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Kingdom of Urartu

Biainili [1]
860 BC  590 BC
Urartu, 9th–6th centuries BC
Common languages
[ clarification needed ]
Sarduri I
Argishti I
Sarduri II
Historical era Iron Age
860 BC 
 Median conquest
 590 BC
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Blank.png Nairi
Median Empire Median Empire.svg
Satrapy of Armenia Yervanduni Armenia, IV-II BC.gif

Urartu ( /ʊˈrɑːrt/ ) is a geographical region commonly used as the exonym for the Iron Age kingdom also known by the modern rendition of its endonym, the Kingdom of Van, centered around Lake Van in the historic Armenian Highlands (present-day eastern Anatolia).


The written language that the kingdom's political elite used is referred to as Urartian , which appears in cuneiform inscriptions in Armenia and eastern Turkey. It is unknown what language was spoken by the peoples of Urartu at the time of the existence of the kingdom, but there is linguistic evidence of contact between the proto-Armenian language and the Urartian language at an early date (sometime between the 3rd—2nd millennium BC), occurring prior to the formation of Urartu as a kingdom. [2] [3] [4] [5] [6]

The kingdom rose to power in the mid-9th century BC, but went into gradual decline and was eventually conquered by the Iranian Medes in the early 6th century BC. [7] The geopolitical region would re-emerge as Armenia shortly after. Being heirs to the Urartian realm, the earliest identifiable ancestors of the Armenians are the peoples of Urartu. [5] [8] [9] [10]

Name and etymology

The name Urartu (Armenian : Ուրարտու; Assyrian: māt Urarṭu; [11] Babylonian: Urashtu; Hebrew : אֲרָרָטArarat) comes from Assyrian sources. Shalmaneser I (1263–1234 BC) recorded a campaign in which he subdued the entire territory of "Uruatri". [12] [13] The Shalmaneser text uses the name Urartu to refer to a geographical region, not a kingdom, and names eight "lands" contained within Urartu (which at the time of the campaign were still disunited). "Urartu" is cognate with the Biblical "Ararat", Akkadian "Urashtu", and Armenian "Ayrarat". [14] [15] In addition to referring to the famous Biblical highlands, Ararat also appears as the name of a kingdom in Jeremiah 51:27, mentioned together with Minni and Ashkenaz. Mount Ararat is located approximately 120 kilometres (75 mi) north of its former capital.

The name Kingdom of Van (Urartian: Biai, Biainili; [16] Վանի թագավորություն), [17] is derived from the Urartian toponym Biainili (or Biaineli), which was probably pronounced as Vanele (or Vanili), and called Van (Վան) in Old Armenian, [18] hence the names "Kingdom of Van" or "Vannic Kingdom".

In the 6th century BC, with the emergence of Armenia in the region, the name of the region was simultaneously referred to as variations of Armenia and Urartu. In the trilingual Behistun Inscription, carved in 521 or 520 BC [19] by the order of Darius I, the country referred to as Urartu in Akkadian is called Arminiya in Old Persian and Harminuia in the Elamite language.

The mentions of Urartu in the Books of Kings [20] and Isaiah of the Bible were translated as "Armenia" in the Septuagint. Some English language translations, including the King James Version [21] follow the Septuagint translation of Urartu as Armenia. [22] The identification of the biblical "mountains of Ararat" with the Mt. Ararat (Turkish : Ağrı Dağı) is a modern identification based on postbiblical tradition. [23]

The name Ayrarat that was later used to describe lands located in the central region of the Kingdom of Armenia seems to have been of local usage as no known classical works use this word to refer to Armenia. [24]

Other names

Scholars such as Carl Ferdinand Friedrich Lehmann-Haupt (1910) believed that the people of Urartu called themselves Khaldini after the god Ḫaldi. [25] Boris Piotrovsky wrote that the Urartians first appear in history in the 13th century BC as a league of tribes or countries which did not yet constitute a unitary state. In the Assyrian annals the term Uruatri (Urartu) as a name for this league was superseded during a considerable period of years by the term "land of Nairi". [26]

Shupria (Akkadian: Armani-Subartu from the 3rd millennium BC) is believed to have originally been a Hurrian or Mitanni state that was subsequently annexed into the Urartian confederation. Shupria is often mentioned in conjunction with a district in the area called Arme (also referred to as Urme or Armani) which some scholars have linked to the name of Armenia. [14] [15]

Linguists John Greppin and Igor M. Diakonoff argued that the Urartians referred to themselves as Shurele (sometimes transliterated as Shurili or Šurili, possibly pronounced as Surili), a name mentioned within the royal titles of the kings of Urartu (e.g. "the king of Šuri-lands”). [27] [28] The word Šuri has been variously theorized as originally referring to chariots, swords, the region of Shupria (perhaps an attempt by the ruling dynasty to associate themselves with the Hurrians), or the entire world. [28]



Urartu under Aramu 860-840 BC Urartu 860 840-en.svg
Urartu under Aramu 860–840 BC

Assyrian inscriptions of Shalmaneser I (c. 1274 BC) first mention Uruartri as one of the states of Nairi, a loose confederation of small kingdoms and tribal states in the Armenian Highland in the 13th to 11th centuries BC which he conquered. Uruartri itself was in the region around Lake Van. The Nairi states were repeatedly subjected to further attacks and invasions by the Assyrians, especially under Tukulti-Ninurta I (c. 1240 BC), Tiglath-Pileser I (c. 1100 BC), Ashur-bel-kala (c. 1070 BC), Adad-nirari II (c. 900 BC), Tukulti-Ninurta II (c. 890 BC), and Ashurnasirpal II (883–859 BC).

Urartu re-emerged in Assyrian inscriptions in the 9th century BC as a powerful northern rival of Assyria, which lay to the south in northern Mesopotamia and northeast Syria. The Nairi states and tribes became a unified kingdom under king Aramu (c. 860–843 BC), whose capital at Arzashkun was captured by the Assyrians under Shalmaneser III. Roughly contemporaries of the Uruartri, living just to the west along the southern shore of the Black Sea, were the Kaskas known from Hittite sources.

Urartologist Paul Zimansky speculated that the Urartians (or at least the ruling family) may have emigrated northwest into the Lake Van region from their religious capital Musasir (Ardini). [29] According to Zimansky, the Urartian ruling class were few in number and governed over an ethnically, culturally, and linguistically diverse population. Zimansky went so far as to suggest that the kings of Urartu might have come from various ethnic backgrounds themselves. [30]


Fragment of a bronze helmet from Argishti I's era. The "tree of life", popular among the ancient societies, is depicted. The helmet was discovered during the excavations of the fortress Of Teyshebaini on Karmir-Blur (Red Hill). Urartu Helmet Fragment 1.jpg
Fragment of a bronze helmet from Argishti I's era. The "tree of life", popular among the ancient societies, is depicted. The helmet was discovered during the excavations of the fortress Of Teyshebaini on Karmir-Blur (Red Hill).

The Middle Assyrian Empire fell into a period of temporary stagnation for decades during the first half of the 8th century BC, which had aided Urartu's growth. Within a short time it became one of the largest and most powerful states in the Near East [30]

Sarduri I (c. 832–820 BC), son of either Arame or the poorly attested Lutipri, successfully resisted the Assyrian attacks from the south, led by Shalmaneser III, consolidated the military power of the state, and moved the capital to Tushpa (modern Van, on the shore of Lake Van). His son, Ispuini (c. 820–800 BC) annexed the neighbouring state of Musasir, which became an important religious center of the Urartian Kingdom, and introduced the cult of Ḫaldi. [30] Ispuini was also the first Urartian king to write in the Urartian language (previous kings left records written in Akkadian). [30] He made his son Sarduri II viceroy. After conquering Musasir, Ispuini was in turn attacked by Shamshi-Adad V. His co-regent and subsequent successor, Menua (c. 800–785 BC) also enlarged the kingdom greatly and left inscriptions over a wide area. During Ispuini's and Menua's joint rule, they shifted from referring to their territory as Nairi, instead opting for Bianili. [30] Urartu reached the highest point of its military might under Menua's son Argishti I (c. 785–760 BC), becoming one of the most powerful kingdoms of ancient Near East. Argishti I added more territories along the Araks River and Lake Sevan, and frustrated Shalmaneser IV's campaigns against him. Argishti also founded several new cities, most notably Erebuni Fortress in 782 BC. 6,600 captured slaves worked on the construction of the new city.[ citation needed ]

Niche and base for a destroyed Urartian stele, Van citadel, 1973. Niche and base for a destroyed Urartian statue. Van. 1973.jpg
Niche and base for a destroyed Urartian stele, Van citadel, 1973.

At its height, the Urartu kingdom stretched north beyond the Araks River (Greek: Araxes) and Lake Sevan, encompassing present-day Armenia and even the southern part of present-day Georgia almost to the shores of the Black Sea; west to the sources of the Euphrates; east to present-day Tabriz, Lake Urmia, and beyond; and south to the sources of the Tigris.[ citation needed ]

Tiglath Pileser III of Assyria conquered Urartu in the first year of his reign (745 BC). There the Assyrians found horsemen and horses, tamed as colts for riding, that were unequalled in the south, where they were harnessed to Assyrian war-chariots. [31]

Decline and recuperation

In 714 BC, the Urartian kingdom suffered heavily from Cimmerian raids and the campaigns of Sargon II. The main temple at Mushashir was sacked, and the Urartian king Rusa I was crushingly defeated by Sargon II at Lake Urmia. He subsequently committed suicide in shame. [32]

Rusa's son Argishti II (714–685 BC) restored Urartu's position against the Cimmerians, however it was no longer a threat to Assyria and peace was made with the new king of Assyria Sennacherib in 705 BC. This in turn helped Urartu enter a long period of development and prosperity, which continued through the reign of Argishti's son Rusa II (685–645 BC).

After Rusa II, however, Urartu grew weaker under constant attacks from Cimmerian and Scythian invaders. As a result, it became dependent on Assyria, as evidenced by Rusa II's son Sarduri III (645–635 BC) referring to the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal as his "father". [33] [34]


Urartian stone arch near Van, 1973. Urartian arch near Van. 1973.jpg
Urartian stone arch near Van, 1973.

According to Urartian epigraphy, Sarduri III was followed by three kings—Erimena (635–620 BC), his son Rusa III (620–609 BC), and the latter's son Rusa IV (609–590 or 585 BC). Late during the 7th century BC (during or after Sarduri III's reign), Urartu was invaded by Scythians and their allies—the Medes. In 612 BC, the Median king Cyaxares the Great together with Nabopolassar of Babylon and the Scythians conquered Assyria after it had been irreversibly weakened by civil war. The Medes then took over the Urartian capital of Van in 590 BC, effectively ending the sovereignty of Urartu. [35] [36] According to the Armenian tradition, the Medes helped the Armenians establish the Orontid (Yervanduni) dynasty. Many Urartian ruins of the period show evidence of destruction by fire. This would indicate two scenarios—either Media subsequently conquered Urartu, bringing about its subsequent demise, or Urartu maintained its independence and power, going through a mere dynastic change, as a local Armenian dynasty or dynasties (the Haykazunis and/or the Orontids) overthrew the ruling family with the help of the Median army. Ancient sources support the latter version: Xenophon, for example, states that Armenia, ruled by an Orontid king, was not conquered until the reign of Median king Astyages (585–550 BC) – long after Median invasion of the late 7th century BC. [37] Similarly, Strabo (1st century BC – 1st century AD) wrote that "[i]n ancient times Greater Armenia ruled the whole of Asia, after it broke up the empire of the Syrians, but later, in the time of Astyages, it was deprived of that great authority ..." [38]

Medieval Armenian chronicles corroborate the Greek and Hebrew sources. In particular, Movses Khorenatsi writes that the Armenian king Skayordi Haykazuni was a political foe of Assyria during the reign of Sennacherib (705-681 BCE), which would have been contemporaneous with the rule of Argishti II. Skayordi's son, Paruyr Haykazuni (also known as Paruyr Skayordi), helped Cyaxares and his allies conquer Assyria, for which Cyaxares recognized him as the king of Armenia. According to Khorenatsi, Media conquered Armenia only much later—under Astyages. [39] It is possible that the last Urartian king, Rusa IV, had connections to the future incoming Armenian Orontids dynasty. [ citation needed ]

Urartu was destroyed in 590 BC [40] and by the late 6th century, Urartu had certainly been replaced by Armenia. [41]


Urartian tomb complex, Van citadel, 1973. Urartian citadel near Van Lake. 1973.jpg
Urartian tomb complex, Van citadel, 1973.

The region formerly known as Urartu became the Satrapy of Armenia under the Persian Achaemenids and governed by the Armenian Orontid dynasty. [42] The Satrapy later became the independent Kingdom of Armenia, under Orontid rule.

Little is known of what happened to the region of Urartu under the foreign rule following its fall and the emergence of the Satrapy of Armenia. According to historian Touraj Daryaee, during the Armenian rebellion against the Persian king Darius I in 521 BC (70 years after the fall of Urartu), some of the personal and topographic names attested in connection with Armenia or Armenians were of Urartian origin, suggesting that Urartian elements persisted within Armenia after its fall. [43]

The Behistun Inscription, which was written in three languages, refers to the country as Armenia (Armina) and the people as Armenian (Arminiya) in Old Persian, but as Urartu (Urashtu) and Urartian (Urashtaa) in Akkadian, suggesting that Urartu and Armenia were part of the same geopolitical entity. [44]

With the region reunified again under Armenia, the disparate peoples of the region mixed and became more homogenous and a unified sense of identity developed, and the Armenian language became the predominant language. Some Urartians might have kept their former identity. According to Herodotus, the Alarodians (Alarodioi)—presumably a variation of the name Urartian/Araratian—were part of the 18th Satrapy of the Achaemenid Empire and formed a special contingent in the grand army of Xerxes I. [45] According to this theory, the Urartians who of the 18th Satrapy were subsequently absorbed into the Armenian nation. [46]

Urartian royal tomb. Van citadel, 1973 Urartian royal tomb. Near Van 1973.JPG
Urartian royal tomb. Van citadel, 1973

Modern historians, however, have cast doubt on the Alarodian connection to the Urartians as the latter are never recorded as having applied an endonym related to "Ararat" to themselves. [47]

As the Armenian identity developed in the region, the memory of Urartu faded and disappeared. [48] Parts of its history passed down as popular stories and were preserved in Armenia, as written by Movses Khorenatsi in the form of garbled legends [49] [50] in his 5th century book History of Armenia, where he speaks of a first Armenian Kingdom in Van which fought wars against the Assyrians. It is worth noting that no kingdom called "Armenia" existed during the time that Assyria did, but Urartu (Van) did. Khorenatsi's stories of these wars with Assyria would help in the rediscovery of Urartu. [51]

The toponym Urartu did not disappear, however. The name of the province of Ayrarat in the center of the Kingdom of Armenia is believed to be its continuum. [24]

Descendent communities

According to historian M. Chahin: [5]

Urartian history is part of Armenian history, in the same sense that the history of the ancient Britons is part of English history, and that of the Gauls is part of French history. Armenians can legitimately claim, through Urartu, an historical continuity of some 4000 years; their history is among those of the most ancient peoples in the world.

The discovery of Urartu has also come to play a significant role in 19th to 21st-century Armenian nationalism. [52]


Urartu 715-713 BC Urartu 715 713-en.svg
Urartu 715–713 BC

Urartu comprised an area of approximately 200,000 square miles (520,000 km2), extending from the Euphrates in the West to Lake Urmia in the East and from the Caucasus Mountains south towards the Zagros Mountains in northern Iraq. [53] It was centered around Lake Van, which is located in present-day eastern Anatolia. [54]

At its apogee, Urartu stretched from the borders of northern Mesopotamia to the southern Caucasus, including present-day Turkey, Nakhchivan, [55] Armenia and southern Georgia (up to the river Kura). Archaeological sites within its boundaries include Altintepe, Toprakkale, Patnos and Haykaberd. Urartu fortresses included Erebuni Fortress (present-day Yerevan), Van Fortress, Argishtihinili, Anzaf, Haykaberd, and Başkale, as well as Teishebaini (Karmir Blur, Red Mound) and others.


A Urartian cauldron, in the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations, Ankara UrartianCaldron02.jpg
A Urartian cauldron, in the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations, Ankara
Head of a Bull, Urartu, 8th century BC. This head was attached to the rim of an enormous cauldron similar to the one shown above. Walters Art Museum collections. Armenian - Head of a Bull - Walters 54791 - Three Quarter.jpg
Head of a Bull, Urartu, 8th century BC. This head was attached to the rim of an enormous cauldron similar to the one shown above. Walters Art Museum collections.

Inspired by the writings of the medieval Armenian historian Movses Khorenatsi (who had described Urartian works in Van and attributed them to the legendary Ara the Beautiful and Queen Semiramis), the French scholar Jean Saint-Martin suggested that his government send Friedrich Eduard Schulz, a German professor, to the Van area in 1827 on behalf of the French Oriental Society. [56] Schulz discovered and copied numerous cuneiform inscriptions, partly in Assyrian and partly in a hitherto unknown language. Schulz also discovered the Kelishin stele , bearing an Assyrian-Urartian bilingual inscription, located on the Kelishin pass on the current Iraqi-Iranian border. A summary account of his initial discoveries was published in 1828. Schulz and four of his servants were murdered by Kurds in 1829 near Başkale. His notes were later recovered and published in Paris in 1840. In 1828, the British Assyriologist Henry Creswicke Rawlinson had attempted to copy the inscription on the Kelishin stele, but failed because of the ice on the stele's front side. The German scholar R. Rosch made a similar attempt a few years later, but he and his party were attacked and killed.

In the late 1840s Sir Austen Henry Layard examined and described the Urartian rock-cut tombs of Van Castle, including the Argishti chamber. From the 1870s, local residents began to plunder the Toprakkale ruins, selling its artefacts to European collections. In the 1880s this site underwent a poorly executed excavation organised by Hormuzd Rassam on behalf of the British Museum. Almost nothing was properly documented.

The first systematic collection of Urartian inscriptions, and thus the beginning of Urartology as a specialized field dates to the 1870s, with the campaign of Sir Archibald Henry Sayce. The German engineer Karl Sester, discoverer of Mount Nemrut, collected more inscriptions in 1890/1. Waldemar Belck visited the area in 1891, discovering the Rusa stele. A further expedition planned for 1893 was prevented by Turkish-Armenian hostilities. Belck together with Lehmann-Haupt visited the area again in 1898/9, excavating Toprakkale. On this expedition, Belck reached the Kelishin stele, but he was attacked by Kurds and barely escaped with his life. Belck and Lehmann-Haupt reached the stele again in a second attempt, but were again prevented from copying the inscription by weather conditions. After another assault on Belck provoked the diplomatic intervention of Wilhelm II, Sultan Abdul Hamid II agreed to pay Belck a sum of 80,000 gold marks in reparation. During World War I, the Lake Van region briefly fell under Russian control. In 1916, the Russian scholars Nikolay Yakovlevich Marr and Iosif Abgarovich Orbeli, excavating at the Van fortress, uncovered a four-faced stele carrying the annals of Sarduri II. In 1939 Boris Borisovich Piotrovsky excavated Karmir-Blur, discovering Teišebai, the city of the god of war, Teišeba. Excavations by the American scholars Kirsopp and Silva Lake during 1938-40 were cut short by World War II, and most of their finds and field records were lost when a German submarine torpedoed their ship, the SS Athenia. Their surviving documents were published by Manfred Korfmann in 1977.

A new phase of excavations began after the war. Excavations were at first restricted to Soviet Armenia. The fortress of Karmir Blur, dating from the reign of Rusa II, was excavated by a team headed by Boris Piotrovsky, and for the first time the excavators of a Urartian site published their findings systematically. Beginning in 1956 Charles A. Burney identified and sketch-surveyed many Urartian sites in the Lake Van area and, from 1959, a Turkish expedition under Tahsin Özgüç excavated Altintepe and Arif Erzen.

In the late 1960s, Urartian sites in northwest Iran were excavated. In 1976, an Italian team led by Mirjo Salvini finally reached the Kelishin stele, accompanied by a heavy military escort. The Gulf War then closed these sites to archaeological research. Oktay Belli resumed excavation of Urartian sites on Turkish territory: in 1989 Ayanis, a 7th-century BC fortress built by Rusas II of Urartu, was discovered 35 km north of Van. In spite of excavations, only a third to a half of the 300 known Urartian sites in Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Armenia have been examined by archaeologists (Wartke 1993). Without protection, many sites have been plundered by local residents searching for treasure and other saleable antiquities.

On 12 November 2017, it was announced that archaeologists in Turkey's eastern Van Province had discovered the ruins of a 3,000-year-old Urartu castle during underwater excavations around Lake Van led by Van Yüzüncü Yıl University and the Governorship of Turkey's eastern Bitlis Province, and that revealed these underwater ruins are from the Iron Age Urartu civilization and are thought to date back to the eighth to seventh centuries BC. [57]

Economy and politics

The economic structure of Urartu was similar to other states of the ancient world, especially Assyria. The state was heavily dependent on agriculture, which required centralized irrigation. These works were managed by kings, but implemented by free inhabitants and possibly slave labour provided by prisoners. Royal governors, influential people and, perhaps, free peoples had their own allotments. Individual territories within the state had to pay taxes the central government: grain, horses, bulls, etc. In peacetime, Urartu probably led an active trade with Assyria, providing cattle, horses, iron and wine.

Agriculture in Urartu
Urartu Fork.jpg
Urartu Spades.jpg
Urartian grain bruiser01.jpg
Part of iron pitchfork, found near Lake Van and Iron plowshare, found during excavations in Rusahinili (Toprakkale).Urartian saddle quern

According to archaeological data, farming on the territory of Urartu developed from the Neolithic period, even in the 3rd millennium BC. In the Urartian age, agriculture was well developed and closely related to Assyrian methods on the selection of cultures and methods of processing. [58] From cuneiform sources, it is known that in Urartu grew wheat, barley, sesame, millet, and emmer, and cultivated gardens and vineyards. Many regions of the Urartu state required artificial irrigation, which has successfully been organized by the rulers of Urartu in the heyday of the state. In several regions remain ancient irrigation canals, constructed by Urartu, mainly during the Argishti I and Menua period, some of which are still used for irrigation.

Art and architecture

Bronze figurine of the winged goddess Tushpuea, with suspension hook Tushpuea01.jpg
Bronze figurine of the winged goddess Tushpuea, with suspension hook

There is a number of remains of sturdy stone architecture, as well as some mud brick, especially when it has been burnt, which helps survival. Stone remains are mainly fortresses and walls, with temples and mausolea, and many rock-cut tombs. The style, which developed regional variations, shows a distinct character, partly because of the greater use of stone compared to neighbouring cultures. The typical temple was square, with stones walls as thick as the open internal area but using mud brick for the higher part. These were placed at the highest point of a citadel and from surviving depictions were high, perhaps with gabled roofs; their emphasis on verticality has been claimed as an influence of later Christian Armenian architecture. [59]

The art of Urartu is especially notable for fine lost-wax bronze objects: weapons, figurines, vessels including grand cauldrons that were used for sacrifices, fittings for furniture, and helmets. There are also remains of ivory and bone carvings, frescos, cylinder seals and of course pottery. In general their style is a somewhat less sophisticated blend of influences from neighbouring cultures. Archaeology has produced relatively few examples of the jewellery in precious metals that the Assyrians boasted of carrying off in great quantities from Musasir in 714 BC. [59]


A modern depiction of the god Haldi based on Urartian originals Khaldi.JPG
A modern depiction of the god Ḫaldi based on Urartian originals

With the expansion of Urartian territory, many of the gods worshipped by conquered peoples were incorporated into the Urartian pantheon as a means of confirming the annexation of territories and promoting political stability. Some main gods and goddesses of the Urartian pantheon include: [60]

While the Urartians incorporated many deities into their pantheon, they appeared to be selective in their choices. Although many Urartian kings made conquests in the North, such as the Lake Sevan region, many of those peoples' gods remain excluded. This was most likely the case because Urartians considered the people in the north to be barbaric, and disliked their deities as much as they did them. Good examples of incorporated deities however are the goddesses Bagvarti (Bagmashtu) and Selardi, both potentially of Armenian origins. On Mheri-Dur (Meher-Tur) (the "Gate of Mehr"), overlooking modern Van, an inscription lists a total of 79 deities, and what type of sacrificial offerings should be made to each; goats, sheep, cattle, and other animals served as the sacrificial offerings. Urartians did not practice human sacrifice. [61]

The pantheon was headed by a triad made up of Ḫaldi (the supreme god), Theispas (Teisheba, god of thunder and storms, as well as sometimes war), and Shivini (a solar god). Their king was also the chief-priest or envoy of Ḫaldi. Some temples to Ḫaldi were part of the royal palace complex, while others were independent structures.

Ḫaldi was not a native Urartian god but apparently an obscure Akkadian deity (which explains the location of the main temple of worship for Ḫaldi in Musasir, believed to be near modern Rawandiz, Iraq). [62] Ḫaldi was not initially worshipped by Urartians, at least as their chief god, as his cult does not appear to have been introduced until the reign of Ishpuini. [62]

Theispas was a version of the Hurrian god, Teshub. [63]

According to Diakonoff and Vyacheslav Ivanov, Shivini (likely pronounced Shiwini or Siwini) was likely borrowed from the Hittites.


"Urartian language" is the name retroactively applied by historians and linguists to the extinct language used in the cuneiform inscriptions of the Kingdom of Urartu. Other names used to refer to the language are "Khaldian" ("Ḫaldian"), or "neo-Hurrian". The latter term is problematic, however, as it is now thought that Urartian and Hurrian share a common ancestor rather than the previously held belief that Urartian developed directly from, or was a dialect of, Hurrian. [47] In fact, according to Paul Zimansky: [64]

The earliest dialect of Hurrian, seen in the Tiš-atal royal inscription and reconstructed from various early second millennium B.C.E. sources, shows features that disappeared in later Hurrian but are present in Urartian (Wilhelm 1988:63). In short, the more we discover or deduce about the earliest stages of Hurrian, the more it looks like Urartian (Gragg 1995:2170).

The Urartian language is an ergative-agglutinative language, which belongs to neither the Semitic nor the Indo-European language families, but to the Hurro-Urartian language family, which is not known to be related to any other language or language family, despite repeated attempts to find genetic links.

Examples of the Urartian language have survived in many inscriptions, written in the Assyrian cuneiform script, found throughout the area of the Kingdom of Urartu. Although, the bulk of the cuneiform inscriptions within Urartu were written in the Urartian language, a minority of them were also written in Akkadian (the official language of Assyria).

There are also claims of autochthonous Urartian hieroglyphs, but this remains uncertain. [65] Unlike the cuneiform inscriptions, Urartian hieroglyphic have not been successfully deciphered. As a result, scholars disagree as to what language is used, or whether they even constitute writing at all. The Urartians originally would have used these locally developed hieroglyphs, but later adapted the Assyrian cuneiform script for most purposes. After the 8th century BC, the hieroglyphic script would have been restricted to religious and accounting purposes.[ clarification needed ]

Urartian cuneiform recording the foundation of Erebuni Fortress by Argishti. Urartian language stone, Erebuni museum 3.jpg
Urartian cuneiform recording the foundation of Erebuni Fortress by Argishti.

The Kingdom of Urartu, during its dominance, had united disparate tribes, each of which had its own culture and traditions. Thus, when the political structure was destroyed, little remained that could be identified as one unified Urartian culture. [66] According to Zimansky: [67]

Far from being grounded on long standing cultural uniformities, [Urartu] was merely a superstructure of authority, below which there was plenty of room for the groups to manifest in the Anatolia of Xenophon to flourish. We need not hypothesize massive influxes of new peoples, ethnic replacement, or any very great mechanisms of cultural change. The Armenians, Carduchoi, Chaldaioi, and Taochoi could easily have been there all along, accommodated and concealed within the structure of command established by the Urartian kings.

Ultimately, little is known of what was truly spoken in the geopolitical region until the creation of the Armenian alphabet in the 4th century AD. Some scholars believe that the ethnonym "Armina" itself and all other names attested with reference to the rebellions against Darius in the Satrapy of Armenia (the proper names Araxa, Haldita, and Dādṛšiš, the toponyms Zūzahya, Tigra, and Uyamā, and the district name Autiyāra) are not connected with Armenian linguistic and onomastic material attested later in native Armenian sources, nor are they Iranian, but seem related to Urartian. [68] However, others suggest that some of these names have Armenian or Iranian etymologies. [43] [69] [70]

Presence of the Armenian language

The presence of a population who spoke proto-Armenian in Urartu prior to its demise is subject to speculation, but the existence of Urartian words in the Armenian language suggests early contact between the two languages and long periods of bilingualism. [71] [27] It is generally assumed that proto-Armenian speakers entered Anatolia around 1200 BC, during the Bronze Age Collapse, which was three to four centuries before the emergence of the Kingdom of Urartu. The presence of Armenian speakers in the Armenian Highlands prior to the formation of the Kingdom of Urartu is supported by a reference to "the king of Uiram" in an 11th-century BCE list of lands conquered by the Assyrian king Tiglath-Pileser I. [72]

One of the theories about the emergence of Armenian in the region is that Paleo-Balkan-speaking settlers related to Phrygians (the Mushki and/or the retroactively named Armeno-Phrygians), who had already settled in the western parts of the region prior to the establishment of Urartu, [73] [74] [75] had become the ruling elite under the Median Empire, followed by the Achaemenid Empire. [76] According to the Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture :

The Armenians according to Diakonoff, are then an amalgam of the Hurrian (and Urartians), Luvians [Luwians] and the Proto-Armenian Mushki who carried their IE [Indo-European] language eastwards across Anatolia. After arriving in its historical territory, Proto-Armenian would appear to have undergone massive influence by the languages it eventually replaced. Armenian phonology, for instance, appears to have been greatly affected by Urartian, which may suggest a long period of bilingualism. [77]

However, the connection between the Mushki and Armenians is unclear as nothing is known of the Mushki language, yet some modern scholars have rejected a direct linguistic relationship with Armenian if the Mushki were Thracians or Phrygians. [78] [79] [80] [81] Additionally, genetic research does not support significant admixture into the Armenian nation after 1200 BCE, making the Mushki, if they indeed migrated from a Balkan or western Anatolian homeland during or after the Bronze Age Collapse, unlikely candidates for the Proto-Armenians. [82] [83] However, as others have placed (at least the Eastern) Mushki homeland in the Armenian Highlands and South Caucasus region, it is possible that at least some of the Mushki were Armenian-speakers or speakers of a closely related language. [84] Some modern studies show that Armenian is as close to Indo-Iranian as it is to Greek and Phrygian. [85] [78] [79]

An alternate theory suggests that Armenians were tribes indigenous to the northern shores of Lake Van or Urartu's northern periphery (possibly as the Hayasans, Etiuini, and/or Diauehi, all of whom are known only from references left by neighboring peoples such Hittites, Urartians and Assyrians). [86] While the Urartian language was used by the royal elite, the population they ruled may have been multi-lingual, and some of these peoples would have spoken Armenian. This can be reconciled with the Phrygian/Mushki theory if those groups originally came from the Caucasus region or Armenian Highlands. [84]

The Urartian confederation united the disparate peoples of the highlands, which began a process of intermingling of the peoples and cultures (including possibly Armenian tribes) and languages (potentially including proto-Armenian) within the highlands. This intermixing would ultimately culminate in the emergence of the Armenians as the dominant polity and culture of the Armenian Highlands, and as the direct successors and inheritors of the Urartian domain. [5] [8] [87] [10] Recent findings in studies of Armenian genetics reveal heavy mixing of groups from the 3000s BC until the Bronze Age collapse. Admixture signals seem to have decreased to insignificant levels after c. 1200 BC, after which Armenian DNA remained stable, which appears to have been caused by Armenians’ isolation from their surroundings, and subsequently sustained by the cultural/linguistic/religious distinctiveness that persists until today. [88]

An addition to this theory, supported by the official historiography of Armenia and experts in Assyrian and Urartian studies such as Igor M. Diakonoff, Giorgi Melikishvili, Mikhail Nikolsky, and Ivan Mestchaninov, suggests that Urartian was solely the formal written language of the state, while its inhabitants, including the royal family, spoke Armenian. [73] This theory primarily hinges on the fact that the Urartian language used in the cuneiform inscriptions were very repetitive and scant in vocabulary (having as little as 350–400 roots). Furthermore, over 250 years of usage, it shows no development, which is taken to indicate that the language had ceased to be spoken before the time of the inscriptions or was used only for official purposes. [73] [ better source needed ]

A complementary theory, suggested by Tamaz V. Gamkrelidze and Ivanov in 1984, places the Proto-Indo-European homeland (the location where Indo-European would have emerged from) in the Armenian Highlands (see: Armenian hypothesis), which would entail the presence of proto-Armenians in the area during the entire lifetime of the Urartian state. [89] The Armenian hypothesis supports the theory that the Urartian language was not spoken, but simply written, and postulates that the Armenian language as an in situ development of a 3rd millennium BC Proto-Indo-European language. [89]

See also

Related Research Articles

The Urartian or Vannic language was spoken by the inhabitants of the ancient kingdom of Urartu, located in the region of Lake Van, with its capital near the site of the modern town of Van, in the Armenian Highland, modern-day Eastern Anatolia region of Turkey. It was probably dominant around Lake Van and in the areas along the upper Zab valley.

Mannaeans former country

The Mannaeans were an ancient people who lived in the territory of present-day northwestern Iran south of lake Urmia, around the 10th to 7th centuries BC. At that time they were neighbors of the empires of Assyria and Urartu, as well as other small buffer states between the two, such as Musasir and Zikirta.

Diauehi former country

Diauehi or Daiaeni was a tribal union of possibly proto-Georgian,Hurrian, or proto-Armenian groups, located in northeastern Anatolia, that was formed in the 12th century BC in the post-Hittite period. It is mentioned in the Urartian inscriptions. It is usually identified with the Yonjalu inscription of the Assyria king Tiglath-Pileser I’s third year. Diauehi is a possible locus of Proto-Kartvelian; it has been described as an "important tribal formation of possible proto-Georgians" by Ronald Grigor Suny (1994). Although the exact geographic extent of Diauehi is still unclear, many scholars place it in the Pasinler Plain in today’s northeastern Turkey, while others locate it in the Turkish–Georgian marchlands as it follows the Kura River. Most probably, the core of the Diauehi lands may have extended from the headwaters of the Euphrates into the river valleys of Çoruh to Oltu. The Urartian sources speak of Diauehi’s three key cities – Zua, Utu and Sasilu; Zua is frequently identified with Zivin Kale and Ultu is probably modern Oltu, while Sasilu is sometimes linked to the early medieval Georgian toponym Sasire, near Tortomi. The region roughly corresponded to the previous Hayasa-Azzi territory.

Ḫaldi Urartian war god

Ḫaldi was one of the three chief deities of Urartu. He was a warrior god to whom the kings of Urartu would pray for victories in battle. Ḫaldi was portrayed as a man with or without wings, standing on a lion.

Argishti I of Urartu King of Urartu

Argishti I, was the sixth known king of Urartu, reigning from 786 BC to 764 BC. He founded the citadel of Erebuni in 782 BC, which is the present capital of Armenia, Yerevan. Alternate transliterations of the name include Argishtis, Argisti, Argišti, and Argishtish. Although the name is usually rendered as Argišti, some scholars argue that Argisti is the most likely pronunciation. This is due to the belief that the Urartians used the cuneiform symbol š to voice an s-sound, as opposed to representing the diagraph sh.

Rusa I King of Urartu

Rusa I ruled: 735–713 BC) was a King of Urartu. He succeeded his father, king Sarduri II. His name is sometimes transliterated as Rusas. Apparently, he was known to Assyrians as Ursa and possibly Urzana.

Nairi was the Assyrian name for a confederation of tribes in the Armenian Highlands, roughly corresponding to the modern Van and Hakkâri provinces of modern Turkey. The word is also used to describe the Armenian tribes who lived there. Nairi has sometimes been equated with Nihriya, known from Mesopotamian, Hittite, and Urartian sources. However, its co-occurrence with Nihriya within a single text may argue against this.

Musasir ancient city of Urartu

Muṣaṣir Assyrian KURMu-ṣa-ṣir and variants, including Mutsatsir, Akkadian for Exit of the Serpent/Snake ), in Urartian Ardini was an ancient city of Urartu, attested in Assyrian sources of the 9th and 8th centuries BC.

Erebuni Fortress Fortress

Erebuni Fortress, also known as Arin Berd, is an Urartian fortified city, located in Yerevan, Armenia. It is 1,017 metres (3,337 ft) above sea level. It was one of several fortresses built along the northern Urartian border and was one of the most important political, economic and cultural centers of the vast kingdom. The name Yerevan itself is derived from Erebuni.

The name Armenia enters English via Latin, from Ancient Greek Ἀρμενία.

Argishti II was king of Urartu from 714 BC to 680 BC. He succeeded his father, King Rusa I. During the Urartu-Assyria War, Argishti was responsible for orchestrating major Urartian counter-offensives against the invading Assyrians. His forces drove the Assyrians back across the pre-war border and deep into the Assyrian heartlands, reconquering major towns and cities around Lake Urmia, including Mushashir, Ushnu, and Tepe, and conquering the territory as far south as the city of Nimrud on the Tigris River. These victories forced the Assyrians to accept a lengthy peace and cede large tracts of territory north of the Tigris. The remainder of Argishti's lengthy reign was characterized by a "Golden Age", a period of lengthy peace and economic prosperity, which carried into the reigns of Argishti's two successors, his son Rusa II and his grandson Sarduri III.

Shupria or Shubria Armenian: Շուպրիա; Akkadian was a Hurrian kingdom, known from Assyrian sources from the 13th century BC onward, in what is now the Armenian Highlands, to the south-west of Lake Van, bordering Urartu. The capital was Ubbumu. The name Shupria is often regarded as derived from, or even synonymous with, the earlier kingdom of Subartu, mentioned in Mesopotamian records as early as the 3rd millennium BC. However, the Sumerians appear to have used the name Subartu to describe an area corresponding to Upper Mesopotamia and/or Assyria.

Sarduri II King of Urartu

Sarduri II was a King of Urartu, succeeding his father Argishti I to the throne. The Urartian Kingdom was at its peak during his reign, campaigning successfully against several neighbouring powers, including Assyria.

Urartu–Assyria War

The Urartu–Assyria War was a conflict between the Kingdom of Urartu and the Neo-Assyrian Empire. The war began around 714 BC, with the invasion of Urartu by the Assyrian King Sargon II. Sargon led multiple offensives deep into Urartian territory, amassing numerous victories in the war. Following his death, however, Urartian Kings Argishti II and Rusa II launched many successful counterattacks, reclaiming Urartu's lost territory and gaining some from Assyria. However, their successors suffered multiple major defeats, resulting in Urartu becoming an Assyrian client state.

Ancient Armenia refers to the history of Armenia during Antiquity. It follows Prehistoric Armenia and covers a period of approximately one thousand years, beginning at the end of the Iron Age with the events that led to the dissolution of the Kingdom of Urartu, and the emergence of the first geopolitical entity called Armenia in the 6th century BC. Highlights of this period include the rise of ancient Armenia as an important state in Western Asia in the 4th century BC; a briefly held empire under Julius Caesar's contemporary the Great King Tigranes II ; the kingdom's official conversion to Christianity in 301; and the creation of the Armenian alphabet in the year 405. It concludes with the demise of the Armenian kingdom and the country's partition later in the 5th century, marking the beginning of Medieval Armenia.

Prehistory of the Armenians

The recorded history of Armenia dates back to the 6th century BC Orontid Dynasty The earliest attestations of the exonym "Armenia" date to the Achaemenid Empire. In his trilingual Behistun Inscription, Darius I the Great of Persia refers to Urashtu as Armina and Harminuya. In Greek, Αρμένιοι "Armenians" is attested from about the same time, perhaps the earliest reference being a fragment attributed to Hecataeus of Miletus.

Economy of Urartu

The economy of Urartu refers to the principles of management of Urartu, the ancient state of Western Asia which existed from the thirteenth to the sixth century BC. It peaked around the eighth century BC but was destroyed with the fall of the state about a century later. The economy of Urartu was typical of ancient Middle East despotism and was closely associated with that of neighboring Assyria.

Art of Urartu art

The art of Urartu refers to a historical and regional type of art from Urartu (Ararat), the ancient state of Western Asia which existed in the period from the 13th to the 6th centuries BC in the Armenian Highland. The art of Urartu was strongly influenced by nearby Assyria, the most prominent state of that period in the region. It peaked around the 8th century BC but was mostly looted, scattered and destroyed with the fall of Urartu about a century later.

Argishtikhinili (ancient city) cultural heritage monument of Armenia

Argishtikhinili was a town in the ancient kingdom of Urartu, established during the expansion of the Urartians in the Transcaucasus under their king Argishti I, and named in his honour. It lasted between the 8th and 6th centuries BC. The ruins of the Argishtikhinili fortifications are 15 kilometres (9 mi) southwest of the present-day town of Armavir, Armenia, between the villages of Nor-Armavir and Armavir in the Armenian marz of Armavir. The town was founded on the left bank of the middle reaches of the Aras River. Over the centuries, the river channel has shifted to several kilometres south of the town.



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Coordinates: 38°00′00″N43°00′00″E / 38.0000°N 43.0000°E / 38.0000; 43.0000