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Map of the ancient kingdom of Armenia under Tigranes the Great.

Artashat (Armenian: Արտաշատ), Hellenized as Artaxata (Ancient Greek: Ἀρτάξατα) and Artaxiasata (Ἀρταξιάσατα),[1] was a major city and commercial center of ancient Armenia.


Jat Gotras Namesake


The name of the city is of Iranian origin. Artaxata/Artashat can be interpreted as meaning "the joy of Arta (truth),"[3] although it is actually a shortening of Artaxšas-šāt, meaning "the joy of Artaxias," as reflected in the alternative Greek form Artaxiasata.[4][5] Artaxata was named after its founder, Artaxias I, just as the cities of Arshamashat, Eruandashat, and Zarishat were named after their respective founders (see also: -shat).[6] It was briefly renamed Neroneia in the first century AD after it was rebuilt by Tiridates I of Armenia with the help of the Roman emperor Nero.[1] Artaxata was also known as Ostan Hayotsʻ, meaning "court/seat of the Armenians," which was also the name of the canton in which it was located.[7]


It served as the capital of the Kingdom of Armenia from its founding in 176 BC to 120 AD, with some interruptions. It was founded during reign of King Artaxias I (Artashes), the founder of the Artaxiad dynasty. Its ruins are located in the Ararat Province of modern-day Armenia, on the left bank of the Araks River, at the site of the monastery of Khor Virap. It was destroyed and rebuilt several times from the 1st to the 5th centuries AD, before finally being abandoned.


King Artaxias I founded Artaxata as his new capital in 176 BC in the Ostan Hayotsʻ canton of the province of Ayrarat, on a peninsula of nine hills at the confluence of the Araks and Metsamor rivers.[8][9] Archaeological evidence may indicate that Artaxata was built upon the remains of an older Urartian settlement.[10] The story of its foundation is given by the Armenian historian Movses Khorenatsi: "Artashes (Artaxias) traveled to the confluence of the Yeraskh and Metsamor [rivers] and, taking a liking to the hill there, he chose it as the location of his new city, naming it after himself."[11] The Greek historians Plutarch and Strabo relate an apocryphal story according to which the site of Artaxata was chosen on the advice of the Carthaginian general Hannibal.[12]There is, however, no direct evidence to support this story.[13]

Artaxias I built Artaxata's citadel on the height later called Khor Virap (best known as the location where Gregory the Illuminator was imprisoned by Tiridates III of Armenia) and added other fortifications, including a moat.[14] The remains of the great walls of the city and some of its buildings are still visible today.[15]Strabo and Plutarch describe Artaxata as a large and beautiful city and call it the "Armenian Carthage."[16]

Excavations have revealed that Artaxata was a major urban center with paved streets, numerous bathhouses, markets, workshops and administrative buildings.[17] The city had its own treasury, mint and customs house.[18] A focal point of Hellenistic culture in Armenia, Armenia's first theater was built here.[19] Movses Khorenatsi writes that numerous copper pagan statues of the gods and goddesses of Anahit, Artemis and Tir were brought to Artaxata from the religious center of Bagaran and other regions, and that Jews from the former Armenian capital of Armavir were relocated to the new capital.[20] Due to its advantageous position, Artaxata soon became an important junction on the trade routes linking Persia and Mesopotamia with the Caucasus, the Black Sea ports and Asia Minor, contributing to its growth and prosperity, as well as that of the surrounding region.[21][22] The city had a population of several thousand, consisting of Armenians, Greeks, Jews, and Syrians who worked as artisans, craftsmen, and merchants.[23]

Mention by Pliny

Pliny[24] mentions....The more famous towns in Lesser Armenia are Cæsarea3, Aza4, and Nicopolis5; in the Greater Arsamosata6, which lies near the Euphrates, Carcathiocerta7 upon the Tigris, Tigranocerta8 which stands on an elevated site, and, on a plain adjoining the river Araxes, Artaxata.9

3 Hardouin thinks that this is Neo-Cæsarea, mentioned as having been built on the banks of the Euphrates.

4 Now called Ezaz, according to D'Anville. Parisot suggests that it ought to be Gaza or Gazaca, probably a colony of Median Gaza, now Tauris.

5 Originally called Tephrice. It stood on the river Lycus, and not far from the sources of the Halys, having been founded by Pompey, where he gained his first victory over Mithridates, whence its name, the "City of Victory." The modern Enderez or Devrigni, probably marks its site.

6 Ritter places it in Sophene, the modern Kharpat, and considers that it may be represented by the modern Sert, the Tigranocerta of D'Anville.

7 The capital of Sophene, one of the districts of Armenia. St. Martin thinks that this was the ancient heathen name of the city of Martyropolis, but Ritter shows that such cannot be the case. It was called by the Syrians Kortbest; its present name is Kharput.

8 Generally supposed, by D'Anville and other modern geographers, to be represented by the ruins seen at Sert. It was the later capital of Armenia, built by Tigranes.

9 The ancient capital of Armenia. Hannibal, who took refuge at the court of Artaxias when Antiochus was no longer able to afford him protection, superintended the building of it. Some ruins, called Takt Tiridate, or Throne of Tiridates, near the junction of the Aras and the Zengue, were formerly supposed to represent Artaxata, but Colonel Monteith has fixed the site at a bend in the river lower down, at the bottom of which were the ruins of a bridge of Greek or Roman architecture.

Mention by Pliny

Pliny[25] mentions.....Adjoining the other front of Greater Armenia, which runs down towards the Caspian Sea, we find Atropatene7, which is separated from Otene, a region of Armenia, by the river Araxes; Gazæ8 is its chief city, distant from Artaxata four hundred and fifty miles, and the same from Ecbatana in Media, to which country Atropatene belongs.

7 There is great difficulty in ascertaining, from the accounts given by the ancient writers, the exact limits of this district, but it is supposed to have included a considerable portion of the province now known by the name of Azerbaijan. It derived its name from Atropates or Atropes, who was governor of this district under the last Darius.

8 Most probably the place now known as Gazæa, the royal residence of the Parthian kings, and, as its name would imply, their treasure city. Colonel Rawlinson thinks that this place underwent many changes of name according to the rulers who successively occupied it; among other names, it appears to have borne that of Ecbatana.


  1. Strabo, Geography, 11.14.6.
  2. Strabo, Geography, 11.14.6.
  3. Hewsen, R. H. (1986). "ARTAXATA". In Yarshater, Ehsan (ed.). Encyclopædia Iranica, Volume II/6: Art in Iran I–ʿArūż. London and New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul. pp. 653–654. ISBN 978-0-71009-106-2.
  4. Chaumont, M. L. (1986). "Armenia and Iran ii. The pre-Islamic period". In Yarshater, Ehsan (ed.). Encyclopædia Iranica, Volume II/4: Architecture IV–Armenia and Iran IV. London and New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul. pp. 418–438. ISBN 978-0-71009-104-8.
  5. Garsoïan, Nina (1997b). "The Emergence of Armenia". In Hovannisian, Richard G. (ed.). The Armenian People from Ancient to Modern Times. Vol. 1. New York: St. Martin's Press. p.49. ISBN 0-312-10169-4.
  6. Tiratsʻyan, G. (1976). "Artashat". In Hambardzumyan, Viktor (ed.). Soviet Armenian Encyclopedia (in Armenian). Vol. 2. Erevan. p. 50.
  7. Hewsen, R. H. (1986). "ARTAXATA". In Yarshater, Ehsan (ed.). Encyclopædia Iranica, Volume II/6: Art in Iran I–ʿArūż. London and New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul. pp. 653–654. ISBN 978-0-71009-106-2.
  8. Garsoïan 1997b, p. 49.
  9. Tiratsʻyan, G. (1976). "Artashat". In Hambardzumyan, Viktor (ed.). Soviet Armenian Encyclopedia (in Armenian). Vol. 2. Erevan. pp. 135–136.
  10. Tiratsʻyan, G. (1976). "Artashat". In Hambardzumyan, Viktor (ed.). Soviet Armenian Encyclopedia (in Armenian). Vol. 2. Erevan. pp. 135–136.
  11. Movses Khorenatsʻi (1997). Hayotsʻ Patmutʻyun (PDF) (in Armenian). Translation and commentary by Stepʻan Malkhasyantsʻ. Erevan: "Hayastan" Hratarakchʻutʻyun.
  12. Plutarch, Life of Lucullus, 31.3-4:
  13. Bournoutian, George A. (2003). A Concise History of the Armenian People: From Ancient Times to the Present (2nd ed.). Costa Mesa, CA: Mazda Publishers. ISBN 1-56859-141-1. p.29
  14. Garsoïan 1997b, p. 49.
  15. Tiratsʻyan 1976.
  16. Tiratsʻyan 1976.
  17. Garsoïan 1997b, p. 49.
  18. Tiratsʻyan 1976.
  19. Hewsen 1986.
  20. Movses Khorenatsʻi 1997, p. 164, 2.49.
  21. Hewsen 1986.
  22. Garsoïan 1997b, p. 49.
  23. Hewsen 1986.
  24. Natural History by Pliny Book VI/Chapter 10
  25. Natural History by Pliny Book VI/Chapter 16

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