Ebla in northern Syria is a site of mystery, at which archaeologists on the dig there are constantly amazed. It’s brought back interest in digging in the Middle East, with its new discoveries and amazing finds. One of these is the Royal Goddess treasure, a statue dedicated to Ishtar by King Ibbit-Lim. But so far they’ve only scratched the surface of what lies beneath the earth, a kingdom under a city.
THE DISCOVERY AT TELL MARDIKH
Ebla wasn’t discovered until 1968 after the name came up twice in Akkadian scripts about Tell Mardikh. Tell Mardikh was a site long familiar to archaeologists at that time; an Italian group from the University of Rome had been there for a couple of years. Tell Mardikh itself is about 40 miles south of Aleppo and apparently traded a lot with this city. And Tell Mardikh also was more informative at the time; all people had in 1968 about Ebla was a votive statue and some vague notes in Akkadian scripture about the place. Scholars from the University weren’t sure about where to look for Ebla, though.
After digging for twelve years, a great discovery was made, of several clay tablets about the “Kingdom of Ebla.” This was within the area of Tell Mardikh, and the archaeologists determined from them that Ebla must be the ancient version of that city. The archaeologists also decided the tablets had to be from the library of the palace, and so began a frenzied search for more information about the place.
THE HISTORY OF EBLA: WHAT WE KNOW SO FAR
After the tablets, more and more was found out about Ebla. People have now discovered that the kingdom was very powerful once upon a time, and that it traded with other kingdoms all over the current Middle East. Many of these are kingdoms and places that are much more familiar to the average person, such as Anatolia and Palestina. Ebla at some point even seems to have conquered the ancient kingdom of Mesopotamia.
The year 3000 BC seems to be the earliest date there is so far for Ebla. The people of Ebla were descended from Amorites, an old Semite group who wrote in Akkadian on clay tablets. Like their forefathers, the Eblans also wrote on clay tablets in cuneiform, in the Akkadian language, but their own language is being called Eblaic. Their rulers lived in a huge palace, described at length on the tablets that were found. That palace had stables, a library, and hundreds of servants. The king and queen had their scribe even write down the intense system they used to deal with foreign dignitaries. The city of Ebla was an industrious one, with descriptions of cattle, vineyards, and farms on the tablets. Their first king was named Gummurat.
The golden age of Ebla seems to have been from 2400 to 2250 BC. It seems to have been during this time that Mari in Mesopotamia was conquered by the Eblans – several times, in fact. Ebla seems to have once been as powerful as the kingdom of Akkad which had taken over most of the northern Middle East. Eblan envoys are recorded on the tablets as having gone into this area, taken most of Syria, and even gone as far north as Hattusa which would later become capital of the Hittite lands.
In 2250, the king of Ebla was Dubuhu-Ada. He had only a short rule. Naram Sin of Akkadia conquered Ebla with little trouble; he and his army destroyed the city at that time. It is from this accomplishment that Naram Sin gets his nickname “king of the four quarters”. Under his rule, Ebla was seemingly a shadow of what it had once been. He ruled until 2000 BC but at that time, his control fell, as he turned the empire over to his son, who apparently wasn’t as strong as his father.
By 2000 BC Ebla was rebuilt, and at this time it was annexed into the kingdom of Yamkhad. There are some records from Byzantium that show Ebla still existed in the 9th and 8th centuries BC. However, it was never as important a city as it had once been.
THE FUTURE OF THE EBLA DIG
The information that we have as of yet about Ebla remains incomplete. The vast number of tablet scrolls from the site have not been deciphered, because of various religious and political issues. There have been some very bitter disputes regarding them, and the Syrian authorities have stepped in from time to time. Most recently, a firm decision has been made by the government of Syria to refrain from any religious discussion or theorizing with regards to information from the site. Since a great deal of that information is religious in its own nature – for example, some of it mentions gods and goddesses that we didn’t know of yet in even Sumerian mythos – that slows down the translation a good deal.
However, like many other countries with major archaeological finds, Syria’s government has realized the tourism value of the site. Now, if you’re interested, you can visit the site of the Ebla dig as well as many other archaeological digs in that country. Then, you can wander about in the ruins of what was once a great city in the ancient world.