Cradle of Civilization

A Blog about the Birth of Our Civilisation and Development

The origin of the Sumerians

Posted by Fredsvenn on April 19, 2016


The origins of urban settlements have 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.

Hamoukar is a large archaeological site located in the Jazira region of northeastern Syria (Al Hasakah Governorate), near the Iraqi and Turkish borders. The early settlement dates back to the 5th millennium BCE, and it existed simultaneously with the Ubaid and the early Uruk cultures. It was a big centre of obsidian production. In the 3rd millennium, this was one of the largest cities of Northern Mesopotamia, and extended to 105 ha.

In 2007, following the discoveries at Hamoukar, some archaeologists 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.  Sumerian culture seems to have appeared as a fully formed civilization, with no pre-history.

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. It was the semi-mythical homeland of the Sumerian civilisation, the first ancient urban civilization in the historical region of southern Mesopotamia, modern-day southern Iraq, during the Chalcolithic and Early Bronze ages, and arguably the first civilization in the world.

Shupria (Shubria) or Arme-Shupria (Akkadian: Armani-Subartu from the 3rd millennium BC) was a Proto-Armenian 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 name Subartu (Sumerian: Shubur) for the region is attested much earlier, from the time of the earliest Mesopotamian records (mid 3rd millennium BC). Scholars have linked the district in the area called Arme or Armani, to the name Armenia.

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 Armenians.

The general implication of the Aratta cycle of myths recorded in cuneiform writing indicates that Aratta played a seminal role in the development of religion in Sumer, as well as in the construction of its cult structures, trade and diplomacy.

Contact between these two states was claimed to be of such importance that writing was developed specifically for them. Proto-writing in the region dates back to c. 3500 BC. The earliest texts come from the cities of Uruk and Jemdet Nasr and date back to 3,300BC; early cuneiform writing emerged in 3,000 BC.

Modern historians have suggested that Sumer was first permanently settled between c. 5500 and 4000 BC by a pre-Semitic caucasoid people who spoke the linguistically isolated Sumerian language (pointing to the names of cities, rivers, basic occupations, etc., as evidence). It is further speculated that the Sumerian speakers were farmers who moved down into southern Mesopotamia from the north, after perfecting irrigation agriculture there.

These conjectured, prehistoric people are now called “proto-Euphrateans” or “Ubaidians”, though never mentioned by the Sumerians themselves, and are theorized to have evolved from the Samarra culture of northern Mesopotamia (Assyria) and are assumed by modern-day scholars to have been the first civilizing force in Sumer, draining the marshes for agriculture, developing trade, and establishing industries, including weaving, leatherwork, metalwork, masonry, and pottery.

The Ubaid period (ca. 6500 to 3800 BCE) is a prehistoric period of Mesopotamia. The name derives from Tell al-`Ubaid where the earliest large excavation of Ubaid period material was conducted initially by Henry Hall and later by Leonard Woolley.

In South Mesopotamia the period is the earliest known period on the alluvial plain 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 BCE when it is replaced by the Uruk period.

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

The archaeological record shows clear uninterrupted cultural continuity from the time of the early Ubaid period (5300 – 4700 BC C-14) settlements in southern Mesopotamia. Farming peoples spread down because they had developed a temple-centered social organization for mobilizing labor and technology for water control, enabling them to survive and prosper in a difficult environment. The Sumerian people who settled here farmed the lands in this region that were made fertile by silt deposited by the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers.

The Ubaid pottery of southern Mesopotamia has been connected via Choga Mami transitional ware to the pottery of the Samarra period culture (c. 5700 – 4900 BC C-14) in the north, who were the first to practice a primitive form of irrigation agriculture along the middle Tigris River and its tributaries. The connection is most clearly seen at Tell Awayli (Oueilli, Oueili) near Larsa, excavated by the French in the 1980s, where eight levels yielded pre-Ubaid pottery resembling Samarran ware.

During the Ubaid Period (5000 BC– 4000 BC) the movement towards urbanization began. Agriculture and animal husbandry were widely practiced in sedentary communities. There were also tribes that practiced domesticating animals as far north as Turkey, and as far south as the Zagros Mountains.

The Ubaid period the the south was associated with intensive irrigated hydraulic agriculture, and the use of the plough, both introduced from the north, possibly through the earlier Choga Mami, Hadji Muhammed and Samara cultures.

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”.

Spreading from Eridu the Ubaid culture extended from the Middle of the Tigris and Euphrates to the shores of the Persian Gulf, and then spread down past Bahrein to the copper deposits at Oman.

The archaeological record shows that Arabian Bifacial/Ubaid period came to an abrupt end in eastern Arabia and the Oman peninsula at 3800 BCE, 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 at the end of the Older Peron.

The Leyla-Tepe culture of ancient Azerbaijan belongs to the Chalcolithic era. Its settlements were distributed on the southern slopes of Central Caucasus, mostly in Agdam District, from 4350 until 4000 BC.

Among the sites associated with this culture, the Soyugbulag kurgans or barrows are of special importance. The excavation of these kurgans demonstrated an unexpectedly early date of such structures on the territory of Azerbaijan. They were dated to the beginning of the 4th millennium BC.

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  (ca. 3700 BC-3000 BC), a major Bronze Age archaeological culture in the Western Caucasus region of Southern Russia. 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.

The appearance of Leilatepe tradition’s carriers in the Caucasus marked the appearance of the first local Caucasian metallurgy. This is attributed to migrants from Uruk, arriving around 4500 BCE. Leilatepe metalwork tradition was very sophisticated right from the beginning, and featured many bronze items. Yet later, the quality of metallurgy declined with the Kura–Araxes culture.

A number of linguists believed they could detect a substrate language beneath Sumerian, because names of some of Sumer’s major cities are not Sumerian, revealing influences of earlier inhabitants. It has been suggested a continuity of Sumerians, from the indigenous hunter-fisherfolk traditions, associated with the Arabian bifacial assemblages found on the Arabian littoral.

The Sumerians themselves claimed kinship with the pre-Arab people of Dilmun, associated with modern Bahrain in the Persian Gulf. Professor Juris Zarins believes the Sumerians may have been the people living in the Persian Gulf region before it flooded at the end of the last Ice Age.

Uruk, one of Sumer’s largest cities, has been estimated to have had a population of 50,000-80,000 at its height; given the other cities in Sumer, and the large agricultural population, a rough estimate for Sumer’s population might be 0.8 million to 1.5 million. The world population at this time has been estimated at about 27 million.

Mesh-ki-ang-gasher is listed as the first King of Uruk. He was followed by Enmerkar. The epic Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta tells of his voyage by river to Aratta, a mountainous, mineral-rich country up-river from Sumer. He was followed by Lugalbanda, also known from fragmentary legends, and then by Dumuzid, the Fisherman.

The most famous monarch of this dynasty was Dumuzid’s successor Gilgamesh, hero of the Epic of Gilgamesh, where he is called Lugalbanda’s son. Ancient, fragmentary copies of this text have been discovered in locations as far apart as Hattusas in Anatolia, Megiddo in Israel, and Tell el Amarna in Egypt.

Aratta is described in Sumerian literature as 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. It is home to the goddess Inana, who transfers her allegiance from Aratta to Uruk. It is conquered by Enmerkar of Uruk.

Inanna was the Sumerian goddess of love, fertility, and warfare, and goddess of the E-Anna temple at the city of Uruk, her main centre. As early as the Uruk period (ca. 4000–3100 BCE), Inanna was associated with the city of Uruk.

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.

Because it gives a Sumerian account of the “confusion of tongues”, and also involves Enmerkar constructing temples at Eridu and Uruk, it has, since the time of Samuel Kramer, been compared with the Tower of Babel narrative in the Book of Genesis.

Aside from founding Uruk, Enmerkar is said here to have had a temple built at Eridu, and is even credited with the invention of writing on clay tablets, for the purpose of threatening Aratta into submission.

Enmerkar furthermore seeks to restore the disrupted linguistic unity of the inhabited regions around Uruk, listed as Shubur, Hamazi, Sumer, Uri-ki (the region around Akkad), and the Martu land.

According to the “The Spell of Nudimmud”, which deals with the confusion of language, there once was a “golden age” when everyone spoke one language. The god Enki, leader of the gods, put an end to this era by confusing the speech of mankind.

The confusion of tongues (confusio linguarum) is the origin myth for the fragmentation of human languages described in the Book of Genesis 11:1–9, as a result of the construction of the Tower of Babel.

It is implied that prior to the event, humanity spoke a single language, either identical to or derived from the “Adamic language” spoken by Adam and Eve in Paradise. In the confusion of tongues, this language was split into seventy or seventy-two dialects, depending on tradition.

“Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta,” is the only native Sumerian account of how writing was invented. How this was accomplished is a complicated and interesting story. Suffice it to say here that this invention enabled humans to leave records and literary works of many types, thus greatly increasing our knowledge of ancient civilization.

Urartu, corresponding to the biblical Kingdom of Ararat or Kingdom of Van was an Iron Age kingdom centered on Lake Van in the Armenian Highlands. The name used by the local population as a toponym was Biainili (or Biaineli), which forms the root of the Armenian Van, hence the names Kingdom of Van (Bianili) or Vannic Kingdom.

Urartu is cognate with the Biblical Ararat, Akkadian Urashtu, and Armenian Ayrarat, a province of old Armenia (c. 300–800). Scholars believe that Urartu is an Akkadian variation of Ararat of the Old Testament. Indeed, Mount Ararat is located in ancient Urartian territory, approximately 120 kilometres (75 mi) north of its former capital.

Mount Ararat (Turkish: Ağrı Dağı; traditional Armenian: Masis) is a snow capped and dormant compound volcano in the eastern extremity of Turkey. It is associated with the “mountains of Ararat” in the Bible, the traditional resting place of Noah’s Ark according to the Book of Genesis.

Mount Ararat is widely considered a national symbol of Armenia. Due to its association with the Biblical flood story it is known as the “holy mountain” of the Armenian people. One author described the Armenians as having “a sense of possession of Ararat in the sense of symbolic cultural property.” It is featured prominently in Armenian literature and art. Along with Noah’s Ark, it is depicted on the coat of arms of Armenia.

The term Ararat derives from the Hebrew name of the ancient kingdom of Urartu. In the Armenian tradition Ararat, Ayrarat, Urartu or any variant thereof is the land rather than the “summit/peak”, but the biblical land of Ararat was confused with Masis , hence the world learned to call Masis as Ararat.

If one were to read the prevailing reference to the mountain, like that of the Bible, one would see that it says – “on the mountains (plural) of Ararat, I.e “on the mountains in the Land of Ararat”.

The mountain is known as Ararat in European languages. However, none of the native peoples have traditionally referred to the mountain by that name. This was noted by James Bryce in 1876.

The traditional Armenian name is Masis, which is sometimes transliterated as Massis. The plural Masikʿ may refer to both peaks. The folk etymology expressed in Movses Khorenatsi’s History of Armenia derives the name from a king Amasya, the great-grandson of the legendary Armenian patriarch Hayk, who is said to have called the mountain Masis after himself.

According to Russian orientalist Anatoly Novoseltsev the word Masis derives from Persian (Farsi) and means “great” and “large”. In Middle Persian masist meant “[the] largest”. Nowadays, the terms Masis and Ararat are both widely, often interchangeably, used in Armenian.

To the Sumerians, Mashu was a sacred mountain. Its name means “twin” in Akkadian, and thus was it portrayed on Babylonian cylinder seals—a twin-peaked mountain, described by poets as both the seat of the gods, and the underworld. References or allusions to Mt. Mashu are found in three episodes of the Gilgamesh cycle which date between the third and second millennia BC.

Mashu, as described in the Epic of Gilgamesh of Mesopotamian mythology, is a great cedar mountain through which the hero-king Gilgamesh passes via a tunnel on his journey to Dilmun after leaving the Cedar Forest, a forest of ten thousand leagues span.

The corresponding location in reality has been the topic of speculation, as no confirming evidence has been found. Jeffrey H. Tigay suggests that in the Sumerian version, through its association with the sun god Utu, “(t)he Cedar Mountain is implicitly located in the east, whereas in the Akkadian versions, Gilgamesh’s destination (is) removed from the east” and “explicitly located in the north west, in or near Lebanon”.

One theory is that the only location suitable for being called a “cedar land” was the great forest covering Lebanon and western parts of Syria and, in consequence, “Mashu” is the whole of the parallel Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon ranges, with the narrow gap between these mountains constituting the tunnel.

The word Mashu itself may translate as “two mountains”, from the Babylonian for “twins”. The “twins”, in Semitic mythology, were also often seen as two mountains, one at the eastern edge of the world (in the lower Zagros), the other at the western edge of the world (in the Taurus) and one of these seem to have had an Iranian location.

Siduri, the Alewife, a wise female divinity associated with fermentation (specifically beer and wine), lived on the shore, associated with “the Waters of Death” that Gilgamesh had to cross to reach Utnapishtim, the far-away.  Siduri’s name means “young woman” in Hurrian, and may be an epithet of Inanna.

In the earlier Old Babylonian version of the Epic, she attempts to dissuade Gilgamesh in his quest for immortality, urging him to be content with the simple pleasures of life. In the later Akkadian (also referred to as the “standard”) version of the Epic, Siduri’s role is somewhat less important, and it is left to the flood hero Utnapishtim (the Mesopotamian precursor of Noah) to discuss issues of life and death.

Siduri, nonetheless, has a long conversation with Gilgamesh, who boasts of his exploits and is forced to explain why his appearance is so haggard. When he asks for help in finding Utnapishtim, Siduri explains the difficulties of the journey but directs him to Urshanabi, the ferryman, who may be able to help him cross the subterranean ocean and the ominous “waters of death”.

Several scholars suggest direct borrowing of Siduri’s advice by the author of Ecclesiastes. The advice given by Siduri has been seen as the first expression of the concept of Carpe diem although some scholars see it urging Gilgamesh to aband his mourning, “reversing the liminal rituals of mourning and returning to the normal and normative behaviors of Mesopotamian society.”

Siduri has been compared to the Odyssey’s Circe. Like Odysseus, Gilgamesh gets directions on how to reach his destination from a divine helper. In this case she is the goddess Siduri, who, like Circe, dwells by the sea at the ends of the earth.

Her home is also associated with the sun: Gilgamesh reaches Siduri’s house by passing through a tunnel underneath Mt. Mashu, the high mountain from which the sun comes into the sky. West argues that the similarity of Odysseus’s and Gilgamesh’s journeys to the edges of the earth is the result of the influence of the Gilgamesh epic upon the Odyssey.

Mashu is mentioned directly in the episode “Gilgamesh and the Search for Everlasting Life.” This story unfolds after the death of Gilgamesh’s friend Enkidu, a wrenching experience which makes Gilgamesh face his own mortality and go searching for eternal life. It is en route to Utnapishtim, the one mortal to achieve immortality, that Gilgamesh comes to Mashu “the great mountain, which guards the rising and setting sun.

In the epic, overcome with the death of his friend Enkidu, the hero Gilgamesh sets out on a series of journeys to search for his ancestor Utnapishtim (Xisouthros), sometimes called the “Sumerian Noah,” who lives at the mouth of the rivers and has been given eternal life. Utnapishtim counsels Gilgamesh to abandon his search for immortality but tells him about a plant that can make him young again.

Gilgamesh obtains the plant from the bottom of the sea in Delmun (current day Bahrain) but a serpent steals it, and Gilgamesh returns home to the city of Uruk having abandoned hope of either immortality or renewed youth.

Utnapishtim, or Utanapishtim, is a character in the epic of Gilgamesh who is tasked by Enki (Ea) to abandon his worldly possessions and create a giant ship to be called The Preserver of Life. He was also tasked with bringing his wife, family, and relatives along with the craftsmen of his village, baby animals and grains. The oncoming flood would wipe out all animals and humans that were not on the ship, a concept that was mirrored by the biblical story of Noah’s Ark.

Utnapishtim told Gilgamesh how the gods had become angered with humanity and decided on the Flood as one means to exterminate it. A sympathetic god warned Utnapishtim and told him to build a boat and board it with his family, relatives, craftsmen, and the seed of all living creatures.

The Preserver of Life was made of solid timber, so that the rays of Shamash (the sun) would not shine in, and of equal dimensions in length and width. The design of the ship was supposedly drawn on the ground by Enki, and the frame of the ark, which was made in five days, was 200 feet in length, width and height, with a floor-space of one acre.

The ark interior had seven floors, each floor divided into 9 sections, finishing the ark fully on the seventh day. The entrance to the ship was sealed once everyone had boarded the ship. Contrary to Noah’s Ark, however, it was sealed by clay.

After six days of tempest and flood, Utnapishtim’s boat grounded on a mountain. He released a dove and a swallow, both of which returned to him. Then he released a raven which did not return; Utnapishtim and his family came down from the mountain. When the disgruntled gods are finally reconciled with the re-emergence of humanity, Utnapishtim and his wife are taken by the god Enlil to live in the blessed place where Gilgamesh found him “in the distance, at the mouth of the rivers”.

After twelve days on the water, Utnapishtim opened the hatch of his ship to look around and saw the slopes of Mount Nisir, where he rested his ship for seven days. On the seventh day, he sent a dove out to see if the water had receded, and the dove could find nothing but water, so it returned. Then he sent out a swallow, and just as before, it returned, having found nothing.

Finally, Utnapishtim sent out a raven, and the raven saw that the waters had receded, so it circled around, but did not return. Utnapishtim then set all the animals free, and made a sacrifice to the gods. The gods came, and because he had preserved the seed of man while remaining loyal and trusting of his gods, Utnapishtim and his wife were given immortality, as well as a place among the heavenly gods.

Mount Nisir (also spelled Mount Niṣir, and also called Mount Nimush), mentioned in the ancient Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh, is supposedly the mountain known as today as Pir Omar Gudrun (elevation 9000 ft. (approx. 2743 m)), near the city Sulaymaniyah in Iraqi Kurdistan. The name may mean “Mount of Salvation”.

The Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh, composed about 2500 BC, contains a flood story almost exactly the same as the Noah story in the Pentateuch, with a few variations such as the number of days of the deluge, the order of the birds, and the name of the mountain on which the ark rests.

The flood story in Genesis 6–8 matches the Gilgamesh flood myth so closely that “few doubt that [it] derives from a Mesopotamian account.” What is particularly noticeable is the way the Genesis flood story follows the Gilgamesh flood tale “point by point and in the same order”, even when the story permits other alternatives.

The earliest written flood myth is found in the Mesopotamian Epic of Atrahasis and Epic of Gilgamesh texts. “These mythologies are the source of such features of the biblical Flood story as the building and provisioning of the ark, its flotation, and the subsidence of the waters, as well as the part played by the human protagonist.”

The Encyclopedia Judaica adds that there is a strong suggestion that: “an intermediate agent was active. The people most likely to have fulfilled this role are the Hurrians, whose territory included the city of Haran, where the Patriarch Abraham had his roots. The Hurrians inherited the Flood story from Babylonia.”

In Norse mythology, Njörðr is a god among the Vanir. Njörðr, father of the deities Freyr and Freyja by his unnamed Vanir sister, was in an ill-fated marriage with the goddess Skaði, lives in Nóatún (Old Norse “ship-enclosure”), described in the Prose Eddabook Gylfaginning as located “in heaven”, and is associated with sea, seafaring, wind, fishing, wealth, and crop fertility.

According to the 19th-century language scholar Johann Heinrich Hübschmann the name Nakhichavan in Armenian literally means “the place of descent”, a Biblical reference to the descent of Noah’s Ark on the adjacent Mount Ararat. First century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus also writes about Nakhichevan, saying that its original name “Αποβατηριον, or Place of Descent, is the proper rendering of the Armenian name of this very city”.

Hübschmann notes, however, that it was not known by that name in antiquity. Instead, he states the present-day name evolved to “Nakhchivan” from “Naxčawan”. The prefix “Naxč” derives from Naxič or Naxuč (probably a personal name) and “awan” (the modern transcription of Hübschmann’s “avan”) is Armenian for “place, town”.

Nakhchivan was also mentioned in Ptolemy’s Geography and by other classical writers as Naxuana. Modern historian Suren Yeremyan disputes this assertion, arguing that ancient Armenian tradition placed Nakhichevan’s founding to the year 3669 BC and, in ascribing its establishment to Noah, that it took its present name after the Armenian phrase “Nakhnakan Ichevan”, meaning “first landing.”

The Kurdish names are Çiyayê Agirî (“Fiery Mountain”) or Grîdax. The Turkish name is Ağrı Dağı, i.e. “Mountain of Ağrı”. Ağrı literally translates to “pain” or “sorrow”. This name has been known since the late Middle Ages. Ağrı is also a province in eastern Turkey, which was officially renamed for the mountain in 1949. The Persian name is Kūh-e Nūḥ, literally the “mountain of Noah”.

It is a critical piece of the Armenian homeland since it has been the geographical center of the ancient Armenian kingdoms. According to Shirinian, in the 19th century when an Armenian state did not exist, Mt. Ararat symbolized the historical Armenian nation-state. The 1918–20 Republic of Armenia, the first modern Armenian state, was sometimes called the “Araratian Republic” or the “Republic of Ararat”.

The Genesis flood narrative was linked to the Armenian myth of origin by the early medieval historian Movses Khorenatsi. In his History of Armenia, Khorenatsi wrote that Hayk, the legendary founding father and the name giver of the Armenian people is the son of Torgom, the great-grandson of Japheth, one of Noah’s sons. Hayk established the roots of the Armenian nation around Mount Ararat.

This myth has several powerful symbolic components. Razmik Panossian suggested that the story “makes Armenia the cradle of all civilisation since Noah’s Ark landed on the ‘Armenian’ mountain of Ararat. […] it connects Armenians to the biblical narrative of human development. […] it makes Mount Ararat the national symbol of all Armenians, and the territory around it the Armenian homeland from time immemorial.”

In addition to referring to the famous Biblical mountain, Ararat also appears as the name of a kingdom in Jeremiah 51:27, mentioned together with Minni and Ashkenaz.

The heirs of Urartu are the Armenians and their successive kingdoms. In the early sixth century BC, Urartu was replaced by the Armenian Orontid Dynasty. In his trilingual Behistun Inscription, Darius I the Great of Persia refers to Urashtu (in Babylonian) as Armina (in Old Persian) and Harminuya (in Elamite).

Scholars such as Carl Ferdinand Friedrich Lehmann-Haupt (1910) believed that the people of Urartu called themselves Khaldini after the god Ḫaldi (also known as Khaldi or Hayk), one of the three chief deities of Urartu (Ararat). His shrine was at Ardini (Muṣaṣir). The other two chief deities were Theispas of Kumenu, and Shivini of Tushpa.

Of all the gods of the Urartian pantheon, the most inscriptions are dedicated to Khaldi. His wife was the goddess Arubani. He was portrayed as a man with or without wings, standing on a lion.

Hayk, also known as Haik Nahapet (“Hayk the Tribal Chief”) is the legendary patriarch and founder of the Armenian nation. His story is told in the History of Armenia attributed to the Armenian historian Moses of Chorene (410 to 490).

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 c. 2250 BC.

Maryannu is an ancient word for the caste of chariot-mounted hereditary warrior nobility which existed in many of the societies of the Middle East during the Bronze Age.

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.

Drews 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 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.

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.

The names of the Mitanni aristocracy frequently are of Indo-Aryan origin, but it is specifically their deities which show Indo-Aryan roots (Mitra, Varuna, Indra, Nasatya), though some think that they are more immediately related to the Kassites.

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.

Bearers of names in the Hurrian language are attested in wide areas of Syria and the northern Levant that are clearly outside the area of the political entity known to Assyria as Hanilgalbat.

There is no indication that these persons owed allegiance to the political entity of Mitanni; although the German term Auslandshurriter (“Hurrian expatriates”) has been used by some authors.

In the 14th century BC numerous city-states in northern Syria and Canaan were ruled by persons with Hurrian and some Indo-Aryan names. If this can be taken to mean that the population of these states was Hurrian as well, then it is possible that these entities were a part of a larger polity with a shared Hurrian identity.

This is often assumed, but without a critical examination of the sources. Differences in dialect and regionally different pantheons (Hepat/Shawushka, Sharruma/Tilla etc.) point to the existence of several groups of Hurrian speakers.

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.

Urartian is closely related to Hurrian, a somewhat better documented language attested for an earlier, non-overlapping period, approximately from 2000 BCE to 1200 BCE (written by native speakers until about 1350 BCE). The two languages must have developed quite independently from approximately 2000 BCE onwards.

Although Urartian is not a direct continuation of any of the attested dialects of Hurrian, many of its features are best explained as innovative developments with respect to Hurrian as it is known from the preceding millennium. The closeness holds especially true of the so-called Old Hurrian dialect, known above all from Hurro-Hittite bilingual texts.

Urartian, Vannic, and (in older literature) Chaldean (Khaldian, or Haldian) was probably spoken by the majority of the population around Lake Van and in the areas along the upper Zab valley.

It was later the language spoken by the inhabitants of the ancient kingdom of Urartu that was located in the region of Lake Van, with its capital near the site of the modern town of Van, in the Armenian Highland, modern-day Eastern Anatolia region of Turkey.

First attested in the 9th century BCE, Urartian ceased to be written after the fall of the Urartian state in 585 BCE, and presumably it became extinct due to the fall of Urartu.

It must have been replaced by an early form of Armenian, perhaps during the period of Achaemenid Persian rule, although it is only in the fifth century CE that the first written examples of Armenian appear.

It is argued on linguistic evidence that proto-Armenian came in contact with Urartian at an early date (3rd-2nd millennium BC), before formation of Urartian kingdom.

Soviet linguist Igor Diakonov (1985) noted the presence in Old Armenian of what he calls a Caucasian substratum, identified by earlier scholars, consisting of loans from the Kartvelian and Northeast Caucasian languages.

Noting that the Hurro-Urartian peoples inhabited the Armenian homeland in the second millennium BC, Diakonov identifies in Armenian a Hurro-Urartian substratum of social, cultural, and animal and plant terms. Some of the terms he gives admittedly have an Akkadian or Sumerian provenance, but he suggests they were borrowed through Hurrian or Urartian.

Given that these borrowings do not undergo sound changes characteristic of the development of Armenian from Proto-Indo-European, he dates their borrowing to a time before the written record but after the Proto-Armenian language stage.

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”.

Armin is a given name or surname, and is an ancient Zoroastrian given name in Persian, meaning Guardian of Iran (Iran meaning Aryan land).

In Greek “Armenians” is attested from about the same time, perhaps the earliest reference being a fragment attributed to Hecataeus of Miletus (476 BC). Herodotus, in c. 440 BC, said “the Armenians were equipped like Phrygians, being Phrygian colonists”. Xenophon describes many aspects of Armenian village life and hospitality. He relates that the people spoke a language that to his ear sounded like the language of the Persians.

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