria), along with various Sea Peoples. They established themselves in a post-Hittite kingdom in Cappadocia.

Whether they moved into the core Hittite areas from the east or west has been a matter of some discussion by historians. Some speculate that they may have originally occupied a territory in the area of Armenia; alternatively, ancient accounts suggest that they first arrived from a homeland in the west (as part of the Phrygian migration), from the region of Troy, or even from as far as Macedonia, as the Bryges.

Together with the Urumu and Kaskas (Apishlu), they attempted to invade the Middle Assyrian Empire’s Anatolian provinces of Alzi and Puruhuzzi in about 1160 BC, but they were pushed back and subjugated by Ashur-Dan I. In 1115 BC, the Assyrian king Tiglath-Pileser I conquered as far as Milid.

It’s been speculated that the Mushki were connected to the spread of the so-called Transcaucasian ceramic ware, which appeared as far west as modern Elazig, Turkey in the late second millennium BCE. This ceramic ware is believed to have been developed in the South Caucasus region, possibly by the Trialeti-Vanadzor culture originally, which suggests an eastern homeland for the Mushki.

In the 8th century BC, Tabal became the most influential of the Neo-Hittite polities, and the Mushki under Mita entered an anti-Assyrian alliance with Tabal and Carchemish. The alliance was soon defeated by Sargon of Assyria, who captured Carchemish and drove back Mita to his own province.

Ambaris of Tabal was diplomatically married to an Assyrian princess, and received the province of Hilakku under Assyrian dominion, but in 713 BC, Ambaris was deposed and Tabal became a fully fledged Assyrian province.

In 709 BC, the Mushki re-emerged as allies of Assyria, Sargon naming Mita as his friend. It appears that Mita had captured and handed over to the Assyrians emissaries of Urikki, king of Que, who were sent to negotiate an anti-Assyrian contract with Urartu, as they passed through his territory.

According to Assyrian military intelligence reports to Sargon recorded on clay tablets found in the Royal Archives of Nineveh by Sir Henry Layard, the Cimmerians invaded Urartu from Mannai in 714 BC. From there they turned west along the coast of the Black Sea as far as Sinope, and then headed south towards Tabal, in 705 BC campaigning against an Assyrian army in central Anatolia, resulting in the death of Sargon II, although they were cleared from Assyrian ruled territory.

Macqueen (1986:157) and others have speculated that the Mushki under Mita may have participated in the Assyrian campaign and were forced to flee to western Anatolia, disappearing from Assyrian accounts, but entering the periphery of Greek historiography as king Midas of Phrygia. Rusas II of Urartu in the 7th century BC fought the Mushki-ni to his west, before he entered an alliance with them against Assyria.

According to Igor Diakonoff, the Mushki were a Thraco-Phrygian group who carried their Proto-Armenian language from the Balkans across Asia Minor, mixing with Hurrians (and Urartians) and Luwians along the way.

Diakonoff theorized that the root of the name Mushki was “Mush” (or perhaps “Mus,” “Mos,” or “Mosh”) with the addition of the Armenian plural suffix -k’. Armen Petrosyan clarifies this, suggesting that -ki was a Proto-Armenian form of the Classical Armenian -k’ and etymologizes “Mush” as meaning “worker” or “agriculturalist.”

However, despite Diakonoff’s claims, the connection between the Mushki and Armenian languages is unknown. Some modern scholars have rejected a direct linguistic relationship between Armenians and Thracians or Phrygians.

However, as others have placed (at least the Eastern) Mushki homeland in the Armenian Highlands and South Caucasus region, it is possible that at least some of the Mushki were Armenian-speakers or speakers of a closely related language.

Pliny in the 1st century AD mentions the Moscheni in southern Armenia (“Armenia” at the time stretching south and west to the Mediterranean, bordering on Cappadocia). In Byzantine historiography, Moschoi was a name equivalent to or considered as the ancestors of “Cappadocians” (Eusebius) with their capital at Mazaca (later Caesarea Mazaca, modern Kayseri).

According to Armenian tradition, the city of Mazaca was founded by and named after Mishak (Misak, Moshok), a cousin and general of the legendary patriarch Aram. Scholars have proposed a connection between the name Mishak and Mushki.

The Armenian region of Mosk and the city of Mush, Turkey may derive their names from the Mushki. According to Professor James R. Russell of Harvard University, the Georgian designation for Armenians Somekhi, preserves the old name of the Mushki. However, there are other theories regarding the origins of this exonym as well.



After the fall of the Hittites, the new states of Phrygia and Lydia stood strong on the western coast as Greek civilization began to flourish. Only the threat from a distant Persian kingdom prevented them from advancing past their peak of success.

The west-central area of Anatolia became the domain of the Phrygian Kingdom following the fragmentation of the Hittite Empire during the 12th century BC, existing independently until the 7th century BC, and strongly featured in Greek mythology.

Although their origin is disputed, their language more resembled Greek (Dorian) than the Hittites whom they succeeded. The Phrygians was another Indo-European people who are believed to have migrated from the Balkans.

The Phrygian expansion into southeast Anatolia was eventually halted by the Assyrians, who controlled that region. Although their origin is disputed, their language more resembled Greek (Dorian) than the Hittites whom they succeeded.

Possibly from the region of Thrace, the Phrygians eventually established their capital at Gordium (now Yazılıkaya). Known as Mushki by the Assyrians, the Phrygian people lacked central control in their style of government, and yet established an extensive network of roads. They also held tightly onto a lot of the Hittite facets of culture and adapted them over time.

Well known from ancient Greek and Roman writers is King Midas, the last king of the Phrygian Kingdom. The mythology of Midas revolves around his ability to turn objects to gold by mere touch, as granted by Dionysos, and his unfortunate encounter with Apollo from which his ears are turned into the ears of a donkey.

The historical record of Midas shows that he lived approximately between 740 and 696 BC, and represented Phrygia as a great king. Most historians now consider him to be King Mita of the Mushkis as noted in Assyrian accounts.

The Assyrians thought of Mita as a dangerous foe, for Sargon II, their ruler at the time, was quite happy to negotiate a peace treaty in 709 BC. This treaty had no effect on the advancing Cimmerians in the East, who streamed into Phrygia and led to the downfall and suicide of King Midas in 696 BC.

Following Midas’s death Phrygia lost its independence, becoming respectively a vassal state of its western neighbour, Lydia, Persia, Greece, Rome and Byzantium, disappearing in the Turkish era.

The Phrygian Kingdom essentially came into being after the fragmentation of the Hittite Empire during the 12th century BCE, and existed independently until the 7th century BCE. Possibly from the region of Thrace, the Phrygians eventually established their capital of Gordium (now Yazılıkaya).

Known as Mushki by the Assyrians, the Phrygian people lacked central control in their style of government, and yet established an extensive network of roads. They also held tightly onto a lot of the Hittite facets of culture and adapted them over time.

Shrouded in myth and legend promulgated by ancient Greek and Roman writers is King Midas, the last king of the Phrygian Kingdom. The mythology of Midas revolves around his ability to turn objects to gold by mere touch, as granted by Dionysos, and his unfortunate encounter with Apollo from which his ears are turned into the ears of a donkey.

The historical record of Midas shows that he lived approximately between 740 and 696 BCE, and represented Phrygia as a great king. Most historians now consider him to be King Mita of the Mushkis as noted in Assyrian accounts.

The Assyrians thought of Mita as a dangerous foe, for Sargon II, their ruler at the time, was quite happy to negotiate a peace treaty in 709 BCE. This treaty had no effect on the advancing Cimmerians, who streamed into Phrygia and led to the downfall and suicide of King Midas in 696 BCE.



King Midas




The Bactria–Margiana Archaeological Complex (short BMAC), also known as the Oxus civilization, is the modern archaeological designation for a Bronze Age civilization of Central Asia, dated to c. 2400–1900 BC in its urban phase or Integration Era, located in present-day northern Afghanistan, eastern Turkmenistan, southern Uzbekistan and western Tajikistan, centred on the upper Amu Darya (Oxus River) in Bactria, and at Murghab river delta in Margiana.

There is archaeological evidence of settlement in the well-watered northern foothills of the Kopet Dag during the Neolithic period, in this region, at Jeitun (or Djeitun), mud brick houses were first occupied during Early Food Producing Era, also known as Jeitun Neolithic from c. 7200 to 4600 BC. The inhabitants were farmers who kept herds of goats and sheep and grew wheat and barley, with origins in southwest Asia.

Jeitun has given its name to the whole Neolithic period in the northern foothills of the Kopet Dag. At the late Neolithic site of Chagylly Depe, farmers increasingly grew the kinds of crops that are typically associated with irrigation in an arid environment, such as hexaploid bread wheat, which became predominant during the Chalcolithic period. This region is dotted with the multi-period hallmarks characteristic of the ancient Near East, similar to those southwest of the Kopet Dag in the Gorgan Plain in Iran.

The Bactria-Margiana complex has attracted attention as a candidate for those looking for the material counterparts to the Indo-Iranians (Aryans), a major linguistic branch that split off from the Proto-Indo-Europeans. Sarianidi himself advocates identifying the complex as Indo-Iranian, describing it as the result of a migration from southwestern Iran.

Bactria–Margiana material has been found at Susa, Shahdad, and Tepe Yahya in Iran, but Lamberg-Karlovsky does not see this as evidence that the complex originated in southeastern Iran. “The limited materials of this complex are intrusive in each of the sites on the Iranian Plateau as they are in sites of the Arabian peninsula.”

A significant section of the archaeologists are more inclined to see the culture as begun by farmers in the Near Eastern Neolithic tradition, but infiltrated by Indo-Iranian speakers from the Andronovo culture in its late phase, creating a hybrid. In this perspective, Proto-Indo-Aryan developed within the composite culture before moving south into the Indian subcontinent.

As James P. Mallory phrased it: It has become increasingly clear that if one wishes to argue for Indo-Iranian migrations from the steppe lands south into the historical seats of the Iranians and Indo-Aryans that these steppe cultures were transformed as they passed through a membrane of Central Asian urbanism.

The fact that typical steppe wares are found on BMAC sites and that intrusive BMAC material is subsequently found further to the south in Iran, Afghanistan, Nepal, India and Pakistan, may suggest then the subsequent movement of Indo-Iranian-speakers after they had adopted the culture of the BMAC.

There is evidence of sustained contact between the BMAC and the Eurasian steppes to the north, intensifying c. 2000 BC. In the delta of the Amu Darya where it reaches the Aral Sea, its waters were channelled for irrigation agriculture by people whose remains resemble those of the nomads of the Andronovo culture.

This is interpreted as nomads settling down to agriculture, after contact with the BMAC, known as the Tazabagyab culture, a late Bronze Age culture which flourished along the lower Amu Darya and on the south shore of the Aral Sea from ca. 1500 BC to 1100 BC. It was a southern offshoot of the Andronovo culture, and was composed of Indo-Iranians.

The Tazabagyab culture emerged in 1500 BC as a southern variant of the Andronovo culture. Unlike the Andronovo peoples further to the north, who were largely pastoral, the people of the Tazabagyab culture were largely agricultural. It is probable that they were descended from Indo-Iranian steppe pastoralists from the north who had expanded southwards and founded agricultural communities.

In Tazabagyav burials, males are buried on their left, while females are buried on their right. This is similar to contemporary Indo-European cultures in the region, such as the Andronovo culture, Bishkent culture, the Swat culture and the Vakhsh culture, and the earlier Corded Ware culture of central and eastern Europe. This practice has been identified as a typical Indo-Iranian tradition.

Metal objects of the Tazabagyab culture are similar to those of the Andronovo culture in Kazakhstan, and of the Srubnaya culture further west Archaeological evidence show that Tazabagyab settlements included metal-working craftsmen. Its ceramics were of the Namazga VI type which was common throughout Central Asia at the time. Tazabagyav pottery appears throughout a wide area.

The Tazabagyab people appears to have controlled the trade in minerals such as copper, tin and turquoise, and pastoral products such as horses, dairy and leather. This must have given them great political power in the old oasis towns of the Bactria–Margiana Archaeological Complex. Their mastery of chariot warfare must have given them military control. This probably encouraged social, political and also military integration.

About 1900 BC, the walled BMAC centres decreased sharply in size. Each oasis developed its own types of pottery and other objects. Also pottery of the Tazabagyab-Andronovo culture to the north appeared widely in the Bactrian and Margian countryside.

Many BMAC strongholds continued to be occupied and Tazabagyab-Andronovo coarse incised pottery occurs within them (along with the previous BMAC pottery) as well as in pastoral camps outside the mudbrick walls. In the highlands above the Bactrian oases in Tajikistan, kurgan cemeteries of the Vaksh and Bishkent type appeared with pottery that mixed elements of the late BMAC and Tazabagyab-Andronovo traditions.

In southern Bactrian sites like Sappali Tepe too, increasing links with the Andronovo culture are seen. During the period 1700 – 1500 BCE, metal artifacts from Sappali Tepe derive from the Tazabagyab-Andronovo culture.

David W. Anthony suggests that Tazabagyav culture might have been a predecessor of early Indo-Aryan peoples such as the compilers of the Rigveda and the Mitanni. Maryannu is an ancient word for the caste of chariot-mounted hereditary warrior nobility which existed in many of the societies of the Middle East during the Bronze Age.

The term is attested in the Amarna letters written by Haapi. Robert Drews writes that the name maryannu, although plural, takes the singular marya, which in Sanskrit means ‘young warrior’, and attaches a Hurrian suffix. He suggests that at the beginning of the Late Bronze Age, most would have spoken either Hurrian or Indo-Aryan, but by the end of the 14th century, most of the Levant maryannu had Semitic names.

Some theonyms, proper names and other terminology of the Mitanni are considered to form (part of) an Indo-Aryan superstrate, suggesting that an Indo-Aryan elite imposed itself over the Hurrian population in the course of the Indo-Aryan expansion.

4.2-kiloyear BP Event

The 4.2-kiloyear BP aridification event was one of the most severe climatic events of the Holocene epoch. It defines the beginning of the current Meghalayan age in the Holocene epoch. Starting in about 2200 BC, it probably lasted the entire 22nd century BC. Some scientists disagree with this conclusion, however, and point out that the event was neither a global drought nor did it happen in a clear timeline.

It has been hypothesised to have caused the collapse of the Old Kingdom in Egypt as well as the Akkadian Empire in Mesopotamia, and the Liangzhu culture in the lower Yangtze River area. It is believed that the Liangzhu culture or other associated subtraditions are the ancestral homeland of Austronesian speakers.

The drought may have caused the collapse of Neolithic cultures around Central China during the late 3rd millennium BC. At the same time, the middle reaches of the Yellow River saw a series of extraordinary floods related to the legendary figure of Yu the Great.

The drought may also have initiated the collapse of the Indus Valley Civilisation, with some of its population moving southeastward to follow the movement of their desired habitat, as well as the migration of Indo-European-speaking people into India.

In the 2nd millennium BC, widespread aridification occurred in the Eurasian steppes and south Asia. On the steppes, the vegetation changed, driving “higher mobility and transition to the nomadic cattle breeding.”

Water shortage also strongly affected south Asia: This time was one of great upheaval for ecological reasons. Prolonged failure of rains caused acute water shortage in large areas, causing the collapse of sedentary urban cultures in south central Asia, Afghanistan, Iran, and India, and triggering large-scale migrations. Inevitably, the new arrivals came to merge with and dominate the post-urban cultures.

Urban centers of the Indus Valley Civilisation were abandoned and were replaced by disparate local cultures, due to the same climate change that affected the neighbouring areas of the Middle East.

As of 2016, many scholars believed that drought and a decline in trade with Egypt and Mesopotamia caused the collapse of the Indus Civilisation. The Ghaggar-Hakra system was rain-fed, and water supply depended on the monsoons. The Indus valley climate grew significantly cooler and drier from about 1800 BC, linked to a general weakening of the monsoon at that time.

The Indian monsoon declined and aridity increased, with the Ghaggar-Hakra retracting its reach towards the foothills of the Himalayas, leading to erratic and less extensive floods that made inundation agriculture less sustainable. Aridification reduced the water supply enough to cause the civilisation’s demise, and to scatter its population eastward.

In c. 2150 BC, the Old Kingdom was hit by a series of exceptionally low Nile floods. This may have influenced the collapse of centralised government in ancient Egypt after a famine. In the Persian Gulf region, there is a sudden change in settlement pattern, style of pottery and tombs at this time. The 22nd century BC drought marks the end of the Umm al-Nar culture and the change to the Wadi Suq culture.

The aridification of Mesopotamia may have been related to the onset of cooler sea-surface temperatures in the North Atlantic (Bond event 3), as analysis of the modern instrumental record shows that large (50%) interannual reductions in Mesopotamian water supply result when subpolar northwest Atlantic sea surface temperatures are anomalously cool. The headwaters of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers are fed by elevation-induced capture of winter Mediterranean rainfall.

The Akkadian Empire, in 2300 BC, was the second civilisation to subsume independent societies into a single state (the first being ancient Egypt around 3100 BC). It has been claimed that the collapse of the state was influenced by a wide-ranging, centuries-long drought. A 180-km-long wall, the “Repeller of the Amorites”, was built across central Mesopotamia to stem nomadic incursions to the south.

Widespread agricultural change in the Near East is visible at the end of the 3rd millennium BC. A study of fossil corals in Oman provides evidence that prolonged winter shamal seasons, around 4,200 years ago, led to the salinization of the irrigated fields; hence, a dramatic decrease in crop production triggered a widespread famine and eventually the collapse of the ancient Akkadian Empire.

Archaeological evidence documents widespread abandonment of the agricultural plains of northern Mesopotamia and dramatic influxes of refugees into southern Mesopotamia, around 2170 BC. Around 2150 BC, the Gutian people, who originally inhabited the Zagros Mountains, defeated the demoralised Akkadian army, took Akkad, and destroyed it around 2115 BC. Resettlement of the northern plains by smaller sedentary populations occurred near 1900 BC, three centuries after the collapse.

Middle Bronze Age migrations

Various outdated theories have postulated waves of migration during the Middle Bronze Age in the Ancient Near East. While the turmoils Bronze Age collapse that separate the Late Bronze Age from the Early Iron Age are well documented, theories of migration during the Middle Bronze Age (20th century BCE) have little direct support.

Drews and Dietrich connect these alleged “mass migrations” with the coming of the Greeks, moving from former settlements into the southern and central Balkans, displacing the former pre-Greek inhabitants of Greece.

Mallaart makes reference to a supposed migration of the Hittites to their earliest known home in Kültepe during the same period. According to Mellaart, for reasons unknown, the Hittites moved into central Asia Minor, conquering the Hattians and later adopting their culture and name.

At the origins of written history, the Anatolian plains inside the area ringed by the Kızılırmak River were occupied by the first defined civilization in Anatolia, a non-Indo-European indigenous people named the Hattians (c. 2500 BC – c. 2000 BC).

During the middle Bronze Age, the Hattian civilization, including its capital of Hattush, continued to expand. The Anatolian middle Bronze Age influenced the early Minoan culture of Crete (3400 to 2200 BC) as evidenced by archaeological findings at Knossos.

The Hattians came into contact with Assyrians traders from Assur in Mesopotamia such as at Kanesh (Nesha) near modern Kültepe who provided them with the tin needed to make bronze. These trading posts or Karums (Akkadian for Port), have lent their name to a period, the Karum Period.

The Karums, or Assyrian trading colonies, persisted in Anatolia until Hammurabi conquered Assyria and it fell under Babylonian domination in 1756 BC. These Karums represented separate residential areas where the traders lived, protected by the Hattites, and paying taxes in return. Meanwhile, the fortifications of Hattush were strengthened with construction of royal residences on Büyükkale.

After the Assyrians overthrew their Gutians neighbours (c. 2050 BC) they claimed the local resources, notably silver, for themselves. However the Assyrians brought writing to Anatolia, a necessary tool for trading and business.

These transactions were recorded in Akkadian cuneiform on clay tablets. Records found at Kanesh use an advanced system of trading computations and credit lines. The records also indicate the names of the cities where the transaction occurred.

Hattian civilization was also impacted by an invading Indo-European people, the Hittites, in the early 18th century BC, Hattush being burned to the ground in 1700 BC by King Anitta of Kussar after overthrowing King Piyushti. He then placed a curse on the site and set up his capital at Kanesh 160 km south east.

The Hittites absorbed the Hattians over the next century, a process that was essentially complete by 1650 BC. Eventually Hattusha became a Hittite centre by the second half of the 17th century BC, and King Hattusili I (1586–1556 BC) moved his capital back to Hattusha from Neša (Kanesh).

The Old Hittite Empire (17th–15th centuries BC) was at its height in the 16th century BC, encompassing central Anatolia, north-western Syria as far as Ugarit, and upper Mesopotamia. Kizzuwatna in southern Anatolia controlled the region separating the Hittite Empire from Syria, thereby greatly affecting trade routes. The peace was kept in accordance with both empires through treaties that established boundaries of control.

The invasion by the Hittites displaced other peoples living in Anatolia, who in turn displaced the Middle Helladic Greek-speaking peoples to the west. This enforced an exodus from Northwestern Anatolia created a wave of refugees who invaded what is now southern Greece and destroyed the Early Helladic civilization. Yet, more recent theories and evidence suggest that a Proto-Indo-Hittite language dates back to the fourth millennium BCE, prior to the Bronze Age.

According to Mellaart, archaeological evidence shows that the cities of Erzerum, Sivas, Pulur Huyuk near Baiburt, Kultepe near Hafik, and Maltepe near Sivas were destroyed during the Middle Bronze Age. The great trading city of Kanesh (Level II) was also destroyed. From there in the hill country between Halys the destruction layers from this time tell the same story. Karaoglan, Bitik, Polatli and Gordion were burnt, as well as Etiyokusu and Cerkes.

Further west near the Dardanelles the two large mounds of Korpruoren and Tavsanli, west of Kutahya, show the same signs of being destroyed. The destruction even crossed into Europe in what is now Bulgaria. The migration brought an end to Bulgaria’s Early Bronze Age, with archaeological evidence showing that the Yunacite, Salcutza, and Esero centers had a sudden mass desertion during this time.

From the Dardanelles, the refugee invaders moved into mainland Greece, and the Peloponnese saw burnt and abandoned cities on par with the much later Dorian invasion which destroyed the Mycenaean civilization.

At this time, 1900 BC, destruction layers can be found at southern Greek sites like Orchomenos, Eutresis, Hagios Kosmas, Raphina, Apesokari, Korakou, Zygouries, Tiryns, Asine, Malthi and Asea. Many other sites are deserted, e.g. Yiriza, Synoro, Ayios Gerasimos, Kophovouni, Makrovouni, Palaiopyrgos, etc.

This destruction across Greece also coincided with the arrival of a new culture that had no connection with the Early Helladic civilization, who were the original inhabitants. Northern Greece escaped destruction, as well as southern Anatolia, which during this time showed no disturbances.

Gray Minyan ware was first identified as the pottery introduced by this mass movement of new populations into southern Greece around 1900 BC. However, this theory was disproved in the 1950s when excavations at Lerna showed that Minyan ware had a predecessor in the preceding Early Helladic III Tiryns culture. The advent of Minyan ware coincides with domestic processes reflective of the smooth transition from Early to Middle Bronze Age culture.

Lazaridis et al. (2017) researched the genetical origins of the Greeks. They found that the ancient Mycenaean and Minoan populations were highly similar, but not identical, and that “the Minoans and Mycenaeans descended mainly from early Neolithic farmers, likely migrating thousands of years prior to the Bronze Age from Anatolia, in what is today modern Turkey.”

According to Lazaridis, “Minoans, Mycenaeans, and modern Greeks also had some ancestry related to the ancient people of the Caucasus, Armenia, and Iran. This finding suggests that some migration occurred in the Aegean and southwestern Anatolia from further east after the time of the earliest farmers.”

Lazaridis et al. (2017) further state that “the Mycenaeans differed from Minoans in deriving additional ancestry from an ultimate source related to the hunter–gatherers of eastern Europe and Siberia, introduced via a proximal source related to the inhabitants of either the Eurasian steppe or Armenia.”


Assyria, also called the Assyrian Empire, was a Mesopotamian kingdom and empire of the ancient Near East and the Levant that existed as a state from perhaps as early as the 25th century BC (in the form of the Assur city-state) until its collapse between 612-609 BC – spanning the periods of the Early to Middle Bronze Age through to the late Iron Age.

In the 25th and 24th centuries BC, Assyrian kings were pastoral leaders. From the late 24th century BC, the Assyrians became subject to Sargon of Akkad, who united all the Akkadian- and Sumerian-speaking peoples of Mesopotamia under the Akkadian Empire, which lasted from c. 2334 BC to 2154 BC.

The name “Assyria” originates with the Assyrian state’s original capital, the ancient city of Aššur, which dates to c. 2600 BC – originally one of a number of Akkadian-speaking city-states in Mesopotamia.

A largely Semitic-speaking realm, Assyria was centred on the Tigris in Upper Mesopotamia. The Assyrians came to rule powerful empires in several periods. Making up a substantial part of the greater Mesopotamian “cradle of civilization”, which included Sumer, the Akkadian Empire, and Babylonia, Assyria reached the height of technological, scientific and cultural achievements for its time.

This vast span of time is divided in Early Period (2500 BC-2025 BC), Old Assyrian Empire (2025 BC – 1378 BC), Middle Assyrian Empire (1392 BC – 934 BC) and Neo-Assyrian Empire (911 BC – 609 BC). At its peak, the Neo-Assyrian Empire of 911 to 609 BC stretched from eastern Libya and Cyprus in the East Mediterranean to Iran, and from present-day Armenia and Azerbaijan in the Transcaucasia to the Arabian Peninsula.

Under Ashurbanipal (669–627 BC), Assyrian domination spanned from the Caucasus Mountains (modern Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan) in the north to Nubia, Egypt, Libya and Arabia in the south, and from the East Mediterranean, Cyprus and Antioch in the west to Persia, Cissia and the Caspian Sea in the east.

Ultimately, Assyria conquered Babylonia, Chaldea, Elam, Media, Persia, Urartu (Armenia), Phoenicia, Aramea/Syria, Phrygia, the Neo-Hittite States, the Hurrian lands, Arabia, Gutium, Israel, Judah, Samarra, Moab, Edom, Corduene, Cilicia, Mannea, and Cyprus, and defeated and/or exacted tribute from Scythia, Cimmeria, Lydia, Nubia, Ethiopia and others.

At its height, the Empire encompassed the whole of the modern nations of Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Bahrain, and Cyprus, together with large swathes of Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Sudan, Libya, Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan.

The Assyrian Empire was severely crippled following the death of Ashurbanipal in 627 BC, the nation and its empire descending into a prolonged and brutal series of civil wars involving three rival kings, Ashur-etil-ilani, Sin-shumu-lishir and Sin-shar-ishkun. Egypt’s 26th Dynasty, which had been installed by the Assyrians as vassals, quietly detached itself from Assyria, although it was careful to retain friendly relations.

The Scythians and Cimmerians took advantage of the bitter fighting among the Assyrians to raid Assyrian colonies, with hordes of horse-borne marauders ravaging parts of Asia Minor and the Caucasus, where the vassal kings of Urartu and Lydia begged their Assyrian overlord for help in vain. They also raided the Levant, Israel and Judah (where Ashkelon was sacked by the Scythians) and all the way into Egypt whose coasts were ravaged and looted with impunity.

The Iranic peoples under the Medes, aided by the previous Assyrian destruction of the hitherto dominant Elamites of Ancient Iran, also took advantage of the upheavals in Assyria to coalesce into a powerful Median-dominated force which destroyed the pre-Iranic kingdom of Mannea and absorbed the remnants of the pre-Iranic Elamites of southern[Iran, and the equally pre-Iranic Gutians, Manneans and Kassites of the Zagros Mountains and the Caspian Sea.

Cyaxares (technically a vassal of Assyria), in an alliance with the Scythians and Cimmerians, launched a surprise attack on a civil war beleaguered Assyria in 615 BC, sacking Kalhu (the Biblical Calah/Nimrud) and taking Arrapha (modern Kirkuk) and Gasur. Nabopolassar, still pinned down in southern Mesopotamia by Assyrian forces, was completely uninvolved in this major breakthrough against Assyria.

Despite the sorely depleted state of Assyria, bitter fighting ensued; throughout 614 BC the Medes continued to gradually make hard fought inroads into Assyria itself, scoring a decisive and devastating victory over the Assyrian forces at the battle of Assur.

In 613 BC, however, the Assyrians scored a number of counterattacking victories over the Medes-Persians, Babylonians-Chaldeans and Scythians-Cimmerians. This led to the unification of the forces ranged against Assyria who launched a massive combined attack, finally besieging and entering Nineveh in late 612 BC, with Sin-shar-ishkun being slain in the bitter street by street fighting.

Despite the loss of almost all of its major cities, and in the face of overwhelming odds, Assyrian resistance continued under Ashur-uballit II (612–609 BC), who fought his way out of Nineveh and coalesced Assyrian forces around Harran which finally fell in 609 BC. The same year, Ashur-uballit II besieged Harran with the help of the Egyptian army, but this failed too, and this last defeat ended the Assyrian Empire.

During the aftermath, Egypt, along with remnants of the Assyrian army, suffered a defeat at the battle of Carchemish, in 605 BC, but the Assyrian troops did not participate to this battle as the army of the Assyrian state because certainly by 609 BC at the very latest, Assyria had been destroyed as an independent political entity, although it was to launch major rebellions against the Achaemenid Empire in 546 BC and 520 BC, and remained a geo-political region, ethnic entity and colonised province.

After the Assyrian Empire fell from power, the region became a province of other successive foreign empires, although a patchwork of small independent Assyrian kingdoms arose in the form of Assur, Adiabene, Osroene, Beth Nuhadra, Beth Garmai and Hatra between the mid-2nd century BC and late 3rd century AD.

Assyria was first controlled by the Median Empire of 678 to 549 BC, then by the Achaemenid Empire of 550 to 330 BC, the Macedonian Empire (late 4th century BC), the Seleucid Empire of 312 to 63 BC, the Parthian Empire of 247 BC to 224 AD, the Roman Empire (from 116 to 118 AD) and the Sasanian Empire of 224 to 651 AD.

From the end of the seventh century BC (when the Neo-Assyrian state fell) to the mid-seventh century AD, it survived as a geopolitical entity, the final part of which period saw Mesopotamia become a major centre of Syriac Christianity and the birthplace of the Church of the East.

The Arab Islamic conquest of the area in the mid-seventh century finally dissolved Assyria (Assuristan) as a single entity, after which the remnants of the Assyrian people (by now Christians) gradually became an ethnic, linguistic, cultural and religious minority in the Assyrian homeland, surviving there to this day as an indigenous people of the region.


The Kassites were people of the ancient Near East, who controlled Babylonia after the fall of the Old Babylonian Empire c. 1531 BC and until c. 1155 BC (short chronology). The endonym of the Kassites was probably Galzu, although they have also been referred to by the names Kaššu, Kassi, Kasi or Kashi.

The original homeland of the Kassites is not well-known, but appears to have been located in the Zagros Mountains, in what is now the Lorestan Province of Iran. However, the Kassites were—like the Elamites, Gutians and Manneans who preceded them—linguistically unrelated to the Iranian-speaking peoples who came to dominate the region a millennium later.

They gained control of Babylonia after the Hittite sack of the city in 1595 BC (i.e. 1531 BC per the short chronology), and established a dynasty based first in Babylon and later in Dur-Kurigalzu.

The Kassites were members of a small military aristocracy but were efficient rulers and not locally unpopular, and their 500-year reign laid an essential groundwork for the development of subsequent Babylonian culture. The chariot and the horse, which the Kassites worshipped, first came into use in Babylonia at this time.

The Kassite language has not been classified. What is known is that their language was not related to either the Indo-European language group, nor to Semitic or other Afro-Asiatic languages, and is most likely to have been a language isolate although some linguists have proposed a link to the Hurro-Urartian languages of Asia Minor.

However, the arrival of the Kassites has been connected to the contemporary migrations of Indo-European peoples. Several Kassite leaders and deities bore Indo-European names, and it is possible that they were dominated by an Indo-European elite similar to the Mitanni, who ruled over the Hurro-Urartian-speaking Hurrians of Asia Minor.


The Hittites were an Anatolian people who played an important role in establishing an empire centered on Hattusa in north-central Anatolia around 1600 BC. This empire reached its height during the mid-14th century BC under Suppiluliuma I, when it encompassed an area that included most of Anatolia as well as parts of the northern Levant and Upper Mesopotamia.

Kültepe (Turkish: “Ash Hill”) is an archaeological site in Kayseri Province, Turkey. The nearest modern city to Kültepe is Kayseri, about 20 km southwest. It consists of a tell, the actual Kültepe, and a lower town, where an Assyrian settlement was found. Its name in Assyrian texts from the 20th century BC was Kaneš; the later Hittites mostly called it Neša, occasionally Aniša.

In 2014 the archaeological site was inscribed in the Tentative list of World Heritage Sites in Turkey. It is also the site of discovery of the earliest traces of the Hittite language, the earliest attestation of any Indo-European language, dated to the 20th century BC.

The Hittite language was a distinct member of the Anatolian branch of the Indo-European language family, and along with the related Luwian language, is the oldest historically attested Indo-European language, referred to by its speakers as nešili “in the language of Nesa”.


The Hyksos (Egyptian ḥqꜣ(w)-ḫꜣswt, Egyptological pronunciation: heqa khasut, “ruler(s) of foreign lands”) were a people of diverse origins, possibly from Western Asia, who settled in the eastern Nile Delta some time before 1650 BC.

The arrival of the Hyksos led to the end of the Thirteenth Dynasty and initiated the Second Intermediate Period of Egypt. In the context of Ancient Egypt, the term “Asiatic” refers to people native to areas east of Egypt.

Immigration by Canaanite populations preceded the Hyksos. Canaanites first appeared in Egypt at the end of the 12th Dynasty c. 1800 BC or c. 1720 BC and established an independent realm in the eastern Nile Delta.

The Canaanite rulers of the Delta regrouped and founded the Fourteenth Dynasty, which coexisted with the Egyptian Thirteenth Dynasty and was based in Itjtawy. The power of the 13th and 14th Dynasties progressively waned, perhaps due to famine and plague.

In about 1650 BC, the Hyksos invaded the territory of both dynasties and established the Fifteenth Dynasty. The collapse of the Thirteenth Dynasty caused a power vacuum in the south, which may have led to the rise of the Sixteenth Dynasty, based in Thebes, and possibly of a local Abydos Dynasty.

The Hyksos eventually conquered both, albeit for only a short time in the case of Thebes. From then on, the 17th Dynasty took control of Thebes and reigned for some time in peaceful coexistence with the Hyksos kings, perhaps as their vassals. Eventually, Seqenenre Tao, Kamose and Ahmose waged war against the Hyksos and expelled Khamudi, their last king, from Egypt c. 1550 BC.

The Hyksos practised horse burials, and their chief deity, their native storm god, Hadad, they associated with the Egyptian storm and desert god, Set. The Hyksos were a mixed people of mainly Semitic-speaking origin.

The Hyksos are generally held to have contained Hurrian and Indo-European elements, particularly among the leadership. This has, however, been vigorously opposed in some quarters, often for political reasons.

The Hyksos brought several technical innovations to Egypt, as well as cultural imports such as new musical instruments and foreign loanwords. The changes introduced include new techniques of bronze-working and pottery, new breeds of animals, and new crops.

In warfare, they introduced the horse and chariot, the composite bow, improved battle axes, and advanced fortification techniques. These cultural advances received from the Hyksos became a decisive factor in Egypt’s later success in building an empire in the Middle East during the New Kingdom.


Habiru (sometimes written as Hapiru, and more accurately as ʿApiru, meaning “dusty, dirty”) is a term used in 2nd-millennium BCE texts throughout the Fertile Crescent for people variously described as rebels, outlaws, raiders, mercenaries, bowmen, servants, slaves, and laborers. The earliest certain reference to the Habiru is from Anatolia in the 19th century BC, the latest from Egypt in the middle of the 12th century BC.

The word Habiru, more properly ‘Apiru, occurs in hundreds of 2nd millennium BCE documents covering a 600-year period from the 18th to the 12th centuries BCE and found at sites ranging from Egypt, Canaan and Syria, to Nuzi in northern Iraq and Anatolia.

The term is frequently used interchangeably with the Sumerian SA.GAZ, a phonetic equivalent to the Akkadian (Mesopotamian) word saggasu (“murderer, destroyer”).

The Habiru are frequently referred to by a Sumerian expression SA.GAZ (with variants) that has been interpreted to mean murderer, tendon-cutter, head-smiter, and the like. The context in which it occurs makes its pejorative sense clear, and this sense also appears in an Akkadian lexical text that translates the Sumerian as ḫabbātu (robber).

‘Apiru had no common ethnic affiliations and no common language, their personal names being most frequently West Semitic, but many East Semitic, Hurrian or Indo-European. In the Tikunani Prism from Anatolia, dating from around 1550 BC, the names of 438 Habiru soldiers are given. The majority of them had Hurrian names, the rest being Semitic.

The biblical word “Hebrew”, like Habiru, denotes a social category, not an ethnic group. Since the discovery of the 2nd millennium BCE inscriptions mentioning the Habiru, there have been many theories linking these to the Hebrews of the Bible.

As pointed out by Moore and Kelle, while the ‘Apiru/Habiru may be related to the biblical Hebrews, they also appear to be composed of many different peoples, including nomadic Shasu and Shutu, the biblical Midianites, Kenites, and Amalekites, as well as displaced peasants and pastoralists.

Scholars such as Anson Rainey have noted however, that while ‘Apiru covered the regions from Nuzi to Anatolia as well as Northern Syria, Canaan and Egypt, they were never confused with Shutu (Sutu) or Shasu (Shosu), Syrian pastoral nomads in the Amarna letters or other texts of the time.

Habiru (Habiri)


Not all Habiru were murderers and robbers: in the 18th century a north Syrian king named Irkabtum (c. 1740 BC) “made peace with [the warlord] Shemuba and his Habiru,” while the ‘Apiru, Idrimi of Alalakh, was the son of a deposed king, and formed a band of ‘Apiru to make himself king of Alalakh.

Idrimi was the king of Alalakh in the 15th century BC (c. 1460–1400 BC). He was a Hurrianised son of Ilim-Ilimma I the king of Halab, now Aleppo, who had possibly been deposed by the new regional master, Barattarna or Parshatatar, king of the Mitanni.

Nevertheless, he succeeded in gaining the throne of Alalakh with the assistance of a group known as the Habiru. Idrimi founded the kingdom of Mukish and ruled from Alalakh as a vassal to the Mitanni state. He also invaded the Hittite territories to the north, resulting in a treaty with the country Kizzuwatna.

What Idrimi shared with the other ‘Apiru was membership of an inferior social class of outlaws, mercenaries, and slaves leading a marginal and sometimes lawless existence on the fringes of settled society.

Most scholars agreed that Idrimi is comparative to other Biblical characters like Abraham and David, suggesting that the Bible and Idrimi’s statue autobiography had similar literary parallels different from standard Mesopotamian or Akkadian literature.

Idrimi, according to John Gee of Brigham Young University, is comparative to Abraham in that both of them had to leave their homeland and travel to another land with their family. Abraham left his homeland of Ur and had to travel to another land with his family, but left that land and had to travel again to find a place for his posterity in the land of Canaan.

In a similar manner, Idrimi left Aleppo and traveled to Emar with his family only to travel to Canaan to join the Habiru and find a good place for himself and his descendants, which he did at Alalakh.

Assyriologist A. Leo Oppenheim also saw parallels between Idrimi and King David of Judah. Idrimi stayed for seven years among Hapiru warriors. After seven years, the god Addu or Teshub became favorable to him and he started building ships.

The king Barattarna was hostile to him for seven years. In the seventh year Idrimi launched negotiations with Barattarna. He also gathered spoils from seven Hittite cities and built his own palace.

David had a similar pattern with the number seven too. He was the youngest of seven sons of Jesse. He stayed seven years in Hebron before conquering a Jebusite fortress outside of Jerusalem and renaming it the “City of David.” He also offered the elders of Judah gifts from spoils won during the raid, while Idrimi raided the seven Hittite towns and gave those spoils to his allies as mentioned in his inscription.

For Edward Greenstein, the story of Idrimi was similar to the Biblical stories of Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Jephthah, and Nehemiah. All five Biblical figures and Idrimi were exiles in their younger days, undertook journeys to discover the divine will, and attributed their success in maintaining the well-being of their people to divine intervention



Mitanni (1500 – 1200 BC) was a Hurrian-speaking state in northern Syria and southeast Anatolia, which are believed to have had Indo-European populations. The Mitanni kingdom was referred to as the Maryannu, Nahrin or Mitanni by the Egyptians, the Hurri by the Hittites, and the Hanigalbat or Hani-Rabbat by the Assyrians. The different names seem to have referred to the same kingdom and were used interchangeably.

The common people’s language, the Hurrian language, is neither Indo-European nor Semitic. Hurrian is related to Urartian, the language of Urartu, both belonging to the Hurro-Urartian language family. It had been held that nothing more can be deduced from current evidence.

The names of the Mitanni aristocracy frequently are of Indo-Aryan origin, and their deities also show Indo-Aryan roots (Mitra, Varuna, Indra, Nasatya), though some think that they are more immediately related to the Kassites. A Hurrian passage in the Amarna letters – usually composed in Akkadian, the lingua franca of the day – indicates that the royal family of Mitanni was by then speaking Hurrian as well.

Bearers of names in the Hurrian language are attested in wide areas of Syria and the northern Levant that are clearly outside the area of the political entity known to Assyria as Hanilgalbat. There is no indication that these persons owed allegiance to the political entity of Mitanni; although the German term Auslandshurriter (“Hurrian expatriates”) has been used by some authors.

In the 14th century BC numerous city-states in northern Syria and Canaan were ruled by persons with Hurrian and some Indo-Aryan names. If this can be taken to mean that the population of these states was Hurrian as well, then it is possible that these entities were a part of a larger polity with a shared Hurrian identity.

This is often assumed, but without a critical examination of the sources. Differences in dialect and regionally different pantheons (Hepat/Shawushka, Sharruma/Tilla etc.) point to the existence of several groups of Hurrian speakers.


Hayasa-Azzi in the western half of the Armenian Highland was a Late Bronze Age confederation formed between two kingdoms of Armenian Highlands, Hayasa located South of Trabzon and Azzi, located north of the Euphrates and to the south of Hayasa.

The similarity of the name Hayasa to the endonym of the Armenians, Hayk or Hay and the Armenian name for Armenia, Hayastan has prompted the suggestion that the Hayasa-Azzi confederation was involved in the Armenian ethnogenesis, or perhaps had been an Armenian-speaking state.

The region covered by Hayasa-Azzi would later constitute Lesser Armenia, as well as the western and south-western regions of Ancient Armenia. The main temples of many pre-Christian Armenian gods such as Aramadz, Anahit, Mher, Nane, and Barsamin were located in Hayasa. The treasury and royal burials of the Arsacid (Arshakuni) dynasty would be located in this region as well during the 1st millennium BCE.



Between 1200 and 800 BCE, much of Armenia was united under a confederation of tribes, which Assyrian sources called Nairi (“Land of Rivers” in Assyrian”), the Assyrian name for a confederation of tribes in the Armenian Highlands, roughly corresponding to the modern Van and Hakkâri provinces of modern Turkey and West Azerbaijan province of Iran. The word is also used to describe the Armenian tribes who lived there.

The Nairi confederation and its successor, Urartu, successively established their sovereignty over the Armenian Highlands. Each of the aforementioned nations and confederacies participated in the ethnogenesis of the Armenians.

It is argued that proto-Armenian came into contact with Urartian at an early date (3rd or 2nd millennium BC), before the formation of the Urartian kingdom. While the Urartian language was used by the royal elite, the population they ruled may have been multi-lingual, and some of these peoples would have spoken Armenian.


Subartu / Shubaru

The land of Subartu (Akkadian Šubartum/Subartum/ina Šú-ba-ri, Assyrian mât Šubarri) or Subar (Sumerian Su-bir4/Subar/Šubur) is mentioned in Bronze Age literature. Subartu was apparently a kingdom in Upper Mesopotamia, at the upper Tigris and later it referred to a region of Mesopotamia. The name also appears as Subari in the Amarna letters, and, in the form Šbr, in Ugarit.

Most scholars suggest that Subartu is an early name for Assyria proper on the Tigris and westward, although there are various other theories placing it sometimes a little farther to the east and/or north. Its precise location has not been identified. From the point of view of the Akkadian Empire, Subartu marked the northern geographical horizon, just as Amurru, Elam and Sumer marked “west”, “east” and “south”, respectively.

The name Subartu is often regarded as the source of, or even synonymous with, the later Hurrian kingdom of Shupria (Shubria), known from Assyrian sources from the 13th century BC onward, in what is now the Armenian Highlands, to the south-west of Lake Van, bordering Urartu.

However, the name Shupria was evidently used to describe a different area, corresponding to modern eastern Anatolia and the Armenian highlands, and the Shuprians appear to have been a component of the ethnogenesis of the Armenian people.

The name Shupria is often regarded as derived from, or even synonymous with, the earlier kingdom of Subartu (Sumerian: Shubur), mentioned in Mesopotamian records as early as the 3rd millennium BC. However, the Sumerians appear to have used the name Subartu to describe an area corresponding to Upper Mesopotamia and/or Assyria.

Ernst Weidner interpreted textual evidence to indicate that after a Hurrian king, Shattuara of Mitanni, was defeated by Adad-nirari I of the Middle Assyrian Empire in the early 13th century BC, he became ruler of a reduced vassal state, Shupria or Subartu.

The Subartians, Hurri-Mitanni, Hayasa-Azzi, Nairi and other populations of the region, fell under Urartian rule in the 9th century BC. Their descendants, according to some scholars, contributed to the ethnogenesis of the Armenians.

Some scholars have linked a district in the area, Arme or Armani, to the name Armenia. Medieval Islamic scholars, relying on ancient sources, claimed that the people of Subar (Subartu or Shupria) and the Armani (Armenians) had shared ancestry.

The Middle Assyrian Empire, after destroying the Hurro-Mitanni Empire, the Hittite Empire, defeating the Phrygians and Elamites, conquering Babylon, the Arameans of Syria, northern Ancient Iran and Canaan and forcing the Egyptians out of much of the near east, itself went into a century of relative decline from the latter part of the 11th century BCE.



It is not clear what happened to these early Hurrian people at the end of the Bronze Age. Some scholars have suggested that Hurrians lived on in the country of Nairi north of Assyria during the early Iron Age, before this too was conquered by Assyria.

The Hurrian population of northern Syria in the following centuries seems to have given up their language in favor of the Assyrian dialect of Akkadian, and later, Aramaic. However, a power vacuum was to allow a new and powerful state whose rulers spoke Urartian, similar to old Hurrian, to arise.

The Middle Assyrian Empire, after destroying the Hurro-Mitanni Empire, the Hittite Empire, defeating the Phrygians and Elamites, conquering Babylon, the Arameans of Syria, northern Ancient Iran and Canaan and forcing the Egyptians out of much of the near east, itself went into a century of relative decline from the latter part of the 11th century BCE.

The Urartians were thus able to impose themselves around Lake Van and Mount Ararat, forming the powerful Iron Age Kingdom of Urartu (Assyrian for Ararat) (1000–600 BC), which eventually encompassed a region stretching from the Caucasus Mountains in the north, to the borders of northern Assyria and northern Ancient Iran in the south, and controlled much of eastern Anatolia.

Urartu (Nairi, or the Kingdom of Van) existed in north-east Anatolia, centered around Lake Van (Nairi Sea), to the south of the Cimmerians and North of Assyria. Its prominence ran from its appearance in the 9th century until it was overrun by the Medes in the 6th century.

Urartu is first mentioned as a loose confederation of smaller entities in the Armenian Highlands in the 13th to 11th centuries BC, but was subject to recurrent Assyrian incursions before emerging as a powerful neighbour by the 9th century BC. This was facilitated by Assyria’s weak position in the 8th century BC.

The Urartians successively established their sovereignty over the Armenian Highland, and flourished between the 9th century BC and 585 BC. Yerevan, the modern capital of Armenia, was founded in 782 BC by king Argishti I. Each of the aforementioned nations and tribes participated in the ethnogenesis of the Armenian people.

The founder of the Urartian Kingdom, Aramé, united all the principalities of the Armenian Highland and gave himself the title “King of Kings”, the traditional title of Urartian Kings. The Urartians established their sovereignty over all of Taron and Vaspurakan. The main rival of Urartu was the Neo-Assyrian Empire (911–605 BCE).

Assyria began to once more expand from circa. 935 BCE, and Urartu and Assyria became fierce rivals. Urartu successfully repelled Assyrian expansionism for a time, however from the 9th to 7th century BCE it progressively lost territory to Assyria. It was to survive until the 7th century BCE, by which time it was conquered fully into the Neo Assyrian Empire.

During the reign of Sarduri I (834–828 BC), Urartu had become a strong and organized state, and imposed taxes on neighbouring tribes. Sarduri made Tushpa (modern Van) the capital of Urartu. His son, Ishpuinis, extended the borders of the state by conquering what would later be known as the Tigranocerta area and by reaching Urmia.

Menuas (810–785 BC) extended the Urartian territory up north, by spreading towards the Araratian fields. He left more than 90 inscriptions by using the Mesopotamian cuneiform writing system in the Urartian language. Argishtis I of Urartu conquered Latakia from the Hittites, and reached Byblos, and Phoenicia. He built the Erebuni Fortress, located in modern-day Yerevan, in 782 BC by using 6600 prisoners of war.

Urartu continued to resist Assyrian attacks and reached it greatest extent under Argishti I (c. 785–760 BC). At that time it included present day Armenia, southern Georgia reaching almost to the Black Sea, west to the sources of the Euphrates and south to the sources of the Tigris.

From the late 8th century BC, a new wave of Indo-European-speaking raiders entered northern and northeast Anatolia: the Cimmerians and Scythians. The Cimmerians overran Phrygia and the Scythians threatened to do the same to Urartu and Lydia, before both were finally checked by the Assyrians.

Following this Urartu suffered a number of setbacks. King Tiglath Pileser III of Assyria conquered it in 745 BC. By 714 BC it was being ravaged by both Cimmerian and Assyrian raids. After 645 BC Scythian attacks provided further problems for Urartu forcing it to become dependent on Assyria.

In 714 BC, the Assyrians under Sargon II defeated the Urartian King Rusa I at Lake Urmia and destroyed the holy Urartian temple at Musasir. At the same time, an Indo-European tribe called the Cimmerians attacked Urartu from the north-west region and destroyed the rest of his armies.

The Cimmerians were a nomadic Indo-European people, who appeared about 1000 BC and are mentioned later in 8th century BC in Assyrian records. While the Cimmerians were often described by contemporaries as culturally “Scythian”, they evidently differed ethnically from the Scythians proper, who also displaced and replaced the Cimmerians.

In 714 BC, the Urartian kingdom suffered heavily from Cimmerian raids and the campaigns of Sargon II. The main temple at Mushashir was sacked, and the Urartian king Rusa I was crushingly defeated by Sargon II at Lake Urmia. He subsequently committed suicide in shame.

Rusa’s son Argishti II (714–685 BC) restored Urartu’s position against the Cimmerians, however it was no longer a threat to Assyria and peace was made with the new king of Assyria Sennacherib in 705 BC. This in turn helped Urartu enter a long period of development and prosperity, which continued through the reign of Argishti’s son Rusa II (685–645 BC).

Probably originating in the Pontic steppe, the Cimmerians subsequently migrated both into Western Europe and to the south, by way of the Caucasus. This foray was defeated by Assyrian forces under Sargon II in 705, after which the same, southern branch of Cimmerians turned west towards Anatolia and conquered Phrygia in 696/5.

After Rusa II, however, Urartu grew weaker under constant attacks from Cimmerian and Scythian invaders. As a result, it became dependent on Assyria, as evidenced by Rusa II’s son Sarduri III (645–635 BC) referring to the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal as his “father”. Under Ashurbanipal (669–627 BC) the boundaries of the Assyrian Empire reached as far as Armenia and the Caucasus Mountains.

According to Urartian epigraphy, Sarduri III was followed by three kings—Erimena (635–620 BC), his son Rusa III (620–609 BC), and the latter’s son Rusa IV (609–590 or 585 BC). Late during the 7th century BC (during or after Sarduri III’s reign), Urartu was invaded by Scythians and their allies—the Medes.

However Assyria itself fell to a combined attack of Scythians, Medes and Babylonians in 612 BC. The Assyrian Empire collapsed from 620 to 605 BCE, after a series of brutal internal civil wars weakened it to such an extent that a coalition of its former vassals; the Medes, Persians, Babylonians, Chaldeans, Scythians and Cimmerians were able to attack and gradually destroy it.

In 612 BC, the Median king Cyaxares the Great together with Nabopolassar of Babylon and the Scythians conquered Assyria after it had been irreversibly weakened by civil war. The Medes under Cyaxares invaded Assyria later on in 612 BC, and then took over the Urartian capital of Van towards 585 BC, effectively ending the sovereignty of Urartu.

Urartu was ravaged by marauding Indo-European speaking Scythian and Cimmerian raiders during this time, with its vassal king (together with the king of neighbouring Lydia) vainly pleading with the beleaguered Assyrian king for help. After the fall of Assyria, Urartu came under the control of the Median Empire and then its successor Persian Empire during the 6th century BCE.

The Medes then took over the Urartian capital of Van in 590 BC, effectively ending the sovereignty of Urartu. Many Urartian ruins of the period show evidence of destruction by fire. According to the Armenian tradition, the Medes helped the Armenians establish the Orontid dynasty.

While the details of Urartu’s demise are debated, it effectively disappeared to be replaced by Armenia. It was a Persian Satrapy for a while from the 6th century BC before becoming an independent Armenia. To this day Urartu forms an important part of Armenian nationalist sentiment.




The Cimmerians (also Kimmerians) were a nomadic Indo-European people. They appeared about 1000 BC and are mentioned in Assyrian records ca. 8th century BC. Cimmeria was a region of north eastern Anatolia.

Probably originating in the Pontic steppe, they appeared from the north and east, migrating in the face of the eastern Scythian advance, both into Western Europe and to the south, by way of the Caucasus, in the 9th to 8th century BC.

They continued to move west, invading and subjugating Phrygia (696–695 BC), penetrating as far south as Cilicia, and west into Ionia after pillaging Lydia. The Cimmerians reached the height of their power in 652 after taking Sardis, the capital of Lydia; however an invasion of Assyrian-controlled Anshan was thwarted.

Lydian campaigns between 637 and 626 BC effectively halted this advance. Soon after 619, Alyattes of Lydia defeated them. The Cimmerian influence progressively weakened and the last recorded mention is in 515 BC. There are no further mentions of them in historical sources, but it is likely that they settled in Cappadocia.

It has been speculated that the Cimmerians finally settled in Cappadocia, known in Armenian as Gamir-kʿ (the same name as the original Cimmerian homeland in Mannae), and that the modern Armenian city of Gyumri, founded as Kumayri, derived its name from the Cimmerians who conquered the region and founded a settlement there.

The origin of the Cimmerians is unclear. While the Cimmerians were often described by contemporaries as culturally “Scythian”, they evidently differed ethnically from the Scythians proper, who also displaced and replaced the Cimmerians.

They are mostly supposed to have been related to either Iranian or Thracian speaking groups, which migrated under pressure of the Scythian expansion of the 9th to 8th century BC, or at least to have been led by an Iranian ruling class.

In 2019, a genetic study of various peoples belonging to the Scythian cultures, including the Cimmerians, was published in Current Biology. The two male Cimmerians analyzed were both found to be carriers of subclades of haplogroup R1a.

Some of them likely comprised a force that, c. 714 BC, invaded Urartu, a state subject to the Neo-Assyrian Empire. This foray was defeated by Assyrian forces under Sargon II in 705, after which the same, southern branch of Cimmerians turned west towards Anatolia and conquered Phrygia in 696/5.

They reached the height of their power in 652 after taking Sardis, the capital of Lydia; however an invasion of Assyrian-controlled Anshan was thwarted. Soon after 619, Alyattes of Lydia defeated them. There are no further mentions of them in historical sources, but it is likely that they settled in Cappadocia.

After their exodus from the Pontic steppe some of the Cimmerians assaulted Urartu about 714 BC, but in 705, after being repulsed by Sargon II of Assyria, they turned towards Anatolia and in 696–695 conquered Phrygia.

According to the Greek historian Herodotus of the 5th century BC, the Cimmerians inhabited the region north of the Caucasus and the Black Sea, in what is now Ukraine and Russia, until they were driven southward by the Scythians into Anatolia during the 8th century BC.

However, they have not been identified with any specific archaeological culture in the region. The archeologist Renate Rolle and others have argued that no one has demonstrated with archeological evidence the presence of Cimmerians in the southern parts of Russia.

Herodotus thought the Cimmerians and the Thracians closely related, writing that both peoples originally inhabited the northern shore of the Black Sea, and both were displaced about 700 BC, by invaders from the east.

Whereas the Cimmerians would have departed this ancestral homeland by heading west and south across the Caucasus, the Thracians migrated southwest into the Balkans, where they established a successful and long-lived culture.

Although the 2006 Encyclopædia Britannica reflects Herodotus, stating, “They [the Cimmerians] probably did live in the area north of the Black Sea, but attempts to define their original homeland more precisely by archaeological means, or even to fix the date of their expulsion from their country by the Scythians, have not so far been completely successful”, in recent research academic scholars have made use of documents dating to centuries earlier than Herodotus, such as intelligence reports to Sargon, and note that these identify the Cimmerians as living south rather than north of the Black Sea.

Scholars in the 19th and 20th centuries had relied upon Herodotus’s account, but Sir Henry Layard’s discoveries in the royal archives at Nineveh and Calah have enabled the study of new source material that is several centuries earlier than Herodotus’s history.

The Assyrian archeological record shows that the Cimmerians, and the land of Gamir, were located not far from Urartu, (an Iron Age kingdom centered around Lake Van in the Armenian Highland), south of the Caucasus. Military intelligence reports to Sargon in the 8th century BC describe the Cimmerians as occupying territory south of the Black Sea.

The supposed origin of the Cimmerians north of the Caucasus at the end of the Bronze Age loosely corresponds with the early Koban culture (Northern Caucasus, 12th to 4th centuries BC), but there is no compelling reason to associate this culture with the Cimmerians specifically.

There is a tradition in archaeology of applying Cimmerian to the archaeological record associated with the earliest transmission of Iron Age culture along the Danube to Central and Western Europe, associated with the Cernogorovka (9th to 8th centuries) and Novocerkassk (8th to 7th centuries) between the Danube and the Volga.

This association is “controversial”, or at best conventional, and is not to be taken as a literal claim that specific artifacts are to be associated with the “Cimmerians” of the Greek or Assyrian record.

The use of the name “Cimmerian” in this context is due to Paul Reinecke, who in 1925 postulated a “North-Thracian-Cimmerian cultural sphere” overlapping with the younger Hallstatt culture of the Eastern Alps.

The term Thraco-Cimmerian was first introduced by I. Nestor in the 1930s. Nestor intended to suggest that there was a historical migration of Cimmerians into Eastern Europe from the area of the former Srubna culture, perhaps triggered by the Scythian expansion, at the beginning of the European Iron Age.

In the 1980s and 1990s, more systematic studies of the artifacts revealed a more gradual development over the period covering the 9th to 7th centuries, so that the term “Thraco-Cimmerian” is now rather used by convention and does not necessarily imply a direct connection with either the Thracians or the Cimmerians.

It is, however, conceivable that a small-scale (in terms of population) 8th century “Thraco-Cimmerian” migration triggered cultural changes that contributed to the transformation of the Urnfield culture into the Hallstatt C culture, ushering in the European Iron Age.

The first record of the Cimmerians appears in Assyrian annals in the year 714 BC. These describe how a people termed the Gimirri helped the forces of Sargon II to defeat the kingdom of Urartu. Their original homeland, called Gamir or Uishdish, seems to have been located within the buffer state of Mannae.

According to examinations of the place and personal names found in Assyrian and Urartian texts, the Mannaeans, or at least their rulers, spoke Hurrian, a non-Semitic and non-Indo-European language related to Urartian, with no modern language connections. The later geographer Ptolemy placed the Cimmerian city of Gomara in this region.

Like other peoples of the Iranian plateau, the Manneans were subjected to an ever increasing Iranian (i.e. Indo-European) penetration. After suffering several defeats at the hands of both Scythians and Assyrians, the remnants of the Mannaean populace were absorbed by the Matieni and the area became known as Matiene. It was then annexed by the Medes in about 609 BC.

After their conquests of Colchis and Iberia in the First Millennium BC, the Cimmerians also came to be known as Gimirri in Georgian. According to Georgian national historiography, the Cimmerians played an influential role in the development of both the Colchian and Iberian cultures. The modern-day Georgian word for hero, gmiri, is said to derive from the word Gimirri. This refers to the Cimmerians who settled in the area after the initial conquests.

Urartu chose to submit to the Assyrians, and together the two defeated the Cimmerians and thus kept them out of the Fertile Crescent. The Assyrians recorded the migrations of the Cimmerians, as the former people’s king Sargon II was killed in battle against them while driving them from Persia in 705 BC. By 679 they had instead migrated to the east and west of Mannae.

The Cimmerians were subsequently recorded as having conquered Phrygia in 696–695 BC, prompting the Phrygian king Midas to take poison rather than face capture.

In 679 BC, during the reign of Esarhaddon of Assyria (r. 681–669 BC), they attacked the Assyrian colonies Cilicia and Tabal under their new ruler Teushpa. Esarhaddon defeated them near Hubushna (Hupisna), and they also met defeat at the hands of his successor Ashurbanipal.

A people named Kimmerioi is described in Homer’s Odyssey 11.14 (c. late 8th century BC), as living beyond the Oceanus, in a land of fog and darkness, at the edge of the world and the entrance of Hades.

According to Herodotus (c. 440 BC), the Cimmerians had been expelled from their homeland between the Tyras (Dniester) and Tanais (Don) rivers by the Scythians. Unreconciled to Scythian advances, to ensure burial in their ancestral homeland, the men of the Cimmerian royal family divided into groups and fought each other to the death.

The Cimmerian commoners buried the bodies along the river Tyras and fled across the Caucasus and into Anatolia. Herodotus also names a number of Cimmerian kings, including Tugdamme (Lygdamis in Greek; mid-7th century BC), and Sandakhshatra (late-7th century).

In 654 BC or 652 BC – the exact date is unclear – the Cimmerians attacked the kingdom of Lydia, killing the Lydian king Gyges and causing great destruction to the Lydian capital of Sardis. They returned ten years later during the reign of Gyges’ son Ardys; this time they captured the city, with the exception of the citadel.

The fall of Sardis was a major shock to the powers of the region; the Greek poets Callinus and Archilochus recorded the fear that it inspired in the Greek colonies of Ionia, some of which were attacked by Cimmerian and Treres raiders.

The Cimmerian occupation of Lydia was brief, however, possibly due to an outbreak of disease. An invasion of Assyrian-controlled Anshan was thwarted. Between 637 and 626 BC, they were beaten back by Alyattes II of Lydia. This defeat marked the effective end of Cimmerian power.

Soon after 619, Alyattes of Lydia defeated them. This defeat marked the effective end of Cimmerian power. There are no further mentions of them in historical sources, but it is likely that they settled in Cappadocia. The term Gimirri was used about a century later in the Behistun inscription (c. 515 BC) as an Assyro-Babylonian equivalent of Iranian Saka (Scythians).

In sources beginning with the Royal Frankish Annals, the Merovingian kings of the Franks traditionally traced their lineage through a pre-Frankish tribe called the Sicambri (or Sugambri), mythologized as a group of “Cimmerians” from the mouth of the Danube river, but who instead came from Gelderland in modern Netherlands and are named for the Sieg river.

Early modern historians asserted Cimmerian descent for the Celts or the Germans, arguing from the similarity of Cimmerii to Cimbri or Cymry. It is unlikely that either Proto-Celtic or Proto-Germanic entered western Europe as late as the 7th century BC; their formation was commonly associated with the Bronze Age Urnfield and Nordic Bronze Age cultures, respectively.

The etymology of Cymro “Welshman” (plural: Cymry), connected to the Cimmerians by 17th-century Celticists, is now accepted by Celtic linguists as being derived from a Brythonic word *kom-brogos, meaning “compatriot”.

Later Cimmerian remnant groups may have spread as far as to the Nordic Countries and the Rhine River. An example is the Cimbri tribe, considered to be a Germanic tribe hailing from the Himmerland (Old Danish Himber sysæl) region in northern Denmark.

The Cambridge Ancient History classifies the Maeotians, an ancient people dwelling along the Sea of Azov, which was known in antiquity as the “Maeotian marshes” or “Lake Maeotis”, as either a people of Cimmerian ancestry or as Caucasian under Iranian overlordship.

The Biblical name “Gomer”, the eldest son of Japheth (and of the Japhetic line), and father of Ashkenaz, Riphath, and Togarmah, according to the “Table of Nations” in the Hebrew Bible (Genesis 10), has been linked by some to the Cimmerians.

Only a few personal names in the Cimmerian language have survived in Assyrian inscriptions: Te-ush-pa-a; according to the Hungarian linguist János Harmatta, it goes back to Old Iranian Tavis-paya “swelling with strength”.

Mentioned in the annals of Esarhaddon, has been compared to the Hurrian war deity Teshub;[citation needed] others interpret it as Iranian, comparing the Achaemenid name Teispes (Herodotus 7.11.2).

Dug-dam-mei (Dugdammê) king of the Ummân-Manda (nomads) appears in a prayer of Ashurbanipal to Marduk, on a fragment at the British Museum. According to professor Harmatta, it goes back to Old Iranian Duγda-maya “giving happiness”.

Other spellings include Dugdammi, and Tugdammê. Edwin M. Yamauchi also interprets the name as Iranian, citing Ossetic Tux-domæg “Ruling with Strength.” The name appears corrupted to Lygdamis in Strabo 1.3.21.

Sandaksatru, son of Dugdamme. This is an Iranian reading of the name, and Manfred Mayrhofer (1981) points out that the name may also be read as Sandakurru. Mayrhofer likewise rejects the interpretation of “with pure regency” as a mixing of Iranian and Indo-Aryan. Ivancik suggests an association with the Anatolian deity Sanda. According to Professor J. Harmatta, it goes back to Old Iranian Sanda-Kuru “Splendid Son”.

Some researchers have attempted to trace various place names to Cimmerian origins. It has been suggested that Cimmerium gave rise to the Turkic toponym Qırım (which in turn gave rise to the name “Crimea”).




The Scythians, also known as Scyth, Saka, Sakae, Iskuzai, or Askuzai, were a nomadic people who dominated Pontic steppe from about the 7th century BC up until the 3rd century BC. They were part of the wider Scythian cultures, stretching across the Eurasian Steppe, which included many peoples that are distinguished from the Scythians.

Because of this, a broad concept referring to all early Eurasian nomads as “Scythians” has sometimes been used. Within this concept, the actual Scythians are variously referred to as Classical Scythians, European Scythians, Pontic Scythians, or Western Scythians. Use of the term “Scythians” for all early Eurasian nomads has however led to much confusion in literature, and the validity of such terminology is controversial. Other names for that concept are therefore preferable.

The Scythians are generally believed to have been of Iranian origin. The Scythian languages may have formed a dialect continuum: “Scytho-Sarmatian” in the west and “Scytho-Khotanese” or Saka in the east. They spoke a language of the Scythian branch of the Eastern Iranian languages, and practiced a variant of ancient Iranian religion.

Among the earliest peoples to master mounted warfare, the Scythians replaced the Cimmerians as the dominant power on the Pontic Steppe in the 8th century BC. During this time they and related peoples came to dominate the entire Eurasian Steppe from the Carpathian Mountains in the west to Ordos Plateau in the east, creating what has been called the first Central Asian nomadic empire.

Based in what is modern-day Ukraine and southern Russia, the Scythians were led by a nomadic warrior aristocracy known as the Royal Scythians, who called themselves Scoloti. In the 7th century BC, the Scythians crossed the Caucasus and frequently raided the Middle East along with the Cimmerians, playing an important role in the political developments of the region.

Around 650–630 BC, Scythians briefly dominated the Medes of the western Iranian Plateau, stretching their power to the borders of Egypt. After losing control over Media, the Scythians continued intervening in Middle Eastern affairs, playing a leading role in the destruction of the Assyrian Empire in the Sack of Nineveh in 612 BC. The Scythians subsequently engaged in frequent conflicts with the Achaemenid Empire.

The Scythians suffered a major defeat against Macedonia in the 4th century BC and were subsequently gradually conquered by the Sarmatians, a related Iranian people living to their east. In the late 2nd century BC, their capital at Scythian Neapolis in the Crimea was captured by Mithradates VI and their territories incorporated into the Bosporan Kingdom. By this time they had been largely Hellenized.

By the 3rd century AD, the Sarmatians and last remnants of the Scythians were dominated by the Alans, and were being overwhelmed by the Goths. By the early Middle Ages, the Scythians and the Sarmatians had been largely assimilated and absorbed by early Slavs. The Scythians were instrumental in the ethnogenesis of the Ossetians, who are believed to be descended from the Alans.

The Scythians played an important part in the Silk Road, a vast trade network connecting ancient Greece, Persia, India, and China, perhaps contributing to the contemporary flourishing of those civilisations. Settled metalworkers made portable decorative objects for the Scythians. These objects survive mainly in metal, forming a distinctive Scythian art.

The Scythian languages were mostly marginalised and assimilated as a consequence of the late antiquity and early Middle Ages Slavic and Turkic expansion. The western (Sarmatian) group of ancient Scythian survived as the medieval language of the Alans and eventually gave rise to the modern Ossetian language.

The name of the Scythians survived in the region of Scythia. Early authors continued to use the term “Scythian”, applying it to many groups unrelated to the original Scythians, such as Huns, Goths, Turks, Avars, Khazars, and other unnamed nomads. The scientific study of the Scythians is called Scythology.

Iranian Tribes

By the second millennium BC, the ancient Iranian peoples arrived in what is now Iran from the Eurasian Steppe, rivaling the native settlers of the region. As the Iranians dispersed into the wider area of Greater Iran and beyond, the boundaries of modern-day Iran were dominated by Median, Persian, and Parthian tribes.

At the end of the 2nd millennium BC, the Iranian tribes emerged in the region of northwest Iran. These tribes expanded their control over larger areas. Subsequently, the boundaries of Media changed over a period of several hundred years.

Iranian tribes were present in western and northwestern Iran from at least the 12th or 11th centuries BC. From the late 10th to the late seventh century BC, the Iranian peoples, together with the “pre-Iranian” kingdoms, fell under the domination of the Assyrian Empire, based in northern Mesopotamia.

The significance of Iranian elements in these regions were established from the beginning of the second half of the 8th century BC. A study of textual sources from the region shows that in the Neo-Assyrian period, in what later become the territory of the Median Kingdom and also the west and northwest of Media proper, had a population with Iranian speaking people as the majority.

This period of migration coincided with a power vacuum in the Near East with the Middle Assyrian Empire (1365–1020 BC), which had dominated northwestern Iran and eastern Anatolia and the Caucasus, going into a comparative decline.

This allowed new peoples to pass through and settle. In addition Elam, the dominant power in Iran, was suffering a period of severe weakness, as was Babylonia to the west. In western and northwestern Iran and in areas further west prior to Median rule, there is evidence of the earlier political activity of the powerful societies of Elam, Mannaea, Assyria and Urartu.

There are various and up-dated opinions on the positions and activities of Iranian tribes in these societies and prior to the “major Iranian state formations” in the late 7th century BC. One opinion (of Herzfeld, et al.) is that the ruling class were “Iranian migrants” but the society was “autonomous” while another opinion (of Grantovsky, et al.) holds that both the ruling class and basic elements of the population were Iranian.

From the 10th to the late 7th centuries BC, the western parts of Media fell under the domination of the vast Neo-Assyrian Empire based in northern Mesopotamia, which stretched from Cyprus in the west, to parts of western Iran in the east, and Egypt and the north of the Arabian Peninsula.

Assyrian kings such as Tiglath-Pileser III, Sargon II, Sennacherib, Esarhaddon, Ashurbanipal and Ashur-etil-ilani imposed Vassal Treaties upon the Median rulers, and also protected them from predatory raids by marauding Scythians and Cimmerians.

During the reign of Sinsharishkun (622–612 BC), the Assyrian empire, which had been in a state of constant civil war since 626 BC, began to unravel. Subject peoples, such as the Medes, Babylonians, Chaldeans, Egyptians, Scythians, Cimmerians, Lydians and Arameans quietly ceased to pay tribute to Assyria.

Neo-Assyrian dominance over the Medians came to an end during the reign of Median King Cyaxares, who, in alliance with King Nabopolassar of the Neo-Babylonian Empire, attacked and destroyed the strife-riven empire between 616 and 609 BC. The newfound alliance helped the Medes to capture Nineveh in 612 BC, which resulted in the eventual collapse of the Neo-Assyrian Empire by 609 BC.

The Medes were subsequently able to establish their Median Kingdom (with Ecbatana as their royal capital) beyond their original homeland and had eventually a territory stretching roughly from northeastern Iran to the Kızılırmak River in Anatolia.

Under king Cyaxares (r. 625–585 BC), the Medes and Persians entered into an alliance with Babylonian ruler Nabopolassar, as well as the fellow Iranian Scythians and Cimmerians, and together they attacked the Assyrian Empire. The civil war ravaged the Assyrian Empire between 616 and 605 BC, thus freeing their respective peoples from three centuries of Assyrian rule.

The unification of the Median tribes under king Deioces in 728 BC led to the foundation of the Median Empire which, by 612 BC, controlled almost the entire territory of present-day Iran and eastern Anatolia. This marked the end of the Kingdom of Urartu as well, which was subsequently conquered and dissolved.

After the fall of Assyria between 616 BC and 609 BC, a unified Median state was formed, which together with Babylonia, Lydia, and ancient Egypt became one of the four major powers of the ancient Near East.

Cyaxares was succeeded by his son King Astyages. In 553 BC, his maternal grandson Cyrus the Great, the King of Anshan/Persia, a Median vassal, revolted against Astyages. In 550 BC, Cyrus finally won a decisive victory resulting in Astyages’ capture by his own dissatisfied nobles, who promptly turned him over to the triumphant Cyrus.

After Cyrus’s victory against Astyages, the Medes were subjected to their close kin, the Persians. In the new empire they retained a prominent position; in honour and war, they stood next to the Persians; their court ceremony was adopted by the new sovereigns, who in the summer months resided in Ecbatana; and many noble Medes were employed as officials, satraps and generals.

In 550 BC, Cyrus the Great, the son of Mandane and Cambyses I, took over the Median Empire, and founded the Achaemenid Empire by unifying other city-states. The conquest of Media was a result of what is called the Persian Revolt. The brouhaha was initially triggered by the actions of the Median ruler Astyages, and was quickly spread to other provinces, as they allied with the Persians.

Later conquests under Cyrus and his successors expanded the empire to include Lydia, Babylon, Egypt, parts of the Balkans and Eastern Europe proper, as well as the lands to the west of the Indus and Oxus rivers.

By 550 BCE, the Median Empire, which had existed for barely a hundred years, was suddenly torn apart by a Persian rebellion. As Lydia’s king, Croesus had a large amount of wealth which to draw from, and he used it to go on the offensive against the Persian king Cyrus the Great. In the end, Croesus was thrust back west and Cyrus burned the Lydian capital Sardis, taking control of Lydia in 546 BCE.

The remaining kingdom of Ionia and several cities of Lydia still refused to fall under Persian domination, and prepared defenses to fight them and sending for aid from Sparta. Since no aid was promised except for a warning to Cyrus from their emissary, eventually their stance was abandoned and they submitted, or they fled as in citizens from Phocaea to Corsica or citizens from Teos to Abdera in Thrace.

539 BC was the year in which Persian forces defeated the Babylonian army at Opis, and marked the end of around four centuries of Mesopotamian domination of the region by conquering the Neo-Babylonian Empire. Cyrus entered Babylon and presented himself as a traditional Mesopotamian monarch. Subsequent Achaemenid art and iconography reflect the influence of the new political reality in Mesopotamia.

The Achaemenid Persian Empire, thus founded by Cyrus the Great, continued its expansion under the Persia king Darius the Great, in which the satrap system of local governors continued to be used and upgraded and other governmental upgrades were carried out. A revolt by Naxos in 502 BCE prompted Aristagoras of Miletus to devise a grandiose plan by which he would give a share of Naxos’s wealth to Artaphernes, satrap of Lydia, in return for his aid in quashing the revolt.

The failure of Aristagoras in fulfilling his promise of rewards and his conduct disturbed the Persians, so much so that he resorted to convincing his fellow Ionians to revolt against the Persians. This revolt, known as the Ionian Revolt, spread across Anatolia, and with Athenian aid, Aristagoras held firm for a time, despite the loss in the Battle of Ephesus.

The burning of Sardis in 498 BCE enraged Darius so much that he swore revenge upon Athens. This event brought down the hammer upon Aristagoras as the Persian army swept through Ionia, re-taking city by city. It was the eventual Battle of Lade outside Miletus in 494 BCE that put an end to the Ionian Revolt once and for all.

Although the Persian Empire had official control of the Carians as a satrap, the appointed local ruler Hecatomnus took advantage of his position. He gained for his family an autonomous hand in control of the province by providing the Persians with regular tribute, avoiding the look of deception.

His son Mausolus continued in this manner, and expanded upon the groundwork laid by his father. He first removed the official capital of the satrap from Mylasa to Halicarnassus, gaining a strategic naval advantage as the new capital was on the ocean. On this land he built a strong fortress and a works by which he could build up a strong navy.

He shrewdly used this power to guarantee protection for the citizens of Chios, Kos, and Rhodes as they proclaimed independence from Athenian Greece. Mausolus did not live to see his plans realized fully, and his position went to his widow Artemisia. The local control over Caria remained in Hecatomnus’s family for another 20 years before the arrival of Alexander the Great.

Cyrus the Great


The Medes (Old Persian Māda-, Hebrew: Madai) were an ancient Iranian people who spoke the Median language and who inhabited an area known as Media between western and northern Iran.

Late 9th to early 7th centuries BC, the region of Media was bounded by the Zagros Mountains to its west, to its south by the Garrin Mountain in Lorestan Province, to its northwest by the Qaflankuh Mountains in Zanjan Province, and to its east by the Dasht-e Kavir desert. Its neighbors were the kingdoms of Gizilbunda and Mannea in the northwest, and Ellipi and Elam in the south.

In the 8th century BC, Media’s tribes came together to form the Median Kingdom, which became a Neo-Assyrian vassal. Between 616 and 609 BC, King Cyaxares (624–585 BC) allied with King Nabopolassar of the Neo-Babylonian Empire and destroyed the Neo-Assyrian Empire, after which the Median Empire stretched across the Iranian Plateau as far as Anatolia. Its precise geographical extent remains unknown.

A few archaeological sites (discovered in the “Median triangle” in western Iran) and textual sources (from contemporary Assyrians and also ancient Greeks in later centuries) provide a brief documentation of the history and culture of the Median state. Apart from a few personal names, the language of the Medes is unknown.

The Medes had an ancient Iranian religion (a form of pre-Zoroastrian Mazdaism or Mithra worshipping) with a priesthood named as “Magi”. Later, during the reigns of the last Median kings, the reforms of Zoroaster spread into western Iran.

The Median language (also Medean or Medic) was the language of the Medes. It is an Old Iranian language and classified as belonging to the Northwestern Iranian subfamily, which includes many other languages such as Azari, Gilaki, Mazandarani, Zaza–Gorani, Kurdish (Kurmanji, Sorani, Kalhori), and Baluchi.

Strabo’s Geographica (finished in the early first century) mentions the affinity of Median with other Iranian languages: “The name of Ariana is further extended to a part of Persia and of Media, as also to the Bactrians and Sogdians on the north; for these speak approximately the same language, but with slight variations”.

Greek references to “Median” people make no clear distinction between the “Persians” and the “Medians”; in fact for a Greek to become “too closely associated with Iranian culture” was “to become Medianized, not Persianized”.

The Median Kingdom was a short-lived Iranian state and the textual and archaeological sources of that period are rare and little could be known from the Median culture which nevertheless made a “profound, and lasting, contribution to the greater world of Iranian culture”.

Median Empire


The Kurds as an ethnicity within the Northwestern Iranian group enter the historical record at the end of the seventh century. The present state of knowledge about Kurdish allows, at least roughly, drawing the approximate borders of the areas where the main ethnic core of the speakers of the contemporary Kurdish dialects was formed.

The most argued hypothesis on the localisation of the ethnic territory of the Kurds remains D.N. Mackenzie’s theory, proposed in the early 1960s. Developing the ideas of P. Tedesco and regarding the common phonetic isoglosses shared by Kurdish, Persian, and Baluchi, D.N. Mackenzie concluded that the speakers of these three languages form a unity within Northwestern Iranian languages.

He has tried to reconstruct such a Persian-Kurdish-Baluchi linguistic unity presumably in the central parts of Iran. According to his theory, the Persians (or Proto-Persians) occupied the province of Fars in the southwest (proceeding from the fact that the Achaemenids spoke Persian), the Balochs (Proto-Balochs) inhabited the central areas of Western Iran, and the Kurds (Proto-Kurds), in the wording of G. Windfuhr (1975: 459), lived either in northwestern Luristan or in the province of Isfahan.

Russian historian and linguist Vladimir Minorsky suggested that the Medes, who widely inhabited the land where currently the Kurds form a majority, might have been forefathers of the modern Kurds. He also states that the Medes who invaded the region in the eighth century BC, linguistically resembled the Kurds.

This view was accepted by many Kurdish nationalists in the twentieth century. However, Martin van Bruinessen, a Dutch scholar, argues against the attempt to take the Medes as ancestors of the Kurds: “Though some Kurdish intellectuals claim that their people are descended from the Medes, there is no evidence to permit such a connection across the considerable gap in time between the political dominance of the Medes and the first attestation of the Kurds.”

Contemporary linguistic evidence has challenged the previously suggested view that the Kurds are descendants of the Medes. Gernot Windfuhr, professor of Iranian Studies, identified the Kurdish languages as Parthian, albeit with a Median substratum.

David Neil MacKenzie, an authority on the Kurdish language, said Kurdish was closer to Persian and questioned the “traditional” view holding that Kurdish, because of its differences from Persian, should be regarded a Northwestern Iranian language.

Garnik Asatrian stated that “The Central Iranian dialects, and primarily those of the Kashan area in the first place, as well as the Azari dialects (otherwise called Southern Tati) are probably the only Iranian dialects, which can pretend to be the direct offshoots of Median… In general, the relationship between Kurdish and Median is not closer than the affinities between the latter and other North Western dialects — Baluchi, Talishi, South Caspian, Zaza, Gurani, etc.”

Achaemenid Empire

By the 7th century BC, the Persians had settled in the south-western portion of the Iranian Plateau in the region of Persis, which came to be their heartland. From this region, Cyrus the Great advanced to defeat the Medes, Lydia, and the Neo-Babylonian Empire, establishing the Achaemenid Empire.

The Achaemenid Empire, also called the First Persian Empire, was an ancient Iranian empire based in Western Asia founded by Cyrus the Great. It is estimated that in 480 BC, 50 million people lived in the Achaemenid Empire. The empire at its peak ruled over 44% of the world’s population, the highest such figure for any empire in history.

Ranging at its greatest extent from the Balkans and Eastern Europe proper in the west to the Indus Valley in the east, it was larger than any previous empire in history, spanning 5.5 million square kilometers (2.1 million square miles).

At its greatest extent, the Achaemenid Empire included territories of modern-day Iran, Republic of Azerbaijan (Arran and Shirvan), Armenia, Georgia, Turkey (Anatolia), much of the Black Sea coastal regions, northeastern Greece and southern Bulgaria (Thrace), northern Greece and North Macedonia (Paeonia and Macedon), Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories, all significant population centers of ancient Egypt as far west as Libya, Kuwait, northern Saudi Arabia, parts of the United Arab Emirates and Oman, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and much of Central Asia, making it the first world government and the largest empire the world had yet seen.

The Empire is noted for building infrastructure such as road systems (the Royal Road) and a postal system (the Chapar), the use of an official language (Imperial Aramaic) across its territories, and the development of civil services and a large professional army. It inspired similar systems in later empires.

Incorporating various peoples of different origins and faiths, the empire is noted for its successful model of a centralized, bureaucratic administration (through satraps under the King of Kings) under the emperor, a large professional army, and civil services, inspiring similar developments in later empires.

In Western history it is noted as the antagonist of the Greek city-states during the Greco-Persian Wars and for the emancipation and release of the Jewish exiles in Babylon. The impact of Cyrus’s edict is mentioned in Judeo-Christian texts, and the empire was instrumental in the spread of Zoroastrianism as far east as China. The empire also set the tone for the politics, heritage and history of Iran (also known as Persia).

The historical mark of the empire went far beyond its territorial and military influences and included cultural, social, technological and religious influences as well. Despite the lasting conflict between the two states, many Athenians adopted Achaemenid customs in their daily lives in a reciprocal cultural exchange, some being employed by or allied to the Persian kings.

Achaemenid Empire

Orontide Dynasty

The successor state to the Iron Age kingdom of Urartu (Ararat) was governed by the Orontid Dynasty, known locally as the Yervand (from the Iranian word arvand, meaning “mighty”, in the years between 585–190 BC. This was the first geographical entity that was known as Armenia (Armina or Arminiya in Old Persian; “Harminuya” in Elamite; “Urashtu” in Babylonian).

It was first, in the years 549–331 BC, governed as a satrapy of the Persian Achaemenid Empire known as the Satrapy of Armenia (Armenian: Satrapakan Hayastan), and after the fall of Achaemenid Empire (in 330 BC), it was an independent kingdom. Its capitals were Tushpa and later Erebuni.

The Orontid dynasty, also known by their native name Eruandid or Yervanduni, was the first of the three royal dynasties that successively ruled the ancient Kingdom of Armenia (321 BC–428 AD), the successor state to the Iron Age kingdom of Urartu (Ararat).

During the rule of the Orontid dynasty most Armenians adopted the Zoroastrian religion. The Hurro-Urartians seem to have disappeared from history around this time, almost certainly being absorbed into the Indo-European Armenian population.

In a study from 2017 the complete mitochondrial genomes of 4 ancient skeletons from Urartu were analyzed alongside other ancient populations found in modern-day Armenia and Artsakh spanning 7800 years. The study shows that modern-day Armenians are the people who have the least genetic distance from those ancient skeletons.

A large cuneiform lapidary inscription found in Yerevan established that the modern capital of Armenia was founded in the summer of 782 BC by King Argishti I. Yerevan is the world’s oldest city to have documented the exact date of its foundation.

The founder of the Orontid Dynasty was Orontes I Sakavakyats (Yervand I Sakavakyats). His son, Tigranes Orontid, united his forces with Cyrus the Great and killed Media’s king. Moses of Chorene called him “the wisest, most powerful and bravest of Armenian kings.”

Initially, the Orontids ruled as Persian satraps as the Achaemenians divided their new territory into two parts, and it was in the eastern province that the Orontid dynasty ruled as satraps on behalf of their Persian overlords. Thus, Persian culture, language and political practices were introduced into ancient Armenia which still maintained its own Urartian traditions, too.

The Orontid Dynasty established their supremacy over Armenia around the time of the Scythian and Median invasion in the 6th century BC. The precise date of the foundation of the Orontid Dynasty is debated by scholars to this day but there is a consensus that it occurred after the destruction of Urartu by the Scythians and the Medes around 612 BC.

It was a hereditary Armenian dynasty. Historians state that the dynasty was of Iranian origin, and suggest (albeit not clearly) that it held dynastic familial linkages to the ruling Achaemenid dynasty, the ruling dynasty of Persia from about 700 to 330 BC. According to Razmik Panossian, the Yervandunis had marriage links to the rulers of Persia and other leading noble houses in Armenia.

Throughout their existence, the Orontids stressed their lineage from the Achaemenids in order to strengthen their political legitimacy. The kings of the Achaemenid dynasty were Persian without doubt, but the fact that the mother of Cyrus the Great was a Median has led to the dynasty and its empire being referred to as the Medo-Persian Empire, though this term is most often used in biblical texts.

Members of the Orontid dynasty ruled Armenia intermittently during the period spanning from the 6th to at least the 2nd centuries BC, first as client kings or satraps of the Median and Achaemenid empires and later, after the collapse of the Achaemenid empire, as rulers of an independent kingdom. In the end they ruled as kings of Sophene and Commagene, which eventually succumbed to the Roman Empire.

From 553 BC to 521 BC, Armenia was a subject kingdom of the Achaemenid Empire, but with the disturbances that occurred after the death of Cambyses II and the proclamation of Bardiya as King, the Armenians revolted in 522 BC.

when Darius I was king, he decided to conquer Armenia. Darius I then sent an Armenian named Dâdarši to end the revolt, later replacing him with the Persian general, Vaumisa, who defeated the Armenians in 521 BC.

Around the same time, another Armenian by the name of Arakha, son of Haldita, claimed to be the son of the last king of Babylon, Nabonidus (“Nabu is praised”), and renamed himself Nebuchadnezzar IV.

Nabonidus was the last king of the Neo-Babylonian Empire, reigning from 556–539 BC (17 years). His rebellion against the Persian king, Darius I, which commenced around 522 BC,was short lived and it was suppressed by Intaphrenes (Old Persian: Vidafarnâ), Darius’ bow carrier, by 520 BC.

According to Herodotus, Intaphrenes was one of the seven who helped Darius I usurp the throne from Bardiya following Bardiya’s usurping of the throne of the Achaemenid Empire from Cambyses II.

Bardiya was on the Persian throne for seven months during 522 BC. Intaphrenes then became Darius’s bow carrier, a high position in which he is depicted in the Behistun Inscription. In 521 BCE, Intaphrenes was sent as general at the head of an army by Darius I to eliminate Arakha, who allegedly had usurped the throne of Babylon as Nebuchadnezzar IV in 522 BCE.

These events have been the subject of debate among historians in recent years. Intaphrenes was put to death after the insurrection for trying to enter the King’s palace while he was lying with his wife.

The seven noblemen who had toppled Bardiya had made an agreement that they could all visit the new king whenever they pleased, except when he was with his wife. One evening, Intaphrenes went to the palace to meet Darius, but was stopped by two officers who stated that Darius had retired for the night.

Becoming enraged and insulted, Intaphrenes drew his sword and cut off the ears and noses of the two officers. While leaving the palace, he took the bridle from his horse, and tied the two officers together. The officers went to the king and showed him what Intaphrenes had done to them.

Darius began to fear for his own safety; he thought that all seven noblemen had banded together to rebel against him and that the attack against his officers was the first sign of revolt. He sent a messenger to each of the noblemen, asking them if they approved of Intaphrenes’s actions. They denied and disavowed any connection with Intaphrenes’s actions, stating that they stood by their decision to appoint Darius as King of Kings.

Taking precautions against further resistance, Darius sent soldiers to seize Intaphrenes, along with his son, family members, relatives and any friends who were capable of arming themselves. Darius believed that Intaphrenes was planning a rebellion, but when he was brought to the court, there was no proof of any such plan.

Nonetheless, Darius killed Intaphrenes’s entire family, excluding his wife’s brother and son. She was asked to choose between her brother and son. She chose her brother to live. Her reasoning for doing so was that she could have another husband and another son, but she would always have but one brother. Darius was impressed by her response and spared both her brother’s and her son’s life.

Nabonidus had seized power in a coup, toppling King Labashi-Marduk (‘”May I not come to shame, O Marduk”), the son of Neriglissar and his wife, the daughter of Nebuchadnezzar, who became king of Babylon while still a child. Labashi-Marduk was murdered after nine months in a conspiracy led by Nabonidus and his son Belshazzar in concert with the nobles of the court.

However, Nabondius angered the priests and commoners of Babylon by neglecting the city’s chief god, Marduk, and elevating the moon god, Sin, to the highest status. When Nabonidus left the capital for ten years to build and restore temples – mostly to Sin – he left his son, Belshazzar, in charge. While leading excavations for the restoration effort, he initiated the world’s first known archaeological work.

Meanwhile, the Persian Achaemenid Empire to the east, led by Cyrus the Great, had been gaining strength. King Cyrus had become popular among the residents of Babylon by posing as the one who would restore Marduk to his rightful place in the city.

As the Persians advanced to Babylon, Nabonidus returned. He was captured by the Persians in 539 BC and Babylon was occupied, thus ending the Neo-Babylonian Empire. Cyrus was welcomed into the city, where he performed the rites of Marduk. Nabonidus’ fate is uncertain, though it is believed he was exiled to Iran and allowed to occupy a government post.

The last Orontid king Orontes IV was killed, but the Orontids continued to rule in Sophene and Commagene until the 1st century BC. In two inscriptions of king Antiochus I of Commagene on his monument at Mount Nemrut, Orontes I (son of Artasouras and husband of Artaxerxes’ daughter Rhodogoune), is reckoned as an ancestor of the Orontids ruling over Commagene, who traced back their family to Darius the Great.

Orontid Dynasty

Satrapy of Armenia


Tushpa (Armenian: Tosp, Assyrian: Turuspa, Turkish: Tuşpa) was the 9th-century BC capital of Urartu, later becoming known as Van which is derived from Biainili the native name of Urartu. The ancient ruins are located just west of Van and east of Lake Van in the Van Province of Turkey.

Archaeological excavations and surveys carried out in Van province indicate that the history of human settlement in this region goes back at least as far as 5000 BC. The Tilkitepe Mound, which is on the shores of Lake Van and a few kilometres to the south of Van Castle, is the only source of information about the oldest culture of Van.

Under the ancient name of Tushpa (Armenian: Tosp, Assyrian: Turuspa, Turkish: Tuşpa), Van was the capital of the Urartian kingdom in the 9th century BC. It was possibly pronounced as “Tospa” in ancient times as there was no symbolic O equivalent in Akkadian cuneiform so the symbol used for U was frequently substituted.

The early settlement was centered on the steep-sided bluff now known as Van Castle (Van Kalesi), close to the edge of Lake Van and a few kilometers west of the modern city in the Van Province of modern Turkey.

Here have been found Urartian cuneiform inscriptions dating to the 8th and 7th centuries BC. In the trilingual Behistun inscription, carved in the order of Darius the Great of Persia, the country referred to as Urartu in Babylonian is called Armenia in Old Persian. The name ‘Van’ is derived from Biainili the native name of Urartu.

Tushpa was the capital of the Urartian kingdom in the 9th century BC. The fortress of Van is a massive stone fortification built by the ancient kingdom of Urartu and held from the 9th to 7th centuries BC. It overlooks Tushpa, and is the largest example of this kind of complex. The region came under the control of the Orontid dynasty of Armenia in the 7th century BC and later Persians in the mid-6th century BC.

A number of similar fortifications were built throughout the Urartian kingdom, usually cut into hillsides and outcrops in places where modern-day Armenia, Turkey and Iran meet. Successive groups such as the Armenians, Romans, Medes, Achaemenid and Sassanid Persians, Arabs, Seljuqs, Ottomans and Russians each controlled the fortress at one time or another.


Erebuni Fortress, also known as Arin Berd (“Fortress of Blood”), is an Urartian fortified city, located in Yerevan, Armenia. It is 1,017 metres (3,337 ft) above sea level. It was one of several fortresses built along the northern Urartian border and was one of the most important political, economic and cultural centers of the vast kingdom. The name Yerevan itself is derived from Erebuni.

On an inscription found at Teishebaini (also Teshebani, modern Karmir Blur, the Urartian verb erebu-ni is used in the sense of “to seize, pillage, steal, or kidnap” followed by a changing direct object. Scholars have conjectured that the word, as an unchanging direct object, may also mean “to take” or “to capture” and thus believe that the Erebuni at the time of its founding meant “capture”, “conquest”, or “victory.”

Teishebaini (referring more to the hill that the fortress is located upon) was the capital of the Transcaucasian provinces of the ancient kingdom of Urartu. It is located near the modern city of Yerevan in Armenia. The site was once a fortress and governmental centre with towered and buttressed perimeter walls, massive gates, a parade ground within its walls, and storage rooms that entirely occupied the ground floor. The site of the city, palace and citadel together measure over 0.45 km2 (110 acres).

The name Karmir Blur translates to “Red Hill” because of the hill’s reddish hue. It became this color after the city was set on fire and the upper walls which were made of tuff fell and crumbled because of the heat. After the tuff was heated by the fire, it took on a more intense red color and therefore the hill became red. The lower portions of the walls were left standing after the fire since they were built with a stronger stone. Teishebaini is situated at a height of 901 metres (2,956 ft).

The city of Teishebaini was built by Rusa II in mid-7th century BC to protect the eastern borders of Urartu from the barbaric Cimmerians and Scythians. Within the city was a governors palace that contained a hundred and twenty rooms spreading across more than 40,000 m2 (10 acres), and citadel named the Citadel of Teisheba after the Urartian god of war. The palace was made of stone, with timber ceilings, and timber columns that supported the roof. The construction of the city, palace, and the citadel were not fully finished until the reign of Rusa III, some 50 years later.

Erebuni was founded by Urartian King Argishti I (r. ca. 785–753 BC) in 782 BC. It was built on top of a hill called Arin Berd overlooking the Aras River Valley to serve as a military stronghold to protect the kingdom’s northern borders. It has been described as being “designed as a great administrative and religious centre, a fully royal capital.”

According to Margarit Israelyan, Argishti began the construction of Erebuni after conquering the territories north of Yerevan and west of Lake Sevan, roughly corresponding to where the town of Abovyan is currently located. Accordingly, the prisoners he captured in these campaigns, both men and women, were used to help build his town.

In the autumn of 1950, an archaeological expedition led by Konstantine Hovhannisyan discovered an inscription at Arin Berd dedicated to the city’s founding which was carved during Argishti’s reign. Two other identical inscriptions have been found at the citadel of Erebuni. The inscription reads:

By the greatness of the God Khaldi, Argishti, son of Menua, built this mighty stronghold and proclaimed it Erebuni for the glory of Biainili (Urartu) and to instill fear among the king’s enemies. Argishti says: The land was a desert, before the great works I accomplished upon it. By the greatness of Khaldi, Argishti, son of Menua, is a mighty king, king of Biainili, and ruler of Tushpa.”

Argishti left a similar inscription at the Urartian capital of Tushpa (current-day Van) as well, stating that he brought 6,600 prisoners of war from Khate and Tsupani to populate his new city. Similar to other Urartian cities of the time, it was built on a triangular plan on top of a hill and ensconced by 10-to-12-metre (33 to 39 ft) high ramparts. Behind them, the buildings were separated by central and inner walls. The walls were built from a variety of materials, including basalt, tuff, wood and adobe.

Argishti constructed a grand palace here and excavations conducted in the area have revealed that other notable buildings included a colonnaded royal assembly hall, a temple dedicated to Khaldi, a citadel, where the garrison resided, living quarters, dormitories and storerooms. The inner walls were richly decorated with murals and other wall paintings, displaying religious and secular scenes.

Successive Urartian kings made Erebuni their place of residence during their military campaigns against northern invaders and continued construction work to build up the fortress defences. Kings Sarduri II and Rusa I also utilized Erebuni as a staging site for new campaigns of conquest directed towards the north. In the early sixth century the Urartian state, under constant foreign invasion, collapsed.

The region soon fell under the control of the Achaemenian Empire. The strategic position that Erebuni occupied did not diminish, however, becoming an important center of the satrapy of Armenia.

Despite numerous invasions by successive foreign powers, the city was never truly abandoned and was continually inhabited over the following centuries, eventually branching out to become the city of Yerevan. Erebuni’s close affinity to Yerevan was celebrated in a splendid festival held in September 1968, commemorating Erebuni’s 2,750th birthday.



Armavir and Yervandashat

In 331 BC, when Armenia under the Orontid Dynasty asserted its independence from the Achaemenid Empire, Armavir, founded in the 8th century BC by King Argishti I of Urartu, was chosen as the capital of Armenia and subsequently Yervandashat.

Armavir is called the “first capital of the Orontid dynasty”. According to the 5th-century Armenian historian Movses Khorenatsi, Armavir was the first capital of the kingdom of Armenia, although, from a geographical standpoint, the first capital of Armenia was Van.

Armavir is a town and urban municipal community located in the west of Armenia serving as the administrative centre of Armavir Province. It was founded in 1931 by the government of the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic. The town was known as Sardarapat between 1931 and 1935, and Hoktemberyan from 1935 to 1995.

Founded in 1931 as Sardarabad, the town was known as Hoktemberyan (meaning the city of October) between 1935 and 1995, named in honor of the October Revolution. In 1992, the town was named Armavir by the government of independent Armenia, after the nearby ancient city of Armavir.

The area of ancient Armavir was inhabited since the 6th millennium BC. Various obsidian instruments, bronze objects and pottery have been found from that period. Armavir was regarded as an ancient capital of Armenia, said to have been founded by King Aramais in 1980 BC.

During the first half of the 8th century BC, King Argishti I of Urartu built a fortress in the area and named it Argishtikhinili. Argishtikhinili (Urartian: ar-gi-iš-ti-ḫi-ni-li) was a town in the ancient kingdom of Urartu, established during the expansion of the Urartians in the Transcaucasus under their king Argishti I, and named in his honour.

It lasted between the 8th and 6th centuries BC. The ruins of the Argishtikhinili fortifications are 15 kilometres (9 mi) southwest of the present-day town of Armavir, Armenia, between the villages of Nor-Armavir and Armavir in the Armenian marz of Armavir. The town was founded on the left bank of the middle reaches of the Aras River.

The historiography of Argishtikhinili is intimately tied with that of old Armavir, one of the capitals of Armenia. Moses of Chorene has written in his History of Armenia of the founding of Armavir by Aramais, grandson of Hayk, the legendary ancestor of the Armenians. Old Armavir, as was demonstrated by archaeological digs in the 20th century, was located atop the erstwhile Argishtikhinili from the 4th century BC onwards.

Unlike many other Urartian cities, Argishtikhinili was not located at an elevation, and thus its military value was small. The low flat hills upon which the town was built did not allow such mighty fortresses as protected Tushpa, Erebuni, Rusahinili or Teishebaini.

However, to protect itself from unorganised attack, walls in the classic Urartian pattern were constructed along the mounds surrounding it. These were of mud brick atop a foundation of massive basalt blocks. The facade of the walls was divided by buttresses, and at each corner of the fortress there was a massive tower.

Slabs of clay have been found from the Achaemenid period written in the Elamite language concerning episodes of the Gilgamesh epic. Various inscriptions in Hellenistic Greek carved around the third century BC, have been found, including poetry from Hesiod, lines from Euripides, a list of Macedonian months, and names of Orontid Kings.

According to Movses Khorenatsi, Orontes founded Yervandashat, built by the last Orontid king Orontes IV of Armenia around 210 BC, to replace Armavir as his capital after Armavir had been left dry by a shift of the Arax River. Ancient Yervandashat was destroyed by the army of the Persian King Shapur II in the 360s AD.

Yervandashat was at a height on the right bank of Aras River, in the Arsharunik canton of Ayrarat province of Armenia Major. Its site is 1 km east of the modern Armenian village of Yervandashat, in the current Turkish Province of Iğdır. It served as a capital city between 210 and 176 BC during the Orontid rule over Armenia and the beginning of their successors; the Artaxiad dynasty.

Greco-Persian Wars

The Greco-Persian Wars (also often called the Persian Wars)  were a series of conflicts between the Achaemenid Empire and Greek city-states that started in 499 BC and lasted until 449 BC. The collision between the fractious political world of the Greeks and the enormous empire of the Persians began when Cyrus the Great conquered the Greek-inhabited region of Ionia in 547 BC.

During the 6th century BC, all of Anatolia was conquered by the Persian Achaemenid Empire, the Persians having usurped the Medes as the dominant dynasty in Iran. Struggling to control the independent-minded cities of Ionia, the Persians appointed tyrants to rule each of them. This would prove to be the source of much trouble for the Greeks and Persians alike.

In 499 BC, the tyrant of Miletus, Aristagoras, embarked on an expedition to conquer the island of Naxos, with Persian support; however, the expedition was a debacle and, preempting his dismissal, Aristagoras incited all of Hellenic Asia Minor into rebellion against the Persians. This was the beginning of the Ionian Revolt, which would last until 493 BC, progressively drawing more regions of Asia Minor into the conflict.

In 499 BC, the Ionian city-states on the west coast of Anatolia rebelled against Persian rule. Aristagoras secured military support from Athens and Eretria, and in 498 BC these forces helped to capture and burn the Persian regional capital of Sardis. The Persian king Darius the Great vowed to have revenge on Athens and Eretria for this act.

The Ionian Revolt, as it became known, though quelled, erupted into the Greco-Persian Wars, and continued through the first half of the fifth century BC, and ended in a Greek victory in 449 BC, and the Ionian cities regained their independence. The Achaemenids withdrawal of from all of the territories in the Balkans and Eastern Europe proper.

The revolt continued, with the two sides effectively stalemated throughout 497–495 BC. In 494 BC, the Persians regrouped and attacked the epicenter of the revolt in Miletus. At the Battle of Lade, the Ionians suffered a decisive defeat, and the rebellion collapsed, with the final members being stamped out the following year.

Seeking to secure his empire from further revolts and from the interference of the mainland Greeks, Darius embarked on a scheme to conquer Greece and to punish Athens and Eretria for the burning of Sardis. The first Persian invasion of Greece began in 492 BC, with the Persian general Mardonius successfully re-subjugating Thrace and Macedon before several mishaps forced an early end to the rest of the campaign.

In 490 BC a second force was sent to Greece, this time across the Aegean Sea, under the command of Datis and Artaphernes. This expedition subjugated the Cyclades, before besieging, capturing and razing Eretria. However, while en route to attack Athens, the Persian force was decisively defeated by the Athenians at the Battle of Marathon, ending Persian efforts for the time being.

Darius then began to plan to completely conquer Greece but died in 486 BC and responsibility for the conquest passed to his son Xerxes. In 480 BC, Xerxes personally led the second Persian invasion of Greece with one of the largest ancient armies ever assembled. Victory over the allied Greek states at the famous Battle of Thermopylae allowed the Persians to torch an evacuated Athens and overrun most of Greece.

However, while seeking to destroy the combined Greek fleet, the Persians suffered a severe defeat at the Battle of Salamis. The following year, the confederated Greeks went on the offensive, decisively defeating the Persian army at the Battle of Plataea, and ending the invasion of Greece by the Achaemenid Empire.

The allied Greeks followed up their success by destroying the rest of the Persian fleet at the Battle of Mycale, before expelling Persian garrisons from Sestos (479 BC) and Byzantium (478 BC). Following the Persian withdrawal from Europe and the Greek victory at Mycale, Macedon and the city-states of Ionia regained their independence.

The actions of the general Pausanias at the siege of Byzantium alienated many of the Greek states from the Spartans, and the anti-Persian alliance was therefore reconstituted around Athenian leadership, called the Delian League.

The Delian League continued to campaign against Persia for the next three decades, beginning with the expulsion of the remaining Persian garrisons from Europe. At the Battle of the Eurymedon in 466 BC, the League won a double victory that finally secured freedom for the cities of Ionia.

However, the League’s involvement in the Egyptian revolt by Inaros II against Artaxerxes I (from 460–454 BC) resulted in a disastrous Greek defeat, and further campaigning was suspended.

A Greek fleet was sent to Cyprus in 451 BC, but achieved little, and, when it withdrew, the Greco-Persian Wars drew to a quiet end. Some historical sources suggest the end of hostilities was marked by a peace treaty between Athens and Persia, the Peace of Callias.

Corinthian War

The Corinthian War was an ancient Greek conflict lasting from 395 BC until 387 BC, pitting Sparta against a coalition of four allied states, Thebes, Athens, Corinth, and Argos, backed by the Achaemenid Empire. The immediate cause of the war was a local conflict in northwest Greece in which both Thebes and Sparta intervened.

The deeper cause was hostility towards Sparta, provoked by that city’s “expansionism in Asia Minor, central and northern Greece and even the west”. The Corinthian War followed the Peloponnesian War (431–404 BC), in which Sparta had achieved hegemony over Athens and its allies.

The war was fought on two fronts, on land near Corinth (hence the name) and Thebes and at sea in the Aegean. On land, the Spartans achieved several early successes in major battles, but were unable to capitalize on their advantage, and the fighting soon became stalemated. At sea, the Spartan fleet was decisively defeated early in the war by an Achaemenid fleet allied with Athens, an event that effectively ended Sparta’s attempts to become a naval power.

Taking advantage of this fact, Athens launched several naval campaigns in the later years of the war, recapturing a number of islands that had been part of the original Delian League during the 5th century BC. Alarmed by these Athenian successes towards the end of the conflict, the Persians stopped backing the allies and began supporting Sparta. This defection forced the allies to seek peace.

The King’s Peace, also known as the Peace of Antalcidas, a peace treaty guaranteed by the Persian King Artaxerxes II that ended the Corinthian War in ancient Greece was signed in 387 BC. The treaty’s alternate name comes from Antalcidas, the Spartan diplomat who traveled to Susa to negotiate the terms of the treaty with the king of Achaemenid Persia.

The treaty was more commonly known in antiquity, however, as the King’s Peace, a name that reflects the depth of Persian influence in the treaty, as Persian gold had driven the preceding war. The treaty was a form of Common Peace, similar to the Thirty Years’ Peace which ended the First Peloponnesian War.

This treaty declared that Persia would control all of Ionia, and proclaimed that all other Greek cities would be “autonomous”, in effect prohibiting Greek cities from forming leagues, alliances or coalitions. Sparta was to be the guardian of the peace, with the power to enforce its clauses.

The effects of the war, therefore, were to establish Persia’s ability to interfere successfully in Greek politics, to atomize and isolate from one another Greek city states, and to affirm Sparta’s hegemonic position in the Greek political system. The Corinthian War was succeeded by the Theban–Spartan War of 378–362 BC, in which Sparta would finally lose its hegemony, this time to Thebes.

Alexander the Great

In 336 BCE, King Philip of Macedon was unexpectedly killed, making his son Alexander the new ruler of Macedon as he was very popular. He immediately went to work, raising a force large enough to go up against the Persians, gathering a navy large enough to counter any threats by their powerful navy.

In 334 BC, the Macedonian Greek king Alexander the Great, an avid admirer of Cyrus the Great, conquered the peninsula from the Achaemenid Persian Empire. Alexander’s conquest opened up the interior of Asia Minor to Greek settlement and influence.

Landing on the shores of Anatolia near Sestos on the Gallipoli in 334 BCE, Alexander first faced the Persian army in the Battle of the Granicus, in which the Persians were effectively routed. Using the victory as a springboard for success, Alexander turned his attention to the rest of the western coast, liberating Lydia and Ionia in quick succession.

The eventual fall of Miletus led to the brilliant strategy by Alexander to defeat the Persian navy by taking every city along the Mediterranean instead of initiating a very high-risk battle on the sea.

By reducing this threat, Alexander turned inland, rolling through Phyrgia, Cappadocia, and finally Cilicia, before reaching Mount Amanus. Scouts for Alexander found the Persian army, under its king Darius III, advancing through the plains of Issus in search of Alexander.

At this moment, Alexander realized that the terrain favored his smaller army, and the Battle of Issus began. Darius’s army was effectively squeezed by the Macedonians, leading to not only an embarrassing defeat for Darius, but that he fled back across the Euphrates river, leaving the rest of his family in Alexander’s hands. Thus, Anatolia was freed from the Persian yoke for good.

In 334 BC, Alexander the Great invaded the Achaemenid Empire, defeating the last Achaemenid emperor, Darius III, at the Battle of Issus. Following the premature death of Alexander, Iran came under the control of the Hellenistic Seleucid Empire. Alexander the Great had conquered most of the Achaemenid Empire by 330 BC.

In June 323 BCE, Alexander died suddenly, leaving a power vacuum in Macedon, putting all he had worked for at risk. Being that his half-brother Arrhidaeus was unable to rule effectively due to a serious disability, a succession of wars over the rights to his conquests were fought known as the Wars of the Diadochi.

Perdiccas, a high-ranking officer of the cavalry, and later Antigonus, the Phrygian satrap, prevailed over the other contenders of Alexander’s empire in Asia for a time. Ptolemy, the governor of Egypt, Lysimachus, and Seleucus, strong leaders of Alexander’s, consolidated their positions after the Battle of Ipsus, in which their common rival Antigonus was defeated.

The former empire of Alexander was divided as such: Ptolemy gained territory in southern Anatolia, much of Egypt and the Levant, which combined to form the Ptolemaic Empire; Lysimachus controlled western Anatolia and Thrace, while Seleucus claimed the rest of Anatolia as the Seleucid Empire. Only the kingdom of Pontus under Mithridates I managed to gain their independence in Anatolia due to the fact that Antigonus had been a common enemy.

Seleucus I Nicator first created a capital city over the span of 12 years (299 BCE-287 BCE) worthy of his personage, Antioch, named after his father Antiochus. He concentrated also on creating a large standing army, and also divided his empire into 72 satrapies for easier administration.

After a peaceful beginning, a rift occurred between Lysimachus and Seleucus that led to open warfare in 281 BCE. Even though Seleucus had managed to defeat his former friend and gain his territory at the Battle of Corupedium, it cost him his life as he was assassinated by Ptolemy Keraunos, future king of Macedon, in Lysimachia.

After the death of Seleucus, the empire he left faced many trials, both from internal and external forces. Antiochus I fought off an attack from the Gauls successfully, but could not defeat the King of Pergamon Eumenes I in 262 BCE, guaranteeing Pergamon’s independence. Antiochus II named Theos, or “divine”, was poisoned by his first wife, who in turn poisoned Berenice Phernophorus, second wife of Antiochus and the daughter of Ptolemy III Euergetes.

Antiochus II’s son from his first wife, Seleucus II Callinicus, ended up as ruler of the Seleucids after this tragedy. These turn of events made Ptolemy III very angry, and led to the invasion of the empire (the Third Syrian War) in 246 BCE. This invasion leads to victory for Ptolemy III at Antioch and Seleucia, and he grants the lands of Phrygia to Pontus’s Mithridates II in 245 BCE as a wedding gift.

Events in the east showed the fragile nature of the Seleucids as a Bactrian-inspired revolt in Parthia begun by its satrap Andragoras in 245 BCE led to the loss of territory bordering Persia. This was coupled with an unexpected invasion of northern Parthia by the nomadic Parni in 238 BCE and a subsequent occupation of the whole of Parthia by one of their leaders, Tiridates.

Antiochus II Theos of the Seleucids failed to end the rebellion, and therefore a new kingdom was created, the Parthian Empire, under Tiridates’s brother Arsaces I. Parthia extended to the Euphrates river at the height of its power.

In the middle of the second century BC, the Parthian Empire rose to become the main power in Iran, and the century-long geopolitical arch-rivalry between the Romans and the Parthians began, culminating in the Roman–Parthian Wars.

Further annexations by Rome, in particular of the Kingdom of Pontus by Pompey, brought all of Anatolia under Roman control, except for the eastern frontier with the Parthian Empire, which remained unstable for centuries, causing a series of wars, culminating in the Roman-Parthian Wars.

The kingdom of Pergamon under the Attalid dynasty was an independent kingdom established after the rule of Philetaerus by his nephew Eumenes I. Eumenes enlarged Pergamon to include parts of Mysia and Aeolis, and held tightly onto the ports of Elaia and Pitane.

Attalus I, successor of Eumenes I, remained active outside of the boundaries of Pergamon. He refused protection payment to the Galatians and won a fight against them in 230 BCE, and then defeated Antiochus Hierax three years later in order to secure nominal control over Anatolia under the Seleucids. The victory was not to last as Seleucus III reestablished control of his empire, but Attalus was allowed to retain control of former territories of Pergamon.

The dealings with Attalus proved to be the last time the Seleucids had any meaningful success in Anatolia as the Roman Empire lay on the horizon. After that victory, Seleucus’s heirs would never again expand their empire.

In the Second Punic War, Rome had suffered in Spain, Africa, and Italy because of the impressive strategies of Hannibal, the famous Carthaginian general. When Hannibal entered into an alliance with Philip V of Macedon in 215 BCE, Rome used a small naval force with the Aetolian League to help ward off Hannibal in the east and to prevent Macedonian expansion in western Anatolia.

Attalus I of Pergamon, along with Rhodes, traveled to Rome and helped convince the Romans that war against Macedon was supremely necessary. The Roman general Titus Quinctius Flamininus not only soundly defeated Philip’s army in the Battle of Cynoscephalae in 197 BCE, but also brought further hope to the Greeks when he said that an autonomous Greece and Greek cities in Anatolia was what Rome desired.

During the period just after Rome’s victory, the Aetolian League desired some of the spoils left in the wake of Philip’s defeat, and requested a shared expedition with Antiochus III of the Seleucids to obtain it. Despite warnings by Rome, Antiochus left Thrace and ventured into Greece, deciding to ally himself with the League.

This was intolerable for Rome, and they soundly defeated him in Thessaly at Thermopylae before Antiochus retreated to Anatolia near Sardis. Combining forces with the Romans, Eumenes II of Pergamon met Antiochus in the Battle of Magnesia in 189 BCE. There Antiochus was thrashed by an intensive cavalry charge by the Romans and an outflanking maneuver by Eumenes.

Because of the Treaty of Apamea the very next year, Pergamon was granted all of the Seleucid lands north of the Taurus mountains and Rhodes was given all that remained. This seemingly great reward would be the downfall of Eumenes as an effective ruler, for after Pergamon defeated Prusias I of Bithynia and Pharnaces I of Pontus, he delved too deeply into Roman affairs and the Roman senate became alarmed. When Eumenes put down an invasion by the Galatians in 184 BCE, Rome countered his victory by freeing them, providing a heavy indicator that the scope of Pergamon’s rule was now stunted.

The interior of Anatolia had been relatively stable despite occasional incursions by the Galatians until the rise of the kingdoms of Pontus and Cappadocia in the 2nd century BCE. Cappadocia under Ariarathes IV initially was allied with the Seleucids in their war against Rome, but he soon changed his mind and repaired relations with them by marriage and his conduct.

His son, Ariarathes V Philopator, continued his father’s policy of allying with Rome and even joined with them in battle against Prusias I of Bithynia when he died in 131 BCE. Pontus had been an independent kingdom since the rule of Mithridates when the threat of Macedon had been removed. Despite several attempts by the Seleucid Empire to defeat Pontus, independence was maintained.

When Rome became involved in Anatolian affairs under Pharnaces I, an alliance was formed that guaranteed protection for the kingdom. The other major kingdom in Anatolia, Bithynia, established by Nicomedes I at Nicomedia, always maintained good relations with Rome. Even under the hated Prusias II of Bithynia when that relationship was strained it did not cause much trouble.

The rule of Rome in Anatolia was unlike any other part of their empire because of their light hand with regards to government and organization. Controlling unstable elements within the region was made simpler by the bequeathal of Pergamon to the Romans by its last king, Attalus III in 133 BCE. The new territory was named the province of Asia by Roman consul Manius Aquillius the Elder.

In 133 BC the last Attalid king bequeathed his kingdom to the Roman Republic, and western and central Anatolia came under Roman control, but Hellenistic culture remained predominant.

The Mithridatic Wars were precluded by infighting that drew Rome into a war against Italian rebels known as the Social War in 90 BCE. Mithridates VI of Pontus decided that it was time to strike in Anatolia while Rome was occupied, overrunning Bithynia. Though he withdrew when this was demanded of him by Rome he did not agree to all Romes demands.

As a result, Rome encouraged Bithynia to attack Pontus but Bithynia was defeated. Mithridates then marched into the Roman province of Asia, where he persuaded Greeks to slaughter as many Italians as possible (the Asiatic Vespers). Despite a power struggle within Rome itself, consul Cornelius Sulla went to Anatolia to defeat the Pontian king. Sulla defeated him thoroughly in and left Mithridates with only Pontus in the Treaty of Dardanos.

In 74 BCE, another Anatolian kingdom passed under Roman control as Nicomedes IV of Bithynia instructed it to be done after his death. Making Bithynia a Roman province soon after roused Mithridates VI to once again go after more territory, and he invaded it in the same year. Rome this time sent consul Lucius Licinius Lucullus to take back control of the province. The expedition proved to be very positive as Mithridates was driven back into the mountains.

The failure of Lucius Licinius Lucullus to rid Rome once and for all of Mithridates brought a lot of opposition back at home, some fueled by the great Roman consul Pompey. A threat by pirates on the Roman food supply in the Aegean Sea brought Pompey once again to the forefront of Roman politics, and he drove them back to Cilicia.

The powers granted Pompey after this success allowed him to not only throw back Mithridates all the way to the Bosphorus, but made neighboring Armenia a client kingdom. In the end, Mithridates committed suicide in 63 BCE, and therefore allowed Rome to add Pontus as a protectorate along with Cilicia as a Roman province.

This left only Galatia, Pisidia and Cappadocia, all ruled by Amyntas in whole, as the last remaining kingdom not under a protectorate or provincial status. However, in 25 BCE, Amyntas died while pursuing enemies in the Taurus mountains, and Rome claimed his lands as a province, leaving Anatolia completely in Roman hands.

Jewish influences in Anatolia were changing the religious makeup of the region as Rome consolidated its power. In about 210 BCE, Antiochus III of the Seleucid Empire relocated 2,000 families of Jews from Babylonia to Lydia and Phrygia, and this kind of migration continued throughout the remainder of the Empire’s existence.

Additional clues to the size of the Jewish influence in the area were provided by Cicero, who noted that a fellow Roman governor had halted the tribute sent to Jerusalem by Jews in 66 BCE, and the record of Ephesus, where the people urged Agrippina to expel Jews because they were not active in their religious activities.

The blossoming religious following of Christianity was evident in Anatolia during the beginning of the 1st century. The letters of St. Paul in the New Testament reflect this growth, particularly in his home province of Asia. From his home in Ephesus from 54 AD to 56 AD he noted that “all they which dwelt in Asia heard the word” and verified the existence of a church in Colossae as well as Troas.

Later he received letters from Magnesia and Tralleis, both of which already had churches, bishops, and official representatives who supported Ignatius of Antioch. After the references to these institutions by St. Paul, the Book of Revelation mentions the Seven Churches of Asia: Ephesus, Magnesia, Thyatira, Smyrna, Philadelphia, Pergamon, and Laodicea.

Even other non-Christians started to take notice of the new religion. In 112 the Roman governor in Bithynia writes to the Roman emperor Trajan that so many different people are flocking to Christianity, leaving the temples vacated.

The Parthian Empire continued as a feudal monarchy for nearly five centuries, until 224 CE, when it was succeeded by the Sasanian Empire, officially known as the Empire of Iranians (Middle Persian: Ērānshahr), also called the Neo-Persian Empire by historians, the last kingdom of the Persian Empire before the spread of Islam.

The Sasanians established an empire within the frontiers achieved by the Achaemenids, with their capital at Ctesiphon. Named after the House of Sasan, the Sasanian Empire succeeded the Parthian Empire and ruled from 224 to 651 AD. Together with their neighboring arch-rival, the Roman-Byzantines, it made up the world’s two most dominant powers at the time, for a period of more than 400 years.

Late antiquity is considered one of Iran’s most influential periods, as under the Sasanians their influence reached the culture of ancient Rome (and through that as far as Western Europe), Africa, China, and India, and played a prominent role in the formation of the medieval art of both Europe and Asia.

Most of the era of the Sasanian Empire was overshadowed by the Roman–Persian Wars, which raged on the western borders at Anatolia, the Western Caucasus, Mesopotamia, and the Levant, for over 700 years. These wars ultimately exhausted both the Romans and the Sasanians and led to the defeat of both by the Muslim invasion.

Throughout the Achaemenid, Parthian, and Sasanian eras, several offshoots of the Iranian dynasties established eponymous branches in Anatolia and the Caucasus, including the Pontic Kingdom, the Mihranids, and the Arsacid dynasties of Armenia, Iberia (Georgia), and Caucasian Albania (present-day Republic of Azerbaijan and southern Dagestan).

Alexander the Great

Philip of Macedon



Mithridatic Wars

Seleucid Empire

Following the death of Alexander and the breakup of his empire, most of the empire’s former territory fell under the rule of the Ptolemaic Kingdom, a Hellenistic kingdom based in ancient Egypt, and the Seleucid Empire, in addition to other minor territories ruled by a series of Hellenistic kingdoms which gained independence at that time, such as the Attalids of Pergamum. A period of peaceful Hellenization followed, such that the local Anatolian languages had been supplanted by Greek by the 1st century BC.

The Seleucid Empire was a Hellenistic state ruled by the Seleucid dynasty which existed from 312 BC to 63 BC; Seleucus I Nicator founded it following the division of the Macedonian Empire vastly expanded by Alexander the Great.

Seleucus received Babylonia (321 BC) and from there expanded his dominions to include much of Alexander’s near-eastern territories. At the height of its power, the Empire included central Anatolia, Persia, the Levant, Mesopotamia, and what is now Kuwait, Afghanistan, and parts of Pakistan and Turkmenistan.

The Seleucid Empire became a major center of Hellenistic culture – it maintained the preeminence of Greek customs where a Greek political elite dominated, mostly in the urban areas. The Greek population of the cities who formed the dominant elite were reinforced by immigration from Greece.

Seleucid attempts to defeat their old enemy Ptolemaic Egypt were frustrated by Roman demands. Having come into conflict in the east (305 BC) with the Maurya Empire, Seleucus I entered into an agreement with its leader, Chandragupta, whereby he ceded vast territory west of the Indus, including the Hindu Kush, modern-day Afghanistan, and the Balochistan province of Pakistan and offered his daughter in marriage to the Maurya Emperor to formalize the alliance.

Antiochus III the Great attempted to project Seleucid power and authority into Hellenistic Greece, but his attempts were thwarted by the Roman Republic and by Greek allies such as the Kingdom of Pergamon, culminating in a Seleucid defeat at the 190 BC Battle of Magnesia. In the subsequent Treaty of Apamea in 188 BC, the Seleucids were compelled to pay costly war reparations and relinquished claims to territories west of the Taurus Mountains.

The Parthians under Mithridates I of Parthia conquered much of the remaining eastern part of the Seleucid Empire in the mid-2nd century BC, while the independent Greco-Bactrian Kingdom continued to flourish in the northeast. However, the Seleucid kings continued to rule a rump state from Syria until the invasion by Armenian king Tigranes the Great in 83 BC and their ultimate overthrow by the Roman general Pompey in 63 BC.


Seleucid Empire


Kingdom of Armenia

The Kingdom of Armenia, also the Kingdom of Greater Armenia, or simply Greater Armenia (Armenian: Mets Hayk; Latin: Armenia Maior), sometimes referred to as the Armenian Empire, was a monarchy in the Ancient Near East which existed from 321 BC to 428 AD. Its history is divided into successive reigns by three royal dynasties: Orontid (321 BC–200 BC), Artaxiad (189 BC–12 AD) and Arsacid (52–428).

The root of the kingdom lies in the Satrapy of Armenia, which was formed from the territory of the Kingdom of Ararat (860 BC–590 BC). The Orontid dynasty ruled as satraps of the Achaemenid Empire for three centuries until the empire’s defeat against Alexander the Great’s Macedonian Empire at the Battle of Gaugamela in 331 BC.

Following the rise of Alexander the Great, Armenia was formally annexed by Macedon, and in 330 BCE Armavir was made the capital (the former Urartian city of Argishtihinili).

It seems likely that the political rule of Armenia remained much as under the Persians, though, with the Orontids ruling as semi-independent kings within the now vast Macedonian Empire. Indeed, even the Armenian rulers struggled to control the powerful local lords, known as nakharars, and forming a hereditary nobility, such was the “feudal” nature of the region at this time.

From 321 BCE the Seleucids governed the Asian portion of Alexander’s empire after the young leader’s death, leading to a certain Hellenization, which created a rich cultural mix of Armenian, Persian, and Greek elements. Such was the size of the Seleucid Empire that the Orontid rulers were, again, largely left to enjoy a good deal of autonomy in what was now a region with three distinct areas:

Lesser Armenia (to the northwest, near the Black Sea), Greater Armenia (the traditional heartland of the Armenian people) and Sophene (aka Dsopk, in the southwest). The Orontid kings’ independence is illustrated by the minting of their own coinage.

After Alexander’s death in 323 BC, a Macedonian general named Neoptolemus obtained Armenia until he died in 321 BC. The Orontids, however, returned, not as satraps, but as kings. Orontes III was able to regain independence for Armenia. Orontes III also defeated the Thessalian commander Menon, who wanted to capture Sper’s gold mines.

Orontes III and the ruler of Lesser Armenia, Mithridates, a Persian nobleman from Asia Minor, recognized themselves independent, thus elevating the former Armenian satrapy into a kingdom, giving birth to the kingdoms of Armenia and Lesser Armenia. Under the Seleucid Empire (312–63 BC), the Armenian throne was divided in two – Armenia Maior and Sophene – both of which passed to members of the Artaxiad dynasty in 189 BC.

Armenia was the only country in the East that independently adopted certain elements of Hellenistic civilization without the Greek-Macedonian intervention throughout the 4th-1st centuries BC. Hellenistic theater, arts and culture were popularly accessed by the Armenian elite. Armenia was also full of multinational and self-governing towns around that time.

Kingdom of Armenia

Lesser Armenia

Lesser Armenia (Armenian: Pokr Hayk; Latin: Armenia Minor), also known as Armenia Minor and Armenia Inferior, was the portion of historic Armenia and the Armenian Highlands lying west and northwest of the river Euphrates.

It comprised the Armenian–populated regions primarily to the west and northwest of the ancient Kingdom of Armenia (also known as Kingdom of Greater Armenia). The region was later reorganized into the Armeniac Theme under the Byzantine Empire. It received its name to distinguish it from the much larger eastern portion of historic Armenia—Greater Armenia (or Armenia Major).

Between the 11th and 14th centuries the term Lesser Armenia (sometimes called “Little Armenia”) was applied to the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia, until the formation of Turkey in 1923. Lesser Armenia is traditionally considered as part of Western Armenia, especially after the acquisition of Eastern Armenia by the Russian Empire in the aftermath of the Russo-Persian War of 1826-1828.

The Christian Armenian population of Lesser Armenia continued its existence in the area until the Armenian Genocide of 1915-23. Some Armenians still live in the area, albeit converted to Islam under Ottoman influence, mainly in the 17th century.

Lesser Armenia

Kingdom of Pontus

The Kingdom of Pontus or Pontic Empire was a Hellenistic-era kingdom, centered in the historical region of Pontus and ruled by the Mithridatic dynasty of Persian origin, which may have been directly related to Darius the Great and the Achaemenid dynasty.

The kingdom was proclaimed by Mithridates I in 281 BCE and lasted until its conquest by the Roman Republic in 63 BCE. Mithridates declared himself king of the region that later became known as the Kingdom of Pontus. As the kingdom grew in strength, it included Lesser Armenia well.

The Kingdom of Pontus reached its largest extent under Mithridates VI the Great, who conquered Colchis, Cappadocia, Bithynia, the Greek colonies of the Tauric Chersonesos, and for a brief time the Roman province of Asia. Culturally, the kingdom was Hellenized, with Greek the official language.

After a long struggle with Rome in the Mithridatic Wars, Pontus was defeated. Part of it was incorporated into the Roman Republic as the province Bithynia et Pontus; the eastern half survived as a client kingdom.

As the greater part of the kingdom lay within the region of Cappadocia, which in early ages extended from the borders of Cilicia to the Euxine (Black Sea), the kingdom as a whole was at first called ‘Cappadocia by Pontus’ or ‘Cappadocia by the Euxine’, but afterwards simply ‘Pontus’, the name Cappadocia henceforth being used to refer to the southern half of the region previously included under that name.

Parthian Empire

The Iranian elites of the central plateau reclaimed power by the second century BC under the Parthian Empire (247 BC – 224 AD), also known as the Arsacid Empire, which became a major Iranian political and cultural power in ancient Iran.

Its latter name comes from Arsaces I (Parthian: Aršak, Persian: Ašk), who, as leader of the Parni tribe, one of the three tribes of the Dahae confederacy, conquered the satrapy of Parthia in Iran’s northeast (now shared between Turkmenistan and Iran) from Andragoras, who had rebelled against the Seleucid Empire.

He became the first king of Parthia, as well as the founder and eponym of the Arsacid dynasty of Parthia. He spent the rest of his reign consolidating his rule in the region, and successfully stopped the Seleucid efforts to reconquer Parthia.

Due to Arsaces’ achievements, he became a popular figure amongst the Arsacid monarchs, who used his name as a royal honorific. By the time of his death, Arsaces had laid the foundations of a strong state, which would eventually transform into an empire under his great-grand nephew, Mithridates I, who assumed the ancient Near Eastern royal title of King of Kings.

Literary sources are very scarce on Arsaces, and exclusively come from contradictory Greek and Roman accounts written centuries after his death. As a result, his reign is sparsely known. His existence was even questioned by modern scholars, until new studies and archaeological findings confirmed his identity in the 1960s.

Mithridates I (r. c. 171–132 BC) greatly expanded the empire by seizing Media and Mesopotamia from the Seleucids. At its height, the Parthian Empire stretched from the northern reaches of the Euphrates, in what is now central-eastern Turkey, to eastern Iran.

The Parthian language, also known as Arsacid Pahlavi and Pahlawānīg, is a now-extinct ancient Northwestern Middle Iranian language spoken in Parthia, while Middle Persian belongs to the Southwestern Iranian language group.

It was the language of state of the Parthian Empire, as well as of its eponymous branches of the Arsacid dynasty of Armenia, Arsacid dynasty of Iberia, and the Arsacid dynasty of Caucasian Albania. anguage contact made it share some features of the Eastern Iranian language group, the influence of which is attested primarily in loanwords. Some traces of Eastern influence survive in Parthian loanwords in Armenian.

This language had a huge impact on Armenian, a large part of whose vocabulary was formed primarily from borrowings from Parthian. Many ancient Parthian words were preserved, and now can be seen only in Armenian.

The empire, located on the Silk Road trade route between the Roman Empire in the Mediterranean Basin and the Han dynasty of China, became a center of trade and commerce. The Parthians largely adopted the art, architecture, religious beliefs, and royal insignia of their culturally heterogeneous empire, which encompassed Persian, Hellenistic, and regional cultures.

For about the first half of its existence, the Arsacid court adopted elements of Greek culture, though it eventually saw a gradual revival of Iranian traditions. The Arsacid rulers were titled the “King of Kings”, as a claim to be the heirs to the Achaemenid Empire; indeed, they accepted many local kings as vassals where the Achaemenids would have had centrally appointed, albeit largely autonomous, satraps.

The court did appoint a small number of satraps, largely outside Iran, but these satrapies were smaller and less powerful than the Achaemenid potentates. With the expansion of Arsacid power, the seat of central government shifted from Nisa to Ctesiphon along the Tigris (south of modern Baghdad, Iraq), although several other sites also served as capitals.

The earliest enemies of the Parthians were the Seleucids in the west and the Scythians in the north. However, as Parthia expanded westward, they came into conflict with the Kingdom of Armenia, and eventually the late Roman Republic. Rome and Parthia competed with each other to establish the kings of Armenia as their subordinate clients.

The Parthians soundly defeated Marcus Licinius Crassus at the Battle of Carrhae in 53 BC, and in 40–39 BC, Parthian forces captured the whole of the Levant except Tyre from the Romans. However, Mark Antony led a counterattack against Parthia, although his successes were generally achieved in his absence, under the leadership of his lieutenant Ventidius.

Various Roman emperors or their appointed generals invaded Mesopotamia in the course of the ensuing Roman–Parthian Wars of the next few centuries. The Romans captured the cities of Seleucia and Ctesiphon on multiple occasions during these conflicts, but were never able to hold on to them.

Frequent civil wars between Parthian contenders to the throne proved more dangerous to the Empire’s stability than foreign invasion, and Parthian power evaporated when Ardashir I, ruler of Istakhr in Persis, revolted against the Arsacids and killed their last ruler, Artabanus IV, in 224 AD.

The family of Arsaces would rule for four and a half centuries, till it was toppled by the Sasanian Empire in 224 AD. Even then, however, the descendants of Arsaces continued to wield considerable influence and authority as the House of Karen was one of the Seven Great Houses of Iran, also known as the seven Parthian clans, seven feudal aristocracies of Parthian origin, who were allied with the Sasanian court.

The Arsacids also played an important role in the history of the Caucasus; the principalities of Armenia, Caucasian Albania and Iberia were ruled by branches of the Arsacid dynasty. According to Procopius, even as late as the 6th-century the Armenian nobility still remembered their Arsacid heritage and the character of Arsaces.

Ardashir established the Sasanian Empire, which ruled Iran and much of the Near East until the Muslim conquests of the 7th century AD, although the Arsacid dynasty lived on through the Arsacid Dynasty of Armenia, the Arsacid dynasty of Iberia, and the Arsacid Dynasty of Caucasian Albania; all eponymous branches of the Parthian Arsacids.

Native Parthian sources, written in Parthian, Greek and other languages, are scarce when compared to Sasanian and even earlier Achaemenid sources. Aside from scattered cuneiform tablets, fragmentary ostraca, rock inscriptions, drachma coins, and the chance survival of some parchment documents, much of Parthian history is only known through external sources.

These include mainly Greek and Roman histories, but also Chinese histories, prompted by the Han Chinese desire to form alliances against the Xiongnu. Parthian artwork is viewed by historians as a valid source for understanding aspects of society and culture that are otherwise absent in textual sources.

Arsacid dynasty of Parthia


Parthian Empire


Sophene was part of the kingdom of Urartu in the 8th-7th centuries BC. After unifying the region with his kingdom in the early 8th century BC, king Argishti I of Urartu resettled many of its inhabitants to his newly built city of Erebuni.

After Alexander the Great’s campaigns in 330s BC and the subsequent collapse of the Achaemenid Empire, it became one of the first regions of Armenia to be exposed to Greek influence and adopted some aspects of Greek culture.

Sophene remained part of the newly independent kingdom of Greater Armenia. Around the 3rd century BC, the Seleucid Empire forced Sophene to split from Greater Armenia, giving rise to the Kingdom of Sophene.

The Kingdom of Sophene was a Hellenistic-era political entity situated between ancient Armenia and Syria. Ruled by the Orontid dynasty, the kingdom was culturally mixed, with Iranian and Greek elements being the strongest, along with Armenian, Syrian and Roman influences.

The kingdom’s capital was Carcathiocerta, identified as the now abandoned town-site of Egil on the Tigris river north of Diyarbakir. However, its largest settlement and only true city was Arsamosata, located further to the north. Arsamosata was founded by King Arsames I of the Orontid Dynasty in the 3rd century BC.

Founded around the 3rd century BC the kingdom maintained independence until c. 95 BC when the Artaxiad king Tigranes the Great conquered the territories as part of his empire. Attempts to restore the kingdom were briefly made in 66 BC and 54 AD.



The Kingdom of Commagene was an ancient Greco-Iranian kingdom ruled by a Hellenized branch of the Iranian Orontid dynasty, and would therefore have been related to the family that founded the Kingdom of Armenia.

The accuracy of these claims, however, is uncertain. The kings of Commagene claimed descent from Orontes with Darius I of Persia as their ancestor, by his marriage to Rhodogune, daughter of Artaxerxes II who had a family descent from king Darius I.

Control of the region of Commagene was apparently held by the Orontid dynasty since the 3rd century BCE, who also ruled over Armenia and Sophene. These seem to have held Commagene continuously from the time of Sames I, as the later kings of Commagene of the 2nd century BCE traced their lineage back to them.

The territory of Commagene corresponds roughly to the modern Turkish provinces of Adıyaman and northern Antep. The kingdom was located in and around the ancient city of Samosata, which served as its capital. The Iron Age name of Samosata, Kummuh, probably gives its name to Commagene.

The name Semiata or Samsat is known from Sumerian records. The town was a center of the Hittite kingdom in the Iron Age and was called Kummuh in that period. By the Hellenistic Period, the Greeks and Romans knew the city as Samosata or Samosate.

The most commonly accepted origin of the name suggests that ancient Samosata was named in honour of Sames I, an Orontid king of Armenia and Sophene who ruled around 260 BCE. Samosata was also later known as “Antiochia in Commagene”.

Kummuh was an Iron Age Neo-Hittite kingdom located on the west bank of the Upper Euphrates within the eastern loop of the river between Melid and Carchemish. Assyrian sources refer to both the land and its capital city by the same name. The city is identified with the classical-period Samosata, which has now been flooded under the waters of a newly built dam. Urartian sources refer to it as Qumaha.

The name is also attested in at least one local royal inscription dating to the 8th century BCE. Other places that are mentioned in historical sources as lying within Kummuh are lands of Kištan and Halpi, and cities of Wita, Halpa, Parala, Sukiti and Sarita(?). Kummuh bordered the kingdoms of Melid to the north, Gurgum to the west and Carchemish to the south, while to the east it faced Assyria and later Urartu.

Several indigenous rock inscriptions have been found in the region, all written in hieroglyphic Luwian, attesting to the continuity of Hittite traditions. In his annals, the Assyrian king Sargon II referred to the Kummuh ruler as ‘Hittite’, and several rulers of Kummuh bore the same names as famous Hittite kings of the 2nd millennium BCE.

Commagene extended from the right bank of the Euphrates to the Taurus and Amanus Mountains. Strabo, who counts Commagene as part of Syria, notes the kingdom’s fertility. Its capital and chief city was Samosata (now submerged under Atatürk Dam).

The boundaries of Commagene fluctuated over time. Under Antiochus Theos, the Kingdom of Commagene controlled a particularly large area. Doliche was under Commagenian rule “for about 35 years”; after being governed by Antiochus Theos, it might have been incorporated into the Roman province of Syria as early as 31 BC.

Germanicea declared itself a Commagenian city in Roman times, although originally it was not. On the other hand, Zeugma, while ruled for a time by Commagene, was popularly and traditionally considered to belong to the region of Cyrrhestica; Strabo says it had been assigned to Commagene by Pompey.

Commagene has been characterized as a “buffer state” between Armenia, Parthia, Syria, and Rome; culturally, it was correspondingly mixed. With Sophene, it was to serve as an important centre for the transmission of Hellenistic and Roman culture in the region.

Little is known of the region of Commagene prior to the beginning of the 2nd century BC. However, it seems that, from what little evidence remains, Commagene formed part of a larger state that also included the Kingdom of Sophene.

This control lasted until c. 163 BC, when the local satrap, Ptolemaeus of Commagene, established himself as independent ruler following the death of the Seleucid king, Antiochus IV Epiphanes.

The Kingdom of Commagene maintained its independence until 17 AD, when it was made a Roman province by Emperor Tiberius. It reemerged as an independent kingdom when Antiochus IV of Commagene was reinstated to the throne by order of Caligula, then deprived of it by that same emperor, then restored to it a couple of years later by his successor, Claudius. The re-emergent state lasted until 72 AD, when the Emperor Vespasian finally and definitively made it part of the Roman Empire.

The cultural identity of the Kingdom of Commagene has been variously characterized. Pierre Merlat suggests that the Commagenian city of Doliche, like others in its vicinity, was “half Iranianized and half Hellenized”.

David M. Lang describes Commagene as “a former Armenian satellite kingdom”, while Blömer and Winter call it a “Hellenistic kingdom”. Frank McLynn denominates it “a small Hellenised Armenian kingdom in southern Anatolia”.

While suggesting that a local dialect of Aramaic might have been spoken there, Fergus Millar considers that, “In some parts of the Euphrates region, such as Commagene, nothing approaching an answer to questions about local culture is possible.”

While the language used on public monuments was typically Greek, Commagene’s rulers made no secret of their Persian affinities. The kings of Commagene claimed descent from the Orontid Dynasty and would therefore have been related to the family that founded the Kingdom of Armenia; the accuracy of these claims, however, is uncertain.

Despite writing well after the Roman conquest, Lucian claimed to be “still barbarous in speech and almost wearing a jacket (kandys) in the Assyrian style”; this has been taken as a possible, but not definitive, allusion to the possibility that his native language was an Aramaic dialect.

Commagene was originally a small Syro-Hittite kingdom, located in modern south-central Turkey, with its capital at Samosata (modern Samsat, near the Euphrates). It was first mentioned in Assyrian texts as Kummuhu, which was normally an ally of Assyria, but eventually annexed as a province in 708 BC under Sargon II. The Achaemenid Empire then conquered Commagene in the 6th century BC and Alexander the Great conquered the territory in the 4th century BC.

After the breakup of the Empire of Alexander the Great, the region became part of the Hellenistic Seleucids, and Commagene emerged in about 163 BC as a state and province in the Greco-Syrian Seleucid Empire. Perhaps Commagene was part of the kingdom of Armenia in the early Hellenistic period, and was possibly annexed to the Seleucid kingdom soon after Armenia’s conquest.

The Hellenistic kingdom of Commagene, bounded by Cilicia on the west and Cappadocia on the north, arose in 162 BC when its governor, Ptolemy, a satrap of the disintegrating Seleucid Empire, declared himself independent.

Ptolemy’s dynasty was related to the Parthian kings, but his descendant Mithridates I Callinicus (109 BC–70 BC) embraced Hellenistic culture and married the Syrian Greek Princess Laodice VII Thea.

His dynasty could thus claim ties with both Alexander the Great and the Persian kings. This marriage may also have been part of a peace treaty between Commagene and the Seleucid Empire. From this point on, the kingdom of Commagene became more Greek than Persian.

Details are sketchy, but Mithridates Callinicus is thought have accepted Armenian suzerainty during the reign of Tigranes II the Great. Mithridates and Laodice’s son was King Antiochus I Theos of Commagene (reigned 70 –38 BC).

Antiochus was an ally of the Roman general Pompey during the latter’s campaigns against Mithridates VI of Pontus in 64 BC. Thanks to his diplomatic skills, Antiochus was able to keep Commagene independent from the Romans.

In 17 when Antiochus III of Commagene died, Emperor Tiberius annexed Commagene to the province of Syria. According to Josephus, this move was supported by the local nobility but opposed by the mass of the common people, who preferred to remain under their kings as before; Tacitus, on the other hand, states that “most preferred Roman, but others royal rule”.

In 38 AD, Caligula reinstated Antiochus III’s son Antiochus IV and also gave him the wild areas of Cilicia to govern. Antiochus IV was the only client king of Commagene under the Roman Empire. Deposed by Caligula and restored again upon Claudius’ accession in 41, Antiochus reigned until 72, when Emperor Vespasian deposed the dynasty and definitively re-annexed the territory to Syria, acting on allegations “that Antiochus was about to revolt from the Romans… reported by the Governor Caesennius Paetus”.

The Legio VI Ferrata, which Paetus led into Commagene, was not resisted by the populace; a day-long battle with Antiochus’ sons Epiphanes and Callinicus ended in a draw, and Antiochus surrendered.

The Legio III Gallica would occupy the area by 73 AD. A 1st-century letter in Syriac by Mara Bar Serapion describes refugees fleeing the Romans across the Euphrates and bemoans the Romans’ refusal to let the refugees return; this might describe the Roman takeover of either 18 or 72.

The descendants of Antiochus IV lived prosperously and in distinction in Anatolia, Greece, Italy, and the Middle East. As a testament to the descendants of Antiochus IV, the citizens of Athens erected a funeral monument in honor of his grandson Philopappos, who was a benefactor of the city, upon his death in 116. Another descendant of Antiochus IV was the historian Gaius Asinius Quadratus, who lived in the 3rd century.

One of the kingdom’s most lasting visible remains is the archaeological site on Mount Nemrut, a sanctuary dedicated by King Antiochus Theos to a number of syncretistic Graeco-Iranian deities as well as to himself and the deified land of Commagene. The king erected monumental statues of deities with mixed Greek and Iranian names, such as Zeus-Oromasdes, while celebrating his own descent from the royal families of Persia and Armenia in a Greek-language inscription.

When the Romans conquered Commagene, the great royal sanctuary at Mount Nemrut was abandoned. The Romans looted the burial tumuli of their goods and the Legio XVI Flavia Firma built and dedicated a bridge. The surrounding thick forests were cut down and cleared by the Romans for wood, timber and charcoal, causing much erosion to the area. It is now a World Heritage Site.

Over the course of the first centuries BC and AD, the names given on a tomb at Sofraz Köy show a mix of “typical Hellenistic dynastic names with an early introduction of Latin personal names.” Lang notes the vitality of Graeco-Roman culture in Commagene.

While few things about his origins are known with certainty, 2nd-century Attic Greek poet Lucian of Samosata claimed to have been born in the former kingdom of Commagene, in Samosata, and described himself in one satirical work as “an Assyrian”.

Another important archaeological site dating to the Kingdom of Commagene is the sanctuary of Zeus Soter at Damlıca, dedicated in the time of Mithridates II. In Commagene, there is a column topped by an eagle, which has earned the mound the name Karakuş, or Black Bird. An inscription there indicates the presence of a royal tomb that housed three women. The vault of that tomb, however, has also been looted.

The main excavations on the site were carried out by Friedrich Karl Dörner of the University of Münster. Another royal burial site is at Arsameia, which also served as a residence of the kings of Commagene. Many of the ancient artifacts from the Kingdom of Commagene are on display at the Adıyaman Museum.


Artaxiad dynasty

Weakened by the Seleucid Empire which succeeded the Macedonian Empire, the last Orontid king, Orontes IV, was overthrown by a general of the Seleucid Empire, Artashes, who is presumed to be related to the Orontid dynasty himself, in 200/201 BC.

Artaxias I was the founder of the Artaxiad dynasty of Armenia, ruling from 189 BC to 160 BC. Artaxias is the Greek form of the Armenian Artašēs, itself from the Old Iranian name *Artaxšaθra-, equivalent to Greek Artaxérxēs. The name means “whose reign is through truth (asha)”.

Antiochus III the Great (241-187 BC) was a Macedonian Hellenistic king and the 6th ruler of the Seleucid Empire. He ruled over the region of Syria and large parts of the rest of western Asia towards the end of the 3rd century BC.

Rising to the throne at the age of eighteen in 222 BC, his early campaigns against the Ptolemaic Kingdom were unsuccessful, but in the following years Antiochus gained several military victories and substantially expanded the empire’s territory.

His traditional designation, the Great, reflects an epithet he assumed. He also assumed the title Basileus Megas (Greek for “Great King”), the traditional title of the Persian kings. A militarily active ruler, Antiochus restored much of the territory of the Seleucid Empire, before suffering a serious setback, towards the end of his reign, in his war against Rome.

Declaring himself the “champion of Greek freedom against Roman domination”, Antiochus III waged a four-year war against the Roman Republic beginning in mainland Greece in the autumn of 192 BC before being decisively defeated at the Battle of Magnesia. He died three years later on campaign in the east.

Following the defeat of Antiochus III by the Romans at the Battle of Magnesia in 190 BC, Zariadres and Artaxias revolted and with Roman consent began to reign as kings under the terms of the Treaty of Apamea in 188 BC—Zariadres over Sophene and Artaxias over Armenia.

Strabo cites Sophene being taken over by a “general” of king Antiochus III by 200 BC, called Zariadres. It is possible that Zariadres (Dsariadres) was the father of Abdissares, although the scant historical records have Abdissares ruling before Zariadres. The name written as Dsariadris might be a Greek corruption of the name Bagdassar.

A hypothesis is that king Bagdassar was forced to accept rule by king Antiochus III, but stayed as a Satrap, paying tribute until the Battle of Magnesia allowed him to reassert his independence. Strabo was writing 200 years after these events and may not have been accurate.

Over a dozen stone boundary markers have been discovered on the territory of modern Armenia from the time of the reign of Artashes with Aramaic inscriptions, before their discovery the existence of these stones was attested by Moses of Chorene. In these inscriptions Artashes claims descent from the Yervanduni (Orontid) Dynasty: King Artaxias, the son of Orontid Zariadres.

According to the Greek geographer Strabo, Artaxias and Zariadres were Macedonian generals of the Seleucid king Antiochus III the Great (r. 222 – 187 BC). He adds that after Antiochus III’s defeat by the Romans in 188 BC, the two generals established themselves a kingdom in Greater Armenia.

However, this statement has been dismissed by the recent discovery of boundary stones with Aramaic engravings in Armenia, which mentions Artaxias’ proclamation of being “the son of Zareh (Zariadres)” and an “Eruandid (Orontid) king”.

The ending of -akān in the engravings, originally used in Old Persian, was extensively used in the Parthian ostraca from Nisa and in later Armenian texts. Anahit Perikhanian thus confirms that both Artaxias and Zariadres, “far from being Macedonians, belonged in fact to the earlier native dynasty, albeit probably to collateral branches, and that the Eruandids, or Artaxiad/Artašēsids as they came to be known, with their Iranian antecedents, continued to rule Armenia as before.”

Dissimilar to their predecessors, the Orontids, the majority of the Artaxiad rulers minted coins. The reverse of the early Artaxiad coin typically shows an eagle standing on a mountain-top, which is presumably Mount Ararat.

The eagle, which also appears on the Artaxiad crown, is a portrayal of the Iranian xᵛarənah (“glory”), which was seen amongst the Iranians as a symbol that defended the legitimate monarch and his kingdom, even after his death.

In the same manner of that of the monarchs of Pontus and Cappadocia, the Artaxiads stuck mainly to the royal traditions used by the former Achaemenid Empire. At the same time Greek influence was starting to advance in the country.

Artaxias and Zariadres united their armies to expand their dominions; the kingdom of Artaxias, originally centered around the middle of the Araxes river, expanded into Iberian land, and especially the territory of Media Atropatene, which lost its territories at the Caspian Sea and the districts of Syunik and Vaspurakan. Meanwhile, Zariadres conquered Acilisene and Taron.

The conquered peoples of the territories likewise also spoke Armenian, however imperial Aramaic (with a largely strong amalgamation of Persian words) was still the language of the government and the court, a practice derived from the Achaemenid Empire.

According to the 5th-century CE Armenian historian Movses Khorenatsi, Artaxias ordered the delimitation of villages and farmland, which has been confirmed by archaeological sites in Armenia. Artaxias used many epithets, one of them being the unidentified Persian word of ʾxšhsrt. Artaxias founded the city of Artaxata (Middle Persian: Artaxšas-šāt, “joy of arta”) on the left side of the Araxes river, which would serve as the capital and seat of the Armenian monarchy until the 2nd-century CE.

In 165/4 BC, Artaxias suffered a defeat to the forces of the Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes (r. 175 – 164 BC), who had him captured. Nevertheless, in 161/0 BC, Artaxias managed to help the satrap of Media, Timarchus, who rebelled against Seleucid rule. Artaxias died in 160 BC, and was succeeded by his son Artavasdes I.

The Artaxiad dynasty or Ardaxiad dynasty (Artashesian Dynasty) ruled the Kingdom of Armenia from 189 BC until their overthrow by the Romans in AD 12. Their realm included Greater Armenia, Sophene and intermittently Lesser Armenia and parts of Mesopotamia. Their main enemies were the Romans, the Seleucids and the Parthians, against whom the Armenians had to conduct multiple wars.

According to the geographer Strabo, Artaxias and Zariadres were two satraps of the Seleucid Empire, who ruled over the provinces of Greater Armenia and Sophene respectively. After the Seleucid defeat at the Battle of Magnesia in 190 BC, a coup by the Armenian noble family of Artashes toppled the Yervanduni dynasty and declared their independence, with Artaxias becoming the first king of the Artaxiad dynasty of Armenia in 188.

Scholars believe that Artaxias and Zariadres were not foreign generals but local figures related to the previous Orontid dynasty, as their Irano-Armenian (and not Greek) names would indicate. According to Nina Garsoian / Encyclopaedia Iranica, the Artaxiads were a branch of the earlier Orontid (Eruandid) dynasty of Iranian origin attested as ruling in Armenia from at least the 5th century BCE.

Artaxias is regarded as one of the most important kings in Armenian history. He presented himself as a legitimate descendant of Orontids, although it is unknown if he was in fact related to that dynasty. In the beginning of his rule, parts of the Armenian Highlands with Armenian speaking populations remained under the rule of neighbouring states.

Artaxias made the reunification of those lands under his domain a priority. Greek geographer and historian Strabo recounts the conquests of Artaxias towards West, East, North and South as well as stating that the population of those territories was Armenian speaking. Strabo, Geography, book 11, chapter 14:

“According to report, Armenia, though a small country in earlier times, was enlarged by Artaxias and Zariadris, who formerly were generals of Antiochus the Great, but later, after his defeat, reigned as kings (the former as king of Sophene, Acisene, Odomantis, and certain other countries, and the latter as king of the country round Artaxata), and jointly enlarged their kingdoms by cutting off for themselves parts of the surrounding nations,

– I mean by cutting off Caspiane and Phaunitis and Basoropeda from the country of the Medes; and the country along the side of Mt. Paryadres and Chorsene and Gogarene, which last is on the far side of the Cyrus River, from that of the Iberians; and Carenitis and Xerxene, which border on Lesser Armenia or else are parts of it, from that of the Chalybians and the Mosynoeci; and Acilisene and the country round the Antitaurus from that of the Cataonians; and Taronitis from that of the Syrians; and therefore they all speak the same language.”

According to Strabo and Plutarch, Artaxias also founded the Armenian capital Artaxata with the aid of the Carthaginian general Hannibal who was being sheltered from the Romans within Artaxias’ court. The population of the previous Orontid capital of Ervandashat was transferred to Artaxata.

Over a dozen stone boundary markers have been discovered on the territory of modern Armenia from the time of the reign of Artaxias with Aramaic inscriptions; before their discovery, the existence of these stones was attested by Moses of Khorene. In these inscriptions Artaxias claims descent from the Orontid Dynasty: King Artaxias, the son of Orontid Zariadres.

Though Greater Armenia had only been superficially affected by the conquests of Alexander the Great, the country began to be influenced by the Hellenistic world under the Orontids in the 3rd century and this process reached its peak under the Artaxiads, particularly King Tigranes the Great.

During this time, the Armenian rulers incorporated many Greek elements. This is shown by the contemporary Armenian coins (which had first appeared under the Orontids). They followed Greek models and have inscriptions in the Greek language. Some coins describe the Armenian kings as “Philhellenes” (“lovers of Greek culture”).

As Prof. James R. Russell states; “It was only natural that the Artaxiad monarchs should declare themselves philhellenes, yet it must not be thought that their religious beliefs ceased to be what they had been of old: staunchly Zoroastrian.” Prof. David Marshall Lang adds that the Hellenistic religion and the pantheon of the Classical divinities had undoubtedly become popular amongst the upper classes in the later Artaxiad period.

Artaxiad dynasty


King Artashes I founded Artashat in 185 BC in the region of Vostan within the historical province of Ayrarat (Ararat), at the point where the Araks river was joined by the Metsamor river during the ancient era, near the heights of Khor Virap.

The story of the foundation is given by the Armenian historian Movses Khorenatsi of the 5th century: “Artashes traveled to the location of the confluence of the Yeraskh and Metsamor [rivers] and taking a liking to the position of the hills (adjacent to Mount Ararat), he chose it as the location of his new city, naming it after himself.”

According to the accounts given by Greek historians Plutarch and Strabo, Artashat is said to have been chosen and developed on the advice of the Carthaginian general Hannibal. The city’s strategic position in the Araks valley on the Silk Road soon made Artashat a centre of bustling economic activity and thriving international trade, linking Persia and Mesopotamia with the Caucasus and Asia Minor.

Its economic wealth can be gauged in the numerous bathhouses, markets, workshops, and administrative buildings that sprang up during the reign of Artashes I. The city had its own treasury and customs. The amphitheatre of Artashat was built during the reign of king Artavasdes II (55–34 BC). The remains of the huge walls surrounding the city built by King Artashes I can still be found in the area. After losing its status as a capital, Artashat gradually lost its significance.

Tigranes the Great

Armenia reached its height between 95 and 66 BC under Tigranes the Great, becoming the most powerful kingdom of its time east of the Roman Republic. Greater Armenia extended its rule over parts of the Caucasus and the area that is now eastern and central Turkey, north-western Iran, Israel, Syria and Lebanon, forming the second Armenian empire.

At its zenith (95–65 BC), the state extended from the Caucasus all the way to what is now central Turkey, Lebanon, and northern Iran. The imperial reign of Tigranes the Great is thus the span of time during which Armenia itself conquered areas populated by other peoples. Later it briefly became part of the Roman Empire (AD 114–118).

It eventually confronted the Roman Republic in wars, which it lost in 66 BC, but nonetheless preserved its sovereignty. Tigranes continued to rule Armenia as an ally of Rome until his death in 55 BC.

The rise of the Parthian Empire in the 3rd century BC and Rome’s expansion into the Eastern Mediterranean during the 2nd century BC brought the two powers into direct contact, causing centuries of tumultuous and strained relations. Though periods of peace developed cultural and commercial exchanges, war was a constant threat.

Influence over the buffer state of the Kingdom of Armenia, located to the north-east of Roman Syria, was often a central issue in the Roman-Parthian conflict. In 95 BC, Parthian Shah Mithridates II, installed Tigranes the Great as Parthian’s client-king over Armenia.

During the Roman Republic’s eastern expansion, the Kingdom of Armenia, under Tigranes the Great (95–55 BC), reached its peak, from 83 to 69 BC, after it reincorporated Sophene and conquered the remaining territories of the falling Seleucid Empire, effectively ending its existence and raising Armenia into an empire for a brief period.

It was at the zenith of its power and briefly became the most powerful state to the Roman east until it was itself conquered by Rome in 69 BC. Artaxias and his followers had already constructed the base upon which Tigranes built his empire. The remaining Artaxiad kings ruled as clients of Rome until they were overthrown in 12 AD due to their possible allegiance to Rome’s main rival in the region, Parthia.

Despite this fact, the territory of Armenia, being a mountainous one, was governed by nakharars who were largely autonomous from the central authority. Tigranes unified them in order to create internal security in the kingdom.

The borders of Armenia stretched from the Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean Sea. At that time, the Armenians had become so expansive, that the Romans and Parthians had to join forces in order to beat them. Tigranes found a more central capital within his domain and named it Tigranocerta.

Large territories were taken from Parthians, who were forced to sign a treaty of friendship with Tigranes. Iberia, Albania, and Atropatene also lost territories and the remainder of their Kingdoms became vassal states.

The Greeks within the Seleucid Empire offered Tigranes the Seleucid crown in 83, after which the Armenian empire reached as far south as modern Acre, Israel resulting in a conflict with Hasmoneans.

Roman involvement in Asia Minor brought Tigranes’ empire to an end. Tigranes had allied himself with Rome’s great enemy Mithridates the Great, King of Pontus, and during the Third Mithridatic War, in 69 BC, a Roman army led by Lucullus invaded the Armenian empire and routed Tigranes outside Tigranocerta.

In 66, Lucullus’ successor Pompey finally forced Tigranes to surrender. Pompey reduced Armenia to its former borders but allowed Tigranes to retain the throne as an ally of Rome. From now on, Armenia would become a buffer state between the two competing empires of the Romans and the Parthians.

Tigranes’ heir Artavasdes II maintained the alliance with Rome, giving helpful advice to the Roman general Marcus Licinius Crassus on his campaign against the Parthians – advice which went unheeded and led to Crassus’ disastrous defeat at the Battle of Carrhae.

When Mark Antony became ruler of Rome’s eastern provinces, he began to suspect the loyalty of Artavasdes, who had married his sister to the heir to the Parthian throne. In 35, Antony invaded Armenia and sent Artavasdes into captivity in Egypt, where he was later executed.

Antony installed his own six-year-old son by Cleopatra, Alexander Helios, on the throne of Armenia. Artavasdes’ son Artaxias II gained help from the Parthians, seized the throne back and massacred the Roman garrisons in Armenia, but after a reign of ten years he was murdered.

The kingdom broke down into a civil war between pro-Roman and pro-Parthian parties until it decisively became a Roman protectorate under the emperor Augustus. The Artaxiad dynasty petered out in chaos and it was a considerable time before the Arsacid dynasty emerged as their undisputed successors.

The remaining Artaxiad kings ruled as clients of Rome until they were overthrown in 12 AD due to their possible allegiance to Rome’s main rival in the region, Parthia. During the Roman–Parthian Wars, the Arsacid dynasty of Armenia was founded when Tiridates I, a member of the Parthian Arsacid dynasty, was proclaimed King of Armenia in 52.

Throughout most of its history during this period, Armenia was heavily contested between Rome and Parthia, and the Armenian nobility was divided among pro-Roman, pro-Parthian or neutrals. Armenia often served as a client state or vassal at the frontier of the two large empires and their successors, the Byzantine and Sassanid empires.

In 301, Tiridates III proclaimed Christianity as the state religion of Armenia, making the Armenian kingdom the first state to embrace Christianity officially. During the Byzantine–Sasanian wars, Armenia was ultimately partitioned into Byzantine Armenia in 387 and Persian Armenia in 428.

Mithridatic Wars

The Mithridatic Wars were three conflicts fought by Rome against the Kingdom of Pontus and its allies between 88 BC and 63 BC. They are named after Mithridates VI, the King of Pontus who initiated the hostilities after annexing the Roman province of Asia into its Pontic Empire (that came to include most of Asia Minor) and committing massacres against the local Roman population known as the Asian Vespers.

As Roman troops were sent to recover the territory, they faced an uprising in Greece organized and supported by Mithridates. Mithridates was able to mastermind such general revolts against Rome and played the magistrates of the optimates party off against the magistrates of the populares party in the Roman civil wars.

Nevertheless, the first war ended with a Roman victory, confirmed by the Treaty of Dardanos signed by Lucius Sulla and Mithridates. Greece was restored to Roman rule and Pontus was expected to restore the status quo ante bellum in Asia Minor.

As the treaty of Dardanos was barely implemented in Asia Minor, the Roman general Murena (in charge of retaking control of Roman territory in Asia) decided to wage a second war against Pontus.

The second war resulted in a Roman defeat and gave momentum to Mithridates, who then forged an alliance with Tigranes the Great, the Armenian King of Kings. Tigranes was the son-in-law of Mithridates and was in control of an Armenian empire that included territories in the Levant. Pontus won the Battle of Chalcedon (74 BC), gave support to Cilician pirates against Roman commerce, and the third war soon began.

For the third war, the Romans sent the consul Lucullus to fight against Armenia and Pontus. Lucullus won the Battle of Cabira and the Battle of Tigranocerta but his progress was nullified after the Battle of Artaxata and the Battle of Zela.

Meanwhile, the campaign of Pompey against the Cilician pirates in the Mediterranean was successful and Pompey was named by the senate to replace Lucullus. Pompey’s subsequent campaigns caused the collapse of the Armenian Empire in the Levant (with Roman forces taking control of Syria and Palestine) and the affirmation of Roman power over Anatolia, Pontus and nearly all the eastern Mediterranean.

Tigranes surrendered and became a client king of Rome. Hunted, stripped of his possessions, and in a foreign country, Mithridates had a servant kill him. His former kingdom was combined with one of his hereditary enemies, Bithynia, to form the province of Bithynia and Pontus, which would forestall any future pretender to the throne of Pontus.

The Third Mithridatic War (73–63 BC), the last and longest of the three Mithridatic Wars, fought between Mithridates VI of Pontus and the Roman Republic, and defeat of the King of Pontus by Roman Pompeius resulted in the Kingdom of Armenia becoming an allied client state of Rome. The Armenian people then adopted a Western political, philosophical, and religious orientation. According to Strabo, around this time everyone in Armenia spoke “the same language.”

From Pompeius’ campaign Armenia was, for the next few centuries, contested between Rome and Parthia/Sassanid Persia on the other hand. Roman emperor Trajan even created a short-lived Province of Armenia between 114–118 AD.

Indeed, Roman supremacy was fully established by the campaigns of Gnaeus Domitius Corbulo (7 – 67 AD) , that ended with a formal compromise: a Parthian prince of the Arsacid line would henceforth sit on the Armenian throne, but his nomination had to be approved by the Roman emperor.

In the next centuries, Armenia was in the Persian Empire’s sphere of influence during the reign of Tiridates I, the founder of the Arsacid dynasty of Armenia, which itself was a branch of the Parthian Empire.

Because this agreement was not respected by the Parthian Empire, in 114 Trajan from Antiochia in Syria marched on Armenia and conquered the capital Artaxata. Trajan then deposed the Armenian king Parthamasiris (imposed by the Parthians) and ordered the annexation of Armenia to the Roman Empire as a new province.

The new province reached the shores of the Caspian Sea and bordered to the north with Caucasian Iberia and Caucasian Albania, two vassal states of Rome. As a Roman province Armenia was administered by Catilius Severus of the Gens Claudia. After Trajan’s death, however, his successor Hadrian decided not to maintain the province of Armenia. In 118 AD, Hadrian gave Armenia up, and installed Parthamaspates as its “vassal” king.

Roman Rule

Tigranes would wage a series of three wars against Rome before being ultimately defeated by Pompey in 66 BC. However, Armenia came under the Ancient Roman sphere of influence in 66 BC, after the battle of Tigranocerta, fought between the forces of the Roman Republic and the army of the Kingdom of Armenia led by King Tigranes the Great on 6 October 69 BC, and the final defeat of Armenia’s ally, Mithridates VI of Pontus.

The battle arose from the Third Mithridatic War being fought between the Roman Republic and Mithridates VI of Pontus, whose daughter Cleopatra was married to Tigranes. Mithridates fled to seek shelter with his son-in-law, and Rome invaded the Kingdom of Armenia. The Roman force, led by Consul Lucius Licinius Lucullus, defeated Tigranes, and as a result, captured Tigranes’ capital city of Tigranocerta.

Tigranes’ expansion into the Near East led to the creation of an Armenian empire that stretched almost across the entire region. With his father-in-law and ally securing the empire’s western flank, Tigranes was able to conquer territories in Parthia and Mesopotamia and annex the lands of the Levant.

In Syria, he began the construction of the city of Tigranocerta (also written Tigranakert), which he named after himself, and imported a multitude of peoples, including Arabs, Greeks, and Jews, to populate it. The city soon became the king’s headquarters in Syria and flourished as a great centre for Hellenistic culture, complete with theatres, parks and hunting grounds.

This period of Armenian hegemony in the region, however, was coming close to an end with a series of Roman victories in the Roman–Mithridatic Wars. Friction between the two had existed for several decades, although it was during the Third Mithridatic War that the Roman armies under Lucullus made significant progress against Mithridates, forcing him to take refuge with Tigranes.

Lucullus sent an ambassador named Appius Claudius to Antioch to demand that Tigranes surrender his father-in-law; should he refuse, Armenia would face war with Rome. Tigranes refused Appius Claudius’ demands, stating that he would prepare for war against the Republic. Lucullus was astonished upon hearing this in the year 70, and he began to prepare for an immediate invasion of Armenia.

Although he had no mandate from the Senate to authorize such a move, he attempted to justify his invasion by distinguishing as his enemy king Tigranes and not his subjects. In the summer of 69, he marched his troops across Cappodocia and the Euphrates river and entered the Armenian province of Tsop’k’, where Tigranocerta was located.

Having laid siege to Tigranocerta, the Roman forces fell back behind a nearby river when the large Armenian army approached. Feigning retreat, the Romans crossed at a ford and fell on the right flank of the Armenian army.

After the Romans defeated the Armenian cataphracts, the balance of Tigranes’ army, which was mostly made up of raw levies and peasant troops from his extensive empire, panicked and fled, and the Romans remained in charge of the field.

With no army left to defend Tigranocerta, and a foreign populace that gleefully opened the gates to the Romans, Lucullus’ army began the wholesale looting and plunder of the city. The city was burned. The king’s treasury, estimated to be worth 8,000 talents, was looted and each soldier in the army was awarded 800 drachma. The battle also resulted in severe territorial losses: most of the lands in Tigranes’ empire to the south of the Taurus fell under the sway of Rome.

Despite the heavy losses Tigranes suffered, the battle did not end the war. In retreating northwards, Tigranes and Mithridates were able to elude Lucullus’ forces, though losing again against the Romans during the battle of Artashat. In 68, Lucullus’ forces began to mutiny, longing to return home, and he withdrew them from Armenia the following year.

The battle is highlighted by many historians specifically because Lucullus overcame the numerical odds facing his army. The Italian philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli remarked upon the battle in his book, The Art of War, where he critiqued Tigranes’ heavy reliance on his cavalry over his infantry.

Thereafter, with his son Artavasdes II in Rome as a hostage, Tigranes would rule Armenia as an ally of Rome until his death in 55 BC. Rome then installed Artavasdes II as king and continued its influence over Armenia.

Later on, Mark Antony invaded and defeated the kingdom in 34 BC, but the Romans lost hegemony during the Final War of the Roman Republic in 32–30 BC. In 20 BC, Augustus negotiated a truce with the Parthians, making Armenia a buffer zone between the two major powers.

Augustus installed Tigranes V as king of Armenia in AD 6, but ruled with Erato of Armenia. The Romans then installed Mithridates of Armenia as client king. Mithridates was arrested by Caligula, but later restored by Claudius.

Subsequently, Armenia was often a focus of contention between Rome and Parthia, with both major powers supporting opposing sovereigns and usurpers. The Parthians forced Armenia into submission in AD 37, but in AD 47 the Romans retook control of the kingdom.

In AD 51 Armenia fell to an Iberian invasion sponsored by Parthia, led by Rhadamistus. Tigranes VI of Armenia ruled from AD 58, again installed by Roman support. The period of turmoil ends in AD 66, when Tiridates I of Armenia was crowned king of Armenia by Nero.

For the remaining duration of the Armenian kingdom, Rome still considered it a client kingdom de jure, but the ruling dynasty was of Parthian extraction, and contemporary Roman writers thought that Nero had de facto yielded Armenia to the Parthians.

Under Nero, the Romans fought a campaign (55–63) against the Parthian Empire, which had invaded the Kingdom of Armenia, allied with the Romans. After gaining Armenia in 60, then losing it in 62, the Romans sent the Legio XV Apollinaris from Pannonia to Gnaeus Domitius Corbulo, legatus of Syria.

In 63, strengthened further by the legions III Gallica, V Macedonica, X Fretensis and XXII, General Corbulo entered into the territories of Vologases I of Parthia, who then returned the Armenian kingdom to Tiridates, king Vologases I’s brother.

Another campaign was led by Emperor Lucius Verus in 162–165, after Vologases IV of Parthia had invaded Armenia and installed his chief general on its throne. To counter the Parthian threat, Verus set out for the east.

His army won significant victories and retook the capital. Sohaemus, a Roman citizen of Armenian heritage, was installed as the new client king. But during an epidemic within the Roman forces, Parthians retook most of their lost territory in 166. Sohaemus retreated to Syria, and the Arsacid’s dynasty was restored to power over Armenia.

Roman Armenia

Roman–Persian Wars

The Roman–Persian Wars, also known as the Roman–Iranian Wars, were a series of conflicts between states of the Greco-Roman world and two successive Iranian empires: the Parthian and the Sasanian. Battles between the Parthian Empire and the Roman Republic began in 54 BC; wars began under the late Republic, and continued through the Roman (later Byzantine) and Sasanian empires.

According to James Howard-Johnston, “from the third century BC to the early seventh century AD, the rival players [in the East] were grand polities with imperial pretensions, which had been able to establish and secure stable territories transcending regional divides”.

The Romans and Parthians came into contact through their respective conquests of parts of the Seleucid Empire. During the 3rd century BC, the Parthians migrated from the Central Asian steppe into northern Iran. Although subdued for a time by the Seleucids, in the 2nd century BC they broke away, and established an independent state that steadily expanded at the expense of their former rulers, and through the course of the 3rd and early 1st century BC, they had conquered Persia, Mesopotamia, and Armenia.

Ruled by the Arsacid dynasty, the Parthians fended off several Seleucid attempts to regain their lost territories, and established several eponymous branches in the Caucasus, namely the Arsacid dynasty of Armenia, the Arsacid dynasty of Iberia, and the Arsacid dynasty of Caucasian Albania.

Meanwhile, the Romans expelled the Seleucids from their territories in Anatolia in the early 2nd century BC, after defeating Antiochus III the Great at Thermopylae and Magnesia. Finally, in 64 BC Pompey conquered the remaining Seleucid territories in Syria, extinguishing their state and advancing the Roman eastern frontier to the Euphrates, where it met the territory of the Parthians.

Various vassal kingdoms and allied nomadic nations in the form of buffer states and proxies also played a role. The wars were ended by the Arab Muslim Conquests, which led to the fall of the Sasanian Empire and huge territorial losses for the Byzantine Empire, shortly after the end of the last war between them.

Although warfare between the Romans and Persians continued over seven centuries, the frontier, aside from shifts in the north, remained largely stable. A game of tug of war ensued: towns, fortifications, and provinces were continually sacked, captured, destroyed, and traded.

Neither side had the logistical strength or manpower to maintain such lengthy campaigns far from their borders, and thus neither could advance too far without risking stretching its frontiers too thin. Both sides did make conquests beyond the border, but in time the balance was almost always restored. Although initially different in military tactics, the armies of both sides gradually adopted from each other and by the second half of the 6th century they were similar and evenly matched.

The expense of resources during the Roman–Persian Wars ultimately proved catastrophic for both empires. The prolonged and escalating warfare of the 6th and 7th centuries left them exhausted and vulnerable in the face of the sudden emergence and expansion of the Caliphate, whose forces invaded both empires only a few years after the end of the last Roman–Persian war.

Benefiting from their weakened condition, the Arab Muslim armies swiftly conquered the entire Sasanian Empire, and deprived the Eastern Roman Empire of its territories in the Levant, the Caucasus, Egypt, and the rest of North Africa. Over the following centuries, more of the Eastern Roman Empire came under Muslim rule.


Vagharshapat – In the first half of the 1st century, during the reign of the Armenian Arshakuni king Vologases I (Vagharsh I) (117–144), the old town of Vardgesavan was renovated and renamed Vaghasrhapat, which still persists as the official appellation of the city.

The original name, as preserved by Byzantine historian Procopius (Persian Wars), was Valashabad—”Valash/Balash city” named after king Balash/Valash/Valarsh of Armenia. The name evolved into its later form by the shift in the medial L into a Gh, which is common in Armenian language.

Khorenatsi mentions that the town of Vardges was totally rebuilt and fenced by Vagharsh I, eventually becoming known as Noarakaghak (The New City) or Vagharshapat. The city served as a capital for the Ashakuni Kingdom of Armenia between 120–330 AD and remained the country’s most important city until the end of the 4th century.

When Christianity became the state religion of Armenia, Vagharshapat was eventually called Ejmiatsin (or Etchmiadzin), after the name of the Mother Cathedral. Starting in 301, the city became the spiritual centre of the Armenian nation, home to the Armenian Catholicosate, one of the oldest religious organizations in the world. Vagharshapat was home to one of the oldest schools established by Saint Mashtots and the home of the first manuscripts library in Armenia founded in 480 AD.

Starting in the 6th century, the city slowly lost its importance—especially after the transfer of the seat of the Catholicosate to Dvin in 452—until the foundation of the Bagratid Kingdom of Armenia in 885. After the fall of the Bagratid dynasty in 1045, the city gradually became an insignificant place until 1441, when the seat of the Armenian Catholicosate was transferred from the Cilician town of Sis back to Etchmiadzin.


The ancient city of Dvin was built by Khosrov III the Small in 335 on the site of an ancient settlement and fortress from the 3rd millennium BC. Since then the city had been used as the primary residence of the Armenian kings of the Arshakuni dynasty.

Dvin had a population of about 100,000 citizens of various professions including arts and crafts, trade, fishing, etc. After the fall of the Armenian Kingdom in 428, Dvin became the residence of Sassanid-appointed marzpans (governors), Byzantine kouropalates and later Umayyad and Abbasid-appointed ostikans (governors), all of whom were of senior nakharar stock. In 640 Dvin was the center of the emirate of Armenia.

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