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Amorites and Arameans - NonBiblical Usage

This page investigates the terms Amorite and Aramaean as found outside the Bible. As a general rule, "Amorite" occurs in the early history of the region now known as Syria, and "Aramaean" later on. The changeover between the two occurs very approximately at the time of the Late Bronze to Iron Age transition. However, the transition was not abrupt. Aramaean influence can be traced back to the Ur III dynasty, and an Amorite presence is known in the Lebanon until the 19th dynasty from Egyptian records, and a little later in Assyrian records.


Amorite key locations Sumerian and Akkadian inscriptions of the latter part of the 3rd millennium refer to a people called MAR.TU (Sum) or amurru (Akk). These seem to have been a desert people who moved systematically in from the east. From the early part of the second millennium they became more aggressive, and appear to have been instrumental in overthrowing the Ur 3 dynasty (conventionally ended about 2000, NC about 1800). They set up their own rule in places including Larsa, and their best known assertion of power was in the Old Babylonian dynasty of Hammurabi (conventionally about 1900-1600, Hammurabi around 1800, NC about 1650-1350, Hammurabi about 1550). Both Assyria and Mari show signs of their occupation as well. In Palestine their entrance can perhaps be seen in occupation breaks in cities, coinciding with an influx of nomadic people who left graves but few buildings, and pottery of a similar style to that found in Syria. Their main textual remains are written in Akkadian with West Semitic features, and amongst other things describe movements of nomadic tribes into Syria and the Lebanon. Egyptian references indicate that the latter group survived into the Amarna period, during which it was expanding vigorously in several directions from a central location between Ugarit and Kadesh. During the 19th dynasty, Egypt received tribute from a state of Amor in this area (see as a parallel Joshua 13:4). The Amarna period is dated conventionally approx. 1350, NC 1050 BCE, and the 19th dynasty approx. conventionally 1300-1185, NC 975-850. In the 20th dynasty, Ramesses III (conventionally 1184-1153, NC 866-835) claimed to have defeated "the miserable king of Amurru" (amongst several other kings in the same general area), though some argue that this is not in fact a valid claim but one copied from earlier Egyptian exploits, as it seems unlikely that he actually campaigned in this area. If true, then with conventional dates this would be contemporary with the Middle Assyrian references discussed in the following paragraph, but under NC it would push the dates still later in time.

Assyrian references concerning this region are more extensive, referring it by the Akkadian term Amurru. There are a number of references in private Assyrian documents from the Middle Assyrian period, from the reigns of Tukulti-Ninurta I to Tiglath-pileser I (conventionally approx 1250-1075, NC approx 1100-950). Some Neo-Assyrian texts between the reigns of Assurnasirpal 2 and Assurbanipal also refer to "the land of Amurru" or " the Great Sea of Amurru". Conventionally and in NC these span the period approx 900-625. Some references use these terms in a standard geographical way, rather than to represent an active group of people. During the Amarna period (conventionally c. 1350, NC c. 1050) the Hittite ruler Supiluliumas I skirted the outside of this territory while campaigning against Mitanni, Alalakh, Aleppo, Qatna and Kadesh. Amurru appears to have been an ally of the Hittites under Tudhaliyas IV (conventionally approx 1250-1220, NC approx 900-870). Several cities in this area including Sumur and Amurri appear to have been sacked at the time of the collapse of the Hittite empire (approx. conventionally 1150, NC 830 BCE). However, this may not have represented the demise of the state as an entity.

Approximate locations of some of the places mentioned on this page

Part of the Middle East


Aramaean key locations At about the same time that the Amorites were entering Mesopotamia, the region north of Elam and ENE of Assyria was called Aram(e.i). Cuneiform evidence indicates these were West Semitic speakers. As a parallel, note how Genesis 10:22 links Elam and Asshur with Aram. During the Ur 3 and Mari periods, Aramu is attested as a personal name, and at Alalakh it appears as Arammu which is closer to the Hebrew 'rammi. Compound names with Aram- and Arim- appear at Alalakh and Nuzi. Conventionally these dynasties span the era 2100-1300, NC 1900-1000. At Ugarit (conventionally 14th and 13th centuries, NC, 12th and 11th) the personal names Armeya and B(e)n-Arm(e)y(a) are found, and a plot of land is identified as "fields of Aramaeans". also at this time a papyrus of Amenhotep III refers to Pa Aram.

During the 16th-13th centuries BCE conventionally (14th-11th NC) the Hurrian kingdom of Mitanni flourished. This is the area referred to in the OT as Aram-Naharaim. In the Amarna letters this area is called Nahrima, and other Egyptian texts from this approximate period use the term nhrn. Assyrian texts from the time of and shortly after Tiglath-pileser I (conventionally c.1100, NC c.975) use "Aram Nahrima" for this region. Aramaic language forms are found throughout this time. Tiglath-pileser I struggled - largely unsuccessfully - to keep Aramaeans from advancing across the Euphrates, and this seems to mark a more systematic displacement of Amorites by Aramaeans. His successor Assur-bel-kala fought Arameans extensively, though in different geographical locations than the previous battles. Ashur-rabi II (conv. 1012-972, and the various NC models usually place him a few years earlier) indicates that a king of Aram had gained control of Pethor and Mutleinu either side of the Euphrates for a short time. From this time on through the Neo-Assyrian period until the time of Tiglath-pileser III (conventionally and NC 744-727) there were repeated conflicts between Assyrian and Aramaean armies, with opposition to Assyria largely led from Damascus. In particular Shalmaneser III (conventionally and NC 858-824) attacked repeatedly between 853 and 837, but was unable to achieve a convincing victory. Ultimately Tiglath-pileser III deported the defeated Aramaeans to Qir - ironically close to their original pre-migration homeland.

Sojourn, Exodus, Conquest