Earth of Aratta – David Rohl

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When I first began studying Sumerian epic legends about Enmerkar and Lugalbanda, I was immediately struck by the unmistakable similarity between the name that the ancient Sumerians had as a legendary magical kingdom lying somewhere beyond the Zagros mountain range, and the name that the Assyrians in the 1st century BC. gave to Armenia.

The lost mountainous Sumerian kingdom was called Aratta, while the Assyrian chronicles of the XIII-VIII centuries BC. mention the country “Urartu”, which, as I have already said, can be identified with the biblical Ararat. Moreover, I was also struck by the fact that no one yet (as far as I know) has suggested a hypothesis that Aratta and Ararat/Urartu are one and the same geographical object.

However, this seemed absolutely obvious to me.

Sumerologists have long and persistently been searching for the mysterious kingdom of Aratta. And I thought: why not assume that Ur-Artu or Ar-Arat can mean “Creation of Arat[ta]”, just like Ur-Salem (Jerusalem) can mean “Creation [of the god] Salem”.

In this case, it turns out that the Assyrian name Urartu preserves the memory of a much earlier toponym – dating back to the III millennium BC. the name of the capital of the kingdom of Aratta. To verify the validity of this hypothesis, I needed to find out – what is now known about the common geographical locus of the two kingdoms – Urartu and Aratta.

Kingdom of Urartu

First of all, it is very important for us to establish the real borders of Urartu in the earliest historical era.

We first learn about the existence of the country of Urartu from the chronicles of the reign of Salmanasar I (13th century BC). In the year of his ascension to the throne, the king of Assyria invaded the northern mountainous regions.

There, he fought with mountain tribes and tiny kingdoms of the “land of Uruatri”, which, according to Richard Barnett, author of the chapter on Urartu in the “Cambridge History of the Ancient World”, “beyond any doubt, was the original source of the later term ‘Urartu'”. Salmanasar waged war against eight city-states located in the land of Uruatri.

“When Ashur, my lord, trusted me (Salmanasar) for my loyalty to him, gave me a scepter, a weapon and the right (to dispose of) the property of this black-headed people (i.e., Sumerians), and bestowed upon me the lawful crown of the ruler; and in that very year, the year of my accession to the throne, the land of Uruatri rebelled against me.

I offered prayers to the god Ashur and other greatest gods, my lords. Then I assembled my troops (and) set out on a campaign to the foot of the glorious mountains. And I subdued the lands of Himme, Watkun, Mashgun, Salua, Halil, Guga, Nilpakhri, and Zingun — eight lands and their troops in total; and I destroyed fifty-one of their cities (and) drove away (in captivity) their inhabitants and captured their property.

And I brought down all the land of Uruatri at the foot of the throne of my lord, Ashur in three days.” [Alabaster tablet from the temple in Ashur].

After military campaigns carried out by Ashurnasirpal II, who ruled in Assyria at the end of the 9th century BC, it appears that Urartu was considered a geographical region in his time, and not at all a unified state. According to Barnett’s interpretation, Ashurnasirpal’s wars were against kingdoms located “in the land” of Urartu, but were not directed “against the whole land of Urartu”.

The rulers of the northern lands, who fought against the Assyrians, did not consider themselves “Urartians”, but, on the contrary, called themselves Nairi, and indeed, later Assyrian kings will call Urartu “the land of Nairi”.

Since then, this name – Nairi, as well as the much older toponym Urartu, have been preserved as the traditional name of this entire region in the vicinity of Lake Urmia and Sevan.

Subsequently, we see that the Assyrian kings Salmanasar III and Sargon II conducted military campaigns in the land of Urartu, the center of which is now considered Lake Sevan. In 1877, the British Museum organized excavations in Urartu, in the vicinity of the Toprak-Kale settlement, near Lake Sevan. During these excavations, Tushpa, the capital of the kingdom of Urartu in the 9th century BC, was discovered.

If we compare all the evidence from the military annals of Assyria and the data of archaeological excavations, we will see a clear shift in the geographical localization of Urartu, which, once being a political center south of Lake Urmia, has now moved to its northwestern shore and the shores of Lake Sevan. Barnett explains this “shift” as follows:

“…if it can be considered proven that the original homeland of the people who are commonly called Urartians was to the east of Lake Sevan, from where they then moved to a more easily defensible place, which, by the way, was also by the lake. This was the area to the southwest of Lake Urmia; it is there that we find the ruins of the most ancient buildings of the kingdom or tribal union of Urartu”.

In other words, these lands were often attacked by neighboring Assyrians (particularly under King Salmanasar I), who pushed the Urartians into more remote and inaccessible areas. Until the aggressive military campaign of 1274 BC, conducted by King Salmanasar I, the land of Urartu was located in the highlands and plains south of Lake Urmia; and only much later did Urartu “move” to Lake Sevan.

“Perhaps among these eight closely related tribes or “lands” there was one bearing the name Uruatri or Urartu, — the very one whose name the Assyrians used in the early 13th century as a general name for all other tribes inhabiting these places, just as the Romans did with the ethnonym “Greeks”, the self-name of one of the small tribes in Illyria?

It is quite possible that this was the case; however, one fact must be noted. The Urartians never called themselves “people of Urartu” and did not use this term at all. When they later developed a written language, they called themselves either Nairi or Biainili. The Assyrians also picked up this term, so the names “land of Nairi” and Urartu became interchangeable synonyms”.

The answer to Barnett’s question is clear. The name Urartu refers not to a separate tribe or people, but to a much more ancient land known as Aratta; the administrative center of this land was located just south of Lake Urmia.

Kingdom of Aratta

We first learn about the kingdom of Aratta in Sumerian epic poetry, in particular, in the legends surrounding the name of Enmerkar – the hero-king of Uruk.

Enmerkar was the son of the first king who ruled Uruk after the Flood. According to legend, he was a great king-builder.

In addition, he was the first of the heroes of Sumerian legends – the one who managed to translate the goddess Inanna from her mountain dwelling in Aratta to a huge fortress (or rather a walled territory) in the heart of the city of Uruk.

Enmerkar is to play an important role in our story, for he was a remarkable, but strangely forgotten by historians, biblical character.

Three epic poems have come down to us, telling of the exploits of Enmerkar and Aratta: “Enmerkar and the lord of Aratta”, “Enmerkar and Ensuhgiranna” and “Enmerkar and Lugalbanda”.

The honor of discovering the first of them belongs to the outstanding Sumerologist Samuel Noah Kramer, who discovered it while examining a huge collection of cuneiform tablets kept in the Museum of the East in Istanbul.

Unfortunately, it was not possible to find the original composition in the Sumerian original, and what Kramer discovered in 1946 was an Old Babylonian copy from the first half of the 2nd millennium BC (according to traditional chronology).

Since Kramer’s famous discovery, new fragments of epic poems about Enmerkar have been discovered dating back to a slightly earlier time – the third period of Ur (end of the 3rd – beginning of the 2nd millennium BC).

Around the same time, Roger Moore from the Ashmolean Museum established that Sumerian epic poems “in their form preserved to us were composed based on earlier oral and written traditions”.

When studying these ancient poems, it immediately becomes apparent that the main political factor connecting Uruk, located on the Mesopotamian plain, and Aratta, situated on the plateau, were trade ties. Donkey caravans transported grain from Uruk to the mountain kingdom, and on the way back, these pack animals carried loads of minerals and semi-precious and ornamental stones on their backs.

On the way to Aratta, the caravans crossed seven mountain ridges. However, despite such great distances and completely different geological and climatic features of these lands, there were close cultural and political ties between these two “Sumerian” states.

The inhabitants of these lands spoke the same language and worshipped the same gods, first and foremost – the mighty goddess Inanna and Dumuzi, the god of the dead. There was also basically the same administrative system and identical political titles were used in both lands.

For example, Enmerkar was the En of Uruk; the ruler of Aratta also bore the title En (king-high priest). Assyriologist Henry Saggs suggested that such close cultural ties might indicate the ancient homeland of the inhabitants of Uruk, where they dwelt until they had to migrate to the plains of Sumer. In my opinion, as we will see in the subsequent chapters of the book, Saggs is absolutely right.

Despite such close cultural and possibly ethnic ties, it is evident from the text of the Sumerian poems that relations between these related states were often quite strained.

However, there is nothing unusual about this. A whole series of stories that have come down to us from the era of Ancient Sumer are devoted to conflicts and banal rivalry between neighboring city-states.

At such an early stage of historical development, all tribal groups strive to strengthen their political positions and declare dynastic claims to ever new lands.

This migration was the first documented population relocation in history. The settlers decided to trade the mineral riches of the mountainous regions for the fertile arable lands of the great plain.

In the poem “Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta”, the events begin with the threat of a military invasion by the king of Uruk into Aratta. Enmerkar had already invited the goddess Inanna from her ancestral homeland and was busy erecting a worthy temple for her in Uruk.

This sacred fortress in Uruk, Eanna (“House of Heaven”), was uncovered during archaeological excavations in Warka, and thus allows us to familiarize ourselves with the realities underlying the legends associated with the name of Enmerkar.

So, at the very beginning of the poem, we learn that the king of Uruk is demanding a huge tribute from Aratta: a multitude of gold, silver, and lapis lazuli (lazurite) to adorn the Temple of Abzu in Eridu, the “House of Enki” (“Lord of the Earth”) and the new “home” of the goddess Inanna in Uruk.

If Aratta does not give all this as a gift, the king of Uruk will invade his lands and take all these treasures by force. These threats were conveyed through a messenger or a royal herald—a poor warrior forced to travel several times through mountain ridges to become the living mouth of a “dialogue at a distance” between the kings of the two lands.

This dialogue lasted for years, but eventually, Enmerkar, as one would expect from a literary monument created in Sumer, gets his way, and the fortress of Eanna is adorned with the treasures of the depths seized from Aratta.

In return, Aratta was supposed to receive some grain, indicating the trivial fact that this poor mountain kingdom could not feed its population from its own resources alone. Thus, Sumer was a kind of granary for Aratta, while Aratta supplied the plain kingdom with minerals and timber, the deficit (if not the — complete absence) of which was acutely felt in the alluvial lowlands of Mesopotamia. If Saggs’ hypothesis that Aratta was the homeland of at least some of the tribes that inhabited Sumer is correct, then one of the possible reasons for the active migration of these tribes could be a noticeable increase in population, which the meager resources of the mountain valleys could no longer feed.

Having left their ancient homeland, the tribes of Aratta discovered on the plains of Sumer—the biblical land of Shinar—vast, sparsely populated lowlands, abundant in water and suitable for agriculture.

The newcomers built irrigation and transport canals here, turning the former marshy lowlands into fertile lands where cities sprang up at every turn.

There is no doubt that Aratta was perceived by the Sumerians in later times as a fabulously rich, almost magical land. One scholar even called Aratta the “Sumerian El Dorado”—a mythical semi-real kingdom of dreams, fantasies, and ancient glory. However, there can also be no doubt that Aratta was a real place, the legendary status of which arose in times when the age of heroes had already passed into the past.

In the first chapter, I already talked about how the geography of Eden is easily identifiable with the topography of Greater Armenia. In addition, I am also convinced that the historical Eden can be easily identified through the literary monuments of Ancient Sumer.

Indeed, there are many reasons to believe that the land of Aratta of the ancient Sumerians is the oldest prototype of the biblical Eden.

Excerpt from the book by David Rohl “GENESIS OF CIVILIZATION. WHERE DID WE COME FROM…”

(Rohl D. Genesis of Civilization. Where did we come from… – Moscow: Exmo Publishing House, 2002. – 480 p, ill.)

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