Ancient Armenia (3500 BC – 520 BC)

Zorats Karer ancient Armenia
Zorats Karer ancient Armenia

Ancient Armenia (3500 BC – 520 BC)

Armenia is one of the oldest countries in the world with a recorded history of about 3500
years. The oldest known ancestors of modern Armenians, the Hayasa-Azzi tribes, also
known as Proto-Armenians, were indigenous to the Armenian Highland in Eastern
Anatolia. These tribes formed the Nairi tribal union, which existed until late 13th century
BC. The legendary forefather of Armenians, Hayk, famous for his battles with
Babylonian ruler Bel, most likely was one of the Hayasa tribal leaders. The words ‘Nairi’
and ‘Nairian’ are still used by Armenians as poetic synonyms of the words ‘Armenia’ and
‘Armenian’.

At the end of the second millennium BC

, another Indo-European ethnic group, closely
related to Thracians and Phrygians and referred to by the Greeks as Armens, migrated to
the Armenian Highland from Northern Balkans. According to a Greek myth, which
actually reflects this tribal migration, the forefather of Armenians – Armenios – was one
of the Argonauts, accompanying Jason in his quest for the Golden Fleece. In the year
1115 BC, king Tiglath Pileser I of Assyria reports a battle with a force of 20.000 Armens
in the Gadmokh province of Assyria.

The mixture of Armens with the indigenous Hayasa

eventually produced the Armenian
people as it is known today. The existence of two major segments in the Armenian people
is best of all illustrated by the fact that Armenians call themselves “Hay” and their
country “Hayastan” after Hayasa, while other peoples call them Armenians and their
country Armenia after the Armens. The Armenian language is basically the language of
Armens, which is the only survivor of the now extinct Thraco-Phrygian group. It
incorporated a large number of Hayasa words and grammatical features, as well as a
significant number of non-Indo-European words from minor ethnic groups, which also
took part in the ethnogenesis of Armenians.

The first significant state of the Armenian Highland

was the highly advanced Kingdom of
Ararat (with the capital in Tushpa, today’s Van), better known under its Assyrian name
Urartu (Ararat). This state was formed in the XI century BC and existed until VII century
BC. Although populated mostly by Armenians, Urartu was ruled (at least during the first
centuries) by a non-Armenian and non-Indo-European dynasty. In 782 BC the Urartian
king Argishti I founded the fortified city of Erebuni, which is toady’s Yerevan, the capital
of Armenia. Another major city in the Valley of Ararat was Argishti-khinili, also founded
by Argishti I in the year 775 BC.

In the late VII century BC Urartu

, weakened by Scythian invasions, fell, but after several
decades was revived under the Armenian Yervanduni (the Orontides) dynasty with the
capital in Armavir, former Argishti-khinili. The revived kingdom was already called
Armenia by its neighbours, but in some languages the older name, Urartu, was still in
use. In the famous tri-lingual Behistun inscription of Persian king Darius the Great (522-
486) the same country is referred to as ‘Armenia’ in the Persian and Elamite versions, and
‘Urartu’ in the Akkadian version.
Artashisian dynasty, First Armenian Kingdom

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