Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Peoples of the empire: Alarodians and Armenians

Herein, I'll try to go more-or-less alphabetically through the various ethnic groups listed by Herodotus (VII.63-80) as having taken part in the Graeco-Persian wars.  We start with the Alarodians, which is (according to Jona Lendering) a translation of Urartians.  The Alarodians are thus historically linked to the development of Armenia.  This entry, like others, will of course focus on these lands in Achaemenid times and the Graeco-Persian wars.

Urartu is first recorded in Assyrian sources as a geographical region called Uruatri in the 13th century BC.  The kingdom of Urartu was founded about 1000 BC and ruled an area centering around Lake Van and Sevan in the Armenian Highlands of eastern Anatolia and extending as far south as Lake Urmia.  During the 9th century, it became a major rival of Assyria, but in the late 7th century suffered from attacks by the same Medo-Scythian alliance that toppled Assyria.

The exact circumstances of the fall of Urartu and its transition to Armenia are unclear, but it is believed that either the Medes outright destroyed Urartu and the Armenian Orontid dynasty arose in the aftermath, or that the Medes merely helped the Orontids overthrow the Urartian dynasty, thus maintaining a more-or-less continuous state which was later renamed Armenia.  However, it would appear that at least in early Achaemenid times, the Urartians remained a distinct ethnic group.

(Armenia's native name, Hayastan or Hayk, harkens back to a late Bronze Age kingdom called Hayasa, suggesting that the Armenian presence in the region goes back quite a long way.  Alternately, the so-called Armeno-Phrygians migrated to the region later, bringing their language which evolved into Armenian, but retaining the region's native name.)

It's therefore unclear whether Armenia was independent from Media or tributary to it, and thus whether it became part of the Achaemenid empire by default or separate conquest.  What is known is that it was considered a satrapy by the time of Darius the Great, whose generals Dâdarši and Vaumisa put down an Armenian rebellion in late 522 to early 521.  That year, another Armenian, named Arakha, posed as the son of Nabonidus (the last king of Babylon before Cyrus the Great conquered it) and led a Babylonian revolt that was suppressed by Intaphrenes.

Herodotus claimed that during Xerxes I's invasion of Greece, the Armenian contingent was led, together with the Phrygians (of whom he considered the Armenians to be a branch), by Artochmes, Xerxes' brother-in-law, while the Urartians, together with the Saspires, were commanded by the famous Masistius.  However, we do not know what role, if any, these contingents played in the major battles.

The last Persian satrap of Armenia, Artašata, was also the last Achaemenid king, placed on the throne under the regnal name Darius III by the murderous vizier Bagoas, whom Darius then killed by forcing him to drink the poison he'd intend to slip to Darius.

After the fall of the Achaemenid dynasty, Armenia became an independent kingdom again.  In the ensuing millennia, it would remain a distinct region, sometimes independent and sometimes tributary to other empires; its current government gained independence with the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1990.  Interestingly, Armenia today has a pretty stable relationship with Iran.

Ancient Armenian society was tribal and relied heavily on pastoralism, mostly of cattle, sheep and horses; Strabo mentions that they paid taxes to the empire in horses, while Herodotus states that they paid in silver.  Xenophon claims that the Armenians of his day built their houses underground, with entrances that looked like wells, underground produce storerooms and even animal stables.  They also brewed beer, which was drunk unclarified with reed straws.

Ancient Armenian religion was polytheistic and often influenced by Iranian religion.  While it is difficult to say what Armenian religion looked like in Achaemenid times, by the early centuries AD their principle god was Aramazd, a combination of Ahura Mazda with features of the native hero Ara the Handsome.  The next most important deities were Anahit and Vahagn, adaptations of Anahita and Verethragna; the rest of the pantheon consisted of native gods and a few other imported Iranian and Assyrian ones.  The hero Hayk is given as the eponymous founder of Hayk/Hayastan.

The Urartians spoke an extinct, non-Indo-European language related to Hurrian and possibly more distantly to the Caucasian languages; Urartian was written in an adapted form of Assyrian cuneiform.  Their native name was Biainili, from which the name of Van (the lake and the city overlooking it) derives.  The Armenians (Hayer, Greek Armenioi, Old Persian Arminiya, of uncertain etymology) speak an Indo-European language of its own branch.  It is only recorded from the 5th century AD onward, so its development is unknown, though it contains a number of probable Urartian loanwords.  If Herodotus' theory is correct, proto-Armenian may have been similar to Phrygian.

Clothing and arms
Armenians on the Apadana of Persepolis are shown in clothing nearly identical to that of the Medo-Persian cavalry costume, complete with ankle shoes and knotted belts.  They wear tiaras with flopped-over peaks and the earflaps knotted behind the head, similar to the Cappadocians.

Herodotus said that the Armenians and Phrygians were equipped in the same way, very similarly to the Paphlagonians, to whom he attributes "woven helmets...  small shields and short spears, and also javelins and daggers."  Given the history of Median and Scythian incursions in Urartu, and the similarity of Armenian and Medo-Persian clothing, it's tempting to speculate that their arms were also similar to the Iranians', i.e. crescent stick-and-leather shields and akinakes-type daggers.  The Alarodians he says were armed like the Colchians, "wooden helmets and small shields of raw oxhide and short spears, and also swords" (tr. A.D. Godley).

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