Mari was a multicultural Semitic and Sumerian city in central Mesopotamia. Despite its rich history during the historical period, I have found almost no discussion of the earliest period. This was from 2,900 B.C. until it was abandoned around 2,550 B.C. Obviously, the lack of sources stems from the fact that information about this early period is limited to archaeology.

Was early Mari Sumerian or Semitic, or East Semitic? Was it a multicultural Sumerian and Semitic city during this first period, like it was in the subsequent period?

Added 3/23: The question might have to do with the origin of Ignace Gelb's "Kish civilization", and probably also of East Semitic people in general. This is a poorly understood area. I do think there exists some outlying viewpoints like Gelb's that could help to illuminate this important, but poorly understood time and place. Attributing Mari to a certain people probably has to do with whether there was enough material excavated from this earliest layer to draw any conclusions.

Syria was stimulated in the late Uruk period (3400-3100) by Sumerian migrants and commerce (1). The end of this period seems to have coincided with the migration of possibly Syrian, Semitic Kish people into north-central Mesopotamia. I think that I've seen it mentioned that the Eastern Semitic cultures could have been a fusion of Sumerian migrants with semi-nomadic Semitic peoples. This could be why the proto historical period is characterized by an East Semitic people here that worship Sumerian gods.

The region had been subjected to larger cultural entities for two millenium at this point. I'd be surprised if Mari couldn't be placed in context within the surrounding cultures. I don't know much about Syria at this time, but it seems likely for a city founded half way between Syria and Sumer at this time to have been heavily influenced by Sumerians. Furthering my point, there was little growth in Syria from the end of the Uruk period to the mid 3rd millenium B.C. (Hamblin, p. 240)

Added: 3/29 I recall reading that Mari may have been founded by colonists from Terqa, which preceeded it, and remained an important outpost. I thought this was in Hamblin, but I can't find it.

(1) William J Hamblin. A history of warfare in the ancient Near East. Routledge, 2006.

Mari- Wikipedia

  • Are you asking about the city during the First Kingdom period (Mesopotamian Early Dynastic I)? Mar 23, 2019 at 1:57
  • I didn't know about that term. Do I need to rewrite my question to make it clearer?
    – John Dee
    Mar 23, 2019 at 2:07
  • 3
    If that is the city you mean, then we only know about the archaeological culture (often called the material culture). Associating 'peoples' with that culture is - at best - problematic. Mar 23, 2019 at 2:15
  • Mari was a planned city built on a previously uninhabited location. Somebody migrated there and brought their culture with them. We should be able to discuss if it was a Sumerian or Semitic people based on their affinities.
    – John Dee
    Mar 23, 2019 at 3:53
  • Yes, the city was a new foundation. But we have no inscriptions that I'm aware of. That city was abandoned (for reasons we do not know). The later city was founded in Early Dynastic III, several generations later. That rebuilt city would become the capital of an 'East Semitic' state. As far as I'm aware, we simply don't know who founded the first city, or their relation to the people who built the Second Kingdom city. Mar 23, 2019 at 4:05


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