History Files


Middle East Kingdoms

Ancient Anatolia




Urartu / Biainili (Uruatri)

The existence of the kingdom of Urartu in eastern Anatolia and northern Mesopotamia was scarcely even suspected until mention of it was discovered in Assyrian records. As a result, a history that can be pieced together for the state has a very Assyrian slant, even down to its name, which in Urartuan was Biainili. The Assyrian form of the name survives in Mount Ararat, now just inside the borders of Turkey. The people of Urartu were one of the non-Semitic and non-Indo-European peoples of the ancient Middle East, like the Sumerians, Elamites, Hurrians (who had a closely-related language), and Kassites. Originally the eastern Khaldi (Chalybes or Chaldoi) they had neighboured a similar people called the Hatti, and some of them may also have formed the Halizones. Their language is known from inscriptions, but they left no other texts which have survived. For that reason, their history is sketchy, and even more so when Assyrian records cease to mention them.

However, to the Assyrians, Urartu was a major enemy. Perhaps pushed into unifying as a political entity by Assyrian pressure, there was a constant state of warfare between the two (which is the only context in which the Assyrians mention them). Although the Urartuans were pushed back into their mountain strongholds, they could not be conquered. More damaging for Urartu were incursions from the north by the Cimmerians and Scythians of the Caucuses, and it is probably these which eventually led to the demise of the state.

Urartu was centred on eastern Anatolia, around Lake Van. Its capital, Tushpa, was located on the eastern shore of the lake, situated on a high and elongated rock outcrop. This later became the Van of the early Armenians. In the late ninth century BC, the state expanded north into the Caucasus, where an Urartuan presence was established at sites such as Karmir Blur and Armavir. The Urartuans also moved east across the formidable Zagros Mountains into north-western Iran, where many rock-cut texts and various sites, such as Hasanlu, Agrab Tepe, and Bastam, provide information about their local conquests and achievements.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from Eden, Bit Adini, and Beth Eden, Alan Millard, from Europe Before History, Kristian Kristiansen, and from External Link: Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, USA.)

1200s BC

The first references to a political organisation in this region comes when the Assyrians campaign to the north of Syria and encounter what they call the Nairi and Uruatri. These separate political entities eventually join forces, probably in the face of such Assyrian aggression. This new state's emergence is one of many such cases following the collapse of the Hittite empire in eastern Anatolia.

1000s BC

Between the eleventh and seventh centuries the Assyrians refer to the Urartuans as their northern enemies. During this time, the Urartuans adapt Assyrian cuneiform writing to create a 'dialect' of their own, and their later rock inscriptions use this writing to express the Urartuan language.

Uruatian ivories
Urartuan ivories were a prized luxury, and the two griffin-headed demons of white and black ivory pictured here were perhaps made to decorate a throne

c.860 - 844 BC

Aramu / Arame

Earliest-known and perhaps first king of Urartu.

856 BC

Following his conquest of Bit-Adini, the Assyrian forces of Shalmaneser III enter Urartu from the west and traverse its length. The campaign climaxes with a battle at the Urartuan capital of Arzashkun, which is destroyed. There follows a period of obscurity in Urartu during which the little-known Lutipri rules.

c.844 - 834 BC


Not on all lists.

c.834 - 825 BC

Sarduri I / Sarduris

Son. 'King of the Four Quarters'.

Sarduri unifies the state of Urartu, initiates its royal dynasty, and founds a new capital at Tushpa, as attested in the accounts of Shalmaneser III. The earliest known Urartuan written document, a rock inscription at Van (ancient Tushpa), records the earliest internal reference to the state (albeit in the Assyrian language, not Urartu's own language). It says that Urartu is ruled by Sarduri and mentions a male deity named Haldi, the supreme god throughout Urartuan history. Sarduri's immediate successors turn the state into an important power which, at its height incorporates the territory formed by modern Armenia. Modern Yerevan is located where ancient Urartuan Erebuni is at this time. The name remains the same after nearly 3,000 years. Urartu also occupies the Zagros Mountains to the east of Assyria, and consolidates its territorial gains by building a series of mountain fortresses, such as Rusa-patari, 'Small city of King Rusa', or Teishebaini, 'City of the god Teisheba'.

832 - 827 BC

Shalmaneser III organises a series of five campaigns against Urartu in a concerted attempt by Assyria to halt its expansion.

c.825 - 810 BC


Son. 'King of the land of Nairi'.

Ishpuinis continues the work of expanding the kingdom. He conquers the Indo-European Mannaean city of Musasir, which subsequently becomes Urartu's religious centre. Then he is attacked by the Assyrian king, Shamshi-Adad V, defeating the invaders and confidently proclaiming himself to be the 'Glorious King'.

 Shamshi-Adad V stela
Shown here is a stela which has been dated to the reign of Shamshi-Adad V of Assyria and which was discovered at the site of Kalhu in the mid-nineteenth century AD

c.810 - 785 BC


Son. Co-ruler during his father's last days.

Menua further expands the kingdom, building a large number of fortresses and leaving behind a great many rock inscriptions. He also develops the canal and irrigation that remains at least party used today.

c.785 - 763 BC

Argishti I


Argishti continues the series of conquests initiated by his predecessors. He is victorious against Assyria, conquers the northern part of Syria, and makes Urartu the most powerful state in the post-Hittite Middle East. The citadel of Erebuni (modern Yerevan in Armenia) is founded by him in 782 BC. Shamshi-ilu, the all-but independent Assyrian commander in northern Syria, does score a victory in battle against Uratu before 745 BC, as is recorded by a report on inscriptions of stone lions guarding the gateways at Kar-Shulmanu-Ashared. It makes no mention of his master, the Assyrian king.

c.763 - 734 BC

Sarduri II


750 - 748 BC

At the height of its power, Urartu is at war with Kolkis (which is situated on the south-eastern shore of the Black Sea, showing the extent of Urartuan expansion at this time).

743 - 740 BC

The Assyrians under Tiglath-Pileser III besiege Bit Agusi for three years, thanks to the city being an ally of Urartu. Once captured, the city is destroyed and its inhabitants are massacred. It is probably around this period that the Urartuans also lose their domination of the northern part of Syria. Their defeat also opens up Anatolia to the Assyrians, and Tabal is almost instantly attacked.

c.740? - 737 BC

Urartu is perhaps behind a major rebellion in northern Syria against Assyrian vassals including Hamath and Sam'al. The Assyrian king is forced to campaign in the region to end the rebellion.

c.734 - 714 BC

Rusa I

Son. Fought against a resurgent Assyria. Committed suicide.

c.714 - 685 BC

Argishti II


714 - 713 BC

Much to the shock of Sargon of Assyria, while his main army is occupied in the east, Ambaris of Tabal allies himself with Midas of Phrygia and Rusa of Urartu (possibly immediately before the latter's suicide), as well as the local Tabalean rulers in an attempt to invade Que. Sargon reacts quickly, invading Tabal and capturing Ambaris, his family and the nobles of his country, all of whom are taken to Assyria. Tabal is annexed as an Assyrian province. Sargon is noted for using Cimmerians within his army on this campaign, possibly for their knowledge of the Urartuan hills as much as their ability as mounted warriors. Cimmerians have been raiding into Mesopotamia for decades.

712 BC

Two years after he sacks the cult centre of Musasir, Sargon II of Assyria sacks the neo-Hittite capital of Kummuhu. At the same time Cimmerians and Scythians invade Anatolia and the city declines. It is possible that Urartu also suffers from the same tribal incursions, and that the people responsible eventually destroy the kingdom as they pass through the region to control the central Zagros Mountains.

Uruatuan fortress of Dogubeyazıt
The Urartuan fortress built into the mountainous hills of Doğubeyazıt, close to Mount Ararat in modern Turkey

c.685 - 645 BC

Rusa II

645 BC

Following the death of Rusa II, details about Urartu become very obscure. In conjunction with Phrygia, it seems that Urartu may still support anti-Assyrian rebellions in northern Syria and southern Anatolia.

c.645 - 635 BC

Sarduri III

c.635 - 629 BC


c.629 - 615/590 BC

Rusa III


c.615 - 595 BC

Sarduri IV

Son. Possibly a co-ruler. Died without issue.

c.595 - 585 BC

Rusa IV


590/585 BC

The territory that had formed the kingdom falls into the hands of the Medes, although the specific circumstances of Urartu's collapse are unknown. The end is violent, however, as its fortresses are burned down, apparently all close in time to one another, suggesting an organised campaign against Urartu that they are unable to resist. The Urartuan language disappears, submerged beneath the various other languages used in the isolated mountain valleys, and the Armenian Indo-Europeans are next to emerge, their language apparently closely related to Phrygian and Cappadocian farther west.