Arin Berd, Aryan Fortress in Armenia

Arin Berd, also known as Արին բերդ or “Fortress of the Aryans,” is an archaeological site located on a hill in the southeastern outskirts of modern Yerevan, the capital of Armenia. The site contains the ruins of the ancient Urartian fortress settlement of Erebuni (Էրեբունի), which dates back to the 8th century BCE. Erebuni was founded by King Argishti I of Urartu (Kingdom of Van), an Iron Age kingdom located in the Armenian Highlands.

The ancient settlement was discovered during archaeological excavations in the 20th century. Excavations revealed a complex of palaces, temples, and fortifications that served as the political, economic, and cultural center of the region. The site is notable for its well-preserved wall paintings, unique cuneiform inscriptions, and various artifacts that shed light on the daily life, customs, and beliefs of the Urartian people.

The Erebuni Historical and Archaeological Museum-Reserve was established in 1968 to protect and study the site. The museum showcases many of the artifacts discovered during excavations, including pottery, jewelry, weapons, and various household items. The site remains an important symbol of Armenian history and identity, as it represents one of the earliest known settlements in the region and a precursor to the modern city of Yerevan.

In 1879, a stone with a cuneiform inscription was discovered by local residents near the Arin-Berd settlement. This inscription was significant as it provided valuable information about the ancient Kingdom of Van. The stone contained details about the construction of a granary during the reign of King Argishti I.

The cuneiform inscription was deciphered and published by Russian archaeologist Mikhail V. Nikolsky, who provided an approximate translation. According to the inscription, the granary was built by King Argishti I and had a capacity of 10,100 “capi” (a unit of measurement used in the Kingdom of Van). The granary served as a critical storage facility, ensuring food security for the inhabitants of Erebuni and the surrounding areas.

The discovery of the inscription at Arin-Berd helped confirm the historical significance of the site and provided further evidence of the extensive and well-organized system of the Kingdom of Van. Additionally, the finding of the granary inscription contributed to a better understanding of the ancient Urartian civilization and its economic and agricultural practices.

It was not until 1950 that systematic archaeological excavations began on the hill of Arin-Berd, which led to the discovery of the ancient fortress city of Erebuni. The city was founded by Argishti I in 782 BCE, as evidenced by the cuneiform inscriptions found at the site. Konstantin Levonovich Oganesyan, a renowned Armenian archaeologist, headed the excavations that uncovered the well-preserved remnants of the Urartian settlement.

Under Oganesyan’s leadership, the team of archaeologists made numerous important discoveries, including the complex of palaces, temples, and fortifications that once formed the political, economic, and cultural center of the region. The site also revealed unique cuneiform inscriptions, stunning wall paintings, and a variety of artifacts that provided invaluable insights into the daily life, customs, and beliefs of the Urartian people.

The discovery of Erebuni and the subsequent establishment of the Erebuni Historical and Archaeological Museum-Reserve in 1968 significantly contributed to the study and preservation of Armenia’s ancient history. The ongoing research and conservation efforts at the site continue to enrich our understanding of the Urartian civilization and its role in the development of the Armenian Highlands.

During the excavations at the Erebuni fortress, a variety of structures were unearthed, shedding light on the architectural and cultural aspects of the ancient Urartian civilization. Some of the significant findings include:

  1. Palace and temple premises: The excavations revealed a complex of palaces and temples that served as the administrative and religious centers of the ancient settlement. These buildings were constructed using mud bricks and featured a combination of Urartian and local architectural styles.
  2. Wall paintings: One of the most remarkable discoveries at the Erebuni site is the well-preserved wall paintings found within the palaces and temples. These frescoes display a variety of motifs, including geometric patterns, mythological scenes, and depictions of deities, animals, and human figures. The wall paintings provide important insights into the artistic and religious practices of the Urartian civilization.
  3. Utility rooms: The excavations uncovered various utility rooms used for different purposes, such as workshops, kitchens, and storage areas. These rooms offer valuable information about the daily life and economic activities of the inhabitants of Erebuni.
  4. Storerooms: The presence of storerooms within the fortress demonstrates the importance of food storage and resource management in the ancient settlement. As previously mentioned, the cuneiform inscription found near Arin-Berd mentioned the construction of a granary by King Argishti I. The storerooms would have been used to store grains, food supplies, and other essential goods to ensure the survival and prosperity of the city.

The discoveries at the Erebuni fortress have significantly contributed to our understanding of the Urartian civilization and the history of the Armenian Highlands. The site continues to be an important center for archaeological research and cultural heritage preservation.

By the end of the 8th century BCE, the Erebuni fortress had lost its original significance as the political and administrative center of the region. This decline was likely due to various factors, including changes in the political landscape, military conflicts, and economic challenges. The Kingdom of Van itself began to weaken during the 7th and 6th centuries BCE, eventually being supplanted by the rise of the Median and Achaemenid Empires.

The new period of Erebuni’s history is associated with a different era, beginning around the 5th century BCE. During this time, the site likely continued to function as a smaller settlement within the larger context of the region, now under the influence of the Achaemenid Empire. Erebuni and the surrounding areas would have been subject to the political, economic, and cultural forces that shaped the broader Armenian Highlands during this period.

As a result, the Erebuni fortress and its structures underwent changes and adaptations to fit the needs of its inhabitants and the prevailing socio-political context.

Erebuni Fortress, with its foundation dating back to 782 BCE, is indeed one of the oldest and most well-preserved fortresses in the world. Its age, historical significance, and archaeological findings make it a noteworthy site among ancient fortresses globally. While it might not be officially listed as one of the “9 most ancient fortresses” due to variations in different listings and the continuous discovery of new archaeological sites, Erebuni certainly ranks among the oldest and most important fortress settlements in the world.

The site provides valuable insights into the Kingdom of Van, and the broader history of the Armenian Highlands. Its well-preserved structures, unique wall paintings, and cuneiform inscriptions have significantly contributed to our understanding of ancient history and the development of human civilization in the region. The ongoing archaeological research and conservation efforts at the Erebuni Fortress continue to enrich our knowledge of this ancient site and its role in shaping the course of history.

Vigen Avetisyan

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