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Orontid dynasty

Orontid dynasty
CountryKingdom of Armenia
Kingdom of Sophene
Kingdom of Commagene
Founded6th century BC (Armenia)
260 BC (Sophene)
163 BC (Commagene)
FounderOrontes I Sakavakyats (legendary)
Orontes I (historical)
Current headExtinct
Final rulerOrontes IV (Armenia)
Mithrobazane II (Sophene)
Antiochus IV (Commagene)
TitlesKing of Greater Armenia
Dissolution200 BC (Armenia)
95 BC (Sophene)
72 AD (Commagene)
Cadet branchesArtaxiad dynasty[1][2]
Artsruni dynasty[3]
Gnuni dynasty[4]

The Orontid dynasty, also known as the Eruandids or Eruandunis, ruled the Satrapy of Armenia until 330 BC and the Kingdom of Armenia from 321 BC to 200 BC. The Orontids ruled first as client kings or satraps of the Achaemenid Empire and after the collapse of the Achaemenid Empire established an independent kingdom. Later, a branch of the Orontids ruled as kings of Sophene and Commagene. They are the first of the three royal dynasties that successively ruled the antiquity-era Kingdom of Armenia (321 BC–428 AD).

Historical background

The Satrapy of Armenia under the Orontid dynasty.

Some historians state that the Orontids were of Iranian origin,[5][6][1][7][8] and suggest that it held dynastic familial linkages to the ruling Achaemenid dynasty.[9][8][10] Throughout their existence, the Orontids stressed their lineage from the Achaemenids in order to strengthen their political legitimacy.[11]

Other historians state the Orontids were of Armenian origin,[12][13] while according to Razmik Panossian, the Orontids probably had marriage links to the rulers of Persia and other leading noble houses in Armenia, and states their Armenian ethnicity is uncertain.[14]

The name Orontes is the Hellenized form of a masculine name of Iranian origin, rendered Eruand (Երուանդ) in Old Armenian (Yervand in Modern Armenian).[15] The name is only attested in Greek (Gr.:Ὀρόντης). Its Avestan connection is Auruuant (brave, hero) and Middle Persian Arwand (Modern Persian اروند Arvand).[15] Various Greek transcriptions of the name in Classical sources are spelled as Orontes, Aruandes or Ardoates. The presence of this dynasty is attested from at least 400 BC, and it can be shown to have ruled originally from Armavir and subsequently Eruandashat. Armavir is called the "first capital of the Orontid dynasty".

The precise date of the foundation of the Orontid dynasty is debated by scholars to this day but there is a consensus that it occurred after the destruction of Urartu by the Scythians and the Medes around 612 BC.[citation needed]


Despite the Hellenistic invasion of Persia, Persian and local Armenian culture remained the strongest element within society and the elites.[a][16]

The imperial administration used Aramaic, where it was used in official documents for centuries.[17] Whereas most inscriptions used Old Persian cuneiform.[17] Xenophon used an interpreter to speak to Armenians, while some Armenian villages were conversant in Persian.[17]

The Greek inscriptions at Armavir indicate that the upper classes used Greek as one of their languages.[18] Under Ervand the Last (r. ca. 210–200 B.C.), the structure of government had begun to resemble Greek institutions, and Greek was used as the language of the royal court. Ervand had surrounded himself by the Hellenized nobility and sponsored the establishment of a Greek school in Armavir, the capital of the Ervanduni kingdom.[19][20]

Orontid kings and satraps of Armenia

Orontid Armenia in 250 BC

Xenophon mentions an Armenian king named Tigranes in his Cyropaedia. He was an ally of Cyrus the Great with whom he hunted. Tigranes paid tribute to Astyages. His elder son was also named Tigranes. Upon the outbreak of hostilities between the Medes and Babylonians, Tigranes had renounced his treaty obligations to the Medes.

As a successor of Astyages, Cyrus demanded to be paid the same tribute. Strabo corroborates this in his Geography (xi.13.5). In 521 BC, with the disturbances that occurred after the death of Cambyses and the proclamation of Smerdis as King, the Armenians revolted. Darius I of Persia sent an Armenian named Dâdarši to suffocate the revolt, later substituting him for the Persian Vaumisa who defeated the Armenians on May 20, 521 BC. Around the same time, another Armenian by the name of Arakha, son of Haldita, claimed to be the son of the last king of Babylon, Nabonidus, and renamed himself Nebuchadnezzar IV. His rebellion was short-lived and was suppressed by Intaphrenes, Darius' bow carrier.

An Armenian tribute bearer carrying a metal vessel with griffin handles. 5th century BC.
Armenian soldier of the Achaemenid army, circa 470 BC. Xerxes I tomb relief.

These events are described in detail within the Behistun inscription. After the administrative reorganization of the Persian Empire, Armenia was converted into several satrapies. Armenian satraps regularly intermarried with the family of the King of Kings. These satraps provided contingents to Xerxes' invasion of Greece in 480 BC. Herodotus says that the Armenians in the army of Xerxes "were armed like the Phrygians." In 401 BC Xenophon marched through Armenia with a large army of Greek mercenaries as part of the March of the Ten Thousand. Xenophon mentions two individuals by the name Orontes, apparently both Persian. One was a nobleman and military officer of high rank, belonging to the royal family; as the commander of the citadel of Sardis, he waged war against Cyrus the Younger and he tried to betray him to Artaxerxes II Memnon shortly before the battle of Cunaxa, but was taken prisoner and sentenced to death by a court martial. Xenophon's Anabasis has a detailed description of the country, where it is also written that the region near the river Centrites was defended by the satrap of Armenia for Artaxerxes II, named Orontes, son of Artasyras, who had Armenian contingents as well as Alarodians. Tiribaz is mentioned as hipparchos (vice-governor) of Armenia under Orontes, who later became satrap of Lydia.

Orontes I Gold coin held at the National Library, Paris, dated to 362 BC.

In 401 BC Artaxerxes gave him his daughter Rhodogoune in marriage. In two inscriptions of king Antiochus I of Commagene on his monument at Nemrut, an Orontes, called Aroandes (son of Artasouras and husband of Artaxerxes's daughter Rhodogoune), is reckoned, among others, as an ancestor of the Orontids ruling over Commagene, who traced back their family to Darius I. Diodorus Siculus mentions another Orontes, possibly the same, that in 362 BC was satrap of Mysia and was the leader of the Satrap Revolt in Asia Minor, for which position he was well-suited because of his noble birth and his hatred of the king. Misled by his love of power and fraud, he betrayed his fellow satraps to the king. But he revolted a second time, probably owing to his dissatisfaction with the king's rewards, and launched several attacks, which were continued in the reign of the new king Artaxerxes III Ochus. During that time he also conquered and occupied the town of Pergamum, but finally he must have become reconciled with the king. In 349 he was honored by a decree of the Athenians with civic rights and a golden wreath. Many coins were struck by him during the Satraps' Revolt in Clazomenae, Phocaea, and Lampsacus. All subsequent Orontids are his descendants. Darius III was the satrap of Armenia following Orontes, from 344 to 336 BC. An Armenian contingent was present at the Battle of Gaugamela under the command of Orontes and a certain Mithraustes. Diodorus mentions that Orontes was a friend of the Macedonian general Peucestas. Armenia formally passed to the Macedonian Empire, as its rulers submitted to Alexander the Great. Alexander appointed an Orontid named Mithranes to govern Armenia following the defeat of Orontes II. With the agreement at Babylon after Alexander's death (323 BC) Armenia was assigned to Neoptolemus, and kept it till his death in battle in 321 BC. Around 302 BC the capital was transferred from Armavir to Yervandashat by Orontes.

Starting from 301 BC Armenia is included within the sphere of influence of the Seleucid Empire, but it maintained a considerable degree of autonomy, retaining its native rulers. According to Polyaenus, in 227 BC the Seleucid rebel king Antiochus Hierax took refuge in Armenian territory governed by King Arsames, founder of the city Arsamosata. Towards the end of 212 BC the country was divided into two kingdoms, both vassal states of the Seleucids: Greater Armenia and Armenia Sophene, including Commagene or Armenia Minor. Antiochus III the Great decided to suppress the local dynasties, and besieged Arsamosata. Xerxes, the satrap of Sophene and Commagene, surrendered and implored the clemency of the king, whom he accepted as his sovereign. Antiochus gave his sister Antiochis as a wife to Xerxes; she would later murder him. Greater Armenia was ruled by an Orontid descendant of Hydarnes, the last Orontid ruler of Greater Armenia (Strabo xi.14.15); he was apparently subdued by Antiochus III the Great, who then divided the land between his generals Artaxias (Artashes) and Zariadres (Zareh), both of whom would claim descent from the Orontid family.

Orontids of Commagene

Nemrut Dağı, Statues at East Terrace

In Nemrut Dagi, opposite the statues of Gods there are a long row of pedestals, on which stood the steles of the Greek ancestors of Antiochos. At a right angle to this row stood another row of steles, depicting his Orontid and Achaemenid ancestors. From these steles the ones of Darius and Xerxes are well preserved. In front of each stele is a small altar. Inscriptions have been found on two of those altars. Antiochos expended great effort to ensure that everyone was aware that he was related to the dynasty of the King of Kings, Darius I, by the marriage of princess Rhodogune to his ancestor Orontes. The father of Rhodogune was the Persian king, Artaxerxes. In 401 BC Artaxerxes defeated his younger brother, who tried to depose him. Because of the help Artaxerxes received from Orontes—his military commander and satrap of Armenia—he gave his daughter in marriage to him. Their descendant, the Orontid Mithridates I Callinicus married Seleucid Princess Laodice VII Thea.


Family tree of the Orontid dynasty according to Cyril Toumanoff:

Hydarnes I
Persian nobleman
Hydarnes II
chiliarc of Iran
Hydarnes III
Satrap of Armenia
(† 410)
gouv. of Akkad
Daughter of Darius II
Satrap of Armenia
(† 410)
(† 410)
satrap of Sardes
(† 396)
several princes
and princesses
executed in 410
(† 400)
ep. Artaxerxes II
satrap of Hyrcany
a prince
(† 404)
satrap of Babylone
(† 328)
RhodoguneOrontes I
satrap of Armenia
satrap of Ionie
Orontes II
satrap of Armenia
king of Armenia
Orontes III
king of Armenia
Sames I
king of Armenia
Arsames I
king of Armenia

Orontid kings in Armenian tradition

Kings and satraps

(Note: Some dates are approximate or doubtful).

Orontid kings of Commagene

See also


  1. ^ The Hellenistic invasion of Persia partially influenced Armenia as well, but Persian and local Armenian culture remained the strongest element within society and the elites.[16]


  1. ^ a b Garsoian 2005.
  2. ^ Garsoian, Nina (2004). "ARMENO-IRANIAN RELATIONS in the pre-Islamic period". Encyclopaedia Iranica. However, the recent discovery in Armenia of boundary stones with Aramaic inscriptions, in which the ruler Artašēs proclaims himself "the son of Zareh" and an "Eruandid king" (Perikhanian, 1966), demonstrates that both "generals" [Artaxias and Zariadris], far from being Macedonians, belonged in fact to the earlier native dynasty, albeit probably to collateral branches, and that the Eruandids, or Artaxiad/Artašēsids as they came to be known, with their Iranian antecedents, continued to rule Armenia as before. An unexpected corroboration of this dynastic continuity is also provided by Xenophon's much earlier choice of the name "Tigranes" for the crown prince of Armenia in his historical romance, the Cyropaedia (Xen., Cyr. 3.1.7). (...) Except for the occasional princes imposed by the Romans, none of whom succeeded in consolidating himself on the throne, all the dynasties to rule pre-Islamic Armenia were of Iranian stock.
  3. ^ Chahin, M. (2001). The Kingdom of Armenia: A History. Psychology Press. p. 226. ISBN 978-0700714520. The Artsruni Princes were, like the Artaxiads, related to the ancient Orontid line.
  4. ^ Toumanoff 1961, p. 53.
  5. ^ Toumanoff 1963, p. 278.
  6. ^ Canepa 2015, p. 80.
  7. ^ Gaggero 2016, p. 79.
  8. ^ a b Allsen 2011, p. 37.
  9. ^ Lang 2000, p. 535.
  10. ^ Payaslian 2007, p. 8-9.
  11. ^ Payaslian 2007, p. 9.
  12. ^ Adrych et al. 2017, p. 138.
  13. ^ Ghafurov 1971, pp. 30–31.
  14. ^ Panossian 2006, p. 35.
  15. ^ a b Schmitt 2002.
  16. ^ a b Panossian 2006, p. 36.
  17. ^ a b c Bournoutian 2006, p. 23.
  18. ^ Manandian 1965, p. 37.
  19. ^ Payaslian 2007, p. 12.
  20. ^ Tiratsyan, “Hayastane vagh hellenizmi zhamanakashrjanum,” pp. 514–15


  • Bournoutian, George (1995). A History of the Armenian People: Pre-history to 1500 A.D. ISBN 978-0-939214-96-9.
  • Maranci, Christina (2018). The Art of Armenia: An Introduction. Oxford University Press. p. 21. ISBN 978-0-19-093588-7.
  • Adrych, Philippa; Bracey, Robert; Dalglish, Dominic; Lenk, Stefanie; Wood, Rachel (2017). Elsner, Jaś (ed.). Images of Mithra. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780192511119.
  • Allsen, Thomas T. (2011). The Royal Hunt in Eurasian History. University of Pennsylvania Press. p. 37. ISBN 978-0812201079.
  • Bournoutian, George (2006). A Concise History of the Armenian People. California: Mazda Publishers, Inc. p. 23. ISBN 1-56859-141-1. Aramaic, the language of the imperial administration, was introduced into Armenia, where, for centuries, it continued to be used in official documents. Old Persian cuneiform, meanwhile, was used in most inscriptions. Xenophon mentions that he used a Persian interpreter to converse with Armenians and in some Armenian villages they responded in Persian.
  • Canepa, Matthew (2010). "Achaemenid and Seleukid Royal Funerary Practices and Middle Iranian Kingship". In Börm, H.; Wiesehöfer, J. (eds.). Commutatio et Contentio. Studies in the Late Roman, Sasanian, and Early Islamic Near East in Memory of Zeev Rubin. pp. 1–21.
  • Canepa, Matthew P. (2015). "Dynastic Sanctuaries and the Transformation of Iranian Kingship between Alexander and Islam". In Babaie, Sussan; Grigor, Talinn (eds.). Persian Kingship and Architecture: Strategies of Power in Iran from the Achaemenids to the Pahlavis. I.B.Tauris. p. 80. ISBN 978-1848857513. Iranian culture deeply influenced Armenia, and Iranian dynasties ruled Armenia during several important periods, including the Orontids (c. sixth century - c. early second century BCE) and Arsacids (54-428 CE).
  • Gaggero, Gianfranco (2016). "Armenians in Xenophon". Greek Texts and Armenian Traditions: An Interdisciplinary Approach. De Gruyter. The above mentioned Orontids..[..]..but also because the two satraps who were contemporaries of Xenophon's are explicitly stated to be Persian.
  • Garsoian, N. (2005). "TIGRAN II". Encyclopaedia Iranica. Tigran (Tigranes) II was the most distinguished member of the so-called Artašēsid/Artaxiad dynasty, which has now been identified as a branch of the earlier Eruandid [Orontid] dynasty of Iranian origin attested as ruling in Armenia from at least the 5th century B.C.E
  • Ghafurov, Bobojon (1971). История иранского государства и культуры [History of the Iranian State and Culture] (PDF) (in Russian). Moscow: Nauka: Chief Editorial Office of Eastern Literature. OCLC 8240688.
  • Hovannisian, Richard G. (1997). The Armenian People from Ancient to Modern Times. Vol. I: The Dynastic Periods: From Antiquity to the Fourteenth Century. Palgrave Macmillan. ..but the existence of a local Armenian dynasty, probably of Iranian origin..
  • Lang, David M. (2000). "Iran, Armenia and Georgia". In Yarshater, Ehsan (ed.). The Cambridge History of Iran, Volume 3: The Seleucid, Parthian and Sasanid Periods. Cambridge University Press. p. 535. ISBN 0-521-20092-X. The most striking example of the syncretism of gods in ancient Parthia actually occurs in a former Armenian satellite kingdom, namely Commagene, the modern Malatya district. Here a scion of the Armenian Orontid house, King Antiochus I (69 — 38 B.C.) built himself a funeral hill at Nimrud Dagh.(..) We see the king's paternal ancestors, traced back to the Achaemenian monarch Darius, son of Hystaspes, while Greek inscriptions record the dead ruler's connections with the Armenian dynasty of the Orontids.
  • Manandian, Hagop (1965). The Trade and Cities of Armenia in Relation to Ancient World Trade. Armenian library of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation. p. 37.
  • Panossian, Razmik (2006). The Armenians From Kings and Priests to Merchants and Commissars. United Kingdom: Columbia University Press. pp. 35. ISBN 9781850657880. It is not known whether the Yervandunis were ethnically Armenian. They probably had marriage links to the rulers of Persia and other leading noble houses in Armenia.
  • Payaslian, Simon (2007). The history of Armenia : from the origins to the present (1st ed.). New York: Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 8–9. ISBN 978-1403974679.
  • Russell, J. R. (1986). "ARMENIA AND IRAN iii. Armenian Religion". In Yarshater, Ehsan (ed.). Encyclopædia Iranica, Volume II/4: Architecture IV–Armenia and Iran IV. London and New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul. pp. 438–444. ISBN 978-0-71009-104-8. Iran, however, was to be the dominant influence in Armenian spiritual culture. The Orontid, Artaxiad, and Arsacid dynasties were all Iranian in origin, and the greater part of the Armenian vocabulary consists of Mid. Ir. loanwords. The Armenians preserved strong regional traditions which appear to have been incorporated into Zoroastrianism, a religion adopted by them probably in the Achaemenid period.
  • Sartre, Maurice (2005). The Middle East Under Rome. Harvard University Press. p. 23. ISBN 978-0674016835. The Commagene kings claimed to be descended from the Orontids, a powerful Iranian family that had ruled the area during the Achaemenid period. They were related to the Achaemenids who had built a kingdom (...)
  • Schmitt, Rüdiger (2002). "ORONTES". Encyclopaedia Iranica.
  • Toumanoff, Cyril (1961). "Introduction to Christian Caucasian History: II: States and Dynasties of the Formative Period". Traditio. 17. Cambridge University Press: 1–106. doi:10.1017/S0362152900008473. JSTOR 27830424. S2CID 151524770.
  • Toumanoff, Cyril (1963). Studies in Christian Caucasian history. Washington D.C.: Georgetown University Press. p. 278. The eponym's praenomen Orontes is as Iranian as the dynasty itself..

Further reading

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Orontid dynasty
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