Friday, 16 December 2011

Hannibal in Armenia?
After Hannibal was forced to go on the run (after the Second Punic War) he sought refuge with a number of rulers beyond the reach of Rome. In one story founded on the accounts given by Plutarch (Lucullus 32.3) and Strabo (XI.xiv.6) he joined the rebel forces in Armenia and that he helped to found the new royal city of Artaxata.

While still fleeing from his implacable enemies the Romans, Hannibal sought and received hospitality at the Armenian court of Artaxias (Artashes) I in c.185 - 188 BC. King Artashes had been a general of Antiochus the Great and was the founder of the Artashesid dynasty and grandfather of Tigran the Great. This dynasty was an offshoot of the Parthian royal house, reflecting Armenia's status then as Parthian protectorate.

Hannibal is supposed to have expressed his gratitude to his royal host by planning and supervising the building of the city of Artashat (Artaxata) on the river Araxes (Yeraskh), in the folds of Mount Ararat 20 miles southwest of Yerevan.

"It is related that Hannibal, the Carthaginian, after the defeat of Antiochus by the Romans, coming to Artaxas, king of Armenia, pointed out to him many other matters to his advantage, and observing the great natural capacities and the pleasantness of the site, then lying unoccupied and neglected, drew a model of a city for it, and bringing Artaxas thither, showed it to him and encouraged him to build. At which the king being pleased, and desiring him to oversee the work, erected a large and stately city, which was called after his own name, and made metropolis of Armenia." (Plutarch's Life of Lucullus')

It was by all accounts a magnificent city and Strabo (XI.xiv.4-6) writes of it and its beautiful surroundings with admiration. Strabo also records that the town was established on an elbow of land resembling a peninsula and was protected on enarly every side by the river Araxes (Aras). Nevertheless, Artaxata was captured by the Romans on several occasions in the course of their invasions of Armenia.

"Khor Virap and Mt. Ararat" © 2000 Raffi Kojian, All Rights Reserved

"According to reports, 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..."... "The cities of Armenia are Artaxata, also called Artaxiasata, which was founded by Hannibal for Artaxias the king, and Arxata, both on the Araxes River, Arxata being near the borders of Atropatia, whereas Artaxata is near the Araxene plain, being a beautiful settlement and the royal residence of the country. It is situated on a peninsula-like elbow of land and its walls have the river as protection all round them, except at the isthmus, which is enclosed by a trench and a palisade." Strabo Geopgraphy XIV 6,7

Though well-known in literary sources, Artashat remained long-undiscovered, archaeologists misled by its ancient description as a spacious and well-laid-out city located at the confluence of the Araxes and Metsamor rivers. The course of the rivers has changed, and that confluence is now 20-odd km further north of the city site. The location of ancient Artashat or Artaxiasata has been identified as the hill of Khor Virap and those adjoining were the site of the important early Armenian capital. On the upper slopes of the hills, extensive excavations have revealed the foundations of residential and other structures, along with Mediterranean-style art and other traces of a rich Hellenizing culture

There are extensive excavations of residential and other structures. Well-preserved mud-brick fortifications line the north slope of the third hill from the NE. Ancient coins and potsherds can still be found. The site was destroyed by the Persian King of Kings Shapur II, and the capital was moved to Dvin by King Khosrov III (330-338).

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