|The End of Urartu|
Argishti I’s son, Sarduri II, inherited a prosperous and flourishing kingdom. He continued his father’s external policies and strengthened the existing administration and economic centers. At the citadel of Tushpa, Sarduri II set up two stelae recording the annals of his reign and Urartu's authority extending north of the Arax River and around Lake Urmia.
On one, information about the land of Armeh is included. The Armeh, in the upper Tigris Valley, became the nucleus of an alliance of city-states later called the Armenians.
Sarduri’s reign, however, coincided with another revival of Assyria, under Tiglath-Pileser III in 745 BC. The Assyrians retook territories in Northern Syria held by Urartu, but did not cross the country’s borders until 735 BC, where they went as far as Tushpa, laying siege to the capital. T he blow to the Urartu kingdom weakened its power and Sarduri spent the rest of his reign re-conquering territories his father Argishti had captured.
By the reign of Rusa I, begun in 735 BC, Urartu was in continual threat of attack from Assyria to the South, internal dissension among feudal states within the kingdom, and a new threat from migrating Cimmerians from the North. He erected two fortresses on Lake Sevan, one west of the lake by Gavar, and the other to the south at Teishebaini (Karmir Blur in Yerevan).
In 722 BC, the son of Tiglath-Pileser, Sargon, overthrew his brother and seized the Assyrian throne (begins to sound like a Shakespeare History, doesn't it?). Sargon immediately set about conquering the vassal states under Egypt in Syria and Palestine, the kingdom of Babylon, and to the north, Urartu. He defeated the Egyptian Pharaoh Shabaka, and then set out to destroy Urartu. Beginning in 714 BC, Sargon first attacked the area around Lake Urmia. An attempt by Rusa to move to the rear of the Assyrian army and attack was thwarted when the Assyrians received a tip from a spy in the Urartu camp, and completely annihilated the Urartian forces in a mountain gorge. Sargon then moved on to central Urartu, bypassing Tushpa to attack the city of Musasir.
A small sample of the enormous wealth in Urartu can be found in a contemporary accounting ledger of the treasures the Assyrian King Sargon (reigned 722-704 BC) took when he capture Musasir in 713 BC.
In the palace storerooms (in Musasir, an outpost of Urartu by Lake Urmia), The Assyrians found more than a ton of gold (34 talents, 18 minas); nearly five tons of silver (167 talents, ½ mina); more than four hundred precious objects, broken into 44 types, including gold and silver swords and daggers, silver cups, cups with gold handles…
At the temple of Khaldi (the primary Urartian deity), there was much much more to be had, including a large amount of gold, five tons of silver, and more than 109 tons of bronze ingots. Among the primary objects listed were:
"6 gold shields, flame-red in color, which hung in his chamber on the right and left sides and shone with dazzling brightness; in the middle of them are the heads of dogs with bared teeth; they weighed 5 talents and 12 minas (about 140 lbs.)… one gold door bolt in the shape of a man’s hand, the fastening on the door in the shape of a monster; 2 gold keys in the shape of lamassus (winged demons) wearing tiaras… weighed 2 talents and 12 minas (about 145 lbs.) of gold…25,212 brazen (bronze) shields both heavy and light…; 1,514 brazen javelins both heavy and light; heavy brass spear heads…; brass lances with brass supports; 305,412 swords…; 1 large sword, a weapon worn at his waist, to the making of which went 26 minas and 3 su (about 30 lbs.) of gold; 96 silver javelins… silver bows and silver spears, inlaid with gold and mounted; 12 heavy silver shields, the bosses of which are made in the form of the heads of monsters, lions and wild bulls…; 33 silver chariots."
The ledger continues with "393 silver cups, 2 horns set in gold rims, 1 gold signet ring with seal inlaid with precious gems, 9 fabrics for the temple deity, embroidered with golden discs, 1 bed of ivory, 1 silver couch framed in gold and decorated with gems, 139 batons of ivory, 10 tables of boxwood, and chairs of ebony and boxwood set with gold and silver, 2 altars, 14 various stones for the ornament of the deity, precious stones belonging to the deity…"
The total ledger lists 61 different types of items taken and a total of 335,000 objects in all. Mind, this was not the main capital, but an outpost of the kingdom. Even though a partial listing, it is staggering in its proportions and amount of wealth. Very few of the items were manufactured outside of Urartu, which gives a good idea of the enormous wealth within the kingdom, and why it was coveted by the Assyrians.
The destruction of Musasir had a devastating effect on Urartu. The Assyrians record that upon hearing of the destruction of the city, Rusa ended his life with a dagger. The Urartians recovered under the reign of Rusa’s son, Argishti II, and Assyria’s conflicts with Egypt, Babylon and Syria, as well as the death of the Assyrian king Sargon allowed Urartu to recover and rally. The Urartians rebuilt Musasir and other cities destroyed in the campaign, and re-conquered most of their empire.
By the reign of the Urartu king Rusa II in the 7th c BC, the Urartians had recovered their position as a prominent power, re-establishing their influence over trade routes to the Mediterranean. Assyria faced threats by the Cimmerians and Scythians, who had entered into an alliance with Urartu. Rusa II built a new capital called Rusahinili, which remained the capital of Urartu for 100 years, until the destruction of the empire.
The Scythians and Medes entered into an alliance at about the same time, placing pressure on both Urartu and Assyria, which were still engaged in a fight to the death. Much like the end of Rome, Urartu showed signs of complacency at the end of its reign, relying on alliances to cover its flanks while it focussed on Assyria.
In the 6th c. BC, Urartu and Assyria were both exhausted by constant warfare. Having formed the alliance with Scythians, Urartu ended abruptly ca. 585 BC after the Medes--assisted by Scythians-- invaded and destroyed the capital of Tushpa. The remains of the empire were subjugated by the Achaemenid Empire (under Cyrus, Xerxes and Darius).
Remains of the Urartian Empire in Armenia include the citadels of Erebuni (Yerevan), Teishebaini (Karmir Blur), Argishikhnili (Armavir), fortresses at Metsamor, Giumri, Vanadzor and Sissian, and three fortified cities on Lake Sevan (L'chashen, Gavar and Martuni).
To put this into perspective, Urartu rose at the same time as the Doric invasion of Greece and developed during the rise of Athens and Sparta, Babylon, Assyria, the New Kingdom in Egypt, and the Chan dynasty in China.