HALL OF EBLA
modern Tall Mardikh, also spelled Tell Mardikh
ancient city 33 miles (53 km) southwest of Aleppo in northwestern Syria.
During the height of its power (c. 2600–2240 BC), Ebla dominated
northern Syria, Lebanon, and parts of northern Mesopotamia (modern Iraq) and
enjoyed trade and diplomatic relations with states as far away as Egypt,
Iran, and Sumer.
Excavation of the tell (mound) now known to be the site of Ebla started
in 1964 with a team of archaeologists from the University of Rome led by
Paolo Matthiae. In 1975 Matthiae's team found Ebla's archives, dating to the
3rd millennium BC. Discovered virtually intact in the order in which they
had once been stored on their now-collapsed shelves were more than 17,000
clay cuneiform tablets and fragments, offering a rich source of information
Part of Ebla's prosperity stemmed from its agricultural hinterland, in
the rich plain of northern Syria, where barley, wheat, olives, figs, grapes,
pomegranates, and flax were grown and cattle, sheep, goats, and pigs were
raised. Beyond, Ebla controlled a group of 17 city-states, probably in what
is now Lebanon and southeastern Turkey, areas rich in silver and timber. The
city proper was a manufacturing and distribution centre. Linen and wool,
including damask cloth, were the main products. Metalworking, including the
smelting and alloying of gold, silver, copper, tin, and lead, was the second
most important activity. Woodworking and the production of olive oil, wine,
and beer also were important.
Trade was the third support of Ebla's economy. Cloth, manufactured goods,
and olive oil were its main exports; imports included gold, silver, copper,
tin, precious stones, and sheep. Because of its geographic location, Ebla
grew wealthy on transit trade. Materials from Iran, Anatolia, and Cyprus
were transshipped to states as distant as Sumer and Egypt. The Egyptian
trade passed through Byblos.
Diplomacy and limited warfare supported Ebla's commercial activities.
Emar, a city strategically located at the confluence of the Euphrates and
Galikh rivers, was tied to Ebla by dynastic marriage. Khammazi was Ebla's
commercial and diplomatic ally in Iran. Commercial treaties were drawn up
with other cities. Mari, on the Euphrates River to the southeast, was Ebla's
great commercial rival. Twice, an Eblaite army marched against it, and for a
time Ebla ruled Mari through a military governor.
Nonhereditary kings governed Ebla for limited terms, and a council of
elders shared in decision making. The manufacture of cloth was under the
queen's charge. Fourteen governors appointed by the king ruled Ebla's
departments, two of them in the city proper.
The religion of Ebla was polytheistic and primarily Canaanite. Dabir was
the city's patron god, but Dagon, Sipish, Hadad, Balatu, and Astarte were
also worshiped. The language of Ebla was a hitherto unknown Canaanite
dialect, most closely akin to the Northwest Semitic languages. The script of
the tablets, however, is Sumerian cuneiform, with closest similarity to
tablets from Adab and Abu Salabikh (now in Iraq). Texts
reveal that Sumerian teachers came to Ebla, and the presence of a “Canal of
Ebla” near Adab attests that Eblaites went to Sumer as well. Vocabularies,
syllabaries, gazetteers, and student exercises that have been recovered show
that Ebla was a major educational centre. The completeness of Ebla's texts,
which at points duplicate fragmentary texts from Sumer, greatly enhances the
modern study of Sumerian.
The prosperity of Ebla caught the attention of the Akkadian dynasty (c.
2334–2154 BC). Although Sargon of Akkad's claim to have conquered Ebla was
cast in doubt by the discoveries in the excavations, the fire that destroyed
the city was probably the result of an attack by Sargon's grandson Naram-Sin
(c. 2240 BC). There followed a 250-year period of impoverishment,
after which an Amorite group sacked Ebla and established its own dynasty.
The Amorites rebuilt the palace and a temple, and a statue representing one
of their kings was excavated in the ruins. Only limited prosperity returned
to the city, and a decorated bone sceptre of the Egyptian king Htp-ib-Re
(reigned c. 1750 BC) indicates renewed relations with Egypt. Ebla's
final destruction occurred in the great upheavals that engulfed the Middle
East about 1650–1600 BC, but many crafts and traditions that originated in
the city lived on in Syrian culture.
3rd mill B.C.
Ebla (Tell Mardikh)
Aleppo Museum - Syria
Ritual altar for sacrificing vows, made from basalt
first mill B.C.
Eblaite language :
Archaic Semitic language, probably the most ancient to survive in
substantial form, dating from the third quarter of the 3rd millennium BC. As
a Northern Central Semitic language, Eblaite is affiliated with the
Afro-Asiatic (formerly Hamito-Semitic) family of languages.
Archaeological excavations in the mid-1970s in Tall Mardikh, near
Aleppo in Syria, yielded substantial written documentation of Eblaite in the
form of cuneiform tablets and fragments of tablets that constituted the
state archives of the ancient city of Ebla. The writing of the
archives is classic Mesopotamian cuneiform using many Sumerian logograms.
Linguistically, Eblaite is part of the Northern Central Semitic group of
languages, which includes Amorite, and is thus distinct from Northern
Peripheral Semitic languages such as Old Akkadian.
The information that the archives give about the political and cultural
activities of Ebla, still in the early stages of investigation,
nevertheless shows that Eblaite was the cultural and administrative idiom of
the chancellery of one of the most highly developed Northwest Semitic areas.
Beyond serving as a local language, Eblaite was probably the dominant
educated language of the stable population throughout the region until the
destruction of Ebla by Naram-Sin about 2240 BC. The language
demonstrates that the geographic influence of Ebla was considerable,
extending north to the Hittite region and perhaps as far south as Egypt.
In addition to revealing the culture of Ebla, the discovery of the
Eblaite tablets has aided comparative studies of Semitic languages—including
Hebrew—and has also aided modern studies of the unrelated Sumerian language.