The Mesopotamian city of Mari is identified with modern Tell Hariri, located on the west bank of the Euphrates River, 30 miles north of the border between Iraq and Syria. Its palace architecture has been beautifully preserved, and historical records provide a rare glimpse into upper Mesopotamian politics during the Old Assyrian Period.
Mari was a circular city (1.2 miles in diameter), excavated first by André Parrot (from 1933) and later by Jean Margueron (from 1979). Excavations reveal a series of palaces from the Early Dynastic II–III Periods (early third millennium b.c.e.) to the Old Babylonian Period (early second millennium b.c.e.), each palace built upon the ruins of the preceding one.
The latest palace is one of the best preserved and most impressive of the entire Bronze Age. It was exceptional for its time period, because it incorporated various religious shrines together with the royal residence.
More than 20,000 cuneiform tablets were uncovered at Mari, most dated to the Old Babylonian Period. Although the language of most texts is Akkadian (east Semitic), northwest Semitic grammar and syntax show up in proper names and in various constructions.
The archive consists mostly of palatial and provincial administrative texts, letters, and treaties, demonstrating the political value of writing in this period. It is one of the major sources of information on how the great Assyrian king Shamshi-Adad I organized his empire in northern Mesopotamia. In addition, Mari has the largest number of Mesopotamian prophetic texts. These were letters from prophets, often to the king, claiming direct messages from deities.
The city of Mari likely originated from the very start of the Early Dynastic I Period (beginning of third millennium b.c.e.). It prospered rapidly due to its strategic location along the trade route connecting Mesopotamia with Syria.
The archaeological evidence found for the Early Dynastic III Period (c. 2600–2350 b.c.e.) shows Mari’s indebtedness to much of Sumerian culture. Short inscriptions from this period refer to Ansud as the king of Mari, a name that may also appear in the Sumerian King List.
During c. 2250–2000 b.c.e., the title shakkanakku (Akkadian for "governor") was used for the rulers of Mari, a term that may allude to a time of foreign control, when Mari’s rulers were the deputies of other kings. This seems to have been a period of great power, when the city underwent extensive renovation.
The final century before Mari’s destruction is much clarified by the written record. Yahdun-Lim, who derived from the Sim’alite stock of the Amorites, ruled as king over Mari.
He was assassinated in a palace coup, and his successor, Sumu-Yaman, died shortly after. In 1796 b.c.e. the Assyrian ruler Shamshi-Adad I conquered Mari and installed his younger son, Yasmah-Adad, upon Mari’s throne.
Zimri-Lim, a descendant of Yahdun-Lim, fled to Yamhad (Aleppo), whose king Yarim-Lim was his father-in-law. Shamshi-Adad died in 1782 b.c.e., and Zimri-Lim reclaimed the throne of Mari. He established strong ties with Aleppo and Babylon, faithfully supporting Hammurabi’s expansionistic conquests.
Hammurabi, however, eventually turned against Mari: The city was conquered in 1761 b.c.e., and within the next two years its riches, removed to Babylon and its palace burned. Although Mari continued to be inhabited as a small town, Hammurabi’s destruction marked its end as a major political center.