Urartu (Akkadian Uraštu; Hebrew Ararat): ancient kingdom, situated along the river Araxes (modern Aras), the Upper Tigris and the Upper Euphrates.

The citadel of Van
The citadel of Van

The original name of Urartu was Biainele; its capital was the rock fortress Tušpa (modern Van). The country may be envisaged as a big rectangle, with Lake Van ("Thospitis") as its center, Lake Urmia ("Matianus") as its southeastern, Lake Sevan ("Lichnitis") as its northeastern and the Upper Euphrates as its western 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 Noahnote and the Great Flood.

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 building activity. For a reconstruction of Urartian history we depend on Assyrian sources.

Urartaean inscription
Urartaean inscription

It appears that from the ninth century on, Urartu was ruled by a single dynasty, which expanded the 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.


... - c.840

Sardure I

c.840 - c.825


c.825 - c.810


c.810 - c.785

Argište I

c.785 - 763

Sardure II

763 - 734

Rusa I

734 - 714

Relief of an Anatolian fort (from the Assyrian city Nimrud)
Relief of an Anatolian fort (from the Assyrian city Nimrud)

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 Greece, which explains why lions in Greek art of this period resemble the lions made by Urartaean sculptors.

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", Sacae, Sakesinai, or Cimmerians). Archaeologists have discovered that many Urartian fortresses were destroyed before 600; arrowheads from a type known from the Ukraine suggest that the Scythians were responsible for the destruction, although there are alternative explanations.

Argište II

714 - c.685

Rusa II

c.685 - c.645

Sardure III

c.645 - c.635


c.635 - 629

Rusa III

629 - 601

Sardure IV

601 - 585


585 - 547

Çavustepe, general view
Çavustepe, general view

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 some kind of Median supremacy 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 also by a second, unidentified enemy.

Bastam, wall
Bastam, wall

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:

Urartaean bottle
Urartaean bottle

Urartu lived on as a satrapy, and later as an independent kingdom called Armenia.


This page was created in 1998; last modified on 22 May 2017.