For earlier history of Armenia, see Urartu.
Armenia - the Orontid dynasty 549 - 331 BC
The end of the Urartian empire was sudden - but what happened is unclear. Perhaps it was finally overwhelmed by the Medes, or even the resurgent Assyrians. But within a few years it fell to Cyrus: marking the beginning of Persian involvement in Armenia. There's some evidence that the Achaemenids were influenced by Urartu - for example, the title "king of kings" used by Darius at Bisitun is an Urartian formula, not much found in Mesopotamia. On the Bisitun inscription, the territory is now known for the first time as "Armeniya". The Urartian dynasty was replaced by the Armenian Orontids, who are presumed to have been of Iranian origin.
Armenians were part of Cyrus' invasion forces against Lydia and Babylon, but the Armenians were also one of the nations that rebelled against Darius when he first came to power. They were defeated and became a satrapy of the Persian empire (Armeniya), contributing 400 talents and 20,000 foals annually. Armenians were part of Xerxes' forces invading Greece in 480 BC, and also fought against Alexander. Under the Seleucids, the kingdom of Armenia was allowed virtual independence.
The Kingdom of Armenia from 321 BC
When the Romans defeated Antiochus III at Magnesia in 190 BC, Armenia began to consolidate and extend its power under king Artaxias (190 - 159 BC), replacing the Orontid rulers (although Artaxias could still have been a member of the family).
Under Tigranes the Great (95 - 55 BC), Armenia looked as if it might eclipse Parthia as the dominant power in the east...
Armenia under the Parthians: relations with Rome.
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Armenia during the Sasanian period
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"An Eastern Christian society that was creative, enduring, and at many times, gloriously idiosyncratic". Armenia's king Tirdat III (Tiridates) preempted Constantine by several years in becoming the first Christian king in AD 301. But native traditions were not obliterated by the small Christian elite. A distinctive Armenian Christianity eventually evolved, nourished by the clash and cross-fertilisation of a nation of warlords and saints, literary scholarship and loyalty to ancient beliefs. It looked mostly to Rome politically, but looked to Iran for its culture and social structures - especially the Parthian and Sasanian delight in hunting, feasting and war. Its bards constantly fostered a nostalgia for the old pre-Christian ways. King Trdat himself, embodied this dichotomy: he appears in art as a boar-headed man (the result of a curse by Gregory the Illuminator), a primitive beast, tamed by Christianity.
The Armenian script was invented in AD 405, and manuscripts on Christ a in and pagan themes proliferated. The tension came to a climax in AD 451 at the Battle of Avarayr, when the the Sasanian Yazdegird II forced a return to Zoroastrianism. It was long remembered as one of the most significant events in Armenian history, seen by Christians as a simple battle between good and evil; but it also very much symbolised Armenian reluctance to shake off its Iranian past.
Armenians remained a proud mountain people - famous for exporting warriors to east and west, but producing intellectuals too. After the re-capture of Jerusalem by Heraclius and his crushing defeat of the Sasanians, the Armenian nobility, who'd been loyal, allies, were poised to make Armenia an international centre of Christianity. The Arab conquests, however, ensured that Armenia remained isolation, an isolation which was brutally increased as a result of the Seljuqs' move westward, culminating in the Battle of Manzikert in AD 1071. Subsequently many Armenian nobles migrated to Cilicia, and established a kingdom in the style of contemporary Europe (the Crusaders were simultaneously arriving in Syrian and the eastern Mediterranean) - a warrior elite in its castles dominating a feudal society.
The Mongol invasions which brought control and stability to the Silk Route brought profit to Armenian Cilicia: the port of Ayas, near Adana (now Yumurtalik) where the Silk Route terminated became a major trading hub. When, a few centuries later in 1605, Shah Abbas I transported Armenian silk merchants to Isfahan, soon a flourishing Iranian silk industry was producing 2000 pounds of silk annually and exporting to Venice and the rest of Europe: as seen in the paintings of Titian, Van Dyck and Tiepolo.