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Armenia History Urartu Kingdom

Urartu Kingdom

Urartu 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.

As early as the reign of the Assyrian king Shalmanaser I (1280-1266 BC), the first mention of Urartu is made, under the name «Uruatri».

Shalmanaser Is texts describe a campaign against 8 countries collectively called the Uruatri.

The extent of the country is not described, but it is likely other tribes living in the area around Van were included in the alliance, since the Assyrian name Uruatri had no ethnic significance but was probably a descriptive term (perhaps meaning «the mountainous country»). In texts written in the name of Shalmanaser Is son, King Tukulti-Ninutra I, the tribes are referred to as the Nairi.

In the 11th c. BC Assyrian annals return to the name Uruatri or Uruartu, while in others both Uruatri and Nairi are used interchangeably. Dominant tribes were absorbing city-states, forming more than an alliance, they were becoming kingdoms, and through the Urartians, an empire.

By the 11th c BC, the Nairi tribe was usurped by the Urartians for hegemony in the region, and Assyrian cuneiform from this period record the first mention of Urartu as a strong power.

The Assyrians went into almost 200 years of decline, allowing the alliance in the Armenian Plateau to develop and expand its influence. Hurrian influence in design and weapons continued, but gradually the Urartu tribe began to absorb Assyrian influences, including the use of cuneiform to replace pictogram writing.

By the 9th c. BC the Urartu kingdom had established its regional power far beyond its capital at Tushpa (present day Van), invading Mesopotamia, and unifying the tribes in the Armenian plateau into one centralized state. The Urartians consistently cut Assyria from the trade routes to the Mediterranean, and enjoyed a monopoly on commerce between Asia and the West.

The Urartians called their country Biainili (the name Urartu comes from the Assyrian language).

The Urartians had a centralized government, led by a king, and were the first ancestral Armenians to successfully bind a federation of tribes into a large empire. The rise of the empire of Urartu is centered around three kings: Menua, Argishti and Sardur I.

Menua in particular established the outlines of the empire, and organized the centralized administrative structure that enabled his son Argishti and grandson Sardur II to extend the empire to its furthest reaches.

During his reign Menuas reached the northern spurs of Mount Ararat and reached the banks of the Araks River. Menua developed extensive irrigation within the Urartian Empire, some of which are still operating. Of these, the mistakenly called Shamiram (or Semiramis) canal was built during the reign of Menua, and still supplies water to the region of Van.

In the 6th c. BC, Urartu and Assyria were both weakened by constant warfare. Having formed an alliance with Scythians that had migrated from the north, Urartu ended abruptly ca. 585 BC after the Medes -- assisted by Scythians -- invaded and destroyed the capital of Tushpa.

Remains of the Urartian Empire in Armenia include the citadels of Erebuni, Karmir Blur, Armavir (Argishtikhinili), and three fortified cities on Lake Sevan. Urartu occurred at the same time as the Doric invasion of Greece, Babylon, Assyria, the New Kingdom in Egypt, and the Chan dynasty in China.

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