Mari, Syria

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تل حريري (Arabic)
Ziggurat at Mari
Mari lies in the east of Syria, close to the border with Iraq.
Mari lies in the east of Syria, close to the border with Iraq.
Shown within Syria
Alternate name Tell Hariri
Location Abu Kamal, Deir ez-Zor Governorate, Syria
Region Mesopotamia
Coordinates 34°32′58″N 40°53′24″E / 34.54944°N 40.89000°E / 34.54944; 40.89000Coordinates: 34°32′58″N 40°53′24″E / 34.54944°N 40.89000°E / 34.54944; 40.89000
Type Settlement
Length 1,000 metres (3,300 ft)
Width 600 metres (2,000 ft)
Area 60 hectares (150 acres)
Founded Approximately 5th millennium BC
Abandoned 1759 BC
Periods Bronze Age
Cultures Semitic, Amorite
Site notes
Excavation dates 1933–1939
Archaeologists André Parrot
Condition Ruined
Ownership Public
Public access Yes

Mari (modern Tell Hariri, Syria) was an ancient Semitic city,[1] located 11 kilometers north-west of the modern town of Abu Kamal on the western bank of the Euphrates river, some 120 km southeast of Deir ez-Zor, Syria. It is thought to have been inhabited since the 5th millennium BC, although it flourished with a series of superimposed palaces that spanned a thousand years, from 2900 BC until 1759 BC, when it was sacked by Hammurabi.[2] Mari pre-Amorite periods were characterized by heavy Sumerian cultural influence although linguistically not a city of Sumerian immigrants but rather a Semitic speaking nation that had the same language of Ebla (the Eblaite language).[3]

Discovery and excavation[edit]

Mari was discovered in 1933, on the eastern flank of Syria, near the Iraqi border. A Bedouin tribe was digging through a mound for a gravestone that would be used for a recently deceased tribesman, when they came across a headless statue. After the news reached the French authorities currently in control of Syria, the report was investigated, and digging on the site was started on December 14, 1933 by archaeologists from the Louvre in Paris. Discoveries came quickly, with the temple of Ishtar being discovered in the next month. Mari was classified by the archaeologists as the "most westerly outpost of Sumerian culture".[citation needed] Since the beginning of excavations, over 25,000 clay tablets in Akkadian language written in cuneiform were discovered. Finds from the excavation are on display in the National Museum of Aleppo, the National Museum of Damascus, and the Deir ez-Zor Museum. In the latter, the southern façade of the "Court of the Palms" of Zimri-Lim's palace has been reconstructed, including the wall paintings.[4]

Mesopotamia in 2nd millennium BC showing Mari in relation to Babylon

Mari has been excavated in annual campaigns published in Syria, 1933–39, 1951–75, and since 1979; a journal devoted to the site since 1982, is Mari: Annales de recherches interdisciplinaires. The 21 seasons up to 1975 were led by André Parrot. Less than half of the 1000 × 600-meter area of Mari has been uncovered as of 2005. Although archaeologists have tried to determine how many layers the site descends, it has not proved possible as of 2008. According to French archaeologist André Parrot, "each time a vertical probe was commenced in order to trace the site's history down to virgin soil, such important discoveries were made that horizontal digging had to be resumed."

Mari Tablets[edit]

The Mari Tablets belong to a large group of tablets that were discovered by French archaeologists in the 1930s. More than 25,000 tablets in Akkadian were found in the Mari archives, which give information about the kingdom of Mari, its customs, and the names of people who lived during that time. More than 8,000 are letters; the remainder includes administrative, economic, and judicial texts. The tablets, according to André Parrot, "brought about a complete revision of the historical dating of the ancient Near East and provided more than 500 new place names, enough to redraw or even draw up the geographical map of the ancient world."[5] Almost all of the tablets found were dated to the last 50 years of Mari's independence (c. 1800 – 1750 BC), and most have now been published.[6][7][8][9] The language of the texts is official Akkadian but proper names and hints in syntax show that the common language of Mari's inhabitants was Northwest Semitic. Contemporary archives have been found, among others, in Tell Leilan in the Upper Khabur area and Tell Shemshara in the Zagros Mountains.[10]


Tablet of King Zimri-Lim of Mari, ca. 1780 BC, Louvre Museum

Mari had been inhabited since the 5th millennium BC, but the real significance of the city was during the third and second millennia BC.

First Golden Age[edit]

The city flourished from about 2900 BC, since it was strategically important as a relay point between the Sumerian cities of lower Mesopotamia and the cities of northern Syria. Sumer required building materials such as timber and stone from northern Syria, and these materials had to go through Mari to get to Sumer.

The Sumerian King List (SKL) records a dynasty of six kings from Mari enjoying hegemony between Adab and Kish, ca. 25th c. BC. Several names of kings from this period, including those from the kings' list, are also known from correspondence found elsewhere, including Ebla.

First destruction[edit]

After a period of eminence, Mari was destroyed in the mid-24th century BC. This destruction brought a period of relative decline in importance in the region, and the city was reduced to no more than a small village. Historians are divided as to who destroyed the city; some name Sargon of Akkad (who stated that he had passed through Mari on his famous campaign to the west), while others say it was the Eblaites, Mari's traditional commercial rivals.[11] [12]

According to Michael Astour, this destruction of Mari was by Sargon, and can be dated to 2265-2260 BC.[13]

The Akkadian and the Ur III period[edit]

Statue of Puzur Ishtar, governor of Mari. Ur III period. Istanbul Archaeological Museum

During the latter part of the Akkadian empire (2340-2200 BC), Mari became prosperous again. This became the shakkanakku period in the history of Mari.[14] 'Shakkanakku' was a 'military governor' in Akkadian. The first Shakkanakku were appointed by the Akkadians, but the collapse of their dynasty will allow Mari to have independence. So the rulers of Mari became known as the "Shakkanakku Dynasty". The history of this period is poorly known because of the scarcity of written sources.

There are three known statues of the Shakkanakku of Mari, the Statue of Iddi-Ilum, the statue of Ishtup-Ilum, and the horned statue of Puzur-Ishtar.

The kings of Ur III, which then dominate Mesopotamia for about a century do not impede the independence of Mari. Archaeological sources testify to the prosperity experienced by the city at that time. Shakkanakku Dynasty probably collapsed during the course of the twenty-first century.

Second Golden Age[edit]

The status of the city was revived again under an Amorite dynasty. Amorites, a Semitic people, also set up dynasties in Assyria and Babylon during this period. The second golden age commenced around 1900 BC. Two significant archaeological discoveries were made that dated back to this period. The royal palace of Zimri-Lim, a king of Mari, contained over 300 rooms. The palace was possibly the largest of its time, and its reputation in neighboring cities and kingdoms was well-known. The state archives were also built during this time.[15]

Final destruction[edit]

Statue of Ebih-Il, superintendent of Mari, found in the Temple of Ishtar, Archaic Dynasties (ca. 2400 BC), Louvre Museum

Mari was destroyed again around 1759 BC by Hammurabi, sixth king of Babylon. This is known from the numerous state archives tablets that recount Hammurabi turning on his old ally Zimrilim, and defeating him in battle. After this destruction, Mari remained a village. In 1595 BCE, Mari was captured by the Hittites, whose king was Mursili I (or Murshilish I).[16] Afterwards, Mari was inhabited sporadically by Assyrians, Babylonians and Persians, until the arrival of the Greeks, and vanished from history thereafter.


The growth of the city from a small village to an important trading center was due to its favorable location along the trade lanes between different regions such as western Iran, Mesopotamia, Carchemish, and parts of Anatolia. The cities with which Mari is confirmed to have traded include: Ur, Aleppo, and Ugarit. The cargo brought through the city grew to include dates, olives, pottery, grains, timber, and stone. Trade might also have occurred with the nearby city of Terqa, but excavations of Terqa are relatively recent and not all results are published. [17]

Culture and religion[edit]

The citizens of Mari were well known for elaborate hair styles and dress, and were considered to be part of Mesopotamian culture, despite being 240 kilometres (150 mi) upriver from Babylon. It is theorized by some that Mari functioned as a trading post for southern Mesopotamia.

The inhabitants of Mari worshiped a vast array of gods and goddesses. Dagan, the deity of storms, had an entire temple dedicated to him, as did Ishtar, the goddess of fertility, and Shamash, the Sun god. Shamash was believed to be all-knowing and all-seeing, and in many seals he is seen standing between two large doors. According to the Epic of Gilgamesh, these doors are between Mount Mashu and the garden of the gods, and are the eastern doors to heaven. Through Mari's extensive trade network, Sumerian gods and goddesses were taken to non-Sumerian cities such as Ebla and Ugarit and incorporated into their native religions.

Mari in Western culture[edit]

A photograph of the Palace of Mari gave the title to one of Morton Feldman's last piano pieces, 'Palais de Mari' (1986).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Joan Aruz, Ronald Wallenfels (2003). Art of the First Cities: The Third Millennium B.C. from the Mediterranean to the Indus. p. 34. 
  2. ^ André Parrot, Mari, capitale fabuleuse, 1974.
  3. ^ Mario Liverani (2013). The Ancient Near East: History, Society and Economy. p. 117. 
  4. ^ Bonatz, Dominik; Kühne, Hartmut; Mahmoud, As'ad (1998). Rivers and steppes. Cultural heritage and environment of the Syrian Jezireh. Catalogue to the Museum of Deir ez-Zor. Damascus: Ministry of Culture. OCLC 638775287. 
  5. ^ Sasson, Jack M. (October–December 1998). "The King and I a Mari King in Changing Perceptions". Journal of the American Oriental Society (American Oriental Society) 118 (4): pp. 453–470. doi:10.2307/604782. JSTOR 604782. 
  6. ^ André Parrot, Les Fouilles de Mari. Deuxième campagne (hiver 1934-35), Syria, T. 17, Fasc. 1, pp. 1-31, 1936
  7. ^ André Parrot, Les fouilles de Mari. Première campagne (hiver 1933-34). Rapport préliminaire, Syria, T. 16, Fasc. 1, pp. 1-28, 1935
  8. ^ André Parrot, Les Fouilles de Mari. Septiéme Campagne (Hiver 1951–1952), Syria, T. 29, Fasc. 3/4, pp. 183-203, 1952
  9. ^ André Parrot, Les fouilles de Mari: Douzième campagne (Automne 1961), Syria, T. 39, Fasc. 3/4, pp. 151-179, 1962
  10. ^ Eidem, Jesper; Læssøe, Jørgen (2001). The Shemshara archives 1. The letters. Historisk-Filosofiske Skrifter 23. Copenhagen: Kongelige Danske videnskabernes selskab. ISBN 87-7876-245-6. 
  11. ^ [1]Viganò, L. (1994). "Mari and Ebla: of time and Rulers". Liber Annuus (44): pp. 351–373. 
  12. ^ Alfonso Archi and Maria Giovanna Biga, A Victory over Mari and the Fall of Ebla, Journal of Cuneiform Studies, vol. 55, pp. 1-44, 2003
  13. ^ Michael C Astour, A Reconstruction of the History of Ebla (Part 2); in Cyrus Herzl Gordon et al, eds. Volume 4 of Eblaitica: Essays on the Ebla Archives and Eblaite Language. Eisenbrauns, 2002 ISBN 1575060604
  14. ^ The Routledge Handbook of the Peoples and Places of Ancient Western Asia. 2009
  15. ^ Wolfgang Heimpel, Letters to the King of Mari. A New Translation with Historical Introduction, Notes, and Commentary, Eisenbrauns, 2003, ISBN 1-57506-080-9
  16. ^ Roebuck, Carl (1966). The World of Ancient Times. New York: Charles Schibner's Sons. p. 93.
  17. ^ Georges Dossin, Les archives économiques du palais de Mari, Syria, T. 20, Fasc. 2, pp. 97-113 1939

Further reading[edit]

  • Stephanie Dalley, Mari and Karana - Two Old Babylonian Cities, Gorgias Press, 2002, ISBN 1-931956-02-2
  • Abraham Malamat, Mari, The Biblical Archaeologist, vol. 34, no. 1, pp. 1–22, 1971
  • Jack M. Sasson, Treatment of Criminals at Mari: A Survey, Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, vol. 20, no. 1, Special Issue on The Treatment of Criminals in the Ancient Near East, pp. 90–113, 1977
  • Jean-Marie Durand, Documents épistolaires du Palais de Mari. Tome I, CERF, 1997, ISBN 2-204-05685-5
  • Jean-Marie Durand, Documents épistolaires du Palais de Mari. Tome II, CERF, 1998, ISBN 2-204-05961-7
  • Jean-Marie Durand, Documents épistolaires du Palais de Mari, Tome III, CERF, 2004, ISBN 2-204-06616-8
  • Daniel Fleming, Democracy's Ancient Ancestors: Mari and Early Collective Governance, Cambridge University Press, 2004, ISBN 0-521-82885-6

External links[edit]