The Amorites

The Amorites were member of an ancient Semitic-speaking people who dominated the history of Mesopotamia, Syria, and Palestine from about 2000 to about 1600 BC. In the oldest cuneiform sources (c. 2400-c. 2000 BC), the Amorites were equated with the West, though their true place of origin was most likely Arabia, not Syria. They were troublesome nomads and were believed to be one of the causes of the downfall of the 3rd dynasty of Ur (c. 2112-c. 2004 BC).

During the 2nd millennium BC the Akkadian term Amurru referred not only to an ethnic group but also to a language and to a geographic and political unit in Syria and Palestine. At the beginning of the millennium, a large-scale migration of great tribal federations from Arabia resulted in the occupation of Babylonia proper, the mid-Euphrates region, and Syria-Palestine. They set up a mosaic of small kingdoms and rapidly assimilated the Sumero-Akkadian culture. It is possible that this group was connected with the Amorites mentioned in earlier sources; some scholars, however, prefer to call this second group Eastern Canaanites, or Canaanites.

Almost all of the local kings in Babylonia (such as Hammurabi of Babylon) belonged to this stock. One capital was at Mari (modern Tall al-Hariri, Syria). Farther west, the political center was Halab (Aleppo); in that area, as well as in Palestine, the newcomers were thoroughly mixed with the Hurrians. The region then called Amurru was northern Palestine, with its center at Hazor, and the neighboring Syrian desert.

In the dark age between about 1600 and about 1100 BC, the language of the Amorites disappeared from Babylonia and the mid-Euphrates; in Syria and Palestine, however, it became dominant. In Assyrian inscriptions from about 1100 BC, the term Amurru designated part of Syria and all of Phoenicia and Palestine but no longer referred to any specific kingdom, language, or population.

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