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Tigranes II the Great

Seleucid King Antiochus The Great (223-187 BC), expanded his empire by installing Artaxias as the governor (strategos) of Greater Armenia and Zariadres as governor of Sophene. Then when Antiochus was defeated by the Romans in 191 BC and shortly before the signing of the Treaty of Apamea in 188 BC, these two generals of Antiochus, turned to Rome and were recognized as independent kingdoms.

"According to historians, Armenia, which was formerly a small country, was enlarged by Artaxias and Zariadris, who had been generals of Antiochus the Great"
-Strabo, Geography, Book 11, Chapter 14.5 

The Artaxid dynasty starts about 189 BC. Tigranes II was the grandson of Artaxias I and son of Tigranes I. While he was held as a hostage to the Parthians he had two children, a daughter Aryazate who would be married to Gotarzes I son of Mithradates II of Parthia, and a son Tigranes the Younger who would eventually become co-regent with his father.

"The king of Armenia, at this time, was Tigranes, who had long before been committed as a hostage to the Parthians, but had subsequently been sent back to take possession of his father’s throne."
-Justin, Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus, XXXVIII.3 

Where was the Armenian Empire?

The Empire of Tigranes the Great, 95-66 BC, Nareklm, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Reign of Tigranes II

Initially ceding territory to the Parthians to secure his return to Armenia, he campaigned successfully to retake these territories and more. Tigranes expanded the Armenian rule by conquering the Sophene kingdom and other neighbors. Tigranes allied himself with Mithridates of Pontus.

Tigranes & Mithridates VI of Pontus allied against the tyranny of Rome. by Rubik Kocharian. Public Domain Image via Wikimedia Commons.

After Rome recognized Ariobarzanes I as King of Cappadocia in 97 or 96 BC Mithridates VI of Pontus sought support from Tigranes, king of Armenia, to advance his interests in Cappadocia. He gave Tigranes his daughter Cleopatra in marriage. Tigranes chased Ariobarzanes out of Cappadocia and Ariobarzanes fled to Rome. Sulla was sent to restore him to power circa 94 BC. This led to Sulla holding a first meeting with the Parthians which hit a few snags (for more see: Sulla, First Meeting with Parthia.

Ultimately Tigranes was defeated in the Mithridatic Wars by Lucullus, Sulla's general in Asia minor, in 68/9 BC. Tigranes is betrayed to Pompey by his son, and surrenders to Pompey. Pompey divides the kingdom with Tigranes keeping Armenia Major and his son Tigranes the Younger taking Sophene. He remains a client king to Rome until his death in 56 BC. Cicero comments in Pro Sestio:

"[Pompey] thought it no less glorious for himself and for this empire, that the king should be known to be restored by him, than if he had kept him in bonds. Therefore, Tigranes—who was himself an enemy of the Roman people, and who received our most active enemy in his territories, who struggled against us, who fought pitched battles with us, and who compelled us to combat almost for our very existence and supremacy—is a king to this day, and has obtained by his entreaties the name of a friend and ally, which he had previously forfeited by his hostile and warlike conduct."
- Cicero, For Sestius, 27

The Coins

The image on the back of this coin seems to serve a dual purpose of reinforcing Tigranes rule over Antioch and the founding of his capital Tigranocerta.

Kings of Armenia, Tigranes II ‘the Great’, 95-56 BC, Tetradrachm, AR, 28.5mm, 15.66g, 1 h), Tigranocerta (literally meaning built by Tigranes), circa 80-68

Obv: Draped bust of Tigranes II to right, wearing five-pointed tiara decorated with comet star between two eagles

Rev: BAΣIΛEΩΣ - TIΓPANOY The Tyche of Tigranocerta seated right on rock, holding long palm frond in her right hand; below, river-god Araxes swimming right; on rock, monogram; in field to right, θ; all within wreath

Ref: Kovacs 74.2; Nercessian die study Group 2, A22

Note: a nice clear EF coin, pleasing toning, and good metal, with die break on obverse and double strike on reverse

The star on this coin may represent Haley's comet in 87 BC - theappearance of Haley's comet during the reign of Tigranes would have been a bit event. On some coins the right hand rays of teh star are elongated which could be illustrating a comet.

"Coins of Armenian king Tigranes the Great clearly reveal a star with a tail on the royal tiara which may be associated with the Halley's passage of 87 BC."
-Oxford University Press,  Halley's comet of 87 BC on the coins of Armenian king Tigranes?, Astronomy & Geophysics, Volume 45, Issue 4, August 2004, Page 4.6.

In contrast to the coin above this AE coin recognizes Tigranes as King of Kings.

Kings of Armenia, Tigranes II ‘the Great’, 95-56 BC, AE Tetrachalkon (6.26g, 21mm, 12h), Tigranocerta, circa 80-68

Obv: Draped bust of Tigranes II to right, wearing five-pointed tiara decorated with a star between two eagles and tied with a diadem

Rev: BAΣIΛEΩΣ - BAΣIΛEΩN / TIΓPANOY, Tyche of Tigranokerta seated right on rock, holding long palm frond in her right hand; below, river-god Araxes swimming right; in fields to right, monogram of TP and A

Ref: Kovacs 81

Notes: A lovely, well struck piece with an nice portrait. Good very fine.

In a 1983 article by Paul Z. Bedoukian on Coins of the Sophene Kingdom there is this description of Mithradates I Callinicus (96-70 BC).

 "Several coins have been attributed to this king. It is curious that he ruled during the period when Tigranes had gained control of both Sophene and Commagene. It may be that Mithradates was allowed to strike coins even though he recognized the overlordship of Tigranes. The same situation seems to have occurred with his successor, Antiochus."

Frank Kovacs describes Mathridates II Philopater ruling from ca. 89 to some time after 85 BC.

Kings of Sophene, Arkathiokerta (?) mint (the city name meaning : built by Arkathias), Mithradates II Philopator, circa 89- after 85 BC, Dichalkon Æ 17mm, 3.44g

Obv: Head left in bashlyk, tied with diadem

Rev: Club in wreath

Note: this could be an early coin of Mithridates II where he uses the dies of his predecessor (brother Arkathias II) which had no reverse legend. Alternatively there may be faint legend on this coin (BACI to left, MIΘ to right). Legends on these coins are generally not very well executed.

A coin of Tigranes II was featured on an Armenian 500 dram banknote from 1993-2005.


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