Tuesday, February 26, 2013

History Mystery: Mari The Lost City Of Mesopotamia! -2




After a short reception ceremony, the envoy followed the king through several halls to courtyard with a decorated alter and walls inset with rectangular columns. From the courtyard two doors opened into a long chamber, the sanctuary, at the back of which was another room containing the sepulcher of the dynasty’s ancestor. Above his tomb was an altar where the reigning king officiated as high priest and god. On the walls, mosaics illustrated New year festivals in which the king stood in for his god and the queen played the god’s consort, acting out a divine marriage ceremony. If their union proved fruitful, it portended a fertile year. The mosaic figures were carved from mother of pearl imported from the Persian Gulf, and were mounted in bitumen on wooden panels. The content of the mosaics would have been familiar to those practiced at Ur- but the artistry would have seemed unusually refined.



The purpose of Mesannepadda’s diplomatic mission was to tighten the bonds between Ur and Mari. Clouds were gathering to the west where the king of Ebla (present day Tell Mardikh) posed a serious threat. This fearsome monarch had made vassals of his neighbors, and had conquered many more distant areas. The king of Mari was clearly anxious to show the importance he attached to the visit of the Sumerian envoy. Offerings from his own treasury had been prepared for burial beneath the new palace’s foundations: copper, gold, silver bracelets, silver pendants, and a series of cylinder seals from the city’s workshops. There were also two statuettes of goddesses sent by a king of Syria, one of ivory, the other silver. Both were naked- shocking to a Sumerian. To this hoard of treasures were added to the cylinder seals and pendants of lapis lazuli from Ur. All were placed in a large jug which was buried beneath the courtyard. The act symbolized for the benefits of the gods, the splendor of the king of Mari, and the scope of his international relations.


 Over the centuries, Mari underwent developments like another city. But even in 2400 BC, a century after the visit of Mesannepadda’s envoy, a Sumerian traveler would have found much to remind him of home. Mari’s narrow, carefully laid out streets resembled those of Ur. Near the palace stood the temple of NInni Zaza a goddess also known at Ur. Through the temple’s entrance hall was something rather less familiar to a Sumerian: a tapering stone set in the middle of the temple courtyard. In Mari, the gods not only took human shape- their presence also dwelt in stone. This belief, shared by Mari’s western neighbors, was alien to the Sumerians. The stone would be regularly anointed with oil, and offerings of sacred cakes would be placed nearby. Two doors led from the courtyard into the shrine of Ninni Zaza, a long, rectangular chamber which was lit with oil lamps. At the end stood a wooden statue of the goddess wearing a horned tiara. Below it vases sunk into the floor received water poured by the priests. Offerings of food were placed on nearby table. On a brick bench facing the entrance stood a host of statuettes carved from white alabaster or limestone. They depicted the notables of Mari, in postures of reverence and prayer. One bore the inscription Iku shamagan, ‘king of Mari’. Others represented Salim, the “king’s Eldest Brother”, Mashigirru, the ‘Country’s Grandee” and lastly the ‘Royal Cup bearer”, Steward of the King’s Household’, and ‘Great Scribe’ (the prime minister, Ipumsaar). The inscriptions were in Semitic language, but the script was Sumerian and easy enough to decipher since the symbols represented concepts as much as sounds.

Religion at Mari differed in some important ways from that practiced at Ur. Images at the cylinder seals found at the site depict the Sun god, patron deity of Mari, at the prow of a serpent shaped vessel brandishing a leafy branch. The god is sailing the celestial ocean which was believed to span the world and feed the Earth’s rivers. He reined the Universe as the master of all life, in particular of plants. In this capacity he was also the patron of ploughmen, and plough was depicted at his side. U’s patron deity, the moon god Nanna, was represented in amore down to earth fashion. Nanna was the highest in a hierarchy of gods; each deity had a particular sphere of influence and wielded his or her power through spirits who fulfilled specific roles.

 But for all the power of the gods, and the alliance with Ur, Mari was soon to fall. Some times between 2350 and 2300BC, the city was destroyed. Historians are unsure of the invader; perhaps the ruler of neighboring Ebla, or perhaps the mighty Sargon of Akkad who, from his capital near Babylon, conquered lands between the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean to establish the first Mesopotamian Empire, when Mari became part of this empire, the rebuilding of the ruins began. But Sargon’s supremacy crumbled with in a century, and was eventually replaced by a Sumerian empire based at Ur. Mari’s rulers were vassals to Ur from about 2111 to 2003 BC.

                                                                                                                     Continued......