Mari, An Exclusive Ancient City

When professor Andre Barrow described Mari as a “fabulous capital“hewas not far from the truth. The location of Mari, on Tall al Hariri in the central Euphrates region, (about 2 km from Abou Kamal), leads us to certain conclusions about the cultural importance of this city.

The Tall al Hariri itself is 1000X 600 m only, but the various discoveries and the results of excavations give a clear view about the deep mentality of ancient Syrians.

The city itself did not start as a small village to grow gradually, but, rather, it was preplanned: mock ups were made (as we do now a days), preparation swere started to build the city altogether, then it was constructed according to the plans. That was 2900 year before Christ, which means that the staff of the social administration and /or the municipal authority at that time, intended to build the city according to a pre-planned architectural style, taking in to consideration that this city should fulfill a historical, economical, and industrial role in that early stage of human history .

Located in the central Euphrates region made it a linking point between Mesopotamia and Mediterranean kingdoms between Anatolia and Central Syria .Also being a gift of the Euphrates, the city was an excellent commercial center, as well as an industrial complex, where copper and tin were produced and exported to the neighboring regions .

The 25000 cuneiform tablets discovered in Mari depicted the accurate image of the real life of the city . Mari was an Acadian-Amorite center in the middle of a Sumerian overwhelming presence that covered all the Mesopotamian Peninsula. All the names of the kings of Mari in the third millennium B.C. were Amorite names. Hence is the importance and uniqueness of the city.

In Mari there were temples for Sumerian and Amorite gods which means that there were different aromas of peoples living together in full peace and coexistence. The excavations in Mari revealed Sumerian and Amorite temples: the temple of Nini Zaza, Ishtar, Shemesh, Dagan, and Nin Horsaj in addition to the ziggurats, the typical towers of the Sumerians.

One of the wonderful architectural achievements in Mari were the aquatic constructions and irrigation canals and dams that were built to allow the city to play its role successfully. Mari had a large net of canals that brought water to the farthest parts of the kingdom. One of these is the Daroni canal, 120 km long, which linked the Khabour river with the Euphrates at the level of Aboukamal. Professor Jean Claude Marjeron referred to this point saying: “Mari was built according to well designed and arranged plans as its water projects and defensive walls prove.

The general view of the city in the third millennium was a clear evidence of the totalitarian and logical sense of understanding bred from the civilizations of the fourth millennium B.C. which led to the construction of this ideal city.

The texts discovered in Mari contained more than125 names of holy gods, something normal in trade cities like Mari, where civilizations and culture scan intermingle and learn from each other.

In architecture, the royal palace of Mari is a good example of the development of the art of building and an expression of the level of interaction between man and his surrounding environment and society. The palace of Mari was an integrated society by itself, as if it was a city enclosed within a larger city. It was so well known that many kings and princes of the time, especially those of Ugarit, used to visit it and explore its halls and arcades.

The palace itself was about two dunams and a half200m X 120 m with 300 hundred rooms and an open courtyard of 33 X 49 m area. The royal wing of the palace occupied only 1/20 of the total area of the palace, another reference to the simplicity and modesty of the rulers of Mari.

The palace contained all the aspects of life of the kingdom: workshops, offices, reception halls and depots .Most amazing of all, Mari had sewage canals, might be the first in kind in the world. Excavations in Mari revealed many statues in the temples of the city, some for kings and others for normal people in states of worship. We feel that it is imperative to stop for a while scrutinizing some of Mari’s statues as distinctive artistic works, especially that of the singer Ornina, discovered in the temple of Nini Zaza, because it represents the high level of aesthetic techniques and art of sculpture in Mari.

Mari was a site rich with statues of couples (a male and a female) in emotional situations reflecting the respect of human values and passions.

Most of the statues were made from lime stone of which Barrow said: “This stone couldn’t hinder Mari’s sculptors from creating ideal statues like that of the “Goddess of Spring“made of white stone as a symbol of the “Goddess of Fertility˜ which gives water, the magic source of life. This statue is 1, 42 cm high, but it represents the high artistic level of the people of Mari .It was found in the royal palace. Barrow said of it: “There isn’t another statue like this. Eastern archaeology didn’t reveal a face more expressive than this one”. What distinguish Mari from other ancient cities is the mural drawings on the walls of its royal palace. Investigations in Mari led to the discovery of information about cylindrical seals, mud molds used for manufacturing conserved foods, and drawings representing several legends and life scenes.

The Kingdom of Mari had good political and mercantile relations with other Kingdoms: Ebla, Yam had in Aleppo, Qatana, and even Hasour in north Palestine and Byblos on the Syrian coast. Mari,s products were found in the Kingdoms of Dailamoun, now Bahrain, Cyprus, Crete, the Aegian islands and in Iran.

Mari imported copper from Cyprus, lead from Anatolia and tin from north ­ west of Iran .Mari succeeded in trade for two reasons:

First: it was located on a sensitive place between the Euphrates shipping line and that of the Mediterranean which allowed it to impose custom fees on the goods passing along the axis connecting these two lines.

Two: Mari used to import raw materials and commodities, manufacture them and export them again.

These two factors helped Mari flourish rapidly, and sometimes control the trade markets in the region of the Fertile Crescent.

Mari’s tablets indicated that the small Kingdom had had ambassadors in several eastern cities: Aleppo, Qar Qamish, Babylon and others .

The state archives narrated the episodes of the first royal marriage done by proxy, when King Zimrilimsent his delegates to the court of Yemk had to suit princess Yarimlim, the daughter of Ship to, the king of Aleppo, and how the mission came back to Mari accompanied by the royal bride.

Mari’s supremacy continued for more than one thousand years,(2900-1760 B.C.) to be destroyed during the sacking of the city by the Babylonians in 1759 B.C.

Now Mari is a dead city, but archaeological excavations led to the discovery of its wonderful monuments and treasures, most of which are displayed in the museums of Deirezzor, Damascus and the Louvre in Paris.

Mari’s life marks an essential era of the Syrian civilizations, enriched with that of Ebla in the third and second millennium B.C., and with the Kingdom of Ugarit 3000-1180 B.C.

These chapters gave humanity an eternal social and cultural heritage.


Haifaa mafalani