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Urartu

These early peoples spoke a variety of languages but, probably around 1165bc, another people migrated into Armenia and they spoke the language from which present-day Armenian is descended. Their close affinity to the Phrygians (who lived in the north of present-day Turkey) is attested by classical writers such as Herodotus and Eudoxus and this suggests that they came into Armenia from the west.

During the 9th century bc the empire of Urartu developed eventually to incorporate much of Anatolia and most of present-day Armenia. Why the local rulers should have decided to co-operate under central leadership is not clear but it may have been the result of increasing Assyrian aggression. By the reign of the Urartian king Sarduri I (reigned c840-c825bc) the capital had been established at Tushpa, present-day Van in Turkey. Expansion was achieved through a series of military campaigns with Argishti I (reigned c785-c763bc) extending Urartian territory as far as present-day Gyumri and his successors taking the land west and south of Lake Sevan. Urartian expansion provoked Assyrian concern and in 735bc the Assyrian king Tiglath Pileser III invaded as far as Van. It was not, however, until 715bc that Urartu began to suffer a series of catastrophic defeats, not just against the Assyrians but also against other neighbours, and in 714bc King Rusa I committed suicide on hearing news of the sack of the temple at Musasir. The 7th century bc was to become a period of irreversible decline with Urartu finally disappearing around 590bc: it did, however, outlive Assyria which had fallen to Babylon in 612bc and its name survives to this day in the form of Mount Ararat.

This first state on Armenian territory, Urartu was briefly an important regional power able to rival powerful neighbours. An inscription reveals that it had 79 gods of whom 16 were female. Clearly the most important was Tushpa, god of war: he had over three times the volume of sacrifices offered to his nearest rival. Seventeen bulls and 34 sheep were specified, presumably on some regular basis. The accumulation of animal remains in temples must have been a problem: a room at one site yielded to archaeologists 4,000 headless sheep and calves sacrificed over a 35-year period. Armenia's metalworking skills were important in sustaining Urartu and irrigation works supplied water to vineyards, orchards and crops. The empire was more or less self-sufficient in most goods with the exception of tin (needed to make bronze) which was probably imported from Afghanistan. However, fragments of Chinese silk have been found, providing evidence of foreign trade.

Urartu's cities, linked by a network of good roads, were well developed with high walls, moats, and towers at their entrance gates. One Assyrian opponent claimed that the walls reached to 240 cubits - around 120m - but this looks suspiciously like exaggeration to prove his own valour. Van probably had a population of around 50,000 while Armavir had around 30,000. Numerous forts were built throughout the country for defence and as bases for future attacks. They were built in defensible sites and surrounded by walls whose height may have reached 20m and whose walls were from 2m to 3m thick. They were constructed of massive stone blocks up to a height of 2m. Above this level construction was in mud brick.


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