Erebuni Fortress



Location: Khachik Dshtents Street, Yerevan, Yerevan Province  Map

Constructed: 782 BC by King Argishti I


Description of Erebuni Fortress or Arin Berd

Erebuni Fortress is an ancient fortified city that belonged to the ancient kingdom of Urartu. Erebuni Fortress also known as Arin Berd ('Fortress of Blood') was built 782 BC by King Argishti I (785- 753 BC) on a strategic hill of Arin- Berd  at an elevation of 65 meters overlooking Armenian capital of Yerevan below. The layout of the citadel has a triangular shape. The foundation of Erebuni Fortress was constructed from a basalt boulders to secure its walls against any possible earthquakes. The water to the small military garrison within its walls was delivered by an aqueduct. Subsequent additions to the military fortification included palace, religious structures and civilian living quarters. Erebuni Fortress preserved some of the few remaining murals of the Urartu art. They technology for creating bright and durable paints made sure that depictions of their gods, sacrifices and other religious motifs survive till our modern day in a near mint condition.


History of Erebuni Fortress

The foundation of the city (782 BC)
As is known from the cuneiform tablets of Argishti I and his annals, preserved in the capital of Urartu - Tushpe, Erebuni was founded in 782 BC. e. During this period, Urartu experienced its heyday and was the most powerful state in Western Asia. Argishti I was concerned about the expansion of the borders of his state and the strengthening of economic well-being. The Ararat Valley under irrigation, which was perfectly owned by the Urartians, had extremely favorable conditions for agriculture, and therefore was an attractive territory for Urartian expansion. The local population (according to the annals - the country of Aza) resisted the Urartians, and as a stronghold for the further expansion of Argishti I founded the new fortress city of Erebuni.

Ethnic Composition and Religion Erebuni
The Chronicle of Argishti I tells about the settlement of Erebuni by prisoners from the country of Hati, namely 6,600 soldiers captured in Melitene and the upper Euphrates, in all likelihood, proto-Armenians by ethnicity, as well as other tribes. In addition, one of the temples located in the fortress (the so-called “Sushi” temple) was provided with an unusual inscription of Argishti I, which mentioned the deity “Ivarsha”, which had never been seen in Urartian texts.

Based on these data, scientists suggested that the god "Ivarsha" is the Hett-Luvian deity Immarshia, mentioned in the Hittite cuneiform inscriptions of the Bogazkoy archive, and the temple "Sushi" was built for migrant soldiers from the countries of Khati and Tsupani. The lack of data for this argument gave rise to an alternative theory that the Sushi temple was built for the sake of the deity of the local population of the Ararat valley, the so-called inhabitants of the country of Aza in the Urartian texts. Although the question of the deity of Ivars remains open, scientists agree that the composition of the population of Erebuni has been multinational since its founding.

In the fortress also, probably from the very foundation of Erebuni, there was a temple of the god Khaldi, the main god Urartu. This temple occupied a much larger area than the Sushi temple, and was the main temple of Erebuni. In the final Achaemenid period of Erebuni's life, both temples were expanded and rebuilt into Persian shrines. The temple "Susi" was converted into the "Temple of Fire", and the temple of the god Khaldi in Persian apadana.

The heyday of Erebuni (782–735 BC)
The founding of the city of Erebuni achieved its goal: the Urartians successfully settled in the Ararat Valley. The first six years, Erebuni remained the only Urartian city in the Ararat valley, but in 776 BC. Argishti I founds Argishtikhinili - another major city near modern Armavir. Argishtikhinili’s device demonstrates that this city solved mainly economic rather than military tasks. Thus, six years after the foundation of Erebuni, the Urartians firmly established themselves in the Ararat Valley and reaped the fruits of their economic deeds. The canals laid by Argishti I provided the lands with the necessary irrigation, and the fertile lands of the valley began to bring rich harvests. Between 782 and 735 BC. During the reign of Argishti I and his son Sarduri II, several large granaries were built in Erebuni. Such construction in neighboring Argishtikhinili was even larger, and military power and strength in the region remained for Erebuni.

The Decline of Erebuni (735-600 BC)
The cloudless period of Erebuni's existence ended with the beginning of sunset of Urartu. In 735 BC e. Sarduri II at the western end of the country opposite Erebuni was defeated by the Assyrian king Tiglathpalasar III. This defeat was a turning point in the history of Urartu. From about 735 BC e. Urartu gradually lost its power and its possessions. Although the armies of Assyria, the eternal rival of Urartu, never penetrated the Urartian possessions in Transcaucasia, the subsequent years of confrontation with Assyria greatly weakened the Urartian army. On the other hand, from the time of the reign of the son of Sarduri II, Rus I, attacks of the Cimmerians from the north-east of the Urartian possessions on the Ararat Valley became more frequent. As a result, economic activity in the Ararat Valley ceased its calm and peaceful development, and administrative reforms were carried out that slowed down the development and changed the status of Erebuni and neighboring Argishtihinili.

However, both cities continued to exist, at least until the fall of Assyria (609 BC) and the reign of Rus III, son of Erimen (reign of ca. 605-595 BC). The positions of Urartu in the former center of the country, in the vicinity of Lake Van, under Ruse III were greatly shaken, and the Urartian administrative center was forced to shift to Transcaucasia. These events briefly breathed new life into Erebuni, the inscriptions of Rus III about the construction of new granaries in Argishtihinili and in Erebuni were preserved.


However, soon, after a short period of revival, the Urartian army left Erebuni without a fight, and the other Urartian city of Transcaucasia, Teishebaini, became the capital of the ever-weakening Urartu. The archaeologists who conducted the excavations did not find either the Urartian cultural layer in the Erebuni fortress, or traces of a fire or other military destruction. On the other hand, during the excavation of Teishebaini, many objects were discovered that were previously stored in Erebuni. The Urartian history of Erebuni ends here, and after a short time, having lost the military support of Erebuni, Argishtikhinili dies, then was taken by storm and burnt by Teishebaini, and the Urartian state ceases to exist.

Achaemenid period in the history of the fortress (V — VI centuries BC)
It is likely that the fact that the Urartians left Erebuni without a fight made it possible to preserve the fortress for its subsequent inhabitants [6]. According to archaeological finds in the V — VI centuries. BC e. part of the buildings of the fortress was rebuilt, a Persian temple appeared on the territory of the fortress. In addition, archaeologists discovered silver items of the post-Urartian period on the territory of the fortress, and in 1956 two coins of the Miletian coinage of the 4th century BC were discovered. e. In addition, iron horse bits, probably of Iranian origin, were discovered in the upper cultural layer of the fortress. These data and finds suggest that life continued in Erebuni during the time of the Achaemenids. During this period, the territory where Erebuni was located was sometimes called "Armenia" in both Greek and Persian sources, but was divided between the 13th and 18th satrapies of the Achaemenid Empire. Scientists suggest that Erebuni was used at least a century after the fall of Urartu as a stronghold of the Achaemenid Empire. After the IV century BC. e. life in the Erebuni fortress completely freezes.


City device
The city of Erebuni consisted of a citadel located on the top of Arin-Berd hill, as well as of city blocks located at the foot of the hill. The total area of ​​the city was 200 ha. In addition, on the peaks of two neighboring small hills, archaeologists discovered the remains of Urartian ceramics, so it is possible that their peaks were also part of the ancient city. Unfortunately, by the middle of the 20th century, the possible territory of urban neighborhoods was included in the suburbs of Yerevan and was intensively built up, and therefore poorly preserved for archaeologists. At the same time, researchers note that, unlike other Urartian cities of Transcaucasia (Teishebaini, Argishtikhinili), the Erebuni fortress was not intended for close integration with city buildings, which was probably due to its original military purpose. Scientists believe that the location of Erebuni was due solely to strategic military considerations: from the Arin-Berd hill, both the Ararat Valley and most of the roads passing in the region are clearly visible.

Fortress device
The fortress (citadel) of Erebuni had a triangular shape and occupied the top of the Arin-Bird hill about 65 meters high. During the construction of the fortress, the top of the hill was artificially aligned. The total area of ​​the citadel was about 8 hectares. The foundation of the fortress was built of basalt blocks stacked on a flat rock that forms the basis of the hill. The only entrance to the fortress was located at its southeastern part, the remaining slopes of Arin-Berd are too steep. Here was the main gate of the fortress, in the foundation of which in 1958 the inscription Argishti I was found out about the foundation of Erebuni.

The interior of the fortress
In the fortress stands the palace part, located to the left of the main gate. Erebuni Palace was located on the southwestern side of the fortress (overlooking Mount Ararat) and was probably regularly used by the kings of Urartu. On the territory of the palace part was the Sushi temple, a peristyle courtyard, utility rooms, which included two wine pantries filled with crucian carp.

To the right of the main gate was the courtyard of the fortress measuring 14 × 17 meters and the adjoining temple of the god Khaldi. The structure of the temple included a colonnade and a multi-level tower-type room, resembling a small ziggurat. In the remaining sections of the fortress there were granaries, other utility rooms, as well as the dwellings of the military garrison guarding the fortress. As in other Urartian cities, there were several wine pantries in Erebuni, the largest of which was 13 × 38 meters in size and contained 100 wine crucians. According to various estimates, the total capacity of Erebuni's wine pantries was from 750 to 1750 liters.

In the Achaemenid period, the Sushi temple and the temple of the god Khaldi were rebuilt into Persian structures: the Temple of Fire and Apadana, respectively, so called by Erebuni archaeologists for their similarity with the Persian buildings of the same name in Susa and Persepolis.


Fortress architecture
The outer fortress wall consisted of a basement composed of basalt stones (sometimes tuff was also used as a foundation stone) a basement 2 meters high and a wall made of raw brick about 7 meters high. The fortress wall was reinforced every 8 meters with buttresses of five meters wide. In some places, the total height of the walls reached 12 meters. Clay mortar was used to bond stones and mud bricks. A blind area was made around the fortress walls from the outside, further strengthening the foundation and allowing the guards to bypass the fortress.

The foundations of the walls at the base did not have expansion, as in later Urartian buildings, for example, in Teishebaini. Bricks were made of clay with the addition of (for strength) finely chopped straw, similar to other Urartian and Mesopotamian structures. The brickwork was carefully bandaged; for this, bricks of two sizes were used: rectangular 32.3 × 47.4 × 12.5 cm and square 47.4 × 47.4 × 12.5 cm. Clay mortar was used. The walls were plastered with clay mixed with finely chopped straw.

The floor in most rooms is arranged on a rock base, leveled with a screed of clay mass 8–9 cm thick. A layer of bricks was laid on top of the screed, over which a layer of wood resembling a modern parquet was laid in many rooms. The ceilings were mainly made of wood, only in some cases archs made of bricks were used.

The lower part of the interior of the fortress was also piled with basalt and tuff stones, the upper of raw brick. Archaeological excavations made it possible to establish that thick wooden beams were used as door beams, the doors were solid and wooden 12 cm thick, the roof consisted of wooden beams interwoven with reeds.

Temple architecture
The architecture of the temples of the god Khaldi and the temple "Susi" in Erebuni differs from the architecture of the citadel and is remarkable in its own way.

Temple of God Haldi
The temple of the god Khaldi in Erebuni is notable for the fact that it is the largest at least partially preserved Urartian temple building. The temple of the god Khaldi was laid by Argishti I, as evidenced by a partially preserved cuneiform tablet discovered in 1968. The temple consisted of four parts: a utility room 7.2 × 7.2 m, a large hall 7.2 × 37.0 m, a square tower with a staircase and a peristyle U-shaped courtyard. The floor of the large hall, unlike other rooms, was laid out of wooden planks resembling parquet. The peristyle courtyard of the temple is a unique structure for Urartian architecture, although typical for the architecture of other ancient Eastern cultures. The roof of the courtyard was supported by 12 columns, under the floor, paved with small cobblestones, a wastewater disposal system was equipped. The tower with a staircase vaguely resembled a small Mesopotamian ziggurat, the entire temple was oriented diagonally to the cardinal points, which is also consistent with the Mesopotamian tradition. The walls of the temple were painted with wall paintings, mainly on a blue background. In the Achaemenid period, half of the temple of the god Khaldi was used for household needs, and the other half became part of large Apadana.

The architecture of the temple "Susi"
The Sushi Temple is a rectangular room with internal dimensions of 5.05 × 8.08 m, external 10.00 × 13.45 m, and an area of ​​40 m², and was obviously intended only for a small number of visitors. The temple was located strictly diagonally to the cardinal points, which is characteristic of the temples of Mesopotamia. In the depths of the room was located the altar. The temple was lit through the upper opening, which was also used to remove smoke from the sacrificial fire. The inner walls of the temple were decorated with wall paintings. There was one doorway in the temple, on both sides of which there remained cuneiform inscriptions of King Argishti I about the laying of the structure. The foundation of the temple is made of larger and more carefully carved blocks than other foundations of Erebuni, which architecturally brings it closer to Urartian fortresses on the northern shore of Lake Van. In this regard, scientists suggest that the temple may have been built with the help of the non-Urartian population of Erebuni (or, more likely, with the help of immigrants from the country of Hati, or with the participation of the local population of the country "Aza"). In the Achaemenid period, the temple was also rebuilt into a Persian temple.


Monumental paintings
Apparently, due to the fact that the Urartians left Erebuni without a fight, it was in this city that the best preserved monumental internal wall paintings, traces of which were discovered by archaeologists in almost all Urartian cities. The first murals were discovered in the first year of excavation, in 1950, in the temple of the god Khaldi. After that, archaeologists who examined Erebuni did a great job of preserving the fallen pieces of walls and plaster with fragments of murals and their conservation. The Urartian painting technology has preserved to this day a bright gamut of wall paint. The surviving original fragments of murals are stored in museums of Armenia, mainly in the Historical Museum of Armenia. The Erebuni Museum, the ruins of Erebuni itself and other museums also display numerous copies and reconstructions of these paintings.