The Mission and the Site
The Syrian-European Mission at Tell Beydar started in 1992. The Syrian team is composed of scientists from the Directory General of Antiquities & Museums (successive dir.: H. Hammade, A. Suleiman, A. Baghdo).
The European teams currently comprise scholars from the Universities of Brussels, Leuven, Venice, Madrid, Munich and Coimbra, coordinated by the European Centre for Upper Mesopotamian Studies (dir.: M. Lebeau).
Tell Beydar, the ancient city of Nabada, is a medium-size town, built on several terraces and protected by two city walls and seven gates. Its main occupation dates back to the Third Millennium BC (~ 2900-2100 BC).
The most important buildings (Palace and Temples) are located in the centre of the Upper Town. Buildings with an economic function are settled all around. The private house quarters are located further to the periphery.
The earliest written documents of Syria were discovered here (~ 2425 BC). At the time the city is a major town of the Kingdom of Nagar (Tell Brak). In the Akkadian period (~ 2330-2100 BC), the size of the city is drastically reduced.
After a long interruption, the site is reoccupied in the Hellenistic period (~ 175-50 BC).
Tell Beydar: location of the areas of excavations (2010)
Acropolis Palace (~ 2450 BC)
The Acropolis Palace of Tell Beydar is situated on top of a terrace in the N of the Acropolis, widely visible in the middle of the town.
It was built ~ 2500 BC (phase 1). Later on the ground plan was altered twice. In phase 2, two storage wings were added to the E and NW. Later the floors in the W sector were raised and new rooms were built on a higher level (phase 3). What you see is phase 2, which was chosen for restoration.
When the palace was built, Nabada was probably an independent city state with its own ruler. Later the city became part of the Kingdom of Nagar.
The triangular audience room in the W of the palace felt out of use, since Nabada had no independent ruler anymore.
The building served four purposes: (1) it was the centre of the administration for Nabada and its district, (2) the city authorities hosted visitors here, (3) valuable goods were stored, and (4) it served as residence of the city government. Only the reception suite and the storage wings are preserved.
The administration and the private apartments were located at the 2nd floor, which was destroyed.
The Palace was entered by the S from the upper section of Main Street. After passing an entrance room, one reached the central courtyard, which gives access to all ground floor wings.
Acropolis Gate & Main Street (~ 2400 BC)
The Acropolis Gate marks the S limit of the Acropolis, on which the most important buildings related to the local power are located: Palace, Temples A, B, C & D, warehouses and workshops.
Its functional importance is emphasized by a progressively recessed entrance, on the top of a stairway made of basalt slabs.
The gate controls the access to the official sector of Nabada and is installed on “Main Street”, the main axis of the city, which links the S gate of the Upper Town to the entrance of the Acropolis Palace, on the upper terrace.
“Main Street” runs in straight line and crosses at least four different terraces, progressing to the Acropolis Palace entrance. The access from a terrace to the next one is marked by basalt slabs or fired brick stairways, the most monumental one being close to the gates of Temples C and D.
In its upper section, “Main Street” is equipped with a large stone canalisation, the main drainage of the city, which starts from the central courtyard of the Acropolis Palace.
Temple A & Storerooms (~ 2400 BC)
Located on the upper terrace of the Acropolis and leaning against the S side of the Palace, Temple A is the largest of the temples excavated in Tell Beydar/Nabada so far (twelve rooms and an open courtyard, a corridor and a staircase at the ground floor, and an unknown number of rooms on 2nd floor).
Temple A shares the same main characteristics with the other temples : an entrance room with double recessed door, preceded by a small staircase, paved with fired bricks and equipped with a water installation, several bathrooms with toilet, a cella of small size and a wide ceremonial room decorated with an ornamental block with niches and recesses, associated to a bench and a podium.
The S wing of the building consists of small rooms equipped with low bitumen installations and benches, possibly associated with the preparation of offerings. By lack of information due to a very poor state of conservation, the SW angle of the building was purposely not restored. Temple A was rebuilt several times in the Akkadian period. The large grave of a warrior was found several meters under the ceremonial room, dug from the early Akkadian floor level (~2350 BC).
In front of the building, on the other side of a small street equipped by a massive stone drainage, stands a series of storerooms associated to the temple. The building is only preserved at the foundation level.
Temple B, Temple C & Workshops (~ 2400 BC)
Temples B and C are characteristic examples of the sacred architecture in Nabada. A staircase leads to the entrance of Temple B. The temple is composed of six rooms, including a corridor leading to a staircase which reaches the upper terrace of the city. The entrance room is paved with fired bricks. A first bathroom, with a toilet, is installed in the NE part of the temple. In the centre of the building, the wide ceremonial central room comprises a wall equipped with the characteristic feature of the Nabada sanctuaries: an ornamental block, associated with a bench and a low podium.
Two smaller rooms, a cella and a second bathroom compose the W part of the temple.
Temple C is similar to Temple B, but is somewhat larger. The S façade is decorated with ten niches, and the entrance is installed on the E façade.
A vestibule gives access to a 3-flight staircase and to the entrance room, paved with fired bricks. The paved room leads to the first bathroom. To the W, a double-recessed door leads to the central room. A second bathroom and the cella complete the plan. S of the street, an elongated building, in close relation with Temples B and C, is composed of five different units and is accessible by a door and two open corridors. It is composed of workshops and storage rooms.
Temple D (~ 2400 BC)
Solidly installed on the SE angle of the Acropolis and standing on two massive terrace walls, Temple D presents the peculiarity to be L-shaped. Its main façade is nicely decorated with niches and buttresses.
Despite its shape, Temple D shares many features already encountered in Temples B and C: access by a stone staircase, narrow vestibule, entrance room (or courtyard) paved with fired bricks, from which a drainage runs to the street, first bathroom equipped with a toilet, double recessed door leading to the main ceremonial room, equipped with the ornamental block composed of niches and recesses, a bench and a low podium, and two elongated rooms in the SE part of the sanctuary.
Two additional rooms are located in the N part of the temple: the first one is accessible from the paved room or courtyard, the other one, where a fireplace was installed, faces the smallest bathroom.
Later, in the early Akkadian period (~ 2350-2250), Temple D was turned into a private residence, the private dwelling of the chief of the community installed in the ruins of the former city.
Temple E (~ 2400 BC)
Temple E has been excavated in the southern part of the Upper City. It is by far the largest religious building ever discovered at Tell Beydar and it shows striking similarities with the largest temples of Nagar, the capital of the kingdom (Areas FS and SS).
Particularly well preserved, it is a tripartite building, with a large central space surrounded by two wings of smaller rooms. It is to be noted that the main façade, the one opening to the S, was voluntarily dismantled at the end of its occupation. A few cuneiform tablets and many fragments of door sealings were discovered on the floors.
« Southern Square » & « White Hall » (~ 2400 BC)
« Southern Square » is located S of the acropolis, at the foot of « Main Street », which leads to the Palace. It consists of a large courtyard paved of baked bricks. It is surrounded by three imposing façades with niches and recesses. The N one is the limit of the terrace on which is built Temple D; the E and S ones open to series of small rooms. The non-decorated W façade separates the square from Temple E. A podium leans on the S façade. Two accesses, in the SW and SE angles of « Southern Square » lead, through two corridors, to a lower terrace. The baked brick floor of the square, as well as its drainage system, were restored in 2010.
« White Hall », located SE of the courtyard, is a large, square, ceremonial room equipped with a plastered floor, a podium and a bench.
The Eastern Palace (~ 2365 BC) (Field P)
The Eastern Palace is a large building (of at least 35 x 30m) situated in the eastern part of the Upper Town. For its construction in Phase IIIb private houses were destroyed. The building has the same kind of reception suite as the Acropolis Palace and was probably used for official receptions by the elite of the city or even the ruler of Nagar.
The building was transformed into a metal workshop and, at the very end of Phase IIIb, squatters moved in. Finally, in Phase IVa, small houses and workshops existed over the ruins of the former Eastern Palace.
“Tablet House” & Private House Quarter (~ 2400 BC)
The private house quarter, consisting of houses of various sizes, is settled on both sides of a sloping stone-paved street with canalisation. Four houses are built on the E side of the street while five other houses are constructed on its W side. Under the floors of a 3-room house (“Tablet House”), 141 cuneiform tablets were discovered.
About 230 written documents have been discovered so far at Tell Beydar/Nabada. They date to ~ 2400 BC. Most of them were found in private houses; other ones in the Acropolis Palace or in buildings where administrative activities were carried out.
The cuneiform writing is a Sumerian invention and was imported from Lower Mesopotamia to Syria. In Beydar it was used to transcribe the local language, a Semitic language called Akkadian. Like other contemporary sites in Syria (Mari and Ebla) where writing was adopted for administrative purposes, the Beydar tablets record official transactions, quantity of food to be distributed to workmen, payments and accounts of livestock. One literary text, a myth written in Sumerian, was discovered as well.
Clay tablets are not the only written documents. More than 30 bullae (clay lumps) found at Tell Beydar attest the use of writing in connection with sealing.
North-Eastern Inner City Gate and “Northern Building” (~ 2700-2350 BC)
The North-Eastern City Gate is one of the ancient accesses to the Inner City, through which a narrow street lead toward the mound’s central plateau. The “Northern Building”, located on top of the slope overlooking the gate, is a large public complex which was in use in different phases, mainly dated to the Early Jezirah IIIa period.
Besides a more formal wing, it included a sector devoted to large-scale food processing and cooking. The most important find is a small group of administrative texts, which are earlier in date (final IIIa period) than the remaining texts from Tell Beydar.
Hellenistic Palace (~ 150 BC)
During the 1st half of the Hellenistic Period (305-150 BC), Mesopotamia was part of the Greek Seleucid empire. Soon after 150 BC it was conquered by the Parthians. Even though the region was under foreign rule, the old traditions of local Semitic inhabitants continued to be strong.
The Hellenistic palace of Tell Beydar, built around 150 BC, testifies for the continuation of the old Mesopotamian architectural heritage. Its construction took place during the last years of the Greek rule or at the beginning of the Parthian occupation.
The quality of the architecture, its size, and the distribution of the rooms, which presents a perfect symmetry, all indicate an important official building.
A large rectangular courtyard leads northwards to a long hall. The N wing of the building is composed of five rooms in a row, the central one being the largest. The W façade is reinforced by a series of buttresses. This was most probably the case for all the façades. All these characteristics are linked with the old Mesopotamian architectural heritage which still survived after the Greek conquest.
The building was later reoccupied by squatters (~ 75-50 BC), who subdivided the rooms and the courtyard.
A dwelling quarter dating from the Hellenistic period (Area C) (~ 150-50 BC)
Area C is located on the Upper City plateau, NE of the 3rd Millennium palatial complex and SE of the Hellenistic palace. Three campaigns yielded a large and dense architectural complex comprising several buildings. Some of these were most likely built contemporaneously with the Hellenistic Palace, Phase IIa, and appear to have been reoccupied at a later period (equivalent to the Hellenistic Palace, Phase IIb).
The strong pisé walls on a base of basalt boulders appear to have been used as terrace platforms, possibly to counter the natural slope of the surface of the tell and perhaps also to organize the space. It was also clear that the last occupants of the Phase IIb probably left the area quickly, abandoning a large inventory of ceramics and grinding stones.