Qarni-Lim Palace


In 1991, excavations at Tell Leilan uncovered 325m2 of a palace dating to the 18th century BC (Fig. 1). A small initial sounding first uncovered an elite burial with rich grave goods that had been placed in the ruins of a large building. When the excavation was expanded, the plan of this building, and its resemblance to the other early second millennium palace from Leilan, became clear. 651 tablets, most from a “beer archive” were found in a large northern courtyard and in the tablet room (Pulhan 2000: 317). Nearly all of the texts were sealed by Šamaš-dajjan, a servant of Qarni-Lim, indicating that Qarni-Lim was the owner and occupant of this palace (Van de Mieroop 1994). Interestingly, Qarni-Lim was never king of Tell Leilan, but was a ruler of Andarig, a city in northern Iraq, from ca. 1770-1766 BC. Letters from Mari record that he arranged the funeral of an earlier king of Leilan, Turum-natki, and was responsible for placing two more kings-Zuzu and Haja-Abum - on Šubat-Enlil’s throne. Qarni-Lim probably built and used this palace as an embassy during his visits to Šubat-Enlil while he exercised his influence over two Leilan kings, Zuzu and Haja-abum. Leilan Treaty 1, which Qarni-Lim and Haja-abum concluded together with an unidentified king, illustrates his power at Šubat-Enlil (Eidem 2008). Although cuneiform tablets from this period indicate that kings often possessed multiple palaces, or “houses,” in different capitals, the Qarni-Lim palace is the first actual “embassy” ever discovered.

Figure 1.

The Construction History of the Qarni-Lim Palace

Only one phase of the Qarni-Lim palace itself was uncovered in Operation 7, but two phases related to the early second millennium BC were found here. The later phase is comprised of three elite burials placed in the ruins of the palace and probably date to soon after the abandonment of Tell Leilan in 1728 BC. The earlier phase is comprised of the palace itself.

The burials: Three burials were cut into the ruins of the Qarni-Lim palace. One was a vaulted tomb (Fig. 2) built of mudbrick, baked bricks and stone; the other two (burials 2 and 3) were simple pit graves. Above the vaulted tomb, lying atop the mudbrick superstructure of this tomb were three ceramic vessels: a beer jar, a painted jar and a small bowl. The tomb itself contained seven more ceramic vessels (including two more beer jars), a copper bowl, drinking tube and conical strainer (equipment needed to drink Mesopotamian beer, which was often thick and cloudy), while a bronze toggle pin, gold ring, and more than a hundred beads of semi-precious and plain stones were found around the skeleton. Below the burial were animal bones and fragments of finely made vessels, perhaps the remains of the funeral feast, or of food offerings for the dead. The two pit graves also contained bronze and ceramic object. A bronze ring and two bronze pins were placed near the skeleton in burial 2. Similarly, the body in burial 3 was buried with two bronze pins and two beer jars.1

The palace: The excavations uncovered twelve rooms of this palace. In the north lay a 10X10.4m courtyard (room 10) with a simple stamped-earth floor. 1 tablet and seven tablet fragments were found in the courtyard; they recorded issues of barley rations two dependents of the palace. Southeast of the courtyard lay room 12, the tablet room, which contained 647 tablets from the beer archive of Šamaš-dajjan. These tablets were originally stored in four small jars, which had broken in antiquity, scattering their contents across the room (Fig. 3). Room 12 was probably an administrative office, which oversaw the production and distribution of beer in the palace. South of room 12 were the remains of another courtyard, only a small portion of which was retrieved. South of room 10 were eight small rooms, which were probably kitchens and storage rooms, where beer and barley were prepared before being distributed to the inhabitants and dependents of the palace (Pulhan 2000). The historical evidence from the archive allows us to finely synchronize the occupation of the Qarni-Lim palace with Building Level III of the Eastern Lower Town Palace.

Figure 2.
Figure 3.

Beer at the Qarni-Lim Palace

All of the tablets found in Room 12 belonged to a beer archive, which contained two types of documents: receipts for barley or products used to brew beer (80 tablets) and records of beer distributed to individuals or groups of people (447 tablets). The central figure in the beer administration was a man called Mutu-ramê, who both received the ingredients and distributed the beer (Van de Mieroop 1994: 310). All of the tablets were written over the course of four years. Šamaš-dajjan-whose seal was rolled over nearly all of the documents-appears in one text as someone who sends malt to Mutu-ramê. Perhaps Šamaš-dajjan was the official in charge of beer for all of Qarni-Lim’s palaces, and was thus responsible for beer distribution for the embassy in Tell Leilan as well. The 447 tablets date to a 20 month period and record the beer that Mutu-ramê issued to individuals and groups. This was probably a daily activity, since we have more than 22 distribution tablets per month— which also showed that Mutu-ramê also worked very hard (Van de Mieroop 1994: 317). Recipients of the beer include named officials, the ombudsman, the royal harem, cooks, a wet-nurse, the carpenters, the sedan carriers, the messengers, and the embassy of Sumi-etar, among others. Among the beer archive, two small tags were found reading, “1.2 liters good beer, for the royal servants.” These tags may have served as coupons which could have been exchanged for beer at Mutu-ramê’s office (Van de Mieroop 1994: 338).

This beer may have been manufactured in the rooms to the southeast of Mutu-ramê’s office (Fig. 4). The kitchens and the courtyard provided a workspace to prepare the malt, ferment it, clarify it and turn it into beer. The stone mortars found in the palace could have been used to crush the barley and the ovens to bake the beer bread. Although no large vats for fermentation were found in the palace, one was found nearby, in operation 8. Complete and fragmentary “beer jars” with standardized capacities of 2.4 liters were found in the palace and in the graves. Mutu-ramê may have used these beer jars to distribute beer to palace residents.

Beer was an essential feature of life in Mesopotamia. Palace workers were given daily rations of bread and beer, which were baked and brewed in institutional kitchens within the palace. Beer-drinking was also an important part of Mesopotamian festivals. Banquet scenes that depict people-everyone from kings to prostitutes-drinking beer from long straws were popular throughout Mesopotamian history. Mesopotamian beer still contained barley hulls and yeast particles, so people filtered it by using a sieve, or a straw with an attached strainer.

A Sumerian hymn to the goddess of beer, Ninsaki-inscribed on a clay tablet at about the same time that Qarni-Lim built his palace-illustrates how much Mesopotamians appreciated this beverage:

May the heart of your god be well disposed towards you! Let the eye of
the gakkul vat be our eye, and let the heart of the gakkul vat be our heart!
What makes your heart feel wonderful in itself also makes our hearts feel
wonderful in themselves! We are in a happy mood, our hearts are joyful!
You have poured a libation over the fated brick, and you have laid the
foundations in peace and prosperity – now may Ninkasi dwell with you!
She should pour beer and wine for you! Let the pouring of the sweet liquor
resound pleasantly for you!

In the troughs made with bur grass, there is sweet beer. I will have the
cupbearers, the boys and the brewers stand by. As I spin around the lake of
beer, while feeling wonderful, feeling wonderful, while drinking beer, in a
blissful mood, while drinking alcohol and feeling exhilarated, with joy in
the heart and a contented liver – my heart is a heart filled with joy! I
clothe my contented liver in a garment fit for a queen! The heart of Inana
is happy once again; the heart of Inana is happy once again! (Black 1999)

Figure 4.

Works Cited

  • Black, Jeremy. 1999. A Drinking Song:
  • Eidem, Jesper. 2008. The Royal Archives from Tell Leilan: Old Babylonian Letters and Treaties from The Lower Town Palace. Yale Tell Leilan Research, Vol. 2. London and New Haven: Yale University Press.
  • Pulhan, Gül. 2000. On the Eve of the Dark Age: Qarni-Lim’s Palace at Tell Leilan. Ph.D. Dissertation, Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, Yale University, New Haven, CT.
  • Van de Mieroop, Marc. 1994. The Tell Leilan Tablets 1991: A Preliminary Report. Orientalia 27:305-344.