Tiridates III, the St. Tiridates of the Armenians, worked closely with St. Gregory to spread Christianity through his kingdom and to suppress the pagan cults..., which nevertheless did not disappear altogether. While remaining a loyal ally of the Roman emperor, Tiridates did not break off all links with the Sasanians. Presumably he was on good terms with the prince Hormizd, who after the death of his father Hormizd II in 309 had been excluded from the throne and kept in prison until he escaped to the Armenian court (Zosimus, Historia nova, [ed. Mendelssohn, 1887] 2.27; see P. Peeters, in Bulletin de l’Académie Royale de Belgique 17, 1931, p. 37). Tiridates is said to have been killed in a plot hatched by his adversaries (text published by Alishan = Langlois, pp. 193-94; Movsēs Xorenacʿi 2.92 = Langlois, I, p. 131 ). From the sources, his death would appear to have occurred not later than 320 (see Peeters, op. cit., pp. 17, 37), but some (Markwart, Untersuchungen I, p. 220; R. Grousset, Histoire de l’Arménie des origines à 1071, 2nd ed., Paris, 1947, p. 120; Ananian, op. cit., p. 353) hold that his reign lasted until 330 or even later (Asdourian, op. cit., p. 143, places his death in 337). The view of H. Manandian reiterated by K. Toumanoff (in Revue des études arméniennes, 1969, pp. 263f.) that Tiridates III was succeeded by another king of the same name, Tiridates IV, seems unfounded. 1
[After] the fourth century...the kings of Armenia Major, Kartli, and Albania shunned their ancestral adherence to regional strains of Zoroastrianism in favour of Christianity.... [The] process of Christianisation was augmented by the invention of local scripts and the creation of local literatures. None of the surviving conversion tales from Caucasia are contemporaneous with the events they describe, though all incorporate older traditions. Successive waves of Christianisation washing across the Caucasian isthmus culminated in three royal baptisms: of Trdat, the Armenian Arsacid king; of Mirian, the acculturating Parthian Mihranid ('Chosroid') king of Kartli; and of Urnayr, the Albanian Arsacid king. What transpired next, according to extant sources, was large-scale Christianisation underwritten by royal and certain aristocratic families....
A certain Agatangeghos (Agathangelus) is credited with the cycle of texts commemorating the conversion of Trdat, king of Armenia Major. The cycle was broadcast in multiple recensions and languages, including Armenian, Greek, Syriac, and Arabic. The main Armenian redaction...commences...with an emotional lamentation of the Parthian Empire's demise in 224 CE. After the Sasanians had usurped usurped power in Iran, acculturated and acculturating Parthians remained on the thrones of Caucasia's three principal kingdoms. These were the first monarchs in Caucasia to embrace Christianity. According to Agatangeghos, the conversion of the Armenian Arsacid (Arshakuni) Trdat was propelled by three factors: the murder of King Xosrov, Trdat's father, by Anak, a Sasanian agent and Gregory the Illuminator's father; the arrival in Armenia of a band of holy women, including Hripsime and Gaiane and their subsequent martyrdom; and Trdat's discovery of the Christian Gregory, the son of his father's murderer, Gregory's endurance of the king's brutal tortures, and Trdat's conversion after his miraculous transformation into a lowly boar — an intentional ridicule of a sacred Zoroastrian animal. 2
King of Arsacid Armenia (298–330), and is also known as Tiridates the Great.
...In 270 the Roman emperor Aurelian engaged the Sassanids, who had now replaced the Parthians, on the eastern front and he was able to drive them back. Tiridates, as the true heir to the now Persian-occupied Armenian throne, came to Armenia and quickly raised an army and drove the enemy out in 298. When Tiridates returned to Armenia, he made the city of Vagharshapat his capital, as it had been the capital of his late father.
For a while, fortune appeared to favour Tiridates. He not only expelled his enemies, but he carried his arms into Assyria. At the time the Persian Empire was in a distracted state. The throne was disputed by the ambition of two contending brothers, Hormuz and Narses. The civil war was, however, soon terminated and Narses was universally acknowledged as King of Persia. Narses then directed his whole force against the foreign enemy. The contest then became too unequal. Tiridates once more took refuge with the Romans. The Roman-Armenian alliance grew stronger, especially while Diocletian ruled the empire. This can be attributed to the upbringing of Tiridates, the consistent Persian aggressions and the murder of his father by Anak. With Diocletian's help, Tiridates pushed the Persians out of Armenia. In 299, Diocletian left the Armenian state in a quasi-independent and protectorate status possibly to use it as a buffer in case of a Persian attack.
The traditional story of the conversion of the king and the nation is primarily based on the fifth-century work of Agathangelos titled "The History of the Armenians." It tells of Gregory the Illuminator, the son of Anak, who was brought up as a Christian and, feeling guilt for his own father's sin, joined the Armenian army and worked as a secretary to the king. Christianity in Armenia had a strong footing by the end of the 3rd century, but the nation by and large still followed Zoroastrianism. Tiridates was no exception as he too worshiped various ancient gods. During a Zoroastrian religious ceremony Tiridates ordered Gregory to place a flower wreath at the foot of the statue of the goddess Anahit in Eriza. Gregory refused, proclaiming his Christian faith. This act infuriated the king. His fury was only exacerbated when several individuals declared that Gregory was in fact, the son of Anak, the traitor who had killed Tiridates's father. Gregory was tortured and finally thrown in Khor Virap, a deep underground dungeon.
During the years of Gregory's imprisonment, a group of virgin nuns, led by Gayane, came to Armenia as they fled the Roman persecution of their Christian faith. Tiridates heard about the group and the legendary beauty of one of its members, Rhipsime. He brought them to the palace and demanded to marry the beautiful virgin; she refused. The king had the whole group tortured and killed. After this event, he fell ill and according to legend, adopted the behavior of a wild boar, aimlessly wandering around in the forest. Khosrovidukht had a dream wherein Gregory was still alive in the dungeon, and he was the only one able to cure the king. At this point it had been 13 years since his imprisonment, and the odds of him being alive were slim. They retrieved him, and, despite being incredibly malnourished, he was still alive. He was kept alive by a kind-hearted woman who threw a loaf of bread down in Khor Virap every day for him.
Tiridates was brought to Gregory and was miraculously cured of his illness in 301. Persuaded by the power of the cure, the king immediately proclaimed Christianity the official state religion. Thus, Armenia became a nominally Christian kingdom and the first state to officially adopt Christianity. Tiridates appointed Gregory as Catholicos of the Armenian Apostolic Church.
While as a matter of fact the conversion to Christianity proved to be decisive and pivotal in Armenian history, it seems that the Christianisation of Armenia by the Arsacids of Armenia (Arshakuni) was partly in defiance of the Sassanids.
The switch from the traditional Zoroastrianism to Christianity was not an easy one. Tiridates often used force to impose this new faith upon the people and many armed conflicts ensued, due to Zoroastrianism being deeply rooted in the Armenian people. An actual battle took place between the king's forces and the Zoroastrian camp, resulting in the weakening of polytheistic military strength. Tiridates thus spent the rest of his life trying to eliminate all ancient beliefs and in doing so destroyed countless statues, temples and written documents. As a result, little is known from local sources about ancient Armenian history and culture. The king worked feverishly to spread the faith and died in 330. Movses Khorenatsi states that several members of the nakharar families conspired against Tiridates and eventually poisoned him. 3