Sunday, June 12, 2016


Peter Pfälzner, Michel Maqdissi (ed.), Qatna and the Networks of Bronze Age Globalism: Proceedings of an International Conference in Stuttgart and Tübingen in October 2009. Qaṭna-Studien. Supplementa, Bd. 2. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2015. Pp. xi, 584. ISBN 9783447103503. €170.00.

Reviewed by Gary Beckman, University of Michigan (

Version at BMCR home site

Table of Contents

During the Middle and Late Bronze Ages, the territory of today's state of Syria was home to three major political powers: the kingdom of Mari, a city located at Tell Hariri on the Euphrates near the Iraqi border and excavated by French teams since 1933; Yamhad, whose capital Halab/Aleppo lies inaccessible beneath the modern city; and the dominion of Qaṭna, Tell el-Mishrife, situated 18 km northeast of Homs on a tributary of the Orontes River.

This latter site was first excavated from 1924 to 1929 by the Frenchman Robert Du Mesnil du Buisson,1 and work was resumed there in 1999 by a joint Syrian-German-Italian project directed by the editors of this volume. As well as pursuing their field work and publication of results of the dig, Peter Pfälzner and his Tübingen colleagues have organized a number of conferences including the participation of scholars working elsewhere on questions archaeological and historical arising from the study of their findings at Qaṭna. The proceedings of these meetings have been appearing in a special series, of which the volume under review is the second offering.2

Forty-four essays are included here, thirty-two in English, eleven in French, and two in German. In addition, as the conclusion of the book, the reader is offered edited transcripts of four panel discussions, mostly conducted in English—on "International Style" artifacts (see below), on wall paintings, on Hittite imperial expansion into northern Syria in the fourteenth century, and on the ceramics of Qaṭna and their implications for regional chronology.

Since the finds at Tell el-Mishrife have been rich indeed—including the extensive architectural remains of the palace, the nearly intact communal tomb of the local ruling family, and the archive of King Idadda (more than fifty tablets, plus fragments)3—the interpretation of this material has allowed the participants to make significant contributions to our knowledge of the history and culture of Syria in the earlier second millennium B.C.E.

In particular, given the spectacular grave goods recovered from Qaṭna's royal hypogeum, art-historical matters are treated in a number of the essays here. Particularly notable are Elisa Roßberger's study of the jewellery from the crypt, which she concludes was all manufactured locally, perhaps even in the palace workshop (p. 232),4 and the comparison by Annie Caubet and François Poplin of the corpus of ivory carvings from Qaṭna with those from slightly later contexts at Ugarit. Their research has determined that the great majority of the Qaṭna ivories were fabricated from the canine teeth of hippos rather than from the tusks of elephants (p. 133).5 Constance von Rüden examines the fragmentary wall paintings of the royal palace and concludes that while the techniques employed in creating them had undoubtedly been borrowed from the Aegean, where this decorative genre is best represented archaeologically, the actual artists at work in Qaṭna were native Syrians (p. 254).6

Perhaps the most significant art-historical piece,7 however, is Peter Pfälzner's engagement with the influential study of Marian Feldman on the luxury goods exchanged among the courts of the Late Bronze Age.8 Since Feldman's book was published before the finds of the Tell el-Mishrife tombs had been brought to the attention of the wider scholarly community and she therefore could not take them into account, the eternal possessions of the Qaṭna rulers present a fresh body of material against which to evaluate her conclusions.9

Feldman intentionally limits the corpus of what she calls the "international artistic koiné" to Late Bronze Age objects created from exotic and expensive materials whose iconography, manufacture, and style cannot be identified as belonging to any particular culture—Egyptian, Syrian, Aegean, Mesopotamian, etc. Furthermore, she draws a parallel between the production of such objects and the intensive inter-state diplomatic correspondence attested for the fourteenth and thirteenth centuries B.C.E.10 She suggests that this obscurity of origin was intentional, a kind of cultural bleaching, employed in order to make the treasures acceptable to any and all rulers participating in the system.

Pfälzner takes issue with this interpretation on two basic grounds: First, the network of correspondents (primarily the monarchs of Egypt, Babylonia, Mittani, Assyria, and the Hittite realm of Hatti) does not really correspond to the map of the find-spots of the pieces Feldman assigns to her "koiné" (pp. 182-83). Perhaps more significantly, given the chance of discovery that might be invoked to counter this objection, it is hard to imagine just what supra-national authority might have established and enforced the characteristics of this "koiné" (p. 184). Indeed, Pfälzner considers several objects and motifs included by Feldman in her corpus and finds good reasons for assigning them to what he terms the "hybrid regional styles" (p. 186) of Egypt, Ugarit, "western central Syria" (p. 207), etc. If his analyses are accepted, these artifacts must of course be subtracted from Feldman's body of material, already significantly more restrictive than what most other scholars consider to be the corpus of the Late Bronze Age International Style.11 Pfälzner concludes that "a real international style did not exist at this time" (p. 214).

I would add that given the prestige and social distinction normally accruing in most cultures to the possessors of exotic objects, it seems most unlikely that the presence of foreign motifs would render an artistic creation unacceptable to a member of an ancient ruling class.

Historical matters are the subject of many contributions to this collection: Frans von Koppen collects the Old Assyrian material mentioning Qaṭna, while Nele Ziegler considers the history of the city during the Old Babylonian period in light of the tablets from the Mari archives. Henri Loffet plausibly identifies Qaṭna with the Qadem appearing in Egyptian sources, and Horst Klengel surveys the role played by Qaṭna in international trade across the second millennium. In a most useful essay, Joachim Marzahn considers the history of the central Syrian statelets, including Qaṭna, as reflected in the cuneiform letters found at Egyptian Tell el-Amarna.12

Finally, Stefano de Martino re-examines Mittani's exercise of hegemony in western and central Syria and Gernot Wilhelm evaluates the end brought to that domination in the mid-fourteenth century by Suppiluliuma I of Hatti, as documented by various textual sources, including the Shattiwaza treaty (CTH 51-52) and the newly recovered correspondence of Idadda of Qaṭna.

Given that the tragic events in Syria have made a return to the field at Qaṭna in the near future unlikely, the editors have included in this volume fifteen interim reports on aspects of their excavations, some including data from work as late as the 2011 season (pp. 357-512). Most interesting among these are Conrad Schmidt's comparison of the large well shaft in Qaṭna's royal palace with similar structures at Hazor and Megiddo; Carsten Witzel's analysis of the bones and teeth from the hypogeum, which leads him to recognize in these remains "the health consequences of a pronounced social stratification in this period" (p. 500); and Emmanuelle Vila's discussion of the ritual deposition of one or more Asian elephants (Elephas) beneath the floor of two rooms of the palace, followed by her consideration of the difficult question of the presence of such beasts in the wild in Bronze Age Syria.13

The inclusion of the term "globalism" in the volume's title, perhaps in an effort to lend a soupçon of contemporary relevance to the collection, strikes this reviewer as grandiose, since the only aspects of interaction among societies treated here are diplomacy and the production of luxury goods for the elites. As Reinhard Bernbeck remarks in his theoretical introductory chapter, "presently available knowledge" does not allow for secure evaluation of "the relations between political and economic dimensions of Bronze Age networking" (p. 6). Certainly economic development in, say, Egypt, had little effect on the conditions under which the peasantry of Mesopotamia toiled.

This well produced and fully illustrated volume deserves a place in every research collection devoted to the pre-Classical archaeology of the Old World.


1.   For a review of the tablets found during these earlier seasons, see the contribution of Virginie Muller to this collection.
2.   The other collections currently available are: Peter Pfälzner et al. (edd.), (Re-)constructing funerary rituals in the ancient Near East. Proceedings of the First International Symposium of the Tübingen Post-Graduate School "Symbols of the Dead" in May 2009. Qaṭna-Studien. Supplementa, Bd. 1. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2012; Peter Pfälzner et al. (edd.), Contextualizing grave inventories in the ancient Near East. Proceedings of a workshop at the London 7th ICAANE in April 2010 and an international symposium in Tübingen in November 2010, both organized by the Tübingen Post-Graduate School "Symbols of the Dead." Qaṭna-Studien. Supplementa, Bd. 3. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2014.
3.   Thomas Richter and Sarah Lange, Das Archiv des Idadda. Die Keilschrifttexte aus den deutsch-syrischen Ausgrabungen 2001-2003 im Königspalast von Qaṭna. Qaṭna-Studien, Bd. 3. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2012. See my forthcoming review in Orientalistische Literaturzeitung.
4.   For her full study of this material, see Elisa Roßberger, Schmuck für Lebende und Tote. Form und Funktion des Schmuckinventars der Königsgruft von Qaṭna in seinem soziokulturellen Umfeld. Qaṭna-Studien, Bd. 4. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2015. On jewellery, see also here Edilberto Formigli's juxtaposition of manufacturing techniques attested in Bronze Age Syria with those in use in later Etruria.
5.   See also Luigi Turri's consideration in this volume of the various use of materials—ivory, bone, and antler—in the workshops of Late Bronze and Iron Age Western Asia.
6.   For a more extensive discussion, see Constance von Rüden, Die Wandmalereien aus Tell Miårife/Qaøna im Kontext überregionaler Kommunikation. Qaøna Studien, Bd. 2. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2011.
7.   Additional contributions dealing with objects from the royal grave chamber are those of Valeria Paoletti on the pottery, Alexander Ahrens on the stone vessels, Nicole Reifart on the mineralized remains of textiles, and Ahmad A. al-Rawi on weapons.
8.   Marian H. Feldman, Diplomacy by Design. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006. See the critical review of this book by Erika Fischer, Die Welt des Orients 41 (2011) 240-49. Fischer also participated in the panel discussion on the "International Style" included in the collection reviewed here.
9.   Feldman summarizes her arguments in her contribution to this book and in the relevant panel discussion.
10.   On this discourse, see the introduction to my Hittite Diplomatic Texts, second ed. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 1999.
11.   See Erika Fischer's essay in this volume and her "Die so gennante Internationale Stil der Späten Bronzezeit," Ugarit-Forschungen 39 (2007) 803-86, esp. 859-75.
12.   Most welcome are the photographs Marzahn provides of the El Amarna tablets held in Berlin's Vorderasiatische Museum (VAT numbers).
13.   Vila concludes that "[a]n introduction of the elephant in the very late Early Bronze Age is the most convincing hypothesis" (p. 494). On the geographic spread of both species of elephants in the ancient world, see now Thomas Trautmann, Elephants and Kings: an Environmental History. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015, esp. pp. 1-49.

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