Cradle of Civilization

A Blog about the Birth of Our Civilisation and Development

The cradle of Western civilization

Posted by Fredsvenn on March 6, 2015

Ancient statue of lamassu at archaeological site of Nimrud, south of Mosul in northern Iraq
(AFP Photo / Karim Sahib).

‘It’s really called the cradle of Western civilization,

that’s why this particular loss is so devastating.’

‘War crime’: ISIS bulldozes ancient Assyrian city in Iraq

The Hurrians were a people of the Bronze Age Near East. They spoke a Hurro-Urartian language called Hurrian, and lived in Anatolia and Northern Mesopotamia.

They occupied a broad arc of fertile farmland stretching from the Khabur River valley in the west to the foothills of the Zagros Mountains in the east. The Khabur River valley was the heart of the Hurrian lands.

I. J. Gelb and E. A. Speiser believed East Semitic speaking Assyrians/Subarians had been the linguistic and ethnic substratum of northern Mesopotamia since earliest times, while Hurrians were merely late arrivals, but it now seems that it was rather opposite.

The Hurrians were the original population, while the Semites were merely late arrivals. In fact, the name of the different Semitic ethnic groups, like Akkadians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Amorites, Arameans, Chaldeans, Hebrews, Arabs etc, seems to have Hurrian origin.

At the same time the Hurrians seems to be the proignitors of the Indo-European languages, which have connections to the Ubaid culture and the Sumerians, too.

By the Early Iron Age, the Hurrians had been assimilated with other peoples, except perhaps in the kingdom of Urartu, corresponding to the biblical Kingdom of Ararat or Kingdom of Van (Urartian: Biai, Biainili).

Shubria (Shubria) or Arme-Shupria (Akkadian: Armani-Subartu from the 3rd millennium BC) was part of the Urartu confederation. Later, there is reference to a district in the area called Arme or Urme, which some scholars have linked to the name Armenia.

Shupria was a Hurrian-speaking kingdom, known from Assyrian sources beginning in the 13th century BC, located in what was much later to become the Armenian Highland, to the southwest of Lake Van, bordering on Ararat proper.

The land of Subartu or Subar is mentioned in Bronze Age literature. The name also appears as Subari in the Amarna letters, and, in the form Šbr, in Ugarit. Subartu may have been in the general sphere of influence of the Hurrians.

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.

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).

Eannatum of Lagash, then the dominant Sumerian ruler in Mesopotamia, 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).

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.

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

The name Subartu (Sumerian: Shubur) for the region is attested much earlier, from the time of the earliest Mesopotamian records (mid 3rd millennium BC).

Various theories have been advanced as to the etymological connections between the two terms Syria and Assyria. The Luwian inscription reads su-ra/i whereas the Phoenician translation reads ʾšr, i.e. ašur, which according to Robert Rollinger (2006) and Richard Nelson Frye “settles the problem once and for all”.

Various alternatives had been suggested, including derivation from Subartu (a term which most modern scholars in fact accept is itself an early name for Assyria, and which was located in northern Mesopotamia), the Hurrian toponym Śu-ri, or Ṣūr (the Phoenician name of Tyre). Syria is known as Ḫrw (Ḫuru, referring to the Hurrian occupants prior to the Aramaean invasion) in the Amarna Period Egypt, and as Ărām in Biblical Hebrew.

Ashur the son of Shem is sometimes compared with the figure of the deity Ashur, for whom a temple was dedicated in the early capital city of Aššur — traditionally by an early Assyrian king named Ushpia in ca. the 21st century BC.

Ushpia was an early Assyrian king who ruled circa 2030 BC, according to the Assyrian King List (AKL). Like most other of the “kings who lived in tents”, his name is not regarded as Semitic, but more likely Hurrian.

Ushpia is also alleged to have founded the temple of Ashur at the city of Assur, according to the much later inscriptions of Shalmaneser I (13th century BC) and Esarhaddon (8th century BC). However, he has yet to be confirmed by contemporary artifacts and nothing else of him is known. He was succeeded on the AKL by Apiashal.

In the city of Assur, the first great temples to the city god Assur and the weather god Adad were erected. Ashur is an East Semitic god, and the head of the Assyrian pantheon in Mesopotamian religion, worshipped mainly in the northern half of Mesopotamia, and parts of north-east Syria and south east Asia Minor which constituted old Assyria. He may have had a solar iconography.

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.

It has been suggested by early 20th century Armenologists that Old Persian Armina and the Greek Armenoi are continuations of an Assyrian toponym Armânum or Armanî.

There are certain Bronze Age records identified with the toponym in both Mesopotamian and Egyptian sources. The earliest is from an inscription which mentions Armânum together with Ibla (Ebla) as territories conquered by Naram-Sin of Akkad in ca. 2250 BC.

Another mention by pharaoh Thutmose III of Egypt 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 has also been claimed as a variant of Urmani (or Urmenu), attested epigraphically in an inscription of Menuas of Urartu. Minni is also a Biblical name of the region, appearing in Jeremiah (Jeremiah 51:27) alongside Ararat and Ashchenaz, probably the same as the Minnai of Assyrian inscriptions, corresponding to the Mannai. Armenia is interpreted by some as ḪARMinni, that is, “the mountainous region of the Minni”.

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.

There have been further speculations as to the existence of a Bronze Age tribe of the Armens (Armans, Armani), either identical to or forming a subset of the Hayasa-Azzi. In this case, Armenia would be an ethnonym rather than a toponym.

In the early 6th century BC, the Urartian Kingdom was replaced by the Armenian Orontid dynasty. In the trilingual Behistun inscription, carved in 521 or 520 BC by the order of Darius the Great of Persia, the country referred to as Urartu in Assyrian is called Arminiya in Old Persian and Harminuia in Elamite.

The Mannaeans (country name usually Mannea; Akkadian: Mannai, possibly Biblical Minni) were an ancient people who lived in the territory of present-day northwestern Iran south of lake Urmia, around the 10th to 7th centuries BC.

At that time they were neighbors of the empires of Assyria and Urartu, as well as other small buffer states between the two, such as Musasir and Zikirta. Their kingdom was situated east and south of the Lake Urmia, roughly centered around the Urmia plain in this part of what’s today are named as “Azerbaijan region of Iran”.

In the Hebrew Bible (Jeremiah 51:27) the Mannaeans are called Minni. In the Jewish Encyclopedia (1906), Minni is identified with Armenia, but it could refer to one of the provinces in ancient Armenia; Minni, Ararat and Ashkenaz.

According to examinations of the place and personal names found in Assyrian and Urartian texts, the Mannaeans, or at least their rulers, spoke Hurrian.

Ḫaldi (dḪaldi, also known as Khaldi or Hayk) was one of the three chief deities of Ararat (Urartu). His shrine was at Ardini ((the present form of the name is Artin, meaning “sun rising” or to “awake”, and it persists in Armenian names to this day), known as Mu-ṣa-ṣir and variants, including Mutsatsir, Akkadian for Exit of the Serpent/Snake, in Assyrian.

Scholars such as Carl Ferdinand Friedrich Lehmann-Haupt (1910) believed that the people of Urartu called themselves Khaldini after their god Khaldi. Hayk or Hayg, also known as Haik Nahapet (Hayk the Tribal Chief) is the legendary patriarch and founder of the Armenian nation.

The city’s location is not known with certainty, although there are a number of hypotheses, all in the general area of 36°N 46°E, in the Zagros south of Lake Urmia. It was acquired by the Urartian King Ishpuini ca. 800 BC.

One of the early mentions of Lake Urmia is from the Assyrian records from 9th century BCE. There, in the records of Shalmaneser III (reign 858–824 BCE), two names are mentioned in the area of Lake Urmia: Parsuwash (i.e. the Persians) and Matai (i.e. the Mitanni).

It is not completely clear whether these referred to places or tribes or what their relationship was to the subsequent list of personal names and “kings”. But Matais were Medes and linguistically the name Parsuwash matches the Old Persian word pārsa, an Achaemenid ethnolinguistic designation.

After suffering several defeats at the hands of both Scythians and Assyrians, the remnants of the Mannaean populace were absorbed by an Iranian people known as the Matieni and the area became known as Matiene. It was then annexed by the Medes in about 609 BC.

Strictly speaking, Urartu is the Assyrian term for a geographical region, while “kingdom of Urartu” or “Biainili lands” are terms used in modern historiography for the Proto-Armenian (Hurro-Urartian) speaking Iron Age state that arose in that region.

Hamoukar is a large archaeological site located in the Jazira region of northeastern Syria (Al Hasakah Governorate), near the Iraqi and Turkish borders.

Most importantly, archaeologists believe that Hamoukar was thriving as far back as 4000 BC and independently from Sumer.

The origins of urban settlements has generally been attributed to the riverine societies of southern Mesopotamia (in what is now southern Iraq). This is the area of ancient Sumer, where around 4000 BC the Mesopotamian cities such of Ur and Uruk emerged.

In 2007, following the discoveries at Hamoukar, some archiologists have argued that the Cradle of Civilization could have extended further up the Tigris River and included the part of northern Syria where Hamoukar is located.

Archaeological discovery suggests that civilizations advanced enough to reach the size and organizational structure that was necessary to be considered a city and could have emerged before the advent of a written language.

Previously it was believed that a system of written language was a necessary predecessor of that type of complex city. Until now, the oldest cities with developed seals and writing were thought to be Sumerian Uruk and Ubaid in southern Mesopotamia.

The evidence at Hamoukar indicates that some of the fundamental ideas behind cities—including specialization of labor, a system of laws and government, and artistic development—may have begun earlier than was previously believed.

The discovery of a large city is exciting for archaeologists. While they have found small villages and individual pieces that date much farther back than Hamoukar, nothing compares to the discovery of this size.

Discoveries have been made here that have never been seen before, including materials from Hellenistic and Islamic civilizations.

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