When there was a sea under Ararat

The fact that the Ararat Sea (lake) existed is not conjecture. Scientists have proven and even established the dates of its appearance and disappearance.

Judging by the works of the ancient historian and geographer of Roman Greece, Strabo, the Ararat Valley did not appear in the process of natural formation, but thanks to human intervention.

“They say that in ancient times, the Armenian Araks in its rapid course from the mountains overflowed in a wide area of the plains below and, not having an outlet, formed a sea. Jason, however, cut a crevice in the rock similar to the Tempe Valley, through which the river’s waters now plunge into the Caspian Sea. As a result, the Araksena plain dried up, through which the river flows to its steep fall into the sea. This story about the river Araks contains something credible”

In other words, Strabo claims that the Peney (Pineios) River in Greece is also called Araks. And our river Araks once formed a sea that covered almost the entire Ararat valley.

According to some sources, the Greek hero Jason, who (from the myth of the Argonauts) sailed through the Black Sea to Colchis, after receiving the Golden Fleece, also visited Armenia. Strabo reports that he had a companion from Greece named Armen.

“According to legend, Jason during his journey to the Colchians with the Thessalian Armen penetrated as far as the Caspian Sea and visited Iberia, Albania and most of Armenia and Media, as evidenced by the sanctuaries of Jason and some other monuments there. Further, according to the stories, Armen came from one of the cities of Armenia – near Lake Bebeida, between Pherae and Larisa”.

Strabo also writes about “sanctuaries of Jason” in Armenia and Media, and in neighboring countries.

“Monuments of Jason serve as sanctuaries in honor of the hero Jason, highly revered by the barbarians (and above the Caspian Gates, on the right side, there is a large mountain named Jasonian). The march of Jason is attested by the sanctuaries of Jason; some of them were erected by the rulers of the country, just as Parmenion built the temple of Jason in Abdera.”

But it should be noted that likely part or even all of these memorial sites did not appear until the era of Alexander the Great’s conquests in the 4th century BC. For example, it is known that the Temple of Jason in Abdera was built by Parmenion – one of the commanders of Alexander and his father Philip. As for the sanctuaries of Jason in Armenia and Media, there is no reliable data about this.

It has long been known that the source of myths often comes from real events. Although, often, they are difficult to reconstruct with full credibility. Since virtually no Armenian sources from the period before the adoption of Christianity have been preserved, and those fragments that have reached us in the retelling of historians, starting from the 5th century, tell about pre-Christian times only briefly and without details, much in the ancient history of Armenia we know from the sources of other countries. Therefore, it is natural that historians greatly value such information.

The sea under Ararat

And what can modern science say about the sea in the Araks River valley and its disappearance? Here is where it gets most interesting. Geologists confirm that the sea once indeed splashed at the very foot of Ararat. They call it the Ararat paleo-lake with fresh water, like Sevan now. This is evidenced by the lake sediments with a large accumulation of shells, which are still preserved in these places.

The flooding of the plain was caused by the blocking of the Araks riverbed due to the eruption of lava from Little Ararat (altitude 3896 m) towards the south. And this lake existed relatively recently even by historical standards, and by geological standards – quite recently, only about 8 thousand years ago. More precisely, the paleo-lake was before that.

It appeared and existed, changing its banks and levels, and 8 thousand years ago it began to disappear, and the first settlements in the Ararat Valley appeared. For example, Aknashen.

As revealed by an archaeological expedition in 2011, led by Doctor of Historical Sciences Ruben Badalyan, Aknashen was the first settlement in the Ararat Valley, and 8,000 years ago it was coastal. Among the findings of organic remains, there were many fish bones, which means it was essentially a fishing village. By the way, the discovery of Aknashen and Lake Ararat will soon be the subject of a large collection of articles in the West authored by R. Badalyan and other scientists.

According to geologists, the height of the lake above sea level reached 830 meters, and the width reached where the northern boundaries of the valley end today. According to independent researcher Ruben Mnatsakanyan, at certain periods it even reached the lower slopes of Aragats. He discovered there the remains of fortresses, built all around above cliffs and rocks in such a way that it made no sense on land, but it was quite justified if these rocks and cliffs were underwater, and the walls had to protect against landing from boats or ships.

This unexpected and amazing page of prehistoric Armenia’s history raises new questions and mysteries for many of us. And for some of them, it is still impossible to find unequivocal answers. The first one is where Strabo could have known about this, if even in the Armenian sources that have reached us, nothing is said about it? Perhaps he could learn about it either from Armenian sources that have not reached us, or from the annals of neighboring countries, if they really built sanctuaries of Jason and kept traditions about this.

But if science has confirmed the reality of the Ararat Sea or Lake in the past and even established the dates of its appearance and disappearance, can this at least partially confirm that this happened thanks to Jason and his companions? If yes, it means that the Greek heroes lived and came to the Armenian highlands 8,000 years ago. But this is also just an assumption.

There’s another point. In ancient times, different peoples often identified Roman, Greek, and other gods, heroes, and even antiheroes with their own deities in different religions. For example, Khorenatsi in his “History of Armenia” names the Babylonian king Bel Nebrot. Also, the Greek king of gods Zeus was considered identical in Rome with Jupiter, and in Armenia with Aramazd. Therefore, it is quite possible that Strabo identifies Jason with one of the local heroes, starting with Ayk Naapet and his descendant Amasia, who, as Khorenatsi writes, named Mount Ararat Masis by his name, and built a settlement at the foot of Masis.

That is, the sanctuaries and worship of ancient Armenians to their ancestors could be identified with Greek heroes, and cause Strabo’s desire to write only the Greek name, without mentioning the Armenian, which he might not have known. Such, as we would say today, reincarnation was quite common in ancient culture. And if so, we have to find out who exactly Jason was identified with. Perhaps with Ayk Naapet himself, whom Khorenatsi calls a divine hero.

In any case, if the Armenian people were given such a divine gift as the Ararat Valley, which later became the center of statehood and spiritual life of the country, when our people were just emerging, then Armenians even millennia later should remember this with gratitude.

by Armen Petrosayn

Translated by Vigen Avetisyan

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