The State of Aratta in Sumerian Sources – Artak Movsisyan

The State of Aratta in Sumerian Sources – Artak MovsisyanThe ancient Sumerian and Akkadian written monuments in Mesopotamia provide us with invaluable information on the history of Armenia in 3rd-2nd millennia BC. The Sumerians, the creators of one of the first civilizations in the world in the period prior to the establishment of Southern Mesopotamia, inhabited the regions of the northern Mesopotamia and the southern Armenian Highlands.

Having left these places, they did not lose touch with the highlands for a long time. For this very reason, the earliest mention of the civilizations of the highlands are found in the Sumerian written monuments.

The Sumerians created the first cuneiform scripts, which were borrowed by the Semitic Akkadians in the second half of the 3rd millennium. Later, the scripts spread to the countries of the Near East, including the Kingdom of Van.

In the Sumerian sources, the country of Aratta was frequently mentioned. Aratta is the first known state formation in the Armenian Highlands.

The information on this country is dated at the 28th-27th centuries BC. What do the Sumerian sources tell us about the country of Aratta, its location, state structure, economy, culture, and other aspects?

In Sumerian epic, Aratta is mentioned as a highland country. The way from Aratta to Sumer was going across the river Uruki. The only river flowing through the city of Uruki was Euphrates, and the only mountainous terrain in the basin of this river was the Armenian Highlands. Thus, Aratta was undoubtedly located in the Armenian Highlands.

This is also evidenced by the names of the localities along the road from Sumer to Aratta. An example is the country of Zamua, which was located to the south of Lake Urmia (in the Assyrian sources, the Lake Urmia is called the “sea of ​​the country of Zamua”). Continuing the line from Sumer to Zamua, we will inevitably come to the Armenian Plateau.

It is known that the worship of the god of wisdom and the universal waters Ea, whose son Hayk was the patron god of Aratta, was associated with the Armenian Upland.

Aratta was a country of theocratic order. Theocratic order means a government in which both spiritual and secular powers were subordinated to the clergy class, which, in its turn, ruled in the name of god. The king of Aratta was the supreme priest of the country at the same time.

To solve the land-related issues of the state, the king-priest gathered the council of elders. The head of the country’s economy, who was called “leader”, is also mentioned. Officials of the economic sphere like tax collectors and managers also existed in Aratta, which testifies to a certain developed state system in the country.

In addition, there is data on the economic relations between Aratta and Sumer. Arattians imported grain and other agricultural products and exported metal and precious stones. In addition, they exported building materials to the south. In Sumer, donkeys were used as transport while in Aratta, horses were more widespread. The exploitation of horses in agriculture and the military art has led to unprecedentedly early progress in Aratta.

The Sumerian sources preserved information about Aratta’s army and its capital with stone walls. According to one of the sources, the Sumerian army besieged the eponymous capital of Aratta, but even a year wasn’t enough to conquer it.

“Arrows flew from the city like rain from the clouds, the stones of crossbows fell like drops of rain from the walls of Aratta throughout the year. Days passed, months ended, and a year went in a full circle.”

Another crucial fact about Aratta is that the Arattians had their own alphabet, which is also proved by the found hieroglyphic monuments of the 3rd millennium BC. By the way, those are still not deciphered.

In the 28th-27th centuries BC, architects were sent from Aratta to Sumer for the construction of large buildings. The sources dating at the 26th-25th centuries BC refer to the Subarians settled in Mesopotamia as scribes, bakers, smiths, gardeners, etc.

It is also interesting that during the period of active documentation of Aratta, the Armenian Highlands were united into one cultural belt, which is called “the Armenian culture of the early Bronze Age” in archeological literature.

by Artak Movsisyan

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