The Syria of today offers tourists as much a cultural experience as a sightseeing one, where ancient history provides a fascinating backdrop to everyday life on the streets                          


Ancient Syria

Department Of Syrian-Oriental Antiquities

Introduction :

Among the countries of the ancient Arab Orient , Syria is the one that is the richest in historical and archaeological wealth 

 It is rightly said that each stone of her soil narrates history of a bygone civilization and that each of her numerous ancient hillocks harbours in its bowels a story from the past and throws tight on the ancient civilizations that existed long in this region

As Syria was on the crossroads of the ancient world , many civilizations sprouted and flourished here and enlightened the far and near countries. It absorbed something from the civilizations of the neighbouring countries and generously gave a lot from her own traditions . From here we perceive that the Syrian classical antiquities have a peculiar character of their own . They vividly represent the history of the Near East as a whole due to their worth and richness of variety .  No wonder , most of the historians and archaeologists are attracted to this part of the world .  It is noteworthy that the archaeological missions have begun to pour into Syria since the dawn of the 20th  century to excavate and clarify the ambiguity that shrouded some periods of history and to unveil the obscurities concerning the ancient civilizations .

Many were the archaeological missions which operated all over Syria particularly after the first world war . Each one of these missions took up a certain site . Prominent among the excavations conducted in our Syrian Arab Region are :

  1. The excavations of Ras Shamra (Ugarit), of Amrit (Marathus ) , of Tell Kazel ( Simyra ) ,  with the purpose of clarifying the history of all the peoples Inhabited the Syrian coast particularly the Canaanites and the Phoenicians .
  1. The excavations of Tell Hariri ( Mari), on the right bank of the Middle Euphrates , which was the crossroads of the civilization of Mesopotamia and those of Syria , Anatolia and Tell al-Khoueira
  2. The excavations of northern Syria :Tell Ahmar , Arsian Tach , Ain-Dara and those in Tell Refat which were interested in the history of the Assyrian and Hittite states and the near-by Aramaean states . Today , excavations are underway at a new site named Tell Mardikh which have a great significance with regard to the history of the region in the second millennium B. C.

The above-noted excavations have flooded the Syrian museums with Important antiquities , a matter that prompted the Syrian Government to adopt a new system to its museums where each Governorate has now a museum of its own to house the antiquities of the area . The National Museum of Damascus remained the main centre of the important Syrian Antiquities . The Museum has now a very rich collection dating back to all ages and representing successive civilizations .

The Department of Syrio-Oriental Antiquities in the National Museum of Damascus preserves the earliest antiquities of different periods despite the fact that it has recently set up in the Damascus National Museum . It came into existence in 1952 . It was originally an exhibition devoted almost entirely to the important artifacts which came to the Museum from the excavated sites . It has been recently renovated and expanded for housing further collections , until It has become a significant branch of the museum .

Halls of the Department Of Syrio-Oriental Antiquities :
  • Ugarit ( RAS-SHAMRA ) :     First Hall     ,    Second Hall

    "Excavations of the French Mission"

    The Site :

    In March 1928 , a Syrian peasant who was tilling his land near the bay of Minet-el-Baida , about 13 Km north of Latakia , unearthed a burial vault .

    Shortly after, a French archaeological mission under the direction of Dr. Claude Schaeffer was assigned to dig up the site . The mission soon shifted its work into a near-by Tell name Shamra situated about one kilometre from the sea

    Consequently , in May 1929 , the mission discovered a city carrying the name Ugarit which was an Important Canaanite  Metropolis and a centre of one of the richest civilizations of  the ancient Orient . The city enjoyed its hey-day in the fifteenth , fourteenth and thirteenth centuries B. C.

    Thanks to the exploration effected in different points of the Tell ,  the existence of four other cities were discovered .The  earliest of these cities dates back to the Neolithic period . About 31 campaigns of excavations under Dr. Claude Schaeffer have been conducted so far at that very Tell

    The Tell is in the shape of a trapezoid . Its height is about 20 meters in proportion to the surrounding coastal plain . The following are the five principal strata of the Tell from top to bottom :

    1st stratum : Recent Bronze (1600 to 1200 B.C. )

    2nd stratum : Middle Bronze ( 2100 to 1600 B.C..(

    3rd stratum Ancient Bronze ( from the second half of IV millennium until about 2100 B.C. ) .

    4th stratum Stone-copper age ( from the first half of the IV millennium B.C.).

    5th stratum : Neolithic ( VII? , VI and V millennia B.C).

    On the acropolis , at the highest point of the Tell , some Greek installations of the 5th C. B. C. were discovered . There were also different installations on the surface of the Tell dating back to the Hellenistic , Roman and late Islamic ages .

    The Canaanites set foot on the Syrian shore In general and on Ras-Shamra (Ugarit) in particular in the late 3rd millennium .  It seems that their advent was as of the beginning of the 2nd millennium B.C. Then they began to constitute the majority of the inhabitants of Ugarit .

    A text written on a clay tablet found in Mari (Tell-al-Hariri) on the Euphrates , tells us that the city which was existing on the site of Ras-Shamra carried the name ( Ugarit ) . The name is probably derived from s  ( Ugarus )a which means " field " in Babylonian.

    The name ( Ugarit )  also appeared in the letters found at Tell el-Amarna in Egypt . It was an important commercial centre and its merchants frequented the shores of the Mediterranean .

    Its name was also mentioned in the cuneiform texts uncovered in Anatolia . at Boghaz Koy , capital of the Hittite Empire

    The city was completely destroyed in the beginning of the 2nd century B. C. in the wake of the invasion of tribes coming from the north , called the Sea People , who destroyed all the cities of the Syrio-Palestinlan coast-Line .

    From that time onward . Ugarit disappears from history .

    In the 6th century B. C. some Greek merchants brought their ships to anchor at the bay of Minet-el-Baida (to which they gave the name Leucos Limen i. e. white haven in Greek ) and constructed some habitations on the ruins of Ugarit .

    The excavations which have been carried out from 1929 so far brought to light the following :

    A fortress , the Royal Palace , another small palace the acropolis and many districts of the town .

    Clay Tablets :

    As far as the writing is concerned , the texts of Ras-Shamra ( Ugarit ) adopt two main systems of cuneiform one is syllabic
    i.e. the Akkado-Babylonian and the second is alphabetical namely the Ugaritic , invented in Ugarit itself by some men of genius.

    From these two systems , the Cypro-Minoan script , the Hittite and the Egyptian Hieroglyphs were derived . Thus Ugarit knew five types of scripts used to express the following eight different languages Sumerian , Akkadian , Babylonian , Hurrian , Hittite Ugaritic , Egyptian , Hieroglyphic Hittite and Cypro-Minoan .

    The Ugaritic language was spoken by the majority and was used for all everyday purposes . The other languages with the exception of the Akkado-Babylonian language were the tongues of the foreign colonics that lived in Ugarit for commercial and political purposes . The Accoda-Babylonian along with the Ugarit languages were used in the official political . religious literary and military documents . A good number of bilingual texts ( Accado- Babylonian and Ugarit ) was discovered during the excavations . They helped considerably in the decipherment of the other languages .

    There are many treasures of science and culture still buried in the ruins of this eternal city . Undoubtedly , the future campaigns will reveal more facts about its history .

    Here is the most important piece found during the campaigns, namely the alphabet :

    Ras-Shamra alphabet : ( Syria is the birth land of the first alphabet in the world ).

    It is a small clay tablet , about the size of a finger ( L. 5.1cm , W. 1.3cm ) , bearing thirty characters of the Ugaritic alphabet derived from cuneiform .
    Humanity owes the Canaanites , who migrated from Arabian Peninsula and lived in Ugarit in 2nd millennium B.C. , a debt of gratitude for being the originators of the alphabet . A scribe of Ugarit in the 14th century B.C. engraved this tablet to serve as a model for students who were apprenticed to the hand-writing . The alphabet is written from left to right . The order of the letters is the same as that of the classical Phoenician alphabet ( alphabet of Byblos ) . It was the same order adopted by Greeks and the other European peoples as a base for their actual alphabet . In fact , the invention of alphabet has greatly contributed to the spread of knowledge among people and to the rapid progress of humanity .

    The alphabet of Ugarit 1400 B.C.

    Ugaritic , Latin and Arabic letters.

    Bronze Statuettes :

    The beliefs of the ancient man were vividly reflected upon his behavior and action . Therefore , the influence of religion was evident in whatever related to man’s life such as worship faith, beliefs, myths, literature, medicine and the ancient man represented his deities in various forms and attitudes according to the importance and function of each deity . Thus, the war god was represented as a strong-built man carrying an arm .
    The god of sky , rain and storm , appeared holding a three-prouged thunderbolt and standing on a bull ( Symbol of the earth and vegetation ). God El, the supreme deity was represented as a venerable man whose features express sovereignty mercy and love. He is shown sitting on a throne holding a scepter . Goddess Ashtart was represented standing on a lion and by her side a moon , or a star or a sun .
    Polytheism characterized the ancient periods before monotheism . There were hundreds of deities .
    Several human and animal statuettes in bronze are displayed in this hall. Prominent among which are:

    Bronze statuette plated with gold , representing El , the supreme deity of the Canaanites . He is sitting on a throne with a crown on his head . On his temples one can see tow holes for fixing the horns , symbol of divinity . The god was holding a scepter in his left hand ( now missing ) . He is wearing a long garment and upturned shoes . The right hand is raised as a gesture of benediction . The general attitude shows that the god is receiving submission from worshippers.

    H. 13.8 cm. W. 8.3 cm.


    Carving in ivory :

    The excavations at Ras Shamra have yielded quantities of ivories . They are of such exquisite workmanship and beauty as to render them among the most prized pieces found in the ancient Orient during the second millennium B. C. The ivory-carving industry was certainly flourishing at Ugarit . The ivory was imported into Ugarit from Africa via the Nile and Egypt . It constituted the most important revenue of the city and was deemed to be the essential commodity for commercial exchange between Ugarit and Egypt .
    The Ugaritic artists left us several masterpieces of ivories ,some of which reached us in good condition .These pieces indicate the degree of perfection which this industry attained in the second half of the second millennium B. C. They also reveal the influence of the Egyptian art on that of Ugarit . The commercial relations between Egypt and Ugarit had their repercussion over the cultural and artistic exchange.

    Human head in ivory incrusted with gold , silver copper or lapis lazuli. Probably belongs to a prince or a princess of Ugarit . The head has an incomplete high tiara . This unique piece that was made by one of the artists of Ugarit was found in the Royal Palace . It goes back to the 13th century B. C. ( H. 15 cm. W. 9.5 cm. ) .

    Jewelry :

    Specimens of gold , silver and bronze jewelry as well as some necklaces of faience beads are displayed in this hall .
    The jewelers and gold-smiths of Ugarit were highly reputed craftsmen . The industry constituted one of the most important products for export .


    Seals and Scarabs :

    The use of seals dates back to very ancient periods in the history of civilization . It is too difficult to determine a precise date for the appearance and use of seals . The flat seal came into common use by the end of the fifth millennium B. C.
    At first the seal was used as amulet to protect its wearer against the spirits and to bring him luck and happiness . The seal was developed later on into a new shape like cylinder therefore it was named the cylinder seal . This type was used on a wide scale since the fourth millennium B. C.
    The flat seal , however had not been completely disappeared , but it was widely used along with the cylinder one in the religious and economic daily purposes all over the ancient Orient. Therefore , the study of the development of seals is a matter of great interest since such study discloses to us tangible documents by which we can learn and understand much about the ancient civilization in regard to : the name and qualities of deities religious rites , cults , commercial and social life clothes , arms , utensils and various traditions .
    The seal was generally made of stone or any hard substance such as the hematite. Many seals were also made of mother-of- pearl like those of Mari and Mesopotamia .
    The excavations at Ugarit have yielded large number of seals , some were made of stone and the others were made of a kind of ceramic known as " Frit " .
    Allied to seals are the scarabs which were widespread in Egypt more than the rest of the ancient Orient . From Egypt the scarabs were transferred to Syria where they were used , in the main , as objects of ornament for women . They were also used in the social and religious life .

    A collection of cylinder seals

    Pottery :

    Pottery began to be more or less widely used at Ras-Shamra ( Ugarit ) around the 6th millennium B. C. Shreds of burnished
    brown pottery ( the earliest pottery ) have been found in the north of Syria and in Anatolia . Some shreds ( Tell Halaf type )
    dating from the fifth millennium B. C. and influenced by the Mesopotamian Pottery have been also found . After a long interruption , Pottery made its appearance again . It was also influenced by that of Mesopotamia ( Ubaid type ). In the 3rd millennium B. C. ( The ancient Bronze Age ) the Pottery of Ras Shamra ceased to submit itself to the Mesopotamia influence and appeared to be in close relation with that of Southern Syria and Palestine . It was burnished Pottery plated in black on the exterior and in red on the interior ( Khurbet Kerak type ) in the South of Syria .
    In the second half of the 2nd millennium B. C. Ugarit used a simple pottery similar to the Canaanite Pottery and that of the interior Syria . It appeared in effect on bowls of which bottom is ornamented with intercepted lines and also on rhytons in form of horn or cone ornamented with spiral animal and fish motifs, or other mythological subjects.
    Here are the most important pieces displayed in this show case :

    Terracotta crater with two handles and with paint ed design in red on a bright ground . The design is two-horse chariot behind which are four persons in tunic . There other persons in tunic can also he seen moving towards the chariot , each carrying a long sword . The empty spaces are adorned with flowers . The crater is of Mycenaean origin and dates back to the Recent Stone Age.



    Tell Soukas

    Excavations of the Danish Mission

    This archaeological site falls in the plain of Jablah , the widest and richest plain of the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea . Tell Soukas which lies directly on the coast , about 6 Km from Jablah looks over this fertile plain . It stands on one of the best natural harbours of the Phoenician Coast . Its height is 24 m. above the sea-level . Its most ancient stratum dates back to the 6th millennium B. C. , and Its top stratum goes back to the Hellenistic Ages . The site was originally Greek Settlement set up by Nebuchadnezzar after the battle of Carchemish and was , later on , destroyed by Cyrrhus . Many pottery shreds from the Hellenistic and Arab Periods have been discovered at this site.

    In the texts of Ugarit ( Ras-Shamra ) , the city was mentioned as falling between Ugarit and Siano . Is seems that this city of the recent Bronze Age was destroyed completely by the Invading Sea Peoples as is the case with the other cities of the Phoenician Coast. The strata of the Bronze Age, particularly that of the recent Bronze Age, have provided us with patterns of Cypriot Painted pottery, terracotta Mycenaean statues, cylinder seals of the Kissite and Sumerian genre dating back to the 17th century down to the 12th century , and a half of an Egyptian Scarab In the name of Amenophis Ill ( l405 - 1370 B. C. ) . There are also numerous Egyptian Scarabs , Phoenician Seals from the Hyksos Period and some bronze pieces of the Middle Bronze Age.


    Excavations of the Directorate General of

    Antiquities and Museums

    The city of Simyra is mentioned in the Bible, in the Tell-el Amarna Tablets, Tiglath-Pilser Ill and also in the other clasics cf the Antiquity . Therefore, it can be gathered from these different source that Simyra was situated in the territory falling to the south of the ancient City of Amrit (Marathus ) by the mouth of Nahr-el-Kabir and to the north of the slopes of the mountains of Lebanon.

    Some archaeologists have Undertaken a number of researches in the said area in order to determine the actual location of the city. Having explored all the archaeological tells of the area. they came to the conclusion that the tell which bears today the name of Tell Kazel had the best chance of being identified with Simyra.

    Tell Kazel is situated on the right shore of Nahr-el-Abrach at about 3.5 K.M from its mouth. It is a vast and elevated tell Its height in Proportion to the nearby plain is about 25 m.

    It is 28 Km. more or less to the south of Tartus. In this connection Strabo says "Simyra was the last of the possessions of Arwad ( Aradus ) to the south " .

    From what has been said above, it may be safely assumed that Tell Kazel is possibly standing now on the site of the ancient Simyra. However, the Directorate-General of Antiquities and Museums has actually conducted a number of explorations to verify the stratification of the Tell and to compare its relevant historic data to those of the city under research. There sondages were conducted during the Spring of 1956 until the digging reached the stratum of the recent bronze. Later on. a mission consisting of Maurice Dunan. Adnan Bounni and Nassib Saliby undertook three campaigns of excavations. respectively 1960, 1961 and 1962. These excavations, respectively of the following Ages: The Rornan-Hellenistic. the Iron and the Recent Bronze. It was also proved that the city was flourishing in the Hellenistic and Persian Periods. Like the other sister cities of the Phoenician Coast ( Arwad and Amrit). Simrya disappeared in the Roman Period to give way to the new big cities. The remains of the Assyrian Period and those of the Iron Age which can be seen at Tell Kazel indicate that the city had a certain importance. The layer which is contemporary with the Recent Bronze is deep and it many yield indications in future to at test the identification of this sites the ancient Simyra.

    Terracotta rhyton representing a horned bull , its mouth is in the form of a U-trap , standing on its four limbs and ornamented with red intersected lines. L. 14.5 cm. H. 17 cm.


    Excavations of the Directorate-General of Antiquities

    and Museums.

    Some 7 kilometres to the south of Tartus. opposite the Island of Arwad, lies an ancient city of Marathus. In the reign of Alexander the Great, Marathus was a prosperous city and very famous for its temple.

    When the mission of Renan the well-known archaeologist. excavated Amrit about the middle of the 19th century, there were the remains of 11 monuments in the city. We still see today, the remains of the temple, the spinning mill, the mound and the Greek Stadium.

    Amrit is mentioned in the annals of Tiglath-Pilser III and in the accounts of the campaigns of Thothmes III. as forming a northern border to the possessions of Simyra.

    In 1926, a valuable collection of stone statues and statuettes dating back to the 4th and 3rd centuries B.C., were discovered at a site west of the temple and the mound (the Favissa ). ln 1880. a stone stele representing a god on a lion, carrying a truncheon in his right hand, was also discovered. The stele bears Phoenician inscriptions of the 4th century B.C.

    Amrit is mentioned in the annals of Thothmes III under the name Kart Amrwta . Etymologically qart means city in Phoenician such as Carthage or Carthago, and is often followed by a diminutive i.e. Amrwta .

    The name of the city is also mentioned as Marathus during the conquests of Alexander the Great. In this very city, Alexander the Great and Darius, King of Persia, exchanged the messages of their diplomatic negotiations.

    Tell Amrit ( Marathus ) represents the residential institutions related to the life of the neighbouring temple. In the course of excavations, some antiquities of the Hellenistic and Persian Periods and of the Bronze and Iron Ages, were discovered. We hope that the forthcoming excavations would provide as with more historical data about the life of the people at that Tell in the 2nd and 1st millennia B.C.

    In actual fact, Tell Amrit may constitute an important link in the study of this area, which is still obscure, and which stretches between the Mediterranean Sea and the Orontes. Amrit had been in close contact with the civilization of the Greek world since the 7th century B.C. In this period, the cities of Phoenician Coast displayed tangible activity, particularly in the domain of commercial exchange all over the Mediterranean.

    The Greek historians and the Assyrian Chronicles talked about this activity and about the establishment of relations between the emerging country of Greek and the Orient civilizations from which the Greeks borrowed the Oriental thought in the realm of philosophy, religion and alphabet. The Greeks likewise learnt many of the Phoenician industries.



    OF THE



    Excavations of the English Mission

    Tell Ref'at (Arfad) lies at a distance of 35 Km to the North of Aleppo . It was excavated by an English Mission , conducted by Mrs . Seton Williams , who carried out a number of campaigns at this mound . Despite the importance of the mound . this mission has not been able to conduct its explorations regularly and on a wide scale . It is hoped that the future excavations at this, very tell , would bring to light sufficient data in archaeology and history concerning a particular period about which we need more information . Through the excavations which have been carried out so far , we were able to determine the different strata of this tell . They are from top to bottom as follows .

    1st Stratum : goes back to the Roman and the Hellenistic Periods ( from the 4th Century B. C. to the 1st Century A. C. 

    2nd Stratum: goes back to the Roman and Hellenistic Periods (the 4th Century B.C. ) and the Assyrlan and Aramaean Periods (between the 10th and 6th Century B. C. )

    3rd Stratum : from the Aramaean era down to the Bronze Age ( between the 14th and 12th Century B. C. )

    4th Strum : goes back to the Bronze Age ( between the 23rd and 20th Century B. C. )

    5th Stratum : goes back to the Jew Stone Age ( Neolithic)

    i.e. the 5th and 4th millennium B. C. 

    Aramaean Stole of Sfire :
    This big basalt stele was discovered at the Canal of Sagin and , later on was transported to Sfire a village near Aleppo . This stele is considered to be the most ancient document written in Aramaic . Its letter forms are akin to the ancient Phoenician inscriptions . They were engraved with care and in a manner which makes them easy to read from afar . The beauty of the calligraphy gives us a good idea of the Aramaean script of the 8th century B. C.
    The stele reveals the text of a treaty concluded between two kings of North Syria : ( Bar-gayah ) , king of Kittak , and ( Mati-El), king of Arfad, ( ? Tell Ref’at).
    King Mati-El whose name signifies (God preserve) is known in the Assyrian texts as the adversary of Tiglath-Pilser I who destroyed the kingdom of Arfad in 740 B. C. after a siege of four years .
    The treaty in question threatens Mati-El and his kingdom with severe punishment in case of the breach of his faith . The text of the accord is a long inscription covering the two faces of the Stele . The inscription reads :
    " And that seven nurses suckle a baby without satisfying it "
    " And that seven mares suckle a foal without satisfying it "
    " And that seven cows suckle a calf without satisfying it "
    " And that seven ewes suckle a lamb without satisfying it "

    Bronze statue of a Baal a god of the Phoenicians :

     It was entirely recovered with a thin coat of silver , nothing of which remained save some traces . The god is arrayed in a short loin-cloth , tightened round the slim waist by a belt . The striped part of the belt is divided into four zones and is hanging down from the front by three grooves , which were formerly encrusted with gold or ivory. The legs are in the attitude of the march . The feet are bare . The god is standing on a pedestal . The face is beardless and the lineaments express youth and force . The eyes and eye-brows were encrusted . The hair is hanging loose and ending with spiral locks around the neck  .He is putting on a crown surrounded by a band . The crown ends with a flat semi-oval form on which the sun-rays are engraved . The neck looks strong , the shoulders broad and the chest large . The arms are stretched forward and the palms are closed , possibly they were holding something (a weapon or an attitude of god) lost with the passage of time . End of the 2nd millennium B.C. H 43.3 cm. W. 97 cm.

    Basalt bas-relief representing a winged sphinx of Syrio-Phoenician type . The stele was found on one of the walls of the god Hadad's Temple ( now the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus ). The bas-relief represents : an animal with a man’s head and a long beard and a double crown ( of Egyptian Style ) on the head. It is in the attitude of the march. This piece was discovered during the excavations conducted by the Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums . It dates to the period of the Aramaean King " Hazael " the ninth century B.C.

    This stele was executed by the Phoenician artists whom King Hazeal of Damascus , the above noted king , charged with the construction of the Temple of Hadad . It is the very temple which was consecrated to god Jupiter during the Roman era . In the Byzantine ear , this temple became the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. The cathedral was converted into the famous Umayyad Mosque in the Islamic era . L. 69.5 cm. W. 64 cm. H. 64 cm.

    A hieroglyphic text found in Tell Koukab - Near Damascus


    god " Hadad Yasaai Bin Shamah Nouri "

    Basalt sculpture , on the lower front of the garment there is an Assyrian cuneiform writing , on the lower back there is translation to it into Aramaic . 9 Century B.C.



    Excavations of the French Mission.

    One day in August 1933, some Bedouin of the Middle Euphrates region were burying one of their dead men at Tell Hariri about 11 Km. north-west of Abu Kamal, they unearthed a mutilated statue. The matter was immediately reported to the local authorities. The news of the discovery soon reached the Louver Museum which consequently decided to send all archaeological mission headed by Mr. Andre Parrot to explore the site.

    Shortly after the commencement of excavations, It was proved to the mission, as a result of Its discovery of a number of statues bearing some Cuneiform inscriptions, that Tell Hariri was the location of an ancient city named Mari which was a seat of the 10th dynasty after the deluge.

    The mission carried out 18 expeditions at the tell, between the years 1933 - 1968. including six before the Second World War. In the course of these expeditions, the mission discovered three or four temples, a Ziggurat and a royal palace counted as one of the biggest palaces of the ancient world. In addition to the above-noted discovery, the mission also unearthed a collection of alabaster statues in different sizes and thousands of Cuneiform tablets written In Akkado-Babylonian. Among the tablets are letters illuminating brilliantly all that related to the affairs of life: economy, commerce, regulations, administration, laws, religion, literature and so on.

    The ancient city of Mari is about 2.5 Km. to the west of the present Euphrates. In olden times, the Euphrates was running near the city.

    The Tell is of an oval shape, one kilometre long by 600 meters wide, and its highest point in proportion to the near-by plain is 14 meters.

    No sondages (An archaeological term meaning a deep trench. often of restricted area, to investigate the stratigraphy of a site) in the strict sense of the word have been carried out yet at the Tell, but our knowledge of the city and the different period of its long history increases year after year.

    Professor Parrot holds that the periods recognized in the Tell from the remains of the city are from top to bottom as follows :

    1.      Parthi-Sassanid Period: Its relics were found in the tombs scattered on the surface of the Tell.

    2.      Neo-Babylonian and Assyrian Period : ( sixteenth century. down to the fourteenth century B.C. ): Its relics were found in a number of terracotta tombs.

    3.      Period of the Kings of Hana ( after Hammurabi ): Poor and few installations were found.( Eighteenth century B.C. (.

    4.      Period of the Kings of Mari who were contemporaries with the first Babylonian dynasty : Temple of Ishtar and Temple of Ninhursag ( about 2000 B.C. ) .

    5.      Period of the rulers who were contemporaries with the 3rd dynasty or Ur: Temple or Dagon, Temple of Ninhursag and the Palace ( 2100-2250 B.C. ) .

    6.      Sargonic Period ( about 2600 B.C. ) Temple of Ninhursag and some anonymous sanctuaries.

    7.      Pre-Sargenic Period (2700-3100 B.C. ) : Temple of Ninhursag and Temple of Ishtar.

    8.      Jamdet Nasr Period ( about 3100 B.C.) : Stone constructions under the Temple of Ishtar.

    As a result of the annual periodical excavations, we have been able to get a yield of valuable antiquities that revealed the history of the Middle Euphrates region throughout its long eras.

    In the archives of the Royal Palace in Mari , a valuable collection ( over 20,000 ) of Cuneiform tablets were found. These tablets which date back to the first Babylonian dynasty ( about 2000 B.C. ) are made of sun-dried clay and bear Akkado-Babylonian Cuneiform characters which are no different from those of the first Babylonian dynasty. Even the language is mostly Akkadian, but the vocabulary and tone leave no doubt that those who wrote them spoke Babylonian.

    The Royal Palace discovered in Mari in l955 is counted as one of the most magnificent Palaces of the ancient Orient or rather one of the wonders of the world in the beginning of the second millennium. B.C. It comprised some 300 rooms, corridors and halls, and covered an area of 200 meters long by 12 meters wide. Its construction was an enterprise accomplished by a number of generations of kings and princes. In fact, the palace was the centre of the official life of a vast kingdom, an administrative city where the king used to grant audience and where hundreds of the civil servants used to run the affairs of the state. There were many wings near the palace: one reserved in particular for the royal household, one for the courtiers, one for scrolls and one for the armourers. The Palace was surrounded with thick walls to protect it against attack. The existence of bathrooms and ceramic bath-tubs indicates the luxury that reigned in the royal residence. Some of the halls were decorated with elaborate mural paintings remarkable for their colours, variety of themes and beauty of composition.

    In short, no ancient royal palace could rival the Palace of Mari in grandeur, organization and artistic creation.

    The excellent geographical position of Mari on the Middle Euphrates made the city an intermediary between the Mediterranean Sea on the one hand, Mesopotamia and Anatolia on the other. Mari was the most important commercial centre that many a kingdom tried by some means or other to dominate, so that they might be able to control the caravan route which linked the different countries of the ancient world. The Amorites who found abode in Mari could maintain their independence for a long time and could make this very city which stretched and turned out to be very strong, a capital of the Middle Euphrates.

    The city also controlled the caravan routes and became very rich from tolls and from the products of its fertile soil. All these factors made it easy for the Amorites to establish one of the most brilliant civilizations of the third and second millennia B.C. It was Hammurabi , king of Babylon, who disrupted the city, incorporated it to his empire and opened the road before his commercial caravans and armies to arrive at the sea, the mountains of Cadres, and the copper and the gold areas so that Babylon might remain the sole unrivalled Capital of the Ancient Orient .       

    The treasure of King of Mari Consud or Ansod :

    This precious treasure was found in a medium size terracotta jar which was hidden in a pillar of one of the rooms of the Royal Palace which belongs to the first dynasty existed in the first stratum under the palace of Zimri-lim. The jar was discovered in 1965 during the 15th expedition of excavations.
    The treasure is a present sent by Mesannipadda, King of the city of Ur-Mesopotamia, to his colleague or friend or master Cansud ( or A.nsud), king of Mari. This present has its magnificence in view of the important place which the kingdom of Mari enjoyed in the middle of the third millennium B.C. A lapis lazuli octahedral bead bearing Sumerian Cuneiform inscriptions read: dedication from god Gal-Mesannipadda, King of the City of Ur to Cansud, King of Mera i.e. Mari. This bead is a very important document since its reveals to us the historical relations between Misannipadda, King and founder of the first dynasty of Ur and Kansud ( Ansud) , King and founder of the dynasty of Mari before the pre-Sargonic Period and the 10th dynasty after the Deluge.
    The preliminary discoveries undertaken in the Zimri-lim Palace and the second stratum confirm the importance of the dynasty of Mari, the greatness of its kings and the architectural beauty of the palace.
    The following is a piece found in the Jar :

    An eagle with a lion head and a body in lapis lazuli chiseled in fine lines to indicate the feathers and wings. The head and the tail are covered with many gold sheets. The eyes are encrusted with bitumen. The eagle is the symbol of god Ningurso. PreSargonic Age.

    H. 11.8 cm. W. 13 cm.

    Sculpture in Mari :

    In this big showcase which comprises four compartments and a niche, we display collections of stone, alabaster and limestone statues found in the Temple of Shamash, god of the sun and in the Temple of Ishtar.
    A glance at these statues will reveal the realistic, expressive trend in the realm of sculpture. The attitude of persons, the flexibility of lines, the nature of clothes, the precision of lineaments, all these indicate an evident desire for complying with the reality. To these can be added the aspect of gentleness, solemnity, smile and the look of contemplation and religious meditation which distinguished these statues. It is noteworthy that these statues had their special places in every temple beside the statue of the god. They were placed in banquettes specially made to receive the presents from the sincere worshippers. This tradition was common among the Semites in Syria and Mesopotamia in view of the high esteem with which the religion was held by these people.
    The alabaster constituted the principal material used in the sculpture of Mari. Only few statues were carved in diorite. We have found only one statue in diorite representing King Ishtup-Ilum ( now displayed in the Museum of Aleppo ). In fact, the use of the diorite was more spread in Mesopotamia than in the Middle Euphrates.
    It seems that the sculpture in Man had a more lucrative than artistic end. It is to be noted that the artists used to set up their ateliers in the neighborhood of the temple so that their statues would be within an easy reach of those who desire to offer a statue to the deity. Therefore, we find a great resemblance among the statues prepared for sale: Persons sitting or standing in their traditional dresses i.e. either a long garment covering all parts of the body with the exception of the right shoulder to ensure the free movement of the hand, or a skirt covering the lower part of the body and hung from the waist by a broad belt leaving the trunk denuded. The dress was the same for both sexes, the women were distinguished from men only by breasts, when the bust is denuded; by the hair style and the ornament. Sometimes it is difficult for one to know the sex of the statue. The priests are distinguished from the laymen by the head-dress. That of the priests takes the form of a bonned named "polos". On the whole, most of the statues were bare-headed and beardless. In all the statues, the feet are bare, Moreover, some of the statues are marked by a long bread arranged in rows and hung loose down to the chest with waves or spiral lock. In all statues, the position of the hands are always the same when they are not holding any object: The hands are joined and clasped on the chest to give impression of piety and adoration.
    The artists of Mari also produced a considerable number of statues to the order of their kings, princes and other dignitaries besides those that were meant for commercial purposes. The ability and artistic genius of the artists are remarkably revealed in the sculpture of these statues. One may discern that the personal characteristics overshadow the usual similarities. For example the statue of King Lamgi-Mari differs entirely from that f King Iku-Shamagan. In the same way there is no resemblance between the statue of Nami and that of Idi-Narum, both are statesmen whose statues differ from that of Tbih-Il, the steward of the kingdom.
    It is noteworthy that the Semitic-Amorite Man provided us with some statues of such exquisite sculpture as to render them among the most prized statues of the Euphrates region and Mesopotamia. Luckily, most of these statues hear the names of the represented persons on the back which is a distinctive feature of the Amorite sculpture. 

    Alabaster statue representing
    Iku-Shamagan, King of Mari.
    He is standing on a plinth, bare-footed in the attitude of adoration, the arms are joined closely on the nude chest . He is dressed in a haunakes skirt. The head is bare and bold, the beard is long, the eyes, the eye-brows are incrusted with shell, bitumen, and lapis-lazuli . A cuneiform inscription gives the name of the person. Found in the Temple of Ishtar.
    Beginning of the second millennium B.C.
    H. 115 cm. W. 37 cm.

    Alabaster statue representing a priestess putting on a "polos", a head dress for those who are in service of the temples. Her long robe covers the whole body including the head . She is sitting on a square seat ornamented with geometrical motifs on the back and on the two sides. The eyes, and eye-brows were incrusted with shell and lapis lazuli. Found at the Temple of Ishtar. Beginning of the second millennium B.C. H. 24 cm. W. 14.2 cm.

    Alabaster statue representing Ur-Nina, the leading songstress of the Temple of Ishtar. Her long wavy hair is flowing down her back. She is sitting down on a bolster and putting on a long skirt like trousers which indicates that she was not only a prima donna but also a dancer. Her black hair is still maintaining its original color. The eyes were incrusted with lapis lazuli, the chest nude, and the incomplete arms placed on the chest in a posture of adoration. Ur-Nina dedicated her statue to the Temple of Ishtar where the statue was discovered. Beginning of the Second millennium B.C. H. 25.4 cm. W. 13.5 cm.

    Mosaic panel with shell elements. It is divided into three religious scenes pertaining to prayers and offerings. Each of the three scenes is separated from the other by way of a framework in the form of two parallel lines encompassing a combination of small shell lozenges all along the perimeter.
    The Upper Scene: depicts an offering from a number of persons standing around a high altar.
    The Middle Scene: depicting large, high altar ending with animal feet and covered with leather. A group of women are standing the alter to make sacrifices to the deities.
    The Lower Scene : depicts performing of the ritual prayers.
    The panel is incomplete due to the fact that the elements which compose it have been found scattered on one of the halls in the Temple of Dagon. The gaps among the persons are filled with schist fixed with bitumen. The second half of the third millennium B.C. L. 54.5 cm. H. 27 cm.

    A House From Mari :

    Dry clay circular architectural maquette recovered with a calxium coat. It is made up of eight rooms, each room has a door leading to a central courtyard with four doors. The maquette is surrounding with an outer round wall with one door. One of the rooms is roofed. There is a whole in the centre of the roof. The maquette has been discovered in the middle of the road between the Temple of Shamash and that of Nini-Zaza. The importance of the maquette depends largely in being an architectural style of the houses of Man. It goes back to the Pre-Sargonic era ( third millennium B.C.). 13. 54 cm. H. 27,S’cm.

  • HALL OF EBLA ( Tell Mardikh )

    modern Tall Mardikh, also spelled Tell Mardikh
    ancient city 33 miles (53 km) southwest of Aleppo in northwestern Syria. During the height of its power (c. 2600–2240 BC), Ebla dominated northern Syria, Lebanon, and parts of northern Mesopotamia (modern Iraq) and enjoyed trade and diplomatic relations with states as far away as Egypt, Iran, and Sumer.

    Excavation of the tell (mound) now known to be the site of Ebla started in 1964 with a team of archaeologists from the University of Rome led by Paolo Matthiae. In 1975 Matthiae's team found Ebla's archives, dating to the 3rd millennium BC. Discovered virtually intact in the order in which they had once been stored on their now-collapsed shelves were more than 17,000 clay cuneiform tablets and fragments, offering a rich source of information about Ebla.

    Part of Ebla's prosperity stemmed from its agricultural hinterland, in the rich plain of northern Syria, where barley, wheat, olives, figs, grapes, pomegranates, and flax were grown and cattle, sheep, goats, and pigs were raised. Beyond, Ebla controlled a group of 17 city-states, probably in what is now Lebanon and southeastern Turkey, areas rich in silver and timber. The city proper was a manufacturing and distribution centre. Linen and wool, including damask cloth, were the main products. Metalworking, including the smelting and alloying of gold, silver, copper, tin, and lead, was the second most important activity. Woodworking and the production of olive oil, wine, and beer also were important.

    Trade was the third support of Ebla's economy. Cloth, manufactured goods, and olive oil were its main exports; imports included gold, silver, copper, tin, precious stones, and sheep. Because of its geographic location, Ebla grew wealthy on transit trade. Materials from Iran, Anatolia, and Cyprus were transshipped to states as distant as Sumer and Egypt. The Egyptian trade passed through Byblos.

    Diplomacy and limited warfare supported Ebla's commercial activities. Emar, a city strategically located at the confluence of the Euphrates and Galikh rivers, was tied to Ebla by dynastic marriage. Khammazi was Ebla's commercial and diplomatic ally in Iran. Commercial treaties were drawn up with other cities. Mari, on the Euphrates River to the southeast, was Ebla's great commercial rival. Twice, an Eblaite army marched against it, and for a time Ebla ruled Mari through a military governor.

    Nonhereditary kings governed Ebla for limited terms, and a council of elders shared in decision making. The manufacture of cloth was under the queen's charge. Fourteen governors appointed by the king ruled Ebla's departments, two of them in the city proper.

    The religion of Ebla was polytheistic and primarily Canaanite. Dabir was the city's patron god, but Dagon, Sipish, Hadad, Balatu, and Astarte were also worshiped. The language of Ebla was a hitherto unknown Canaanite dialect, most closely akin to the Northwest Semitic languages. The script of the tablets, however, is Sumerian cuneiform, with closest similarity to tablets from Adab and Abu Salabikh (now in Iraq). Texts reveal that Sumerian teachers came to Ebla, and the presence of a “Canal of Ebla” near Adab attests that Eblaites went to Sumer as well. Vocabularies, syllabaries, gazetteers, and student exercises that have been recovered show that Ebla was a major educational centre. The completeness of Ebla's texts, which at points duplicate fragmentary texts from Sumer, greatly enhances the modern study of Sumerian.

    The prosperity of Ebla caught the attention of the Akkadian dynasty (c. 2334–2154 BC). Although Sargon of Akkad's claim to have conquered Ebla was cast in doubt by the discoveries in the excavations, the fire that destroyed the city was probably the result of an attack by Sargon's grandson Naram-Sin (c. 2240 BC). There followed a 250-year period of impoverishment, after which an Amorite group sacked Ebla and established its own dynasty. The Amorites rebuilt the palace and a temple, and a statue representing one of their kings was excavated in the ruins. Only limited prosperity returned to the city, and a decorated bone sceptre of the Egyptian king Htp-ib-Re (reigned c. 1750 BC) indicates renewed relations with Egypt. Ebla's final destruction occurred in the great upheavals that engulfed the Middle East about 1650–1600 BC, but many crafts and traditions that originated in the city lived on in Syrian culture.

    Human-headed bull
    3rd mill B.C.
    Ebla (Tell Mardikh)
    Aleppo Museum - Syria

    Ritual altar for sacrificing vows, made from basalt
    first mill B.C.


    Eblaite language :

    Archaic Semitic language, probably the most ancient to survive in substantial form, dating from the third quarter of the 3rd millennium BC. As a Northern Central Semitic language, Eblaite is affiliated with the Afro-Asiatic (formerly Hamito-Semitic) family of languages.

    Archaeological excavations in the mid-1970s in Tall Mardikh, near Aleppo in Syria, yielded substantial written documentation of Eblaite in the form of cuneiform tablets and fragments of tablets that constituted the state archives of the ancient city of Ebla. The writing of the archives is classic Mesopotamian cuneiform using many Sumerian logograms. Linguistically, Eblaite is part of the Northern Central Semitic group of languages, which includes Amorite, and is thus distinct from Northern Peripheral Semitic languages such as Old Akkadian.

    The information that the archives give about the political and cultural activities of Ebla, still in the early stages of investigation, nevertheless shows that Eblaite was the cultural and administrative idiom of the chancellery of one of the most highly developed Northwest Semitic areas. Beyond serving as a local language, Eblaite was probably the dominant educated language of the stable population throughout the region until the destruction of Ebla by Naram-Sin about 2240 BC. The language demonstrates that the geographic influence of Ebla was considerable, extending north to the Hittite region and perhaps as far south as Egypt.

    In addition to revealing the culture of Ebla, the discovery of the Eblaite tablets has aided comparative studies of Semitic languages—including Hebrew—and has also aided modern studies of the unrelated Sumerian language.

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