History Of A Nation: Nagar

c. 2600 BC – c. 2300 BC

Or Tell Brak, as it’s now known. Because all that remains of this city is a tell, a Middle-Eastern name for a mound that indicates centuries of human occupation and abandonment. It’s been excavated regularly, and though it’s the minor player in the Eblaite, Mariote and Nagarian trinity, it’s still worthy of a post due to having its own clear hegemony over the surrounding areas. Albeit probably not the longest entry I’ve done.


East of Ebla but still in modern Syria, Nagar makes up what is now modern Syrian Kurdistan going south a bit into regions currently occupied by Daesh in the civil war. It is centred around the site of Tell Brak but there are indications that at times they had effective control over many of the nearby settlements along the Khabur river, that flows into the Euphrates and downstream to Sumer. You can imagine that there was a lot of contact between these states, but more principally Nagar’s neighbours Mari and Ebla.


Pretty short for Nagar, because while after the Akkadian Empire fell, a new kingdom rose, it was the centre of a people entirely different to those of the kingdom we’re focusing on, the latter kingdom’s peoples being Hurrian while the first kingdom was Semitic (and its name, Nagar, maybe meaning ‘a cultivated place’), very similar to Ebla in the west.
Halafian peoples had inhabited the site prior to the Semites but the Semites were the first to found a proper kingdom on this ground. When that started, along with Ebla, Mari and the first signs of Akkadian stirring, it completed something called the Kish civilization, which is a term coined to reflect the rise in city states in Mesopotamia during the 3rd millennium BC. And while I’ve split them up into Ebla, Mari, Sumer, Nagar, these were of course just the names of the most prominent cities with the most prominent rulers, as that’s all a state really was back then, a place that had power and vassal cities sworn under it. Loose, loose, loose concepts is completely the watchword to have in mind when I’m describing these ‘states’, it’s something I’ll say over and over again because it bears repeating.

Anyway, the Nagarians completed a fairly large building for the purposes of organising their civilisation around 2600 BC, and start encompassing nearby cities in the same way as nearby Ebla, only slightly less successfully. Most of what we know about Nagar comes from either Mariote or Eblaite texts, mainly the latter, so we don’t have anything or at least, nothing as important as the Eblaite sources on them.

Nagar fought wars with Mari and Ebla, was allied with Ebla, I referenced it almost as an Eblaite vassal in my Ebla post but that was at a key juncture and over the three hundred years that Nagar was also a power it would have had confrontations. Most often though, it seems to have been aligned with Ebla against Mari, so that is where my generalisation comes from.

Eventually, however, all gets destroyed, a few years after Ebla and Nagar fought this big war with Mari. Like with Ebla, it’s either the Mariotes being very successful or it’s Sargon of Akkad sweeping in out of the blue to conquer everything. But unlike with Ebla, Nagar did not come back as an independent state. It was rebuilt under the Akkadian empire but not as a seat of power, and this led to a power gap that would be taken advantage of by Hurrians in Urkesh. Eventually Nagar becomes the centre of a Hurrian dynasty as referenced at the beginning of the timeline, but arguably that is an entirely different state and certainly not one as organised or as well-documented as this Nagar was, and as you can see, there wasn’t much on this one. We’ll certainly cover a Hurrian nation down the road with Mitanni, I’m not sure on this one. But that’s years in the future, don’t worry about that.


We don’t know much about Nagar’s rulers aside from the fact that they took the title ‘En’, thanks again, Ebla tablets, you’ve saved my neck so many times in the Ebla post it was only fitting you’d continue to do so at least a little in the following posts. One Mari source references a ruler called Amar-An, and there is one Nagar king referenced from Ebla called Mara-Il, and scholars think they are the same person as they are the same name but in different systems. He would have ruled about a generation before the collapse of Nagar. And that’s about all for people that we know about. I’m salivating for Akkad, but I think I need to do Mari first.


Potentially a mix of Semite and Hurrian peoples, although we aren’t sure on that as we have very few names to go on for the Semitic side of things and the Hurrian peoples probably only appeared in the region after the Akkadians took the city. I have nothing much to base this on but I get the feeling that early Hurrian influences started to seep in to this kingdom as it went on, certainly it was less Semitic than Ebla. For religion, there is a structure called the Eye Temple as the centre of the religion, but we don’t know to which deity it was dedicated, Ishtar, a Semitic goddess is one possibility or even the Sumerian goddess Innana. But we don’t know. There was a strong emphasis on holy sites in this kingdom and it could have been one of the earliest sites of a true organised religion but the gods it could have worshipped are lost to us, although a mix of Semitic and Sumerian gods seems appropriate.

One interesting point to pick out is that Nagarian acrobats were one of its most famed exports. They were in high demand in Ebla for entertainment purposes and clearly knew how to perform pleasing displays. I was not actually aware the concept of an acrobat or a performer like that existed this early in history so that’s a very cool idea to take away from this. Nagar, the kingdom known for its circus performers.

See also on History Of A Nation: Syria



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