The Mountain of the Amorites, Tidnum and Ahlamu-Arameans

Goat and sheep nomadism on the southern plains in spring 2003

. Photo: Minna Lönnqvist © SYGIS – Jebel Bishri, the Finnish Project in Syria

The god Martu (Akkadian Amurru) the eponymous god of the Amorites and chief shepherd, as depicted in the Mesopotamian glyptics. He was obviously a personification of the nomads of the desert and steppe.

The Sumerian myth of Martu tells that he dwells in the mountains…he carries a weapon. He eats truffles in the foot of the mountain and uncooked meat, he does not live in a house and he does not bury dead members of his company.

In the Mesopotamian Sumerian cuneiform sources Jebel Bishri first appears as “the Mountain of the Amorites”. As mentioned above, the mountain steppe is the arena of the Amorite habitat, and truffles are available in great quantities at Jebel Bishri. The Ebla sources mention gír martu, an Amorite dagger.

According to the Sumerian sources (such as Gudea Statue B), large stones were transported to Mesopotamia from Jebel Bishri. It is apparent that Jebel Bishri is also identified with the Mountain of Tidnum mentioned in another Gudea inscription, connected with the Tidnum/Tidanum, the ancestral tribe or/and location of the Amorites. From the Mountainof Tidnum marble/alabaster was transported to Mesopotamia according to the sources, and indeed Jebel Bishri offers marble in quantity.

Where was the Amorite kingdom of Mar.du-ki of the third millennium B.C. as mentioned in the Ebla tablets? Was it in the area of Jebel Bishri as suggested by Michael Astour? Jebel Bishri has so far only offered ancient sedentary sites on the piedmont areas, some of which are clearly small towns associated with the river and the mountain. Early Bronze Age pottery is available in quantity at the sites identified between the villages of Kharita and Mustaha.

The Assyrian sources first mention Ahlamu-Arameans in connection with Jebel Bishri. Tiglatpilesar and Asshurnasirpal defeated several Aramean cities at the foot of the mountain. In the year 2006 season the first epigraphic evidence of the Assyrian and Aramean impact in the area was found.

Village pastoralism on the Euphratine side, the Bishri mountain from the North. Photo: Minna Lönnqvist 2003 © SYGIS – Jebel Bishri, the Finnish Project in Syria.

Dromedaries on a southern plateau in the piedmont area Jebel Bishri. Ilse Köhler-Rollefson, specialist in the camel domestication, holds that the camel was domesticated as early as in the Early Bronze Age in the Near East. Indications of the domestication of camels can be found in the Alalakh tablets dating back to the Middle Bronze Age. Photo: Minna Lönnqvist 2005 © SYGIS – Jebel Bishri, the Finnish Project in Syria

Caravan routes in the Syrian Desert heading from Arabian Peninsula towards Jebel Bishri as seen from a Landsat satellite. © Eurimage.