Cradle of Civilization

A Blog about the Birth of Our Civilisation and Development

The Hurro-Urartians, the horse and the wheel

Posted by Fredsvenn on December 14, 2014

The Hyksos, c. 1600 BCE

An international team of archaeologists has uncovered the earliest known evidence of horses being domesticated by humans. The discovery suggests that horses were both ridden and milked. The findings could point to the very beginnings of horse domestication and the origins of the horse breeds we know today. Led by the Universities of Exeter and Bristol (UK), the research is published on Friday 6 March 2009 in journal Science.

Some researchers do not consider an animal to be “domesticated” until it exhibits physical changes consistent with selective breeding, or at least having been born and raised entirely in captivity. Until that point, they classify captive animals as merely “tamed”.

Those who hold to this theory of domestication point to a change in skeletal measurements was detected among horse bones recovered from middens dated about 2500 BCE in eastern Hungary in Bell-Beaker sites, and in later Bronze Age sites in the Russian steppes, Spain, and eastern Europe.

Horse bones from these contexts exhibited an increase in variability, thought to reflect the survival under human care of both larger and smaller individuals than appeared in the wild; and a decrease in average size, thought to reflect penning and restriction in diet. Horse populations that showed this combination of skeletal changes probably were domesticated.

Most evidence suggests that horses were increasingly controlled by humans after about 2500 BCE. However, more recently there have been skeletal remains found at a site in Kazakhstan which display the smaller, more slender limbs characteristic of corralled animals, dated to 3500 BCE.

The researchers have traced the origins of horse domestication back to the Botai Culture (c. 4300–3100 BC) of Kazakhstan circa 5,500 years ago. It was named after the settlement of Botai in Aqmola Province of Kazakhstan. The Botai culture has two other large sites: Krasnyi Yar, and Vasilkovka.

Evidence reported in 2009 for pottery containing mare’s milk and of horse bones with telltale signs of being bred after domestication have demonstrated a much stronger case for the Botai culture as a major user of domestic horses by about 3,500 BC, close to 1,000 years earlier than the previous scientific consensus.

This is about 1,000 years earlier than thought and about 2,000 years earlier than domestic horses are known to have been in Europe. Their findings strongly suggest that horses were originally domesticated, not just for riding, but also to provide food, including milk.

Domesticated horses could have been adopted from neighboring herding societies in the steppes west of the Ural Mountains, where the Khvalynsk culture had herds of cattle and sheep, and perhaps had domesticated horses, as early as 4800 BCE.

The oldest possible archaeological indicator of a changed relationship between horses and humans is the appearance about 4800-4400 BCE of horse bones and carved images of horses in Chalcolithic graves of the early Khvalynsk culture and the Samara culture in the middle Volga region of Russia.

At the Khvalynsk cemetery near the town of Khvalynsk, 158 graves of this period were excavated. Of these, 26 graves contained parts of sacrificed domestic animals, and additional sacrifices occurred in ritual deposits on the original ground surface above the graves. Ten graves contained parts of lower horse legs; two of these also contained the bones of domesticated cattle and sheep.

At least 52 domesticated sheep or goats, 23 domesticated cattle, and 11 horses were sacrificed at Khvalynsk. The inclusion of horses with cattle and sheep and the exclusion of obviously wild animals together suggest that horses were categorized symbolically with domesticated animals.

Together these archaeological clues suggest that horses had a symbolic importance in the Khvalynsk and Samara cultures that they had lacked earlier, and that they were associated with humans, domesticated cattle, and domesticated sheep. Thus, the earliest phase in the domestication of the horse might have begun during the period 4800-4400 BCE.

Horses were first domesticated around 4600 BCE in the Caspian Steppe, perhaps somewhere around the Don or the lower Volga, and soon became a defining element of steppe culture. Nevertheless it is unlikely that R1b was already present in the eastern steppes at the time, so the domestication of the horse should be attributed to the indigenous R1a people.

It is not yet entirely clear when R1b crossed over from eastern Anatolia to the Pontic-Caspian steppe. This might have happened with the appearance of the Dnieper-Donets culture (c. 5100-4300 BCE). This was the first truly Neolithic society in the Pontic-Caspian Steppe. Domesticated animals (cattle, sheep and goats) were herded throughout the steppes and funeral rituals were elaborate.

Sheep wool would play an important role in Indo-European society, notably in the Celtic and Germanic (R1b branches of the Indo-Europeans) clothing traditions up to this day.

However, many elements indicate a continuity in the Dnieper-Donets culture with the previous Mesolithic hunter-gatherers, and at the same time an influence from the Balkans and Carpathians, with regular imports of pottery and copper objects.

It is therefore more likely that Dnieper-Donets marked the transition mitanof indigenous R1a and/or I2a1b people to early agriculture, perhaps with an influx of Near Eastern farmers from ‘Old Europe’. Mitochondrial DNA sequences from Dnieper-Donets culture showed clear similarities with those of the Cucuteni-Trypillian culture in the Carpathians (haplogroups H, T and U3).

The first clearly Proto-Indo-European culture was Sredny Stog (4600-3900 BCE), when small kurgan burials begin to appear, with the distinctive posturing of the dead on the back with knees raised and oriented toward the northeast, which would be found in later steppe cultures as well.

There is evidence of population blending from the variety of skull shapes. Towards the end of the 5th millennium an elite start to develop with cattle, horses and copper used as status symbols.

Another migration across the Caucasus happened shortly before 3700 BCE, when the Maykop culture, the world’s first Bronze Age society, suddenly materialized in the north-west Caucasus, apparently out of nowhere.

The origins of Maykop are still uncertain, but archeologists have linked it to contemporary Chalcolithic cultures in the Armenian Highland. Archeology also shows a clear diffusion of bronze working and kurgan-type burials from the Maykop culture to the Pontic Steppe, where the Yamna culture developed soon afterwards (from 3500 BCE).

Kurgan (a.k.a. tumulus) burials would become a dominant feature of ancient Indo-European societies and were widely used by the Celts, Romans, Germanic tribes, and Scythians, among others.

Around 3500–3000 BCE, horse bones began to appear more frequently in archaeological sites beyond their center of distribution in the Eurasian steppes and were seen in central Europe, the middle and lower Danube valley, and the North Caucasus and Transcaucasia. Evidence of horses in these areas had been rare before, and as numbers increased, larger animals also began to appear in horse remains.

This expansion in range was contemporary with the Botai culture, where there are indications that horses were corralled and ridden. This does not necessarily mean that horses were first domesticated in the steppes, but the horse-hunters of the steppes certainly pursued wild horses more than in any other region. This geographic expansion is interpreted by many zoologists as an early phase in the spread of domesticated horses.

Later, images of horses, identified by their short ears, flowing manes, and tails that bushed out at the dock, began to appear in artistic media in Mesopotamia during the Akkadian period, 2300-2100 BCE. The word for “horse”, literally translated as ass of the mountains, first appeared in Sumerian documents during the Third Dynasty of Ur, about 2100-2000 BCE.

The kings of the Third Dynasty of Ur apparently fed horses to lions for royal entertainment, perhaps indicating that horses were still regarded as more exotic than useful, but King Shulgi, about 2050 BCE, compared himself to “a horse of the highway that swishes its tail”, and one image from his reign showed a man apparently riding a horse at full gallop.

Horses were imported into Mesopotamia and the lowland Near East in larger numbers after 2000 BCE in connection with the beginning of chariot warfare.

A further expansion, into the lowland Near East and northwestern China, also happened around 2000 BCE, again apparently in conjunction with the chariot. Although Equus bones of uncertain species are found in some Late Neolithic sites in China dated before 2000 BCE, Equus caballus or Equus ferus bones first appeared in multiple sites and in significant numbers in sites of the Qijia and Siba cultures, 2000-1600 BCE, in Gansu and the northwestern provinces of China.

The Qijia culture was in contact with cultures of the Eurasian steppes, as shown through similarities between Qijia and Late Bronze Age steppe metallurgy, so it was probably through these contacts that domesticated horses first became frequent in northwestern China.

In 2008, archaeologists announced the discovery of rock art in Somalia’s northern Dhambalin region, which the researchers suggest is one of the earliest known depictions of a hunter on horseback. The rock art is in the Ethiopian-Arabian style, dated to 1000 to 3000 BCE.

While riding may have been practiced during the 4th and 3rd millennia BCE, and the disappearance of “Old European” settlements may be related to attacks by horseback-mounted warriors, the clearest impact by horses on ancient warfare was by pulling chariots, introduced c. 2000 BCE.

Horses in the Bronze Age were relatively small by modern standards, which led some theorists to believe the ancient horses were too small to be ridden and so must have been driven.

The earliest wooden wheels (disks with a hole for the axle) are found in the Ceramic Neolithic Halafian culture (6500–4500 BC). The period is a continuous development out of the earlier Pottery Neolithic and is located primarily in south-eastern Turkey, Syria, and northern Iraq, although Halaf-influenced material is found throughout Greater Mesopotamia.

Early wheels were simple wooden disks with a hole for the axle. Because of the structure of wood, a horizontal slice of a tree trunk is not suitable, as it does not have the structural strength to support relevant stresses without failing; rounded pieces of longitudinal boards are required.

The spoked wheel was invented more recently, and allowed the construction of lighter and swifter vehicles. In the Harappan civilization of the Indus Valley and Northwestern India, we find toy-cart wheels made of clay with lines which have been interpreted as spokes painted or in relief, and a symbol interpreted as a spoked wheel in the script of the seals, already in the second half of the 3rd millennium BC.

The earliest known examples of wooden spoked wheels are in the context of the Andronovo culture, dating to c. 2000 BC. Soon after this, horse cultures of the Caucasus region used horse-drawn spoked-wheel war chariots for the greater part of three centuries.

They moved deep into the Greek peninsula where they joined with the existing Mediterranean peoples to give rise, eventually, to classical Greece after the breaking of Minoan dominance and consolidations led by pre-classical Sparta and Athens. Celtic chariots introduced an iron rim around the wheel in the 1st millennium BC.

Halaf pottery has been found in other parts of northern Mesopotamia, such as at Nineveh and Tepe Gawra, Chagar Bazar and at many sites in Anatolia (Turkey) suggesting that it was widely used in the region.

The Halaf period was succeeded by the Halaf-Ubaid Transitional period (~5500 – 5200 cal. BCE) and then by the Ubaid period (~5200 – 4000 cal. BCE).

In South Mesopotamia the period is the earliest known period on the alluvium although it is likely earlier periods exist obscured under the alluvium. In the south it has a very long duration between about 6500 and 3800 BC when it is replaced by the Uruk period.

The Ubaid 1 period, sometimes called Eridu (5300–4700 BC), a phase limited to the extreme south of Iraq, on what was then the shores of the Persian Gulf, shows clear connection to the Samarra culture to the north.

This period saw the establishment of the first permanent settlement south of the 5 inch rainfall isohyet. These people pioneered the growing of grains in the extreme conditions of aridity, thanks to the high water tables of Southern Iraq.

The Ubaid 2 period (4800–4500 BC), after the type site of the same name, saw the development of extensive canal networks from major settlements. Irrigation agriculture, which seems to have developed first at Choga Mami (4700–4600 BC) and rapidly spread elsewhere, form the first required collective effort and centralised coordination of labour in Mesopotamia.

The Ubaid 3 and 4 period (4500–4000 BC), sometimes called Ubaid I and Ubaid II, saw a period of intense and rapid urbanisation with the Ubaid culture spread into northern Mesopotamia replacing (after a hiatus) the Halaf culture. Ubaid artifacts spread also all along the Arabian littoral, showing the growth of a trading system that stretched from the Mediterranean coast through to Oman.

The archaeological record shows that Arabian Bifacial/Ubaid period came to an abrupt end in eastern Arabia and the Oman peninsula at 3800 BC, just after the phase of lake lowering and onset of dune reactivation. At this time, increased aridity led to an end in semi-desert nomadism, and there is no evidence of human presence in the area for approximately 1000 years, the so-called “Dark Millennium”.

This might be due to the 5.9 kiloyear event, one of the most intense aridification events during the Holocene Epoch, at the end of the Older Peron. It occurred around 3900 BC (5,900 years BP), ending the Neolithic Subpluvial and probably initiated the most recent desiccation of the Sahara desert.

Thus, it also triggered worldwide migration to river valleys, such as from central North Africa to the Nile valley, which eventually led to the emergence of the first complex, highly organized, state-level societies in the 4th millennium BC. It is associated with the last round of the Sahara pump theory.

In the Middle East the 5.9 kiloyear event contributed to the abrupt end of the Ubaid period. It was associated with an abandonment of unwalled villages and the rapid growth of hierarchically structured walled cities, and in the Jemdet Nasr period, with the first book-keeping scripts.

The Ubaid period as a whole, based upon the analysis of grave goods, was one of increasingly polarised social stratification and decreasing egalitarianism. Bogucki describes this as a phase of “Trans-egalitarian” competitive households, in which some fall behind as a result of downward social mobility.

Morton Fried and Elman Service have hypothesised that Ubaid culture saw the rise of an elite class of hereditary chieftains, perhaps heads of kin groups linked in some way to the administration of the temple shrines and their granaries, responsible for mediating intra-group conflict and maintaining social order.

It would seem that various collective methods, perhaps instances of what Thorkild Jacobsen called primitive democracy, in which disputes were previously resolved through a council of one’s peers, were no longer sufficient for the needs of the local community.

Ubaid culture originated in the south, but still has clear connections to earlier cultures in the region of middle Iraq. The appearance of the Ubaid folk has sometimes been linked to the so-called Sumerian problem, related to the origins of Sumerian civilisation.

Whatever the ethnic origins of this group this culture saw for the first time a clear tripartite social division between intensive subsistence peasant farmers with crops and animals coming from the north, tent-dwelling nomadic pastoralists dependent upon their herds, and hunter-fisher folk of the Arabian littoral, living in reed huts.

Stein and Özbal describe the Near East oikumene that resulted from Ubaid expansion, contrasting it to the colonial expansionism of the later Uruk period. “A contextual analysis comparing different regions shows that the Ubaid expansion took place largely through the peaceful spread of an ideology, leading to the formation of numerous new indigenous identities that appropriated and transformed superficial elements of Ubaid material culture into locally distinct expressions”.

In North Mesopotamia the period runs only between about 5300 and 4300 BC. It is preceded by the Halaf period and the Halaf-Ubaid Transitional period and succeeded by the Late Chalcolithic period.

Shulaveri-Shomu culture is a Late Neolithic/Eneolithic culture that existed on the territory of present-day Georgia, Azerbaijan and the Armenian Highlands. The culture is dated to mid-6th or early-5th millennia BC and is thought to be one of the earliest known Neolithic cultures.

The Shulaveri-Shomu culture begins after the 8.2 kiloyear event which was a sudden decrease in global temperatures starting ca. 6200 BC and which lasted for about two to four centuries.

Shulaveri culture predates the Kura-Araxes culture and surrounding areas, which is assigned to the period of ca. 4000 – 2200 BC, and had close relation with the middle Bronze Age culture called Trialeti culture (ca. 3000 – 1500 BC). Sioni culture of Eastern Georgia possibly represents a transition from the Shulaveri to the Kura-Arax cultural complex.

In around ca. 6000–4200 B.C the Shulaveri-Shomu and other Neolithic/Chalcolithic cultures of the Southern Caucasus use local obsidian for tools, raise animals such as cattle and pigs, and grow crops, including grapes.

Many of the characteristic traits of the Shulaverian material culture (circular mudbrick architecture, pottery decorated by plastic design, anthropomorphic female figurines, obsidian industry with an emphasis on production of long prismatic blades) are believed to have their origin in the Near Eastern Neolithic (Hassuna, Halaf).

Evidence of wheeled vehicles appears from the second half of the 4th millennium BC, near-simultaneously in Mesopotamia (Sumerian civilization), the Northern Caucasus (Maykop culture) and Central Europe, so that the question of which culture originally invented the wheeled vehicle is still unsolved.

The Kura–Araxes culture or the early trans-Caucasian culture was a civilization that existed from 3400 BC until about 2000 BC, which has traditionally been regarded as the date of its end, but it may have disappeared as early as 2600 or 2700 BC.

The earliest evidence for this culture is found on the Ararat plain; thence it spread northward in Caucasus by 3000 BC (but never reaching Colchis), and during the next millennium it proceeded westward to the Erzurum plain, southwest to Cilicia, and to the southeast into an area below the Urmia basin and Lake Van, and finally down to the borders of present day Syria.

The economy was based on farming and livestock-raising (especially of cattle and sheep). They grew grain and various orchard crops, and are known to have used implements to make flour. They raised cattle, sheep, goats, dogs, and in its later phases, horses.

There is evidence of trade with Mesopotamia, as well as Asia Minor. It is, however, considered above all to be indigenous to the Caucasus, and its major variants characterized (according to Caucasus historian Amjad Jaimoukha) later major cultures in the region.

It may have given rise to the later Khirbet Kerak ware culture found in Syria and Canaan after the fall of the Akkadian Empire. Jaimoukha believes that its southern expanse is attributable primarily to Mitanni and the Hurrians.

They are also remarkable for the production of wheeled vehicles (wagons and carts), which were sometimes included in burial kurgans. Their metal goods were widely distributed, recorded in the Volga, Dnieper and Don-Donets systems in the north, into Syria and Palestine in the south, and west into Anatolia.

Hurrian and Urartian elements are quite probable, as are Northeast Caucasian ones. Some authors subsume Hurrians and Urartians under Northeast Caucasian as well as part of the Alarodian theory.

The presence of Kartvelian languages was also highly probable. Influences of Semitic languages and Indo-European languages are also highly possible, though the presence of the languages on the lands of the Kura–Araxes culture is more controversial.

The Maykop culture (also spelled Maikop), ca. 3700 BC-3000 BC, was a major Bronze Age archaeological culture in the Western Caucasus region of Southern Russia.

It extends along the area from the Taman Peninsula at the Kerch Strait to near the modern border of Dagestan and southwards to the Kura River. The culture takes its name from a royal burial found in Maykop kurgan in the Kuban River valley.

In the south it borders the approximately contemporaneous Kura-Araxes culture (3500-2200 BC), which extends into eastern Anatolia and apparently influenced it. To the north is the Yamna culture, including the Novotitorovka culture (3300—2700), which it overlaps in territorial extent. It is contemporaneous with the late Uruk period in Mesopotamia.

The Kuban River is navigable for much of its length and provides an easy water-passage via the Sea of Azov to the territory of the Yamna culture, along the Don and Donets River systems. The Maykop culture was thus well-situated to exploit the trading possibilities with the central Ukraine area.

New data revealed the similarity of artifacts from the Maykop culture with those found recently in the course of excavations of the ancient city of Tell Khazneh in northern Syria, the construction of which dates back to 4000 BC.

The Leyla-Tepe culture is a culture of archaeological interest from the Chalcolithic era. Its population was distributed on the southern slopes of the Central Caucasus (modern Azerbaijan, Agdam District), from 4350 until 4000 B.C. Similar amphora burials in the South Caucasus are found in the Western Georgian Jar-Burial Culture.

The culture has also been linked to the north Ubaid period monuments, in particular, with the settlements in the Eastern Anatolia Region. The settlement is of a typical Western-Asian variety, with the dwellings packed closely together and made of mud bricks with smoke outlets.

It has been suggested that the Leyla-Tepe were the founders of the Maykop culture. An expedition to Syria by the Russian Academy of Sciences revealed the similarity of the Maykop and Leyla-Tepe artifacts with those found recently while excavating the ancient city of Tel Khazneh I, from the 4th millennium BC.

In 2010, nearly 200 Bronze Age sites were reported stretching over 60 miles between the Kuban and Nalchik rivers, at an altitude of between 4,620 feet and 7,920 feet. They were all “visibly constructed according to the same architectural plan, with an oval courtyard in the center, and connected by roads.”

The Maykop people lived sedentary lives, and horses formed a very low percentage of their livestock, which mostly consisted of pigs and cattle. Archaeologists have discovered a unique form of bronze cheek-pieces, which consists of a bronze rod with a twisted loop in the middle and a thread through her nodes that connects with bridle, halter strap and headband. Notches and bumps on the edges of the cheek-pieces were, apparently, to fix nose and under-lip belts.

The earliest well-dated depiction of a wheeled vehicle (here a wagon—four wheels, two axles) is on the Bronocice pot, a c. 3500 – 3350 BC clay pot excavated in a Funnelbeaker culture settlement in southern Poland.

The oldest securely dated real wheel-axle combination that from Stare Gmajne near Ljubljana in Slovenia (Ljubljana Marshes Wooden Wheel) is now dated in 2σ-limits to 3340-3030 cal BC, the axle to 3360-3045 cal BC.

Models of two-wheeled carts from c. 3000 BCE found at Altyn-Depe are the earliest complete evidence of wheeled transport in Central Asia, though model wheels have come from contexts possibly somewhat earlier. Judging by the type of harness, carts were initially pulled by oxen, or a bull. However camels were domesticated within the BMAC. A model of a cart drawn by a camel of c. 2200 BCE was found at Altyn-Depe.

In China, the wheel was certainly present with the adoption of the chariot in c. 1200 BC, although Barbieri-Low argues for earlier Chinese wheeled vehicles, c. 2000 BC.

The ethnicity of the people of Mitanni is difficult to ascertain. A treatise on the training of chariot horses by Kikkuli contains a number of Indo-Aryan glosses. Kammenhuber (1968) suggested that this vocabulary was derived from the still undivided Indo-Iranian language, but Mayrhofer (1974) has shown that specifically Indo-Aryan features are present.

Pharaoh Thutmose III of Egypt,  the sixth Pharaoh of the Eighteenth Dynasty, mention in the 33rd year of his reign (1446 BC) as the people of Ermenen, and says in their land “heaven rests upon its four pillars”. The name is connected to the Indo-European root Ar- meaning “assemble/create” which is vastly used in names of or regarding the Sun, light, or fire, found in Ararat, Aryan, Arta etc.

Armani, (also given as Armanum) was an ancient kingdom mentioned by Sargon of Akkad and his grandson Naram-Sin of Akkad as stretching from Ibla to Bit-Nanib, its location is heavily debated, and it continued to be mentioned in the later Assyrian inscriptions.

Aratta is a land that appears in Sumerian myths surrounding Enmerkar and Lugalbanda, two early and possibly mythical kings of Uruk also mentioned on the Sumerian king list.

Aratta is described as follows in Sumerian literature. It is a fabulously wealthy place full of gold, silver, lapis lazuli and other precious materials, as well as the artisans to craft them. It is remote and difficult to reach, the home to the goddess Inanna, who transfers her allegiance from Aratta to Uruk, but is conquered by Enmerkar of Uruk.

Inanna (Akkadian: Ištar) is the Sumerian goddess of love, fertility, and warfare, and goddess of the E-Anna temple at the city of Uruk, her main centre. An is so prominently associated with the E-anna temple in the city of Uruk that there are good reasons for believing this place to be the original seat of the An cult. If this is correct, then the goddess Inanna (or Ishtar) of Uruk may at one time have been his consort.

Inanna’s name derives from Lady of Heaven (Sumerian: nin-an-ak). The cuneiform sign of Inanna; however, is not a ligature of the signs lady (Sumerian: nin; Cuneiform: SAL.TUG) and sky (Sumerian: an; Cuneiform: AN).

These difficulties have led some early Assyriologists to suggest that originally Inanna may have been a Proto-Euphratean goddess, possibly related to the Hurrian mother goddess Hannahannah, accepted only latterly into the Sumerian pantheon, an idea supported by her youthfulness, and that, unlike the other Sumerian divinities, at first she had no sphere of responsibilities. The view that there was a Proto-Euphratean substrate language in Southern Iraq before Sumerian is not widely accepted by modern Assyriologists.

Mitanni (Hittite cuneiform Mi-ta-an-ni; also Mittani Mi-it-ta-ni) or Hanigalbat (Assyrian Hanigalbat, Khanigalbat cuneiform Ḫa-ni-gal-bat) or Naharin in ancient Egyptian texts was a Hurrian-speaking state in northern Syria and southeast Anatolia from ca. 1500 BC–1300 BC. Their sphere of influence is shown in Hurrian place names, personal names and the spread through Syria and the Levant of a distinct pottery type.

The Mitanni kingdom was referred to as the Maryannu, Nahrin or Mitanni by the Egyptians, the Hurri by the Hittites, and the Hanigalbat by the Assyrians. The different names seem to have referred to the same kingdom and were used interchangeably, according to Michael C. Astour.

Hittite annals mention a people called Hurri (Ḫu-ur-ri), located in northeastern Syria. A Hittite fragment, probably from the time of Mursili I, mentions a “King of the Hurri”, or “Hurrians”.

The Assyro-Akkadian version of the text renders “Hurri” as Hanigalbat. Tushratta, who styles himself “king of Mitanni” in his Akkadian Amarna letters, refers to his kingdom as Hanigalbat.

Egyptian sources call Mitanni “nhrn”, which is usually pronounced as Naharin/Naharina from the Assyro-Akkadian word for “river”, cf. Aram-Naharaim, a region that is mentioned five times in the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament.

In Genesis, it refers to the ‘land of Avram’s birth’ (Gen 24:4), the place where Avram’s brother Nachor lived (Gen.24:10), but it may sometimes be used somewhat interchangeably with the names Paddan Aram and Haran to denote the place where Avram stayed briefly with his father Terach’s family after leaving Ur of the Chaldees, while en route to Canaan (Gen. 11:31), and the place to which later patriarchs obtained wives, rather than marry daughters of Canaan (e.g. Gen:24:3-4).

Paddan Aram refers to the part of Aram-Naharaim along the upper Euphrates, while Haran is mainly identified with the ancient city of Harran on the Balikh River. According to one rabbinical Jewish tradition, the birthplace of Abraham (Ur) was also situated in Aram-Naharaim.

The name Mitanni is first found in the “memoirs” of the Syrian wars (ca. 1480 BC) of the official astronomer and clockmaker Amememhet, who returned from the “foreign country called Me-ta-ni” at the time of Thutmose I.

The expedition to the Naharina announced by Thutmosis I at the beginning of his reign may have actually taken place during the long previous reign of Amenhotep I Helck believes that this was the expedition mentioned by Amenhotep II.

Some theonyms, proper names and other terminology of the Mitanni exhibit close similarities to Indo-Aryan, suggesting that an Indo-Aryan elite imposed itself over the Hurrian population in the course of the Indo-Aryan expansion. In a treaty between the Hittites and the Mitanni, the deities Mitra, Varuna, Indra, and Nasatya (Ashvins) are invoked.

Kikkuli’s horse training text includes technical terms such as aika (eka, one), tera (tri, three), panza (pancha, five), satta (sapta, seven), na (nava, nine), vartana (vartana, turn, round in the horse race). The numeral aika “one” is of particular importance because it places the superstrate in the vicinity of Indo-Aryan proper as opposed to Indo-Iranian or early Iranian (which has “aiva”) in general.

About 1600 BCE, the “Chariot Age” began among the Hurrian people of the highland kingdom of Mitanni. These were people who lived in the mountainous regions of modern-day Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran, and Iraq. They were closely associated with horses and their name for their country was Ishuwa, which means “horse land.”

The land of Isuwa was situated in the upper Euphrates river region. The river valley was here surrounded by the Anti-Taurus Mountains. To the northeast of the river lay a vast plain stretching up to the Black Sea mountain range.

The plain had favourable climatic conditions due to the abundance of water from springs and rainfall. Irrigation of fields was possible without the need to build complex canals. The river valley was well suited for intensive agriculture, while livestock could be kept at the higher altitudes. The mountains possessed rich deposits of copper which were mined in antiquity.

The area was one of the places where agriculture developed very early in the Neolithic period. Urban centres emerged in the upper Euphrates river valley around 3000 BC. The first states may have followed in the third millennium BC.

The name Isuwa is not known until the literate Hittite period of the second millennium BC. Few literate sources from within Isuwa have been discovered and the primary source material comes from Hittite texts.

The Isuwans left no written record of their own, and it is not clear which of the Anatolian peoples inhabited the land of Isuwa prior to the Luwians. They could have been Indo-Europeans like the Luwians, related to the Hittites to the west, Hattians, Hurrians from the south, or Urartians who lived east of Isuwa in the first millennium BC.

The Hurrian warriors rode in light, fast chariots; they were armed with bows and arrows as well as thrusting spears and hand weapons. These elite warriors were soon in demand as mercenaries for the emerging kingdoms and city states of Mesopotamia.

Maryannu is an ancient word for the caste of chariot-mounted hereditary warrior nobility which dominated many of the societies of the Middle East during the Bronze Age. The Mitanni warriors were called marya, the term for warrior in Sanskrit as well; note mišta-nnu (= miẓḍha,~ Sanskrit mīḍha) “payment (for catching a fugitive)”.

The term is attested in the Amarna letters written by Haapi. Robert Drews writes that the name ‘maryannu’ although plural takes the singular ‘marya’, which in Sanskrit means young warrior, and attaches a Hurrian suffix. He suggests that at the beginning of the Late Bronze Age most would have spoken either Hurrian or Aryan but by the end of the 14th century most of the Levant maryannu had Semitic names.

The common people’s language, the Hurrian language, is neither Indo-European nor Semitic. Hurrian is related to Urartian, the language of Urartu, both belonging to the Hurro-Urartian language family. It had been held that nothing more can be deduced from current evidence. A Hurrian passage in the Amarna letters – usually composed in Akkadian, the lingua franca of the day – indicates that the royal family of Mitanni was by then speaking Hurrian as well.

The military superiority of Mitanni was probably based on the use of two-wheeled war-chariots, driven by the ‘Marjannu’ people. A text on the training of war-horses, written by a certain “Kikkuli the Mitannian” has been found in the archives recovered at Hattusa. More speculative is the attribution of the introduction of the chariot in Mesopotamia to early Mitanni.

The Hyksos or Hycsos (Egyptian heqa khaseshet, “ruler(s) of the foreign countries”) were a multiracial people from Middle East who took over the eastern Nile Delta, ending the Thirteenth Dynasty of Egypt and initiating the Second Intermediate Period.

Important Canaanite populations first appeared in Egypt towards the end of the 12th Dynasty c. 1800 BC, and either around that time or c. 1720 BC, formed an independent realm in the eastern Nile Delta.

The Canaanite rulers of the Delta, regrouped in the 14th Dynasty, coexisted with the Egyptian 13th Dynasty, based in Itjtawy. The power of the 13th and 14th Dynasties progressively waned, perhaps due to famine and plague, and c. 1650 BC both were invaded by the Hyksos, who formed their own dynasty, the 15th Dynasty.

The collapse of the 13th Dynasty created a power vacuum in the south, which may have led to the rise of the 16th Dynasty, based in Thebes, and possibly of a local dynasty in Abydos. Both were eventually conquered by the Hyksos, albeit for a short time in the case of Thebes.

From then on, the 17th Dynasty took control of Thebes and reigned for some time in peaceful coexistence with the Hyksos kings, perhaps as their vassals. Eventually, Seqenenre Tao, Kamose and Ahmose waged war against the Hyksos and expelled Khamudi, their last king, from Egypt c. 1550 BC.

The Hyksos practiced horse burials, and their chief deity, their native storm god, became associated with the Egyptian storm and desert god, Seth. Although most Hyksos names seem Semitic, the Hyksos also included Hurrians, who, while speaking an isolated language, were under the rule and influence of Indo-Europeans.

The Hyksos brought several technical improvements to Egypt, as well as cultural infusions such as new musical instruments and foreign loan words. The changes introduced include new techniques of bronze working and pottery, new breeds of animals, and new crops.

In warfare, they introduced the horse and chariot, the composite bow, improved battle axes, and advanced fortification techniques. Because of these cultural advances, Hyksos rule was decisive for Egypt’s later empire in the Middle East.

Archaeologists Find Earliest Known Domestic Horses: Harnessed and Milked

The Horse, The Wheel and the Chariot

Domestication of the horse

The carpet and the horse

As people might know, Armenian national garments and rugs are often of very bright colors (including red and purple), especially those of the ladies. But what most might not realize is that this probably has something to do with a little insect by the name of “Kermes” readily available on the lands of our ancestors.

In his book Forty Centuries of Ink (1904) David Carvalho who solved crime cases through his expertise in ink, tells the history of ink ant writes: “The term scarlet as employed in the Old Testament was used to designate the blood-red color procured from an insect somewhat resembling cochineal, found in great quantities in Armenia…”

Marco Polo and Herodotus are among the many observers and historians who recognized the beauty of Armenian rugs. They noted the rugs’ vivid red color which was derived from a dye made from an insect called “Kermes ” (Arabic “kirmiz”), found in the Mount Ararat valley.

The Armenian city of Artashat was famous for its “Kermes ” dye and was referred to as “the city of the color red” by the Arab historian Yaqut. Marco Polo reports the following in his travel account as he passed through Cilician Armenia:

“The following can be said of Turkmenia: the Turkmenian population is divided into three groups. The Turkomans are Muslims characterized by a very simple way of life and extremely crude speech. They live in the mountainous regions and raise cattle. Their horses and their outstanding mules are held in especially high regard.

The other two groups, Armenians and Greeks, live in cities and forts. They make their living primarily from trade and as craftsmen. In addition to the carpets, unsurpassed and more splendrous in color than anywhere else in the world, silks in all colors are also produced there.”

It is also believed that the word “carpet”, which Europeans used to refer to oriental rugs, is derived from the Armenian word “kapert”, meaning woven cloth. The Crusaders, many of whom passed through Armenia, most likely brought this term back to the West.

Also, according to Arabic historical sources, the Middle Eastern word for rug, “khali” or “gali”, is an abbreviation of “Kalikala”, the Arabic name of the Armenian city Karnoy Kaghak. This city, strategically located on the route to the Black Sea port of Trabizond between Persia and Europe, was famous for its Armenian rugs which were prized by the Arabs.

The oldest, single, surviving knotted carpet is the Pazyryk carpet, excavated miraculously in the frozen tombs of Siberia, dated from the 5th to the 3rd century BC., now in the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg.

This square tufted carpet, almost perfectly intact, is considered by many experts of Caucasian, specifically Armenian, origin. The eminent authority of ancient carpets, Ulrich Schurmann, says of it, “From all the evidence available I am convinced that the Pazyryk rug was a funeral accessory and most likely a masterpiece of Armenian workmanship”

Gantzhorn concurs with this thesis. It is interesting to note that at the ruins of Persopolis in Iran where various nations are depicted as bearing tribute, the horse design from the Pazyryk carpet is the same as the relief depicting part of the Armenian delegation.

Horse breading, the domestication of the horses and the development of the chariot in Armenia dates back to the time immemorial. In fact, the Armenian Highlands were renowned for horse breeding and horsemanship throughout ancient times. Murals of the Iron Age Armenian kingdom of Ararat attest to the richness of this practice.

Traditionally Armenians consider themselves as descended from the biblical Torgom (Togarmah), where the Bible refers to the House of Togarmah, a land known for its horses (Ez. 27:14). For this reason the ancient Persians would collect Armenian horses as part of taxation for their armies and the royal guard (Strabo, 20 BC.).

Equally revered was the Armenian cavalry of the ancient times. V. Chapot wrote: “What they say about Armenia bewilders us. How could this mountain people develop such a cavalry that was able to measure itself against the horsemen of the Medes? One thing which is certain is the fact that Armenia …was a source of excellent well bred horses. The people in this country had discovered that horses were not just an economic asset, but could also be used for military purposes.”

In his chronology (Timeline of the Development of the Horse, 2007) Beverley Davis describes the domestication of the horse in Armenia as follows:

3000 BC

– Petroglyphs found in Armenia (one of the possible sites for the Indo-European homeland) show the oldest pictures of men driving chariots, wagons, and plows, with horses doing the pulling.

2000 BC

– Primitive wagons dating from this time have been found in excellent condition in Armenia. These are the oldest known wagons in the world.

1074 BC

– Tiglath Pilser I becomes the first great king of the Assyrian Empire. The need for horses drives him into the lands of the Indo-Iranian horse peoples and Armenia.

36 BC

– Marc Antony takes a 10,000-horse cavalry, most of the animals coming from Spain, to Syria in his war against Parthia. He loses the war and ravages Armenia, returning to Egypt with Armenia’s king and the first large number of Nisean horses in the Roman Empire. Augustus Caesar ends up with them after defeating Antony.

111–114 AD

– Armenia, the breeding ground for the Nisean horse, is annexed by Rome.

396 AD

– The Huns raid Armenia, looking for horses and riches.

Recent archaeological discoveries made in Armenia push these dates even further back. Unique discoveries revealed as a result of excavations at Shengavit and the village of Nor Naver, Armenia (4000-3000 BC).

Director of the Scientific and Research Institute of Historical and Cultural Heritage Hakob Simonyan said: “… the amount of revealed horse bones at the territory has exceeded all expectations of the researchers.” With respect to this, German paleozoologist Hans Peter Wertman stated that he has not observed such a quantity of horses in the entire Ancient East.

Furthermore these finds provide evidence that Armenians were among the earliest nations engaged in horse breeding for military purposes. Archeologists have managed to excavate seven tombs with bones and depictions of horses, proving their intensive cultivation. Archeological finds are dated at 25-20 centuries BC.

“Evidence is found, that Armenians is among first nations engaged in horse breeding and particularly thanks to ancient Armenians several breeds of horses were created,” Hakob Simonyan said.

During the middle ages Armenians continued this tradition of horse mastery and with the invention of the Armenian alphabet produced stunning scientific writings, of which only a handful survived to this day. This oldest known manual about Armenian horse medicine consists of 184 handwritten pages. It was written in the Armenian kingdom of Cilicia between 1295 and 1298.

The first chapter explains the creation of the horse. The following chapters describe the good and bad characteristics of horses, breeding, the different races known at that time, breaking in and riding, horse care and defects. And the last chapters deal with different types of pain as well as illnesses, symptoms and treatments.

This Armenian manual about horse medicine from the 13th century has been translated into German for the first time in 2005. The compendium is Armenia’s oldest preserved veterinary medical work and offers an overall view of expert knowledge about horses during the late 13th century in the Near East.

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