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Amorites in A Dictionary of Archaeology --- Edited by Ian Shaw and Robert Jameson (1999)

Amorites --- Ancient Near Eastern people first attested in the mid-3rd millennium BC; they were initially nomadic but eventually settled in large numbers throughout Mesopotamia and the Levant during the 2nd millennium BC. Their name comes from the Akkadian word Amurrum which in turn derives from the Sumerian term Martu (‘west’) which is used to describe both the western desert and the tribes who emanated from that area. The Amorites first appear in texts of the Early Dynastic III period (circa 2600-2350 BC) either as the despised Bedouin in the desert to the west of the Euphrates or as foreign labourers or mercenaries living in the Sumerian city-states of Mesopotamia. The Amorite language (a west Semitic dialect) has survived only in the form of personal names since the Amorites themselves wrote in Akkadian --- the language of the first Semitic-speaking empire in Mesopotamia.

After the fall of the Ur III dynasty (circa 2150-2000 BC) the Amorites not only seized power in most of the existing cities of Sumer and Akkad but also established powerful new settlements. At the same time they spread into the Levant, where they dominated most of the Middle Bronze Age Syro-Palestinian polities, e.g. Yamhad (Tell Atchana) until the arrival of another nomadic West Semitic group --- the Aramaeans --- in the late 2nd millennium BC.

The widespread establishment of Amorite and Elamite kingdoms, replacing the earlier city-states, appears to have had a lasting (and revitalizing) effect on the socio-economic development of Mesopotamia and the Levant, significantly reducing the power of the temples and gradually transferring the ownership of the land into the hands of individuals. The integration of nomadic tribes into sedentary life is clearly a complex process (see Postgate 1992; Kamp and Yoffee l980); and the history of the Amorites is more easily discernible in the textual evidence than in surviving archaeological traces of their material culture. As with the later influx of Aramaeans into Mesopotamia, the more settled Amorites of the 2nd millennium BC appear to have adopted most of the cultural attributes of the peoples whom they supplanted, thus reducing their own impact on the archaeological record. Postgate (1992: 86) points out that in Mesopotamia the Amorites are integrated so completely into society that no trace of them survives the fall of the 1st Dynasty of Babylon.

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