Iberian–Armenian War

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Iberian–Armenian War

Rhadamistus killing Zenobia
Date35–54 AD


  • Armenia became a Roman vassal state under Iberian control until 52 AD.[1]
  • Belligerents

    Arsacids of Armenia
    Parthian Empire

    Kingdom of Armenia (50-51)
    Roman Empire (50-51)
    Kingdom of Iberia
    Roman Empire (35-50, 52-54)
    Commanders and leaders

    Arsaces I
    Artabanus II
    Tiridates I

    Mithridates (after 50) 
    Caelius Pollio
    Pharasmanes I
    Mithridates (until 50)

    The Iberian–Armenian War was a war for the throne of Armenia between the Kingdom of Iberia and the Armenian Arsacids. It is known chiefly through its description in Tacitus 'Annals.


    The war took place as a delicate balance of power between the Roman and Parthian empires was in place in the Caucasus. Rome was then ruled by Claudius, Parthia by Vologases I. Two Iberian brothers then ruled the Caucasian kingdoms, Pharasmanes I in Iberia, Mithridates in Armenia. They were both dependent on Roman support, which had installed Mithridates on the Armenian throne in 35 AD.[2] However, 15 years later, trust between the brothers had deteriorated, which Tacitus blames on the intrigues of Pharasmanes' son Rhadamistus.[3]


    Pharasmanes I's first invasion of Armenia[edit]

    Capture of Artaxata[edit]

    In 35, the Parthian king Artabanus II placed his son Arsaces on the Armenian throne, which displeased Rome. Emperor Tiberius turned to Mithridates and invited him to install him as the king of Armenia, provided that the latter recognized the suzerainty of Rome. Mithridates accepted the emperor's offer and in a short time sent a large army led by Pharasmanes to Armenia. Pharasmanes effortlessly took the capital Artaxata, expelled Arsaces from the country and crowned his brother king of Armenia.

    Battle between Pharasmanes and Orodes[edit]

    In response to the actions of the Iberians, Artabanus sent an army to Armenia under the command of Prince Orodes. Pharasmanes, who reinforced his troops with mercenary detachments of Sarmatians and Albanians, immediately moved against the Parthians. The sources do not preserve the name of the place where the troops of the two princes met, however, the vicissitudes and the course of the battle itself are described as follows:

    After both troops prepared for battle, the Parthian commander, in a speech to the soldiers, recalled the rule in the East, the glory of the Arsacids, and the fact that their enemy was an unknown Iberian with an army of mercenaries; Pharasmanes said that, not knowing the Parthian yoke over them, the more they strive for, the greater glory the victory will bring them, and if they flee, the more shame and danger they will incur; At the same time, he pointed to the formidable battle formation of his people and to the gilded detachments of the Medes, saying that here are men, there is booty.[4]

    The Parthian army consisted mainly of cavalry, while Pharasmanes also had strong infantry. During the battle, the Iberian horseman knocked the Parthian cataphracts to the ground, and the infantrymen finished them off. The outcome of the battle was decided by the clash between the two commanders.

    In the midst of the battle, Pharasmanes and Orodes, who fought among the front lines and rushed to the aid of the faltering and therefore were noticeable, recognize each other, they rush with weapons at one another, and Pharasmanes, forestalling the enemy, cut Orode’s helmet and inflicted a wound on him. But, carried forward by his horse, he was unable to repeat the blow, and the bravest of the warriors managed to shield the wounded man; Believing, however, the false news of his death, the Parthians were confused and they lost the battle against the Iberians.[5]

    Artabanus' Expulsion[edit]

    After the defeat of his two sons, Artabanus decided to take personal revenge on Pharasmanes. He gathered a huge army and in 36 invaded Armenia. Pharasmanes skillfully led the defense of the country, imposed on the Parthians a long, exhausting war that was convenient for him, after which the Iberians gradually gained the upper hand. At the same time, the Romans started rumors that they were going to begin a campaign in Mesopotamia. Artabanus was forced to leave Armenia. “With Artabanus leaving Armenia, his power also came to an end.”[6]

    Pharasmanes I's second invasion of Armenia[edit]

    In 42-47, Mithridates was in Roman captivity, and Armenia was captured by the Parthians. After being released from captivity, Emperor Claudius returned the Armenian crown to Mithridates. In 47, Mithridates invaded Armenia with Roman legions, while at the same time the troops of Pharasmanes moved from the north. Together they defeated the Parthian protege Demonakt, after which Mithridates regained the royal throne. Cotys, the king of Lesser Armenia, also submitted to him

    Siege of Garni[edit]

    Mithridates refused to support his brother Pharasmanes in a victorious attack on Caucasian Albania, Pharasmanes provided troops for his son Rhadamistus to capture Armenia and overthrow his uncle Mithridates.[1][7]

    Rhadamistus invaded Armenia with the Iberian army and besieged the fortress of Garni, Rhadamistus persuaded the Roman garrison to leave the fortress. The indignant garrison commander travelled to Iberia to demand that Pharasmanes call of the siege. Instead, Pharasmanes instructed Rhadamistus to capture Garni, which Rhadamistus did by bringing Caelius Pollio the Roman commander to induce Mithridates to surrender. Although Rhadamistus had promised safety to his uncle. Pharasmanes and Rhadamistus ordered the execution of Mithridates and his sons. Rhadamistus briefly ruled as the king of Armenia.[8][1][9]

    Parthian invasion of Armenia[edit]

    Faced with this upset of the regional balance and regarding the event as unrightful appropriation, Vologases I of Parthia invaded in 52 AD to proclaim his brother Tiridates king of Armenia. The Iberians did not offer battle and withdrew from some Armenian cities including Artaxata, for the Parthians to capture them without resistance. The conflict lasted for two years, until winter, plague and shortage of supplies forced Tiridates to retire from Armenia, which allowed Rhadamistus to return with his army strenghtened and reassert rule. However, he would eventualy be deposed due to being oppressive and punishing the populace for what he perceived was treason, when they allowed the Parthians to enter their towns unopposed. The Armenian nobility finally revolted in 55 AD and attempted to apprehend Rhadamistus in his palace, but he managed to escape togheter with his spouse Zenobia. When Thiridates returned the same year, he was declared king of Armenia instead.[10] However Parthian control over Armenia was unacceptable to Rome and soon after, the dispute escalated into the Roman–Parthian War of 58–63.


    1. ^ a b c Baumer 2023, p. 151.
    2. ^ Grousset 1947, pp. 89, 106.
    3. ^ Tacitus, 44.
    4. ^ Tacitus, p. 34.
    5. ^ Tacitus, p. 35.
    6. ^ Tacitus, p. 36.
    7. ^ Rayfield 2012, p. 30.
    8. ^ Georgian Soviet Encyclopedia p.7. 1987.
    9. ^ Rayfield 2012, p. 31.
    10. ^ Tacitus, 50.


    Tacitus. Annals. Book XII, Chapters 44-51. Retrieved December 15, 2023.
    Toumanoff, Cyril (1969), Chronology of the early Kings of Iberia, Vol. 25
    Grousset, R. (1947). Histoire de l'Arménie des Origines à 1071 [History of Armenia from its origins to 1071] (in French). Paris: Payot.


    • Baumer, Christoph (2023). History of the Caucasus. Bloomsbury Publishing. ISBN 9780755636303.
    • Rayfield, Donald (2012). Edge of Empires, a History of Georgia. London: Reaktion Books. ISBN 978-1-78023-070-2.