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Why we should read... `Tigran II and Rome' by Hagop Manantian (Collected Works, Volume 1, 1977, Armenia) Armenian News Network / Groong By Eddie Arnavoudian January 31, 2011 Hakob Manantian removes Tigran II from his `Great' Pedestal Hagop Manantian's `Tigran II and Rome', first published 70 years ago in Soviet Armenia, remains still one of the most balanced studies of Armenian King Tigran the Great's extraordinary imperial reign. For a brief period Tigran II, who ruled Armenia from 95 to 55BC, was a major regional power against whom all others, including an aggressive imperialist Rome had to measure themselves. According to Cicero Tigran "made the Republic of Rome tremble before the prowess of his arms." Having early on seized the title of `King of Kings' from an enfeebled Persian throne Tigran went on to wage a 25 year military campaign to build an Empire that at its height stretched from Armenia northwards into Georgia and Iberia, eastward to the Caspian Sea, southwards into Assyrian lands and westwards to the shores of the Mediterranean taking in Cilicia, Damascus, Antioch, Phoenicia and large swathes of Syrian hinterland too. Tigran's triumphs could not leave Rome undisturbed. It too was hungry for the rich spoils of conquest available in Asia Minor. So, head to head combat between Rome and Armenia was inevitable. Hakob Manantian's volume is his account of this clash, of Rome's war to destroy the Armenian imperial state, the last remaining obstacle to its supremacy in Asia Minor. It is at the same a sobering evaluation of Tigran's historic regional role and his national legacy. Though marked by some weakness it also remains a fine addition to a necessary Armenian polemical arsenal against imperialist falsification of Armenian history that stretches back a good 3000 years and was noted as early as the 5th century by founder of Armenian historiography Movses Khorenatzi (see Note 1). I. THE DENIGRATION OF TIGRAN II Manantian takes erudite polemical aim against both classical Roman primary sources and 20th century European imperialist historiography. The Romans `with the greatest of skill' he says `produced a self-serving history' that `suppresses truths unfavourable' to itself. (p408). The chief Roman culprit here was Plutarch who to glorify his imperial masters fabricates the Armenian Tigran II and his ally King Mithridates VI of Pontus as backward, cowardly, uncivilised and incompetent figures of a dismal East against whom Roman troops marched with soles bearing the imprint of civilisation. Plutarch is targeted in addition because it is upon his fictions that imperialist European historians rested when seeking to reinforce their own `notable hostility' towards `the East and the people of the East' so that they too could paint Europe's imperialist plunder in civilising lights. Manantian demolishes falsification with panache, combining meticulous examination of sources with intellectual rigour. As he disentangles fact from fiction, he restores Tigran II to the status of the formidable King that he was. Tigran was no mediocrity, no disloyal and incompetent eastern barbarian who merely tagged along with the more forceful and talented though equally barbarian King of Pontus. A man of extraordinary ability he was, at 45, a late comer to the throne yet had the energy and stamina to attain imperial heights at 70 and still lead armies into battle on horseback at 75. Possessing extraordinary capacity to recover from crippling and almost fatal blows, of immense vigour and stubborn will, he seized his opportunity and with great political and military acumen built an Empire that was the envy of all neighbouring monarchs. In the effort to recover a historically more authentic Tigran II, Manantian even turns the tables on Rome. It was the Romans, not the Armenians, he argues who were the barbarians. Barbarism was imperial Rome's defining characteristic, in Hellenistic Asia Minor at least. There it existed as a parasitic order relentlessly exploiting and draining occupied territories of wealth and skilled manpower but contributing nothing to its economic, social or cultural development. The point is underlined in a quote from 19th century German classical historian Theodor Momzen, much admired by Mark Twain, who wrote: `The already heavy burden of Roman rule in the East soon became intolerable repression and oppression in the face of which neither royal crown nor peasant hut was free of the danger of confiscation. Every sheath of wheat that grew was for Roman tax collectors alone and every child that was born was born to become the property of its slave traders.' (p417). The Roman conquest of Asia Minor was in Manantian's summation: `...the beginning of a destruction and calamity that was to have terrible and devastating consequences for the future economic and cultural development of the Hellenistic east (p415). Indeed the `cultural collapse and disintegration' that Asia Minor subsequently experienced must be placed `squarely upon Roman shoulders' that had not only plundered and destroyed the east by means of military invasion but through `financial and usurious exploitation too.' (p411) Against this reactionary invasion the argument follows, Tigran II's and Mithradates's resistance was objectively a defence of Asia Minor's still surviving pre-Roman Hellenistic civilisation that with its global productive and trading infrastructure underpinned substantial cultural development. In a sometimes eye-opening recent study H K Hakobyan weaves the thread thicker writing that: `Tigran during the 1st century BC was in effect an agent of globalisation, continuing the work done by Alexander of Macedonia. It is by this that Tigran's international significance is to be measured. (p51 `Tigran the Great' 244pp, Yerevan, 2005) Unfortunately Manantian, and nor for that matter Hakobyan, offer any substantial or detailed argument and cloud their case instead with a questionable and romanticised defence of the two monarchs. It is one thing to claim that inheriting Asia Minor's Hellenistic civilisation they were de facto acting in its defence against a reactionary and predatory Rome. It is quite another to depict them as some kind of modern revolutionary democrats, a picture that disregards their slaveholding character, their merciless oppression of their own people and their militarist conquest of other nations and peoples. But this is what Manantian does. As Mithridates leads his imperial armies into neighbouring states subjugated by Rome, he is presented as a nation-liberator, almost a class warrior `defending and protecting the exploited' and inspiring them to `social and class war' against `brutal Roman rule' (p440-441). Here Manantian takes issue with Momzen. `It is difficult' he writes `to agree with him that both the Armenian-Roman conflict and the Mithradates wars were reactionary movements against the people of the west.' (p466) True enough the people of these states hated the Romans. But there is no call to paint conquest by a new colonial power as national liberation. Hakobyan in addition suggests a sort of benign, progressive Armenian imperialism that restored order, stability and security and so aided commerce and trading (Hakobyan, p101). It is perhaps proper when considering such views to recall the case of Genghis Khan. For him Armenians, and rightly so, can have not a positive word. Yet he has been labelled by English writer Ralph Fox as a progressive imperialist for the very same reasons Hakobyan applauds Tigran. Intent on raising even higher the barricades in Tigran's defence, Manantian, like many Armenian historians, avoids critical consideration of mass deportations that were central instruments of his imperial policy. Tigran forcibly uprooted 300,000 people from their Cappadocian homelands, relocating them to Armenia there, to serve his programme of Hellenistic reform. Manantian tries to give this project a progressive gloss suggesting that resulting development of towns and crafts benefited the Armenian people. Do we need reminding that Iranian Shah Abbas, for whom Armenians also have not a good word to say, himself uprooted and deported whole (Armenian) communities relocating them to Iran there to serve his own programme of national development. II. THE CLASH OF EMPIRES Manantian's romanticism aside, the core of his evaluation remains solid and temperate. As he restores Tigran to his proper historic position he does not place him upon that `Great' pedestal built by some Roman, European and Armenian historians, neither does he paint him with gaudy patriotic colours so cheaply available in the store of Armenian historical makeup. There is no blurring of Rome's eventual triumph and the devastating consequences this had for Armenia and the region. Tigran's forces were in fact defeated in their first major clash with Rome at the 69BC Battle of Tigranakert. Manantian disposes of Plutarch's ridiculous account of a stunning victory of Roman arms against cowardly and inept Armenian `barbarians', an account echoed by 20th century Kurt Eckhardt who also opposes `an incomparably skilled Roman military' `to the savage bandits that marched behind Tigran's flag.' At Tigranakert there had been `no bloody confrontation' and so no test of either side's military prowess, fighting skills, bravery or courage. But there is no concealing the scale and severity of the Armenian collapse that was a `panic and flight, without fight'(p523), a rout all the more humiliating for being a result not of Armenian military inferiority but of strategic political mistakes committed by the Armenian Emperor. During the first 90-85BC Roman assault on Mithradates of Pontus, Tigran II had chosen to remain neutral hoping that in return Rome would refrain from striking at his imperial possessions. Granting Roman sources a point, Manantian comments that they: `...correctly suggest that Tigran should not have allowed the destruction of Pontus that protected his flank.' (p489) This error was compounded by an amazing complacency. Considering prospects of Roman assault remote, Tigran left to defend the edges of his Empire leaving an emboldened Rome free to attack his now politically isolated and also leaderless Empire. Manantian does attempt to explain Tigran's decisions. `Had he entered the field against the Romans (when they first attacked Pontus) he would have been obliged to simultaneously engage Rome as well as his deadly Persian foes' he was then battling to overwhelm. In addition Manantian notes Rome's tremendously skilful deceptive diplomacy that succeeded in putting Tigran off guard. Hakobyan goes further claiming it a mistake to `assume that Tigran did not expect a Roman attack.' Both Armenia and Rome, he writes, understood well that `all was leading in the direction' of war and so `were working to prepare for the moment of unavoidable combat (p116).' That Tigran was outsmarted, Hakobyan insists, was a function not of his miscalculation but of Mithradates's all too easy and surprising collapse before the Romans. However explained, Tigran's political decisions facilitated a Roman triumph that began the collapse of his Empire. Luculllus was able to strike at the defenceless heart of the Armenian Empire - its newly built capital city of Tigranakert, home to Tigran's personal family and storehouse for his treasures of conquest. Roman historiography is silent or contemptuous about the months of Armenian resistance against Roman forces encircling Tikranakert. Nevertheless, shortly after Tigran's daring expeditionary raid that rescued his entrapped family, Rome captured and sacked the city. It is appropriate to here note that objection to Tigran's forced population deportation and relocation is not just a-historical albeit righteous moral judgement. Such measures can never aid the securing of stable foundations for any state. At the battle of Tigranakert the Roman triumph that was to effectively seal the fate of Tigran's empire was eased when segments of the city's population that had been forcibly relocated there went over to the Romans. Tigran did retaliate, organising a brilliant guerrilla style campaign that humbled Lucullus and forced his humiliating crawl out of the region. But his fortunes were never to recover. His 69BC defeat at Tigranakert determined `the fate and future not just of Pontus, but of Armenia and Asia Minor.' (p477) It marked the beginning of `the disintegration of the great Armenian state (p522), put a categorical end to the `fostering Hellenistic urban cultural and civilisation in backward Armenia' and an end also to the fortunes of Hellenistic civilisation in the east, (p526). III. THE END OF EMPIRE AND THE DEBATE ON ITS LEGACY Despite Lucullus' retreat dressed by Plutarch as a triumphant departure, Rome was able to dictate harsh terms. Besides imposing a heavy burden of war reparations and taxation Rome shrunk Tigran's imperial borders to a fraction of their earlier size. But it was left to Lucullus's successor, Pompey, that `notorious agent of Roman finance and usury' to write the death certificate for Tigran's Armenian Empire. Faced with a dreadfully weakened Tigran, Pompey from 66BC on was able to `subjugate and plunder Armenia without bloodshed or sacrifice' (p583), draining it further of the power and the wealth that Tigran had accumulated. From the grandeur `King of Kings' Tigran was now to become a subordinate tax-paying `friend and ally' of Rome, a `buffer state', `a Roman military outpost.' (p598). For a short period the dominant regional state, Pompey returned Armenia to what it had been at the outset of Tigran's reign. By its end Armenia had `ceased to be a great power', had lost `effective independence' and lost also the means `to take its fortunes into its own hands'. Bagrat Ouloubabian in his book of essays on Armenian history sums it up well: And so...before the very eyes of its creator Tigran the Great's universal state shrunk and refitted within the borders that had marked Armenia during his father King Artashes I reign. When Tigran's son Artavast II rose to the throne Armenia was to a certain extent a state dependent on Rome.' (p133) With the age of Armenian Empire over Rome trampled down what remained of Hellenist civilisation in the East. A measure of its triumph was the subsequent triumph of Christianity in Armenia. Imposed by military violence it obliterated the last remnants of Hellenistic culture that Tigran attempted so hard to introduce into Armenia. For the development of the Armenian state, the Roman defeat of Tigran's Empire signalled in addition a failure to sink and consolidate durable foundations for a future independent and self-reliant Armenian state, monarchical or otherwise. Indubitable as were his personal qualities Tigran was unable to subdue the acutely centrifugal Armenian estates and fiefdoms that repeatedly fractured every attempt to construct a stable and centralised Armenian state capable of resisting the violent ambitions of neighbouring great powers. Simultaneous with Rome's triumph, an emboldened Persia also rejoined the band of neighbouring conquerors hungry for control over Armenia. So: `With the establishment of Roman hegemony... a most difficult and taxing political buffer like condition was created for Ancient Armenia that was to endure for centuries. Finding itself between two powerful enemies, between Roman and Iran, Armenia was compelled, against the essential interests of the Armenian people, to become a participant in endless and vicious wars that were periodically waged by its neighbouring great powers.' (p601) Following a brief period of genuine state independence, the future of Armenia and its people was henceforth to be largely `determined' `by (neighbouring) great powers' (p602), that is by Persian, Roman and then Arabic and into our own days, Ottoman, Russian empires. In his work Hakobyan does attempt to salvage something from Tigran's reign for the modern Armenian nation. But his argument is thin. Tigran's `greatest legacy to future generations' he writes was his role in the survival `of the Armenian nation.' The `peoples in Asia Minor that fell to Rome' he writes `have since exited the stage of history while the Armenians live to this day (p230)'. The Armenian people lived on certainly, but not as a free people. They lived on as slaves in hell, chained, driven from their homelands, cut down, slaughtered and reduced, now to the very edge of survival. Harsh as Manantian's evaluation is, it does not of course detract from Tigran's personal qualities. As an individual his history was the true tragedy of a heroic figure who, rising to heights of imperial glory with stunning speed, audacity and determination, then lived his last years as a minor adjunct of the foes who brought him low. It is surprising that so little modern literary fiction about Tigran has been written that goes beyond patriotic sentimentality. Ouloubabian does remind us that `popular folklore' has indeed `adorned Tigran with the most brilliant of halos'. But this expresses, and quite justly, popular utopias for a better, secure and peaceful life. It is not however modern artistic representation. This would require the reconstruction of the social and historic truths of Tigran's imperial age, of its ruthless slaveholding character, its militarism and its conquest and oppression of other nations, all of which must also feature centrally in any modern, democratic and national discussion of Tigran' reign. Unfortunately a great deal of Armenian writing, historical or fictional, about Tigran's imperial state, and about Armenian history in general, is submerged in an overenthusiastic patriotism. It pays little, if any, heed to precision in the definition of the concepts of nation and people despite these being well developed in modern Armenian intellectual discourse. Mikael Nalpantian and Krikor Ardzrouni, two outstanding 19th century intellects, for all their divergence, correctly understood and deployed the term `nation' to refer primarily to the majority of a people, to the common people and not its elite. Drawing on their study of Armenian history and their contemporary experience as democratic representatives of the Armenian people they highlighted the Armenian elite's essentially a-national essence and condemned it for its opposition to the nation as people, to the needs of the people and to the needs of Armenia. Any genuine discussion and evaluation of Armenian history, its monarchs, princes and bishops, including Tigran II should take Nalpantian's and Ardzrouni's approach as a necessary standard and starting point. Much of modern Armenian historiography remains sadly indifferent to Nalpantian's and Ardzrouni's fine legacy. Novelist and early 20th century ARF leader Avetis Aharonian, for example writes that it was during Tigran's reign that `our (i.e. the Armenian people's) national pulse beat at its healthiest and most powerful'. Even historian Leo, an admirer of Ardzrouni, manages a sigh of regret about an unparalleled... leader' who raised Armenia to `levels of power never attained since.' Yet `the pulse that beat' and the `power attained' during Tigran's reign was not that of the Armenian people or nation. A people cannot have an Empire. The British Empire was not the Empire of the British people! The state that Tigran built was not the state of the Armenian people or nation. It was Tigran's personal property. Tigran's Empire was the Empire of an absolute monarch utterly remote from the people. It not only exploited the people but engaged in colonial conquest little different from that which has devastated the lives of the common Armenian man and woman. Incidentally its remoteness from the people is underlined by a singular fact. Consistent with the entire history of Armenian elites, the language of Tigran's court was increasingly a foreign language: Greek! Contrary to imperialist falsification, the Armenian people, like the African and Asian people, do have a history that stretches back centuries upon centuries. But as with all histories of a state or region, not everything is glorious, not everything left behind is an object of admiration. In the annals of Armenian history there is a great deal more than the ennoblement of Tigran the Emperor. It will not of course do to exclude Tigran II and the monarchs that preceded and followed him from the history of the Armenian people and nation. For Armenians whose ancestors have lived in historic Armenia, all preceding epochs have left raw material for modern nation formation. The study and appropriation of this for the common people however requires precision and clarity in the use of categories and conceptions. Note 1: Remarking on the fraud of great power history, on their attempts to assimilate smaller nations and then write them out of history, Khorenatsi writes that to exact revenge against Haig, the founder of Armenia, Assyrian King Ninos set about the `annihilation of his every last offspring' and `ordered the destruction of vast numbers of volumes that tell of achievements by other nations' among them those of the Armenians. Imperialist falsification designed to undermine others' independent nation-building remains relevant to this day. Armenians have to contend with such falsification not just by Turkish historiography that seeks to expunge them from any record in their own historical homelands, but also with that of contemporary European and US historians who systematically present Armenia and its culture as secondary appendages to those of superior imperial great powers. Attention to the latter has been forcefully drawn by Armen Aivazyan in his controversial, not always correct but frequently to the point `The History of Armenia as Presented in American Historiography: A Critical Survey (Yerevan: "Artagers," 1998). -- Eddie Arnavoudian holds degrees in history and politics from Manchester, England, and is Groong's commentator-in-residence on Armenian literature. His works on literary and political issues have also appeared in Harach in Paris, Nairi in Beirut and Open Letter in Los Angeles.