During the Late Bronze Age (16th – 13th centuries BC) Qatna, although situated at the margin of the zone controlled by the Egyptians, seems to have been a loyal vassal of the Mesopotamian Mitanni empire.
Later, in about the mid-14th century, in the face of the Hittite King Shuppiluliuma’s advance along the river Orontes, Qatna chose the protection of the new dominant political force. Subsequently, after the Hittite king took the city, it entered the sphere of influence of the pharaoh Amenhotep IV/Akhenaton.
The first centuries of the Late Bronze Age were thus marked by a series of changes in political and military alliance; because of its position in a border region between Egyptian and Hittite zones of influence, Qatna was obliged to seek precarious geopolitical balance in a complex and risky game of tactical alliances.
Research conducted by the Syrian-Italian-German Mission has revolutionized our knowledge of Qatna and central Syria, especially with regard to the initial Late Bronze Age (16th and 15th/14th centuries BC), one of the city’s periods of maximum splendour.
In this epoch its political elite was not as powerful as those of Egypt or the north Syrian Mitanni kingdom, and yet it was at this time that the Qatna royal dynasty rebuilt the urban centre of the city’s power, the acropolis. At the end of the Middle Bronze II or in the early Late Bronze I, the massive public building on the acropolis summit was abandoned (see “Excavations in Area J”) and probably used as a quarry for building materials (mud bricks) that were re-used elsewhere. The northern part of the plateau was employed as the construction site for a monumental royal palace, whose enormous foundations – which were almost 10 m thick in places and 5 to 7 m deep – destroyed much of an older underlying cemetery.
The Qatna royalty constructed at least one more palace along the north side of the acropolis (see “The ‘Lower City Palace’”) and a monumental residence immediately to the south of the Royal Palace, for the conduction of ceremonial, administrative, bureaucratic and productive activities and the residence of its members and dignitaries.
The centralized palace model, based on a single large building which, in addition to being a residence, was the political nucleus and hub of economic control and redistributive relations, was replaced – as in the contemporary city of Ugarit – by a decentralized system in which the various functions of power were distributed in numerous public buildings scattered throughout the extensive acropolis around the royal palace. The latter remained, however, the power centre of the ruling dynasty.