Dilmun

From Academic Kids

Dilmun (sometimes transliterated Telmun) is associated with ancient sites on the islands of Bahrain in the Persian Gulf. Because of its location along the sea trade routes linking Mesopotamia with the Indus Valley Civilization, Dilmun developed in the Bronze Age, from ca 3000 BCE, into one of the greatest entrepots of trade of the ancient world.

There is both literary and archaeological evidence for the trade between Mesopotamia and the Indus Valley (probably correctly identified with the land called Meluhha in Akkadian). Impressions of clay seals from the Indus Valley city of Harappa were evidently used to seal bundles of merchandise, as clay seal impressions with cord or sack marks on the reverse side testify. A number of these Indus Valley seals have turned up at Ur and other Mesopotamian sites. "Persian Gulf" types of circular stamped rather than rolled seals, known from Dilmun, that appear at Lothal in Gujarat, India, and Faylahkah, as well as in Mesopotamia, are convincing corroboration of the long-distance sea trade. What the commerce consisted of is less sure: timber and precious woods, ivory, lapis lazuli, gold, and luxury goods such as carnelian and glazed stone beads, pearls from the Gulf, and shell and bone inlays, were among the goods sent to Mesopotamia in exchange for silver, tin, woolen textiles, perhaps oil and grains and other foods. Copper ingots, certainly, bitumen, which occurred naturally in Mesopotamia, may have been exchanged for cotton textiles and chickens, major products of the Indus region that are not native to Mesopotamia— all these have been instanced.

Mesopotamian trade documents, lists of goods, and official inscriptions mentioning Meluhha supplement Harappan seals and archaeological finds. Literary references to Meluhhan trade date from the Akkadian, the Third Dynasty of Ur, and Isin - Larsa Periods (ca 2350 - 1800 BCE), but the trade probably started in the Early Dynastic Period (c. 2600 BC). Some Meluhhan vessels may have sailed directly to Mesopotamian ports, but by the Isin - Larsa Period, Dilmun monopolized the trade. By the subsequent Old Babylonian period, trade between the two cultures evidently had ceased entirely.

The Bahrain National Museum assesses that its 'Golden Age' lasted ca 2200 - 1600 BCE. Its decline dates from the time the Indus Valley civilization suddenly and mysteriously collapsed, in the middle of the second millennium BCE. This would of course have stripped Dilmun of its importance as a trading center between Mesopotamia and India. The decay of the great sea trade with the east may have affected the power shift northwards observed in Mesopotamia itself.

Evidence about Neolithic human cultures in Dilmun comes from flint tools and weapons. From later periods, cuneiform tablets, cylinder seals, pottery and even correspondence between rulers throw light on Dilmun. Written records mentioning the archipelago exist in Sumerian, Akkadian, Persian, Greek, and Latin sources.

Dilmun, sometimes described as 'the place where the sun rises' and 'the Land of the Living' is the scene of a Sumerian creation myth and the place where the deified Sumerian hero of the flood, Ziusudra (Utnapishtim), was taken by the gods to live for ever.

There is mention of Dilmun as a vassal of Assyria in the 8th century BCE and by about 600 BCE it had been fully incorporated into the Neo-Babylonian Empire. Dilmun then falls into deep eclipse marked by the decline of the copper trade, so long controlled by Dilmun, and the switch to a less important role in the new trade of frankincense and spices. The discovery of an impressive palace at the Ras al Qalah site in Bahrain is promising to increase knowledge of this late period.

Otherwise there is virtually no information until the passage of Nearchus, the admiral in charge of Alexander the Great's fleet on the return from the Indus Valley. Nearchus kept to the Iranian coast of the Gulf, however, and cannot have stopped at Dilmun. Nearchus established a colony on the island of Falaika off the coast of Kuwait in the late 4th century BCE and explored the Gulf perhaps least as far south as Dilmun/Bahrain. From the time of Nearchus until the coming of Islam in the 7th century AD Dilmun/Bahrain was known by its Greek name of Tylos. Shapur II annexed it, together with eastern Arabia, into the Persian Sasanian empire in the 4th century CE.

For its Islamic Arab history since the 7th century, see Bahrain.

External links

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