The Great Erebuni of the Urartian Kingdom: Fortress of Blood
Erebuni Fortress, known also as Arin Berd (meaning ‘Fortress of Blood’) is a fortified settlement located in the southeastern outskirts of the modern city of Yerevan, Armenia. This fortress was founded during the 8th century BC by the Urartians, the predecessors of the Armenians.
As a fortress, this settlement was an important military center, the first of its kind built by the Urartians in that area. In addition to that, the Erebuni Fortress was one of the Urartian Kingdom’s most important political, economic, and cultural centers.
A Defensive Stronghold of the Urartian Kingdom
The Urartian Kingdom was an ancient kingdom located along the River Aras (also known as Araxes), the Upper Tigris, and the Upper Euphrates. Between 785 and 753 BC, the Urartian Kingdom was ruled by a king named Argište I. This king expanded his kingdom’s borders through a series of conquests that were initiated by his predecessors.
Walls of the Erebuni Fortress. Yerevan, Armenia ( CC BY SA 3.0 )
In 782 BC, Erebuni Fortress was founded on top of a 65 meter (213.3 foot) high hill overlooking the River Aras as a military stronghold to defend the kingdom’s northern border. This is affirmed by the large cuneiform slab with an inscription written by Argište I, which was unearthed by archaeologists in 1950. (It may be added that the fortress had been lost to history until its re-discovery in that year.) When that inscription was translated, it read:
“By the greatness of the God Khaldi, Argishti, son of Menua, built this mighty stronghold and proclaimed it Erebuni for the glory of Biainili (Urartu) and to instil fear among the king's enemies. Argishti says: The land was a desert, before the great works I accomplished upon it. By the greatness of Khaldi, Argishti, son of Menua, is a mighty king, king of Biainili, and ruler of Tushpa.”
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Layout of the Fortress
Archaeological excavations have revealed that the fortress had a rather clear-cut layout, similar to other settlements of the Urartian Kingdom. A town was built at the foot of the hill, whilst a citadel was built on top of the hill where it commanded a full view of the town below as well as the Ararat plain, its settlements, and the roads leading to the fortress. Due to the configuration of the hill top, the citadel’s plan was triangular in shape. The fortress was constructed in various stages, and remains of structures such as walls, palaces, and temples are still visible today.
A model of the Erebuni Fortress ( Public Domain )
Based on surviving sections of the citadel’s walls, it has been suggested that they were once 12 meters (39.4 feet) high. Additionally, these walls were built on the steep slope of the hill and were fortified by rectangular buttresses at regular intervals. Thus, the citadel had a formidable appearance when viewed from the outside.
The exterior walls of the Erebuni Fortress ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )
The entrance to the citadel was on the southeastern side, where the hill has a gentler slope. Additionally, the entrance was identified by the fact that the walls at the entrance were erected in three rows. There was also a six-column portico that stood to the left of the road leading to the entrance of the citadel. This portico was painted with colorful frescoes and the stairway which led up to it was flanked by bronze figures of winged bulls with human heads.
Southeast entrance to Erebuni Fortress. Restored by mason Andranik Sargsyan. ( Public Domain )
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The Palace and the Temple of Haldi
One of the most important places in the citadel was the palace. The palace is located to the north of a square which occupied the center of the citadel, and occupies the northwestern part of the hilltop. The inner walls of the palace were adorned with beautiful and opulent mural paintings, containing scenes of farming and hunting, as well as geometrical and vegetative designs.
In addition to the palace, another important structure within the Fortress of Erebuni was the temple of Haldi - the main god in the Urartian triad of Haldi, Teisheba, and Shivini. This structure was located in the southwestern part of the citadel’s square, and was a large hall with an open 12-column portico.
Like the palace, the inner walls of this temple were also richly decorated. However, one feature that set the temple apart from the other buildings in the citadel was its floor. Whilst the other buildings had clay-coated adobe floors that were faced with stone slabs, the floor of the temple was made of small wooden planks.
Left: Figurine of the weather god Teisheba, found in 1941 during the excavations at Karmir Blur, in the ruins of the Urartian fortress of Teishebaini. ( Public Domain ) Right: Figure of the goddess Arubani, wife of Ḫaldi. ( Public Domain )
The archaeological excavations of Erebuni Fortress have been ongoing since they began in 1950. In 2013, the sixth phase of the Armenian-French archaeological expedition, which began in 2008, was concluded.
Nevertheless, it has been reported that the Armenians and French would continue to collaborate on this project through 2015. It is hoped that further investigations of this site will allow more details about the Erebuni Fortress to come to light.
Featured image: Urartian Susi Temple in the Erebuni Fortress. Photo source: Public Domain .
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