Qatna... A Kingdom of Gold


When visiting Homs, the largest Syrian province in Syria, we usually visit Palmyra, the Crack des Chevaliers as well as other historical places in the vicinity, forgetting visiting some of the most important, but not promoted, places which we know only from textbooks and electronic sites, like the kingdom of Qatna, one of the largest archeological places dating back to the Bronze Age, 18km from Homs.

In 1973 and before the Tall was occupied by a small village, alMisherfeh with its beautiful country side mud houses built on already built stone bases which were found underground. Because these bases were costless and strong, people started to dig for them to build over them. Not a long time passed when in the middle of the 19th century, people realized that they were building on a historical place.

 Field excavations started in the twenties of the 20th. century by a French archaeologist, Buisson who recommended removing alMisherfeh to the outskirts of the Tall, where a new village was built. Since that time the tall witnessed several interrupted seasons of excavations until activity started consistently in 1994 under the supervision of

Dr Michel Makdesi. In 1999 German and Italian teams joined the Syrian team forming a Syrian-Italian-German mission. With the first ax in the tall, the remains of a distinguished kingdom started to be unearthed enjoying all the characteristics of an important archaeological site, built on a fertile plain, surrounded by a square moat with four perpendicular gates encasing the acropolis and looking over the western part which is, in turn, surrounded by the low city with plateau at the south eastern corner known as Lot's Dome, which is still erect with all its rich elements.

Levels of Qatna

The first residential levels confirmed till now in Qatna belong to the old Bronze age (2600-2000) BC but gave very few information, not enough to give a full idea about life in the Tall in that period. At the same time Babylonian cuneiform documents from the 15th century BC mentioning the name of the Tall as Qatna, were discovered. The period of the Middle Bronze Age 2000-1500 BC with its letters and economic documents discovered in Mari-Tall alHariri, is considered the main source of information about Qatna in that period.

Economic organizations, similar to the modern chambers of commerce, were found in important cities along the trade routes where Qatna played the role of a trade mediator, in addition to its socio-political relations with Shamsi Addo, the Amorite king who ruled Mari after he defeated its king and expelled him from it.

When the Amorites weakened, and King Zimri Lim returned to power, Qatna rose as a strong political entity so that the king of Mari was keen to have good relations with it and with the kings of Aleppo, Yamhad, a step that delayed their struggle with Qatna, taking into consideration the good relations with its ally Mari. When King Zimri Lim died and Mari was destroyed, Qatna's name disappeared from the ancient Babylonian documents excluding small texts in the documents of Alalakh, Tall alAtshana.

In the Modern Bronze Age (1500-1200 BC) Qatna became a small kingdom subject to the Hittite, Egyptian and later the Mitanian influence, with the expectation of a change in the nature of the site as a result of a historical gap in the second Iron age (900-600BC), but when an administrative building was discovered in the acropolis it proved that the kingdom continued as an administrative and political entity in the south eastern part of the Aramaic Kingdom of Hama.

Later the site was abandoned until the middle of the 19thcentury and the construction of the village of alMisherfeh started.

Important discoveries

Discoveries in the Tall yielded important information which increased the importance of this magnificent site where luxurious palaces were discovered as an evidence of the commercial and military power the kings of Qatna enjoyed.

A royal palace from the second Millennium BC was discovered looking at the lower part of the city which was the largest built place in ancient Syria. It was destroyed during the Hittite invasion of Syria. Just south of it there was a smaller palace dating back to the second half of the second millennium with many beautiful architectural designs.

The palace of the lower part of the city was discovered in the slope of the western part and was destroyed during the campaigns of Sargon II on Syria which led to the fall of the Aramaic kingdom of Hama (720BC). And later the royal cemetery was discovered.

The relics of Qatna are displayed in the museums of Damascus and Homs. In 2004 a project was announced to restore the royal palace as a first step of a comprehensive plan aiming at establishing an archeological park. The old bases were damaged greatly so they were cleaned, fixed and raised to a level that allows visitors to have a general idea of the structure of the palace. Floors were maintained so that they look like the original ones and the ancient palace of

Tall Tabet was restored and opened as the (Syrian Center of Researches of the Orontes Basin).

In 2007 a building was discovered dating back to the periods of Middle and Modern Bronze age where two levels were discovered: The first might be a huge palace or a governmental department, and the second is a building similar to the palaces of the upper part of Qatna.

 In the last archaeological season the national Syrian team discovered a cuneiform tablet from the Middle Bronze age (1700BC) and the remains of adult skeletons in simple tombs as well as the skeletons of children in pottery jars under the floors of houses. In 2009 excavations revealed a cemetery dug in the rocks of the western part of the royal palace which can be accessed through a narrow gate. Inside there were two spaces with mixed bones and funerary items consisting mainly of stone vessels imported from Egypt, with golden bracelets and necklaces, and a variety of potteries dating back to the Middle Bronze age (1700-1600BC).

Also a large cuneiform tablet was discovered in the eastern field which is being restored to be translated by specialists.

Finally we can say that the vast archeological tall of Qatna, with the few discoveries found till now, revealed to us rich treasures from past civilizations which enriched the history of the Levant and deserved the title of "Qatna... a Kingdom of Gold".


Haifaa Mafalani