Urartu (Assyrian Urarṭu, Urartian Biainili) was an ancient kingdom of Armenia located in the mountainous plateau between Asia Minor, Mesopotamia, and Caucasus mountains, later known as the Armenian Highland, and it centered around Lake Van (present-day eastern Turkey). The kingdom existed from ca. 860 BC, emerging from Late Bronze Age Nairi polities, until 585 BC. The name corresponds to the Biblical Ararat.
As a nation, it lived through many more centuries than that, but it was only between 860 and 585 B.C. that it actually disputed with Assyria the right to dominate western Asia. Its beginnings are lost in the mists of pre-history. Its people must have migrated from somewhere to the west into the Armenian plateau, then for the most part known as Nairi. They called themselves Khaldians or children of the god Khaldis, just as the name of the Assyrians reflects the name of their god Assur.
The Urartians had a number of traits in common with the Hurrians, an earlier Middle Eastern people. Both nations spoke closely related languages and must have sprung from a common ancestor nation (perhaps 3000 BC or earlier). Although the Urartians owed much of their cultural heritage to the Hurrians, they were to a much greater degree indebted to the Assyrians, from whom they borrowed script and literary forms, military and diplomatic practices, and artistic motifs and styles.
Its original name was Biainele; its capital the rock fortress Tušpa (modern Van). The country may be envisaged as a big rectangle, with Lake Van as its southwestern, Lake Urmia as its southeastern, Lake Sevan as its northeastern and Lake Çildir as its northwestern corner. Ancient Armenia was larger than modern Armenia.
The country was originally called Uraštu or Urartu, and in its center was the holy mountain Baris. This mountain was later called after the kingdom: the Ararat, so well-known from the biblical story about Noah (Genesis 8.4) and the Flood.
From the ninth century on, Urartu was ruled by a single dynasty, which expanded Armenia to the south in a period when Assyria was weak. The Euphrates became Armenia's western border. However, Assyria recuperated and in 714 BCE, the Armenian king Rusa was defeated by the Assyrian king Sargon, who marched almost unopposed through the country and took possession of the statue of the Armenian supreme god Haldi. (The story is told in the Assyrian Eponym List.) After this humiliation, Rusa refused to live and committed suicide.
Friedrich Eduard Schulz travelled to the Van area in 1827 on behalf of the French Oriental Society, inspired by accounts of queen Šamiram) by the 5th century Armenian historian Moses of Chorene. Schulz discovered the ruins of a city and numerous inscriptions, partly in Assyrian, partly in a hitherto unknown language. Schulze also re-discovered the Kelišin, an Assyrian-Urartian bilingual inscription located on the Kelišin pass on the Iraqi-Iranian border. Schulz was killed by Kurds in 1829 near Baskale and parts of his notes were lost. In 1828, British Assyriologist Sir Henry Creswicke Rawlinson attempted to copy the inscription on the stele, but failed because of the ice on the stele's front side. German scholar R. Rosch made a similar attempt a few years later, but he and his party were assaulted and killed. Sir Austen Henry Layard in the late 1840s described the rock tombs of Van-Kelesi and the Argišti chamber. From the 1870s, local residents began to plunder the Toprakkale ruins, selling artefacts to European scholars.
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. 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 Carl Ferdinand Friedrich 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, the regional ruler, Sultan Abdul Hamid II, agreed to pay Belck a sum of 80,000 gold marks in reparation. During World War I, the area came under Russian control. In 1916, Russian scholars Nikolay Yakovlevich Marr and Iosif Abgarovich Orbeli discovered 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 American scholars at Kirsoop and Silva Lake were cut short by World War II, and most of their finds were sunk when a German submarine torpedoed their ship. Athenia. The surviving documents were published by Manfred Korfmann in 1977. Following the war, excavations were at first restricted to Soviet Armenia. beginning in 1956 Charles Burney excavated in the Van area, and from 1959, Turkish expeditions under Tahsin Özgüç excavated Altintepe and Arif Erzen.
In 1976, an Italian party led by Mirjo Salvini finally reached the Kelishin stele, accompanied by a massive military escort. The First Gulf War again closed the area to archaeological research. After the Gulf War, O. Belli resumed excavation 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 resumed excavations, only a third to half of the 300 known Urartian sites in Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Armenia have been examined by archeologists (Wartke 1993). Without protection of these sites, local residents would continue to plunder them, taking advantage of the lucrative black market trade.
Additional Reading Edit
Guitty Azarpay, Urartian Art and Artifacts (1968), is a chronological study. Boris B. Piotrovsky, Urartu (1967), offers a popular survey of the kingdom's art, while his The Ancient Civilization of Urartu (1969) is an illustrated political and cultural history. Maurits Nanning van Loon, Urartian Art: Its Distinctive Traits in the Light of New Excavations (1966), includes a summary of political and economic history. Paul E. Zimansky, Ecology and Empire—The Structure of the Urartian State (1985), is a more recent study.