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Aratta is a land that appears in Vedas(B.S 2.13.14) and Sumerian myths surrounding Enmerkar and Lugalbanda, two early and possibly mythical kings of Uruk also mentioned on the Sumerian king list.

Role in Sumerian literature

Aratta is described as follows in Sumerian literature:

  • It is a fabulously wealthy place full of gold, silver, lapis lazuli and other precious materials, as well as the artisans to craft them.[1]
  • It is remote and difficult to reach.
  • It is home to the goddess Inana, who transfers her allegiance from Aratta to Uruk.
  • It is conquered by Enmerkar of Uruk.

Mentions in Sumerian literature

Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta [1] - The goddess Inanna resides in Aratta, but Enmerkar of Uruk pleases her more than does the lord of Aratta, who is not named in this epic. Enmerkar wants Aratta to submit to Uruk, bring stones down from the mountain, craft gold, silver and lapis lazuli, and send them, along with "kugmea" ore to Uruk to build a temple. Inana bids him send a messenger to Aratta, who ascends and descends the "Zubi" mountains, and crosses Susa, Anshan, and "five, six, seven" mountains before approaching Aratta. Aratta in turn wants grain in exchange. However Inana transfers her allegiance to Uruk, and the grain gains the favor of Aratta's people for Uruk, so the lord of Aratta challenges Enmerkar to send a champion to fight his champion. Then the god Ishkur makes Aratta's crops grow.

Enmerkar and En-suhgir-ana [2] - The lord of Aratta, who is here named En-suhgir-ana (or Ensuhkeshdanna), challenges Enmerkar of Uruk to submit to him over the affections of Inanna, but he is rebuffed by Enmerkar. A sorcerer from the recently defeated Hamazi then arrives in Aratta, and offers to make Uruk submit. The sorcerer travels to Eresh where he bewitches Enmerkar's livestock, but a wise woman outperforms his magic and casts him into the Euphrates; En-suhgir-ana then admits the loss of Inanna, and submits his kingdom to Uruk.

Lugalbanda in the Mountain Cave [3] - is a tale of Lugalbanda, who will become Enmerkar's successor. Enmerkar's army travels through mountainous territory to wage war against rebellious Aratta. Lugalbanda falls ill and is left in a cave, but he prays to the various gods, recovers, and must find his way out of the mountains.

Lugalbanda and the Anzud Bird [4] - Lugalbanda befriends the Anzud bird, and asks it to help him find his army again. When Enmerkar's army is faced with setback, Lugalbanda volunteers to return to Uruk to ask the goddess Inana's aid. He crosses through the mountains, into the flat land, from the edge to the top of Anshan and then to Uruk, where Inana helps him. She advises Enmerkar to carry off Aratta's "worked metal and metalsmiths and worked stone and stonemasons" and all the "moulds of Aratta will be his". Then the city is described as having battlements made of green lapis lazuli and bricks made of "tinstone dug out in the mountains where the cypress grows".

Other mentions in Sumerian literature

  • Praise Poem of Shulgi (Shulgi Y)[5]: "I filled it with treasures like those of holy Aratta."
  • Shulgi and Ninlil's barge [6]: "Aratta, full-laden with treasures"
  • Proverbs [7],[8],[9]: "When the authorities are wise, and the poor are loyal, it is the effect of the blessing of Aratta."
  • Unprovenanced Proverbs [10]: "When the authorities are wise, and the poor are passed by, it is the effect of the blessing of Aratta."
  • Hymn to Hendursanga (Hendursanga A)[11]: "So that Aratta will be overwhelmed (?), Lugalbanda stands by at your (Hendursanga's) behest."
  • Hymn to Nisaba (Nisaba A)[12]: "In Aratta he (Enki?) has placed E-zagin (the lapis lazuli temple) at her (Nisaba's) disposal."
  • The building of Ninngirsu's temple (Gudea cylinder)[13]: "pure like Kesh and Aratta"
  • Tigi to Suen (Nanna I) [14]: "the shrine of my heart which I (Nanna) have founded in joy like Aratta"
  • Inana and Ibeh [15]: "the inaccessible mountain range Aratta"
  • Gilgamesh and Huwawa (Version B)[16]: "they know the way even to Aratta"
  • Temple Hymns [17]: Aratta is "respected"
  • The Kesh Temple Hymn [18]: Aratta is"important"
  • Lament for Ur [19]: Aratta is "weighty (counsel)"

Location hypotheses

Early 20th century scholars initially took Aratta to be an epithet of the Sumerian city Shuruppak related to its local name for the god Enlil;[2] however that is no longer seen to be the case. Although Aratta is known only from myth,[3] some Assyriologists and archaeologists have speculated on possible locations where Aratta could have been, using criteria from the myths:[4][5]

  1. Land travelers must pass through Susa and the mountainous Anshan region to reach it.
  2. It is a source of, or has access to valuable gems and minerals, in particular lapis lazuli, that are crafted on site.
  3. It is accessible to Uruk by watercourse, yet remote from Uruk.
  4. It is close enough to march a 27th-century BC Sumerian army there.

In 1963, Samuel Noah Kramer thought that a "Mount Hurum" in a Lugalbanda myth (which he titled "Lugalbanda on Mount Hurrum" at the time) might have referred to the Hurrians, and hence speculated Aratta to be near Lake Urmia.[6] However, "Mount Hurum", "hur-ru-um kur-ra-ka", in what is now called Lugalbanda in the Mountain Cave,[20] is today read "mountain cave",[7] and Kramer subsequently introduced the title "Lugalbanda, the Wandering Hero" for this story.[8]

Other speculations referred to the early gem trade route, the "Great Khorasan Road" from the Himalayan Mountains[9] to Mesopotamia, which ran through northern Iran.[10][11][12] Anshan, which had not yet been located then, was assumed to be in the central Zagros mountain range.[13] However, when Anshan[14] was identified as Tall-i Malyan in 1973,[15] it was found to be 600 km south-east of Uruk, far removed from any northerly routes or watercourses from Uruk, and posing the logistical improbability of getting a 27th-century BC Sumerian army through 550 km of Elamite territory to wage war with Aratta.[16] Nevertheless, there have been speculations referring to eastern Iran as well.[17][18] Dr. Yousef Majidzadeh believes the Jiroft Civilization could be Aratta.

By 1973, archaeologists were noting that there was no archaeological record of Aratta's existence outside of myth,[3] and in 1978 Hansman cautions against over-speculation.[19]

Writers in other fields have continued to hypothesize Aratta locations. A "possible reflex" has been suggested in Sanskrit Āraṭṭa or Arāṭṭa mentioned in the Mahabharata and other texts;[20] Alternatively, the name is compared with the toponym Ararat or Urartu.[21]


  • Black, Jeremy (1998). Reading Sumerian Poetry. Cornell University Press. p. 136. ISBN 0-8014-3339-8.
  • Gordon, Edmund I. (1967). "The Meaning of the Ideogram dKASKAL.KUR = "Underground Water-Course" and its Significance for Bronze Age Historical Geography". Journal of Cuneiform Studies. 21: 70–88. doi:10.2307/1359360. JSTOR 1359360.
  • Hansman, John F. (1972). "Elamites, Achaemenians and Anshan". Iran. 10: 118, footnote 97. doi:10.2307/4300468. cited in Majidzadeh (1976) and Hansman (1978)
  • Kramer, Samuel Noah (1952). Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta: A Sumerian Epic Tale of Iraq and Iran. University Museum, University of Pennsylvania.
  • Mallowan, Max (1969). "Elamite Problems". Proceedings of the British Academy. London. LV: 256. cited in Mallowan (1985) p. 401, note 1
  • Potts, Daniel T. (2004). "Exit Aratta: Southeastern Iran and the Land of Marhashi". Name-ye Iran-e Bastan. 4/1: 1–11.
  • Reiner, Erica (1973). "The Location of Anšan". Revue d'Assyriologie. 67: 57–62. cited in Majidzadeh (1976), Hansman (1985)


  1. ^ Cohen (1973) p. 55 notes: "Aratta became a epithet for "abundance" and "glory"."
  2. ^ Langdom, Stephen H. "Early Babylonia and its Cities." Cambridge Ancient History. Accessed 19 Dec 2010.
  3. ^ a b Cohen (1973) p. 61. Cohen states: "it is indeed strange that the name of such an important trade center should as yet remain unknown to us from any economic, administrative or other non-literary texts from the Ur III or Old Babylonian period".
  4. ^ Kramer (1963), Gordon (1967) and Cohen (1973)
  5. ^ Herrmann (1968), Hansman (1972, 1978) and Majidzadeh (1976)
  6. ^ Kramer (1963) p. 275.
  7. ^ see e.g. Lugalbanda in the Mountain Cave, ETCSL (2006) line 102, etc.; Reallexikon der Assyriologie und Vorderasiatischen Archäologie (1990) vol. 7, p. 121; Black (1998) p. 136; Vanstiphout (2003) p.110-111, etc.
  8. ^ Reallexikon der Assyriologie und Vorderasiatischen Archäologie (1990) vol. 7, p. 121
  9. ^ The only source of lapis lazuli for the ancient world was Badakhshan, Afghanistan (see Clark (1986) p. 67).
  10. ^ Gordon (1967) p. 72, note 9. The Sanandaj area.
  11. ^ Herrmann (1968) p. 54. South or southeast of the Caspian Sea (cited in Majidzadeh (1976)).
  12. ^ Cohen (1973) p. 60. The Hamadan area.
  13. ^ e.g. Gordon (1967) p. 72 note 9. Kermanshah; Mallowan (1969) p. 256. Bakhtiari territory (cited in Mallowan (1985) p. 401, note 1).
  14. ^ In contrast to Aratta, Anshan is well documented beyond literary texts (c.f. Hansman (1985) pp. 25-35).
  15. ^ Reiner, Erica (1973) "The Location of Anšan", Revue d'Assyriologie 67, pp. 57-62 (cited in Majidzadeh (1976), Hansman (1985)).
  16. ^ Cohen (1973) p. 59. Cohen also notes that the farthest east that any Assyrian king ever went was Hamadan.
  17. ^ Hansman, John F. (1972, 1978). Shahr-i Sokhta.
  18. ^ Majidzadeh (1976) Shahdad; (2004) Jiroft.
  19. ^ Hansman (1978): "In the case of Aratta, where no inscriptions or texts are currently available to favor any one site, the mechanics of identification depend largely on inductive inquiry. At best such methods provide indications from which a location may be postulated as being reasonable or possible. But one cannot assume too much, for then the hypothesis becomes subjective rather than objective."
  20. ^ Michael Witzel (Aryan and non-Aryan Names in Vedic India 1999, p. 8, "Autochthonous Aryans? The Evidence from Old Indian and Iranian Texts" EJVS 2001, p.18-19)
  21. ^ David Rohl Legend: The Genesis of Civilisation, Century Publishing, 1998 ISBN 0-7126-8017-9