By Nicolas Grimal
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V. T H E BENJAMINITES AND OTHER NOMADS, AND THE HABIRU The steppe occupies a great part of the territories now under consideration. The valley of the Euphrates, which separates Syria from Mesopotamia, is but a fertile ribbon unrolling along a desert landscape. Between the land under cultivation and the desert proper, the limits of which are determined by the annual rainfall, stretches a belt of steppe on which the flocks of nomads find enough to support them. To the west of the Euphrates, this belt goes down as far as the region of Palmyra; to the east, it takes in the region traversed by the Balikh and the Khabur.
The origins of his dynasty are obscure. 5 But it was Iakhdunlim who seems to have laid the foundations of Mari's greatness. In a building1 4 §m, 4, 235. G, 7,36; §1, 5, 31. 8 §1, 5, 29. 3 6 G, 6, 30. G , 6 , 33. Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 MARI 9 record, which by its flawless material execution and brilliant literary qualities shows how far the sons of the desert had adopted Babylonian culture, Iakhdunlim recalls the triumphant campaign he had waged, as the first of his line, on the Mediterranean coast and in the mountains, from which he had brought back valuable timber, while at the same time forcing the country to pay tribute.
This geographical division holds good only on the political plane, for it is probable that the Hurrian population had already swarmed farther southwards. 2 On the other hand, we have in the Alalakh tablets a more recent source which nevertheless allows us to make an instructive comparison. These tablets divide up into two main groups, the older (level VII) going back to the time of the First Dynasty of Babylon. In the society there described the Hurrians appear to be firmly established. Leaving aside the throne, on which there are Amorites, they occupy high civil and religious offices, while the religious practices bear traces of their presence.