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or Ebla, Syria


HAVE YOU HEARD of the Empire of Ebla? It is not surprising if you have not - for modern history text books make no references to this kingdom, which existed from approximately 2,300 B.C. to 1,700 B.C.

In fact, only students of ancient Middle East history are likely to have come across the name of Ebla, and even then, only in passing - not realising the extent and power of this empire which stretched around the shores of the eastern Mediterranean for nearly 600 years. Now the re-writing of our history books will again be necessary to fill the gaps in our knowledge of the past; for there has been a remarkable archaeological discovery in Syria between Aleppo and Damascus, on the site of Tel Mardikh.

On this site of a 4,000 year old fortification, perhaps the most remarkable 'find' of the century has been uncovered - 18,000 fired clay and rock tablets relating to the economy, administration and international dealings of this once great empire of Ebla.

Popular history of the third millennium B.C. is taught with little regard for the Biblical account of the customs, manners, social behaviour and level of education of the people of this period.

Now for the first time it appears that there exists a record contemporary with the Biblical account of the times, and so different is the picture it reveals from that of accepted historical suppositions, that the linguist in charge of the tablets, Dr Pettinato, has claimed that this discovery calls for a fundamental revision of third millennium B.C. culture and history.

The tablets were discovered in some out-buildings of a palace situated within the vast fortifications around the top of the tel. Many of the buildings, due to their solid roofs of some two feet in thickness, are intact and free of debris. Most of the walls are plastered a grey-green colour, with murals in good condition. The two rooms in which the tablets were discovered had been shelved with wood but, due to time and the weight of the tablets, this shelving had collapsed with some breakages; but the tablets, many containing 3,000 lines of cuneiform writing, are in readable condition.

The tablets tell of an 'empire' and names many areas under the control of Ebla, such as Sinai, Assyria, Lebanon, Cyprus, Carchemish, Lachish, Gaza, Hazor and others. Bible students will readily recognise that many of these names appear in the Old Testament record and it is interesting to note that of the three languages of the tablets, an hitherto unknown tongue, closely resembling Hebrew is prevalent and many common names recorded by the people of Ebla are easily recognisable to Bible readers.  


Further, many common Ebla words are the same as Hebrew, such as 'and' (WA), 'perfect' (TAMMIN), 'fall' (NAPAL) and 'good' (TOB).

But perhaps most interesting of all are the quite extensive descriptions of the Creation and of the Flood, so often derided by modern historians.

The tablets are being translated and published and their contents will be invaluable in enlarging our understanding of the world of 2,000 BC; for they reveal a sophisticated system of international and civil law, including treaties of trade between Ebla and her neighbours within the framework of political agreements. These have been likened to the present-day Treaty of Rome between the EC members.

In addition, long lists of zoological, geographic and mathematical material have been found and there are weather forecasts in some meteorological texts. Records were made of visiting Mesopotamian scribes and mathematicians.

Proverbs and literary works are also preserved, including a set of bilingual tablets for the purpose of teaching translation, besides thousands of matching words. There seems no doubt that the tablets of Tel Mardikh contain the worlds oldest vocabulary lists - a source of no little consternation to students of ancient languages; for it is widely held that Biblical Hebrew is an evolved language, used during the first millennium BC Isaiah, the Hebrew prophet however, had indicated that his language was 'the language of Canaan', [Isaiah 19v18] and the Tel Mardikh tablets now support the Biblical reference - Hebrew has now to be recognised as one of the world's oldest languages (and perhaps the language spoken by Noah, Canaan being the grandson of Noah through Ham). [ Genesis 10v6]

Interesting for Bible students is the fact that the Bible records that Abram, together with his father Terah, left the city of Ur in southern Mesopotamia to go into Canaan. They travelled as far as Haran and dwelt there. [Genesis 11v31,32] Haran was some 300 miles north east from the site at Tell Mardikh and appears to be named after Haran, Abram's brother. [ Genesis 11v27 ] On his journey to Canaan, Abram in all probability, passed through Tel Mardikh, the then centre of trade and commerce, and of course, the language of Abram would be that of Ebla and of Canaan.

The other two languages written in cuneiform and discovered at Tel Mardikh are Sumerian and Akkadian. It had previously been assumed that the earliest cuneiform languages, were these two languages, developed in east and south Mesopotamia and the possibility that Syrian and Canaanite communications existed in cuneiform had been ruled out (with the exception of Ugaritic texts). But the Tel Mardikh tablets now reveal Sumerian scripts pre-dating those found in eastern Mesopotamia - throwing accepted theories of language origins to the winds. The Akkadian scripts found at Tel Mardikh refer mainly to the later period of the history of Ebla. One of the deities worshipped at Mardikh was Marduk or the Merodak of the Bible. It appears to be basically the same name as Nimrod, the 'mighty hunter before the Lord' mentioned in Genesis 10v9 Nimrod, who founded the city of Babel, appears to have been deified and the cult continued long after Ebla had ceased. The main consonants of Nimrod are M R D, hence:

N i M R o D
M a R D ikh
M e R o D ak

Tel Mardikh was then the place of worship for Mardikh.

The finds of Tel Mardikh and the Empire of Ebla, so far have only revealed confirmation of the scriptural narrative.

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The ruins of an ancient city called Ebla (modern Tel Mardikh) -- whose lavish and richly productive culture, c. 2250 B.C., was amply documented in the Mari archives, and referred to as well in nearly every relevant library, inscription and archive from Carchemish to Qatna -- are strewn across the rolling green landscape of western Syria, some 55 kilometers south of Aleppo and just three kilometers east of the Aleppo-Damascus highway, in the jurisdiction of Idlib, 26 kilometers to the northwest.

Historical Ebla is mentioned specifically as a center of far-reaching political and military impact, as well as commercial influence, in Akkadian texts c. 2300 B.C., inscriptions from Alalakh (Tell Atchanah) in the Amuq plain, c. 1750 B.C., and from Emar (Meskeneh), c. 1400 B.C. References appear as well in the annals of Thutmose III as described on the walls of Karnak, and Hittite texts from Anatolia. Its precise whereabouts, however, was still a mystery, until the eventual soundings across sixty hectares, at a selected location on Tell Mardikh, revealed the ruins of the public buildings, perimeter walls, palaces and temples of the archaeological Ebla, "White Rock", referring to the natural limestone hill which ultimately evolved into the acropolis of a political and economic power stretching from the Taurus mountains to the north, the Euphrates to the east, and Hama to the south.

According to the findings, beginning in 1964, of the Italian archaeological mission from the Rome university of "La Sapienza", under the direction of Paolo Matthiae, Ebla reached its peak during the mid-Third Millennium as the capital of a mighty kingdom, with rich trade connections across the region, as documented in an astonishing cache of 8000 clay tablets unearthed between 1974 and 1976.

The Ebla tablets, written in a Semitic language now defined as Eblaite, were sufficiently detailed and convincing to have led to the revision of every prior assumption regarding Third Millennium urban structure, Amorite expansion of the period, and Ebla's role, not only as an independent kingdom but as a key player among the dominant regional hegemonies, particularly as an ally of the nearby kingdom of Yamkhad, with its capital in Aleppo.

Texts from Emar, says Amelie Kuhrt, along with the virtually contemporary material from Ugarit, texts from Alalakh IV and VII, and the vast archives from Mari, combined with the evidence from Ebla's own archives, provide "an extraordinarily vital picture of a cosmopolitan and distinctive regional Syrian culture", based on independent city-states whose destinies were interwoven as a result of their commercial and political alliances, as well as their inevitable rivalries. "They were frequently dominated by the larger empires to the north, east and south, but they nevertheless preserved their individual cultural identity, which has only begun to be understood more fully over the last half of the twentieth century."

Ebla, one of the most interesting and far-reaching among them all, has yielded invaluable archaeological material, including palaces, library, temples, a strongly fortified city-wall, and subterranean tombs analogous to those found slightly later in Ugarit, all of which indicate the city's ascendance, collapse and revival as an important urban center.

The Italians were initially attracted to Ebla because of indications of Early and Middle Bronze Age occupation, yet excavations revealed even earlier habitation, dating from the site of a late Fourth Millennium village, followed by an early proto-Syrian settlement, containing substantial remains of a singular pottery type known as khirbet kerak.

The "lower town" occupies nearly 45 hectares. It was enclosed by a high, fortified wall, in effect a gigantic rampart of earth and stone, penetrated by four gateways, presumably the accesses to the four quarters of the Bronze Age city, with its population numbering in the tens of thousands. One of these gateways, still on view, is lined with blocks of black and white stone, corresponding to the Middle Bronze Age (level IIIA).

In the center of the enclosure is the tel, or acropolis, crowned by the remains of palaces and administrative structures indicated, among other relics, by Bronze Age basalt basins, their frontal panels, or orthostats, exquisitely carved in relief in varying styles - with influence from Cappadocia to Carchemish to the Euphrates-and a turreted temple. The inscribed fragment of a votive statue, unearthed in this temple during the 1968 archaeological season, bears a cuneiform dedication to Ishtar, with a commemorative text attributed to the Amorite monarch Ibbit-Lim. Sources are divided as to whether he was a king of Ebla or of Mari. It may be reasonable to assume he was king of Mari at a time of Amorite domination of Ebla, thus placing it under Mari's jurisdiction. In any case, the inscription, corresponding to the Middle Bronze Level I period (contemporary with the end of the Third Dynasty of Ur, c. 2000 B.C.), allowed the site of Tell Mardikh to be identified with Ebla.

Excavations in the area of the Ishtar temple revealed a courtyard and two walls that had presumably formed part of a brick palace dating from the Early Bronze Age (Period IIB1, c. 2400-2300 B.C.) A low dais, possibly part of a throne, occupies a space to one side of the entranceway to the courtyard. Adjacent stairs were decorated with mosaics on wooden panels that are now exhibited in the on-site museum a short distance from the excavations.

At right angles to the throne a wider flight of graceful and well-proportioned stone steps rose very gently to an upper level of construction, now vanished. Projecting into the courtyard was the small room where the clay tablets were stored. The palace had been thoroughly and maliciously torched, but the fire, instead of contributing to the deterioration of the mud-brick tablets, served to preserve them, hard as rocks and for all practical purposes, indestructible.

Over two thousand documents were recovered from this one deposit. The tablets had been imprinted by local scribes employing the regional version of the cuneiform tradition. Translations have revealed a variety of letters, treaties, administrative documents dealing with taxes -- usually associated with textiles or metals -- lists of supplies for the royal family, procedures for visitors, rather pragmatic ritual texts, instructions relating to incantations or magical spells without any special theological or mystical obsession, and political chronology. Ebla's most powerful king was listed as Ebrium, or Ibrium, who concluded the so-called "Treaty with Ashur", which offered the Assyrian king Tudia the use of trading post officially controlled by Ebla.

The fifth and last king of Ebla during this period was Ebrium's son, Ibbi-Sipish, the first to succeed in a dynastic line, thus breaking with the established Eblaite custom of electing its ruler for a fixed term of office, lasting seven years. This absolutism may have contributed to the unrest that was ultimately instrumental in the city's decline. Meantime, however, the reign of Ibbi-Sipish was considered a time of inordinate prosperity, in part because the king was given to frequent travel abroad. It was recorded both in Ebla and Aleppo that he concluded specific treaties with neighboring Armi, as Aleppo was called at the time.

The Third Millennium archives offer nothing in the way of literature, as such. They do, however, offer a microcosmic view of an industrious, energetic, well-ordered style of living in a prosperous kingdom, with control over the sources of timber in the mountains to the west; and particularly occupied with the raising of sheep and the producing of woolen textiles. The textiles of Ebla are in fact mentioned in documents from as far away as the Sumerian city-state of Lagash.

Two palace complexes, jointly referred to as "Palace G" - including the so-called "Ceremonial Wing", the "Administrative Wing", the "Residential Wing", and the royal archives -- occupy the area around the base of the tel. Since Ebla was destroyed on two occasions the structures may have been contemporary but more likely they were superimposed. The earlier destruction is generally attributed to Sargon of Akkad, who claimed that Dagan had "given him" Ebla and Mari, among other key sites in the region. On the other hand, it was his grandson, Naram-Sin, who claimed the god Nergal had given him Armanum (possibly Aleppo) and Ebla, "which no king had previously destroyed." Archaeology has nonetheless determined that the archaic palace was occupied in two phases, one in the Early Bronze IV and again in the Middle Bronze II, the second structure built over the ruins of the prior construction, which thus determined its shape, as well as the distribution of the rooms. These included a room filled with appliances for the grinding of grains. Archaeologists have referred to the grain as "corn", which could only have been the case in the event of an exchange with Mesoamerica, feasible, not unlikely, but to date not fully documented.

Objects unearthed in the palace ruins suggested constant contact with Babylonia, or with the styles in vogue there. Decorative items or objects of personal adornment had been confected of gold, lapis lazuli and ivory, while cylinder seals portray variations on Babylonian motifs. Among the most important pieces are the diminutive statuette of a kneeling, human-headed bull, its wooden body covered with gold leaf and the dressed Assyrian style beard of steatite; but limestone figures representing soldiers or priests, deities and deified animals were also found, in an aesthetic similar to the Sumerian style patent in Mari but confected not of crystallized gypsum, as along the Euphrates, but rather of various combinations of steatite, lapis lazuli, white limestone and gold. Especially remarkable is the stylized leopard standing perfectly erect on its hind legs. And really amazing is the rustic abstraction of an anthropomorphic Euphrates ox, with his stylized, almost infantile, beard. Curiously however, the fragments of carved wooden furniture had been inlaid with mother-of-pearl or stone, sometimes gold-plated, in a style more commonly associated with Egypt.

A group of royal tombs was discovered by sheer accident, to one side of the palace complex. The collapse of a roof revealed the rich contents in the chambers below. Pieces discovered inside the "Tomb of the Lord of the Goats", for example, included an Egyptian mace handle in silver, gold and alabaster, bearing the name of a Thirteenth Dynasty pharaoh -- Hetepibre Harnejheryotef, who reigned between 1775 and 1765 B.C. -- as well as lovely gold jewelry in styles associated both with Babylonia and the Levant, and ivory carvings in the Egyptian fashion of the time. These may have been gifts of state from the various rulers across the region.

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Ebla was again sacked by the advance of the Hittite armies, under Murshili I or Hattusili I, c. 1600 B.C., bound for their conquest of Amorite Babylonia. Corresponding to this period are the Western Palace (Palace Q, called "The Palace of the Crown Prince") with the royal necropolis, as well as the Northern Palace ("Palace P"), Palace E, and various temples - dedicated to Shamash, the Sun God; to Hadad, God of Storms, Rain and Fertility of the Earth; to Reshef, God of the Underworld; and to the Royal Ancestors, as well as a newer version of a temple to Ishtar -- among other constructions. Yet despite the rampant destruction, Ebla continued to thrive well into the Middle Bronze Age.

The Italian team also found subsequent settlement strata, including traces of occupation during the Aramean period, 720-535 B.C., the Persian period that followed, and into the Hellenistic period until about 200 B.C. Roman remains, however, are practically nonexistent, and Byzantine habitation is confined to the discovery of a small Christian hermitage at the foot of the acropolis, dating from the seventh century A.D. After that, it would appear, Ebla was abandoned and forgotten.

Ebla's importance, however, and its impact on the archaeological assessment of a long period of cultural history over a wide geographical area, can never be overestimated. The beauty of the site, furthermore, and its rich aesthetic, make its ruins as attractive as are its artistic treasures, on display in the on-site museum, as well as in the museums of Idlib, Hama, Aleppo and Damascus.

Carol Miller is a sculptress and writer, devoted to her avid research of ancient cultures, from Mexico where she lives, or along her travels throughout the world. "Mari" is a chapter from a forthcoming book, soon to be available at or Among her titles are "The Winged Prophet, from Hermes to Quetzalcoatl", with Guadalupe Rivera Marin, a study in comparative mythology; and "Travels in the Maya World", "The Other Side of Yesterday, the China-Maya Connection" and "Training Juan Domingo: Mexico and Me", exerpts of which can be viewed at



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Saturday, January 13, 2007

Ebla, The Ultimate Ages of Syria

Ebla (Arabic: ????? ?????) was an ancient city located in northern Syria, about 55 km southwest of Aleppo. It was an important city-state in two periods, first in the late third millennium BC, then again between 1800 and 1650 BC.

The site is known today as Tell Mardikh, and is famous mainly for archives with more than 20,000 cuneiform tablets, dated from around 2250 BC, in Sumerian and in Eblaite — a previously unknown Semitic language similar to Akkadian.

In 1964, Italian archaeologists from the University of Rome La Sapienza directed by Paolo Matthiae began excavating at Tell Mardikh. In 1968 they recovered a statue dedicated to the goddess Ishtar bearing the name of Ibbit-Lim, a king of Ebla. That identified the city, long known from Egyptian and Akkadian inscriptions. In the next decade the team discovered a palace dating approximately from 2500–2000 BC. About 20,000 well-preserved cuneiform tablets were discovered in the ruins. The tablets are written in a Semitic dialect that is being called 'Eblaite', as well as in Sumerian, demonstrating Ebla's close links to southern Mesopotamia, where the script had developed. Vocabulary lists were found with the tablets, allowing them to be translated.

 Ebla in the third millennium BC

The name "Ebla" means "White Rock", and refers to the limestone outcrop on which the city was built. Although the site shows signs of continuous occupation since before 3000 BC, its power grew and reached its apogee in the second half of the following millennium. Ebla's first apogee was between 2400 and 2240 BC; its name is mentioned in texts from Akkad around 2300 BC.

Most of the Ebla palace tablets, which date from that period, are about economic matters; they provide a good look into the everyday life of the inhabitants, as well as many important insights into the cultural, economic, and political life of northern Syria and Near East around the middle of the third millennium B.C. The texts are accounts of the state revenues, but they also include royal letters, Sumerian-Eblaite dictionaries, school texts and diplomatic documents, like treaties between Ebla and other towns of the region.

Ebla's most powerful king was listed as Ebrium, or Ibrium, who concluded the so-called "Treaty with Ashur", which offered the Assyrian king Tudia the use of trading post officially controlled by Ebla.

The fifth and last king of Ebla during this period was Ebrium's son, Ibbi-Sipish, the first to succeed in a dynastic line, thus breaking with the established Eblaite custom of electing its ruler for a fixed term of office, lasting seven years. This absolutism may have contributed to the unrest that was ultimately instrumental in the city's decline. Meantime, however, the reign of Ibbi-Sipish was considered a time of inordinate prosperity, in part because the king was given to frequent travel abroad. It was recorded both in Ebla and Aleppo that he concluded specific treaties with neighboring Armi, as Aleppo was called at the time.

At that time, Ebla was a major commercial center. Its major commercial rival was Mari, and Ebla is suspected in having a hand in Mari's first destruction. The tablets reveal that the city's inhabitants owned about 200,000 head of mixed cattle (sheep, goats, and cows). The city's main articles of trade were probably timber from the nearby mountains (and perhaps from Lebanon), and textiles (mentioned in Sumerian texts from the city-state of Lagash). Most of its trade seems to have been directed towards Mesopotamia (chiefly Kish), and contacts with Egypt are attested by gifts from pharaohs Khafra and Pepi I. Handicrafts may also have been a major export: exquisite artifacts have been recovered from the ruins, including wood furniture inlaid with mother-of-pearl and composite statues created from different colored stones. The artistic style at Ebla may have influenced the quality work of the following Akkadian empire (ca. 2350–2150 BC).

The form of government is not well known, but the city appears to have been ruled by a merchant aristocracy who elected a king and entrusted the city's defense to paid soldiers. Through the tablets we have learned the names of several "kings" among whom were Igrish-Halam, Irkab-Damu, Ar-Ennum, Ibrium and Ibbi-Sipish. Ibrium broke with tradition and introduced an absolute monarchy. He was followed by his son Ibbi-Sipish.

Some well-known Semitic deities appear at Ebla (Dagan, Ishtar, Resheph, Kanish, Hadad), and some otherwise unknown ones (Kura, Nidakul), plus a few Sumerian gods (Enki and Ninki) and Hurrian gods (Ashtapi, Hebat, Ishara).

Destruction of Ebla
Sargon of Akkad and his grandson Naram-sin, the conquerors of much of Mesopotamia, each claim to have destroyed Ebla; the exact date of destruction is the subject of continuing debate, but 2240 BC is a probable candidate. During the next three centuries, Ebla reached again a relevant economic position, possibly with the nearby city of Urshu, as is documented by economic texts from Drehem (a suburb of Nippur), and from findings in Kultepe/Kanesh.

 Ebla in the second millennium BC
Several centuries after its destruction by the Akkadians, Ebla managed to recover some of its importance, and had a second apogee lasting from about 1850 to 1600 BC. Its people were then known as Amorites; Ibbit-Lim was the first king.

Ebla is mentioned in texts from Alalakh around 1750 BC. The city was destroyed again in the turbulent period of 1650–1600 BC, by an Hittite king (Mursili I or Hattusili I).

Ebla never recovered from its second destruction. The city continued as a small village until the 7th century AD, then was deserted and forgotten until its archaeological rediscovery.

Here are some more photos from Ebla:

EblaEblaEbla, White RocksEblaEblaRuins of EblaEbla, The Ancient Syrian City

Ebla, White Rocks

Photos from Ebla countryside:

Tel Mardikh Village Near EblaEbla's neighbouring village "Tel Mardikh", which is now ornamented by nice street lights, suitable to area's historical feelings.

Ebla CafeEbla CafeEbla Cafe And MuseumTel Mardikh Vilalge Near EblaLandscape From Ebla RuinsEbla



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