The bedouin discovery of Mari on 3 January 1934, at Tell Hariri in Syria revealed the location of a city that had become mythical after its fall. It was known to Assyriologists only by its mention in the Sumerian King Lists as the seat of one the dynasties after the Flood. From 1934 to 1938, six fruitful excavations took place there under the direction of André Parrot. In the first year twenty-five hundred whole tablets and fragments were unearthed. In the following year, no fewer than thirteen thousand inventory numbers were assigned for texts alone. When World War II brought an end to this period of research, some twenty thousand documents had been uncovered. Excavation was resumed after the war (with another long interruption during the Suez expedition in 1956), and another thousand texts were recovered. Tablets are still being discovered, although in more modest numbers, under the direction, since 1979, of Jean-Claude Margueron. [See the biography of Parrot.]

For the most part, Parrot excavated tablets in the royal palace and the area immediately southeast of it (the “zig-gurat”); in excavations since 1979 tablets have also been found in the small palace of the Šakkanakku (a governing official) northeast of the tell (the House of Asqudum and the House of Queen Šibtu (where she was installed at the end of the reign of Zimrilim), as well as in areas B (from the period of Ebla), D, E, and F (reign of Yakhdunlim). [See Ebla.] In the palace of Zimrilim, the archives were divided among many small rooms, sorted according to administrative categories, indicating the function of different parts of the palace. [See Palace.] The most important of these rooms are numbers 108 and 115; 115, situated between the palmtree court (room 106) and the court of the Temple of Ishtar (room 130) preserved administrative and diplomatic correspondence; 108 held the main body of administrative documents. A good part of the harem archives were recovered in room 72. Although the archives of the palace seem to have remained in their original arrangement, the Babylonians, who systematically sacked Mari, sorted through them to remove any that concerned them. [See Babylonians.] Thus, the records of international correspondence are limited. Many groups of documents were recovered from construction fill, such as the texts from the harem of Yasmakh-Addu (1798?–1776 BCE) found in 1982 in the retaining wall of an oil storeroom, and the private archives of Yakhdunlim (1815?–1799? BCE).

Contrary to Parrot's hopes, no library was found at Tell Hariri. The excavated texts belong to the administration of the state or the private archives of the people living in the palace. They give evidence of the daily life, the movement of palace supplies, and the affairs of the kingdom—known as the Banks of the Euphrates—and contact with foreign courts. The letters (e.g., from servants of the king, or his allies) are more important than the administrative texts (e.g., records of the import and export of goods and food, inventories, audits of accounts). The absence of archives concerning the kingdom's tax system suggests that such documents were housed outside the palace (the palace has been completely excavated and such archives would have held no interest for pillagers). There is a limited group of legal texts, as well as texts of an ideological or religious character, such as the “nail” of Yakhdunlim from room 18, or nine bricks inscribed with a single text from the Temple of Shamash that describes that king's expedition to Lebanon, and models of inscribed oracular livers. The (unpublished) epic of Zimrilim, written on a large tablet broken into three pieces, was discovered in room 115. [See Tablet.] It is the only work found that can properly be described as belletristic. Many magico-religious texts were found (e.g., incantations—a fragment of one dated to the third millennium was discovered in area B—and penitential and ritual psalms).

The first epigraphist for the French team was François Thureau-Dangin. He was soon superseded by C.-F. Jean and then by Georges Dossin, who turned “mariology” into an important field of study by the number and quality of his publications. In 1979, Jean-Marie Durand and Dominique Charpin took charge of editing the Mari texts, reinvigorating the project. The series ARM (Archives Royales de Mari), founded by Dossin and Parrot, was initially devoted to the epistolary archives and was arranged by the authors of the letters: ARM 1, 4, and 5 concern Shamshi-Adad and his sons; ARM 3 contains the letters of the governor of Terqa, and 6 and 14 those of others, from Mari and Sagaratum; ARM 13 is based on the same principle, but the lots have less breadth. Volume 2 is the only one with any diversity, providing a better sampling of the documents. Some volumes are arranged thematically, such as ARM 10, women's correspondence, and, more recently, ARM 27, dedicated to the governors of the city of Qaṭṭunan.

Administrative texts were published initially by room: ARM 7 (room 170), ARM 9 (room 5), ARM 21 (rooms 134, 160), and ARM 24 (rooms Z, Y). Under Durand and Charpin it was decided that all epistolary and administration documents would be arranged by theme—the better to extract their historical and lexical interest and to allow for the poor data regarding find spots of the documents unearthed by the earlier excavations. ARM 26 (in three volumes) marks a significant evolution: the documents published (or republished) are grouped according to thematic or historical criteria (divination, religion, the military affairs of Sindjar and of the Upper Jezireh) without breaking with tradition (e.g., within these categories the letters are arranged by author). Because ARM 23 is a collective work, the administrative documents have been grouped according to themes such as texts dealing with garments or texts dealing with luxury crockery. The commentaries are more abundant and more systematically treated, according to the principle that, for the sake of comprehending the text, purely philological analysis cannot be separated from the reconstruction of the context. Many texts from Mari have also been published individually or in small lots in various journals and collections, such as Syria and the Revue D'Assyriologie (RA). Since the 1980s there has also been a specialized journal, MARI (Mari: Annales de Recherche Interdisciplinaires), as well as the occasional series Florilegium Marianum.

At first glance, the chronological range of the Mari texts seems fairly large: from the third millennium to 1761 BCE (the latest documented date). In reality, the useful historical span is no more than the twenty-fifty years that document the Amorite dynasty; these are the last decades of Mari. [See Amorites.] Earlier, the documents are too rare or brief to reconstruct a historical thread. What characterizes Mari archives is thus a great density of information over a very short period of time: two generations, during the reign of Zimrilim (1775–1761 BCE) and the end of his predecessor's, Yasmakh-Addu. No other period in antiquity is so extensively described and detailed.

The Near East appears in all its picturesqueness and complexity. The palace is revealed in all its different aspects: its gardens and courts where one day a princess exposed herself dangerously to the sun, its sanctuaries, its various administrative functions, its storehouses, and its workshops. The harem, which occupied its northwestern part, was inhabited by a great number of women, from the queen mother and principal royal wife, to slaves and captives, including concubines, who were the designated musicians, scribes, cooks, water drawers, and floor sweepers. At the entrance to the palace, prophets came to proclaim the truths that a divinity had revealed to them.

The king, in constant consultation with the gods, demanded that his subjects tell him everything they knew, even their dreams about him. It was naturally the divination priests, the governors of the kingdom, and the servants at the palace who had the most occasion to write letters. The chancellor's office maintained diplomatic correspondence with a number of small, turbulent states (principally in the Upper Jezireh) and the great powers of the day: to the west, Aleppo; to the southeast, Qatna; to the east, Eshnunna, Babylon, and Elam (whose Sukkalmah is the avowed suzerian of the Mesopotamian princes); and to the northeast, the monarchies of Sindjar and Ekallatum. [See Aleppo; Eshnunna; Babylon.] International exchanges—political, commercial, and cultural—as well as the movements of armies and diplomats, were intense and favored a certain awareness of the unity of the Near East on the part of the guiding classes, at least until family or racial solidarity came into question. Racism was not absent, particularly among the conquering Elamites. [See Elamites.]

The written language of Mari was Classical Akkadian, which differs little from that used in Babylon and elsewhere in the Near East. [See Akkadian.] More precisely, the syllabic writing and language came from the scribal tradition of Eshnunna, whose practice was adopted at Mari under Zimrilim. Nevertheless, strong influences from Western Semitic are recognizable. Akkadian lexicography and onomastics are also enriched with Hurrian words. [See Hurrian.] Peculiarities of syntax in the letters reveal as much the level of language as of any real dialect.

Mari's geographic horizon extended beyond the strict boundary of local politics. Thus Zimrilim could undertake a peaceful voyage, for religious reasons, to the Mediterranean coast. Mari maintained contacts with the island of Bahrain/Dilmun, thanks to passing merchants; with Kaneš/Kayseri in Anatolia; and with the Arab tribes. [See Bahrain; Dilmun; Kaneš.] The Mariotes nevertheless needed interpreters when they encountered Cretans on the quays of Ugarit or the people of Marhaši/Parahši in the Iranian mountains.

The Mari documentation testifies to a period in the history of the Near East when relationships among the great powers were more or less in balance, a balance of which there was a clear awareness. However, tensions among states rarely ceased and a king often had to mount a military expedition or extend a strong hand to his allies. There were constant quarrels within the kingdom and at the borders over pasture rights and territory; rivalries existed between nomadic and sedentary groups and among the confederations of bedouins; and occasionally there were great wars, when the armies of Eshnunna or Elam descended. The definitive destruction of Mari marked the end of this equilibrium in the Near East.

[See also Mari.]


  • Charpin, Dominique. “La Syrie à l'époque de Mari: Des invasions amorites à la chute de Mari.” In the catalog Syrie: Mémoire et civilisation, pp. 144–149. Flammarion, 1993.
    This is the best synthesis (in French) on the history of Mari. There are also other studies on Mari in this richly illustrated catalog
  • Charpin, Dominique and Jean-Marie Durand. Mari, Ébla et les Hourrites. A series of fundamental syntheses on the age and the documents of Mari. Paris, 1996.
  • Durand, Jean-Marie. Les déclarations prophétiques dans les lettres de Mari. Supplement to Cahier Évangile, 1988–1994, pp. 8–74.
    The most recent synthesis in French on the theme of the prophets of Mari and the texts of Mari in translation
  • Durand, Jean-Marie. Les documents épistolaires du palais de Mari. Forthcoming. A thematic collection (in French) of all the letters of Mari, translated and annotated, published before 1988 (ARM I–XVIII and uncollected).
  • Durand, Jean-Marie. La religión en Siria durante la epoca de los reinos amorreos según la documentación de Mari. Mitología y religión del Oriente Antiguo, 2.1, edited by G. del Olmo.
  • Heinz, J.-G., et al. Bibliographie de mari: Archéologie et textes (1933–1988). Weisbaden, 1990. Fundamental work for any study of Mari. Should be amplified with the supplements of the Belgian journal Akkadica: Supplement 1 (1989–1990), Akkadica 77 (1992): 1–37; Supplement 2 (1991–1992), Akkadica 81 (1993): 1–22; Supplement 3 (1992–1993), Akkadica 86 (1994): 1–23.
  • Malamat, A. Mari and the Early Israelite Experience: The Schweich Lectures. Oxford, 1989.
    A synthesis of very important comparative works dealing with the Bible and Mari

Michaël GuichardTranslated from French by Melissa Kaprelian