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View from the Byzantine Tower at Meskene, ancient Barbalissos.jpg
View from the Byzantine Tower at Meskene, ancient Barbalissos
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Alternative nameTell Meskene (Arabic: تل مسكنة)
LocationNear Maskanah, Aleppo Governorate, Syria
Region Lake Assad shoreline
Coordinates 35°59′12.63″N38°6′40.95″E / 35.9868417°N 38.1113750°E / 35.9868417; 38.1113750
Abandoned1187 BC
Cultures Amorite
Satellite of Ebla, Yamhad, Carchemish
Site notes
Excavation dates1972–1976
ArchaeologistsJean-Claude Margueron
Public accessYes

Emar (modern Tell Meskene) is an archaeological site in Aleppo Governorate, northern Syria. It sits in the great bend of the mid-Euphrates, now on the shoreline of the man-made Lake Assad near the town of Maskanah. It has been the source of many cuneiform tablets, making it rank with Ugarit, Mari and Ebla among the most important archaeological sites of Syria. In these texts, dating from the 14th century BC to the fall of Emar in 1187 BC, [1] and in excavations in several campaigns since the 1970s, Emar emerges as an important Bronze Age trade center, occupying a liminal position between the power centers of Upper Mesopotamia and Anatolia-Syria. Unlike other cities, the tablets preserved at Emar, most of them in Akkadian and of the thirteenth century BC, are not royal or official, but record private transactions, judicial records, dealings in real estate, marriages, last wills, formal adoptions. In the house of a priest, a library contained literary and lexical texts in the Mesopotamian tradition, and ritual texts for local cults.



Emar was strategically sited as a trans-shipping point where trade on the Euphrates was reloaded for shipping by overland route. In the middle of the third millennium BC Emar came under the influence of the rulers of Ebla; the city is mentioned in archives at Ebla. In Mari texts of the eighteenth century BC, (Middle Bronze Age), Emar was under the influence of the neighboring Amorite state of Yamhad. There was no local tradition of kingship at Emar. [2] For the thirteenth and the early twelfth centuries BC (Late Bronze Age), there is written documentation from Emar itself, mostly in the Akkadian language, and also references in contemporaneous texts from Hattusa, Ugarit, and in Assyrian archives; at the time Emar was within the Hittite sphere of influence, subject to the king of Carchemish, a Hittite client-king. It was the chief city of a Hittite border province known as the Land of Astata (Ashtata) which included Tell Fray. Correlating the kings of Emar with the known king-list of Carchemish provides some absolute dating. [2]

Archaeological and written documentation come to an end in the late twelfth century BC as a result of the Bronze Age collapse. The actual date of destruction has been placed at 1187 BC in the 2nd regnal year of king Meli-Shipak II of Babylon [3]

The site remained desolate at the unstable eastern borders of the Roman Empire, resettled nearby as Barbalissos. In 253, it was the site of the Battle of Barbalissos between the Sassanid Persians under Shapur I and Roman troops. Its Byzantine history can be followed at Barbalissos.


The initial salvage excavations in advance of the rising waters of the Syrian Tabqa Dam project impounding Lake El Assad were undertaken by two French teams, in 1972-76, under the direction of Jean-Claude Margueron. [4]

Late Bronze Age temple

Excavations revealed a temple area comprising the sanctuaries of the weather god Ba’al and possibly of his consort Astarte of the Late Bronze Age (thirteenth and early twelfth century BC).

Cuneiform tablets

After the conclusion of the French excavations the site was left unguarded and was systematically looted, bringing many cuneiform tablets onto the antiquities gray market stripped of their context. In 1992, the Syrian Directorate-General of Antiquities and Museums took charge of the site, and a fresh series of campaigns revealed earlier strata, of the Middle and Early Bronze Ages (second half of the third millennium and the first half of the second millennium BC) the Imar that was mentioned in the archives of Mari and elsewhere. Beginning in 1996, the Syrian effort was joined by a team from the University of Tübingen Germany. [5] [6]

So far, around 1100 tablets in Akkadian have been recovered from the site, 800 from the excavation and around 300 emerging on the antiquities market. In addition 100 tablets in Hurrian and 1 in Hittite have also been found. All but one of the tablets are from the Late Bronze Age.


  1. Jean-Claude Margueron and Veronica Boutte, "Emar, Capital of Aštata in the Fourteenth Century BCE" The Biblical Archaeologist58.3 (September 1995:126-138); a single Old Babylonian tablet was recovered.
  2. 1 2 Adamthwaite (2001).
  3. Daniel Arnaud, Les textes d'Emar et la chronologie de la fin du Bronze Recent, Syria, vol. 52, pp. 88-89, 1975
  4. Margueron published findings at Emar between 1975 and 1990, beginning with "Les fouilles françaises de Meskéné-Emar", in Comptes-rendus de l'Académie des Inscriptions et Belle-Lettres 1975:201-213; Daniel Arnaud published the cuneiform texts, 1985-87.
  5. U. Finkbeiner, Emar & Balis 1996-1998. Preliminary Report of the Joint Syrian-German Excavations with the Collaboration of Princeton University, Berytus, vol. 44, pp.5-34, 2000
  6. U. Finkbeiner and F. Sakal, Emar after the closure of the Tabqa Dam - The Syrian-German Excavations 1996 - 2002. Volume I: Late Roman and Medieval Cemeteries and Environmental Studies, Brepols, 2010, ISBN   2-503-53320-5

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