The City of Erebuni, A Major Center of the Kingdom of Van
After the unification of the Nairi states by Arame (858 – 844 BC), a historic Armenian state known as the Kingdom of Van (Urartu to Assyrians) became one of the most powerful states of the Ancient East. Among the earliest cities of the kingdom was Erebuni lying on Arin-berd hill, the southeastern outskirts of present-day Yerevan, the capital of Armenia. Erebuni has been a key administrative and economic center in the north of the country.
According to the Khorkhor cuneiform inscription and two other records found in the citadel of the city, Erebuni was built in 782 BC by King Argishti I. This date is also the date of the establishment of Yerevan because the two cities are identified with each other. The name “Yerevan” is also derived from “Erebuni”. A painted figure of an armed warrior standing on a bronze pedestal with a cuneiform inscription was made in honor of the city’s foundation, which confirms the role of Erebuni as an important military stronghold.
The fortress of Erebuni was masterfully built in accordance with the traditions of the Kingdom of Van. The citadel crowned an about 65-meter high hill, standing in dominance around the surrounding locality. From the citadel opened a full view of the Ararat Plain along with its settlements and the main roads leading to the city. The triangular layout of the fortress was determined by the shape of the hilltop.
Another remarkable element was a six-column portico standing to the left-hand side of the road, accentuating the entrance to the citadel. The portico was decorated with vivid frescos, while the stairway leading to it was edged with bronze statues of winged oxen with human heads. The fortress consisted of interconnected palaces, houses of worship, and service premises lying on various levels, as determined by the surface of the hill. The main entrance of the citadel led to the central yard, which was used to hold all sorts of ceremonies and parades.
The southwestern end of the yard housed the temple of god Haldi, the chief deity of the Van pantheon. The temple featured an oblong large hall with an auxiliary room and a staircase leading to the top level of the tower, as well as to an open 12-column portico. The columns of the portico were double in their design and have been probably used when the garrison was drawn up. An altar for sacrifices was standing at the left end wall.
The walls of the temple were lined with benches for notables and featured colorful frescos of human figures, gods, as well as floral and geometrical ornaments. The representation of god Haldi standing on a lion with a tiara on his head and a warder in his left hand is quite remarkable. This fresco is similar to the bas-relief representation of the deity Teisheba in Adildzhevaz, a place known as the hub of the Urartian art.
The opening over the altar was made to let in daylight and draw the altar smoke out of the temple. Another credence altar was situated outside the temple in the middle of the yard, the interior and exterior of which were painted sky-blue. Right next to the temple stood service premises, including two wine stores with large (with up to 600 liters of capacity) jars for wine used in sacrificial rites.
Cuneiform inscriptions on the stone walls and column bases say that the palace has been expanded shortly after being built. Argishti added new premises, which would be organically connected to the layout of the fortress.
Erebuni served as the place of residence for successive kings during their military campaigns against northern invaders. They also carried on the construction works aimed at the reinforcement of the citadel’s defenses. Apart from that, kings Sarduri II and Rusa I used Erebuni as a staging site for new campaigns directed northwards.
In the early 6th century, the Kingdom of Van became a satrapy of the Achaemenid Empire. Erebuni, however, maintained its significance and became an important center of the satrapy of Armenia. And in spite of numerous invasions by successive foreign powers during the upcoming centuries, Erebuni has never been fully abandoned. Eventually, the city would branch out and expand to become the modern city of Yerevan.