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Transcaucasia and Roman Expansion
Life among the Transcaucasian tribes and nationalities during the last centuries B. C. was marked by the development and consolidation of the slaveholding social structure and by the expansion of trade connections. As a result, the Armenian and Georgian nationalities came into existence, while the unification of eastern Transcaucasian tribes, headed by the Albanians, signified the beginning of the formation of an Albanian nation in Azerbaijan. The process of the consolidation of Armenian and Georgian tribes was marked by a fierce struggle for freedom and for independence from foreign conquerors: at the beginning against the Assyrians and Urartians and later against the Achaemenids and Seleucids. This struggle helped unite their forces and strengthen their ties with one another, and promoted ethnic consolidation and the formation of these nationalities.
During the first century B. C., the history of the nationalities and states of Transcaucasia was marked by the beginning of a long and fierce struggle against a new enemy, more powerful than any of its predecessors. This enemy was the Roman Empire. In ancient literary sources, information concerning Transcaucasian nations during the last centuries B. C. is scanty. These data are supplemented to a degree by archaeological evidence, which relates principally to the economic and cultural aspects of the life of the inhabitants.
At this time the inhabitants of Transcaucasia practised agriculture in some places, while in others—mainly in mountain regions—a pastoral mode of life prevailed. In provinces that were more advanced economically towns existed in which the inhabitants lived by trade and handicrafts. A distinct division of society into classes and guilds becomes apparent—a feature characteristic of a slaveholding social structure and a corresponding governmental organization. Simultaneously, a primitive tribal structure still persisted in remote mountain areas.
Long before the campaign of Alexander the Great in the East, the majority of the provinces of the Armenian highlands and adjacent areas that were under the rule of the Achaemenids were, in effect, only nominally dependent, and were likely to secede at any time. Under the Achaemenids, the chiefs of individual Armenian tribes did not lose their positions of leadership among their people; on the contrary, their local importance was greatly enhanced. Alexander's conquests created a new threat to the independence of Transcaucasia, and to Armenia primarily. Probably for this reason the Armenians supported Darius in his struggle against Alexander. After the battle of Gaugamela in 331 B. C., the Armenians submitted formally to Alexander's rule, but resisted stubbornly any attempt to penetrate their country and to interfere with their mode of life. And so Armenia became virtually free of foreign rule, and toward the end of the fourth century there appear new independent and semi-independent states which had already begun forming under the Achaemenids on the basis of political federations.
Thus, the region of the mountainous spurs of the Skidis Range on the upper courses of the Dycus and Halys rivers, crossed by deep gorges, was under the rule of local Armenian chieftains. This was the area of the ancient region of Hayasa, inhabited by descendants of wealthy cattle-raising tribes and known, in sources of the Hellenistic period, as Little Armenia [Lesser Armenia/Armenia Minor]. This region had excellent grazing lands, and was renowned since ancient times for its horse-breeding and its highly developed metallurgy. After Alexander's death, a national revolt broke out against the Macedonian governor,  Neoptolemus. Eumenes, governor of Cappadocia, undertook to subdue the insurrection, but his forces were too small and he was compelled to side with the local ruler, Artabasdes, who was confirmed as sovereign of the country under the condition that he acknowledge Macedonian rule.
The acquisition of the Ayrarat plain by the Armenians, by means of colonization and assimilation of the Alarodi [Urartian] tribes who lived there, began as early as the end of the fifth century, though in the third century the Armenization of this area was not yet complete. However, after the downfall of the Achaemenids in the fourth century, there emerged an independent kingdom of Ayrarat with Armavir as its center. This kingdom was ruled by the Orontid [Ervanduni] dynasty, the descendants of the governors of the thirteenth satrapy. At first, Orontes acknowledged Alexander's sovereignty, but during the strife of the Diadochi in 316 B.C., the Ayrarat kingdom became independent of Macedonian rule. Some time later it was drawn under the political influence of Media Atropatene, and became, evidently, dependent on the rulers of that country.
The provinces of southern Armenia on the other hand, i. e., "Eastern Armenia" [according to Xenophon, the basin of Lake Van, designated as "Armenia"] and "Western Armenia " [in Greek texts called Sophene, and Tsopk in Armenian] were annexed by the Seleucid Empire. The administration was left in the care of local rulers, who appeared as "kings" to their subjects, but who, according to Seleucid administrative terminology, were called "strategoi" ("chieftains") or provincial governors.
The history of Armenia Minor during the rule of the Seleucids is almost unknown. Armenian rulers continued to govern the country independently of the Seleucids. During the first half of the second century, Armenia Minor came completely under the political influence of the Pontic kingdom and in 115 B.C. it became a part of the empire ruled by Mithridates VI Eupator (circa 131-63). In the year 72 B.C. the country became a part of the Roman Empire, and was for a long time isolated from the social and cultural life of the Armenian people.
The second Armenian province, Sophene, was situated along the lower course of the Aratsani, a left tributary of the Euphrates. It was noted for its horticulture and for its highly developed agriculture. It is not without cause that Polybius called its central part a "magnificent plain." Earlier than other Armenian provinces, Sophene was drawn into international trade. Through it passed a branch of the great caravan route, the former "Imperial Highway," leading from Asia Minor to Media, Parthia and Bactria, and to the south was the principal trade route, connecting the capital of the Seleucid Empire, Antioch [Antakya] on the Orontes, with Seleucia on the Tigris. All important trade routes of Armenia passed through Sophene, in the neighborhood of which were located large commercial and cultural centers.
In Sophene itself there were many towns of mixed population. The rulers of the province were the first among all the Armenian rulers to coin money, and a lively trade flourished in the urban centers.
Under the Seleucids, Sophene constituted a separate military-administrative province. It was governed by local rulers ("kings") who were duty-bound to supply taxes and an army when called upon by the Seleucid king. At times, taking advantage of favorable conditions, the rulers of Sophene disregarded their obligations as subjects. In the middle of the third century B. C., Sophene was governed by King Arsames [Armenian Arsham]. He founded the city of Arsamosata [Armenian Arshamoshat] on the left bank of the Aratsani, a tributary of the Euphrates, and coined money. About 240 B. C., he made an attempt to declare his independence, but was forced to submit.
According to numismatic evidence, Arsames was followed by Abdisarus, who was succeeded by Xerxes at the end of the third century. Polybius relates that Xerxes  refused to pay the usual tax to the Seleucid treasury, and Antiochus III (d. 187 B. C.) was compelled to undertake a campaign and lay siege to the city of Arsamosata. As a result of negotiations, the conflict was settled and Antiochus even entered into an alliance with Xerxes and waived the arrears of the taxes. This case proves how ephemeral was the subjugation of Sophene to the central Seleucid government.
The territory of so-called Greater Armenia, the principal region of the development of the Armenian nation, originally comprised a small area on the Upper Euphrates. However, in 220 B.C., Antiochus III, after suppressing the rebellious satrap, Milon of Media, turned against his ally Artabazanes, the ruler of Media Atropatene, compelled him to renounce his claim to the Ayrarat Province and joined this province with Armenia, which has since been called Greater Armenia. As administrator ("strategos") of Greater Armenia, Antiochus supported the local ruler Artaxius [Armenian Artashes].
In this manner, at the end of the third century B. C., all Armenian provinces, with the exception of Armenia Minor, were united under the domination of the Seleucids. The Greek-Macedonian nobility attempted to establish its overlordship in the former Persian domains, and traders, including those engaged in the slave trade, artisans and colonists, followed the Macedonian army into Armenia; these settled in towns and appropriated parcels of municipal land and monopolized international trade. The further development of private landownership was thereby facilitated, as well as the increase in slaveholding and the development of trade relations. At the same time, during the period of Macedonian rule, a significant Greek culture made important inroads into Armenia. In larger cities, centers of international trade, the use of the Greek language continued to increase. The rulers of Sophene coined money with Greek inscriptions. In the absence of a written language, the Armenians began to use Greek in foreign affairs, for official and commercial communication, and became acquainted with the Greek calendar in its Syrian-Macedonian version.
Thus, during the third century B. C., Armenia was drawn into the sphere of the economic, political and cultural life of the Hellenistic world, and its subsequent development tended to strengthen and broaden its ties with the Hellenistic states of the eastern Mediterranean. However, the rule of the Seleucids in Armenia did not last long. The gradual emergence of local states in Asia Minor, such as Pontus, the Greek-Bactrian Empire, Parthia, Greater Armenia and Sophene, and the rising power of Rome, finally accomplished the dissolution of the vast Seleucid Empire.
As a result of the great economic and social progress of Armenia, only an insignificant impulse was necessary to cast off foreign rule. Immediately after the defeat of Antiochus III by the Romans in the battle of Magnesia (190 B. C.), the Armenian "strategoi" Artaxius [Artashes] of Greater Armenia, and Zariadris [Zareh, Xerxes' successor] of Sophene, declared themselves kings, and thus established two independent Armenian states.
However, at the beginning of the third century B. C., a representative of the local Iberian nobility, Pharnabazus, concluded an alliance with Kudzh, the ruler of Egrisa [Colchis], and with the help of the Syrian King, Antiochus I, defeated Azo, and proclaimed himself king. Pharnabazus founded, on the right bank of the Kura opposite Mtskheta, a fortified city which he called Armazis-Tsikhe, which means "fortress of Armazi" ["Harmozika" in Strabo's translation]. This name of the city was derived from that of Moon God, Armazi. The Annals ascribe to Pharnabazus the establishment of the kingdom as well as the building of fortresses, the administrative organization of districts headed by governors, and the founding of a standing army. However, one must assume that the state organization under Pharnabazus was more primitive than the one described in the Annals, and that the organs of state government in Iberia developed gradually. Nevertheless, in the third century B.C., Iberia was a major power. In addition to the Aragva basin with the boundary along the Alazani River in the east, and the Darial Gorge [the so-called "Inner Kartli"] in the north, it included Sispiritida [ancient province of Sper], together with the slopes of the Paryadres, Chorzene and Gogarene. These areas constituted the so-called Lower Kartli. At this time, Iberia's political power spread also over the southeastern part of western Georgia, whose ruler Kudzh acknowledged, according to the Kartlis-Tskhovreba, the sovereignty of Pharnabazus.
However, in the second century, the Iberian State experienced a period of temporary decline, while its neighbor, the young Armenian State, went through a period of intensive development. This weakening of Iberia resulted in considerable territorial loss. Districts of Lower Kartli—the slopes of the Paryadre.s, Chorzene and Gogarene—became detached from Iberia and incorporated into Armenia. During this period, Iberia entered into an alliance with Armenia, apparently on a somewhat unequal basis.
The most detailed information concerning Iberia and its inhabitants is given by Strabo, who indicated four approaches to this country: (a) from the direction of Colchis through the Colchidian fortress of Sarapanae [modern Shorapani]; (b) from the country of the northern nomadic tribes through the Aragva [Darial] Gorge; (c) from Albania through the mountain pass and the marshy lowlands of Alazani; and (d) from Armenia through the Cyrus [Kura] River gorge at the point where Tbilisi [formerly Tiflis] is now located.
According to Strabo, Iberia was a wealthy, densely populated country, divided into two zones: a mountainous area and river valleys. The inhabitants of the former mainly practised stock-raising and lived, in the words of Strabo, "according to the customs of the Scythians and Sarmatians, to whom they were related and whose neighbors they were." The Scythians and Sarmatians mentioned here are the North Caucasian tribes, which constituted the basic mass of the population of Inner Kartli until its occupation by the Iberians. According to Strabo, the mountaineer stock-raisers constituted the majority of the population of Iberia. Among them the customs of primitive tribal communities were still preserved. They were noted for their warlike inclinations and provided the principal source of military power for the Iberian State. The inhabitants of the fertile river valleys were peaceful agriculturists. Their mode of life differed little from that of the Armenians and Medes. The latter evidently referred to the inhabitants of Media Atropatene. Horticulture and viniculture were practised along with cereal agriculture. Iberian towns were protected by  formidable walls, and contained beautiful buildings faced with tile, markets and other public structures. These towns were centers of handicrafts and trade. In addition to Armazis-Tsikhe, the acropolis of Mtskheta, the Iberian towns included Sevsamora on the left bank of the Aragva, and the small fortified settlement of Ideessa on the frontier of Colchis.
The excavations conducted by Georgian archaeologists in the vicinity of Mtskheta have furnished means of determining the exact locations of the Iberian capital of Armazis-Tsikhe and the town of Sevsamora. The latter was located on the left bank of the Aragva, above its confluence with the Kura, near the present village of Tsitsamuri. Armazis-Tsikhe was built on the right bank of the Kura opposite the mouth of the Aragva River [now the town of Bagineti on the eastern end of the Armaz range], and occupied about thirty hectares. A system of strong, protective walls, built of adobe bricks on a base of cut dry-laid sandstone slabs has been uncovered. These walls encircled the mountain and led in steps to the Kura. Buildings excavated include a monumental structure, the roof of which was supported by a number of columns standing within the building.
Buildings of the third and second centuries B. C. reflect contact with Hellenistic culture and the influence of the ancient architecture of Asia Minor, and especially Syria. In the Samthavro cemetery, burials in large clay vessels used for storing agricultural produce belong to this period. These burials illustrate the customs of independent and peaceful agriculturists in the area of Mtskheta. No weapons occurred in these graves. Numerous other objects indicate we1l-developed textile and pottery industries. There were also metal objects, ornaments (earrings, bracelets, rings, and small bells), engraved bones, and beads of glass and paste. Some of these objects represent local handicraft and artistic traditions originating in the Bronze Age. The pottery, fired red and made of fine well-kneaded clay without decoration, is markedly differe.nt from the black-gray pottery found in the direct inhumations of the preceding period.
Moreover, the custom of burial in clay vessels is an indication.of cultural relationship with the local rural population of the neighboring eastern portions of western Albania. The metal ornaments, particularly the bracelets with pronounced dorsal curvature, are characteristic of this period throughout almost all Transcaucasia. The "jug" burials include, for the first time, iron rings with cut stones as "jewels," and seals cast in glass. Some of the objects found in the graves, including jewels, beads, and bracelets, indicate trade relations between the inhabitants of Mtskheta and countries of Asia Minor. Burials in clay vessels of about the same period have been found also in Zemo-Avchala and other sites of eastern Georgia (in the Gori, Kaspi, Tbilisi, Sagaredzho, Telavi, Tsiteltskaro, and Bori areas). Seleucid, and later Parthian, coins found in settlements and burials of the third to first centuries B. C. indicate the development of private ownership, trade relations with the countries of Asia Minor, and the beginning of money transactions.
All archaeological data fit Strabo's account of the occurrence of architecturally sound tile-roofed dwellings in the towns of Iberia and of the presence of market squares and public buildings. The capital of Iberia, an important trade center, was located at the intersection of two trade routes: (a) one leading from the country of the North Caucasian tribes along the Aragva Valley into Armenia; and (b) the other, the river route along the Kura and Rion, connecting the Caspian Sea with trade centers of the eastern Black Sea coast. At this time, the Iberian State had been drawn into the sphere of the commercial interests of the Seleucid State as indicated by a study of the trade route leading through the Caucasus into India in the time of Seleucus Nicator. From the Kartli-Tskhovreba we also learn that Pharnabazus, founder of the Iberian State, maintained relations with the states of the Diadochi, particularly with the Seleucids, who apparently helped him to become king. The development  of trade in Iberia during the last centuries B. C. is also indicated by Strabo's reference to the navigability of the Kura and its tributaries, and to the existence of a wel1- developed network of roads and bridges.
Strabo's description of Iberian social structure evidently reflects social conditions prevailing not later than the second century B. C.
According to Strabo, the population of Iberia was divided into four "classes" or social groups: from the first, the most important group, "was selected the king— the oldest and closest in relationship to the preceding king." To the second most important member of this class were delegated the duties of administration of justice and military leadership. The second group included the priests who also dealt with litigations among neighbors. The third included farmers and soldiers. The fourth group included the "servants" who were "slaves of the king," and who provided the imperial family clan with all the necessities of life. Property was held in common, according to group relationship, and each group was supervised by an elder.
This account shows that the hereditary slaveholding aristocracy, headed by the royal family, occupied the ruling position in Iberian society.The authority of the king [Georgian mepe] was hereditary in the family clan but its passage from father to son was not mandatory, the oldest member of the family after the king usually being in the line of succession. The new king was formally confirmed by the other members of the royal family and other representatives of the nobility. Nevertheless, the authority of the king was absolute and unlimited. According to Georgian sources, the king appointed the provincial governors and other high functionaries. However, in view of the concept of royal authority as hereditary, such important duties as the administration of justice and military leadership were usually carried out by the closest relative of the king.
A special privilege of the royal family, which it probably shared with other important clans, was the exploitation of the labor of serfs. The latter constituted the "fourth class," a group which Strabo designated as lovi or servants, a term widely known in the Seleucid State and in other countries of Asia Minor of that time. Strabo calls them "slaves of the King, providers of all necessities of life" but actually, rather than being slaves, these were communal land tillers, legally free, but burdened with tributes in kind and in labor; their exploitation was the prerogative of the royal family. There probably also existed in those times private estates of the king and of the nobility where slaves—primarily prisoners of war—were used.
The priesthood played an important role in the political and social life of the country. Priests dealt with public affairs and performed rituals that accompanied the treaties with neighboring states in regard to war and peace and the settlement of disputes.
As in neighboring Armenia, Colchis, and Albania, there existed in Iberia wealthy, ancient sanctuaries with extensive landholdings, administered by priests, where the labor of the so-called "sacred slaves" (hierodules) was used. Most of these sanctuaries were located on the periphery of the country in mountain areas. Strabo mentions the sanctuary. of Leukoteia (belonging, probably, to the local women's fertility cult) in the region of the Moschi, on the frontier of Iberia, Armenia, and Colchis. New official cults instituted by the kings were established in the capital. and its surroundings. The priesthood, together with the military aristocracy, constituted the ruling class of Iberia, the slaveholding aristocracy.
Finally, the mass of the population was composed at that time of communities of free peasants, "soldiers and farmers," who, in times of emergency, filled the ranks of the army. This social stratum, designated in ancient Georgian sources as the "people 's army" (eri), was representative of the primitive tribal social structure, but continued to exist for a long time, even in many slaveholding societies. However, it gradually lost its former role in social and political life, as the national militia  was replaced by an army distinct from the people. Furthermore, while formerly this armed population represented the highest authority, it was superseded now by a public authority distinct from the people, in this case that of the emperor supported by an army differentiated from the people.
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