The 20,000 cuneiform tablets found in the ruins of the palace at Mari, located on the Middle Euphrates, provide a wealth of evidence for social, political, and economic history, international relations, and the arts and religion in the 18th century B.C.E. This paper focuses on the documents that shed light on the connections between Mari and Minoan Crete. Thanks to recent editions incorporating updated readings and joins, the corpus of relevant texts has nearly tripled since the last time Aegean specialists considered them.
The texts include inventories of Minoan gold and silver vessels, ceremonial weapons, and leather and textile goods, many of which were obtained when King Zimri-Lim of Mari journeyed to Ugarit, on the Mediterranean coast. There, he admired a Cretan boat in the harbor and met Minoan merchants and their interpreter. Back home at Mari, he commissioned a small boat to be made in Minoan style, for which his head of stores obtained a sizable quantity of lapis lazuli for its decoration.
The Mari material opens a unique window onto the Aegean world of the day, largely because Linear A, the Minoan script, remains undeciphered. Two historical nuggets of considerable significance for Aegeanists emerge from my present study. The first gives us a glimpse of who sat upon the throne at Knossos when Zimri-Lim was king at Mari. Often dubbed by Aegeanists the “missing ruler” owing to the absence in Minoan iconography of unambiguously royal imagery, the appearance of this person on a Mari tablet is an exciting development. My second gleaning from the Mari texts offers fresh insight into the nature of the Minoan language, still unidentified.
In addition, this paper asks for the first time what the Mariote scribes might have been looking at and attempting to describe when they made their inventories of Cretan goods. I suggest artifactual analogues for the Mariote mentions of items from Crete, based as closely as possible on contemporaneous examples.
As a specialist in the art and archaeology of the Bronze Age Aegean and ancient Near East, Karen Polinger Foster (Yale University) has published widely in these areas over the course of a long career. One of her many books, Civilizations of Ancient Iraq (co-authored), won the 2010 Felicia Holton Book Award from the AIA. “Mari and the Minoans” brings together for the first time the textual evidence for Minoan items at the royal court of Mari with the artifactual evidence for what the king of Mari may have fancied. The objects include gold and silver vessels, fancy leather shoes, and elaborate weapons. The king was even inspired to have a small boat made in Cretan style.