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.


Thursday, February 21, 2013

History Mystery: Mari The Lost City Of Mesopotamia! -1

      When a large, headless statue was unearthed in Syria early in the 20th century, it turned out to be the first of startling series of archaeological discoveries. A palace and temples followed and soon an entire city was brought to light. TELL HARIRI lies on the west bank of the river Euphrates in Syria, 12 Km from the border with Iraq. In the early 20th century, the ruins at the site were considered to be to little interest there were scores of similar sites, or tells, throughout the lands of the Middle East. But in the 1930s, while Syria was a French mandate, a Bedouin foraging among the ruins for a suitable gravestone discovered a headless statue. The statue bore an inscription in cuneiform ancient, wedge shaped writing. Casual digging at the site was hurriedly stopped by the local authorities, and the French archaeologist Andre Parrot was sent to explore the tell. Parrot unearthed a large number of alabaster statues of the period known as early Dynastic III, most of them priests. One bearing a dedication to the goddess Ishtar was inscribed with the name of the king of Mari- a find that unlocked the secrets of the site. Tell Hariri stood on the ruins of the lost city of Mari. The name Mari had already cropped up in the records of the great Mesopotamian civilization of Sumer, discovered by earlier archaeologists. Sumer was centered on the delta of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, where great cities such as Uruk, Nippur, Eridu, and Ur flourished some 3000 years before the birth of Christ.

      Its people invented writing, and in early texts now known as the king list, they named Mari as one of the dozen or so city states struggling for supremacy between about 3000 and 2300 BC. But Tell Hariri was a long way from the known centers of Sumerian civilization and its discovery revolutionized thinking about ancient Mesopotamia. Clearly its culture had been shared by other peoples living much farther up the Euphrates than had been imagined. While working on the site in 1934, Parrot was visited by Henri Frankfort, a Duch archaeologist then exploring Tell Asmar and Khafajeh, some 400 Km to the east. His findings were strikingly similar to Parrot’s, suggesting that a single civilization spanned the entire breadth of Mesopotamia. Parrot went on to reveal the true grandeur of the ancient Mari. He discovered two royal palaces, one on which fated back to 2500 BC – the time of the Early Dynastic Period- and a haul of inscribed tablets, which helped to build up a vivid picture of the city’s history.

     Mari’s importance stemmed from its key position on the trade route linking Mesopotamia with Syria to the North West. The Sumerian settlements of the delta were rich in agricultural produce, but they needed crucial raw materials from Syria to sustain their city culture. Sumer exported corn, leather, and wool in exchange for scarce building materials such as tone and timber. Silver and lead were brought down fromm the Syrian hills to supply Sumerian metal workers. Copper came from as far away as the Taurus Mountains in Asia Minor, and from Magan in the Persian Gulf. As trade expanded, military and diplomatic missions were sent to Mari to maintain links with its supply lines. During excavations of the Early Dynastic places, Andre Parrot discovered a cache of objects, including several cylindrical seals, presented to the local ruler by Mesannepadda, king of the Sumerian city of Ur. The evidence indicated that an important diplomatic mission was sent to Mari in around 2500 BC.

       Mesannepadda’s envoy was a scribe, with him, the king sent a message of friendship to Mari’s ruler, an offer of alliance, and rich gifts, including a magnificent blue Anzu bird pendant of lapis lazli imported from beyond the Iranian plateau and inscribed with the royal sender’s name. The Journey was not difficult, for Ur at that time dominated many of the other Sumerian cities and nobody would have obstructed the Caravan’s progress. As it made its way up the valley of the Euphrates, the envoy would have noticed linguistic changes. But understanding the Semitic tongue was not a problem to Sumerian scholar: Bedouin herdsmen often drove their cattle up and down the valley, and mixed freely with the city dwellers in south. Their language was understood in Ur.

     In the dry uplands of the Euphrates, Mari loomed like an oasis, irrigated by networks of canals leading off the great river. A dyke protected the city from flooding, and ramparts of unbaked brick fortified its walls. The envoy was greeted at the gates by royal officials and conducted to the newly erected palace. In the great visitors’ courtyard, the envoy awaited an audience. At the appointed time, a grouped of dignitaries arrived scribes, army officers, and relatives of the king- followed by the king himself. The king’s costume was no different from that of his entourage, consisting mainly of goatskin from waist to ankle, but he was distinguished by the arrangement of his long hair, plaited in a diadem around his head with a double bun above the nape of the neck.