Mesopotamia: Wars and Coups in the Kingdom of Mari

Episode 13: Royalty and Palace Intrigue in Mari

Ancient Mesopotamia: Life in the Cradle of Civilization

Dr Amanda H Podany

Film Review

This lecture concerns successive kings who ruled Mari in Northern Mesopotamia. The kingdom is one of the most studied because the walls of the Mari palace remain intact, along with 22,000 clay tablets related to the administrative of successive regimes.

The first king mentioned is the Amorite Shamshi-Adad. After seizing the Mari throne, he ruled from 1809 to 1776 BC. Shamshi-Adad built an empire known as Ekallatum in northern Mesopotamia and parts of Syria out of seven or eight independent kingdoms that were constantly at war with each other. After his capitol Mari was briefly conquered by a neighboring king, he fled south into exile in Babylon. Following his return to Ekallatum, he recaptured all northern Mesopotamia between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, as well as portions of Syria and Anatolia. He then granted himself the title “king of the universe.”

He made his two sons governors of two of the city-states he captured. His correspondence is extremely critical of his youngest son. He castigates him for indecisiveness and shoddy administrative skills, mistreatment of his second wife and excessive drinking and dancing with his servants.

Ekallatum collapsed early in the reign of his older son Ishme-Dagan, who inherited Shamshi-Adad’s. Zimri-Lim, the grandson of the former king, returned from exile to reclaim the throne.

In addition to the exterior walls of Zimri-Lim’s Mari palace, archeologists have also unearthed 22,000 clay tablets revealing the palace interior was divided into workshops, public spaces, bathrooms, as well as a throne room, an archives room, a temple and private living quarters for the royal family. The bathrooms had indoor plumbing for the toilets although bathtubs filled by hand.

The meticulous records that remain reveal that Zimri-Lim was a skilled warrior and meticulous administrator who left his wife Shiptu in charge when engaged in military campaigns. Many of her letters to him concern dreams, visions and prophecies that brought to bear on his military strategy.

Other letters found among the Mari tablets are from two of his daughters with extremely unhappy marriages.

Zimri-Lim was initially an ally of Hammurabi (1792-1750 BC) who ruled Babylon and the two kings supplied each other with troops in several battles. However somewhere between 1760-1757 BC, Hammarabi sacked Mari and burned Zimri-Lim’s palace, forcing it to be abandoned.

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