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Map of eastern Anatolia. Design Jona Lendering. Urartu (Akkadian Uraštu; Hebrew Ararat): ancient kingdom, situated along the river Araxes (modern Aras), the Upper Tigris and the Upper Euphrates.

The original name of Urartu was Biainele; its capital the rock fortress Tušpa (modern Van). The country may be envisaged as a big rectangle, with Lake Van ("Thospitis") as its southwestern, Lake Urmia ("Matianus") as its southeastern, Lake Sevan ("Lichnitis") as its northeastern and Lake Çildir as its northwestern corner. In its center was the mountain Massis. This impressive summit was in the Middle Ages called after the kingdom: the Ararat, so well-known from the biblical story about Noah (Genesis 8.4) and the Flood., the online home of Ancient Warfare magazine
The Ararat, seen from the northwest. Photo Marco Prins.
Ararat, seen from the northwest.

The people of Urartu, famous metalworkers, spoke a language that was related to Hurrian (a language that has no other known connections), and they adapted the Assyrian cuneiform script for their own purposes. Most inscriptions -although there are not many- can be read: nearly all of them refer to royal construction activity. For a reconstruction of Urartian history we depend on Assyrian sources.

It appears that from the ninth century on, Urartu was ruled by a single dynasty, which expanded thre kingdom to the south in a period when Assyria was weak. The Euphrates became Urartu's western border; beyond that river, there were friendly contacts with the Phrygians

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 Urartian supreme god Haldi. (The event is recorded in the Assyrian Eponym List.) After this humiliation, Rusa refused to live and committed suicide.

The citadel of Van today. Photo Marco Prins.
The citadel of of Tušpa today
Aramu ... - c.840
Sardure I c.840 - c.825
Išpuine c.825 - c.810
Minua c.810 - c.785
Argište I c.785 - 763
Sardure II 763 - 734
Rusa I 734 - 714

An Anatolian fort on a relief from Nimrod, now in the Louvre, Paris (France). Photo Marco Prins.
An Anatolian fort on a relief from Nimrod, now in the Louvre (Paris)

Rusa was succeeded by Argište II, who chose for an 'internal expansion': the country along the Araxes was developed - something which is proved by archaeologists, who have established that there are far more seventh than eighth century settlements. Through Trapezus, there were trade contacts with the Greeks.

After a century of development, the fertile country had become a natural target for the nomads who lived north of the Caucasus (known to the Greeks as 'Scythians', Sakesinai, or Cimmerians). Archaeologists have discovered that many Urartian fortresses were destroyed before 600; arrowheads from a type known from the Ukraine indicate that the Scythians were responsible for the destruction.

Argište II 714 - c.685
Rusa II c.685 - c.645
Sardure III c.645 - c.635
Erimena c.635 - 629
Rusa III 629 - 601
Sardure IV 601 - 585
? 585 - 547

The ruins of Çavustepe. Photo Marco Prins.

Having suffered from the Scythian invasion, the country was an easy target for the successors of the Assyrians, the Babylonians and Medes. It is possible that Urartu was subject to the Median empire in 585 BCE, because in that year a Median army fought a battle at the river Halys in central Turkey against the Lydian king Alyattes. The actual annexation may have taken place as early as 605; in that case, the Median conqueror was Cyaxares. Alternatively, the actual annexation took place later, in 547, during the reign of Cyrus the Great, the Persian king who overthrew the Medians. It must be noted that sites like Çavustepe were not only destroyed by the Scythians, but by a second, unidentified enemy.

Urartaean flask. Allard Piersonmuseum, Amsterdam (Netherlands). Photo Jona Lendering.
Urartian flask (Allard Piersonmuseum, Amsterdam(

Whatever the precise circumstances of the fall of Urartu, in the second half of the sixth century, Urartu was a satrapy of the Achaemenid empire; the satrap had his palace in Yerevan (ancient name unknown).

Among the Urartian sites are:
  • Turkey: Adilșevaz, Altintepe, Anzaf, Astwadzashen, Çavustepe, Kayalidere, Patnos, Toprakkale, Van (ancient Tušpa)
  • Iran: Bastam, Hasanlu, Haftavan Tepe
  • Armenia: Karmir Blur
Urartu lived on as a satrapy, and later as an independent kingdom called Armenia.


  • Kemalletin Köruğlu & Erkan Konyar (eds.) Urartu. Transformation in the East (2011 Istanbul)
  • A. Kuhrt, The Ancient Near East, c.3000-330 BC. Vol.II (1995 London) 548-561
  • R. Rollinger, "The Median 'Empire', the End of Urartu, and Cyrus' Campaign in 547" in: Proceedings of the First International Conference on Ancient Cultural Relations between Iran and West Asia (2004).
© Jona Lendering for
Livius.Org, 1998
Revision: 12 Oct. 2011
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