By an irony of fate, oral tradition and the writings of mediaeval historians ascribed the surviving works of the Urartians to their rivals the Assyrians. Thus Moses Khorenatsi, an Armenian historian of the 5th century, attributed the building of the large city of which remains still survived on a crag on the shores of Lake Van to the Assyrian Queen Shamiram (Semiramis). He relates how she brought together twelve thousand labourers and six thousand skilled craftsmen from Assyria and its tributary countries, and
".. .within a few years had completed this most wondrous work, with mighty walls and gates of brass. In the town itself she built a great number of splendid buildings, showing much variety in the use of stone and in colouring, of two and three stories, some of them with balconies. Most skilfully she planned the town, with handsome wide streets... On its outskirts to the east, the north and the south she laid out farmsteads and shady groves of fruit-trees and other leafy trees, and planted many flourishing gardens and vineyards. Many other fine things she brought to pass in the city, and settled in it great numbers of citizens. But all the splendours which she created in the upper part of the city were inaccessible to the general body of the citizens and are not to be described. Having girdled the summit with walls, so that none could reach the top nor enter therein, she erected a royal palace, a building of  mystery and awe... On the part of the mountain to the east, the surface of which is so hard that even iron can make no mark on it, she caused divers palaces to be hewn from the rock, containing sleeping apartments, treasuries, and long chambers hollowed out of the rock... Over the whole surface of the cliff, as if with a stylus on wax, she carved great numbers of characters. The mere sight of this cliff brings any who behold it into amazement. But this is not the whole tale; for in many places throughout the land of Armenia Queen Shamiram erected pillars with similar characters to these, causing various inscriptions to be carved on them."This account, linked with the name of the Assyrian Queen Sammuramat (812-803 B.C.), attracted particular attention from orientalists when the young archaeologist Friedrich Eduard Schulz, who had been sent to Turkey in 1827 by the French Asiatic Society, reported on the ancient remains he had discovered near the town of Van, on the eastern shores of Lake Van. There was a striking correspondence between Moses Khorenatsi's tale and what Schulz saw at Van. On the high crag which was so circumstantially described by the mediaeval historian were the remains of ancient walls built of huge blocks of stone, with the walls of a later Turkish fortress built on top. Schulz gave a detailed description of the rock-hewn chambers which he found within the fortress, and copied the cuneiform inscriptions which were carved on the cliff, sometimes at the entrances to artificial caves hewn from the rock. He also found large stones from ancient walls with similar inscriptions, and saw a large channel, also ascribed to Queen Shamiram, which had brought in water for drinking and irrigation. Near the channel were found other cuneiform inscriptions; and it was only when these were read, half a century later, that the name of the actual constructor of the water channel was revealed. It was the Urartian King Menua (810-781 B.C.), who had been victorious over Queen Sammuramat in real life but had been outshone by her in legend and story.
Schulz's promising work at Van was brought to an untimely end when he was murdered in the mountains near Culamerk. The material which he had  sent to Paris in 1828 was not published until 1840. This included accurate copies of 42 cuneiform inscriptions, together with descriptions of the rock-hewn structures of Van and of a number of fortresses.
After Schulz's death no further archaeological work was done at Van for many years. The splendid archaeological discoveries of the 1840s in central Assyria—the excavation of Sargon's palace at Khorsabad and Ashurnasir-pal's at Nimrud—diverted attention to Mesopotamia. A beginning was made with the decipherment of the Assyrian cuneiform, including the inscriptions from Van; but this work was carried on in isolation, with no associated archaeological investigation. And when archaeologists showed no interest in Van their place was soon taken by treasure-hunters.
It was with this forgotten and mysterious country that the inscriptions copied by Schulz, and so made available to scholars, now began to be associated.
In 1871, in Tbilisi (Tiflis), the orientalist M. Brosset published an article on the two winged female figurines from Van in the Istanbul Museum, disagreeing with their attribution to Byzantium and referring them to the culture of Assyria. At the same time he published two letters, one from the great Russian art scholar V.V. Stasov and the other from the eminent French orientalist Prevost de Longperier. Stasov realised the importance of the figurines, which he believed were to be ascribed neither to the Aryan nor the Semitic culture but reflected a third element in the culture of western Asia—thus foreshadowing the significance of the still unknown Hurrian and Hittite cultures. Longperier, noting that the closest analogies to the figurines were to be found in Babylonian art, suggested that they might be the work of the Urartians who were mentioned in Assyrian cuneiform inscriptions and were listed by Herodotus, under the name of the Alarodians, among the nations in Xerxes' army.
Thus in the year 1871, with the first correct identification of Urartian works of art, the kingdom of Urartu, which had for so long been utterly forgotten, began at last to emerge from oblivion. In spite of this, however, Urartian objects continued for many years to be regarded as Assyrian and to be displayed in museums along with the rest of the Assyrian material.
The work done by R.D. Barnett and myself on the records in London and Leningrad has yielded much interesting information about the channels by which material from Van reached the museums of Europe. One interesting item, for example, is a letter from one of the local inhabitants to Professor Patkanov of St Petersburg University offering to sell certain antiquities which were later acquired by the British Museum. The letter says: "The antiquities in my possession were found near Aygestan in the ruins of the fortress of Zimzim-Magara... In these ruins a great quantity of beautiful things have been found in the past, as for example a large throne, entirely covered with cuneiform inscriptions and gilded; but I am sorry to say that on my return from Europe I learned that it had been broken up and destroyed." Although the signature is indecipherable, Barnett has established beyond any doubt that the writer of the letter must have been Sedrak Devgants, who in the following year offered the objects listed in the letter for sale in Austria. It is a reasonable supposition also that Sedrak Devgants was the "Armenian" in Constantinople who in 1877 sold Henry Layard certain "Assyrian antiquities from Van" for the British Museum, including two figurines from a throne, one of a couchant winged bull, the other of a standing winged bull with forequarters in human form.
Between 1877 and 1885 a number of museums (the British Museum, the Louvre, the Berlin Museum, the Hermitage) and private collections acquired a dozen or so bronze figurines of fantastic animals, covered with gold leaf, decorated with stone inlays, and sometimes with inserted stone heads. Of particular interest is a bronze figurine of a winged lion with forequarters in human form, still retaining traces of its gold coating, and with a face carved from white stone and inlaid eyes of coloured stone, still in an excellent state of preservation (Plate 101). This was bought by the Hermitage in 1882,  but letters preserved in the records in London show that it had previously been offered to the British Museum.
These figurines of winged lions and bulls, sometimes with forequarters in human form, and sometimes with gods in human form standing on them, once formed part of the throne referred to in Devgants' letter. The gold and the many-coloured stones with which the throne was decorated must have created an effect of barbaric splendour, and the expressive and terrifying figures of fantastic animals were calculated to inspire superstitious awe in the beholder, as well as to ward off evil influences from the king who occupied the throne. Unfortunately the surviving figurines do not enable us to build up a convincing restoration of the complete throne: it may be, indeed, that they belong not to one throne but to two.
 In 1879-80 an expedition from the British Museum worked at Toprakkale under the direction of the British vice-consul in Van, Captain Clayton. Among those who took part in the excavations were Hormuzd Rassam and an American missionary, Dr Raynolds. The site of Toprakkale did not, however, come up to expectations. Although the excavators found the remains of a temple built of carefully dressed blocks of light and dark-coloured stone, fragments of ornamental bronze shields with cuneiform inscriptions and figures of bulls and lions, and a number of smaller pieces, they had looked for more than this. They had hoped to discover monumental buildings like the Assyrian palaces, and were disappointed when these did not appear. Toprakkale seemed to them to be a site of little interest lying on the periphery of Assyrian culture.
Some of the material recovered was displayed in the Assyrian room of the British Museum, but the rest was stored away in crates, and it was not until 80 years later that all this material was examined by R.D. Barnett and properly published. It might seem facetious to say that the material from Toprakkale which the British Museum acquired in 1879-80 only became accessible to scholars when Barnett carried out his further excavations in the storerooms and cellars of the Museum; but perhaps the comment would not be very far from the truth.
In 1898 a German expedition led by C.F. Lehmann-Haupt and W. Belck started work at Toprakkale. By this time the mound had suffered considerably from the attentions of treasure-hunters and the local inhabitants. The whole surface was pitted with trenches, and the stones of the temple discovered by the British expedition had been removed. Lehmann-Haupt cleared the foundations of the temple and drove trenches through different parts of the mound. The excavations brought to light many objects of everyday use, weapons of iron and bronze, implements, pottery and ornaments, and revealed dwelling-houses and store-rooms which had been destroyed by fire; but of Urartian art practically nothing was found. The only items of  interest were a bronze candelabrum, the feet of which were decorated with figurines of winged bulls with human heads, a massive foot from a throne, and a thin gold medallion showing a goddess seated on a throne with a woman standing in front of her.
The material obtained by the German expedition also lay in the Berlin Museum for many years, unheeded and unused. It had to wait half a century before it was examined and studied by G.R. Meyer, who discovered many items of great interest, including ornaments which matched those found by the British excavators and a crescent-shaped pendant of electrum representing a goddess seated on a throne. Another item was a bronze candelabrum which was restored in the Hamburg Museum in 1960, when a cuneiform inscription mentioning the name of the Urartian King Rusa was found on the stem.
After the German excavations the Van area was neglected by archaeologists for some years. It was not until the winter of 1911-12 that further exploratory work was carried out on Toprakkale by I. A. Orbeli; then in 1916 the Russian Archaeological Society sent an expedition to Van under the leadership of N.Y. Marr. Marr continued the investigation of Toprakkale, while Orbeli discovered in a niche on the northern face of the crag of Van a large stone stele with a lengthy inscription recording events in the reign of the Urartian King Sarduri II.
Finally, 22 years after the Russian expedition, in the summer of 1938, an American expedition led by K. Lake carried out further work on the crag of Van and on Toprakkale, with the object of checking the dating of the material found by the earlier expeditions. The results achieved by the Americans were of very limited significance, and archaeological work in central Urartu gradually came to a halt, the interest of archaeologists concerned with the ancient East being now concentrated on southern Mesopotamia.
In 1893 M. Nikolsky travelled through all the areas in Transcaucasia where cuneiform inscriptions had been found, accompanied by the archaeologist A. Ivanovsky, who made it his business to examine the remains of fortresses in the neighbourhood of the inscriptions. Excavations were carried out at only one place, at the village of Tashburun, on a site which according to the inscriptions had been occupied by the ancient Urartian city of Menuahinili and later became the Armenian town of Tsolakert. The material discovered was mainly mediaeval, which again prevented the excavators from identifying the archaeological level belonging to the Urartian period.
The study of the ancient fortresses situated near the find-spots of Urartian cuneiform inscriptions was resumed in 1930, when there was an upsurge of interest in the remains of antiquity within the territory of the Armenian Soviet Republic. The work then undertaken was in the nature of a reconnaissance, with the object of finding sites justifying more extended excavations.
 After a detailed examination of the area which had formed part of the kingdom of Urartu, systematic excavations were begun in 1939 on the mound of Karmir-Blur, on the outskirts of Erevan, where three years before a fragment of stone had been found with the remains of a cuneiform inscription mentioning the name of the Urartian King Rusa, son of Argishti, who reigned in the 7th century B.C.
The excavations at Karmir-Blur, which turned out to be the important Urartian city of Teishebaini, have been carried on for the last 26 years by an expedition under my leadership sponsored jointly by the Armenian Academy of Science and the Hermitage Museum. The citadel, which has been completely excavated, and the districts of the ancient city so far examined have given us a comprehensive picture of the culture and economy of Urartu and of Urartian crafts and building techniques. In the citadel were found a whole series of workshops, store-rooms, wine-cellars and well stocked granaries. In addition to a large quantity of domestic utensils, ornaments, weapons, implements and cloth, stores of grain and the remains of fruit, the excavators found numbers of clay tablets with cuneiform inscriptions—orders from the Urartian king to the governor of this Transcaucasian city and accounting documents dating from the reigns of the last Urartian kings.
The excavations have revealed that Teishebaini superseded earlier Urartian centres in Transcaucasia and that the contents of the store-rooms of these older towns were transferred to the new city. This is shown not only by the occurrence of the names of kings of the 8th century B.C. but also by the place of manufacture of some of the objects found, in particular the bronze shields.
One of these earlier Urartian centres was the city of Erebuni, the name of which is preserved in Erevan, the present capital of Soviet Armenia. The remains of Erebuni were discovered on the mound of Arin-Berd, which lies on the outskirts of Erevan on the opposite side from Karmir-Blur. Excavations were begun here in 1950, at first by a team from the Karmir-Blur  expeddition and later by an independent expedition organised by the Armenian Academy of Science and the Pushkin Museum in Moscow and led by the architect K. Oganesyan.
The excavations revealed the remains of a palace, two temples, and various store-rooms and domestic offices (Plates 1-7). Some of the rooms had sumptuous painted decorations, including representational pictures as well as purely ornamental patterns (Plates 8-13). Built into the walls of the fortress were twelve foundation inscriptions by two Urartian kings of the 8th century B.C.—Argishti, son of Menua, and Sarduri, son of Argishti— referring to the building of the fortress, the palace, a temple and granaries. The excavations also revealed store-rooms for wine and a hall with many columns which had been reconstructed either during the Urartian period or later. In spite of the excellent state of preservation of the buildings, only a small quantity of material was found in Erebuni. This is understandable, for the town was abandoned during the Urartian period, in the 7th century B.C., and most of the works of art found at Teishebaini seem to have been transferred from Erebuni.
Teishebaini itself was destroyed in the early 6th century B.C. The storming of the fortress was accompanied by a devastating fire, and life never revived in the burnt-out remains. The abandoned fortress of Erebuni was not destroyed but continued to exist into the Achaemenid period; and so the name of the ancient fortress was transferred to the Armenian settlement which grew into a town and is now the capital of Armenia.
Erebuni was mainly an administrative centre, the residence of the Urartian king in Transcaucasia: the centre of the economic life of the area in this period (8th century B.C.) was in the Ararat depression, at Armavir, where the first excavations had produced little result.
In 1964 the Armenian Academy of Science resumed excavation work at Armavir, on the two mounds of Armavir-Blur and David. The directors  of excavations were B. Arakelyan and A. Martirosyan. The excavations revealed defensive walls built of large blocks of stone, with the buttresses characteristic of Urartian architecture. On the David mound were discovered the remains of houses belonging to a large town—identified as the Urartian city of Argishtihinili—with cellars containing many implements and utensils of the Urartian period. The mediaeval occupation of the site had played havoc with the Urartian remains, and it is now difficult to determine whether Argishtihinili, like Erebuni, was in a state of decline in the 7th century B.C. The occurrence of similar stamps on jugs found here and at Teishebaini suggests that goods from Argishtihinili as well as from Erebuni were transferred to the store-rooms of the new centre established in the 7th century. Further excavation may be expected to throw more light on this.
In 1956-57 the British archaeologist C.A. Burney undertook a survey of the ancient fortresses in the Lake Van area, on the lines of the survey carried out in Armenia between 1930 and 1938. In the course of this he drew plans of many Urartian fortresses associated with previously discovered cuneiform inscriptions. Further inscriptions were published by P. Hulin in Anatolian Studies. This work was the prelude to a considerable development of archaeological work in central Urartu. The most extensive excavations in Turkey
[pp. 25-36 are plates]
 were those carried out at Altintepe by T. Ozguc, which revealed stone-built tombs belonging to persons of high rank, similar in plan to the rock-cut tombs at Van. In these tombs many bronze objects were found—a shield, fittings from furniture, pieces of harness, belts and jewellery. Features of particular interest were a temple similar to the one excavated at Erebuni and a hall with eighteen columns resembling the pillared hall at Erebuni. In the hall were found remains of paintings in many colours and in geometric patterns. The excavations at Altintepe also yielded pieces of bone carving similar to those found at Toprakkale, decorated with figures of winged demons, palmettes and architectural devices; and they produced a wealth of evidence on Urartian architecture of the 7th century B.C. The tombs were dated by inscriptions of King Rusa and King Argishti.
Between 1959 and 1963 Turkish archaeologists carried out excavations on many different sites. The investigation of the town site of Toprakkale was completed by Afif Erzen, and further work was done on the temple discovered in the earlier excavations by the British Museum. Another bronze shield was found, decorated with figures of lions and bulls and with an inscription in the name of Rusa, son of Erimena. In spite of the disturbed condition of the site the excavators found some still surviving remains of buildings, in particular a wine-cellar containing large storage jars of the type known as karasy (the equivalent of the Greek pithoi).
Particularly interesting results were obtained at Adilcevaz, on the northern shores of Lake Van, where a large relief of the god Teisheba standing on a bull was found carved on several blocks of stone.
During excavations by E. Bilgic and B. Ogun in 1964 on the mound of Kefkalesi near Adilcevaz another wine-cellar of the type usual in Urartian fortresses was found, also containing large storage jars marked in cuneiform with an indication of their capacity. In it were found a number of square pillars decorated with carving of remarkable quality—a background of battlemented walls and towers, in front of which were winged demons  standing on lions, with sacred trees in front of the towers—together with a badly damaged cuneiform inscription. The archaeologists working here believe that they have located a shrine in the palace of Rusa II, son of Argishti. A cemetery of the Urartian period has also been excavated at Adilcevaz.
An Urartian fortress of the second period (the reign of Sarduri III) was excavated by Erzen on Cavustepe. The excavations brought to light walls and towers, a temple, domestic buildings of various kinds, and a pottery store. Items of interest found here were fragments of wall paintings and a bronze plaque with representations of chariots and horsemen.
At Patnos Kemal Balkan investigated a number of mounds. On Anzavur-tepe he discovered remains of a temple with inscriptions in the name of Menua and his son Argishti I; and our knowledge of Urartian art was extended by the finding of a figurine of a lion, a gold necklace with small pendants, bracelets and seals.
In 1955 excavations were begun on the mound of Kayalidere in the vilayet of Mush by the Institute of Archaeology of the University of London (Seton Lloyd, C.A. Burney). The first excavation season was successful, with the discovery of remains of a fortress, a wine-store and a temple. The small finds included a bronze figurine of a lion which had decorated one of the feet of a candelabrum, fragments of a belt decorated with a scene representing a lion-hunt from a chariot, ornamental elements from furniture, and iron weapons.
The investigation of Urartian sites in Transcaucasia which began 35 years ago has substantially enlarged our knowledge of Urartu; much evidence has been accumulated on the economy, the culture, and the art of the Urartians; and their cultural links with other countries of the ancient East have been established. As a result it has become possible to produce general studies of Urartian history and culture. Collections of Urartian cuneiform inscriptions have been compiled (G. Melikishvili, F.W. Konig), the evidence from Assyrian and Babylonian sources has been brought together (I. Dyakonov/Diakonoff), the study of the language of the Vannic cuneiform inscriptions has made substantial progress (J. Friedrich, A. Goetze, I. Meshchaninov, G. Melikishvili, I. Dyakonov, N. Arutyunyan), the Urartian material from the older excavations has been reviewed (R. D. Barnett, G.R. Meyer), and the first study of Urartian art has been produced (E. Akurgal).
The last ten years have seen a remarkable development of interest in the ancient kingdom of Urartu. Excavations in the Armenian SSR are continuing with considerable success, and archaeological investigations in Turkey, in the central part of the Urartian kingdom, are in process of intensive development, striving to make up for the neglect of earlier years. At international congresses of orientalists increasing interest is being shown in the culture of the Kingdom of Van, and a number of studies have been produced dealing with its relationships with the Scythian world, the Caucasus, Asia Minor and the Mediterranean. Particular attention is being paid to the links between Urartian art and the art of archaic Greece and the Etruscans (Massimo Pallottino). The cultural heritage of Urartu is now seen to be considerably more extensive than had been supposed.
There can be no doubt that archaeologists are standing on the threshold of important new discoveries which will give still further impetus to the study of this ancient kingdom after so many centuries of neglect.
to Chapter II, The Problem of Origins
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