Armenia in the 3rd Millennium BC

Armenia in the 3rd Millennium BC

Senior Researcher at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the National Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Armenia, Professor at the Department of History of Yerevan State University, and Candidate of Historical Sciences Artak Movsisyan in an afterword to his recently published work “Armenia in the 3rd millennium BC (according to written sources)” (Yerevan, 2005) writes:

“In the ‘History of Armenia’ written in the 1930s, N. Adonts, analyzing the data of several inscriptions known at that time, stated: ‘In fact, the name and fate of Armenia of the Sumerian-Akkadian era remain absolutely dark for us.’”

Fortunately, in the following decades, works were created that shed light on the ancient history of our people. Among them are the works of Artak Movsisyan himself – “The Most Ancient State in Armenia: Aratta” (1992), “The Empire of Pious Kings: A Century Empire Before Tigran the Great” (1997), “Sacred Highlands: Armenia in the Ancient Spiritual Perceptions of Western Asia” (2000, 2004), “Writing Systems of Pre-Mashtots Armenia” (2003), “Armenian Hieroglyphics” (2003), and others.

“Armenia in the 3rd millennium BC (according to written sources)” completes this cycle for the time being.

Artak Movsisyan was recently interviewed by Hasmik Gulakyan. We present the interview to you below.


Is it possible to consider your last work as a peculiar result of previous research? What is their principal feature?

The theory that Armenians are not native to the Armenian Highlands, which was erroneous in itself, spread in the second half of the 19th century and seriously harmed Armenian studies. In particular, much of the important information relating to the 3rd-2nd millennia BC was artificially alienated from our history or interpreted erroneously. Little has changed in 1970-1980, when moderate criticism of this theory was allowed. This stereotypical thinking does not give up its positions even today.

In 2004, the Institute of History of the National Academy of Sciences of Armenia, under the auspices of the government, began working on a 4-volume work on the history of Armenia, and I was asked to write a section titled “Armenia in the 3rd millennium BC (according to written sources).” When I started to work, I unexpectedly found out that the number of primary sources-inscriptions exceeds 100, although not more than a dozen are used in scientific circulation…

What are these sources?

First of all, I would like to note that the primary sources relating to the ancient history of Armenia were found both in the territory of the Armenian Highlands itself and in almost all the countries of Western Asia that had written language, which indicates the important role that our country has played in the region in ancient times.

The sources themselves can be divided into several main categories: 1) inscriptions, contemporary to the events mentioned in them; 2) copies of ancient sources; 3) historical works created on the basis of texts from previous eras; 4) works of historical and artistic nature (especially epics); 5) texts of economic, administrative, and other nature.

In the first chapter of your work, an important role is given to chronology. How do you manage to specify the dates of certain events in “immemorial” times?

Work on the refinement of the chronology of the Ancient East has been carried out for more than 100 years. Here, astronomy plays a very important role. The centers of ancient writing have always indicated the year in which celestial phenomena occurred — say, a solar or lunar eclipse, or the appearance of comets – which today are quite easily checked and verified using astronomy.

Thus, at the time of the end of the first Gutian Empire in the Armenian Highlands, it is mentioned that during the coronation of the last king named Tirigan, a lunar eclipse occurred, and 40 days after that, he was dethroned.

A few decades ago, Soviet orientalists turned to the Institute of Theoretical Physics of the USSR Academy of Sciences with a request to verify this date, and it turned out that these events occurred in 2109 BC.

The primary sources undoubtedly help you to solve a number of historical, geographical, and topographical issues that are associated with the name of our homeland. What are these names and what is their geography?

There are many of them. The first well-known name, which seems to us as the most ancient state entity, is known in the original sources of Mesopotamia as Aratta, which was located in the Armenian Highlands and is identified with the biblical Ararat/Hayastan.

For historical and geographical clarification, there are accurate arguments at our disposal. For example, people sailed from Aratta through the Euphrates to the Sumerian city-state of Uruk… Aratta was known in this territory as a mountainous country, and from the Armenian Highlands to the Persian Gulf, Euphrates flows only by the plain. Therefore, Aratta has to have been located in the Armenian Highlands. Or, say, the route from Sumer to Aratta passed through northern Mesopotamia through the regions of Zamua, Hurum, and others, and went into the southern areas of the Armenian Highlands.

There is a lot of information about the country of Armani (this is a pro forma of the name “Armenia”). It is mentioned in 24th-23rd-century BC sources. There is a lot of information relating to the country of Subur/Subartu, which is identified with Armani. It continued to be mentioned until the period of the Kingdom of Van. Armani and Arme (or Armi) are so often identified with Subur that in textbooks, they were referred to with the complex name of Arme-Shubria.

This is popular today as well – we call our country Hayastan, Georgians Somkheti, Englishmen Armenia, etc. In the 3rd millennium BC, Armenia was called Aratta – the original form of “Ararat” – Subur and then Subartu, Armani and Gutium (from the ancient name of Qorduk), and so on. The inhabitants of Mesopotamia, communicating with Hayastan, first saw the Qorduk region and thus named the whole country after it.

Aratta was identified with Subur and was sometimes denoted with its ideogram. And if the name of one country is written with the ideogram of another country, it means that both of these names refer to the same country. Identification, on one hand, of Aratta/Subur and on the other Armani/Subur shows that Aratta, Armani, and Subur are different names for the same country.

Starting from the 26th century BC, the name Haya has been mentioned, and it is used as the name of a tribe, as the name of a country, and as the name of a mythological deity. Haya was considered the god of wisdom. According to the mythology of Mesopotamia, he created the human race from clay in god’s likeness.

Movses Khorenatsi, referring to Mar Abas Katina, writes that for the first time, a dynasty of titans descended from the gods, one of which was Hayk Nahapet (Patriarch Hayk). But the Armenian tradition is silent about whose sun Hayk was exactly. And according to the original sources of Mesopotamia, it becomes clear that the son of the god Haya (Aya) had to be Ayik – Hayk Nahapet. The ending “ik” in addition to a diminutive meaning also indicated affiliation. “Ayik” meant “son of an Armenian god”, “the son of a tribe of Armenians.”

In the Sumerian-Akkadian bilingual inscriptions, Haya (Aya), Subur, and Armani are equivalent, i.e. the ancient names given to Armenia and Armenians – Hay, Armen, Aratta, Subur – are found from the 26th century BC onwards.

Later, the name “Haya” continued to be mentioned at the turn of the 3rd-2nd millennia BC in Ashur texts. And later, in Hittite sources, Armenia would be renamed Hayasa and then Hayastan. “Hay” is more often the self-name of Armenia. And later in Persian sources, it is mentioned in the form of “Armin.” Other nations would call it Armenia, Arminia, Ermani, Ermanistan, etc.

The name “Country of Ararat” is now mainly used in fiction, but it used to be a historical term. That is, from the 3rd millennium BC, we have clear equivalent names for Armenians and Armenia, which once again proves that Armenians as an independent ethnic unit have been already established in the 3rd millennium BC, and Armenia was referred to by different nations and centers of different civilizations by those names for centuries, and still is.

It is assumed that ancient inscriptions should only provide fragmentary information on the political history and geography of the 3rd millennium BC. How is the historical geography of the Armenian Highlands and neighboring countries outlined in them?

It is difficult to give a general answer. It is necessary to clarify which era is in question. Naturally, for thousands of years, political units haven’t remained unchanged. In the 3rd millennium BC in the south of Mesopotamia was a Sumerian state. In central Mesopotamia was the country of Uri, which would later disappear and be replaced with Akkad. And in the north of Mesopotamia was Aratta-Subur.

The areas to the west of Mesopotamia are known as Amurru or Martu, which means “Western”, and the Mediterranean Sea was called “Sea of the Amurru Country” or “Great Sea of the West.” To the east of Mesopotamia was the country of Zamua. To the south of Lake Urmia, Elam is also mentioned – today, it is in the southwestern region of Iran. In the 24th-23rd centuries BC, this geography has completely changed.

At this time, the first powerful Semitic state – the Akkadian Empire – appeared in central Mesopotamia and soon conquered Sumer, forming the Sumerian-Akkadian state.

An interesting document of this period has reached us, which is conventionally called “the geographic text of Sargon’s dominion”, where a large number of states are represented. Only in the Euphrates River basin are mentioned the city-state of Mari, the mountains of Lebanon, a region called Yarimutu, and the Silver Mountains (Taurus Mountain system).

Geography has changed during the time of Naram-Suen. While the primary sources of the 28th-27th centuries BC have a historical and epic character, that is, historical geography isn’t presented in detail, the texts of the 24th-23rd centuries BC in-depth describe the geography of invasions and campaigns. The monograph presents five maps.

You also touched upon the origin of the Armenian statehood.

Unfortunately, the primary sources are foreign, so they do not give us the opportunity to get to know the Armenian Highlands from the inside – Its polity, economy, etc.

Nevertheless, the surviving material makes it possible to conclude that, for example, in the era of Aratta, the country was headed by a high priest – a king, that the country had its own highest-consultative assembly of elders, that the highest economic official was the governor. Tax collectors and supervisors are also mentioned, and this means that the state has had an economic policy.

States are very similar to ancient oriental city-states. In the Armenian Highlands, regions or principalities, which in ancient texts are called “countries”, were united into alliances. Today, they can be called federations. For example, in the Gutian era, 17 countries were united, which by joint efforts overthrew the power of the tyrant Naram-Suen and then ruled over the territory stretching to the Persian Gulf for almost a hundred years.

The federation of the Nairian states in the 2nd millennium BC had the same structure. They were connected both ethnically, spiritually, and culturally. And, of course, they had common interests for conflicts with strangers.

Moreover, the Nairian states are mentioned in the 2nd millennium BC. And at the beginning of the 1st millennium BC, in the 9th century, when the Kingdom of Van united the federations and formed a single state, its first king, Sarduri I, proclaimed himself the king of the country of Nairi.

Falsifiers of history have become our “inseparable companions.” What is their attitude towards your research?

No one has yet published any refutations of my work and research. On radio and television broadcast, there were only approving reviews. My books are also published in other languages, with not a single line printed against. I got only gossip, which I do not pay attention to.

I publicly announced – If someone justifiably proves that there was no Aratta in the Armenian Highlands, I will invite them to a public discussion. If they can prove it or find at least one falsification in my works, I am ready to publicly burn them.

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