UrartuFriday, August 27, 2021
Urartu 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. 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. Since its re-discovery in the 19th century, Urartu, which is commonly believed to have been at least partially Armenian-speaking, has played a significant role in Armenian nationalism.
Various names were given to the geographic region and the polity that emerged in the region.
- Urartu/Ararat The name Urartu (Armenian: Ուրարտու; Assyrian: māt Urarṭu; Babylonian: Urashtu; Hebrew: אֲרָרָט Ararat) comes from Assyrian sources. Shalmaneser I (1263–1234 BC) recorded a campaign in which he subdued the entire territory of "Uruatri". 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). The Assyrian Uruatri seems to correspond with the Azzi of contemporaneous Hittite texts. Urartu is cognate with the Biblical Ararat, Akkadian Urashtu, and Armenian Ayrarat. 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 the kingdom's former capital, though the identification of the biblical "mountains of Ararat" with the Mt. Ararat is a modern identification based on postbiblical tradition.
- Biainili: The Urartian kings, starting during the co-reign of Ishpuini and his son, Menua, referred to their kingdom as Biainili, or "those of the land of Bia" (sometimes transliterated as Biai or Bias). Whoever or whatever "Bia" was remains unclear. It is not to be confused with the nearby land "Biane," which likely became the Armenian Basean (Greek: Phasiane).
- Kingdom of Van (Վանի թագավորություն) A widespread belief is that the Urartian toponym Biainili (or Biaineli), which was possibly pronounced as Vanele (or Vanili), became Van (Վան) in Old Armenian. The names "Kingdom of Van" and "Vannic Kingdom" were applied to Urartu as a result of this theory and the fact that the Urartian capital, Tushpa, was located near the city of Van and the lake of the same name.
- Nairi 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". More recent scholarship suggests that Uruatri was a district of Nairi, and perhaps corresponded to the Azzi of contemporaneous Hittite texts. Although early rulers of the Kingdom of Urartu referred to their domain as "Nairi" (instead of the later Biainili), some scholars believe that Urartu and Nairi were separate polities. The Assyrians seem to have continued to refer to Nairi as a distinct entity for decades after the establishment of Urartu until Nairi was totally absorbed by Assyria and Urartu in the 8th century BC
- Khaldini Carl Ferdinand Friedrich Lehmann-Haupt (1910) believed that the people of Urartu called themselves Khaldini after the god Ḫaldi. This theory has been overwhelmingly rejected by modern scholars.
- Shurili 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”). The word Šuri has been variously theorized as originally referring to chariots, lances or swords (perhaps related to the Armenian word sur (սուր) meaning "sword"). Others have connected Shurili to an as yet undetermined geographical region, such as Shupria (perhaps an attempt by the ruling dynasty to associate themselves with the Hurrians), Cappadocia, the Ararat plain, or the entire world.
- Armenia In the 6th century BC, with the emergence of Armenia in the region, the Urartu and Urartians were synonymously referred to as Armenia and Armenians, in two of the three languages used in the Behistun inscription. The name Ararat was translated as Armenia in the 1st century AD in historiographical works and very early Latin translations of the Bible, as well as the Books of Kings and Isaiah in the Septuagint. Some English language translations, including the King James Version follow the Septuagint translation of Ararat as Armenia. 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 or Armani and the nearby districts of Urme and Inner Urumu. It is possible that the name Armenia originates in Armini, Urartian for "inhabitant of Arme" or "Armean country." The Arme tribe of Urartian texts may have been the Urumu, who in the 12th century BC attempted to invade Assyria from the north with their allies the Mushki and the Kaskians. The Urumu apparently settled in the vicinity of Sason, lending their name to the regions of Arme and the nearby Urme and Inner Urumu.
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. It was centred around Lake Van, which is located in present-day eastern Anatolia.
At its apogee, Urartu stretched from the borders of northern Mesopotamia to the southern Caucasus, including present-day Turkey, Nakhchivan, 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.
The Urartian pantheon seems to have comprised a diverse mix of Hurrian, Akkadian, Armenian, and Hittite deities.
Starting with the reign of Ishpuini, the Urartian 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.
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:
- Shivini (Siuini)
- Arubani (Bagvarti)
- Selardi or Melardi
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). Ḫaldi was not initially worshiped by the Urartians as their chief god. His cult does not appear to have been introduced until the reign of Ishpuini.
Theispas was a version of the Hurrian god, Teshub.
According to Diakonoff and Vyacheslav Ivanov, Shivini (likely pronounced Shiwini or Siwini) was likely borrowed from the Hittites.
On the Gate of Mehr (Mehri-Dur), 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.
A number of the gods mentioned in the Gate of Mehr may be of Armenian origins, including Ara (or Arwaa), and possibly the goddess Selardi (although there is confusion about this deity's gender and name, some believe it is to be read Melardi).