The Greek Inscription from Garni (Armenia) and King Tiridates the Great. Part I. Prolegomena

Title (other)Греческая надпись из Гарни (Армения) и царь Тиридат Великий
Publication type Article
Status Published
Affiliation: The University of Chicago
Address: USA, Chicago (IL)
Affiliation: Virginia Commonwealth University
Address: USA, Richmond (VA)
Journal nameVestnik drevnei istorii
EditionVolume 82 Issue 3

Since the discovery at Garni (Armenia) in 1945 of a Greek inscription mentioning a king Tiridates (Trdat), there has been an ongoing debate on the identification of this king. On the basis of paleography and content, most scholars have preferred to date the document to the first-century CE reign of Tiridates I, despite what seemed to be a suggestive indication from the historian of Armenia Moses Khorenatsi that Tiridates the Great, in the early fourth century CE, had dedicated a Greek inscription in memory of his sister at Garni. This study attributes the inscription to the reign of Tiridates the Great, although it shows also that this text cannot be the one referred to by Moses Khorenatsi. This reattribution is of special importance for the early history of Armenia. It paves the way for a new analysis of the reign of the king who initiated the Christianization of the country. Our next article, in a forthcoming issue, will offer a new and full critical edition of the inscription, comparing it with prior reconstructions.

Abstract (other)

Со времени открытия в Гарни (Армения) в 1945 г. греческой надписи, в которой упоминается царь Тиридат (Трдат), ведутся постоянные споры об идентификации этого царя. Основываясь на палеографии и содержании текста, большинство ученых предпочитают датировать документ периодом правления Тиридата I в I в. н.э., несмотря на недвусмысленное указание историка Армении Мовсеса Хоренаци на то, что Тиридат Великий в начале IV в. н.э. посвятил греческую надпись в память о своей сестре в Гарни. В нашем исследовании мы относим надпись к царствованию Тиридата Великого, хотя очевидно также, что этот текст не может быть тем, на который ссылается Мовсес Хоренаци. Эта реатрибуция имеет особое значение для ранней истории Армении. Она открывает путь к новому анализу правления царя, инициировавшего христианизацию страны. Продолжение этой статьи, которое будет опубликовано в ближайшем номере ВДИ, предложит новое полное критическое издание надписи и сравнение его с предыдущими реконструкциями.

KeywordsArmenia, Garni, Tiridates the Great, Christianization, Agathangelos, Moses Khorenatsi
Keywords list (other)Армения, Гарни, Тиридат Великий, христианизация, Агафангел, Мовсес Хоренаци
Publication date26.09.2022
Number of characters65956
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1 Garni is a site at the foot of a mountain ridge, about 25 km east of present-day Yerevan. Located on a bluff overlooking the Azat River, the place was also naturally easy to defend1. From the earliest times until the medieval period, it had a special importance for the history of Armenia. Begun in the early twentieth century and restarted after the Second World War, excavations at Garni have revealed the existence of buildings of various periods, especially of a temple built in the early Roman imperial period and of fortification walls of various periods2. It is at the fortress of Garni (castellum Gorneas), in 51 CE, that Tacitus (XII. 45. 3) locates a tragic episode of the war between Mithridates as king of Armenia and his nephew Rhadamistus, who wanted to succeed him. Mithridates was besieged at Garni, forced to capitulate, and executed (Tac. XII. 44–47). 1. See plan in Hewsen 2001, 61, fig. 53.

2. Arakelyan et al. 1951–1976. See Khatchadourian 2008 for the history of the first explorations and modern excavations. The exact construction date of the temple is still debated (see Maranci 2018, 26–27, with n. 81). On the symbolic meaning of its modern reconstruction, see Traina 2004, 178–179.
2 In 1945, a sensational discovery was made by chance, that of a Greek inscription mentioning a king Tiridates as king of Greater Armenia (Armenia Maior). This discovery was followed by that of three more inscriptions in various languages and scripts and from various periods. The earliest one, in Urartian and cuneiform characters, is a dedication from King Argišti I, in the first half of the eighth century BCE, which mentions, line 3, that the king “conquered the city of Ḫi[x]rinia”3. An Aramaic inscription of the second or third century CE mentions a king of Armenia (his name is mutilated), son of a king Vologases4. The latest one, dated to 1291 CE, was engraved in Armenian language and characters on the entrance wall of the temple by Princess Khoshak of Garni5. These inscriptions suffice to illustrate the significance of the site of Garni in the longue durée history of Armenia. 3. Salvini 2008, 351 A 8–12. See the comment of Bobokhyan et al. 2019.

4. Perikhanyan 1964; Russell 1987, 118–119; Movsisyan 2006, 205.

5. Arakelyan 1951–1976, III, 45.
3 The Greek inscription has understandably attracted much attention. It has been published and commented upon many times in articles and monographs. Two books, and a large part of another one, have been dedicated to it6. It is also easy to understand why it appears regularly in most publications dedicated to the history of Armenia7. Since its discovery, the date and meaning of the inscription have been hotly debated. The inscription mentions a king Tiridates. But several Arsakid kings of Armenia are known to have born this name: Tiridates I, who, with some interruptions, reigned over Armenia from 53 to perhaps 75 CE; Tiridates II seemingly between 216/7 and 252; and Tiridates III between 298 and ca. 3308. 6. Manandyan 1946; Trever 1949, with a large part of Trever 1953.

7. It is unnecessary to give here the long list of these books, articles, and websites.

8. Bivar 1983, 79–85, on the Arsakid kings of Armenia. The dates of reign of these kings have been the object of intense debate. We follow here Toumanoff 1986 for the dates of reign of Tiridates I and Tiridates II, but while accepting Toumanoff’s date of 298 for the accession to power of Tiridates the Great, we keep for him the traditional regnal number, III, not IV: see Weber 2016.
4 In this respect, it may seem that Moses Khorenatsi, the famous historian of ancient Armenia, provides a crucial indication. A propos King Tiridates III “the Great”, the king under whom Armenia converted to Christianity, he mentions: “About that time [after the council of Nicaea] Trdat completed the construction of the fortress of Garni in hard and dressed blocks of stone cemented with iron [clamps] and lead. Inside, for his sister Khosrovidukht, he built a summer palace with towers and wonderful carvings in high relief. And he composed in her memory an inscription in the Greek script”9. 9. Moses Khorenatsi 2. 90 (Thomson 1978, 247). On the significance of these castles for the geo-political and economic landscape of ancient Armenia, see Banaji 2016, 199–200.
5 The connection with the inscription found at Garni may thus seem obvious. However, only a minority among the specialists who have edited or commented upon this text has retained the view that the king mentioned in the inscription was Tiridates III10. A significant majority, starting from its first editor, has preferred to see here a reference to Tiridates I, the first king of the Arsakid / Aršakuni dynasty, the family which ruled over Armenia until 428 CE11. At the compromise of Rhandeia, in 63 CE, Rome acknowledged the fact that Armenia would be ruled by a member of the Parthian royal family, provided this king officially accepted to owe his crown to the Roman Emperor. This is how Tiridates I, who had already reigned over the country, was definitively acknowledged king of Armenia. The conclusion that this inscription should be referred to King Tiridates I has also been followed by general historians of Armenia12. Finally, this is the date that is now found in many papers and online publications for the general public referring to this text. 10. Manandyan 1946; 1951; Elnitsky 1958; Feydit 1969 (followed by Chaumont 1969); Hewsen 1985–1986, 30–33; 1986, 328–330.

11. Lisitsyan 1945a; 1945b; Abramyan 1947; Trever 1949; 1953; Moretti 1955; Sarkisyan 1960, 67–69; Bartikyan 1965; Krkyasharyan 1965; Muradyan 1981; Vinogradov 1990; Ananyan 1994; Kettenhofen 1995, 113–120. The text has found its place in the collection of inscriptions of the Flavian period by McCrumm, Woodhead 1961, 72, no. 238. For the early history of Amenia and the Aršakuni dynasty, see Garsoïan 1997a; 1997b.

12. Russell 1987, 269–281; Nersessian 2001, 103; Olbrycht 2016, 101; Mastrocinque 2017, 198–203.
6 As mentioned previously, the inscription has been edited and commented upon many times. Yet, despite its crucial significance as a testimony of the ancient history of Armenia, it is fair to say at this time that no consensus has been reached on the establishment of the text. More than seventy-five years after its discovery, the various editions of the inscription still present essentially different versions, the last ones not bringing the final word. This shows that the reading and understanding of the text have never stabilized.
7 The first reason for this situation is the fact that the right part of the inscription is missing, which has given rise to very different solutions of restoration. However, even the establishment of the preserved part has not been an object of consensus. The second reason that explains the extreme differences between the editions is a division of the scholarship between schools that did not have full opportunity to collaborate with each other. Three schools of scholars, the Armenian one, the Russian one and the Western one, have studied this text. The Russian school and the Armenian were of course intimately linked, but each retained its own traditions and ideas. For a long period, with few exceptions, Western scholars had little direct access to the studies of Armenian scholars, and limited access to those of Russian ones. Similarly, Armenian scholars had minimal access to Western scholarship or to the works of their Russian colleagues if they were published in the West. In the past, a critical analysis of the previous states of the scholarship on this document was hardly possible. The more open world in which we lived until recently allowed us to reassemble these membra disiecta.

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