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Legendary times

In the Beginning like all  ancient countries, Armenia has a murky origin. Armenia lies in the highlands surrounding the Biblical mountains of Ararat, upon which Noah's Ark is said to have come to rest after the flood. (Bible, Gen. 8:4). Chapter 10 of Genesis records that Togarmah was a son of Gomer who was a son of Japheth who had accompanied his father Noah on the Ark. According to Armenian legend the Armenian people are the descendants of Haik who was the son of Togarmah and therefore the great-great-grandson of Noah. Their name for their country records this. In recognition of their legendary ancestry, Armenians have since referred to their country as Hayastan, land of the Hayk tribe.

According to the legend, of the three sons of Noah, Japheth and Ham settled with their families in the Ararat region while Shem subsequently moved away to the northwest. Ham's and Japheth's sons gradually spread out to the various regions of the Armenian Plateau. When Japheth s great-grandson Haik was 130 years old, he travelled south to the city of Shinar (probably what we know as present-day Babylon in Iraq) and worked on the building of the Tower of Babel (Genesis: Chapter 11). After the Tower eventually collapsed, Haik, a handsome man and a strong warrior (despite his age) with curly hair and good eyesight was able to defy even Nimrod (or Bel as he is known in the legend), the tyrannical ruler of Assyria. Nimrod had ordered that he should be worshipped by his people but Haik refused and moved back north with his family (including his 300 sons) to the lands around Ararat. Nimrod resented Haik's departure, and ordered him back, even seeking to lure him by reminding him that Armenia had a less favourable climate than Assyria. When Haik refused, Nimrod marched north with his army (which outnumbered Haik's) and battle was joined on the shores of Lake Van. Nimrod, according to the legend, wore iron armour but Haik drew his bow, and shot him with a three-feathered arrow which pierced the armour killing the king. Seeing this happen, the Assyrian army turned and fled. Haik returned to Ararat and died at the age of 400. The discovery of boundary stones and of Babylonian writings dating from Nimrod's reign confirm the battle and the manner of Nimrod's death as described in the legend.

The name Armenia by which everybody else knows the country was first used by Greek historians about 3,000 years ago although in legend the name commemorates the great leader of the country Aram who was sixth in line of descent from Haik.

Greek records first mention Armenians in the 6th century BC as a tribe living in the area of Lake Van. The Armenian highlands north of the Fertile Crescent had long been inhabited, and historians believe that local advances in mining, chemical and metallurgical technologies were major contributions to civilisation. With invasion routes open in four directions, the early Armenian kings fought intermittent wars against Persia and the Mediterranean powers. Greek and Roman cultures mixed with Persian angel-worship and Zoroastrianism.

In the 1st century BC the borders of Armenia reached their greatest extent under Tigranes II, whose victories over the Persian Seleucids gave him land from modern Lebanon and Syria to Azerbaijan. There is evidence of an early civilization in Armenia in the Bronze Age and earlier, dating to about 4000 BC. Archaeological surveys in 2010 and 2011 at the Areni-1 cave complex have resulted in the discovery of the world's earliest known leather shoe, skirt, and wine-producing facility.

Several bronze-era states flourished in the area of Greater Armenia, including the Hittite Empire (at the height of its power), Mitanni (South-Western historical Armenia), and Hayasa-Azzi (1500–1200 BC). The Nairi people (12th to 9th centuries BC) and the Kingdom of Urartu (1000–600 BC) successively established their sovereignty over the Armenian Highland. Each of the aforementioned nations and tribes participated in the ethnogenesis of the Armenian people. A large cuneiform lapidary inscription found in Yerevan established that the modern capital of Armenia was founded in the summer of 782 BC by king Argishti I. Yerevan is the world's oldest city to have documented the exact date of its foundation.

Around 600 BC, the Kingdom of Armenia was established under the Orontid Dynasty. The kingdom reached its height between 95 and 66 BC under Tigranes the Great, becoming one of the most powerful kingdoms of its time within the region. In the next centuries Armenia was in the Persian Empire's sphere of influence. Throughout its history, the kingdom of Armenia enjoyed both periods of independence and periods of autonomy subject to contemporary empires. Its strategic location between two continents has subjected it to invasions by many peoples, including the Assyrians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Mongols, Persians, Ottoman Turks and Russians.

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