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Ancient Mesopotamia
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Sumer: UrukUrEridu
Akkadian Empire: Akkad
Assyria: AssurNineveh
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Enûma Elish
For the language, see Amorite language.

Amorite (Hebrew emōrî, Egyptian Amar, Akkadian Tidnum or Amurrūm (corresponding to Sumerian MAR.TU or Martu) refers to a Semitic people who occupied the country west of the Euphrates from the second half of the third millennium BC, and also the god they worshipped (see Amurru).


[edit] From inscriptions and tablets

In early Babylonian inscriptions, all western lands, including Syria and Canaan, were known as "the land of the Amorites", who twice conquered Babylonia (at the end of the 3rd, and the beginning of the 1st millennia.)

The old name is an ethnic term, evidently connected with the terms Amurru and Amar used by Assyria and Egypt respectively. In the Sumerian spelling MAR.TU, the name is as old as the first Babylonian dynasty, but from the 15th century BC onwards, its syllabic equivalent Amurru is applied primarily to the land extending north of Canaan as far as Kadesh on the Orontes.

Previously, Assyriologists had theorized that the Amorites were a nomadic people ruled by fierce tribal clansmen who apparently forced themselves into lands they needed to graze their herds. This is because some of the literature that dates to the Third Dynasty of Ur at the end of the 3rd millennium speaks of the Amorites disparagingly. Some documents seem to imply that the Akkadians viewed their nomadic way of life with disgust and contempt, for example:

The MAR.TU who know no grain.... The MART.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... (Chiera 1934: 58 and 112)
They have prepared wheat and gú-nunuz (grain) as a confection, but an Amorite will eat it without even recognizing what it contains![citation needed] (Chiera 1934: 3)

However, much new achaeological evidence has come to light, and Assyriologists generally agree now that the Amorites never engaged in a concerted invasion of the Ur III Dynasty. Many Amorites lived peacefully within the kingdom in small enclaves. There is now evidence that Amorites had served in Ur III armies and made up Ur III labor groups under both the Akkad and Ur III dynasties long before their ascendence to power in any region occurred.

As the Ur III Dynasty slowly collapsed and centralization disintegrated, regions all over Ur III were beginning to reassert their former independence, and places where the Amorites resided were no exception. Elsewhere, armies of Elam were attacking and weakening the empire, making it even more vulnerable. Some Amorites aggressively took advantage of the failing empire to seize power for themselves. There was no Amorite invasion as such, but Amorites did ascend to power in many locations, especially during the reign of the last Ur III king, Ibbi-Sin. Leaders with Amorite names assumed power in various places including the Levant and southern Mesopotamia.

Amorites seem to have worshipped the moon-god Sin and Amurru. Known Amorites (mostly those of Mari) wrote in a dialect of Akkadian found on tablets dating from 18001750 BC showing many northwest Semitic forms and constructions.

Presumably their original tongue was a northwest Semitic dialect (see Amorite language.) The main sources for our extremely limited knowledge about the language are proper names, not Akkadian in style, that are preserved in such texts. Many of these names are similar to later Biblical Hebrew names.

The wider use of the term Amurru by the Babylonians and Assyrians is complicated by the fact that it was also applied to a district in Babylonia, where the land of Canaan did not traditionally extend. Moreover, if the people of the first Babylonian dynasty (about 21st century BC) called themselves "Amorites," as Ranke seems to have shown, then obviously a common origin with them was recognized by the Babylonians at that early date.

[edit] Repercussions over Mesopotamia

The advent of Amorite tribes into the Mesopotamian context, brought about deep and lasting repercussions in its political, social and economic structures.

The division into kingdoms removed any trace of 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.

It is important to say that generally speaking, the Mesopotamian civilization survived the arrival of Amorites as it had survived the Akkadian domination and the restless period that preceded the rise of the Third Dynasty of Ur.

The religious, ethical and artistic concepts current in Mesopotamia since proto-history, were not affected. The Amorites worshipped the Sumerian gods and the older Sumerian myths and epic tales were piously copied, translated or adapted with generally only minor alterations. As for the scarce artistic production of the period, there is practically nothing to distinguish it from that of the preceding the Third dynasty of Ur.

[edit] Biblical Amorites

Amorites was used by the Israelites to refer to certain highland mountaineers, or hillmen (described in Gen. 14:7 as descendants of Canaan) who inhabited that land.

In the Bible, 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 river; their king, Og, being described as the last "of the remnant of the giants" (Deut. 3:11).

The Biblical usage appears to show that the more specific "Amorite" and less precise general "Canaanite" terms were used synonymously, the former being characteristic of Judaean, the latter of Ephraimite and Deuteronomic writers as well as the Assyro-Babylonians. A distinction is sometimes maintained, however, when the Amorites are spoken of as the people of the past, whereas the Canaanites are referred to as still surviving. The term "Canaan," on the other hand, is confined more especially to the southern district (from Gebal to the south of Palestine). It seems the terms at an early date were interchangeable, Canaan being geographical and Amorite the major ethnical identity of the Canaanites who inhabited the land.

The Biblical Amorites seem to have originally occupied the land stretching from the heights west of the Dead Sea (Gen. 14:7) to Hebron (13. Comp. 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).

Historically, 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). One possible etymology for "Mount Moriah" is "Mountain of the Amorites," with loss of the initial syllable.

Five kings of the Amorites were first defeated with 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 discrepancy supposed to exist between Deut. 1:44 and Num. 14:45 is explained by the circumstance that the terms "Amorites" and "Amalekites" are used synonymously for the "Canaanites." In the same way we explain the fact that the "Hivites" of Gen. 34:2 are the "Amorites" of 48:22. Comp. Josh. 10:6; 11:19 with 2 Sam. 21:2; also Num. 14:45 with Deut. 1:44.

Both Sihon and Og were independent kings.

[edit] Amorites in Antisemitism

The view that Amorites were fierce 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. Luschan's speculation was was taken up by antisemites, notably Houston Stewart Chamberlain, who claimed that King David and Jesus were both of Amorite extraction. This argument was repeated by the Nazi ideologist Alfred Rosenberg.

[edit] External link

  • Jewish Encyclopedia Solid early 20th century scholarship, upon which a more careful entry could be constructed.

[edit] References

  • 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,

de:Amurriter el:Αμορίτες es:Amorreos fa:اموری‌ها fr:Amorrites it:Amorrei nl:Amorieten ja:アムル人 pl:Amoryci pt:Amoritas sk:Amoriti sv:Amoriter zh:亞摩利人


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