The Bulgars in Armenia - a key to the earliest Bulgarian history

From Artaksius II Arshak (33-20 BC) to Arshak (35-41 AD) - the most probable time of the migration

After the dethroning of Arshak II (345-367 AD) up to the ascending of Pap (369-374 AD) to the throne, Persian troops twice entered Armenia and took prisoner many city dwellers. F. Buzand reports the obviously inflated number of 262 000 families, most of them – Jews. According to G. Sarkisjan the Jews were no more than 100 000. The most massive deportations occurred between 364 and 368 AD [25]. F.  Buzand also says that during these years the country of Kog (Kol, Kokh) remained faithful to the Armenian dynasty and handed its treasures to the controlled by Pap fortress of Daronk. Kokh is exactly the “land” part of which was the region of Vanand.

Thus the time limits for the Bulgaro-Jewish co-existence in Armenia are set between the time of Tigran II and Pap. Its limits can be limited further – the anti Jewish repression were religious one, they aimed at imposing a cult (worshiping of idols, tasting of the meat of the sacrificed animals, etc.) alien both to the Judaism and the Christianity. Also, while Shambat - the legendary ancestor of the Bagratides, has its correspondence in the general image of Valarshak who represents the whole Armenian dynastic line, in contrast, Tigran II the Great and his deputy Bagarat in Seleucid Syria were real historical figures, as attested by Apian. The fact that Bagarat's sons were persecuted puts the Bulgar migration to Armenia close to the lower limit – after Artavazd II (55-34 BC), rather than to the upper one.

The following events took place afterwards: the beheading of the megistan Vanand (60 AD), the appearance of the toponym “Vanand” in the Peutinger Table (II-III c. AD), the adoption of Christianity by Armenia (around 301/314 AD).

It remains only to restrict further these time limits. In this time interval we must look for an Armenian king by the name of Arshak, who reigned for 13 years, and who fought with the Pontians. The name of “Arshak” is a synonym of a Parthian influence. In M. Horenaci the other dynastic lines – these of the Orontides and the Artashesides, were assimilates into the naturalized in Armenia Parthian Arshakides. All Parthian kings bore the name od “Arshak” besides their personal name. It is commonly accepted that it was Trdat I who stabilized the Parthian Arshakides on the Armenian throne and naturalized the dynasty. Even if we do not exclude the Christian period as the possible time for the Bulgar migration the result is as follows. From all available to me chronological lists of the Armenian kings, five of them had the name of “Arshak” as a personal name, a clan name or a pseudonym: Artaksius II Arsham/Arshak (33-20 BC); Arshak (35-41 AD); Khosrov I Arshak (222-252 AD); Arshak II (345-367) AD; Arshak III (378/83-389 AD).

The aforementioned arguments make it impossible for the Bulgar migration to have happened in the time of the Christian kings called “Arshak”. Even more as M. Horenaci mentions the latter in other parts of his work [See for example b. III, 27 or b. III, 46]. In the pre Christian times the king Khosrov I Trdat (his father was called Trdat) had the name of “Arshak”, but he was the fifteenth king of Armenia who had many problems with the usurpation of the Persian throne by the Sassanides. Also, his reign was at least 30 years long [b. II, 58].

There remain the first two. The events around them are very well known as this period is amply documented in the Roman historiography. After the victory of Suren over Crassus (6.V.53 BC) the Armenian king Artavazd (55-34 BC) was left with nothing but to join the triumphant Parthian king Orodes. Artavazd gave his daughter for a wife of the Parthian prince Pacorus and he supported the Parthian advance into Syria. At the same time in Rome Caesar removed Pompey from the power only to be killed. Octavius and Mark Antony fought against the republicans, etc. It was only in 39 BC when Ventidius Bas was able to defeat Pacorus in a battle, to kill the prince and stop the Parthian advance. Next, in 36 BC Mark Antony advanced against Parthia with 100 000 men and siege machines. His actions there were unsuccessful, he lost 35 000 men and had to retreat to Alexandria. It was the Armenian king Artavazd II who felt the revenge of Antony when the latter entered Armenia in 34 BC. Artavazd presented himself before Antony but was put in chains, given as a gift to Cleopatra and three years later – executed. Tacitus denounced these contemptible actions of Antony with the words “scoelus Antonii”.

The son of Artavazd II – Artaksius/Artashes II (33-20 BC) resisted the Romans but was not successful and had to find refuge in Parthia. There he stayed for three years as a king in exile. At that time the king of Antropatene with the Roman blessing was encouraged to conquer Armenia, while Antony was occupied by the struggle with Octavius and had to withdraw his troops to the west. Then Artashes II came from Parthia under the name of Arsham/Arshak [26] and with additional Parthian troops succeeded in capturing the king of Antropatene, in the destruction of the Roman garrisons, and in the full restoration of the Armenian independence.

Under these circumstances Armenia lived under peace for a whole decade (30-20 BC) – a rare episode for that epoch. In 20 BC Augustus sent Tiberius to put on the Armenian throne the Rome educated brother of Artashes II Arshak – Tigran III (20-6 BC). The Roman party in Armenia organized the king's assassination and the historians conclude: “Armenia lost an energetic and strong king[27].

Artashes II Arshak was the last prominent king of the dynasty of the Artashesides, which declined in the next two decades. He came with his power from Parthia and he is the first historical king of Armenia bearing the title “Arshak”. He reigned for 13 years, 10 of which in peace. His reign was followed by five decades of rule of Roman protégés with the exception of Arshak (35-41 AD). After Artashes II Arshak came Tigran III, and from 5 BC Rome had quickly replaced 6-7 of his protégés at the Armenian throne. Only in 18 AD Zeno, the son of the Pontian king became king of Armenia under the name of Artaksius III Artashes and kept the throne till 34 AD. In 34 AD the Parthian king Artaban III (12-38 AD) succeeded to put his son Arshak (35-41 AD) at the Armenian throne. These events are described also by Tacitus. Arshak put an end to the Pontian dynastic line and the Pontian political influence in Armenia. Arshak was the first ethnical Parthian on the Armenian throne; the only king with that name in the pre Christian history of Armenia; he also broke the Pontian domination. After that Rome again took the upper hand and promoted as kings first the Iberian Mithridates (41-52 AD) and Radamizd (52-58 AD). At the end, in 58-59 AD Trdat I with the consent of the emperor Nero became king and established the dynasty of the Arshakides.

Thus – the first Armenian ruler who came from Parthia with the name of Arshak; cleared the country from the Roman garrisons; reigned for 13 years, 10 of which in peace – time suitable for migration and settling down – was Artashes II Arshak (33-20 BC). The crown prince of Parthia was the second monarch with the name of Arshak (35-41 AD) on the Armenian throne, and the first of the Arshakides. He put an end of the Pontian influence in the country.

The only plausible conclusion would be – the migration of the Bulgars to Armenia happened somewhere between the reign of Artashes II Arshak (33-20 BC) and Arshak (35-41 AD). Most probably, they have crossed the Caucasus during the peaceful decade between 30 and 20 BC. The combining of events particular to the reign of two rulers with the same name was, as we already saw, something acceptable for M. Horenaci, provided that the facts at his disposal did not contradict each other.

- The summary image of king Arshak from the “History” of M. Horenaci coincides completely with the events from this period: he was a relative of the Persian (Parthian) rulers; he reigned for 13 years; he drove away the Roman garrisons, while the Pontian kingdom was a traditional Roman ally in their efforts against Mithridates VI Eupator; he also put to end the Pontian presence in Armenia.

- It is known that during the same period Armenia was ruled by a king who added “theos/god” to his title. That was the grandson of Tigran the Great – Tigran III (20-6 BC). From Rome he took the practice of deifying the emperors, which could not not create conflicts with the strict monotheism of the Jews. Those who suffered were exactly the sons of Bagarat and the Jews on Van, and not the Hellenized Artashat's  Jews who were later Christianized.

- This offers an explanation for: the tragical end of the tribal leader Vanand, beheaded on order of Domitius Corbulo (60 BC); the place in the narrative of the Alan incursion recorded in b. II, 49-50 (72 AD); the appearance on the Peutinger Table (II-III c. AD) of the station and the region of Banantea; up to the Avarajr battle, where part of the naturalized and already Christianized together with the Armenian people Bulgars “from the clan of the Vanandians” took part in the struggle for independence and faith of the people who gave them shelter.

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25. Buzand F., b. IV, 12-13; Horenski M., b. III, 37.

26. See Brjusov V., Letopis’ istoricheskih sudeb Armjanskogo naroda, M., 1918 g.; II izd., Erevan, 1989 g.

27. Istorija armjanskogo naroda, E., 1980 g., s. 54.