Artavasdes II of Armenia

Artavasdes II (Ancient Greek: ΑΡΤΑΒΑΖΔΟΥ Artabázēs) was king of Armenia from 55 BC to 34 BC. A member of the Artaxiad Dynasty, he was the son and successor of Tigranes the Great (r. 95–55 BC). His mother was Cleopatra of Pontus, thus making his maternal grandfather the prominent Pontus king Mithridates VI Eupator. Like his father, Artavasdes continued using the title of King of Kings, as seen from his coins.[1]

Artavasdes II
King of Kings
Artavasdes II.png
Silver tetradrachm with bust of Artavasdes II
King of Armenia
Reign55–34 BC
PredecessorTigranes the Great
SuccessorArtaxias II
Died31 BC
Alexandria, Egypt
IssueArtaxias II
Tigranes III
DynastyArtaxiad dynasty
FatherTigranes the Great
MotherCleopatra of Pontus


Artavasdes' name is the Latin attestation of an Old Iranian name *Ṛtavazdah-, identical to the Avestan Ašavazdah, presumably meaning "powerful/persevering through truth".[2] It is attested in Armenian as Artavazd and in Greek as Artaouásdēs, Artabázēs, Artábazos, and Artáozos.[2]


In c. 54, Marcus Licinius Crassus, one of the Roman triumvirs, who had become proconsul of Syria, had been preparing to invade the Parthian realm.[3] Artavasdes II, who was an ally of Rome, advised Crassus to take a route through Armenia to avoid the desert and offered him reinforcements of a further 10,000 cavalry and 30,000 infantry.[4] His reasoning was that the Parthian cavalry would be less potent in the Armenian highlands.[4] Crassus refused the offer and decided to take the direct route through Mesopotamia.[4]

Artavasdes II's drachm, showing him wearing a tiara with Artaxiad coat of arms

As Crassus' army marched to Carrhae (modern Harran, southeastern Turkey), the Parthian king Orodes II (r. 57–37 BC) invaded Armenia, cutting off support from Artavasdes II. Orodes II persuaded Artavasdes II to a marriage alliance between the crown prince Pacorus I (d. 38 BC) and Artavasdes II's sister.[5] Crassus was shortly defeated and killed by the forces led by Orodes II's general Surena.[6] While Orodes II and Artavasdes II were observing a play of The Bacchae of Euripides (c. 480–406 BC) at the Armenian court in honor of the wedding of Pacorus and Artavasdes II's sister, the Parthian commander Silaces announced the news of the victory at Carrhae, and put the head of Crassus at Orodes II's feet.[7] The head was given to the producer of the play, who decided to use Crassus' actual severed head in place of the stage-prop head of Pentheus.[8] The death of Pacorus I in 38 BC and succession of Orodes II's other son Phraates IV (r. 37–2 BC) damaged the relations between Parthia and Armenia.[9]

In 36 BC the Roman General Mark Antony started his Parthian campaign. He allied himself with several kings of the region, including Artavasdes, who again switched sides. According to Plutarch, of the allied kings Artavasdes was "the greatest of them all... who furnished six thousand horse and seven thousand foot" to Antony.[10] Artavasdes II also persuaded Antony to attack his enemy Artavasdes of Atropatene.[11] Nevertheless, once Antony left Armenia to invade Atropatene, Artavasdes II "despairing of the Roman cause" abandoned Antony.[12] Although Artavasdes II gave refuge and supplied the defeated Romans, in 34 BC Antony planned a new invasion of Armenia to take revenge for the betrayal.[13] First he sent his friend Quintus Dellius, who offered a betrothal of Antony's six-year-old son Alexander Helios to a daughter of Artavasdes II, but the Armenian king hesitated.[14] Now the triumvir marched into Roman western Armenia. He summoned Artavasdes II to Nicopolis, allegedly to prepare a new war against Parthia. Artavasdes II didn't come, so the Roman general quickly marched to the Armenian capital Artaxata. He arrested the king, hoping with his hostage's assistance to obtain great treasures in the Armenian castles. His son Artaxias II was elected as successor. After a lost battle Artaxias II fled to the Parthian king. Finally Antony took Artavasdes II to Alexandria.[15]

The Armenian king and his family, who were bound with golden chains, had to follow Antony in his triumphal procession.[16] Cleopatra VII of Egypt awaited the triumvir on a golden throne, but Artavasdes II refused to render homage to the Egyptian Queen by Proskynesis.[17]

In 31 BC, after Antony's defeat at the Battle of Actium, Cleopatra had Artavasdes decapitated. He had been an enemy of his namesake, King Artavasdes I of Media Atropatene, an ally of Antony and Cleopatra. She sent his head to Artavasdes I of Media Atropatene to secure his help.[18]

Plutarch described Artavasdes II as a well-educated man, who had a great fondness for all things Greek and was an accomplished scholar who composed Greek tragedies and histories.[19] From a wife whose name is unknown, he was survived by two sons: Artaxias II,[20] Tigranes III,[21] and a daughter[22] who possibly married King Archelaus of Cappadocia.


  1. ^ Shayegan 2011, p. 245.
  2. ^ a b Schmitt 1986, p. 653.
  3. ^ Bivar 1983, pp. 49–50; Katouzian 2009, pp. 42–43
  4. ^ a b c Plutarch, vol III. XIX.
  5. ^ Bivar 1983, pp. 55–56; Garthwaite 2005, p. 79; see also Brosius 2006, pp. 94–95 and Curtis 2007, pp. 12–13
  6. ^ Kennedy 1996, p. 78.
  7. ^ Dąbrowa 2018, p. 80; Bivar 1983, p. 56
  8. ^ Bivar 1983, p. 56.
  9. ^ Russell 1987, p. 125.
  10. ^ Plutarch, Antony 37
  11. ^ Cassius Dio, Roman History 49.25
  12. ^ Plutarch, Antony 39; Cassius Dio, Roman History 49.25
  13. ^ Garsoïan 1997, p. 60.
  14. ^ Cassius Dio, Roman History 49.39.2
  15. ^ Cassius Dio, Roman History 49.39.3 - 49.40.1
  16. ^ Tacitus, The Annals 2.3
  17. ^ Cassius Dio, Roman History 49.40.3-4; Velleius, Roman History 2.82.4; Plutarch, Antony 50.6-7
  18. ^ Cassius Dio, Roman History 51.5.5; Strabo, Geography, book 11, p. 532
  19. ^ Plutarch, Crassus 33
  20. ^ Swan, The Augustan Succession: An Historical Commentary on Cassius Dio’s Roman History, Books 55-56 (9 B.C.-A.D. 14), p.112
  21. ^ Bunson, Encyclopedia of the Roman Empire, p.47
  22. ^ Cassius Dio, Roman History 49.39.2


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Artavasdes II of Armenia
Born: unknown Died: 31 BC
Preceded by King of Armenia
55 BC – 34 BC
Succeeded by