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The Ancient City of Mari (Tell Hariri, Syria)
And notes on the god Dagan in bronze age Syria.

27 February 2013


Source: Mari & Europos-Dura sites of Euphrates Valley
UNESCO World Heritage Centre. Accessed 27.02.13.

MARI: N34 33 1.11; E40 53 19.51
Discovered in 1933, and regularly explored ever since (André Parrot, J. Cl. Margueron, Pascal Buterlin), Mari is the site of reference that makes it possible to understand the fundamental aspects of the Syro-Mesopotamian civilization of the Third millennium (early Bronze and Bronze ages). After 42 excavation campaigns, it is one of the best-known cities of the Middle Eastern Antiquity.

Mari featured a wealth of prestigious palaces and temples, and art schools where beautiful sculpture and painting works were produced, with an exceptional quantity of administrative archives dating back to the last periods of the city, during the time of the Hammurabi of Babylon; This data makes it possible to understand the economic life of this time and the management of the kingdom. Mari remains a particularly fertile area of research on the first great urban civilizations.

Why had Mesopotamians built Mari?
Annick Benoist - PARIS.
Middle East Online. (2.03.05)
Accessed 27.02.13.

The mystery of an ancient Mesopotamian city has finally been lifted after 25 years of meticulous work by a French archaeologist who has revealed it was one of the first "modern cities", purpose-built in the desert for the manufacture of copper arms and tools.

In a new book entitled "Mari, the Metropolis of the Euphrates", Jean-Claude Margueron said the third millennium BC city, in modern day Syria, was "one of the first modern cities of humanity. Created from scratch in one phase of construction with the specific goal of becoming this metallurgical centre." [...]

Source: Mari, Syria
Wikipedia. Accessed 27.02.13. Check source for recent updates, the three kingdoms, and more.

Mari was discovered in 1933, on the eastern flank of Syria, near the Iraqi border. A Bedouin tribe was digging through a mound for a gravestone that would be used for a recently deceased tribesman, when they came across a headless statue. After the news reached the French authorities currently in control of Syria, the report was investigated, and digging on the site was started on December 14, 1933 by archaeologists from the Louvre in Paris. Discoveries came quickly, with the temple of Ishtar being discovered in the next month.

Since the beginning of excavations, over 25,000 clay tablets in Akkadian language written in cuneiform were discovered. Finds from the excavation are on display in the National Museum of Aleppo, the National Museum of Damascus, and the Deir ez-Zor Museum. In the latter, the southern façade of the "Court of the Palms" of Zimri-Lim's palace has been reconstructed, including the wall paintings.

The Mari Tablets belong to a large group of tablets that were discovered by French archaeologists in the 1930s. More than 25,000 tablets in Akkadian were found in the Mari archives, which give information about the kingdom of Mari, its customs, and the names of people who lived during that time. More than 8,000 are letters; the remainder includes administrative, economic, and judicial texts. The tablets, according to Andre Parrot, "brought about a complete revision of the historical dating of the ancient Near East and provided more than 500 new place names, enough to redraw or even draw up the geographical map of the ancient world." Almost all of the tablets found were dated to the last 50 years of Mari's independence (ca. 1800-1750 BC), and most have now been published. The language of the texts is official Akkadian but proper names and hints in syntax show that the common language of Mari's inhabitants was Northwest Semitic. Contemporary archives have been found, among others, in Tell Leilan in the Upper Khabur area and Tell Shemshara in the Zagros Mountains.


The growth of the city from a small village to an important trading center was due to its diverse economy in the ancient world. The city came to control the trade lanes between different regions such as western Iran, Mesopotamia, Carchemish, and parts of Anatolia. Cities that Mari is confirmed to have traded with include Ur, Aleppo, and Ugarit. The cargo brought through the city grew to include dates, olives, pottery, grains, timber, and stone. Trade might also have occurred with the nearby city of Terqa, but excavations of Terqa are relatively recent and not all results are published.

Culture and religion

The citizens of Mari were well known for elaborate hair styles and dress, and were considered to be part of Mesopotamian culture, despite being 240 kilometres (150 mi) upriver from Babylon. It is theorized by some that Mari functioned as a trading post for southern Mesopotamia.

The inhabitants of Mari worshiped a vast array of gods and goddesses. Dagan, the deity of storms, had an entire temple dedicated to him, as did Ishtar, the goddess of fertility, and Shamash, the Sun god. Shamash was believed to be all-knowing and all-seeing, and in many seals he is seen standing between two large doors. According to the Epic of Gilgamesh, these doors are between Mount Mashu, and are the eastern doors to heaven. Through Mari's extensive trade network, Sumerian gods and goddesses were taken to non-Sumerian cities such as Ebla and Ugarit and incorporated into their native religions.

Notes on the "Dagan" deity

It is difficult to establish who the original worshippers of Dagan were in terms of ethnic or linguistic group, and the etymology is impossible to determine with certitude because it probably belongs to an unrecorded language spoken before the arrival of the Amorites in inland Syria. Subsequent texts clearly show that theophoric names were common among Semitic followers of the deity. And see also the names of various Mari Kings.

Dagan appears to have had a preeminent role in the Semitic pantheon of the middle Euphrates, with predominantly astral — a storm god, "father of the gods" — but also chthonic characteristics, given his underworld associations. Dagan (head of the Syrian pantheon) and Enlil (head of the Sumero-Akkadian pantheon) are equivalent.

The center of Dagan worship was the middle Euphrates, particularly in Tuttul and later Terqa. Two local pantheons dominate this region in Syrian religion of the second millennium: Dagan and spouse Salas head one, in inner Syria; El and spouse Atirat head the other, along the coast.

While there may be a vegetative association, the linguistic association with "grain" appears to be a later development. There exist no certain depictions of Dagan in any medium, sculpture, glyptic, or otherwise.

  • The God Dagan in Bronze Age Syria
    Lluís Feliu. Brill Academic Publishers (Jan 1 2003)

    And see: The God Dagan in Bronze Age Syria.
    Gary Beckman, University of Michigan. The Free Dictionary. This is a very useful summary and analysis of Feliu's work and the translation.

  • The Mysterious God Dagan
    Robert McRoberts. Author’s notes, (Near Eastern Religion, Johnson, UCLA, 2008; 20 May 2012)

    The god Dagan first appears in ancient texts from the Syrian city of Mari, modern Tell Hariri, dating to around 2,500 BCE. Dagan begins here as a fertility god of the middle Euphrates belonging to the Semitic Amorite pantheon although his original ranking is unclear. The spread of Sumerian culture northward, which began in earnest during the Akkad Dynasty, incorporated deities like Dagan into the existing mythology and allowed his cult to grow beyond his original territory.

  • Dagan (god)
    Adam Stone, Ancient Mesopotamian Gods and Goddesses, Oracc and the UK Higher Education Academy, 2013.

    Male deity of a possibly West Semitic origin with a focus on the Middle and Upper Euphrates, most commonly attested in Mesopotamia in the late 3rd and early 2nd millennia BCE.

    In Mesopotamia the earliest textual references to Dagan come from the Royal Inscriptions of Sargon (2334-2279 BCE) and Naram-Sin (2254-2218 BCE). From this period Dagan also appears as a theophoric element in personal names [...]

    Dagan's relevance to the middle Euphrates is found throughout the 2nd millennium. The Code of Hammurabi (1792-50 BCE) names him as the protector of the people of Tuttul, and many of the individuals known from this area have names involving the element Dagan (Crowell 2001: 37-39). At Mari in the early second millennium, Dagan appears in a variety of texts, such as in the letters, god and offering lists, and administrative tablets. [...]

    The prominence of Dagan on the eastern Mediterranean of the first millennium BCE comes mainly from the Hebrew Bible and the Second Temple literature, which associate Dagan (Heb. Da-go-n) with the temples of the Philistines. [...]

  • The development of Dagan: a sketch.
    Crowell, B. Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions. 2001(1):32-83.

    And see: On the Shelf – The Development of Dagan: A Sketch
    Daniel Harms. Papers Falling from an Attic Window. (8 May 2008)

  • Dagan. Encyclopedia of Religion. Copyright © 2001-2006, Macmillan Reference USA.

    Traditionally, three different Semitic etymologies of this theonym have been proposed: (1) the root *dg (fish), which appeared already in Saint Jerome, the Talmud, and elsewhere, but which is now regarded as a folk etymology by most scholars; (2) the root *dgn (grain; da-ga-n), with the expected fertility implications, but which works only in West Semitic and is likely to also be a folk etymology; and (3) the root *dgn (cloudy, rainy), also bearing somehow a fertility connotation.

  • Dagon. Wikipedia.

    Dagon was originally an Assyro-Babylonian fertility god who evolved into a major northwest Semitic god, reportedly of grain (as symbol of fertility) and fish and/or fishing (as symbol of multiplying). He was worshipped by the early Amorites and by the inhabitants of the cities of Ebla (modern Tell Mardikh, Syria) and Ugarit (modern Ras Shamra, Syria) (which was an ancient city near the Mediterranean containing a large variety of ancient writings and pre-Judeo-Christian shrines). He was also a major member, or perhaps head, of the pantheon of the Biblical Philistines.

    His name appears in Hebrew as  (in modern transcription Dagon, Tiberian Hebrew Da-g-ôn), in Ugaritic as dgn (probably vocalized as Dagnu), and in Akkadian as Dagana, Daguna usually rendered in English translations as Dagan.