Tigranes the Great (Տիգրան Մեծ, EA: Tigran Mets, WA: Dikran Medz, Τιγράνης ο Μέγας) (ruled 95 BCE–55 BCE) (also called Tigranes II and sometimes Tigranes I) was a king of Armenia under whom the country became, for a short time, the strongest state east of the Roman Republic. Tigranes was born around 140 BCE and was the son or nephew of either Artavasdes I or Tigranes I. Tigranes the Great represented the Artaxiad Royal House. He was married to Cleopatra, daughter of Mithridates VI of Pontus.
When he came to power, the foundation upon which Tigranes was to build his Empire was already in place, thanks to the founder of the Artaxiad Dynasty, Artaxias I, and subsequent kings. The mountains of Armenia, however, formed natural borders between the different regions of the country and as a result, the feudalistic nakharars had significant influence over the regions or provinces in which they were based. This did not suit Tigranes, who wanted to create a centralist empire. He thus proceeded by consolidating his power in Armenia before embarking on his campaign.
He rapidly built up his power, allying with Mithridates VI of Pontus and marrying his daughter Cleopatra. Tigranes had agreed that he was to extend his influence in the East, while Mithridates was to conquer Roman land in Anatolia and in Europe. By creating a stronger Hellenistic state, Mithridates was to contend with the well-established Roman foothold in Europe. At that time, in 88 BCE, the Romans had accused Mithridates of massacring about 80,000 Romans in the Anatolian province of Asia. Ultimately, the two kings' attempts to control Cappadocia, as well as the alleged massacres, resulted in Roman intervention. The senate decided on Lucius Cornelius Sulla, who was then one of the current consuls, to be commander of the army against Mithridates.
In 83 BCE, after a bloody strife for the throne of Syria, governed by the Seleucids, the Syrians decided to choose Tigran as the protector of their kingdom and offered him the crown of Syria. He then conquered Phoenicia and Cilicia, effectively putting an end to the last remnants of the Seleucid Empire, though a few holdout cities appear to have recognized the shadowy boy-king Seleucus VII Philometor as the legitimate king during his reign. The southern border of his domain reached as far as Ptolemais (modern Akko). Many of the inhabitants of conquered cities were sent to his new metropolis of Tigranakert (Latin name, Tigranocerta).
At its height, his empire extended from the Pontic Alps (in modern north-eastern Turkey) to Mesopotamia, and from the Caspian to the Mediterranean. Tigranes apparently invaded territories as far away as Ecbatana and took the title king of kings which, at the time, according to their coins, even the Parthian kings did not assume.
He was called "Tigranes the Great" by many Western historians and writers such as Plutarch. The "King of Kings" never appeared in public without having four kings attending him. Cicero, probably speaking of his success in the East, said that he "made the Republic of Rome tremble before the prowess of his arms."
Armenian rulers prior to Tigranes did not issue coins; he was the first one to do it. He took up the Seleucid tradition and struck coins of great interest. These were minted at Antioch and Damascus, cities under his rule during his occupation of Syria from 83 to 69 BCE. They consist of tetradrachms and copper coins having on the obverse his portrait wearing a decorated Armenian tiara with ear-flaps. The reverse has a completely original design. There are the seated Tyche of Antioch and the river god Orontes at her feet. There are even specimens struck in gold.
Mithridates had found refuge in Armenian land after confronting Rome, considering the fact that Tigranes was his ally and relative. The "King of Kings" eventually came into direct contact with Rome. Lucullus demanded the expulsion of Mithridates from Armenia; such a thing was impossible for Tigranes. Rollins, in his Ancient History, says:
On October 6, 69 BCE Tigranes was defeated by the Lucullus' Roman army after a heated battle at Tigranocerta. Non-Armenian guards of Tigranocerta had betrayed Tigranes during the battle by opening the gates of city to the Romans. Tigranes proceeded by sending 6000 cavalrymen to the city in order to rescue his wives and assets. Tigranes' and Mithridates' combined Armeno-Pontian army of 70,000 men met Lucullus at the old capital of Artaxata on 6th October 68 BCE. Because of heavy losses on the Roman side, Lucullus' troops staged three mutinies in 68-67 BCE. Frustrated because of the rough terrain of Northern Armenia, Lucullus moved back south and plundered Nisibis which was held by the brother of Tigranes. Regardless, Lucullus was never able to capture either one of the monarchs. Because of his failures, he was recalled to Rome and replaced by Gnaeus Pompey.
Tigranes defeated his younger son (also named Tigranes) who had been supplied an army by the Parthian king, Phraates III, who was then forced to seek protection with the Roman general, Pompey. Tigranes the Great then managed to recover much of his former territory, and Mithridates returned to Pontus with 8,000 men.
Tigranes continued to rule Armenia as an ally of Rome until his death in 55 BCE.