Written by Strabo circa 7 BC
The southern parts of Armenia lie in front of the Taurus, which separates Armenia from the whole of the country situated between the Euphrates and the Tigris, and which is called Mesopotamia. The eastern parts are contiguous to the Greater Media, and to Atropatene. To the north are the range of the mountains of Parachoathras lying above the Caspian Sea, the Albanians1, Iberians2, and the Caucasus. The Caucasus encircles these nations, and approaches close to the Armenians, the Moschian3 and Colchian4 mountains, and extends as far as the country of the people called Tibareni. On the west are these nations and the mountains Paryadres5 and Scydises, extending to the Lesser Armenia, and the country on the side of the Euphrates, which divides Armenia from Cappadocia and Commagene.
The Euphrates rises in the northern side of the Taurus, and flows at first towards the west through Armenia, it then makes a bend to the south, and intersects the Taurus between the Armenians, Cappadocians, and Commageni. Then issuing outwards and entering Syria, it turns towards the winter sunrise as far as Babylon, and forms Mesopotamia with the Tigris. Both these rivers terminate in the Persian Gulf. Such is the nature of the places around Armenia, almost all of them mountainous and rugged, except a few tracts which verge towards Media.
To the above-mentioned Taurus, which commences again in the country on the other side of the Euphrates, occupied by the Commageni, and Meliteni formed by the Euphrates, belongs Mount Masius6, which is situated on the south above the Mygdones in Mesopotamia, in whose territory is Nisibis; on the northern parts is Sophene, lying between the Masius and Anti-Taurus. Anti-Taurus begins from the Euphrates and the Taurus, and terminates at the eastern parts of Armenia, enclosing within it Sophene. It has on the other side Acilisene, which lies between [Anti-]Taurus and the bed of the Euphrates before it turns to the south. The royal city of Sophene is Carcathiocerta.
Above Mount Masius far to the east along Gordyene is the Niphates, then the Abus, from which flow both the Euphrates and the Araxes, the former to the west, the latter to the east; then the Nibarus, which extends as far as Media.
We have described the course of the Euphrates. The Araxes, after running to the east as far as Atropatene, makes a bend towards the west and north. It then first flows beside Azara, then by Artaxata7, a city of the Armenians; afterwards it passes through the plain of Araxenus to discharge itself into the Caspian Sea.
There are many mountains in Armenia, and many mountain plains, in which not even the vine grows. There are also many valleys, some are moderately fertile, others are very productive, as the Araxenian plain, through which the river Araxes flows to the extremities of Albania, and empties itself into the Caspian Sea. Next is Sacasene, which borders upon Albania, and the river Cyrus; then Gogarene. All this district abounds with products of the soil, cultivated fruit trees and evergreens. It bears also the olive. There is Phauene, a province of Armenia, Comisene, and Orchistene, which furnishes large bodies of cavalry.
Chorzene and Cambysene are the most northerly countries, and particularly subject to falls of snow. They are contiguous to the Caucasian mountains, to Iberia, and Colchis. Here, they say, on the passes over mountains, it frequently happens that whole companies of persons have been overwhelmed in violent snow-storms. Travelers are provided against such dangerous accidents with poles, which they force upwards to the surface of the snow, for the purpose of breathing, and of signifying their situation to other travelers who may come that way, so that they may receive assistance, be extricated, and so escape alive.
They say that hollow masses are consolidated in the snow, which contain good water, enveloped as in a coat; that animals are bred in the snow, which Apollonides call scoleces8, and Theophanes, thripes9, and that these hollow masses contain good water, which is obtained by breaking open their coats or coverings. The generation of these animals is supposed to be similar to that of the gnats (or mosquitos) from flames, and the sparks in mines.
According to historians, Armenia, which was formerly a small country, was enlarged by Artaxias10 and Zariadris11, who had been generals of Antiochus the Great, and at last, after his overthrow, when they became kings, (the former of Sophene, Acisene, Odomantis, and some other places, the latter of the country about Artaxata), they simultaneously aggrandized themselves, by taking away portions of the territory of the surrounding nations: from the Medes they took the Caspiana, Phaunitis, and Basoropeda; from the Iberians, the country at the foot of the Paryadres, the Chorzene, and Gogarene, which is on the other side of the Cyrus; from the Chalybes, and the Mosynœci, Carenitis and Xerxene, which border upon the Lesser Armenia, or are even parts of it; from the Cataones, Acilisene, and the country about the Anti-Taurus; from the Syrians, Taronitis; hence they all speak the same language.
The cities of Armenia are Artaxata, called also Artaxiasata, built by Hannibal12 for the king Artaxias, and Arxata, both situated on the Araxes; Arxata on the confines of Atropatia, and Artaxata near the Araxenian plain; it is well inhabited, and the seat of the kings of the country. It lies upon a peninsular elbow of land; the river encircles the walls except at the isthmus, which is enclosed by a ditch and rampart.
Not far from the city are the treasure-storehouses of Tigranes and Artavasdes13, the strong fortresses Babyrsa, and Olane. There were others also upon the Euphrates. Ador, the governor of the fortress, occasioned the revolt of Artageræ, but the generals of Cæsar retook it after a long siege, and destroyed the walls.
There are many rivers in the country. The most celebrated are the Phasis and Lycus; they empty themselves into the Euxine14; (Eratosthenes instead of the Lycus mentions the Thermodon, but erroneously) the Cyrus and the Araxes into the Caspian, and the Euphrates and the Tigris into the Persian Gulf.
There are also large lakes in Armenia; one the Mantiane15, which word translated signifies Cyane, or Blue, the largest salt-water lake, it is said, after the Palus Mæotis, extending as far as (Media-)Atropatia. It has salt pans for the concretion of salt.
The next is Arsene16. Its waters contain niter, and are used for cleaning and fulling clothes. It is unfit by these qualities for drinking. The Tigris passes through this lake after issuing from the mountainous country near the Niphates, and by its rapidity keeps its stream unmixed with the water of the lake, whence it has its name, for the Medes call an arrow, Tigris. This river contains fish of various kinds, but the lake one kind only17.
At the extremity of the lake the river falls into a deep cavity in the earth. After pursuing a long course underground, it reappears in the Chalonitis; thence it goes to Opis, and to the wall of Semiramis, as it is called, leaving the Gordyaeans and the whole of Mesopotamia on the right hand. The Euphrates, on the contrary, has the same country on the left. Having approached one another, and formed Mesopotamia, one traverses Seleucia in its course to the Persian Gulf, the other Babylon, as I have said in replying to Eratosthenes and Hipparchus.
There are mines of gold in the Hyspiratis, near Caballa. Alexander sent Menon to the mines with a body of soldiers, but he was strangled by the inhabitants of the country. There are other mines, and also a mine of Sandyx as it is called, to which is given the name of Armenian color, it resembles the Calche.
This country is so well adapted, being nothing inferior in this respect to Media, for breeding horses, that the race of Nesæan horses, which the kings of Persia used, is found here also; the satrap of Armenia used to send annually to the king of Persia 20,000 foals at the time of the festival of the Mithracina. Artavasdes, when he accompanied Antony in his invasion of Media, exhibited, besides other bodies of cavalry, 6,000 horse covered with complete armor drawn up in array. Not only do the Medes and Armenians, but the Albanians also, admire this kind of cavalry, for the latter use horses covered with armor.
Of the riches and power of this country, this is no slight proof, that when Pompey imposed upon Tigranes, the father of Artavasdes, the payment of 6,000 talents of silver, he immediately distributed the money among the Roman army, to each soldier 50 drachmæ, 1,000 to a centurion, and a talent to a Hipparch and a Chiliarch.
Theophanes represents this as the size of the country; its breadth to be 100 schœni, and its length double this number, reckoning the schœnus at 40 stadia; but this computation exceeds the truth. It is nearer the truth to take the length as he has given it, and the breadth at one half, or a little more. Such then is the nature of the country of Armenia, and its power.
There exists an ancient account of the origin of this nation to the following effect. Armenus of Armenium, a Thessalian city, which lies between Pheræ and Larisa on Lake Bœbe, accompanied Jason, as we have already said, in his expedition into Armenia, and from Armenus the country had its name, according to Cyrsilus the Pharsalian and Medius the Larisæan, persons who had accompanied the army of Alexander. Some of the followers of Armenus settled in Acilisene, which was formerly subject to the Sopheni; others in the Syspiritis, and spread as far as Calachene and Adiabene, beyond the borders of Armenia.
The dress of the Armenian people is said to be of Thessalian18 origin; such are the long tunics, which in tragedies are called Thessalian; they are fastened about the body with a girdle, and with a clasp on the shoulder. The tragedians, for they required some additional decoration of this kind, imitate the Thessalians in their attire. The Thessalians in particular, from wearing a long dress, (probably because they inhabit the most northerly and the coldest country in all Greece,) afforded the most appropriate subject of imitation to actors for their theatrical representations. The passion for riding and the care of horses characterize the Thessalians, and are common to Armenians and Medes.
The Jasonia are evidence of the expedition of Jason: some of these memorials the sovereigns of the country restored, as Parmenio restored the temple of Jason at Abdera.
It is supposed that Armenus and his companions called the Araxes by this name on account of its resemblance to the Peneius, for the Peneius had the name of Araxes from bursting through Tempe, because of the fact that it “cleft” Ossa from Olympus. The Araxes also in Armenia, descending from the mountains, is said to have spread itself in ancient times, and to have overflowed the plains, like a sea, having no outlet; that Jason, in imitation of what is to be seen at Tempe, made the opening through which the water at present precipitates itself into the Caspian Sea; that upon this the Araxenian plain, through which the river flows to the cataract, became uncovered. This story which is told of the river Araxes contains some probability; that of Herodotus none whatever. For he says that, after flowing out of the country of the Matiani, it is divided into forty rivers, and separates the Scythians from the Bactrians. Callisthenes has followed Herodotus.
Some tribes of Ænianes are mentioned, some of whom settled in Vitia, others above the Armenians beyond the Abus and the Nibarus. These latter are branches of Taurus; the Abus is near the road which leads to Ecbatana by the temple of Baris. Some tribes of Thracians, surnamed Saraparæ, or decapitators, are said to live above Armenia, near the Gouranii and Medes. They are a savage people, intractable mountaineers, and scalp and decapitate strangers; for such is the meaning of the term Saraparæ. I have spoken of Medeia in the account of Media, and it is conjectured from all the circumstances that the Medes and Armenians are allied in some way to the Thessalians, descended from Jason and Medeia.
This is the ancient account, but the more recent, and extending from the time of the Persians to our own age, may be given summarily, and in part only (as follows); Persians and Macedonians gained possession of Armenia, next those who were masters of Syria and Media. The last was Orontes, a descendant of Hydarnes, one of the seven Persians: it was then divided into two portions by Artaxias and Zariadris, generals of Antiochus the Great, who made war against the Romans. These were governors by permission of the king, but upon his overthrow they attached themselves to the Romans, were declared independent, and had the title of kings. Tigranes was a descendant of Artaxias, and had Armenia, properly so called. This country was contiguous to Media, to the Albani, and to the Iberes, and extended as far as Colchis, and Cappadocia upon the Euxine.
Artanes the Sophenian was the descendant of Zariadris, and had the southern parts of Armenia, which verge rather to the west. He was defeated by Tigranes, who became master of the whole country. He had experienced many vicissitudes of fortune. At first he had served as a hostage among the Parthians; then by their means he returned to his country, in compensation for which service they obtained seventy valleys in Armenia. When he acquired power, he recovered these valleys, and devastated the country of the Parthians, the territory about Ninus, and that about Arbela. He subjected to his authority the Atropatenians, and the Gordyæans; by force of arms he obtained possession also of the rest of Mesopotamia, and, after crossing the Euphrates, of Syria and Phœnicia. Having attained this height of prosperity, he even founded near Iberia, between this country and the Zeugma on the Euphrates, a city, which he named Tigranocerta, and collected inhabitants out of twelve Grecian cities, which he had depopulated. But Lucullus, who had commanded in the war against Mithridates, surprised him, thus engaged, and dismissed the inhabitants to their respective homes. The buildings which were half finished he demolished, and left a small village remaining. He drove Tigranes both out of Syria and Phœnicia.
Artavasdes, his successor, prospered as long as he continued a friend of the Romans. But having betrayed Antony to the Parthians in the war with that people, he suffered punishment for his treachery. He was carried in chains to Alexandria, by order of Antony, led in procession through the city, and kept in prison for a time. On the breaking out of the Actian war he was then put to death. Many kings reigned after Artavasdes, who were dependent upon Cæsar and the Romans. The country is still governed in the same manner.
Both the Medes and Armenians have adopted all the sacred rites of the Persians, but the Armenians pay particular reverence to Anaïtis, and have built temples to her honor in several places, especially in Acilisene. They dedicate there to her service male and female slaves; in this there is nothing remarkable, but it is surprising that persons of the highest rank in the nation consecrate their virgin daughters to the goddess. It is customary for these women, after being prostituted a long period at the temple of Anaïtis, to be disposed of in marriage, no one disdaining a connection with such persons. Herodotus mentions something similar respecting the Lydian women, all of whom prostitute themselves. But they treat their paramours with much kindness, they entertain them hospitably, and frequently make a return of more presents than they receive, being amply supplied with means derived from their wealthy connections. They do not admit into their dwellings accidental strangers, but prefer those of a rank equal to their own.
- A reference to the Caucasian Albanians (Aghuan’k) who inhabited part of the region of modern Azerbaijan and Dagestan.
- Iberia was located north of Armenia and to the west of Albania, in part of modern Georgia. Strabo notes elsewhere that the Iberians dressed in the Armenian and Medean fashion.
- The Moschian Mountains (now known as the Meskheti Mountains) are located in the southwest region of modern Georgia.
- The Colchian Mountains form part of the Caucasian Mountains.
- The Paryadres are the Pontic Mountains that run along the coast of the Black Sea in modern Turkey and Georgia.
- To be distinguished from Masis (what Armenians call Ararat).
- The Carthaginian.
- Father and son, respectively, and kings of Armenia.
- The Black Sea.
- Probably a reference to modern Lake Urmia.
- A reference to Lake Van, also known in antiquity as Arsissa or Thospitis (from Tushpa, the ancient capital of Urartu located on the eastern shores of Lake Van).
- Known today as the “Van fish,” it is only found in Lake Van, and the only fish known to inhabit Lake Van.
- Thessaly is located along the central portion of the eastern coast of modern Greece.