Silvan has been identified by several scholars as one of two possible locations (the other being Arzan) of Tigranakert (Tigranocerta), the ancient capital of the Kingdom of Armenia, which was built by King Tigran the Great (ruling 95–55 BCE) and named in his honor.
In 69 BCE, the army of Republican Rome defeated Tigran's troops in the battle of Tigranocerta. The city lost its importance as a thriving center for trade and Hellenistic culture in the following decades. In 387 CE, with the Peace of Acilisene, Tigranakert was made part of the Byzantine Empire.
Around 400 CE, the city's bishop, Marutha (later, saint Maruthas), brought a large number of relics back from Sassanid Persia. These were relics of Christian martyrs persecuted under Sassanid rule. For this reason it was renamed Martyropolis, "city of the martyrs." Following the reforms of Justinian I (rule 527–565), the city was made the capital of the province of Fourth Armenia. The city suffered heavily in the Battle of Martyropolis in 588 CE, but soon prospered again.
It was known by the name of Meiafarakin after the Arabs took over this region in the 7th century. It declined in importance over the centuries and became a minor Kurdish chiefdom during the rivalry era between the Safavids and Ottomans.