Ebla was an ancient city located in North
Syria situated on the site of
Tell Mardikh, 55 km South of Aleppo.
First excavated in 1964, the ruins of the city were discovered in
1973 by an Italian archaeological expedition from the University
of Rome. Most importantly, nearly 20,000 cuneiform tablets
(perhaps the most remarkable 'find' of the century has been
uncovered ) dated from around 2250 BC were
discovered (1975) in the palace archives. The tablets date from
the middle of the 3d millennium and are written in Eblaite, a
Semitic dialect, as well as in Sumerian. A vocabulary list
matching words from the two languages was found among the tablets,
which has allowed scholars to translate the previously unknown
language of Eblaite.
tablets relate mostly to economic matters, showing that Empire
of Ebla was a major commercial center trading mostly in
textiles, wood, and finished metals. Its influence rivaled that of
Egypt and Mesopotamia, stretching from the Sinai peninsula to the
Mesopotamian highlands. The documents have been taken to imply
that Ebla had as many as 200,000 inhabitants and a government that
was administered by 12,000 officials. One of Ebla’s earliest
dynasties ruled from about 2400 B.C. to 2250 B.C. and was probably
destroyed by Naram-Sin of Akkad. Ebla flourished again (2000–1800
B.C.), but was unable to regain its former power. Most of the
remaining ruins are from this period. The tablets contain the
earliest known reference to Jerusalem. Some scholars claim they
also name the five biblical “Cities of the Plain” (Sodom, Gomorah,
Admah, Zeboiim, and Bela) just as they are named in Genesis, but
this claim has been contested. As an aid to studying the Bible,
the tablets are most valuable as a linguistic tool, helping to
illuminate some of the more difficult Hebrew readings.
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.
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
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 Aleppothat he
concluded specific treaties with neighboring Armi, as
Aleppowas 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).
Among Pettinato's controversial claims, he has also suggested that
there was a change in the theophoric names shown in many of the
tablets found in the archive from *El to *Yah, indicated in the
example of the transition from Mika’el to Mikaya. This is
considered by some to evidence an early use of the divine name
Yah, a god who they believe later emerged as Yahweh (YHWH).
Bottero, for example, has suggested that this shift may indicate
the popular acceptance of the Akkadian God Ea, introduced from the
Sargonid Empire which may have been transliterated into Eblaite as
YH. This theory has not gained universal acceptance, however, and
other scholars have insisted the sign in question is correctly
Many Old Testament Genesis names that have not been found in other
Near Eastern languages do have similar forms in Eblaite (a-da-mu /
Adam, h’à-wa / Eve, Jabal, Abarama/Abraham, Bilhah, Ishma-el,
Isûra-el, Esau, Mika-el, Mikaya, Saul, David, etc.). Also found
are many Biblical locations: for example Ashtaroth, Sinai,
Jerusalem (Ye-ru-sa-lu-um), Hazor, Lachish, Gezer, Dor, Megiddo,
Joppa, etc. Giovanni Pettinato has also claimed to find references
to Sodom and Gomorrah.
Three versions of the Eblaite creation hymn have been found. They
Lord of heaven and earth:
the earth was not, you created it,
the light of day was not, you created it,
the morning light you had not [yet] made exist.
The 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 was
able to regain some economic importance in the region, but never
reached its former glory. It is possible the city had economic
ties with the nearby city of Urshu, as is documented by economic
texts from Drehem (a suburb of Nippur), and from findings in
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 a
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.