By Levon Zekiyan
The Arsacids Dynasty
the decades that followed 60 b.c., Armenia became one of the cherished
targets of the hegemony of Romans and Parthians alike, who found support
from the pro-Romans and pro-Parthians within the local political setup.
A new political situation came about with the campaign of Corbulo, which
ended with the treaty of Rhandeia in 63 b.c. In future, Armenia was to
have its own king who would be appointed by the Parthians and at the same
time be a protege and ally of the Romans. Thus began the dynasty of the
in Armenia. They were the cadet branch of the dynasty ruling over Persia.
As a token of the alliance, the first representative of the Arsacids in
Armenia, Tiridates (Trdat) I, accepted to be crowned by Nero in Rome in
66. This was probably the occasion that was celebrated by the statue of
Tiridates that can be seen in the Louvre in Paris (a gold coin bearing
the head of Nero has recently been found in Armenia).
For a period of only two years, Armenia
became an effective Roman province, after Trajan annexed it in 114. But
his death and the revolt of the Jews in 117 rendered the plan to dominate
the Parthian kingdom ineffective, and Trajan's successor, Hadrian, preferred
to observe the treaty of Rhandeia.
224, the international political scene changed sharply, with the advent
of the Sassanids in Persia. Although the Armenian Arsacids had been able
to escape the extermination inflicted on their Parthian relatives, they
nevertheless found an inflexible adversary in the new ascendant power.
The Sassanids' plans for Armenia - political dominion and cultural-religious
assimilation - were only partly fulfilled, on the political side, with
the extinction of the Arsacid dynasty in 428. Tension ran particularly
high on account of Armenia's having been converted to Christianity during
the reign of Trdat III (287-330) by St. Grigor Lusavoritch (the
Illuminator). Military vicissitudes between the Roman Empire of the East
and the Sassanids made it inevitable that Armenia should be divided into
two, and this took place in 387, with a north-to-south demarcation line
that passed through the city of Karin or Theodosiopolis, present-day Erzerum.
Unfortunately, the part that remained to the west of the line, under Byzantine
hegemony, was subjected to cultural-religious pressure no less forceful
than that exerted by the Sassanids.
Indeed, given the religious community,
a not insignificant part of the Armenian population in those regions was
practically Hellenized. The eastern regions, on the other hand, having
remained under Persian control, were able to keep their etlinic-cultural
identity. Apart from the influence of religious and sociopolitical factors
in making this possible, another crucial factor was the invention of the
Armenian alphabet in 405 by vardapet Mesrop Mashtots, who was venerated
like a saint by the Armenian church. The western, regions, under the Byzantine
administration, were also partly affected by this.