Academic journal article Mankind Quarterly

A Bioarchaeological Analysis of the Population of the Armenian Highland and Transcaucasus in Antiquity

Academic journal article Mankind Quarterly

A Bioarchaeological Analysis of the Population of the Armenian Highland and Transcaucasus in Antiquity

Article excerpt

The complex process of interaction between different ethnic groups in Transcaucasia in ancient times has been little studied. Undertaken here is a multidimensional craniometric analysis of more than 112 Eurasian ethnic groups between 1st century BC and 3rd century AD. The collected information was submitted to cluster analysis which revealed patterns of genetic difference between the different ethnoses. The results show that the entry of Scythians, Sarmatians and Saka into Transcaucasia and the Armenian highlands involved not only cultural interaction, but also identifiable patterns of genetic admixture.

Key Words: Armenian highland; Transcaucasia; Urartu; Scythians; Sarmatians; Saka; Timber Grave culture.


The Armenian highland (also known as the Armenian upland, the Armenian plateau, or simply as Armenia) is the central and highest of three land-locked plateaus that together form the northern sector of the Middle East (Hewsen 1997). The Armenian highland and the Caucasus were in early history a crossroad linking the worlds of East and West (Martirosyan 1964). Those who dominated the Armenian Plateau were in a position to control these lucrative trade routes, to exploit the fertile valleys that extended beyond them to the east and west, and to dominate the lowlands to the south. Accordingly, the Armenian highland and the Caucasus have been an area of frequent military conflict, and its history was largely determined by external forces. (Piotrovsky 1959; Arakelyan 1976).

The early history of the history of the Armenian people covers nine centuries from the 6th century BC to the 3rd century AD. In the first half of the 6th century BC the Armenians fell under the domination of the powerful state of Media. The fall of the Median state brought no freedom to Armenia as it changed hands and came under the Persian Achaemenid rulers. Taking advantage of the Gaumata uprising, the Armenians rose up in arms to achieve their independence, but Darius I, who had ascended the throne of Iran, crushed the rebellion of the Armenians and wiped out the Armenian state. As a result Armenia was split into two satrapies in the political system of the Achaemenid Empire until its collapse under the blows of Alexander the Great.

With the decline of the Achaemenid Empire, local state formations emerged in Armenia; these formally recognized the supremacy of the Seleucid kings until the close of the third century BC when they fell completely under Seleucid sovereignty. But in 189 BC, the kingdom of Great Armenia came into existence bearing the name of its founder Artashes I. This kingdom grew into a powerful and prosperous state under Tigranes the Great (95-96 years BC). Suffering defeat by Rome, Tigranes lost the lands he had conquered, but preserved its natural boundaries, and the social, economic and political life of the country continued to progress under Tigranes and his son and successor, Artavazdes II (55-34 years BC).

As early as the third century the capitals of the Yervandids, Armavir and Yervandashat, the capital of Sophene-Arsamosata, and the city of Arkatiakert were notable centres of economy and culture. Urban construction was gained substantial impetus under the Artashesid dynasty, and a number of cities sprang up, along Hellenistic lines. Renowned among them were the capital city of Artashat, founded by Artashes I, and Tigranakert, the city of Tigranes the Great, inhabited, according to the exaggerated figures of Greek authors (Strabo XI, 14, 6), y 300 thousand inhabitants.

Crafts, trade and the arts achieved high standard in these cities (Tiratsyan 1985), And the Armenian kings acted like Hellenistic monarchs, patronizing the economic life and growth of cities and the adoption of Hellenistic culture (Arakelyan 1976). They encouraged economic and cultural ties with the neighbouring Hellenistic countries, and especially with Syria, Mesopotamia, Asia Minor, and Parthian Iran. During the 3rd to 1st centuries BC Armenia witnessed a significant advance in economy, culture and politics and ranked high on the list of developed countries in the eastern Hellenistic world (Arakelyan, 1976; Tiratsyan 1985). …

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