An ancient city accidentally discovered by Arab clansmen, and later excavated by French archaeologists under the supervision of Andre Parrot. Today known as tell el-Hariri, the site is comprised of about 135 acres (after erosion on its northeast sector), is located adjacent to the right (west) bank of the Euphrates river, roughly fifteen miles north of the modern Syrian-Iraqi border. Some thirty archaeological campaigns have unearthed city walls and various temples and palaces that date from about 3100 B.C. to 1760, when the city was demolished by Hammurabi of Babylon, never again to rise to a stature of prominence. See Hammurabi.
Located about midway between the great powers of Sumeria (Kish, Ur, Akkad) and Syro-Mesopotamia (Ebla, Aleppo), Mari played a significant role in the flow of trade as early as the third millennium, though, to judge from the documents which have already been published from this era, the city experienced a dependent status to these more powerful neighbors. By about 1800, no fewer than four trading routes converged on the city; the city's geographical and commercial horizons stretched from Iran in the east to the Mediterranean and Aegean in the west, including Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Israel, and the Arabian desert. From such an enviable position, the kingdom of Mari played a crucial role in the international trade of timber, stone, wool, resin, garments, furniture, royal horses, wine, olive and sesame oils, myrtle, copper, lapis-lazuli and perhaps most importantly, tin—an essential component in the forging or casting of bronze.
For about 25 years immediately prior to its destruction by Hammurabi, Mari experienced a “golden age” under its king Zimri-Lim. This era in Mesopotamian history has been compared by one noted historian to the age of Pericles in Greek history or of Caesar Augustus in Rome. For Mari it became a period of unsurpassed greatness in material prosperity, and its cultural remains have been matched by few sites in the neighboring areas of the Ancient Near East.
The opulent prosperity in which Mari indulged is unmistakably etched into the remains of the magnificent palace of Zimri-Lim. Encompassing a nine-acre rectangular plot and containing more than 300 rooms, this palatial estate is one of the largest and best preserved buildings in all of Mesopotamian history. The excavators uncovered interior walls as thick as thirteen feet and standing as high as sixteen feet; lintels in some doorways were still intact. Apparently a two-story edifice, the palace was constructed to include many large open courts surrounded by a constellation of rooms that were interconnected by high doorways, thereby permitting ventilation and light to penetrate throughout a ground floor in which there were no windows. Floors were usually plastered or tiled; walls were plastered and frequently adorned with ornate sculpture or painting, and wood was used decoratively to add aesthetic luster.
Exhumed from this palace was Mari's greatest legacy of all: the royal archives. Embodying more than 25,000 texts and fragments, this documentation addresses almost every aspect within a culture: internal politics, international affairs, diplomacy and treaties, domestic policy, commerce and trade, agriculture, irrigation, law and jurisprudence, political intrigue, and religion. In point of fact, Zimri-Lim's reign is presently the most heavily documented of any king in antiquity, even including personal correspondence between himself and his wife, his daughters, his local administrators, and his territorial functionaries. His archive contains hundreds of bureaucratic registers which detail in a most graphic way certain aspects of daily life in a Mesopotamian court: where and how the king worshiped and his temples were serviced; where, what, and how often the king ate or was luxuriated; how courtiers were selected for the court or enticing female dancers were selected for the royal harem; what were various forms of entertainment for the court and/or visiting dignitaries; where, how far, and how frequently did the king journey; how was royalty attired.
Mari's bearing on biblical studies is significant, if indirect. Documentation from Mari has opened the historical, geographical, and social dimension of Northern Mesopotamia, the homeland of the biblical patriarchs. Certain patriarchal behavior attested in the writings of Moses may be seen to be reflected in the literature of Mari. This includes the prominence of the firstborn within family structure, the legal procedures entailed in adoption or formalizing inheritance, the centrality and interdependence of the clan as a model for social structuring, the notion of tribal or ethnic movement of peoples and the relocation and resettlement in a new area, the importance of genealogical registers similar to those of
Genesis 5:1 and
Genesis 11:1 as a means of establishing personal or clan authority, the prominent role and the forms of ritual in religious practices, the procedures for census taking, and the nature of prophets and prophecy. Mari's literary sources contribute to a richly-textured reconstruction of Mesopotamian history during the early patriarchal period, just as they often provide linguistic elucidation of certain biblical concepts (compass points, tribal terms and leadership, flora and fauna, military terms).
Barry J. Beitzel