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THE HISTORY OF MISHRIFEH


 

Mishrifeh is still today an impressive site surrounded by an almost perfectly square ditch and monumental fortifications. The ramparts still stand to a height of 15-20 meters and enclose an area of 110 hectars. Four city gates cut through the city walls, one on each side. The central-western part of the site was overlooked by the high ground of the upper city, Qatna’s acropolis, which was surrounded by a vast lower city of about 70 hectars. In its southeastern corner stands a partly natural and partly artificial mound, known as the Coupole de Loth, which dominates the landscape of the lower city.

The earliest occupation levels hitherto attested at Mishrifeh belong to the third millennium BC (Early Bronze Age III and IV, c. 2600-2000 BC). However, only limited information has been gathered so far at the site on this important period of Syrian history and the name of the settlement is still unknown.

During the Middle Bronze Age, from around 2000 to 1600 BC, the site, which may in this period be identified with the urban centre of Qatna, was – along with Aleppo and Mari – a major Syrian kingdom and commercial centre. The location of Qatna at the crossroads between the main trade routes crossing the region was the basis for its outstanding commercial, strategic, and political importance. The Old-Assyrian kingdom under Shamshi-Addu I established close diplomatic and commercial relations with king Ishkhi-Addu of Qatna at the beginning of the eighteenth century BC.

During the Late Bronze Age (c. 1600-1200 BC), Qatna was a local kingdom on the border territories contested by the military and political power of the Egyptians, the kingdom of Mitanni and the Hittites. This period of the city’s history is to date the archaeologically best known.

On the summit of the central mound of the acropolis, a large ceramic manufacturing area continued to exist. On the northern edge of the central mound, the vast Royal Palace (Operations G-H), the second largest palace in Syria after that of Mari, and to the west a ‘small palace’ (Operation C) were located. To the north, archaeological excavations have brought to light a further palace, the ‘Lower City Palace’.

Following a hiatus in the occupation of the site, in the Iron Age II (c. 900-600 BC) a major transformation in the nature and role of the settlement seems to occur.

The presence on the acropolis of an administrative building (controlling two large areas specialised in the manufacture of dyed textiles, the warehousing of agricultural produce and its transformation into food on a non-domestic scale), the general extension of the site (which covered a minimum settled surface of 70 ha) and its location at the centre of a local settlement system consisting of rural villages dispersed in the countryside at regular intervals, are all elements that indicate that during the ninth and eighth centuries BC the site of Mishrifeh was presumably the main regional administrative and political centre in the south-eastern part of the territory of the Aramaean kingdom of Hama.

After the Iron Age the site was abandoned and remained devoid of settlement until, during the mid-nineteenth century, a modern village was built within the huge ramparts of the ancient city.

 




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