Cultures > Amorites

Amorites

Background

The Amorites also known as the Martu were an ancient nomadic group of Semitic people who eventually grew to take over the Akkadian Empire and Sumer under the famous king Hammurabi and establish the civilization of Babylonia. The Akkadians and Sumerians called them Amurru and they were the first to establish the city of Old Babylon and developed it from a small city within the Akkadian Empire to a major city and an important cultural center for the entire region. The Amorites were also greatly influential in bringing the god Baal/Marduk into the Babylonian religion.

One of the major points of Amorites are that they occupied the key centers of trade.

Origins

Some believe that the origins of the Amorites go back much longer than we previously accepted and can be dated between 4,000 BCE and 9,000 BCE. They are believed by some to have been the original humans that built the massive cities at Gobekli Tepe, Catalhoyk, Jerico and Hamoukar. If this is indeed true then their origins go back in time much further than 9,000 BCE.

It was originally believed that the ancient Semites (Amorites) emerged from the barren wasteland of Saudi Arabia. However, based on Sumerian texts it has been proven otherwise. The first mentions of the Amorites are in the Semitic speaking land of Ebla from around 2500 BCE. Based on their perspective the Amorites were a nomadic group that lived in central Mesopotamia.

The Amorites are mentioned by the Sumerians around 2400 BCE in their clay cuneiform tablets. They refer to them as being located in the area of Asia Minor and of being nomadic, streaming from an area known as Jebel Bishri or the "mountain of the Amorites". This suggests they lived in the areas around the Zagros Mountains that form the source of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. According to an ancient Sumerian tablet:

“The Martu who know no grain. The Martu who know no house nor town, the boors of the mountains. The Martu who digs up truffles... who does not bend his knees [to cultivate the land], who eats raw meat, who has no house during his lifetime, who is not buried after death...”

- Chiera 1934, 58, 112

Since the Amorites were nomadic they would force themselves onto any land that they needed to graze their massive herds. The Amorites were ruled by tribal chiefs and were a fierce race of people. The Sumerians were so threatened by their encroachment that they tried to build a massive 270 km (170 mi) long wall that stretched from the Tigris to the Euphrates to contain them.

It is believed that a massive drought around 2200 BCE brought them down from the mountains and into the fertile regions of Mesopotamia where they managed to overthrow the Third Dynasty of Ur (c. 2112-2004 BCE) and took control of several Sumerian and Akkadian city-states such as Isin, Eshnunna, Kish, Larsa. They also established the fledgling city of Babylon during this period as well. Since the Amorites were much more populous than the Sumerians they were eventually able to inherit the government and establish their own rule after native power declined.

The Amorites are also described by the kings of the Akkadian Empire for example the civilization of Martu was considered one of the Four Quarters of their map surrounding their capital at Akkad. The Akkadian king known as Naram-Sin was known to have launched a military campaign against the Amorites in 2240 BCE and the following king named Shar-Kali-Sharri did as well.

These Amorites appear as nomadic clans ruled by fierce tribal chiefs, who forced themselves into lands they needed to graze their herds. Some of the Akkadian literature of this era speaks disparagingly of the Amorites, and implies that the Akkadian and Sumerian speakers of Mesopotamia viewed their nomadic and primitive way of life with disgust and contempt, for example: In 2300 BC, an Amorite King, Sargon, conquered the Sumerians and incorporated them into civilization’s first empire…without a struggle. In 1750 BC, the Amorite King Hammurabi conquered Mesopotamia and absorbed as the core of his Babylonian Empire…without a struggle. At around that same time, an Amorite king called Shamsi-Adad took the Assyrian throne…without a struggle. Concurrently with these takeovers by the Amorites, the very society of Mesopotamia became brutalized and arbitrary. Humane Sumerian law was replaced with a mass of laws ending with the word 'death.' It was the Amorite stock and trade to infiltrate great civilizations from the inside and bring them unto their power…without war but through infiltration, and turn them into brutal tyrannies. 'Destroying many through peace,' as it is said in the Bible. In 1650 BC the Amoritic Hyksos took Egypt…without a struggle. There was never a struggle against the Amorites because they infiltrated society from the inside with crypto-Amorites who pretended to be members of the targeted society...but who opened the gates to the invaders. The Amorites may have come of European origin, though no one is sure what was their ethnic origin. They were represented on the Egyptian monuments with fair skins, light hair, blue eyes, curved or hooked noses, and pointed beards. They were supposed to have been of great stature. Amorites (Hebrew 'emôrí, Egyptian Amar, Akkadian Amurü (corresponding to Sumerian MAR.TU or Martu) refers to a probably Semitic speaking people who occupied the middle Euphrates area from the second half of the third millennium B.C. It is useful to remind readers that Semitic speaking people is not an ethnic group or people of related blood line. The term Semite was proposed at first for the languages related to the Hebrew by Ludwig Schlözer, in Eichhorn's "Repertorium", vol. VIII (Leipzig, 1781), p. 161. Through Eichhorn the name then came into general usage (cf. his "Einleitung in das Alte Testament" (Leipzig, 1787), I, p. 45. In his "Gesch. der neuen Sprachenkunde", pt. I (Göttingen, 1807) it had already become a fixed technical term. The claim based on the Biblical fiction of Noah's children and their descendents making the Amorites related to the Canaanites (or other people of the Middle East) is unfounded fiction. It as much fictional as the fine details of the Biblical story of Noah and his flood. Further, there is no proof that the Amorites were immigrants from the Arabian peninsula. This claim is very unlikely, specifically because of the western looking features they had. With such givens, one has to conclude that the Amorites may have come from the northern mountains beyond what is now modern Iraq or around the Caspian Sea. Warlike Mountaineers They were fierce tribal clansmen who apparently forced themselves into lands they needed to graze their herds. Though herdsmen, the Amorites were not peaceful pastoralists. They twice conquered Babylonia (at the end of the 3rd and the beginning of the 1st millennium. The decline of the Sumerian language in Mesopotamia was the time of their most famous incursions. Inscriptions and tablets of the early Babylonians, indicate that they occupied parts of Syria the land east of Israel in 1,900 B.C. At first the Amorites were merely a regular irritant to the Ur empire, but eventually they undermined it to such an extent that the position of last king Ibbi-Sin was weakened to the point that his subjects were able to over throw his rule. The Amorites seem to have worshipped the moon-god Sin and Amurru. Known Amorites wrote in a dialect of Akkadian found on tablets dating from 1800� BC which shows some northwest Semitic forms and constructions. Presumably their original or acquired tongue was a northwest-Semitic dialect, though their language is unknown. Only one word of the Amorite language survives, "Shenir," the name they gave to Mount Hermon (Deut. 3:9). The main sources for our extremely limited knowledge about their language are their proper names that survive in non-Amorite text. Many of these names are similar to later Biblical Hebrew names. It is unknown whether the Hebrews borrowed names from the Amorites or the other way round. The wider extension of the use of Amurru by the Babylonians and Assyrians is complicated by the fact that it was also applied to a district in the neighborhood of Babylonia to which the land of Canaan does not traditionally extend. Amorites in the Bible As stated elsewhere in this site, the Bible is not a reliable source of history primarily because it bases the origin of various groups of people to the fictional story of Noah and his children. However, the Bible has some vague hints of history and, therefore, the material which appears in this page regarding the Amorites is published with extreme caution and reservations. The 'Amorite' race appeared in the area of the Middle Euphrates, about the time of Abraham (c.1900 B.C. while it should be noted that the city of Tyre was founded in 2,750 B.C.) they had gained control of the whole of Babylonia. Prof. R. B. Dixon, in his Racial History of Man (1923), p. 172, mentions that in the period 2500 B.C. - 1500 B.C. the population of Palestine consisted primarily of 'Mediterranean' and 'Caspian' peoples. Amorites land was east of the Jordan (Num. 21:13) -- the Arnon is the frontier between Moab and the Amorites. This land of the Amorites reaching "from Arnon to Jabbok, even unto the children of Ammon" (ibid. 24), had been taken away from Moab by Sihon (ibid. 24, 26, 29), who built Heshbon to be his residence (ibid. 26, 27) directly before the immigration of Israel. Amorites dwelling in Jazer are specially mentioned (ibid. 32). These Amorites "which dwelt beyond Jordan" are also referred to (Deut. 1:1, 4, 3:2; I Kings, 4:19; Ps. 135. 136. 19; Josh. 2:10, 9:10). They seem to have originally occupied the land stretching from the heights west of the Dead Sea ( Gen. 14:7) to Hebron ( 13 (compare 13:8; Deut. 3:8; 4:46-48), embracing "all Gilead and all Bashan" ( Deut. 3:10), with the Jordan valley on the east of the river ( 4:49), the land of the "two kings of the Amorites," Sihon and Og (Deut. 31:4; Josh. 2:10; 9:10). The five kings of the Amorites were defeated in a great slaughter by Joshua (10:10). They were again defeated at the waters of Merom by Joshua, who smote them till there were none remaining (Josh. 11:8). It is mentioned as a surprising circumstance that in the days of Samuel there was peace between them and the Israelites (1 Sam. 7:14). The Amorites were fierce warriors who were represented on the Egyptian monuments with fair skins, light hair, blue eyes, curved or hooked noses, and pointed beards. They are supposed to have been men of great stature; their king, Og, is described by Moses as the last "of the remnant of the giants" (Deut. 3:11). Both Sihon and Og were independent kings. Og, king of Bashan, is also called an Amorite in Deut. 3:8, 4. 47, where we learn that Og's territory extended "from the river of Arnon unto Mount Hermon." So the land of the Amorites, which is in Gilead (Judges, 10. 8), seems to have embraced all the territory afterward owned by Israel, east of the Jordan. Deut. 3:9 informs us that the name of Mount Hermon in the language of the Amorites was Shenir.

Amorite Religion

The god of these Amorites was Baal - an entity represented by a bull, a bull-man or horned god (today we perceive the image of this horned god as the Devil). Baal demanded human sacrifices, sodomy and blood drinking. (today we equate these rituals with Satanism). Did this ancient worship of the devil-like Baal grant the Amorites their ancient power?

It appears the Amorites adopted the local language of Akkadian which can be seen in tablets found at Mari that date between 1800 and 1750 BCE. As the centralized structure of the Neo-Sumerian Empire slowly collapsed, the component regions, such as Akkadian speaking Assyria in the north, and the city-states of the south (such as Isin, Larsa and Eshnunna) began to reassert their former independence, and areas in southern Mesopotamia where Amorites resided were no exception. Elsewhere, the armies of Elam in southern Ancient Iran were attacking and weakening the empire, making it vulnerable. Many Amorite chieftains in southern Mesopotamia aggressively took advantage of the failing empire to seize power for themselves. There was not an Amorite invasion of southern Mesopotamia as such, but Amorites did ascend to power in many locations, especially during the reign of the last king of the Neo Sumerian Epire, Ibbi-Sin. Leaders with Amorite names assumed power in various places, usurping native Akkadian speaking rulers, including in Isin, Eshnunna and Larsa. Babylon, hitherto a small, politically and military unimportant town was raised to the status of a minor independent city state under Sumuabum in 1894 BC. The Elamites finally sacked Ur in ca. 2004 BC. Some time later, the most powerful entity in Mesopotamia (immediately preceding the rise of the Amorite king, Hammurabi of Babylon) was the Akkadian speaking Old Assyrian Empire founded circa 1975 BC, whose kings both repelled attempted Amorite incursions into northern Mesopotamia, and during the 20th century BC, intervened in the south to prevent the Amorites overwhelming their fellow Akkadian speaking states. However, eventually even Assyria found its throne usurped by an Amorite in 1809 BC, and the latter two rulers of the Old Assyrian Empire period Shamshi-Adad I and Ishme-Dagan were regarded as Amorites by later Assyrian tradition, although Shamshi-Adad I pointedly claims descent from the native mid 21st century BC Akkadian speaking king of Assyria Ushpia in the Assyrian King List. There is a wide range of views regarding the Amorite homeland.[6] One extreme is the view that kur mar.tu/māt amurrim covered the whole area between the Euphrates and the Mediterranean, pre-Arab Arabia included. The other extreme is the view that the “homeland” of the Amorites was a limited area in northern Syria (Jebel Bishri). One minority theory refers to pre-Arab Arabia in general as the area from where the Amorites once came. Another refers to a limited area (unknown) in Arabia , the mountain district of Martu. However, as the Amorite language is one of the Canaanite Languages, a branch of the north western Semitic languages, as opposed to the South Semitic languages spoken in the Arabian peninsula, thus it is likely that they originated from what is now modern Syria. Effects on Mesopotamia

Amorite Dynasty

The rise of the Amorite kingdoms in Mesopotamia brought about deep and lasting repercussions in its political, social, and economic structure, especially in southern Mesopotamia. The division into kingdoms replaced the Sumero-Akkadian city-state in southern Mesopotamia. Men, land, and cattle ceased to belong physically to the gods or to the temples and the king. The new Amorite monarchs gave, or let out for an indefinite period, numerous parcels of royal or sacerdotal land, freed the inhabitants of several cities from taxes and forced labour, and seem to have encouraged a new society to emerge, a society of big farmers, free citizens, and enterprising merchants which was to last throughout the ages. The priest assumed the service of the gods, and cared for the welfare of his subjects, but the economic life of the country was no longer exclusively (or almost exclusively) in their hands. In general terms, Mesopotamian civilization survived the arrival of Amorites, as the indigenous Sumero-Akkadian civilization had survived the short period of Gutian domination of the south during the restless period that had preceded the rise of the Third Dynasty of Ur (Neo-Sumerian Empire). The religious, ethical, technological, scientific and artistic directions in which Mesopotamia had been developing since the fourth millennium BC, were not greatly impacted by the Amorites' hegemony. They continued to worship the Sumero-Akkadian gods, and the older Sumerian myths and epic tales were piously copied, translated, or adapted, generally with only minor alterations. As for the scarce artistic production of the period, there is little to distinguish it from the preceding Ur III era. The era of the Amorite kingdoms, ca. 2000–1595 BC, is sometimes known as the "Amorite period" in Mesopotamian history. The principal Amorite dynasties arose in Mari, Yamkhad, Qatna, fairly briefly in Assyria (under Shamshi-Adad I), Isin, Larsa, and also Babylon, which was founded as a small independent state by an Amorite named Sumuabum in 1894 BC. Babylon, originally a minor state upon its founding in 1894 BC, became for a short period the major power in the ancient world under the reign of Hammurabi in the first part of the 18th century BC, and it was from this period that southern Mesopotamia came to be known as Babylonia, the north long before having evolved into Assyria. Downfall of the Amorites

Expulsion

The Amorites were eventually defeated and expelled from northern Mesopotamia by the Assyrians under the reign of king Adasi between 1740 and 1735 BCE. They were pushed back to their small stronghold of Babylon were they persisted until the city was sacked by the Hittites around 1595 BCE.

This power vacuum allowed other ethnic groups such as the Kassites to seize power in Mesopotamia especially in the south. Following this period the term Amurru would be used to describe the region from north of Phoenicia to Kadesh on the Orontes which is where they appeared to have relocated to. From this period on the Amorites would continue to dominated by the Hittites until conquest by the Assyrians.

It is also believed they could have been assimilated by the Arameans around 1200 BCE and subsequently disappeared as a unique group from history.

Puzur-Sin rise of the native Sealand Dynasty circa 1730 BC.

Language

Known Amorites wrote in a dialect of Akkadian found on tablets at Mari dating from 1800–1750 BC. Since the language shows northwest Semitic forms, words and constructions, the Amorite language is believed to be a northwest branch of the Canaanite languages, whose other members were Hebrew, Phoenician, Edomite, Moabite, Ammonite, Sutean, Punic/Carthaginian and Amalekite. The main sources for the extremely limited knowledge about Amorite are the proper names, not Akkadian in style, that are preserved in such texts. The Akkadian language of the native Semites of Mesopotamia (Akkad, Assyria, Isin, Larsa, Ur etc.), was from the east Semitic, as was Eblaite. This term appears in Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta, which describes it in the time of Enmerkar as one of the regions inhabited by speakers of a different language. Another text known as Lugalbanda and the Anzud bird describes how, fifty years into Enmerkar's reign, the Martu people arose in Sumer and Akkad, (southern Mesopotamia) necessitating the building of a wall to protect Uruk. In the Levant : Amurru kingdom Yamhad Qatna Ebla's third dynasty In Mesopotamia : First Babylonian Dynasty Mari's Lim Apum Kurda Andarig

Sources

Primary Sources

Secondary Sources