Hematite cylinder seal of Habde-Adad

The Amorites were the indigenous people of central inland and northern Syria. They spoke a Semitic language related to modern Hebrew. During the Early Bronze Age (3200-2000 BC), they developed powerful states such as those centred on Ebla, Carchemish and Aleppo. Enclosed behind large fortification walls, these cities had elaborate palace and temple buildings. The Amorites maintained close diplomatic and trading relations with cities in Mesopotamia to the east and south. This contact is reflected in their art and architecture which is often influenced by that of Mesopotamia. The cuneiform writing system was also adopted from southern Mesopotamia to write the local Semitic languages. In addition, however, the Amorite city-states maintained trading links with Canaan and Egypt.

Many cities in Syria, including Ebla were destroyed around 2300 BC, possibly as part of the military expansion of the kings of Akkad from southern Mesopotamia. Recovery was swift, however, and by the end of this period many Amorites had moved southwards along the Euphrates river and settled throughout Mesopotamia By 1900 BC dynasties of Amorite rulers had come to control many important cities in this region, including Mari and Babylon, whose most famous king was Hammurabi (1792-1750 BC).

During the second millennium, the Amorite population of Syria fell under the control of the Hittite Empire, and only when this empire collapsed in the twelfth century BC, did the Amorites re-emerge as a vibrant and energetic people, known as the Aramaeans.

Image caption: Hematite cylinder seal of Habde-Adad
Old Babylonian Dynasty, about 19th century BC. From Mesopotamia