History Of Nations: Yamhad & Qatna

c. 1810 BC – c.1517 BC

Like with Isin and Larsa, to cut down on the amount of posts I spend talking about obscure Middle Eastern kingdoms before we really move onto fun stuff (not that there isn’t interesting occurences in Yamhad’s history either), I’m combining the two post-Eblaite powers around the time of Mari’s fall into one post. They were contemporaneous with Hammurabi in Babylon and also came up against the Assyrians and the Egyptians. Yamhad’s the more notable of the two so most of this post will be about them but you can’t really forget Qatna either.


Basically in modern-day Syria, while we still don’t have any evidence for a centralised Canaanite state at this time we have plenty of evidence for Semitic states just north of there in Syria. Yamhad was centred on a city whose name has become sadly all too familiar to worldly ears lately, Aleppo, although it was called Halab then. It’s one of the oldest cities in the world and Yamhad was just the latest kingdom centred around it. At its height, Yamhad included all of modern-day Syria, exerting regional dominance over all of the other cities in the area. Meanwhile Qatna was located in southern Syria, with the ancient city of Palmyra located within its, smaller, sphere of influence.

Yamhad was not named after a city like many of the others, Qatna, Mari, Ebla, although an alternative name for this country is indeed Halab. The name Yamhad comes from the dynastic name of the rulers, which is rare in Mesopotamia at this time based on what we’ve dealt with so far. At the time both names were probably used, others might have called them ‘the ones from Halab’ or ‘those of the Yamhadite kings’


The first time we hear of Yamhad in the record is after Ebla fell, in the Old Babylonian Period when we find a seal from Mari that Sumu Epuh of the Amorite Yamhad dynasty rules in the west. Nice and foreboding and slightly ominous. But that they were Amorite meant that they had a similar culture to that that was being fostered in Babylon at the time. They weren’t so keen on the Assyrians though. Aided by some Hurrians from the north, Sumu was attacked by the expansionist Assyrian Empire under Shamshi Adad over the incident with the Mari royalty and Shamshi’s sons. Yumu was killed in one of these engagements

This opened things up for Yarim Lim I, Sumu’s son to push forward his claim to being one of the coveted ‘great kings’ of history. He was probably the greatest of Yamhad.  The Assyrians failed to take Halab and Yarim was able to push them back. Once Shamshi Adad died he put his ally Zimri Lim back on the throne of Mari, just in time for Hammurabi to conquer that city again, but it briefly increased Yamhad’s power such that the control Assyria had just conquered had almost all been lost again. Power switched fairly swiftly (over a mere decade or so) in Mesopotamia. Yamhad was mostly allied to Babylonia (including saving Babylon at one point by destroying the Assyrians in glorious combat) and so there was no risk of Hammurabi’s conquests stretching out that far, the only real reason Mari had fallen was that Zimri-Lim had switched sides to join a coalition against Hammurabi’s expansion.

Faced with a new state of his own to govern, Yarim Lim consolidated his own power by expanding it to city states in Syria, mainly through showing enough power to the local rulers to vassalize them and conducting alliances. His grandson, also named Yarim Lim set up a cadet branch of his family in the city of Alalakh, which would outlast the main dynasty. Dynastic politics was very much a thing even in these early days of history. He was a very powerful ruler by the end of his reign, some posit even more powerful than Hammurabi but for my money I’d still give it to Hammurabi.

Yarim Lim’s son was Hammurabi I, most certainly not named after a nearby king of Babylon. It’s possible. The Yamhadites were also Amorite so would have shared names but based on how little kings of the same kingdom share names in this period I think it is rather likely that he was named to honour the new and powerful ally that Yarim Lim had made. Hammurabi I was very prosperous, continuing the work his father had done, striking at neighbours Qatna, keeping Yamhad strong. Abba-El I was the next, and he let his brother Yarim Lim create the kingdom of Alalakh within Yamhad, while Aleppo remained the seat of power. At this time the Hurrians seem to be growing in power on the borders of Yamhad.

For so many of these kings from now on we don’t know much as Aleppo, surviving as a city to modern times, hasn’t been excavated well, so it’s the names that we have from tablets and seals they sent to other cities that let us know who they were.

Yarim Lim II followed, it’s unconfirmed whether this was Abba-El’s brother (the Alalakh king) or his son, also named Yarim Lim. As Abba-El reigned for thirty years and this king reigned for another twenty years after, it could be either an old king ascending to follow his heirless brother or a son who shared a name with his uncle. Then there’s Niqmi-Epuh, Irkabtum, Hammurabi II, these kings, brothers or sons of the previous, likely just expanded the influence of Yamhad by a few cities, probably also lost a few cities to neighbours. Pretty standardly peaceful.

Yarim Lim III oversees a more difficult period, the Hittites have risen and are beating down the door of the kingdom. He finally conquered Qatna and subdued it for the rest of the Yamhadite period, but got attacked by Hittite king Hattusili I and destroyed Alalakh and several other important Yamhadite cities. Hammurabi III takes over (there’s a bit of confusion as to his identity with other Hammurabi kings) but loses Aleppo to the Hittites. There’s a brief period of Hittite rule of the kingdom and then some Yamhadite kings regain control, we know very little about the details but one king, Ilim-Ilimma, is killed by Mitanni, opening the way for them to dominate the next chapter of Syrian history.

For Qatna, they were mostly a thorn in the side of Yamhad all of the way, allying with their enemies, occasionally placated or conquered by Yamhadite kings, but without any major stories to tell. They were essentially a smaller state by Yamhad that acted independent of them. On the downfall of Yamhad, Qatna was officially under Mitanni rule but ended up being a disputed territory between Mitanni and the risen Egyptian Empire to the south. And then the settlement faded into history.


Amorites and Amorite culture permeated Yamhad, and so it’s pretty typical of Bronze Age Middle East in terms of identity although there’s a definite Hurrian component to it that increases in later generations through more and more religious festivals until the Mitanni finally rise and cement that part of their culture. Dagon and Hadad were the main gods, similar to other states in the area, Hadad being the state’s patron god, all treaties concluded in his name, blessed be his name etc. What we have excavated, mainly from Alalakh tells of a people that used a similar design aesthetic to that of Old Babylonians. There’s one interesting part and it’s that it’s probable that their buildings included some frescos painted by Minoan Greeks from Crete (remember them? it’s been absolutely ages since I’ve done a Greek post) – so much more cross-cultural contact than before and we’re still a thousand years away from Herodotus and his journeys.

Yamhad had valuable markets for copper that traded downstream with the Babylonians, it was this that led to Babylon bringing more Kassites in to control the trade in the parts of the river they couldn’t reach. Trade from Aleppo went out to Egypt, Cyprus, Anatolia, all around. And that’ll lead us to where we head next.

See also in History Of A Nation: Syria

Locals: EblaNagarMari

Conquerors: AkkadNeo-Sumeria, Old Assyria


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