site located on the right bank of the Euphrates River in Syria. Today it is submerged under the Tabqa dam, el-Assad lake. Emar/Meskene is situated at the juncture of the region's land and water routes (east–west) and its two main topological features—the steppe, on which the site leans, and a fluvial plain, rich and fertile as a result of irrigation. Farther southeast on the Euphrates are the cities of Tuttul and Mari; to the north is Carchemish and Anatolia; to the west, where transportation to Cyprus and the Mediterranean Sea would have been available, are the cities of Aleppo (Yamḫad), Qatna, and, on the coast, Ugarit; Damascus is to the south; and to reach Canaan it was necessary to go through Hazor. In short, Emar was a vital crossroads for trade, east–west relations, and travel by water to Babylon, Mari, and the lands of the Hittites.

Until 1972, Emar was known only through the archives of Mari, Nuzi, and Ugarit, as their political or commercial partner. The construction of the Tabqa dam where the Euphrates, after leaving the mountains of Anatolia, turns toward Mesopotamia and the Persian Gulf, led to the exploration of Emar/Meskene, directed by Jean-Claude Margueron, under the auspices of the French Commission of Excavations of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In six campaigns (1972–1978), archaeological and epigraphic documentation was recovered that opened a new chapter in the history of Late Bronze Age Syria. The city uncovered was not, however, the one mentioned in the Middle Bronze Ebla or Mari texts but a city erected entirely in the Late Bronze Age on a site prepared especially for that purpose. None of the soundings showed any trace of a city earlier than the LB city, which existed only until the beginning of the fourteenth century BCE, when it was violently destroyed—a little after 1187 BCE (Arnaud, 1975).

The contradiction between the texts and the archaeological reality has led investigators to believe that the city of the third and second millennia BCE was actually located several hundred meters away from the excavated city, at the foot of the mound, in the valley itself. Doubtless eroded away by a meander of the Euphrates and close to disappearing in the Late Bronze Age, it would have been reconstructed on the edge of the plateau in order to avoid erosion by the river. The work would have been sponsored by the Hittite king Šuppiluliuma I (1380–1340 BCE), who dominated North Syria at the time, or by his son Muršili II (1339–1306 BCE), to safeguard a vital commercial link. Abandoned after its destruction In 1187, in the first millennium BCE, the site was partly reoccupied in the Roman period by a modest city named Barbalissos. Within the walls of the Byzantine period lay the medieval city of Balis that continued to exist until the end of the Ayyubid period.

The Ebla archives provide evidence that Emar existed in the mid- third millennium—a dynastic alliance facilitated commercial relations between the two cities. At the beginning of the eighteenth century BCE, the archives of Mari show Emar to be a true economic hub, connecting the great Syrian centers (see above). [See Ebla Texts; Mari Texts.] The discovery of several hundred texts (a priest's library of private and royal archives) that cover the period of nearly a century and a half from the end of the fourteenth century to 1187 BCE, has permitted the history of the LB city to be written. Emar, then the capital of a Hittite province named Astata, was accountable directly to the kingdom of Carchemish, itself dependent upon Ḫattuša (Boğazköy), the center of the Hittite Empire; a ranking general called the Head of the Chariots represented the central power. The texts are concerned, for the most part, with judicial, legal, and economic matters—the society and its system of relationships based on economics and trade.

It is always risky to link LB tablets to the Bible, even though they shared a cultural domain. The most obvious parallels among LB texts and some of the biblical narratives involve the institution of the family and societal customs—for example, the customs of inheritance and the sale of family property owned by the eldest in the texts from Emar are reminiscent of customs in other patriarchal societies, such as Nuzi and Ugarit. The importance of soothsayers from Babylon and prophets are documented in the Emar texts as is the ordination of priests and priestesses and other rituals that took place during important celebrations.

The LB builders chose an arm of the rocky, rectangular plateau that borders the valley on its southern edge—a mountainous location, not one in the plain or valley, as was the Syrian tradition. They completely altered the topography by creating staggered terraces and cutting an artificial channel or ravine (about 500 m long, 50 m wide, and more than 20 m deep), to create a site whose commanding view of the surrounding area made it easy to defend and convenient for commerce. The residential quarters were built upon that infrastructure. Two were excavated extensively (trenches A and D). The buildings were constructed gradually, as a need evolved. Elsewhere, the plan of the city and its natural and hewn topography suggest that the main gates were located in the middle of the sides of the quadrilateral, about a kilometer to a side. One portion of its rampart was located on the western side of the site, along the artificial ravine. The ruins of a fortress responsible for the defense of Emar, at Tell Faq'us, a site about 10 km (6 mi.) downstream, was excavated by the French team in its last campaign In 1978.

The plans of the thirty or so private houses that were excavated are quite uniform: at ground level a large, rectangular room opens directly onto the street; opposite the entrance are two small rooms of equal size, with separate entrances. The method of construction, the frequent appearance of interior steps, and the traces of charred wood in the debris suggest that this group of rooms was roofed and that another story extended over some, if not all, of them, while a terrace provided an open-air space. This particular architectural plan seems to have been popular on this bank of the Euphrates, in North Syria in general, and sometimes in neighboring regions in the second millennium BCE. Terra-cotta models of houses or temples were found among the ceramic remains during excavation.


EMAR. Figure 1. Facade of the ḫilani. (Courtesy J.-C. Margueron)

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EMAR. Figure 2. Tiered structures at the rear of the ḫilani. (Courtesy J.-C. Margueron)

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The palace belonging to the governor or local “king” who deferred to the overlordship of the Hittite king was uncovered. Installed on the northwest promontory, it dominated both the valley and the port. It takes the form of a ḫilani, the distinctive residence of Iron Age North Syria. The ḫilani is characterized by a facade (see figure 1) with a columned portico leading to a pair of oblong rooms, the second of which here certainly served as a throne room, and upper floor. This is the earliest known example of a ḫilani in Syria. It was provided with additional rooms installed at various levels more than a meter apart on the southern slope of the promontory, which make its plan difficult to understand because of the differences of level of each part of the dependancies of the building (see figure 2). A Hittite origin for this architectural formula seems probable.

Four temples have been excavated. They all belong to the northern long style of temple formed by an elongated room that served as a holy space, with an offering table, a podium for the god, and some furnishings used in carrying out rituals; this room was fronted by a vestibule that opened to the exterior via a porch with columns. Associated with the temple, a large esplanade or raised terrace was equipped with an altar where sacrifices and possibly other rites were practiced.

The principal sanctuary was formed by two temples dedicated to Baal and to Astarte, both situated at the highest point of the site on both sides of a street that led to the sacrificial terrace. A third temple, dedicated to all the gods, was attended by a priest whose reputation had reached the court of the Hittite king; his library and archives constitute one of the most important discoveries at Emar because they explain the progress of divination by observation of animal livers from Mesopotamia toward Anatolia and the classical Mediterranean world. A fourth temple, whose dedicant remains unknown, preserved especially rich furnishings.

The city of Emar never played a particularly important political role, but from the third millennium, as a point of exchange in the relations between Syria and Mesopotamia, it was one of the principal elements in the system that dominated the economic life of the Near East during the Bronze Age. Emar provides a clear idea of the life of a Hittite province at the time of the greatest expansion of the empire, of the organization of the territory, and of the role that this crossroads played in international life.

[See also Babylon; Boğazköy; Carchemish; Ebla; Emar Texts; Hittites; Mari; Nuzi; and Ugarit.]


  • Arnaud, Daniel. “Les textes d'Emar et la chronologie de la fin du Bronze Récent.” Syria 52 (1975): 87–92.
  • Arnaud, Daniel. Emar VI: Textes sumériens et accadiens. 4 vols. Paris, 1985–1987.
  • Badre, Leila. Les figurines anthropomorphes en terre cuite à l'Âge du Bronze en Syrie. Paris, 1980. Includes some unpublished material on Emar.
  • Beyer, Dominique, ed. Meskéné- Emar: Dix ans de travaux, 1972–1982. Paris, 1982. Succinct presentation of aspects of the city and the finds, with a bibliography of all articles appearing before 1982.
  • Bunnens, Guy. “Emar on the Euphrates in the Thirteenth Century B.C.: Some Thoughts about Newly Published Cuneiform Texts.” Abr-Nahrain 27 (1989): 23–36.
  • Margueron, Jean-Claude. “Les fouilles françaises de Meskéné-Emar (Syrie).” Comptes Rendus de l'Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres (1975): 201–211.
  • Margueron, Jean-Claude. “Quatres campagnes de fouilles à Emar, 1972–1974.” Syria 52 (1975): 53–85.
  • Margueron, Jean-Claude. “Rapport préliminaire sur les deux premières campagnes de fouille à Meskéné-Emar, 1972–1973.” Annales Archéologiques Arabes Syriennes 25 (1975): 73–86.
  • Margueron, Jean-Claude. “La campagne de sauvegarde des antiquités de l'Euphrate.” Ktèma 1 (1976): 63–80.
  • Margueron, Jean-Claude. “‘Maquettes’ architecturales de Meskéné-Emar.” Syria 53 (1976): 193–232.
  • Margueron, Jean-Claude. “Un exemple d'urbanisme volontaire à l'époque du Bronze Récent en Syrie.” Ktèma 2 (1977): 33–48.
  • Margueron, Jean-Claude. “Un ‘Ḫilāni’ à Emar.” Annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research 44 (1979): 153–176.
  • Margueron, Jean-Claude, ed. Le Moyen Euphrate, zone de contacts et d'échanges: Acts du colloque de Strasbourg, 10–12 Mars 1977. Leiden, 1980. Includes articles by Margueron, Daniel Arnaud, Dominique Beyer, and Emmanuel Laroche.
  • Margueron, Jean-Claude. “Aux marches de l'Empire hittite: Une campagne de fouille à tell Faq'ous (Syrie), citadelle du pays d'Astata.” In La Syrie au Bronze Récent: Recueil publié à l'occasion du cinquantenaire de la découverte d'Ugarit–Ras Shamra, pp. 47–66. Paris, 1982.
  • Margueron, Jean-Claude. “Rapport préliminaire sur les 3e, 4e, 5e et 6e campagnes de fouilles à Meskéné-Emar, 1974–1976.” Annales Archéologiques Arabes Syriennes 32 (1982): 233–249.
  • Mari: Annales de Recherches Interdisciplinaries 6 (1990). Special issue of the journal entitled “Imâr avant le Bronze Récent,” edited by Jean-Marie Durand and Jean-Claude Margueron, including articles by Alfonso Archi, Dominique Beyer, Bernard Geyer, Joannes F. Geyer, Durand, and Margueron.
  • Tsukimoto, Akio. “Emar and the Old Testament: Preliminary Remarks.” Annual of the Japanese Biblical Institute 15 (1989): 3–24.

Jean-Claude Margueron and Marcel SigristTranslated from French by Nancy Leinwand and Monique Fecteau