From Academic Kids

Habiru or Hapiru was the name given by various Sumerian, Egyptian, Akkadian, Hittite, Mitanni, and Ugaritic sources (dated, roughly, from before 2000 BC to around 1200 BC) to a group of people living in the areas of Northeastern Mesopotamia and the Fertile Crescent from the borders of Egypt in Canaan to Iran. Depending on the source and epoch, these Habiru are variously described as nomadic or semi-nomadic, rebellious, outlaws, raiders, mercenaries, servants or slaves, migrant laborers, etc..

The names Habiru and Hapiru are used in Akkadian cuneiform texts. The corresponding name in the consonant-only Egyptian script appears to be `PR.W, conventionally pronounced Apiru (W being the Egyptian plural suffix). In Mesopotamian records they are also identified by the Sumerian logogram SA.GAZ, of unknown pronunciation.

When the first records of the Habiru were found (in Canaanite letters to an Egyptian pharaoh), scholars eagerly equated those people with the biblical`BRY (from עבר), or "Hebrew", and thought that those records provided independent confirmation of the invasion of Canaan by the Hebrews under Joshua. However, in spite of much new evidence and analysis, that hypothesis is still the object of much dispute.


The sources

Sumerian records

Sumerian documents from the reign of Shulgi of Ur (around 2150 BC) describe a class of "unclothed people, who travel in dead silence, who destroy everything, whose menfolk go where they will — they establish their tents and their camps — they spend their time in the countryside without observing the decrees of my king".

Those people are designated by a two-character cuneiform logogram of unknown pronunciation, which is conventionally transcribed as SA.GAZ. Although the logogram occurs in Sumerian literature, the two symbols have no separate meaning in Sumerian. Some scholars have proposed that the logogram was pronounced GUB.IRU in Sumerian.

The SA.GAZ logogram has been identified in some documents with the Akkadian word habbatu which means a "brigand" or "highway robber".

Early Mesopotamian sources

The Sumerian logogram SA.GAZ appears in texts from Southern Mesopotamia, dated from about 1850 BC, where it is applied to small bands of soldiers, apparently mercenaries at the services of local city-states and being supplied with food or sheep. One of those texts uses the Akkadian cuneiform word Hapiri instead of the logogram; another described them as "soldiers from the West".

The Tikunani Prism, dated from around 1550 BC, lists the names of 438 Habiru soldiers or servants of king Tunpi-Teššub of Tikunani, a small city-state in central Mesopotamia. The majority of these names are typically Hurrian, the rest is Semitic, one is Kassite.

Another text from around 1500 BC describes the Hapiru as soldiers or laborers, organized into bands of various sizes commanded by SA.GAZ leaders: one band from Tapduwa has 15 soldiers, another from Sarkuhe has 29, and another has 1,436.

Canaanite sources

The most significant ancient sources that mention the "Habiru" are some letters sent to pharaoh Akhenaten (Amenhotep IV, around 1340 BC) from vassal kings in Palestine, found in the royal archives known as the Amarna letters. These letters, written by Canaanite scribes in Akkadian language and cuneiform script, complain about attacks by tribes that appear to have been nomads or semi-nomads, and which formed shifting allegiances with one or another kingdom in local wars.

Those people are identified by the Sumerian logogram SA.GAZ in some letters, and by the Akkadian name Hapiru in others. They appear to be active on a broad area including Syria (at Upe near Damascus), Phoenicia (Sumur, Batrun and Byblos), and to the south as far as Jerusalem [1] (http://www.touregypt.net/amarna18.htm).

Egyptian sources

Several Egyptian sources, both before and after the Amarna letters, mention a people called `PR.W in the consonant-only Egyptian script, where .W is the plural marker. The pronuciation of this word has been reconstructed as apiru. From similarity of context and description, it is believed that the Egyptian `PR.W are equivalent to the Akkadian Habiru/Hapiru.

In his account of the conquest of Joppa, General Toth of pharaoh Thutmose III of Egypt (around 1440 BC) asks at some point that his horses be taken inside the city, lest they be stolen by a passing Apir.

On two stelae at Memphis and Karnak, Thutmose III's son Amenhotep II boasts of having made 89,600 prisoners in his campaign in Palestine (around 1420 BC), including "127 princes and 179 nobles(?) of Retenu, 3600 Apiru, 15,200 Bedouin, 36,600 Horites," etc..

A stela from the reign of Seti I (around 1300 BC) tells that the pharaoh sent an expedition into Syria or Palestine, in response to an attack of "the apiru from Mount Yarmuta" upon a local town. An unspecified number of the apiru were captured and brought back to Egypt as slaves. (His son Ramses II is traditionally equated with "the pharaoh" of Exodus, Moses's adversary.)

A list of goods bequeathed to several temples by pharaoh Ramses III (around 1160 BC) includes many serfs, Egyptian and foreign: 86,486 to Thebes (2607 foreigners), 12,364 to Heliopolis (2093 foreign), and 3079 to Memphis (205 foreign). The foreign serfs are described as "maryanu (soldiers), apiru, and people already settled in the temple estate".

Hittite sources

The SA.GAZ are mentioned in at least a dozen documents from the Hittite kingdom, starting from 1500 BC or earlier. Several documents contain the phrase "the troops from Hatti and the SA.GAZ troops", Hatti being the core region of the Hittite kingdom. Two oaths from the reigns of Suppiluliumas (around 1350 BC) and Mursilis II (around 1300 BC) invoke, among a long list of deities, "...the Lulahhi gods (and) the Hapiri gods, Ereskigal, the gods and goddesses of the Hatti land, the gods and goddesses of Amurru land, ...".

Another mention occurs in a treaty between kings Duppi-Teshub of Amurru and Tudhaliyas of Carchemish, arbitrated by Mursilis II. The Hittite monarch recalls how he had restored king Abiradda to the throne of Jaruwatta, a town in the land of Barga, which had been captured by the Hurrians and given to "the grandfather of Tette, the SA.GAZ".

Mitanni sources

An inscription on a statue found at Alalakh in southwestern Anatolia [2] (http://www.geocities.com/farfarer2001/alalakh/idrimi_inscription.htm), the Mitanni prince Idrimi of Aleppo (who lived from about 1500 BC to 1450 BC), tells that, after his family had been forced to flee to Emar, he left them and joined the "Hapiru people" in "Ammija in the land of Canaan". The Hapiru recognized him as the "son of their overlord" and "gathered around him;" they are said to include "natives of Halab, of the country of Mushki, of the country Nihi and also warriors from the country Amae." After living among them for seven years, he led his Habiru warriors in a successful attack by sea on the city-state of Alalakh, where he became king.


In the port town of Ugarit in northern Syria, a cuneiform tablet that was still being baked when the city was destroyed (around 1200 BC) mentions the PRM (which are assumed to be the Hapiru, -M being the Ugaritic plural suffix).


Habiru as a loose ethnic group

The Habiru name list on the Tikunani Prism (from Mesopotamia, about 1550 BC) indicates they were originally nothing more than a wandering tribe of Hurrians, but some argue for the disappearance of this ethnic distinction at a very early stage making them a non-exclusive ethnic group. Like the 17th century Cossack bands of Eastern European Steppes, scholars since Moshe Greenberg have envisioned the Hapiru as being formed out of outlaws and drop-outs from neighbouring agricultural societies. The numbers of the Habiru of the 2nd millennium BC grew from the peasants who had fled the increasingly oppressive economic conditions of the Assyrian and Babylonian kingdoms. The career of King Idrimi of Alalakh (ca 1500 – 1450) may provide a parallel on a grander social level: forced into exile, King Idrimi first fled to Emar on the Euphrates, and then to Canaan where he joined other Syrian refugees to live with the wandering Hapiru. His brief biography would not have appeared in inscriptions at all, if he had not been able to return and make a successful new bid for power in the city of Alalakh.

Some scholars have seen the Habiru legacy preserved in the place-names of Iranian Kabira, the Khabur River valley of the Northern Euphrates and perhaps also the Hebron valley.

Habiru and the Hebrew

When the Tell el-Amarna archives were translated, some scholars eagerly equated these Apiru with the Biblical Hebrews (`BRY in the consonant-only Hebrew script). Besides the similarity in the names, the description of the Apiru as nomadic and semi-nomadic tribes attacking cities in Canaan seemed to fit the Biblical account of the conquest of that land by Hebrews under Joshua except that the Habiru core was originally Hurrian not Hebrew.

Scholarly opinion remains divided on this issue. Many scholars still think that the Hapiru were a component of the later peoples who inhabited the kingdoms ruled by Saul, David, Solomon and their successors in Judah and Israel. If the Habiru were the proto-Hebrews, a Hurrian origin would offer strong support for this since many Hurrian cultural themes appear in the bible. Many Biblical proper names (individual, group and place names, as well as the popular -ya name-ending) that have no satisfactory Semitic etymology, can be demonstrated to perhaps descend from Anatolian or North Syrian (Hurrian) onomastics testifing that these names may have entered Hebrew directly from Hurrian. For example, David would have derived from Dudya ("beloved of Ya," where Ya is the Hurrian deity) a Hurrian Habiru name later used as Solomon's coronation epithet and many of David's wandering Hebrews also possess Hurrian Habiru names (e.g. Nihiri).

There have been also theories relating the Habiru to the Biblical personages of Eber and Abraham. While most scholars agree that the theories about Abraham are based on religious beliefs and are without historical foundation, there are some who feel that perhaps Eber represents an etymological link to the Habiru.

Habiru as a general term

As more texts were uncovered througout the Near East, however, it became clear that these Apiru were found throughout most of the Fertile Crescent. The scholars who wrote the Oxford History of the Biblical World concluded that the "Habiru" had no common ethnic affiliations, that they spoke no common language, and that they normally led a marginal and sometimes lawless existence on the fringes of settled society. Those scholars characterized the various Habiru/Apiru as a loosely defined, inferior social class composed of shifting population elements without secure ties to settled communities, who were frequently encountered in texts as outlaws, mercenaries, and slaves. In that vein, some modern scholars consider Habiru and related words to be more of a political designation than an ethnic or tribal one.

See also Bagaudae for similarly uncertain marauders in the Western Lower Roman Empire.

External links


  • Moshe Greenberg, The Hab/piru, American Oriental Society, New Haven, 1955.
  • Oxford History of the Biblical World, page 72. ISBN 0195139372
  • Mirjo Salvini, The Habiru prism of King Tunip-Te??up of Tikunani. Istituti Editoriali e Poligrafici Internazionali, Rome (1996). ISBN 8881470934
  • Robert D. Biggs, (Review of the above). Journal of Near Eastern Studies 58 (4), October 1999, p294.
  • Mendenhall, George E. The Tenth Generation: The Origins of the Biblical Tradition, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1973.
  • Mendenhall, George E. Ancient Israel's Faith and History: An Introduction to the Bible in Context, Westminster John Knox Press, 2001.
  • See Habiru/Sources for a more detailed list and discussion.

bg:Хабиру eo:habiroj ia:Habiru


Academic Kids Menu

  • Art and Cultures
    • Art (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Art)
    • Architecture (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Architecture)
    • Cultures (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Cultures)
    • Music (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Music)
    • Musical Instruments (http://academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/List_of_musical_instruments)
  • Biographies (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Biographies)
  • Clipart (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Clipart)
  • Geography (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Geography)
    • Countries of the World (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Countries)
    • Maps (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Maps)
    • Flags (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Flags)
    • Continents (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Continents)
  • History (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/History)
    • Ancient Civilizations (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Ancient_Civilizations)
    • Industrial Revolution (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Industrial_Revolution)
    • Middle Ages (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Middle_Ages)
    • Prehistory (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Prehistory)
    • Renaissance (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Renaissance)
    • Timelines (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Timelines)
    • United States (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/United_States)
    • Wars (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Wars)
    • World History (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/History_of_the_world)
  • Human Body (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Human_Body)
  • Mathematics (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Mathematics)
  • Reference (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Reference)
  • Science (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Science)
    • Animals (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Animals)
    • Aviation (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Aviation)
    • Dinosaurs (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Dinosaurs)
    • Earth (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Earth)
    • Inventions (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Inventions)
    • Physical Science (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Physical_Science)
    • Plants (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Plants)
    • Scientists (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Scientists)
  • Social Studies (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Social_Studies)
    • Anthropology (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Anthropology)
    • Economics (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Economics)
    • Government (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Government)
    • Religion (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Religion)
    • Holidays (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Holidays)
  • Space and Astronomy
    • Solar System (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Solar_System)
    • Planets (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Planets)
  • Sports (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Sports)
  • Timelines (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Timelines)
  • Weather (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Weather)
  • US States (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/US_States)


  • Home Page (http://academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php)
  • Contact Us (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Contactus)

  • Clip Art (http://classroomclipart.com)
Personal tools