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"Amorite" redirects here. For the language, see Amorite language.

The Amorites (/ˈæməˌrts/; Sumerian 𒈥𒌅 MAR.TU; Akkadian Tidnum or Amurrūm; Egyptian Amar; Hebrew אמורי ʼĔmōrī; Ancient Greek: Ἀμορραῖοι) were an ancient Semitic-speaking people[1] from ancient Syria who also occupied large parts of southern Mesopotamia from the 21st century BC to the end of the 17th century BC, where they established several prominent city states in existing locations, notably Babylon which was raised from a small administrative town to an independent state and major city. The term Amurru in Akkadian and Sumerian texts refers to them, as well as to their principal deity.


In the earliest Sumerian sources concerning the Amorites, beginning about 2400 BC, the land of the Amorites ("the Mar.tu land") is associated not with Mesopotamia but with the lands to the west of the Euphrates, including Canaan and what was to become Syria.

They appear as an uncivilized and nomadic people in early Mesopotamian writings from Sumer, Akkad and Assyria, especially connected with the mountainous region of Jebel Bishri in northern Syria called the "mountain of the Amorites". The ethnic terms Amurru and Amar were used for them in Sumerian, Akkadian and Ancient Egyptian respectively. From the 21st century BC, possibly triggered by a long major drought starting about 2200 BC, a large-scale migration of Amorite tribes infiltrated southern Mesopotamia. They were one of the instruments of the downfall of the Sumerian Third Dynasty of Ur, and Amorite dynasties both usurped native Sumero-Akkadian rulers of long extant south Mesopotamian city states (such as Isin, Larsa, Eshnunna and Kish), and also established new city-states, the most famous of which was to become Babylon, although it was initially a minor and insignificant state.

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.


In the earliest Sumerian texts, all western lands beyond the Euphrates, including modern Syria and Canaan, were known as "the land of the MAR.TU (Amorites)". 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.

There are also sparse mentions in tablets from the East Semitic speaking kingdom of Ebla, dating from 2500 BC to the destruction of the city ca. 2250 BC: from the perspective of the east Semitic speaking Eblaites, the Amorites were a rural group living in the narrow basin of the middle and upper Euphrates in northern Syria.[2] For the Akkadian kings of central Mesopotamia Mar.tu was one of the "Four Quarters" surrounding Akkad, along with Subartu/Assyria, Sumer, and Elam. The Akkadian king Naram-Sin records successful campaigns against them in northern Syria ca. 2240 BC, and his successor Shar-Kali-Sharri followed suit.

By the time of the last days of the Neo-Sumerian Empire, immigrating Amorites had become such a force that kings such as Shu-Sin were obliged to construct a Script error: No such module "convert". long wall from the Tigris to the Euphrates to hold them off.[3] 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:

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...[4]
They have prepared wheat and gú-nunuz (grain) as a confection, but an Amorite will eat it without even recognizing what it contains![5]

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

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

This era ended in northern Mesopotamia with the defeat and expulsion of the Amorites and Amorite dominated Babylonians from Assyria by Puzur-Sin and king Adasi between 1740 and 1735 BC, in the far south by the rise of the native Sealand Dynasty circa 1730 BC. The Amorites clung on in a once more small and weak Babylon until the Hittite sack of Babylon (c. 1595 BC) which ended the Amorite presence, and brought new ethnic groups — particularly the Language Isolate speaking Kassites — to the forefront in southern 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 in northern Syria.

After their expulsion from Mesopotamia, the Amorites of Syria came under the domination of first the Hittite Empire and from the 14th century BC, the Middle Assyrian Empire. They appear to have been displaced or absorbed by a new wave of semi nomadic West Semitic speaking Semites, the Arameans, from circa 1200 BC onwards, and thus disappeared from the pages of history. From this period the region they had inhabited became known as Aram (Aramea).

Amorites states

Biblical Amorites

The term Amorites is used in the Bible to refer to certain highland mountaineers who inhabited the land of Canaan, described in Genesis 10:16 as descendants of Canaan, son of Ham. They are described as a powerful people of great stature "like the height of the cedars," (Amos 2:9) who had occupied the land east and west of the Jordan. The height and strength mentioned in Amos 2:9 has led some Christian scholars, including Orville J. Nave, who wrote the classic Nave's Topical Bible to refer to the Amorites as "giants."[7]

The Amorite king, Og, was described as the last "of the remnant of the Rephaim" (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 (Ezek. 16:3). 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). Then more Amorite kings were defeated 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 who made a covenant with the Hebrews; when Saul later broke that vow and killed some of the Gibeonites, God sent a famine to Israel.

Indo-European hypothesis

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 "Aryan" 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.[8]

Houston Stewart Chamberlain claimed that King David and Jesus were both Aryans of Amorite extraction. This argument was repeated by the Nazi ideologue Alfred Rosenberg.[9]

In reality the Amorites are known to have exclusively spoken a Semitic language, followed Near Eastern Semitic religions and had distinctly Semitic personal names. Their origins were believed to have been the lands immediately to the west of Mesopotamia, in the Levant (modern Syria).[10][11][12]


  1. ^ "Amorite (people)". Encyclopedia Britannica online. Encyclopedia Britannica Inc. Retrieved 30 November 2012. 
  2. ^ Giorgio Bucellati, "Ebla and the Amorites", Eblaitica 3 (1992):83-104.
  3. ^ William H. Stiebing Jr. Ancient Near Eastern History And Culture Longman: New York, 2003: 79
  4. ^ Chiera 1934: 58 and 112
  5. ^ Chiera 1934: 3
  6. ^ Alfred Haldar, Who Were the Amorites (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1971), p. 7
  7. ^ Nave's Topical Bible: Amorites, Nave, Orville J., Retrieved:2013-03-14
  8. ^ "Are the Jews a Race?" by Sigmund Feist in "Jews and Race: Writings on Identity and Difference, 1880-1940", edited by Mitchell Bryan Hart, UPNE, 2011, p. 88
  9. ^ [1] Hans Jonas, New York Review of Books, 1981
  10. ^ Who Were the Amorites?, by Alfred Haldar, 1971, Brill Archive
  11. ^ Semitic Studies, Volume 1, by Alan Kaye, Otto Harrassowitz Verlag, 1991, p.867
  12. ^ The Semitic Languages, by Stefan Weninger, Walter de Gruyter, 23 Dec 2011, p.361
  • 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.

External links

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