Iron in Mari Texts (The Early 18th Century BC)

Arkhipov Ilya S.

Archaeological findings show that iron has been known and used in the Ancient Near East since the IV mil. BC, at the latest. The earliest written evidence of iron dates back to the early II mil. B.C. and comes from Old Assyrian (Cappadocian) tablets. Contemporary Old Babylonian sources about this metal are extremely scarce, with the only exception: over forty Mari documents, mostly administrative texts to be (re)published in ARMT 32, offer rich new data on iron in this period. As everywhere in early Antiquity, iron was highly appreciated in Mari and had an intermediate standing between noble metals and precious stones. Unlike Cappadocian texts that usually speak about raw iron, it is always mentioned in Mari in the form of handicraft objects, which most often served as diplomatic presents between royal courts. These objects include dozens of decorations (ear, finger, arm, ankle and neck rings; dress pins; sun disk and crescent-shaped medallions; seal mountings etc.) as well as weapons, vessels and even a mirror. One document also seems to mention «ironsmiths». This evidence shows that iron, though rare and extremely expensive, was well known in Old Babylonian Upper Mesopotamia and probably far more widespread than usually thought.

Keywords: Mari, Mesopotamia, archaeology, Babylonia, Assyria