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Dilmun is located in Bahrain
Map showing approximate location of the Dilmun civilization in Bahrain.
Location Eastern Arabia
Region Northern Governorate
Type Ancient
Part of Eastern Arabia
Founded circa 2600 B.C.E.
Abandoned circa 538 B.C.E.
Periods Bronze Age

Dilmun or Telmun[1] was a civilization in Eastern Arabia.[2][3] Dilmun was an important trading centre[2] which at the height of its power controlled the Persian Gulf trading routes.[2] The Sumerians regarded Dilmun as holy land.[4] The scholarly consensus is that Dilmun encompassed Bahrain, Kuwait,[5][6] Qatar and the coastal regions of the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia.[7] Dilmun was mentioned by Mesopotamian civilizations as a trade partner, a source of the metal copper, and an entrepôt of the Mesopotamia-to-Indus Valley Civilization trade route.

It is also noted that Gilgamesh had to pass through Mount Mashu to reach Dilmun in the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh, which is usually identified with the whole of the parallel Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon ranges, with the narrow gap between these mountains constituting the tunnel.[8] Others believe Mount Mashu was one of two ("twin") mountains that held up the sky at the eastern and western extremities of the world. The Sumerian versions of the Gilgamesh epic demonstrate that the earlier versions of the myth sited the Cedar Mountain to the east, in the direction of the rising of Utu, the Sumerian sun god.[9]

Dilmun is regarded as one of the oldest ancient civilizations in the Middle East.[10][11] The Sumerians described Dilmun as a paradise garden in the Epic of Gilgamesh.[12] The Sumerian tale of the garden paradise of Dilmun may have been an inspiration for the Garden of Eden story.[12]


  • History 1
  • Dilmun and mythology 2
  • Location of Dilmun 3
    • Garden of Eden theory 3.1
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6


Dilmun was an important trading center from the late fourth millennium to 800 BC.[2] At the height of her power, Dilmun controlled the Persian Gulf trading routes.[2] Dilmun was very prosperous during the first 300 years of the second millennium.[13] Dilmun's commercial power began to decline between 1000 BC and 800 BC because piracy flourished in the Persian Gulf. In 600 BC, the Babylonians and later the Persians added Dilmun to their empires.

The Dilmun civilization was the centre of commercial activities linking traditional agriculture of the land - then utterly fertile due to artesian wells that have dried since, and due to a much wetter climate - with maritime trade between diverse regions such as the Indus Valley named Meluhha, present ´Omân = Magan, and Mesopotamia.[11] The Dilmun civilization is mentioned first in Sumerian cuneiform clay tablets dated to the late third millennium BC, found in the temple of goddess Inanna, in the city of Uruk. The adjective Dilmun is used to describe a type of axe and one specific official; in addition there are lists of rations of wool issued to people connected with Dilmun.[14]

Correspondence between Ilī-ippašra, the governor of Dilmun, and Enlil-kidinni, the governor of Nippur, ca. 1350 BC.

One of the earliest inscriptions mentioning Dilmun is that of king Ur-Nanshe of Lagash (c. 2300 BC) found in a door-socket: "The ships of Dilmun brought him wood as tribute from foreign lands."[15]

Dilmun was mentioned in two letters dated to the reign of Burnaburiash (c. 1370 BC) recovered from Nippur, during the Kassite dynasty of Babylon. These letters were from a provincial official, Ilī-ippašra, in Dilmun to his friend Enlil-kidinni, the governor of Nippur. The names referred to are Akkadian. These letters and other documents, hint at an administrative relationship between Dilmun and Babylon at that time. Following the collapse of the Kassite dynasty, Mesopotamian documents make no mention of Dilmun with the exception of Assyrian inscriptions dated to 1250 BC which proclaimed the Assyrian king to be king of Dilmun and Meluhha, as well as Lower Sea and Upper Sea. Assyrian inscriptions recorded tribute from Dilmun.

There are other Assyrian inscriptions during the first millennium BC indicating Assyrian sovereignty over Dilmun.[16] One of the early sites discovered in Bahrain suggests that Sennacherib, king of Assyria (707–681 BC), attacked northeast Arabia and captured the Bahrainian islands.[17] The most recent reference to Dilmun came during the Neo-Babylonian dynasty. Neo-Babylonian administrative records, dated 567 BC, stated that Dilmun was controlled by the king of Babylon. The name of Dilmun fell from use after the collapse of Babylon in 538 BC.[16]

There is both literary and archaeological evidence of trade between Ancient Mesopotamia and the Indus Valley civilization (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.

The "Persian Gulf" types of circular, stamped (rather than rolled) seals known from Dilmun, that appear at Lothal in Gujarat, India, and Failaka, as well as in Mesopotamia, are convincing corroboration of the long-distance sea trade. What the commerce consisted of is less known: timber and precious woods, ivory, lapis lazuli, gold, and luxury goods such as carnelian and glazed stone beads, pearls from the Persian Gulf, shell and bone inlays, were among the goods sent to Mesopotamia in exchange for silver, tin, woolen textiles, olive oil and grains.

Copper ingots from Oman and bitumen which occurred naturally in Mesopotamia may have been exchanged for cotton textiles and domestic fowl, major products of the Indus region that are not native to Mesopotamia. Instances of all of these trade goods have been found. The importance of this trade is shown by the fact that the weights and measures used at Dilmun were in fact identical to those used by the Indus, and were not those used in Southern Mesopotamia.

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 (c. 2350–1800 BC), 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. The Bahrain National Museum assesses that its "Golden Age" lasted ca. 2200-1600 BC. Discoveries of ruins under the Persian Gulf may be of Dilmun.[18]

Dilmun and mythology

Dilmun, sometimes described as "the place where the sun rises" and "the Land of the Living", is the scene of some versions of the Sumerian creation myth, and the place where the deified Sumerian hero of the flood, Utnapishtim (Ziusudra), was taken by the gods to live forever. Thorkild Jacobsen's translation of the Eridu Genesis calls it "Mount Dilmun" which he locates as a "faraway, half-mythical place".[19]

Dilmun is also described in the epic story of Enki and Ninhursag as the site at which the Creation occurred. The later Babylonian Enuma Elish, speaks of the creation site as the place where the mixture of salt water, personified as Tiamat met and mingled with the fresh water of Abzu. Bahrein in Arabic means "the twin waters", where the fresh water of the Arabian aquifer mingles with the salt waters of the Persian Gulf. The promise of Enki to Ninhursag, the Earth Mother:

For Dilmun, the land of my lady's heart, I will create long waterways, rivers and canals, whereby water will flow to quench the thirst of all beings and bring abundance to all that lives.

Ninlil, the Sumerian goddess of air and south wind had her home in Dilmun. It is also featured in the Epic of Gilgamesh.

However, in the early epic "Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta", the main events, which center on Enmerkar's construction of the ziggurats in Uruk and Eridu, are described as taking place in a world "before Dilmun had yet been settled".

It is also noted that Gilgamesh had to pass through Mount Mashu to reach Dilmun in the Epic of Gilgamesh, which is usually identified with the whole of the parallel Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon ranges, with the narrow gap between these mountains constituting the tunnel.[8] Others believe Mount Mashu was one of two ("twin") mountains that held up the sky at the eastern and western extremities of the world. The Sumerian versions of the Gilgamesh epic demonstrate that the earlier versions of the myth sited the Cedar Mountain to the east, in the direction of the rising of Utu, the Sumerian sun god.[9]

Location of Dilmun

Ruins of a settlement, believed to be from the Dilmun civilization, in Sar, Bahrain.

Despite the scholarly consensus that ancient Dilmun encompasses three modern locations - the eastern littoral of Arabia from the vicinity of modern Kuwait to Bahrain; the island of Bahrain; the island of Failaka east of Kuwait - few researchers have taken into account the radically different geography of the basin represented by the Persian Gulf before its reflooding as sea levels rose about 6000 BCE.[20]

Location of burial mounds in Bahrain.

In 1987, Theresa Howard-Carter proposed that Dilmun of this era might be a still unidentified tell near the Shatt al-Arab between modern-day Qurnah and Basra in modern day Iraq.[21] In favor of Howard-Carter's proposal, it has been noted that this area does lie to the east of Sumer ("where the sun rises"), and the riverbank where Dilmun's maidens would have been accosted aligns with the Shat al-Arab which is in the midst of marshes. The "mouth of the rivers" where Dilmun was said to lie is for her the union of the Tigris and Euphrates at Qurnah.

As of 2008, archaeologists have failed to find a site in existence during the time from 3300 BC (Uruk IV) to 556 BC (Neo-Babylonian Era), when Dilmun appears in texts. According to Hojlund, no settlements exist in the Gulf littoral dating to 3300-2000 BC. Thus in 2008, archaeologists failed to find a site for Dilmun dating to the time period in which Dilmun first appears in ancient texts (3300-2000 BC). However recently, it was discovered that in 2000 B.C., Mesopotamians inhabited Failaka island.[22] Failaka had many Mesopotamian-style buildings typical of those found in Iraq dating from around 2000 B.C.[22]

Garden of Eden theory

In 1922, Eduard Glaser proposed that the Garden of Eden was located in Eastern Arabia within the Dilmun civilization.[23] Scholar Juris Zarins also believes that the Garden of Eden was situated in Dilmun at the head of the Persian Gulf, where the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers run into the sea, from his research on this area using information from many different sources, including Landsat images from space. In this theory, the Bible’s Gihon River would correspond with the Karun River in Iran, and the Pishon River would correspond to the Wadi Batin river system that once drained the now dry, but once quite fertile central part of the Arabian Peninsula.[24]

See also


  1. ^ The former is the reconstructed Sumerian pronunciation; the latter, the reconstructed Semitic.
  2. ^ a b c d e Jesper Eidema, Flemming Højlundb (1993). "Trade or diplomacy? Assyria and Dilmun in the eighteenth century BC" 24 (3). pp. 441–448.  
  3. ^ "Dilmun and Its Gulf Neighbours". Harriet E. W. Crawford. 1998. p. 9. 
  4. ^ "Egypt's Making: The Origins of Ancient Egypt 5000-2000 BC". Michael Rice. 1991. p. 230. 
  5. ^ "The Invention of Cuneiform: Writing in Sumer". Jean-Jacques Glassner. 1990. p. 7. 
  6. ^ "Area Handbook for the Persian Gulf States". Richard F. Nyrop. 2008. p. 11. From about 4000 to 2000 B.C. the civilization of Dilmun dominated 250 miles of the eastern coast of Arabia from present-day Kuwait to Bahrain and extended sixty miles into the interior to the oasis of Hufuf (see fig. 2). 
  7. ^ "Prehistory and Protohistory of the Arabian Peninsula: Bahrain". M. A. Nayeem. 1990. p. 32. 
  8. ^ a b P. T. H. Unwin; Tim Unwin (18 June 1996). Wine and the Vine: An Historical Geography of Viticulture and the Wine Trade. Psychology Press. pp. 80–.  
  9. ^ a b Tigay, Jeffrey H. (2002). The Evolution of the Gilgamesh Myth. p. 78. Retrieved 9 February 2013. 
  10. ^ "Bahrain digs unveil one of oldest civilisations".  
  11. ^ a b "Qal'at al-Bahrain – Ancient Harbour and Capital of Dilmun".  
  12. ^ a b Edward Conklin. Getting Back Into the Garden of Eden. p. 10. 
  13. ^ "Dilmun and Its Gulf Neighbours". Harriet E. W. Crawford. 1998. p. 152. 
  14. ^ Crawford, Harriet E. W. (1998). Dilmun and its Gulf neighbours. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 5.  
  15. ^ Samuel Noah Kramer (1963). The Sumerians: their history, culture, and character. p. 308. 
  16. ^ a b Larson, Curtis E. (1983). Life and land use on the Bahrain Islands: The geoarcheology of an ancient society. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. pp. 50–51.  
  17. ^ Mojtahed-Zadeh, Pirouz (1999). Security and Territoriality in the Persian Gulf: A Maritime Political Geography. Richmond, Surrey: Curzon.  
  18. ^ The UK Register, Science, Lost ancient civilisation's ruins lie beneath Gulf, By Lewis Page Science, December 9, 2010
  19. ^ Thorkild Jacobsen (23 September 1997). The Harps that once--: Sumerian poetry in translation. Yale University Press. p. 150.  
  20. ^ "8000 years BP": Jeffrey Rose, "New light on human prehistory in the Arabo-Persian Gulf oasis" Current Anthropology 51.6 (December 2010)
  21. ^ Howard-Carter, Theresa (1987). "Dilmun: At Sea or Not at Sea? A Review Article". Journal of Cuneiform Studies 39 (1): 54–117.  
  22. ^ a b "Traders from Ur?".  
  23. ^ W. F. Albright (October 1922). "The Location of the Garden of Eden". The American Journal of Semitic Languages and Literatures 39 (1): 15–31.  
  24. ^ Hamblin, Dora Jane (May 1987). "Has the Garden of Eden been located at last?" (PDF). Smithsonian Magazine 18 (2). Retrieved 8 January 2014. 

External links

  • Indus Valley - Mesopotamian trade passing through Dilmun
  • Lost ancient civilisation's ruins lie beneath Gulf, says boffin
  • Bahrain National Museum's hall of Dilmun
  • Dilmun Site Al-Khidr, Failaka Island, State of Kuwait
  • Greek inscriptions found on Bahrein (a pdf-file)
  • Dilmun Calendar Theory Backed, Gulf Daily News, 11 July 2006
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