Amorite (Sumerian 𒈥𒌅 MAR.TU, Akkadian Tidnum or Amurrūm, Egyptian Amar, Hebrew ’emōrî אמורי) refers to a Semitic people who occupied large parts of Mesopotamia from at least the second half of the third millennium BC. The term Amurru refers to them, as well as to their principal deity.
In the earliest Sumerian sources, beginning about 2400 BC, the land of the Amorites ("the Mar.tu land") is associated with the West, including Syria and Canaan. They appear as nomadic people in the Mesopotamian sources, and they are especially connected with the mountainous region of Jebel Bishri in Syria called as the "mountain of the Amorites". The ethnic terms Amurru and Amar were used for them in Assyria and Egypt respectively.
From the 21st century BC and likely triggered by the 22nd century BC drought, a large-scale migration of Amorite tribes infiltrated Mesopotamia, precipitating the downfall of the Neo-Sumerian Third Dynasty of Ur, and acquiring a series of powerful kingdoms, culminating in the triumph under Hammurabi of one of them, that of Babylon.
Known Amorites (mostly those of Mari) wrote in a dialect of Akkadian found on tablets dating from 1800–1750 BC showing many northwest Semitic forms and constructions. The Amorite language was presumably a northwest Semitic dialect. The main sources for our extremely limited knowledge about the language are proper names, not Akkadian in style, that are preserved in such texts.
From inscriptions and tablets
In early inscriptions, all western lands, including Syria and Canaan, were known as "the land of the Amorites". "The MAR.TU land" appears in the earliest Sumerian texts, such as Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta, as well as early tablets from Ebla; and for the Akkadian kings Mar.tu was one of the "Four Quarters" surrounding Akkad, along with Subartu, Sumer and Elam. The Akkadian king Naram-Sin records campaigns against them in northern Syria ca. 2240 BC, and his successor Shar-Kali-Sharri followed suit.
By the time of the Neo-Sumerian Ur-III empire, immigrating Amorites had become such a force that kings such as Shu-Sin were obliged to construct a 170-mile wall from the Tigris to the Euphrates to hold them off. 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 neo-Sumerians viewed their nomadic way of life with disgust and contempt, for example:
- The MAR.TU who know no grain.... The MAR.TU who know no house nor town, the boors of the mountains.... The MAR.TU 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...
- They have prepared wheat and gú-nunuz (grain) as a confection, but an Amorite will eat it without even recognizing what it contains!
As the centralized structure of the neo-Sumerian empire of Ur slowly collapsed, the component regions began to reassert their former independence, and places where Amorites resided were no exception. Elsewhere, armies of Elam were attacking and weakening the empire, making it vulnerable. Some Amorites aggressively took advantage of the failing empire to seize power for themselves. There was not an Amorite invasion as such, but Amorites did ascend to power in many locations, especially during the reign of the last king of the Ur-III Dynasty, Ibbi-Sin. Leaders with Amorite names assumed power in various places, including Isin, Larsa, and Babylon. The Elamites finally sacked Ur in ca. 2004 BC. Some time later, the most powerful ruler in Mesopotamia (immediately preceding the rise of Hammurabi of Babylon) was Shamshi-Adad I, another Amorite.
Effects on Mesopotamia
The rise of the Amorite kingdoms in Mesopotamia brought about deep and lasting repercussions in its political, social and economic structure.
The division into kingdoms replaced the Sumerian city-state. Men, land, and cattle ceased to belong physically to the gods or to the temples and the king. The new 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 it had survived the Akkadian domination and the restless period that had preceded the rise of the Third Dynasty of Ur. The religious, ethical, and artistic directions in which Mesopotamia had been developing since earliest times, were not greatly impacted by the Amorites' hegemony. They continued to worship the Sumerian 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. 2000–1600 BC, is sometimes known as the "Amorite period" in Mesopotamian history. The principal Amorite dynasties arose in Mari, Yamkhad, Qatna, Assur (under Shamshi-Adad I), Isin, Larsa, and Babylon. This era ended with the Hittite sack of Babylon (c. 1595 BC) which brought new ethnic groups—particularly Kassites and Hurrians—to the forefront in Mesopotamia. From the 15th century BC onward, the term Amurru is usually applied to the region extending north of Canaan as far as Kadesh on the Orontes.
They are described as a powerful people of great stature "like the height of the cedars," who had occupied the land east and west of the Jordan; their king, Og, being described as the last "of the remnant of the giants" (Deut. 3:11).
The terms Amorite and Canaanite seem to be used more or less interchangeably, Canaan being more general, and Amorite a specific component among the Canaanites who inhabited the land.
The Biblical Amorites seem to have originally occupied the region stretching from the heights west of the Dead Sea (Gen. 14:7) to Hebron (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). Both Sihon and Og were independent kings.
These Amorites seem to have been linked to the Jerusalem region, and the Jebusites may have been a subgroup of them. The southern slopes of the mountains of Judea are called the "mount of the Amorites" (Deut. 1:7, 19, 20).
Five kings of the Amorites were first defeated with great slaughter by Joshua (10:10). They were said to have been utterly destroyed at the waters of Merom by Joshua (Josh. 11:8). It is mentioned that in the days of Samuel, there was peace between them and the Israelites (1 Sam. 7:14). The Gibeonites were said to be their descendants, being an offshoot of the Amorites that made a covenant with the Hebrews; when Saul would break that vow and kill some of the Gibeonites, God sent a famine to Israel.
The view that Amorites were fierce tall nomads led to an idiosyncratic theory among some writers in the 19th Century that they were a tribe of "Germanic" warriors who at one point dominated the Israelites. This was because the evidence fitted then-current models of Indo-European migrations. This theory originated with Felix von Luschan, who later abandoned it.
Amorite Jesus and David
- E. Chiera, Sumerian Epics and Myths, Chicago, 1934, Nos.58 and 112;
- E. Chiera, Sumerian Texts of Varied Contents, Chicago, 1934, No.3.;
- H. Frankfort, AAO, pp. 54–8;
- F.R. Fraus, FWH, I (1954);
- G. Roux, Ancient Iraq, London, 1980.
- Amorites in the Jewish Encyclopedia
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