Infobox Former Country
native_name = Biainili
conventional_long_name = Kingdom of Urartu
common_name = Urartu|
continent = Asia
region = Caucasus
country =
era = Iron Age
government_type = Monarchy
year_start = 1350 B.C.
year_end = 590 B.C.
s1 = Orontid Armenia

image_map_caption = Late Urartu under Rusa III and IV (610-590/585 BC).|
capital = Tushpa
common_languages = Urartian
religion = Pagan
currency = |
leader1 = Aramu
leader2 = Sarduri I
leader3 = Ishpuini
leader4 = Menuas
leader5 = Argishti I
leader6 = Sarduri II
year_leader1 = 858-844
year_leader2 = 844-828
year_leader3 = 828-810
year_leader4 = 810-785
year_leader5 = 785-753
year_leader6 = 753-735

Urartu (Assyrian: Urarṭu; Urartian: Biainili; _hy. Ուրարտու) was an Iron Age kingdom in Eastern Anatolia (Transcaucasia), rising to power in the mid 9th century BC, and finally conquered by Media in the early 6th century BC. The Kingdom of Urartu was located in the mountainous plateau between Asia Minor, Mesopotamia, and the Caucasus mountains, later known as the Armenian Highlands, and was centered around Lake Van in present-day Eastern Turkey. The name corresponds to the Biblical "Ararat".


The name "Urartu" comes from Assyrian sources: the Assyrian king Shalmaneser I (1263-1234 B.C.) recorded a campaign in which he subdued the entire territory of "Uruatri". ["A Note on the Names Armânum and Urartu" Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 57, No. 4 (Dec., 1937), pp. 416-418.] ["Ancient Ararat: A Handbook of Urartian Studies" Paul E. Zimansky, 1998, p28.] 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 kingdom's native name was "Biainili", but by the end of the 9th century they also called their now united kingdom "Nairi". Scholars [ [http://www.christiananswers.net/dictionary/ararat.html Ararat (WebBible Encyclopedia) - ChristianAnswers.Net ] ] believe that "Urartu" is an Akkadian variation of "Ararat" of the Old Testament. Indeed, Mount Ararat is located in ancient Urartian territory, approximately 120 km north of its former capital. In addition to referring to the famous Biblical mountain, "Ararat" also appears as the name of a kingdom in Jeremiah 51:27, mentioned together with Minni and Ashchenaz.

Some scholars such as Carl Friedrich Lehmann-Haupt (1910) believed that the people of Urartu called themselves "Khaldini" after their god Khaldi. ["Lehmann-Haupt C. F." Armenien, Berlin, B. Behr, 1910—1931] The "Nairi", an Iron Age people of the Van area, are sometimes considered related or identical. [Piotrovsky, Boris B. "The Ancient Civilization of Urartu". New York: Cowles Book Co., Inc., 1969.]

In the early 6th century BC, the Urartian Kingdom was replaced by the Armenian Orontid dynasty. In the trilingual Behistun inscription, carved in 515 BC by the order of Darius the Great of Persia, the country referred to as "Urartu" in Babylonian is called "Arminia" in Old Persian and "Harminuia" in Elamite.

Shubria was part of the Urartu confederation. Later, there is reference to a district in the area called Arme or Urme, which some scholars have linked to the name Armenia. [Lang, Armenia: Cradle of Civilization, 114. Verify credibility|date=May 2008] ["The Armenians" by Anne Elizabeth Redgate, pp.16-19, 23, 25, 26 (map), 30-32, 38, 43]


Urartu comprised an area of approximately 200,000 square miles, reaching from the river Kura in the north, to the northern foothills of the Taurus in the south; and from the Euphrates in the west to the Caspian sea in the east. [Chahin, Mark. "The Kingdom of Armenia". Richmond, Great Britain: RoutledgeCurzon, 2001, p. 105 ISBN 0-7007-1452-9.]

At its apogee, Urartu stretched from northern Mesopotamia to the southern Caucasus, including present-day Armenia and southern Georgia as far as the river Kura. Archaeological sites within its boundaries include Altintepe, Toprakkale, Patnos and Cavustepe. Urartu fortresses included Erebuni (present day Yerevan city), Van, Armavir, Anzaf, Cavustepe and Başkale, as well as Argishtiqinili, Teishebaini (Karmir Blur, Red Mound) and others.


Inspired by the account of the fifth century Armenian historian Movses Khorenatsi (who had described Urartian works in Van, attributing them to the legendary queen Semiramis), Friedrich Eduard Schulz was asked to travel to the Van area in 1827 on behalf of the French Oriental Society. Schulz discovered and copied numerous cuneiform inscriptions, partly in Assyrian and partly in a hitherto unknown language. Schulze also re-discovered the "Kelishin stele", bearing an Assyrian-Urartian bilingual inscription, located on the Kelishin pass on the current Iraqi-Iranian border. Schulz and four of his servants were murdered by Kurds in 1829 near Baskale. A summary account of his initial discoveries was published in 1828. His notes were later recovered and published in Paris in 1840. In 1828, the British Assyriologist Henry Creswicke Rawlinson 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.Sir Austen Henry Layard in the late 1840s described the rock-cut tombs of Van Castle and 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 excavaton 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,Hambardzumyan, Viktor A. et al. "Soviet Armenia" (Սովետական Հայաստան). Soviet Armenian Encyclopedia. v. xii. Yerevan, Armenian SSR: Armenian Academy of Sciences, 1987, pp. 274-282.] 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 area briefly fell under Russian control. In 1916, the Russian scholars Nikolay Yakovlevich Marr and Iosif Abgarovich Orbeli uncovered a four-faced stele carrying the annals of Sarduri II. Boris Borisovich Piotrovsky in 1939 excavated Karmir-Blur, discovering Teišebai, the city of the god of war, Teišeba. In 1938-40, excavations by the American scholars Kirsopp and Silva Lake 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 B. Piotrovsky, and for the first time the excavators of an Urartian site published their findings systematically. Beginning in 1956 Charles Burney identified and sketch-surveyed many Urartian sites in the Lake Van area and, from 1959, Turkish expeditions 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 First Gulf War then closed this area to archaeological research. O. Belli resumed excavation of Urartian sites on Turkish territory: in 1989 a 7th c. 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, these sites have been plundered by local residents taking advantage of the lucrative black market trade in antiquities.



Assyrian inscriptions of Shalmaneser I (ca. 1270 BC) first mention "Uruartri" as one of the states of Nairi – a loose confederation of small kingdoms and tribal states in Armenian Highland in the 13th - 11th centuries BC. Uruartri itself was in the region around Lake Van. The Nairi states were repeatedly subjected to attacks by the Assyrians, especially under Tukulti-Ninurta I (ca. 1240 BC), Tiglath-Pileser I (ca. 1100 BC), Ashur-bel-kala (ca. 1070 BC), Adad-nirari II (ca. 900), Tukulti-Ninurta II (ca. 890), and Ashurnasirpal II (883-859 BC).

Urartu re-emerged in Assyrian inscriptions in the 9th c. BC as a powerful northern rival of Assyria. The Nairi states and tribes became a unified kingdom under king Aramu (ca. 860-843 BC), whose capital at Arzashkun was captured by 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.


Sarduri I (ca. 832-820 BC), son of 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 (ca. 820-800 BC) annexed the neighbouring state of Musasir and made his son Sarduri II viceroy; Ispuini was in turn attacked by Shamshi-Adad V. His successor Menua (ca. 800-785 BC) also enlarged the kingdom greatly and left inscriptions over a wide area. Urartu reached highest point of its military might under Menua's son Argishti I (ca. 785-760 BC), becoming one of the most powerful kingdoms of ancient Near East. Argishti I added more territories along the Araxes river and Lake Sevan, and frustrated Shalmaneser IV's campaigns against him. At some point the Urartuan armies reached all the way to Babylon, taking the city. Argishti also founded several new cities, most notably Erebuni in 782 BC, which grew to be the modern Armenian capital of Yerevan.

At its height, the Urartu kingdom may have stretched North beyond the Aras River (Greek Araxes) and Lake Sevan, encompassing present-day Armenia and even the southern part of Georgia (e.g. Qulha) 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.This became the first known Armenian empire.

Decline and recuperation

In 714 BC, the Urartu 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 defeated by Sargon at Lake Urmia.

The setback, however, was temporary, as Rusa's son Argishti II (714 - 685 BC) restored Urartu's power, at the same time maintaining peace with Assyria. 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, the Urartu grew weaker and dependent on Assyria, as evidenced by Rusa II's son Sardur III (645-635 BC) referring to the Assyrian king as his "father."

Later Period

Much like Urartu's ethnic composition, its later period and transformation to the Orontid Kingdom of Armenia are debated among scholars.

According to Urartian cuneiforms, 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 600's BC (during or after Sardur III's reign), Urartu was invaded by Scythians and their allies--the Medes. In 612 BC, the Median king Cyaxares conquered Assyria. 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/Armenia maintained its independence and power, going through a mere dynastic change, as a local Armenian dynasty (later to be called 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. [Xenophon, "Cyropedia," III.7] .
*Similarly, Strabo (1st c. BC - 1st c 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 ..." [Strabo. "Geography". [http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0198&loc=11.13.1 11.3.5] .] .
*Furthermore, according to the Old Testament, as late as 593 BC, prophet Jeremiah called on the kingdom of Ararat and its Median allies to conquer Babylon (Jeremiah 51:27), suggesting that at the time Ararat/Urartu/Armenia was still powerful enough to conquer the Babylonian Empire.
*Finally, early Armenian chronicles corroborate the Greek and Hebrew sources. In particular, Movses Khorenatsi writes that Armenian prince Paruyr Skayordi helped the Median king Cyaxares conquer Assyria, for which Cyaxares recognized him as the king of Armenia, while Media conquered Armenia only much later--under Astyages. [Movses Khorenatsi, "History of Armenia"] It is possible that the last Urartian king, Rusa IV, had connections to the future incoming Armenian Orontids dynasty.

Urartu was destroyed in either 590 BC [ [http://www.starspring.com/ascender/urartu/urartu.html Urartu - Lost Kingdom of Van ] ] or 585 BC. [ [http://www.allaboutturkey.com/urartu.htm Urartu civilization - All About Turkey ] ] The end of Urartu was violent; many of its fortresses were burned down. By the late sixth century, the Urartians had certainly been replaced by the Armenians. [A History of the Ancient Near East, Ca. 3000-323 BC - Page 205 by Marc Van de Mieroop]

Economy and politics

The people of Urartu were mostly farmers. They were experts in stone architecture; they may have introduced the blind arch to the Near East, and their houses may have been the precursor of the Persian apadana layout. They were also experts in metalworking, and exported metal vessels to Phrygia and Etruria. Excavations have yielded two-storied residential houses with internal wall decorations, windows, and balconies. Their towns generally had well-developed water supply (often taken from far away) and sewage systems.

Their king was also the chief-priest or envoy of Khaldi, their major deity. Some temples to Khaldi were part of the royal palace complex while others were independent structures. Other deities included Teisheba, god of the heavens (the Teshshub of the Hurrians and Khurits), and Shiwini, the sun goddess.


Urartian--the language used in the cuneiform inscriptions of Urartu--was an agglutinative language, which belongs to neither the Semitic nor the Indo-European families but to the Hurro-Urartian family. It survives in many inscriptions found in the area of the Urartu kingdom, written in the Assyrian cuneiform script. There are also claims of autochthonous Urartian hieroglyphs, but this remains uncertain. [A. Sayce, The Kingdom of Van (Urartu), Cambridge Ancient History, vol. II, p. 172 See also C. F. Lehman-Haupt, Armenien Einst und Jetzt, Berlin, 1931, vol. II, p. 497]


Urartian inscriptions use two scripts; locally-developed hieroglyphs, and cuneiform script borrowed from Assyrians and Hittites.

The Urartian cuneiform inscriptions are further divided into two groups. A minority is written in Akkadian (the official language of Assyria). The bulk of the cuneiforms, however, is written in an agglutinative language, conventionally called Urartian, Khaldian, or neo-Hurrian, which was related to Hurrian in the Hurro-Urartian family, and was neither Semitic nor Indo-European. It had close linguistic similarities to Northeast Caucasian languages. Igor Diakonov even places it in the Alarodian family, based on linguistic similarities with Northeast Caucasian languages. A more distant connection among Urartian and the modern Georgian language and Circassian have been postulated as well.

Currently, the number of known Urartian cuneiform inscriptions is more than 1000. They contain around 350-400 words, most of which are Urartian, while some are loan words from other languages. The greatest number of foreign loan words in Urartuan language is from Armenian--around 70 word-roots. [ Encyclopedia Americana, v. 2, USA 1980, pgs. 539, 541; Hovick Nersessian, "Highlands of Armenia," Los Angeles, 2000.]

The Urartians originally used the locally-developed hieroglyphs but later adapted the Assyrian cuneiform script for most purposes. After the 8th century BC, the hieroglyphic script was restricted to religious and accounting purposes. Currently, samples of Urartian written language have survived in many inscriptions found in the area of Urartu kingdom.

Unlike cuneiform inscriptions, the Urartuan hieroglyphic texts have not been successfully deciphered. As a result, scholars disagree as to what language is used in the texts. In mid-1990s, Armenian scientist Artak Movsisyan published a partial attempted deciphering of Urartian hieroglyphs, suggesting that they were written in an early form of Armenian. [A. Movsisyan, "Hieroglyphics of the Kingdom of Van," Yerevan, 1998]

Debate over spoken language

The linguistic and, therefore, ethnic make-up of Urartu's population has been subject to debate among scholars. The Urartian language, which was spoken in north-eastern Anatolia, was non-Indo-European in origin. [The New Encyclopaedia Brittanica, Micropaedia, Vol. 12, p.197] Urartian is believed to be descended from the same parent language as the older Hurrian language. The extant texts in the language are written in a variant script known as Neo-Assyrian.Encyclopaedia Brittanica, op. cit., p.197] Two bilingual inscriptions in Assyrian and Urartian led to the successful decipherment of the Urartian language.

The majority belief states that the Urartian language was spoken by the royal elite, which ruled over a multi-ethnic, in late Urartian times largely Armenian-speaking population. [Róna-Tas, András."Hungarians and Europe in the Early Middle Ages: An Introduction to Early Hungarian History". Budapest: Central European University Press, 1999 p.76 ISBN 9-6391-1648-3.] Under this theory, the Armenian-speaking population were the descendants of the proto-Armenians who migrated to the Armenian Highland in ca. the 7th century BC, mixing with the local Hurrian-speaking population (i.e. the "Phrygian theory," first suggested by Herodotus).

A minority belief, advocated primarily by the official historiography of Armenia, suggests that Urartian was solely the formal written language of the state, while its inhabitants, including the royal family, spoke Armenian. The theory primarily hinges on the language the Urartian cuneiform inscriptions being 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. This belief is compatible with the "Armenian hypothesis" suggested by V. Ivanov and T. Gamkrelidze, postulating the Armenian language as an "in situ" development of a 3rd millennium BC Proto-Indo-European language [C. Walker, "Armenia--Survival of a Nation," London, 1990.]

Ethnic Composition

On linguistic grounds (see Hurro-Urartian), the majority of scholars believe that the Urartians were related to the Hurrians. [Boris B. Piotrovsky, The Ancient Civilization of Urartu, Cowles Book Co., Inc., New York, NY, 1969; Diakonov Igor M., Starostin S.A. Hurro-Urartian as an Eastern Caucasian Languages. Münchener Studien zur Sprachwissenschaft, R. Kitzinger, München, 1986; [http://history-world.org/hurrians.htm Ancient Hurrians] ] A minority belief states that Urartu was populated and ruled by Armenians [Armenian Soviet Encyclopedia, v. 12, Yerevan 1986] ["Armenian origins: An overview of ancient and modern sources and theories", by Thomas J. Samuelian, Iravunq, 2000, 34 p., ASIN: B0006E8NC26; p. 14] (see above for more on the linguistic debate).

The Urartians were succeeded in the area in the 6th century BC by the Armenians, [ [http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-9074433/Urartu Urartu on Britannica] ] , who in the belief of some scholars had been present in Anatolia from around 1200 BC, and over the following centuries spread east to the Armenian Highland.Dyakonov, I.M., V.D. Neronova, and I.S. Sventsitskaya. " [http://historic.ru/books/item/f00/s00/z0000002/st21.shtml History of the Ancient World] ". vol. ii, Moscow, 1983.] A competing theory suggested by Thomas Gamkrelidze and Vyacheslav V. Ivanov in 1984 places the Proto-Indo-European homeland in the Armenian Highland, see Armenian hypothesis, which would entail the presence of (pre-)Proto-Armenians in the area during the entire lifetime of the Urartian state.

After the disappearance of Urartu as a political entity, the Armenians dominated the highlands, absorbing portions of the previous Urartian culture in the process. [ [http://www.starspring.com/ascender/urartu/urartu.html Star Spring Urartu] ] The Armenians became, thus, the direct succesors of the kingdom of Urartu and inherited their domain.

See also

* Mount Ararat
* Prehistoric Caucasus
* Prehistoric Armenia
* Hurro-Urartian languages
* Urartian language
* List of Kings of Urartu




*M. Chahin, "The Kingdom of Armenia: A History", Routledge, London, 2001.
* C. F. Lehmann-Haupt, "Armenien - Einst und Jetzt", Berlin 1910.
* Ashkharbek Kalantar, "Materials on Armenian and Urartian History" (with a contribution by Mirjo Salvini), Civilisations du Proche-Orient: Series 4 - Hors Série, Neuchâtel, Paris, 2004;ISBN 978-2-940032-14-3
*Giorgi Melikishvili, "Nairi-Urartu" (a monograph in Russian), Tbilisi, 1955.
*Giorgi Melikishvili, "About the history of ancient Georgia" (a monograph in Russian), Tbilisi, 1959.
*Boris B. Piotrovsky, "The Ancient Civilization of Urartu" (translated from Russian by James Hogarth), New York:Cowles Book Company, 1969.
* Dr. Thomas J. Samuelian, "Armenian origins: An overview of ancient and modern sources and theories", Yerevan, Iravunq, 2000, 34 p. ASIN: B0006E8NC26 (http://www.arak29.am/PDF_PPT/origins_2004.pdf).
* Martiros Kavoukjian, "Armenia, Subartu and Sumer: Armenia, Subartu, and Sumer : the Indo-European homeland and ancient Mesopotamia", Montreal, 1989, ISBN 0921885008
* M. Salvini, "Geschichte und Kultur der Urartäer", Darmstadt 1995.
* R.-B. Wartke, "Urartu - Das Reich am Ararat" In: Kulturgeschichte der Antiken Welt, Bd. 59, Mainz 1993.
*P.E. Zimansky, "Ecology and Empire: The Structure of the Urartian State", [Studies in Ancient Oriental Civilization] , Chicago: Oriental Institute, 1985.
* P.E. Zimansky, "Ancient Ararat. A Handbook of Urartian Studies", New York 1998.

External links

* [http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Urartu Historical Maps of Urartu by WikiMedia Commons]
* [http://www.asor.org/pubs/nea/ba/Zimansky.html An Urartian Ozymandias] - article by Paul Zimansky, "Biblical Archaeologist"
* [http://www.tacentral.com/erebuni/nairi.asp Nairi/Urartu] (A very detailed site)
* [http://www.allaboutturkey.com/urartu.htm Urartu Civilization]
* [http://ancientneareast.tripod.com/Urartu_Ararat.html Urartu (Greek Ararat)]
* [http://www.antiquities.org.il/article_Item_eng.asp?sec_id=17&sub_subj_id=410&id=941 Capital and Periphery in the Kingdom of Urartu] , Yehuda Dagan, Israel Antiquities Authority

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