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Near East Kingdoms

Ancient Mesopotamia


MapAmorites (Syria & Mesopotamia)

The fall of Sumerian civilisation circa 2004 BC left a vacuum that lasted for about a century. Conflict and chaos in Mesopotamia were eventually overcome as the Semitic-speaking Amorites, who had inherited much of their civilisation and culture from Sumer, began to rise in power and importance.

The Amorites began to arrive in the territory to the west of the Euphrates, modern Syria, from around 2500 BC. The Akkadians called them Amurru, and they probably originated from Arabia (a less popular theory places them in India). Although there was no actual invasion, for a period of five hundred years they drifted down into southern Mesopotamia, integrating into Sumerian civilisation where they lived in enclaves. They served in the armies of Third Dynasty Ur, and provided general labour for both Ur and Akkad before that. As Ur declined, and with it Sumerian civilisation, many Amorites rose to positions of power. When the final end of Ur came at the hands of the Elamites, the Amorites, virtually Sumerians themselves by now, were in a strong position to pick up the pieces.

Rather than maintain the Sumerian system of city states, where farms, cattle and people belonged to the gods or the temples (ie. the king), the Amorites founded kingdoms which had their capitals at many of the old cities, even if some of these new kingdoms were virtually the equivalent of a city state in their size and power. As well as inheriting the surviving Sumerian cities, the Amorites also built a number of large and powerful cities of their own, from Syria down to southern Mesopotamia.

They also created a new society of free subjects able to farm their own lands and conduct business as they saw fit. Their discoveries contributed extensively to the development of civilisation. They founded many of the basics concepts of early literature and mathematics, and they developed multiplication, aiding in mercantile and sales transactions. This flowering of knowledge led to the creation of the Code of Hammurabi, one of the most important documents in Babylon's history. This was a series of 'laws' which emphasised the pursuit of justice, especially in relation to business transactions, and it set the form for later law codes.

(Information by Peter Kessler and from the John De Cleene Archive, with additional information from Unger's Bible Dictionary, Merrill F Unger (1957), and from Encyclopaedia Britannica (Eleventh Edition, Cambridge (England), 1910).)

c.2004 - 1900 BC

With the collapse of the Sumerian city states, Mesopotamia endures a century or so of chaos. The Amorites, who for several centuries had been living amongst the Sumerians, rise to power in southern and central Mesopotamia, as well as in northern Mesopotamia and Syria.

They found or expand cities and create kingdoms of their own, such as Amrit, Amurru, Andarig, Arvad, Dilbat, Ekallatum, Eshnunna, Hamath, Isin, Karana, Qattara, Razama, Terqa, and Tuttul (and probably Der as well, although records here are sketchy). They also assume control of older city states throughout Mesopotamia, Syria, and Canaan, such as Alalakh, Alep (Aleppo), Borsippa, Carchemish, Ebla, Gebal, Jericho, Kazallu, Kish, Lagash, Larsa, Mari, Nippur, Qatna, Sippar, Tuba, Ur and Uruk.

Amorite 'Sea Gate'
The 'Sea Gate' of the Amorites is dated to about 2000 BC

c.1940 BC

The early Assyrians begin making raids into southern Mesopotamia.

c.1897 BC

Although records are sketchy and imprecise, the small Amorite kingdom of Babylon seems to emerge approximately a century after the collapse of Sumer.

By now, many cities in northern Mesopotamia and Syria are under Amorite control, with each local ruler being associated with a city, such as Tuttul, and a land or territory which bears a tribal (and state) name, such as Amnanum, and this evidently refers to the ruler's less sedentary Amorite subject peoples. This practise is prevalent down to the smallest tribal 'kingdoms' such as Yaminite Samanum and Abattum in the Middle Euphrates, near Terqa.

c.1750 BC

Terah leads his Israelite people to settle in Harran, a city far up and to the east of the Euphrates. When he does there, his son, Abraham, inherits leadership of his community.

The Encyclopaedia Britannica, eleventh edition of 1910, suggests that he and his people are Semitic-speaking Amorites rather than Semitic-speaking migrants from Ur. In fact the two options need not be opposing, as Amorites have had about three centuries to integrate into Mesopotamia before this point. Terah's migration probably even mirrors gradual Amorite infusion into Canaan.

This slightly fanciful view of the migrating Israelites does show a surprisingly small number of participants (more are cropped off from the left, but even so their numbers are very finite), something which chimes with the 'ruling elite' theory of migration detailed in the introduction, above

c.1740 BC

According to the Bible, the Moabites first occupy the highlands close to the Dead Sea, from which they expel the native Emim. Moab son of Lot of the recently-arrived Israelites is the eponymous founder of the kingdom, while Ben Ammi, an illegitimate son of Lot, gains Ammon, east of the River Jordan and on Moab's northern border. Soon afterwards the Moabites themselves are driven further south by Amorite tribes, beyond the River Arnon which subsequently forms their new northern border. The move south does not save them, it seems, and they are conquered and dominated for an unknown period by Amorites.

Amorites, Semitic-speaking farmers
Amorites, Semitic-speaking farmers from the south who integrated into Mesopotamia, and then Syria and Canaan

c.1600 - 1100 BC

In the dark age of approximately a century and a half which is triggered by a general power vacuum in the region, and during which the Kassites take over Babylonia, the language of the Amorites disappears from southern and central Mesopotamia. However, in Syria and Canaan it becomes dominant (in Bashan, for example), with perhaps Ammon being the southernmost state to have an Amorite influence (which excludes Moab from having been converted during its period of Amorite domination). In Assyrian inscriptions from about 1100 BC, the term Amurru designates part of Syria and all of Phoenicia and Palestine but no longer refers to any specific kingdom, language, or population.

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