We recently combined most of the chapters on the Near East from Strabo’s tome, Geographica, into one book. The following quotes on Armenia and the Armenians are compiled from various chapters of the book:
- Of the riches and power of [Armenia], 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.
- The dress of the Armenian people is said to be of Thessalian 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 next is Arsene (Lake Van). 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 only (the Van fish).
- The other division is Atropatian Media. It had its name from Atropatus, a chief who prevented this country, which is a part of Greater Media, from being subjected to the dominion of the Macedonians. When he was made king he established the independence of this country; his successors continue to the present day, and have at different times contracted marriages with the kings of Armenia, Syria, and Parthia. They have powerful neighbors in the Armenians and Parthians, by whom they are frequently plundered; they resist however, and recover what has been taken away, as they recovered Symbace (Smbataberd?) from the Armenians, who were defeated by the Romans, and they themselves became the friends of Cæsar.
- The country below the Caspian Gates consists of flat grounds and valleys. It is very fertile, and produces everything except the olive, or if it grows anywhere it does not yield oil, and is dry. The country is peculiarly adapted, as well as Armenia, for breeding horses. There is a meadow tract called Hippobotus, which is traversed by travelers on their way from Persia and Babylonia to the Caspian Gates. Here, it is said, fifty thousand mares were pastured in the time of the Persians, and were the king’s stud. The Nesæan horses, the best and largest in the king’s province, were of this breed, according to some writers, but according to others they came from Armenia. Their shape is peculiar, as is that of the Parthian horses, compared with those of Greece and others in our country.
- 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 [Caucasian] Albanians also, admire this kind of cavalry, for the latter use horses covered with armor.
- The cities of Armenia are Artaxata, built by Hannibal for 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.
- 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.