History Files

Near East Kingdoms

Ancient Mesopotamia


Hurrian State of Urkesh & Nawar (Nagar)

FeatureThe Hurrians (or Khurrites) were neither Semitics nor Indo-Europeans, but their origins are obscure. They appear to have emerged between 2500-2000 BC, probably from the Caucuses mountains to the north, to occupy the upper Tigris Valley and the upper Euphrates (close to the Assyrians), which had previously been the centre of the Chalcolithic Halaf culture (see feature link). The end of the Akkadian empire enabled them to gain control of regions of northern Mesopotamia towards the end of the third millennium BC.

FeatureThey were able to found a small, somewhat nebulous state in Urkesh (modern Tell Mozan in Syria), in the foothills of the Taurus Mountains, and in Nawar (or Nagar, now Tell Brak in Syria - see feature link) in the northern Khabur Valley, and another in Arrapha. Urkesh seems to have been inhabited since around 5000 BC, as confirmed by archaeological discoveries of human remains there, and an urban settlement was founded around 2900 BC. Its founders were previously unknown, but finds from the Urkesh archaeology site at Tell Mozan have shown that the Hurrians were there by this stage (identified by their unique language). Perhaps they had always been there, in which case they were probably aboriginals - people who had been there for many thousands of years, pre-dating any emergence of civilisation. The heartland of the subsequent Hurrian settlement area, it was only in Urkesh, Nawar, and Arrapha that the Hurrians had a majority population, but settlements of Hurrians could be found spread across much of northern Mesopotamia. They also later migrated southwards into Babylonia, and westwards into Hatti and Kizzuwatna in Anatolia.

FeatureOnce in Anatolia, they may have been influenced by the Indo-European Luwians or Hittites, as the storm god Teshub was patronised by them. Luwians chiefly worshipped Teshub - 'Tarhun' in their language - but this was rendered as 'Tarhunta' in theophoric names. Teshub or Tarhun stands out as being another contraction of 'tu arun', meaning 'your protector'. Other pronunciations of this Asura god are Varuna, Ouranos, Taranis and, of course, the Germanic contracted form of Thor. This presence of an Asura in an Anatolian branch of Indo-Europeans (IEs) is intriguing. Either the cult was borrowed (from the Hurrians perhaps?), or the god is so old that it dates back to a time in which all branches of IEs were in contact with one another - ie. somewhere around a date of 4000-4500 BC at the latest. (A detailed examination of IE gods and origins can be found in connection with early Germanic groups in Scandinavia - see link.)

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Edward Dawson, from Historical Atlas of the Ancient World, 4,000,000 to 500 BC, John Haywood (Barnes & Noble, 2000), from The Ancient Near East, c.3000-330 BC, Amélie Kuhrt (Volumes I & II, Routledge, 2000), from The Penguin Atlas of Ancient History, Colon McEvedy (which misses the period 1600-1300 BC but shows a Mitanni kingdom in 1300-1000 BC, by which time it had certainly disappeared - Penguin Books, 1967, revised 2002), from Cultural Atlas of Mesopotamia and the Ancient Near East, Michael Road (Facts on File, 2000), from Ancient Iraq, Georges Roux (Penguin Books, 1992), from The Hurrians, Gernot Wilhelm (Aris & Philips Warminster 1989), from Naming Names: The 2004 Season of Excavations at Ancient Urkesh, Giorgio & Marilyn Kelly-Buccellati (via the Institute of Archaeology, UCLA), from A History of the Ancient Near East c.3000-323 BC, Marc van der Mieroop (Blackwell Publishing, 2004, 2007), and from External Links: The Rediscovery of Urkesh: Forgotten City of the Hurrians (Ancient Origins), and LA Archaeologists Digging in Syria Find City of Myth (Los Angeles Times, 1995), and Celebrating Life in Mesopotamia, Marilyn Kelly-Buccellati.)

? BC


Central god of the Hurrians. Ancestor king?

c.2300? BC

Far from being recently arrived as has long been the prevailing theory, the Hurrians may have been here all along. Despite that, and despite being the likely founders of the city of Urkesh around 2900 BC, they only now seem to found the small state (or states) of Urkesh and Nawar, based on the two cities of the same name in northern Mesopotamia.

Early Bronze Age pottery
This fragment of Early Bronze Age pottery was produced in Mesopotamia around 3000 BC, as the early city-building movement there began to accelerate towards large-scale city states and a recorded history

Nawar seems to fall under the dominance of the Akkadian empire for a period (cultural rather than military), with the city serving as an administrative centre. Despite this is it not conquered, perhaps the only such city not to be. Instead it is a willing ally. The names of five of the kings of Urkesh and Nawar are known for this period, but there are certainly others whose names have been lost. Uniquely, the people of Urkesh use the term 'endan' to refer to the early kings.

fl c.2250 BC


Endan of Urkesh. Founded the royal palace.

fl c.2250 BC


Wife and queen.

c.2225 BC

Akkadian influence becomes noticeable in Urkesh around this time, perhaps due to the regional dominance of Akkad and the partnership that is formed between this empire and Urkesh. Tupkish and his wife, Uqnitum, build a great palace in the city which is being excavated by archaeologists into the twenty-first century AD. They are portrayed as a powerful, united royal family with a crown prince who is fully expected to succeed them.

Urkesh forms an important stop both on the north-south trade route between Anatolia and the cities of Syria and Mesopotamia, and the east-west route which links the Mediterranean with the Zagros Mountains of western Iran. Urkesh also controls the highlands immediately to the north of the city where extensive supplies of copper are located, which is what makes the city wealthy.

Map of Mesopotamia c.2000-16000 BC
This general map of Mesopotamia and its neighbouring territories roughly covers the period between 2000-1600 BC. It reveals the concentration of city states in Sumer, in the south (click or tap on map to view full sized)

fl c.2225? BC


Son? Endan of Urkesh. Name unknown. Succeed Tupkish.

c.2225 BC

Tar'am-Agade, the daughter of Naram-Sin, king of Akkad, marries a king of Urkesh. For quite some time it had been thought this may be Tupkish (above), but the discovery in 1995 of clay seal imprints mentioning the previously-unknown Queen Uqnitum show that she rules strongly beside him as part of an equal (or near equal) partnership. Naram-Sin's daughter may instead marry his successor whose name is not known.

fl c.2200 BC


Endan of Urkesh. Reigned after the successor of Tupkish.

Ishar-Kinum's name is only rediscovered by archaeologists in 2004, from a freshly uncovered seal inscription. The findings from the royal palace remains at Tell Mozan in what is now north-eastern Syria continue to expand the otherwise limited knowledge about Urkesh and Newar and their rulers.

fl c.2000s BC

Tish-atal / Tih-Atal

Endan of Urkesh. The last endan?

Although no firm date can be ascribed to the rule of Tish-atal (Tishatal, or the now outdated Tishari), he is contemporary with Ur's Third Dynasty to the far south of Urkesh. This places him between about 2112-2004 BC. The first source for him to be found in excavations at Tell Mozan is a cuneiform inscription about a temple of Nergal.

Curiously, there may be no further endans after him. The only other rulers of Urkesh are titled lugal, the Sumerian term for a ruler. Does Sumerian influence gain ascendancy over native Hurrian practices around this time, just as Sumer itself is fading? To balance this, Tupkish has also been referred to as lugal as well as endan, so perhaps the change is simply down to trends in scholarly language.

Sumerian lion head finial from Sippar
Gypsum lion head finial, possibly from the throne of a votive statue of Early Dynastic III at Sippar, about 2500 BC. The Sumerian word for 'king' ('lugal') is inscribed on one side

Shatar-mat (Sa-dar-wa!(ŠI)-at?)

Lugal of Urkesh.

The name Sa-dar-wa!(ŠI)-at is known from the seal of Puššam. While it may be that of a trader, Konrad Volk's examination of the seal has produced a degree of likelihood that a ruler is mentioned instead.

Atal-šen / Atal-shen

Son. Lugal of Urkesh & Nawar.

fl c.2050 BC


Lugal of Urkesh.

c.2000 BC

Hurrians found the small state of Arrapha (modern Kirkuk) in northern Mesopotamia at around the same time as they adopt Akkadian cuneiform script for their own language. This would appear to be an eastwards expansion of Hurrians into the territory of the early Assyrians.

c.1850 - 1809 BC

The new Amorite rulers of Mari subdue Urkesh, making it a vassal state. However, the locals do not submit easily, and letters sent back to Mari attest to a strong sense of resistance against foreign rule. Such a reversal of fortune seems to suggest that Urkesh has passed its peak of influence and wealth in the past century or so.

Royal palace at Urkesh
The large royal palace at Urkesh, discovered in the 1980s and still being excavated in 2010, yielded written evidence which allowed it to be identified as the lost palace and city

fl c.1850 BC

Te'irru / Terru

Amorite vassal king of Mari.

c.1809 - 1761 BC

Urkesh is made a vassal of the kingdom of Upper Mesopotamia. In all likelihood, with the collapse of this personal empire from about 1776 BC, Mari renews its control of Urkesh until its own fall. Does Urkesh re-establish its own independent kingship afterwards? Unfortunately nothing is known of this period, despite a Hurrian king who is mentioned in the Old Testament (below). What is known is that Hurrians begin migrating westwards in this period, where they can be found in cities such as Alakhtum. That could be due to Mari allowing its citizens to move freely within its territory, but it is more likely due to Mari's fall at the hands of Babylon around 1761 BC and a sudden lack of regional opposition to Hurrian migration.

fl c.1750 BC


A Hurrian king, but city unknown. King Arioh of the Bible.

c.1650 BC

Hurrians invade the Old Hittite empire several times and campaign southwards, perhaps pushing refugees from Syria and the Levant into Egypt where they form the Hyksos peoples.

c.1600 BC

The region is fought over by Yamkhad and the Hittites, But following the collapse of Yamkhad and the decline of the Hittites shortly afterwards, Hurrian migrations into Syria and Anatolia increase. The latter sees them form a state around the coastal region of the 'land of Adaniya' (modern Adana) near the coast during the dark age of this period. With a general population that is likely to be Luwian for the most part, this state becomes known as Kizzuwatna.

c.1530 BC

Following the collapse of Babylonian regional power, the Hurrian state of Mitanni emerges as a major power which entirely dominates the region. With true Hurrian power now lying elsewhere, Urkesh is abandoned around this time to gradually be swallowed by the sand and forgotten by history. Some areas of it remain inhabited for a time, but amid a changing and seemingly declining landscape. This is one of substantial collapses (in terms of brickfall) and reuse, especially with the former royal wing of the palace being used on a different floor plan.

Mitanni warriors
Mitanni warriors are shown here dressed in a typical northern Mesopotamian costume which they most likely picked up following their arrival in the region in the 1600s BC

In the AD 1980s archaeologists discover Tell Mozan, a towering mound that hides the remains of an ancient palace, temple, and plaza. A decade later researchers reach the exciting realisation that Tell Mozan is the lost city of Urkesh. Excavations continue into the twenty-first century until the Syrian Civil War provides a lengthy interruption.