The Kingdom of Van (Urartu)

by A. H. Sayce

Chapter VIII

The Cambridge Ancient History, vol. xx
The Assyrian Empire part I
(Cambridge, 1925)
pp. 169-186

(Continued from Previous Page)

III. Later History, from c. 720 B.C.

The military troubles which followed the death of Tiglath-pileser enabled the Vannic kingdom to recover to a certain extent from the effects of that monarch's campaign in the north. An inscription left by Rusas on a rock overhanging Lake Gökchheh [Sevan] describes how he had brought into subjection twenty-three kings, called ipani' in that part of the world, in the region between Erivan and Tiflis. We learn from Sargon that he had wrenched from the Minni the district of Uisdis with its grain-cities 'which were as numberless as the stars of heaven,' though it is possible that the acquisition of this territory was part of the price paid by the Minni for assistance against Assyria. Even in northern Syria Vannic influence revived (see p. 51 sqq.).

But it was clear that respite from the Assyrian danger could [179] not last long. The Assyrian army was as formidable as ever, and it was certain that with the appearance of a strong leader and the suppression of internal disputes another assault would be made upon Armenia. Rusas, therefore, busied himself in forming a league of the northern nations along with Mita ( or Midas) of the Mushki who were now the predominant power in eastern Asia Minor (see pp. 145, 166). The northern alliance, however, was ill-compacted, and Rusas and Mita do not seem to have worked heartily together. The country, moreover, was mountainous and difficult to traverse, so that intercourse and rapid action in common were by no means easy. Sargon was allowed to strike at his opponents in detail; first Carchemish, the head of the league in Syria, fell (in 717 B.C.), and so the passage over the Euphrates passed under Assyrian control. Instead of uniting, his enemies now divided their forces; while Mita headed the confederates on the western side of the Euphrates, Rusas threw all his forces into the lands of the Minni to the east. But the Minni resembled the Kurds of to-day. They had no political cohesion and their army was a rabble of bandits. Sargon had little difficulty therefore in crushing them (in 715 B.C.). When he turned westward to Mita, and with the Syrian resources behind him drove the enemy beyond the Taurus. He was now free to attack Rusas in his stronghold at Van.

The Armenian campaign occurred in 714 B.C. The Vannic army was completely defeated in the Minnian province of Uisdis in the gorge of Mount Uaus which Thureau-Dangin identifies with Mount Sahend east of Lake Urmia. At Uskaia the Assyrian troops entered the Vannic kingdom. The relics of the Vannic forces had fled to Van along with their king, while the unarmed inhabitants found a refuge in the mountains or were massacred helplessly by the invaders. The towns and villages were burned and Sargon finally found himself at the northern point of Lake Van and so reached Uaisis (Bitlis) on the Assyrian frontier. But the fortress proved too strong to be taken, and the conqueror, after receiving the tribute of Khubushkia (the modern Sart), suddenly determined to make a forced march backwards through a country without roads to the city of Musasir where Rusas had deposited all his treasures. It was a bold determination; the place was reputed inaccessible to an invading army, and the slightest attempt at blocking the road on the part of its defenders would have meant destruction to the invaders more especially on their returning road. But Sargon trusted to the suddenness and unexpectedness of his manreuvre as well as to the disorganization of [180] the Vannic forces, and he knew that untold wealth awaited him if the expedition proved a success.

His account of it, which takes the form of a letter to the god Ashur, describes the stages of the march and its successful issue. Musasir was reached without opposition, its vassal kinglet, Urzana, fled, leaving his wives and family to the mercy of the conqueror. The unfortunate townspeople crowded the roofs of their houses weeping and begging their lives from the conqueror, or else crawling before him in the dust on their hands and feet. The temple of Khaldis, the god of Biainas, was demolished, and an immense spoil carried away from both temple and palace. Line after line of the inscription is occupied with an enumeration of it. Gold and silver, precious woods and stones, ivory and rich furniture, fell into the hands of the Assyrian. Among the numberless vessels of gold and silver were 'the silver cup of Rusas with its cover', 'cups from the land of Tabal,' and silver censers from the same country. There were bronze and iron objects of all kinds and sizes, and dyed vestments of linen, including the scarlet textiles of 'Ararat and Kurkhi.' From the temple-treasury were taken talents of gold, of silver and of copper, a great sword of gold, as well as lances, bows and arrows of silver inlaid with gold, chariots of silver and 393 silver cups 'the workmanship of Assyria, Ararat and Kurkhi,' daggers of ivory and hard wood set in gold, ivory tables and baskets for holding flowers together with 139 ivory wands. The shields of gold, which hung three on either side of the temple-door were torn down from the walls, and the conquerors carried away the golden bar moulded in the form of an abubu or Flood-dragon, seated on a human hand, which closed the door, along with the two golden keys that were fashioned in the likeness of protecting goddesses with the Hittite tiara on their heads. Among the other spoils of the temple were twelve silver shields adorned with heads of lions and wild oxen and also the abubu—a curious parallel to the Flood-dragon of China—as well as the gold ring which 'confirmed the commands of Bagmastu, the wife of Khaldisddd' and special goddess of Musasir, and the ivory bed with silver mattress on which the divine pair were believed to lie. Images of the Vannic kings also fell into Sargon's hands, as also 'a great bowl of bronze capable of holding eighty measures of water, with its great bronze cover, which the kings of Ararat filled with wine for libations when they offered sacrifice to Khaldis.'

Sargon declares that when the news of the loss of his treasure and the captivity of his god reached the Vannic king, he was [181] overwhelmed by the greatness of the disaster and committed suicide by running a sword through his body (see p. 53). The statement cannot be correct if the bilingual inscription set up by Rusas at Sidikan-Topzawa belongs to a later period than the destruction of Musasir, as has been suggested. But the text of the inscription really implies the contrary. It describes the installation of Urzana as vassal king of Musasir and accordingly must belong to an earlier period in the Assyrian war. Rusas states that the Vannic troops had penetrated as far as 'the mountains of Assyria' on the north-east of the Assyrian kingdom and that on their way back to Van he had established Urzana at Musasir to keep watch upon the enemy. The installation of Urzana took place in the temple of Khaldis which was still standing.

Rusas I was probably the Rusas of the mutilated stele of Keshish Göl, near Van, which describes various public works carried out by the king, more especially the formation of a reservoir at the source of the Keshish G&oml;l, the construction of a canal, and the creation of a new garden-city named Rusakhinas, 'the city of Rusas,' on the east side of the rock of Van with its vineyards and palace. The transference of the garden city from its old site on the south side of the citadel was probably due to the fact that the new town was protected by the fortress of Toprak Kaleh. The canal dug by Menuas was consequently no longer serviceable, and another canal was required. It will be remembered that the lower town of Van had been destroyed by Tiglath-pileser.

Rusas I was succeeded in 714 B.C. by his son Argistis II. The capture of Musasir by Sargon and the loss of the royal treasure was a disaster from which the Vannic kingdom never recovered (p. 59). During the rest of Sargon's reign it remained quiescent so far as Assyria was concerned, and it is only after the accession of Sennacherib that we hear of it again. But Assyria had no reason to congratulate itself. In the districts south of Lake Urmia, it is true, no further trouble was to be feared, but the kingdom of Biainas had served as a buffer-state protecting Assyria from the attack of the northern hordes. And this service it was no longer strong enough to perform, Scyths (Ashguzai) and Cimmerians (Gimirrai) poured down from the north to the right and the left of the Vannic state, and the Phrygian tribes, who were eventually to become the Armenians, were already advancing from the west. The Cimmerians had now reached Lydia, since Esarhaddon associated Saparda or Sardes with them as well as with the Scyths and Medes. (See pp. 83, 188.)

[182] In their own immediate territory, however, the kings of Tuspas still maintaned their authority. A letter of Sennacherlb, when he was crown-prince, informs us that a 'Gurania (the modern Gurun on the Tokhma-su), Nagiu, the fortresses of Ararat and the fortresses of Gamir were paying tribute to Ararat,' 'But when the men of Ararat went to Gamir they were defeated.' In Gamir we may see the name of the Cimmerians, the Gomer of the book of Genesis. Later on we hear that 'Uesi,' that is Bitlis, had been occupied by the generals of the king of Ararat—Seteni of Ararat, Suna of the Ukka, Sakuata of Kanium, Siblia of Alzi (on the Arsanias) and Tutu of Armiraliu—and a despatch from the governor of Amida (Diarbekr) to Sennacherib mentions Argistis and states that the Assyrian cities had to be carefully garrisoned up to the frontier of the Vannic kingdom.

The son and successor of Argistis was Rusas II. In an inscription discovered by Belck and Lehmann-Haupt at Adeljevas on the north side of the Lake of Van he claims to have conquered the Mushki, the Hittites and the Khalitu[ni] or Halizones, and another inscription found near Melazgert, between Erzingan and Kharput, refers to his occupation of Alzi. Among the Minni, also, his authority was recognized, according to a tablet from the son of a prince in that part of the world who had sent a number of workmen and others to Van, to assist in the building operations Rusas had undertaken at the temple of Toprak Kaleh. The Cimmerian danger was now past: they and their leader Teushpa had been defeated by Esarhaddon in Khubushkia (Sart) and driven westward into Asia Minor. But it would seem that the common peril had brought Van and Assyria together, and we find Rusas, accordingly, sending ambassadors to Ashurbanipal to congratulate him on his victory over the Elamites. A few years later, after the Arabian campaign of Ashurbanipal, another embassy arrived at the Assyrian court from Ararat, sent this time by Sarduris III, who appears to have been a son of Rusas. At all events, Ashurbanipal informs us that his 'royal fathers' had made alliance with the 'royal fathers' of the Assyrian king, which implies descent from the ancient royal house of Biainas (see also p. 118). Another Sarduris has left a memorial of himself on the southern shore of Lake Erivan, who calls himself the son of Rapis. But he does not entitle himself king of Biainas or Tuspas, and is therefore probably to be regarded as some dependent prince whose territory lay in the north, and who was possibly a cadet of the royal house. On the other hand, various bronze objects—shields, libation-bowls, human-headed bulls and the model of a palace—discovered [183] at Toprak Kaleh, record the building activities there of a king Rusas, the son of Erimenas. The relics seem to belong to the last period of restoration or construction in the garden-city, and the present writer therefore adheres to his old belief that we must see in them the latest literary records of the Vannic kingdom that have survived. Erimenas would have been the successor of Sarduris III.

The kingdom of Ararat was still existing when Jeremiah, chapter li, was written. There the kingdoms of Ararat, Minni (i.e. Mannai) and Ashkenaz are called upon to assist the Medes in the destruction of Babylon. Cyrus the Persian has not yet loomed upon the scene; the Medes still hold the place subsequently occupied by Persia in the history of western Asia. The date of the prophecy, consequently, will be before 550 B.C.

When the curtain rises again, Biainis has become Armenia. The Vannic language has been replaced by an Indo-European one, and the cities bear new names. The war carried on by Darius against the Medic pretender was partly fought in Armenia, and Strabo tells us that the descendants of Hydarnes, one of the seven conspirators against the Magian, became kings of Armenia, and reigned there from the time of Darius Hystaspis to that of Alexander. The next cuneiform inscription to those of the old Vannic monarchs that is found there was engraved by Xerxes on the rock of Van. Over the interval which lies between them hangs the same veil of darkness as that which separates Roman Britain from the England of Christian Saxondom. All we know is that in 609 B.C., after the overthrow of Assyria by the Medes and Babylonians, the conquerors marched against the old capital of the Vannic kingdom.

IV. Religion and Culture

The supreme god of Biainas was Khaldis, whose people and children its inhabitants believed themselves to be. Under the influence of Babylonian culture Khaldis came to be associated with two other gods, Ardinis the Sun-god and Teisbas, and so to form a trinity like that of Babylonia. Teisbas, the Tessubas (Teshub) of the Hittite monuments, was probably borrowed from abroad, and corresponded with the Hadad-Rimmon of Syria. Hittite religion was very hospitable, so long as the foreign deities who were admitted into it acknowledged the supremacy and fatherhood of Khaldis. Ishtar, for example, was introduced under the name of Saris and in the disguise of Semiramis played a [184] prominent part in the legends of the later Armenia. The joint kings, Ispuinis and Menuas, engraved a long inscription on the rocks of Meher-Kapussi, two miles from Van, containing a tariff of the sacrifices and offerings that were to be made to the various deities of the kingdom. Among them are the deities of conquered countries, and there are others like Tuspuas who, as in Asia Minor, were deified cities. Along with Selardis, the Moon, 'Water' and 'Earth' are also mentioned, from which we may gather that worship was offered to rivers and springs. The 'Khaldis-gods,' that is to say, the family of Khaldis, were very numerous; and it is therefore curious that like Ashur in Assyria no consort is assigned to him except at Musasir, where it is the foreign goddess Bagmastu. At Van itself the goddess Ishtar, in the abbreviated form Saris, was adopted into the pantheon, though she remained an independent deity, altogether outside the family of Khaldis. It is Saris who masquerades as Semiramis in the early legends of Indo-European Armenia.

The offerings naturally included wine. The vine, which is indigenous in Armenia, was the sacred tree of the country, and the planting of the vine on the part of the king was an especially solemn ceremony. But there is no trace of the sacred stone which played so large a part in the religion of Asia Minor.

The temple resembled those of Assyria. A picture of the front of the temple of Khaldis at Musasir is given in one of the bas-reliefs of the palace of Sargon at Khorsabad. On either side of the door a spear is set upright before the columns which supported the roof, and another spear forms the apex of the slanting roof itself. Right and left of the spears, two shields are suspended from the wall, while in front of the entrance are two large bronze bowls fitted into stands.

Traditions of the old gods survived into Indo-European Armenia. Moses of Khorene tells us how the Armenian king, Ara, 'the Beautiful,' was wooed by the Assyrian queen Semiramis. But Ara refused her offers and eventually Semiramis marched into Armenia at the head of an army to force him to accept her; A fierce battle was fought, in which Ara was slain, and the Assyrian queen flung herself on the corpse in an agony of grief calling upon the gods to restore him to life. And the story went that 'the gods Aralez' did restore him, though the Christian historian declares that this was the invention of the queen.

We hear of the gods Aralez at an earlier date, in the pages of Faustus Byzantinus, who describes the belief of the Armenians in the fourth century A.D., that the brave man who died in battle [185] would be restored by them to life. And at a still earlier date, in the fourth century before our era, Plato knows the name of Er the son of Armenios, who was slain in battle but returned again to life after a sojourn in the world below. It is the old story of Tammuz, the beautiful, beloved of Istar and slain by the boar, for whose sake Istar descended into Hades and brought the dead god back to the living world. The story goes back to the Sumerian age of Babylonia, and in the gods Aralez we must see the Babylonian Arallu, 'the land from whence none return.' In the Assyrian 'history' of Ctesias Ara and Aralez have become Assyrian kings, Arios and Aralios, successors of Zameis, 'the Sun-god,' known also as Ninyas 'the Ninevite,' the son of Semiramis.

Vannic art and culture were derived, like the system of writing, from Assyria, but modified on lines which remind us of Hittite Carchemish and Boghaz Keui. The buildings were mostly of stone, both dressed and undressed, many of the carefully-cut blocks being in contradistinction to Assyrian workmanship of very great size. Bricks were seldom used, and since the only brick construction found at Toprak Kaleh was of crude brick it would appear that they were employed solely in imitation of Babylonia. On the other hand, excavations in the rock were numerous, and Lehmann-Haupt observes that the rounded roof of the entrance to a rock-cut fortress of Rusas at Melazgert throws light on the architectural origin of the rock-cut tombs of the Pontic kings. Houses for the living were excavated in the rock as well as tombs for the dead. The Vannic architect was fond of building his walls with alternate rows of white and black stones after the style of the early Italian churches, and he also ornamented his floors and dados with a sort of mosaic work of small circles consisting of stones of different colours. His stone statuary was a reproduction of that of Assyria.

In metallurgy the people of Van were very expert, as might be expected from the proximity of the mineral wealth. Gold, silver, bronze, copper and iron were all in requisition. The work in bronze was especially excellent; a gryphon with inlaid eyes, discovered at Toprak Kaleh, is, for example, a first-class work of art. But, here again, the inspiration came from Assyria; the solitary human figure of bronze that has been found is as purely Assyrian as is a Vannic reproduction of the god Ashur emerging from the winged solar disk. A bronze candelabrum from Toprak Kaleh is remarkably like those of Etruria and might easily have been discovered in Italy.

Iron objects are common; the iron mines of north-eastern Asia [186] Minor had introduced it into that part of the world at a comparatively early period, and it is possible that the extensive replacement of bronze by iron in Assyria in the reign of Sargon was due to that monarch's northern campaigns.

The pottery of Biainas belongs to the same class as that of early Asia Minor, which we meet with again in the lower strata of Ashur and Nineveh. It is well made, and vases with handles are frequent. The commoner ware was of polished black clay, but there is a considerable amount which closely resembles the pottery found in Phrygia, and is characterized by a fine red glaze reminding us of 'Samian' ware. Wine and oil were kept in large jars with rope-patterns in relief running round their sides and their contents stated in cuneiform characters. Similar jars have been disinterred at Boghaz Keui. In some instances figures of animals in clay were attached to their rims.

The Vannic dress was that of a cold climate. The people wore buskins which reached half-way up their legs, tunics and possibly drawers, and the soldiers protected their heads with helmets, many of which had crests like the helmets of the Greeks or the Hittites of Carchemish. In fact, as far as dress, pottery and art were concerned, there was a general resemblance between the inhabitants of the Armenian plateau and those of Asia Minor throughout the period when the Vannic kingdom rose and fell. (See also pp. 19 sqq.)

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