Mysterious Land of Aratta in the Legends of Sumer

© Photo : Armenian Geographic

The Mysterious Land of Aratta: what do Sumerian legends say about it, and how does it resemble Egypt?

Riddles of Ancient Gods: An analysis of written Sumerian, Indian, and ancient Armenian sources allows the author to put forward hypotheses that the gods lived on Earth, specifically on the Armenian highlands.

The very first name representing the oldest state entity in the Armenian highlands is mentioned in the primary sources of Mesopotamia as Aratta. The Sumerians – creators of one of the first civilizations in the world, called Aratta a divine country. What was such an unusual name based on? There may be several variants of the explanation. The first and most common is that ancient peoples had an idea that gods live in high mountains. One only needs to recall Olympus among the Greeks, or the Himalayas of the Hindus, where the main characters of the epic “Mahabharata” go at the end of their earthly lives to get to heaven, and where the eldest of them is met by the head of the pantheon. Therefore, mountains were the places of many ancient temples. From this point of view, the highest highland in the region could well be considered divine. However, the reasons for such respectful epithets of the country are far from limited to this.

At that time, trade was already well developed. Grain and cattle were transported from Sumer to Aratta, in exchange for which they received wood, metals, stone, and lapis lazuli, more precisely azurite or Arminakun, “Armenian stone”. Long ago, Sumerian heroic poems or epics were found and deciphered, among them, two are the most detailed: “Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta” and “Enmerkar and Ensugirana”, which describe the relationship between these ancient states and their rulers. En-Mer-Kar (or Enmerkar) – a semi-legendary ruler of the Sumerian city of Uruk, who ruled at the beginning of the 27th century BC. In the second poem, the ruler of Aratta is named as En-sugir-ana (Ensugirana or Ensukeshdanna). Names of other characters are also mentioned: the “first minister” (vizier or governor) of the ruler of Aratta is called Ansiggar, his high official, a priest of “mashmasha” – Urgirnunna, and the governor of En-Mer-Kar – Namennduma. It is noted that the ruler himself was also the chief priest. That is, Aratta was a country that had theocratic power.

This is a form of state governance in which both spiritual and secular power were subordinate to the class of clergy, which in turn exercised power on behalf of a god. The king of Aratta was simultaneously the country’s high priest. Aratta also mentioned officials in the economic sphere – tax collectors, managers, which speaks of an already well-established and developed state system in the country.

The exchange between the countries was not limited to trade. Here’s an excerpt from a Sumerian text that explicitly states that the origin of wisdom and art is associated with the Armenian highlands: “Wisdom and art were brought from Aratta.”

As the Sumerian proverb says: “When the authorities are wise, and the poor are obedient, it is a result of Aratta’s blessing.” This idea was later adopted by the ancient Greeks, who expressed it in their own way.

Theocracy, as Herodotus wrote, aims to follow the world order to establish harmony in society, which in ancient thinkers was equivalent to a perfect state. The initial purpose of the sacrificial ritual was to discern the will of the gods by the state of the sacrifice, and later came to be understood as an offering to God, with the aim of gaining his mercy. The form of theocracy comes from the depths of history, it was in many ancient states: Egypt, Mesopotamia, Tibet, Mexico, and others.

The oldest Armenian written sources from the times described in Sumerian events, that is, in the 3rd millennium BC, have reached us in a very small quantity and are still not deciphered. Future generations of historians will take on this task. Therefore, today the ancient Mesopotamian sources – Sumerian and Akkadian written monuments – are irreplaceable. They help fill our gap and provide valuable information about the history of Armenia in the 3rd-2nd millennia BC.

So why do they call Aratta a divine country? As we can see, mountains and theocracy were present in many countries, so that is not enough. But there are other, more important reasons. The Sumerians believed that one of their main gods, Enki (Ea, Aya or Haya for the Akkadians), resided in Aratta. In other words, simply put, he lived there, not alone, but with his family and other gods. Aya-Enki is a god who, together with his wife Ninmah (Ki), created humans. Furthermore, the first human Ninmah creates from clay, making a clear Sumerian analogue to the biblical Adam. The Bible itself states that paradise or Eden was on earth and was located in the Armenian highlands, where the great rivers of Mesopotamia, the Euphrates and Tigris, originate. Aya-Enki is a deity of wisdom, the underworld, cultural inventions, and is also the creator of the Tigris river. He is so benevolent towards people that he warns of the Great Flood, sent by the god Enlil, giving Ziusudra (the Sumerian prototype of the biblical Noah) the opportunity to build the Ark and be saved, thereby saving all future humanity. Interestingly, Ziusudra, fearing the wrath of Enlil, says that he can no longer stay in Mesopotamia, so he builds a ship to move to the possessions of Aya-Enki. That is, to Armenia.

This is already a clear difference from the biblical version, as the Sumerian Noah knows his route and place of salvation in advance. Interestingly, however widely this may seem surprising, it should be said that it is generally recognized by everyone. But there is a more important point: Aratta was considered a divine country not just because it was in the mountains, not because there was a theocracy there, which was in other countries, but precisely because gods lived there, and the people followed their divine laws. Not only Aya-Enki and his wife, but also the goddess Inanna (Akkadian Ishtar), whose favor Enmerkar sought, demanding from the ruler of Aratta craftsmen and material – precious metals and minerals for the reconstruction of her temple in the E-ana temple complex, threatening war in case of refusal. In turn, in exchange for these goods, Aratta demanded grain. As a result, the grain received from Uruk leads to the inhabitants of Aratta beginning to sympathize with Uruk. Then the god of storm and bad weather, Ishkur, contributes to the fact that the Aratta’s sowing yields a crop.

But against the background of all these trade and diplomatic events, the main factor is always present: gods and goddesses live in Aratta. But as much as we would like to learn something more about this, and from our ancient Armenian sources, this will have to wait. The only thing you can find from Khorenatsi on this topic is just one phrase at the very beginning of his history: “The first gods were terrifying and majestic — sources of the greatest goods in the world: the beginning of the earth and its settlement by people”. Apparently, the prevailing religious ideology at the time did not allow him to say more. And he knew much more. But the next phrase is already about the fact that from the gods “a generation of giants separated, absurd and huge-bodied titans”. What analogies can be drawn with other traditions? Not all ancient peoples claim that the gods lived among them and communicated with people. As we can see, even the Sumerians had to earn their favor, competing with their northern neighbors. But there were two most developed civilizations that claimed that they were founded, they lived, and they were ruled by gods. This is Ancient Egypt and India.

The ancient Egyptians considered the beginning of times a “golden age”. They called it Zep Tepi. Then the gods ruled the Earth, and they taught humanity the basics of civilization. Especially vivid memories have been preserved about the gods themselves, powerful and wise beings, called Neferu, which means beautiful and perfect.

Among these Neferu were both men and women, but they all had many superhuman abilities and could take any form at will.

An ancient Egyptian priest named Manetho from Sebennytos in the 3rd century BC, based on hieroglyphic sources that did not reach us, compiled a history of Egypt, where a detailed list of all rulers is given, both from the dynastic period and long before it, when the gods ruled in the Nile valley. Today, all that remains of Manetho’s history is stored in Matenadaran. We owe Movses Khorenatsi not only our “History of Armenia” written by him, but also his translations, thanks to which all the remaining written history of Ancient Egypt and Babylon has reached us.

The history of India also marks periods of divine rule, which are called Avatars there. This term in Hinduism denotes the descent of a deity to earth, its incarnation in human form. There is even a detailed classification of features by which they can be distinguished from mere mortals. And if gods lived in ancient Aratta, as the Sumerians assert, then there can be no doubt that something similar was there as well. What remains in folk memory from those legendary times? Not very much, but there are still some notable analogies. The Armenian words “faith” (հավատք) and “faithful” (հավատարիմ) clearly remind and are connected with the Sanskrit word “Avatar”. One can even conclude that the original meaning of the word “հավատարիմ” was: faithful to God. Also, the ancient name of Gyumri – Kumayri clearly reminds of Kumara, who in the legends of India are the elder brothers of the god Shiva. There are interesting analogies with the Sumerian language, for example, the word “Anunnaki”, which, along with the word “Igigi”, was used to refer to gods. That is, simply put, Anunnak means god in Sumerian. So in Grabar there is “Teranunak” — this is the only case when it was possible to find the known Sumerian word Anunnak in the languages ​​that have reached our days, in Armenian it was used even in the Middle Ages, it has come down to us with the prefix Ter (թերի), which means incomplete, half. That is, Teranunak literally means a genius, a spiritual person — a demigod. And this is the only case when this word can be found in old versions of living languages. Taking all this into account, the seemingly inexplicable fact that Biblical stories on the stones of the Armenian Highlands were carved thousands of years before the writing of the Bible will gradually become clear.

And the more detailed story of what was happening at the time when the gods lived in ancient Aratta or Armenia, what relation Ayya-Enki has to the progenitor of the Armenians Hayk Nahapet, whom some researchers consider the son of Ayya, named after him, as well as all other questions, will begin to become clear only when our historians will be able to find and decipher the oldest Armenian written sources of those legendary times. And not just to establish the divine origin of the Armenian people, but simply to know. After all, our historian Yegishe rightly said that only by knowing the past can you see the future.

by Armen Petrosyan

Translated by Vigen Avetisyan

Sharing is caring!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top