Ancient Argishtikhinili


Argishtikhinili was a town in the ancient kingdom of Urartu, established during the expansion of the Urartians in the Transcaucasus under their king Argishti I, and named in his honour. It lasted between the 8th and 6th centuries BC.

The ruins of the Argishtikhinili fortifications are found 15 km to the southwest of the present-day town of Armavir, Armenia, between the villages of Nor-Armavir and Armavir in the Armenian marz of Armavir. The town was founded on the left bank of the middle reaches of the Aras River. Over the centuries, the river channel has shifted to several kilometres south of the town.

King Argishti I of Urartu built a fortress in the area and named it Argishtikhinili, established during the expansion of the Urartians in the Transcaucasus under their king Argishti I, and named in his honour. It lasted between the 8th and 6th centuries BC.

The establishment of the town was preceded by a long-term Urartian expansion into the Transcaucasus, which was aimed at controlling the fertile Ararat plain.

From about 786 BC, the first year of his reign, Argishti I had begun a series of raids into the Ararat plain, the Akhurian River valley and Lake Sevan. In 782 BC, he founded the fortress of Erebuni, also known as Arin Berd (meaning the “Fortress of Blood”), on the site of modern Yerevan as a base for military operations, and in 776 BC, in the eleventh year of his reign, he founded Argishtikhinili.

Erebuni was one of several fortresses built along the northern Urartian border and was one of the most important political, economic and cultural centers of the vast kingdom. The name Yerevan itself is derived from Erebuni.

On an inscription found at Karmir Blur, the verb erebu-ni is used in the sense of “to seize, pillage, steal, or kidnap” followed by a changing direct object. As an unchanging direct object, scholars have conjectured that the word may also mean “to take” or “to capture” and thus believe that the Erebuni at the time of its founding meant “capture”, “conquest”, or “victory.”

The Circassian historian Amjad Jaimoukha gives an alternative etymology, however: eri (referring to the Èrs, a little-known ancient people inhabiting Northern modern Armenia, and to an extent, small areas of Northeast Turkey, Southern Georgia, and Northwest Azerbaijan) + buni.

Buni comes from the Nakh root which spawned the Chechen word bun meaning shelter or cabin; the root however simply means lair or shelter. It may have spawned the word van in Armenian (a language with a strong Urartian substratum), albeit possibly through different roots (Urartian biani rather than Èr buni) which similarly means shelter. Interpreted in that way, the fortress would be the capital city of the Èr people.

Van as a root is also present in numerous other placenames in historical Armenia, including the city Van, Lake Sevan, and Nakhichevan, so it is probable that the van in Yerevan is another direct translation of the root.

Jaimoukha states furthermore that the name of the Èr also serves as the root for the Arax river (also called the Yeraskhi river) and Arax valley (the Erashki gorge). The Armenian name is “Yeraskhadzor” (which Jaimoukha identifies as Èr + khi a Nakh water body suffix + Armenian dzor gorge).

Interestingly, in close proximity to the South is the “Nakhchradzor” gorge, perhaps an old home of the Dzurdzuks. During the time of the kingdom of Urartu, there was a northern region near the Yerashkhadzor gorge and a little northwest of Erebuni called “Eriaki”. The Medieval Georgian name used in the Georgian Chronicles for Lake Sevan was “Lake Ereta”.

The Èr people were a constituent of the state of Urartu, which was made up of several small states, which either incorporated or conquered them during the 8th century BCE. Their relation to the main Urartians (who were probably ethnically separate from them, judging from place names) is unknown. Linguistically, based on placenames, they are thought to have been a Nakh people.

Nothing is really known about the people of Eriaki prior to their conquest or interpretation by Urartu, but the probably had lived separately before that. Urartu was originally situated around the Lake Van, but expanded in all directions, including North, probably eventually incorporating or conquering the Èrs.

The Urartians themselves were probably distantly related to the Èrs, in the very least by language, and probably more than just that. They were part of the same language family, the Northeast Caucasian family, and although they were of different branches, the Nakh branch is thought to be the closest to the Hurro-Urartian branch to which Urartian belongs.

The expansion into the Ararat plain was briefly interrupted by minor clashes with the Assyrians at the south-western frontier of Urartu. During Argishti’s reign, Urartu was the zenith of its powers, and was able to easily overcome the armies of its neighbours, including the Assyrians.

After four years of warfare, Argishti was able to occupy the Ararat plain, and by 776 BC was able to found a town in the middle of the valley. This appears to have been part of Argishti’s grand plan to have a fortress on each corner of the Ararat Plain.

According to archaeologists, Argishtikhinili was intended to be an administrative centre rather than a military base, as from a military standpoint, its location was less than optimal. Argishti was then able to control the metalworking area of Metsamor.

According to the chronicles of Argishti I, Argishtikhinili was constructed in the land of the Azzi (or the Aza), and indeed, archaeological digs have demonstrated Bronze Age remains dating between the 3rd and the 1st millennia BC.

No documents pertaining to the Urartian campaigns against the Azzi survive; it is conjectured that following years of warfare in the Ararat Plain, the inhabitants of Azzi may have abandoned their township before its occupation by the Urartians.

Hayasa-Azzi or Azzi-Hayasa was a Late Bronze Age confederation formed between two kingdoms of Anatolia, Hayasa located South of Trabzon and Azzi, located north of the Euphrates and to the south of Hayasa. The Hayasa-Azzi confederation was in conflict with the Hittite Empire in the 14th century BC, leading up to the collapse of Hatti around 1190 BC.

Hittite inscriptions deciphered in the 1920s by the Swiss scholar Emil Forrer testify to the existence of a mountain country, the Hayasa and/or the Azzi, lying around Lake Van. Several prominent authorities agree in placing Azzi to the north of Ishuwa. Others see Hayasa and Azzi as identical.

The similarity of the name Hayasa to the endonym of the Armenians, Hayk or Hay and the Armenian name for Armenia, Hayastan has prompted the suggestion that the Hayasa-Azzi confereration was involved in the Armenian ethnogenesis.

This is open to objection due to the possibility of a mere coincidental similarity between the two names and the lack of geographic overlap, although Hayasa (the region) became known as Lesser Armenia (Pokr Hayastan in modern Armenian) in coming centuries.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia of 1962 posited that the Armenians derive from a migration of Hayasa into Shubria or Arme-Shupria (Akkadian: Armani-Subartu from the 3rd millennium BC) in the 12th century BC.

Shupria was a Hurrian-speaking kingdom, known from Assyrian sources beginning in the 13th century BC, located in the Armenian Highland, to the southwest of Lake Van, bordering on Ararat proper. The capital was called Ubbumu. Scholars have linked the district in the area called Arme or Armani, to the name Armenia.

Weidner interpreted textual evidence to indicate that after the Hurrian king Shattuara of Mitanni was defeated by Adad-nirari I of Assyria in the early 13th century BC, he then became ruler of a reduced vassal state known as Shubria or Subartu.

Together with Armani-Subartu (Hurri-Mitanni), Hayasa-Azzi and other populations of the region such as the Nairi fell under Urartian (Kingdom of Ararat) rule in the 9th century BC, and their descendants, according to most scholars, later contributed to the ethnogenesis of the early Armenians.

Subartu was apparently a polity in Northern Mesopotamia, at the upper Tigris. Most scholars accept Subartu as an early name for Assyria proper on the Tigris, although there are various other theories placing it sometimes a little farther to the east, north or west of there. Its precise location has not been identified. From the point of view of the Akkadian Empire, Subartu marked the northern geographical horizon, just as Martu, Elam and Sumer marked “west”, “east” and “south”, respectively.

Subartu may have been in the general sphere of influence of the Hurrians. There are various alternate theories associating the ancient Subartu with one or more modern cultures found in the region, including Armenian or Kurdish tribes. Some scholars, such as Harvard Professor Mehrdad Izady, claim to have identified Subartu with the current Kurdish tribe of Zibaris inhabiting the northern ring around Mosul up to Hakkari in Turkey.

The Sumerian mythological epic Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta lists the countries where the “languages are confused” as Subartu, Hamazi, Sumer, Uri-ki (Akkad), and the Martu land (the Amorites). Similarly, the earliest references to the “four quarters” by the kings of Akkad name Subartu as one of these quarters around Akkad, along with Martu, Elam, and Sumer. Subartu in the earliest texts seem to have been farming mountain dwellers, frequently raided for slaves.

Eannatum of Lagash was said to have smitten Subartu or Shubur, and it was listed as a province of the empire of Lugal-Anne-Mundu; in a later era Sargon of Akkad campaigned against Subar, and his grandson Naram-Sin listed Subar along with Armani (Armenians), which has been identified with Aleppo, among the lands under his control. Ishbi-Erra of Isin and Hammurabi also claimed victories over Subar.

Shupria is mentioned in the letter of Esarhaddon, a king of Assyria who reigned 681 – 669 BC., to the god Assur. Esarhaddon undertook an expedition against Shupria in 674, subjugating it. In Neo-Babylonian times (under Nabopolassar, Nebuchadrezzar II and Nabonidus), Subartu was used as a generic term for Assyria. The term was still current under Cambyses II, who mentions Subarian captives.

The Assyrian defeat of the Urartian king Sarduri II (ruled 764-735 BCE) began the decline of the Urartian kingdom. The Urartian Kingdom was at its peak during his reign. He succeeded his father Argishti I to the throne. The next Urartian king Rusa I was unable to withstand the Assyrians either, and after a terrible defeat at the hands of Sargon II, killed himself.

During his invasion of Urartu in 714 BC, Sargon dealt a serious blow to the Urartian religion, with his destruction of their chief god Ḫaldi’s shrine at Musasir. The intensive construction that characterised the reigns of previous kings of Urartu slowed down severely, with some amount of building work continuing only in the Transcaucasus.

In Argishtikhinili, building inscriptions from the reigns of Rusa II (son of Argishti II, ruled 685-639 BC) and Rusa III (son of Erimena, ruled c. 605-595 BC) have been found. Rusa II, intending to restore the glory of the cult of Ḫaldi, constructed similar temples at Argishtikhinili, Erebuni and Teishebaini, decorated with identical inscriptions that reinforce the Urartian gods by including the Babylonian god Marduk:

In the new temple, let a goat be slaughtered to the god Ḫaldi, let a bull be sacrificed to the god Ḫaldi, a sheep to the god Teisheba, a sheep to the god Shivini, a cow to the goddess Arubani, a sheep to the armour of the god Ḫaldi, a sheep to the gates of the god Ḫaldi, a sheep to the god Iuarsha… …I made all this.

Rusa, son of Argishti says: He who destroys this stele, he who profanes it, he who steals it, he who buries it in the earth, … he who proclaims “It is I who carried out these works”, and who replaces his own in place of my name, may he be destroyed by the gods Ḫaldi, Teisheba, Shivini, Marduk; may there not be either his name nor his family under the sun…”

Under Rusa II, much attention was lavished on the fortress of Teishebaini; indeed, treasures from lesser towns, including Argishtikhinili, were transferred there.

Rusa II attempted to stem the decline of Urartu but was largely unsuccessful. A new granary, mentioned in an inscription by king Rusa III, was probably the large major building works in Argishtikhinili.

Shortly thereafter, civilians and the army appear to have abandoned the fortress of Erebuni (at the time the main military centre in the Ararat Plain) on tactical grounds, and joined the main forces at the great fortress of Teishebiani, thereby putting Argishtikhinili at risk of attack. Indeed around 600 BC, this town was captured and torched.

Archaeologists have discovered evidence of assault weapons, major conflagration and extensive deaths of residents. Argishtikhinili was probably destroyed by the Scythians or the Medes, and thus lasted fewer than 200 years.

Ancient Argishtikhinili

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