From Mitanni to the Kingdom of Van

From Mitanni to the Kingdom of Van In 15th-14th centuries BC, the leaders of Hurrian (Armenian) tribes living in the south of the Armenian Highlands between the Lake Van and mountains of Zagros managed to unite a number of Hurrian (Armenian) tribes as well as their small formations and create the state of MitanniHurrian people and the people of Mitanni were closely related to Kingdom of Van. Moreover, the Kingdom of Van (Urartu) was a successor state to Mitanni.

Confronting against the most powerful states of the ancient world, Egypt and the Hittite Kingdom, the kings of Mitanni came to success and established a kingdom stretching from the Mediterranean Sea to Assur, Nineveh, Arrapha, the Zagros Mountains, and Caucasus.

In Western Asia, powerful Mitanni had a central role. It controlled the trade routes connecting the east Mediterranean coast to Mesopotamia, the Zagros Mountains, and Pontus.

Mitanni had control over the territories covering the estuaries of Euphrates and Tigris rivers as well as rich and flourishing cities in the north of Syria, which were primarily populated by Hurrians. And it was thanks to them that the region was well-developed.

Archaeological excavations carried out in 19th-20th centuries in Western Asia and the Armenian Highlands evidence that back in the 8th-4th millennia, advanced cultures were established here, including the Shengavit and Neolithic communities. Northern Mesopotamia, Armenian Highlands, and the nearby territories are considered the homeland of those cultures. And they all were created by the natives of Armenian Highlands, the Hurrians.

Countries and state formations founded by the natives of Armenian Highlands have a long and old history. During several millennia, the tribes and peoples living near those states called them and their nations differently.

For example, local Sumerians called the southern regions of Armenian Highlands and northern Mesopotamia Subir while Akkadians have given those areas such names as Subaru, Subary, Subartu. Egyptians called Hurrians h’rw.

They used such names like Mitanni, Maittaniu, Nahrina, Nahariny, and others as well. Akkadian written sources called them Hanigalbat, Haligalbat, Hanagalbat. Lastly, Hittites knew them as Hurri or Hurla. As for the Hurrian kings, they called themselves Hurri and their country was named Mitanni.

Different researchers pronounce the name of the Hurrians differently. Some read hu-ur as har while others read it as hur. Moreover, researchers tried to find connection between har and the Indo-Aryan languages.

Later, in a text discovered in the capital of the Hittite Kingdom Hattusa, the word hurlili (which was the word for Hurrians in the Hittite language) was transcribed as hurri. Due to that, the connection of Hurrians with Indo-Aryans started to seem quite improbable. Thus, the word hurri became widespread in scientific circles.

In the second half of the 20th century, researchers started to propose theories on the homeland of Indo-Aryans. According to one of the studies, the Armenian Highlands and the nearby regions were the places of the origin of the ancestors of modern Indo-Europeans.

Namely, with Armenians, archaeological excavations and anthropologic research have demonstrated that the Armenian language has all the sounds characteristic to other Indo-European languages.

Since the most ancient times, proto-Armenian tribes and peoples closely related to them engaged in agriculture, cattle-breeding, metallurgy, or simply put, everything that the earliest civilizations would be later established upon.

In northern Mesopotamia and Armenian Highlands as well as the nearby territories, a big number of settlements, villages, and cities were built, including Jerusalem, Babylon, Nineveh, and Arrapha, which were actively engaged in trade and crafts.

Wealth and prosperity of the proto-Armenians attracted the tribes living near them. Since the 3rd-2nd millennia, Semitic tribes, Hittites, and Egyptian pharaohs carried out a series of devastating crusades against the northern Mesopotamia and Armenian Highlands. Hurrian tribes had to unite to be able to defend themselves, which resulted in the creation of their own kingdom.

According to Hittite sources, before the foundation of Mitanni, there have been multiple military alliances between Hittians. During their struggle against Hittites, the first ruler of Mitanni managed to take control of all the Hurrian military associations.

After the military unification, Hurrians joined together economically and politically. According to various sources, the first true king of Mitanni was Shuttarna I (the end of the 16th century BC), the son of the first ruler of the state Kirta.

During the reign of Shuttarna’s successors Parattarna and Shaushtatar, Mitanni reached the peak of its development. Under Shaushtatar, Mitanni became one of the most powerful states of Western Asia.

Not only that, the advancement of Mitanni occurred in exceptionally complicated circumstances. The Egyptian pharaohs continued their destructive crusades to Syria and Palestine. During the 16th-15th centuries BC, Thutmose I, Thutmose III, Amenhotep III, and Thutmose IV even reached the shores of Euphrates.

The continuous assaults show that Hurrians were able to effectively defend their kingdom. Eventually, Egyptians and Hurrians came to an agreement during the reign of Thutmose IV. In accordance with their pact, southern Palestine and Syria were passed to Egypt while Carchemish, Aleppo, and Alalakh stayed within Mitanni’s boundaries. With the agreement, Mitanni received great opportunity of stable growth and increase of power.

The situation was not beneficial for the Hittite Kingdom, which had its claims on the territories of Syria and wished to expand the state up to the Mediterranean Sea. But due to the military power of Hurrians, their plans failed.

In 1345 BC, Suppiluliuma II acceded the throne of the Hittite Kingdom. He was a skilled diplomat and a farsighted politician. His activity became fateful for Mitanni.

The inner fights for the throne of Mitanni weakened the kingdom. After the reign of Shuttarna II, his sons Artashumara and Artamata came into conflict for power in Mitanni. Artashumara won and managed to become a king for a very short time, but soon was assassinated by a courtier. Despite that, Artashumara’s supporters were able to replace him with his brother Tushratta.

But that was not the end of the intrigues within the royal court. Eventually, Mitanni fell apart in two, Hurri (around the reservoir of Aratsani river) and Mitanni (Aghdznik, Tsopk). Suppiluliuma II played a significant role in Mitanni’s breakdown.

The subsequent attempts of Hurrians to resurrect the past power of their kingdom did not become successful. Strengthening of Babylon and Assyria and their constant raids would soon become a new destructive factor outside the kingdom. Mitanni fought against the alliance of Babylon, Hittite Kingdom, Assyria, and other small states. Having failed in an uneven war, Mitanni was split between them.

According to the notes of Assyrian kings Shalmaneser I, Tukulti-Ninurta I, and Tiglath-Pileser I, and other rulers, Hurrians attempted to rebel subsequently, so the invaders had to be on a constant alert.

So eventually, in the middle of the 13th century BC, Mitanni ceased to exist. The inflow of Semitic tribes to the southern Armenian Highlands, the eastern areas of the Mediterranean coast, Palestine, Syria, and other territories, which had started around the 3rd millennium BC, got especially active after the fall of Mitanni.

Thus, a new conflict began between the Semitic tribes and the people of Armenian Highlands. Based on those events, legends of the battle of Hayk against Bel, Ara the Beautiful and Semiramis, and Aram Nahapet got passed to us by the History of Armenia of Movses Khorenatsi.

The fall of Mitanni was an end of a state but not a nation. Other proto-Armenian states continued to exist, including Hayasa in the northern Armenian Highlands. Even more formations would be established in the future.

Between the 12th century and the end of the 1st millennium BC, the Hittite Kingdom fell as well as a new period of the history of Ancient Egypt began. As for Mitanni, it received a new continuation in the form of its successor, the Kingdom of Van or, as it is more commonly known, Urartu.

by Angela Teryan


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