The Urartian Bronze Hoard From Giyimli

By: Orhan Aytug Tasyurek

Originally Published in 1977

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Urartians, who appear with the name “Uruadri” in the Assyrian cuneiform inscrip­tions after the 13th century B.C., had estab­lished a kingdom in Eastern Anatolia, Turkey, with its capital Tuspa (modern Van) in the beginning of the first millennium B.C. This kingdom became stronger from the 8th cen­tury B.C. onwards and expanded to Soviet Armenia and to Lake Urmiyah in West Iran in the east, to the Euphrates in the west and to northern Mesopotamia in the south. The Urartians usually lived in fortresses situated on high elevations, built great palaces and temples, and also constructed dams and irri­gation works to water their territory. They were continuously in conflict with the Assyri­ans and around 585 B.C. they disappeared from history.

It is a known fact that “bronze plaque working” was the most developed among the minor arts of the Urartians. Their belts, offer­ing plaques, horse trappings and jewellery are decorated with figures which reflect a highly detailed workmanship.

In the summer of 1971 in the village of Giyimli (Hirkanis) of the town Gurpinar, Vilayet Van, during the construction of the village mosque, the villagers found approxi­mately 2000 bronze plaques while destroying an Urartian building for its stone material. These objects, which should be dated to the Urartian period, consisted of offering plaques, belt fragments, horse frontals, pendants etc., and were immediately sold to the antique dealers for very low prices. In the summer of 1972, under the directorship of Prof. Dr. Afif Erzen of the Faculty of Letters, Univer­sity of Istanbul, systematic excavations were undertaken on the finding spot called “Serdartepe.” Although not very many ob­jects were unearthed during the excavations they threw light on the problems concerning this bronze hoard.

It has been determined that the majority of the Giyimli bronzes were sold outside of Turkey. The author is working on the bronzes of Giyimli origin scattered in museums such as Adana, Ankara, Van, Istanbul, Gaziantep, and in the photo archives of the Prahistorische Staatssammlung, Munich, created by its di­rector Dr. H. J. Kellner, and is preparing his post-doctoral work on these bronzes. These bronzes, which are thought to enlighten the unknown aspects of the Urartian kingdom, are to be published in the near future, as a complete corpus.

It is necessary to give some technical information regarding the bronze plaque working of the Urartians before discussing some examples of the Giyimli bronzes.

Bronze Plaque Working

The studies concerning bronze plaque working of objects such as belts, helmets, quivers and shields of the Urartian land, which was rich in copper ores according to the Assyrian sources have helped archaeolo­gists to understand better the techniques of manufacture. In bronze plaque working, after the bronze was heated and hammered into a sheet it was probably rolled, since our studies have revealed that the bronze plaques such as belts have a uniform thickness as well as a smooth surface. After this process, the sheet bronze was cut into the desired dimensions before the decoration took place. Although these stages in bronze working cannot be determined with certainty, it is very probable that there was such a sequence. The figures found on bronze plaques such as for belts are usually several centimeters high, they were probably stamped from behind with a hammer, using carved stamps (dies) while the metal was still hot. Repeated figures of the same dimensions as well as hammer marks on the belts seem to confirm this assumption. Next, a chisel with a cutting edge or with a sharp point, moved along with a hammer, was employed for the principal con­tours and details of the figures, as attested by the chisel marks on the objects. One can safely argue that the lion, goat, horse etc. were applied with these techniques. In some cases decorative motifs such as rosettes, palmettes, “tree of life” etc. were produced in the same way. On the other hand, one also observes that raised surfaces of larger figures and circular shapes were hammered from behind by means of a blunt tool or a wooden hammer, after having been sketched on the surface of the metal while it was heated to a red heat. The contours and details then were rendered by tracing from outside.

Studies and experiments conducted by the author with the copper- and bronzesmiths in metalworking centers such as Kahraman­mara and Gaziantep, East Anatolia, showed that the bronze plaque working techniques of the Urartians must have followed the above mentioned stages.

Symmetry was one of the main concerns of the Urartian artist. Whenever possible he ­used either symmetrical or repeated figures. This is especially true of the figures on the bronze helmets. This characteristic feature can also be seen on the belts, a fact which helps immensely for the reconstruction of missing scenes.

Another important aspect of the bronze plaques, although rare, is that in some cases  they were goldplated, as observed on a few belt fragments in the Adana Regional Mu­seum. This plating is very thin and seems to have been applied by means other than cold hammering. A number of early objects from various sites give the appearance of mercury gilding, a technique usually dated no earlier than the Hellenistic period. This problem is now under study.

It can be said that the Urartians were highly experienced in bronze plaque working and that they had also influenced the arts of their neighbors, especially the tribes living in Transcaucasia.

The Offering Plaques of the Giyimli Hoard

The Giyimli bronze hoard contained a large number of figured bronze plaques which are called “offering or votive plaques” by the author. Although some of these were formerly belt segments they were later reused as offer­ing plaques, probably to dedicate a temple. They usually come in square, rectangular and oval shapes and contain one or more figures. In some cases, a standing deity in a long decorated gown, wearing a single-horned helmet and two quivers was depicted on the back of animals such as a bull or a lion, with a male or female worshipper in front of him.

An example of such a scene appears on a plaque dating to the mid 7th century B.C., now in the Van Regional Museum. The deity figure standing on a lion has been identified as the God Haldi, the main deity in the Urartian pantheon. This scene, which also bears hieroglyph signs, shows typical Urartian features, Similarly composed scenes on silver pendants have been found in Cavustepe and Toprakkale, East Anatolia and in Karmir Blur, Armenian S.S.R. Another plaque in the Gaziantep Museum depicts again a god stand­ing on the left and facing a female figure on the right. He is wearing a similar one-horned helmet with a tassel on the top and a long gown with elaborate designs. With his left hand he is holding a pomegranate with its fruit hanging down, and with his raised right hand he is making a gesture of benediction to the female figure. The pomegranate is still considered to be a symbol of fertility in Anatolia today. This feature probably indi­cates that the deity represented on this plaque is the fertility god. The head of the worshipping female figure, on the other hand, is covered and she is wearing a long dress and handing the square shaped object, a standard, to the deity.

On another plaque, a similar Haldi figure is shown seated on his throne which is resting on a crouching lion, facing right. He is dressed in a long, decorated gown, wears a single-horned helmet, and is probably holding worrybeads in his left hand while stretching his right hand forward. On this plaque, which can be dated to the 6th century B.C. on the basis of its stylistic features, the upper jaw of the lion figure is shown as a circle like those of the lion figures on the shield of the Urartian king Rua (625-585 B.C.). On the other hand, the rendering of the deity’s mouth by five horizontal lines is an interesting fea­ture which reflects another stylistic charac­teristic of the last phase of the Urartian period.

Among the offering plaques from Giyimli, besides these characteristic Urartian objects, are numerous plaques with figures characterizing a “degenerated art form.” For example, on a plaque with its upper edge cut in a row of crenelations, probably reflecting towers or bastions of the Urartian fortresses, a woman in a long dress is depicted holding a standard in her hands. Her mouth is again rendered by five horizontal lines between her nose and chin, and she is accompanied by a goat whose front half is shown to the left of the female figure. She probably represents a worshipper bringing her• sacrifice to the temple.

On another plaque which is 11.5 cm, long with a curved lower right border, there is a male figure in a long, elaborately deco­rated dress, carrying a standard and walking to the right. His head is covered with a flat hat and he has almond-shaped eyes and a large nose. The joints of his arms resemble those of a puppet.

such compositions are very rare in Urartian art, they appear frequently in the Late Hittite centers such as Karatepe and Zincirli (Sam’al). The same plaque also bears a star motif in the upper left corner, and a star in a crescent in the upper right, motifs which are also to be found in Assyrian art, especially on the seals dated to the Late Assyrian Period.

As mentioned before, many of the Giyimli offering plaques are reused belt seg­ments. One piece is a particularly good illus­tration of this fact. A belt fragment originally decorated with three horizontal registers of incised animals has a later vertical figure of a woman incised upside down over the reg­isters. Each register has an alternating lion-bull scheme. The female figure dressed in a long gown is holding a stylized wheat or barley sheaf in her right hand. Other inter­esting features of this figure are her almond-shaped eye and the rendering of her mouth by seven horizontal lines.

Another large group of plaques among the Giyimli objects seem, with their highly stylized figures and faces, not to belong to Urartian art. An example showing a two-headed figure en face was made by means of dots hammered from behind. The figure raises a stylized axe in each hand. The mouths and noses were done by a straight-edged chisel, again employed from behind. A similar plaque from the same group has five faces rendered en face side by side, A differ­ent type of stylized human face can be seen on another plaque which was hammered from behind in relief.

Studies of the figures of these plaques have shown that the Urartian artists were also influenced by the arts of the neighboring lands. An interesting example is the rectangu­lar plaque measuring 8.8 x 7.7 cm., which probably originally belonged to a belt, judging from the punched holes along its edges. Two standing figures are facing each other and are dressed in long gowns. The figure on the right is holding a standard in his right hand while the other figure is reaching toward it. The different workmanship of their head­dresses clearly shows Iranian influences. Figures with similarly worked headdresses appear on painted pottery and on some seals found in Necropolis B at Tepe Sialk. It would be a fair assumption to think that the Urar­tians who had expanded to Lake Urmiyah during their most powerful stage were influ­enced by the arts of this region, which find their reflection especially in this scene,

Another two-figured composition can be seen on a plaque of careless workmanship. The standing figure on the right and the seated figure on the left flank a table with crescent-shaped breads on top of it. Although analysis of this Giyimli material has increased our knowledge of Urartian dress, religion, traditions and the influences in these areas from outside. It can easily be pointed out that the Urartians were generally wear­ing Assyrian types of clothing, i.e. men were dressed in knee-length tunic with a decorated mantle on top of it. It is also apparent that the Urartian women usually covered their heads and wore long dresses in religious ceremonies. Another interesting feature of the male representations is that they are depicted beardless, which probably shows that the Urartians did not employ the beard tradition in the 8th and 7th centuries B.C.

As for the religion, studies have re­vealed that the Urartian deities were always depicted with single-horned helmets and that square or crescent-shaped standards were used in religious ceremonies. Goats, sheep and bulls were their favorite sacrifices.

All these objects discussed above show that the contemporary Late Hittite, Persian, Caucasian, Phrygian and Aramean arts had also influenced the art of the Urartians. Considering various stylistic features of the figures on the offering plaques from Giyimli, we may assume that the majority of these objects were made during the 7th century B.C.

Belt Fragments

A second important group of objects in the Giyimli hoard consisted of belt fragments. On these belt plaques appear similar decora­tive scenes as found on other known typical Urartian belts: horses, warriors in chariots, hunting horsemen, chariots, as well as rows of bulls and lions and mythological scenes. On a belt fragment, now in the Adana Re­gional Museum, which is to be dated to the mid 8th century B.C. on the basis of a close relationship with the figures on the helmet of the Urartian king Sarduri II (ca 760-730 B.C.), are depicted horsemen and warriors in chari­ots. Another belt piece in the same museum shows in horizontal rows bulls and lions hunted from chariots,

Another, also in the Adana Museum, utilizes the same hunter motif, but repeats the figures in six horizontal registers, aligning each type of figure in neat vertical rows. The circular rendering of the upper jaws of the lions makes it possible to date this object to the period of the Late Urartian Style (“kubischer Stil”), namely to the late 7th cen­tury B.C. A composition of bull hunting by chariot, to be dated to the same period, can be seen on another belt piece in the same museum.

Other Objects

Besides the offering plaques and belt fragments the Giyimli hoard also contained other bronze objects such as pendants (“mithra”) with figural decoration, horse frontlets etc. A crescent-shaped pendant, with only its right half preserved, now in the Adana Regional Museum, bears a “tree of life” with a lion figure on its right. Another lion figure facing left is placed on the curved end of the pendant, separated from the central composition by means of two horizontal lines. Again the rendering of their upper jaws is an important clue for the dating of this pendant to the Middle Urartian Style, i.e. to the mid 7th century B.C.

Dating of the Giyimli Hoard

The studies done by the author concern­ing the date of hundreds of objects from the Giyimli hoard may contribute to the solution of the Urartian problems. It has already been pointed out that one of the belt fragments can be dated to the mid 8th century B.C. (Fig. 14). The rendering of the upper jaws of the lion figures on the offering plaques in the Van Regional Museum (Fig. 2), as well as on the pendant in the Adana Regional Museum (Fig. 17) indicates that these objects should be dated to the period called the Middle Urartian Style by E. Akurgal, i.e. mid 7th century B.C. On the other hand, on the basis of the stylistic characteristics of the figures on the objects, one can assume that the majority of the Giyimli bronzes were manufactured at the end of the 7th century B.C. Among the objects already discussed, the offering plaque with the enthroned figure of the God Haldi on a crouching lion illustrated in Fig, 4 is of great importance because of its stylization. The rendering of the lion’s upper jaw as a circle, a characteristic which is peculiar to Akurgal’s Late Urartian Style [“kubischer Still is an indication for its dating to the Late Urartian Period, namely to the late 7th century B.C. But the rendering of the god’s mouth by five horizontal lines, as already seen on other human figures with three to seven lines, is an important clue for its dating to the 6th cen­tury B.C.

Although some of the figural plaques discussed do not seem to represent the typical Urartian art on the basis of the characteristics of their figures, they must be Urartian [Figs. 10-12). Similar figures which show a highly “degenerated art form” also appear on bronze plaques in Italy and Sicily dating from the 8th century B.C. On the other hand, while the belt pieces with their original decoration date to the 7th century B.C. on the basis of their style, the later figures on the same pieces indicate a dating between 600 and 585 B.C. Consequently we may assume that the bronzes in the Giyimli hoard cover a period from 750 to 585 B.C. It is an interesting fact that the majority of these bronzes were made during the decline of the Urartian Kingdom.


The discovery of more than 2000 various bronze plaques of the Giyimli hoard stored together in an Urartian dwelling may indicate some kind of invasion. It is highly possible that these objects were stored in this find spot to preserve them from an anticipated invasion during the decline of the Urartian Kingdom (ca 585 B.C.]. Presumably they were buried under the destroyed building after the invasion was over.

Cite This Article

Tasyurek, Orhan Aytug. "The Urartian Bronze Hoard From Giyimli." Expedition Magazine 19, no. 4 (July, 1977): -. Accessed September 25, 2023.

This digitized article is presented here as a historical reference and may not reflect the current views of the Penn Museum.

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