Location and description of the site
Ebla was the name of an ancient city located in North Syria situated on the modern site of Tell Mardikh, near Saraqib in Idlib, about 50 kilometers south of Aleppo. The coordinates of the archaeological site are: 35.798°N 36.798°E
Ebla was certainly a large urban center, approximately reaching 60 hectares in size. The oval tell, surrounded by an external wall (Rampart) conjoins four monumental city gates with inner fortifications that led into four main roads gave access to the lower city that surrounds the upper city also known as Acropolis which is located in the middle of the tell.
History of archaeological works
The site was visited first by Paolo Matthiae in 1962, after he had seen in Aleppo Museum the fragments of a double basalt basin, carved on three sides, and that encourage him to start the archaeological work at the tell in 1964 heading by Italian Mission
from the Sapienza University of Rome, but the excavation stopped in 2010 due to the start of the war in Syria.
The excavations at the site enabled the identification of several levels that one can trace as follows, from the earliest till the latest:
Late Chalcolithic Age covering the period (3500- 2900 B.C). Early Bronze Age (2900- 2000 B.C).
Middle Bronze Age (2000- 1600 B.C).
Late Bronze Age (1600- 1200 B. C).
Iron Age (1200- 333 B.C)
Classic Era (Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine- 333 B.C- 632 A.D).
Historical overview of the site
Ebla knew three prosperous periods across its rich and diverse history, that could be mentioned as follows:
1- the Early Bronze Iva (EB IVa 2400- 2250 B.C).
2- the Early Bronze IV b (EB IVb 2250- 2000 B.C). 3- the Middle Bronze periods (MB 2000- 1600 B.C).
Each of these main phases ended with a destruction level attested at the site: the first one, around 2250 BC, was by the Akkadian army, led by king Sargon, the second one, around 2000 BC, is unknown, though it cannot be ruled out that the destruction may be related with the expeditions by the kings of the IIIrd Dynasty of Ur to Syria, and with the expansion of the Amorites, who were present in the region from the early stages to the rule; the third, and final destruction, around 1600 BC, was caused by Hittites and Hurrians armies which were leaded by king Muršiliš I.
A- The Palaces:
– The Royal Palace G
The Royal Palace G, which was discovered in 1975, was probably founded in Early Bronze Age around 2400 BC, and was destroyed by the Akkadian King Sargon around 2250 B.C as attested from inscription and archaeological evidence. It was built on the southwest slope of the Acropolis and stretched over a large part of it. The palace which has multifunction building had three entrances, all related with the Audience Court and Throne Hall, the ceremonial, residential and administrative places and the handicraft, storage quarters.
The most significant in the royal palace G is the exceptional Archives, with more than 17,000 inventory numbers, including
complete tablets, large fragments and chips. These famous cuneiform texts allowed to reconstruct not only the economy and society of the great north inner Syrian Kingdom in ancient times, but also they revealed aspects of history, religion and culture of a larger region, reaching to Mari (Tell Hariri) in the Euphrates.
– The Western Palace Q
It is likely that this two-floors palace, which extends about 27,300 m2, was the residence of the Crown Prince, and was distinguished as a multi-functional building that included a section for military,
agricultural, commercial and administrative objectives. It has an irregular rectangular shape, and its interior design is based on the paving of adjacent and identical units around a celestial courtyard, separated by parallel thickness walls. The Western Palace dates to the Middle Bronze Age, it was built around 1900 B. C, and discovered in 1978.
It’s important to mention the discovery of the royal tomb that was unearthed under the floors of this palace that was in use during the last two centuries of the life of the city of Ebla.
– The Northern Palace P
It has a trapezoidal shape, because its eastern and western outer walls were built directly above the walls of the old palace. It extends about 3600 m2, and it was built in Middle Bronze Age around 1800 B.C.
The entrance of the palace is on the western side, the wing of services is on the northern side, and the food stores are on the eastern side. It is possible that the palace was used for official ceremonies, especially for public rituals related to the priestly role of the king as the guardian of the goddess Ishtar. This palace differs from the other two royal palaces G and Q in Ebla, because it did not have an upper floor and residential rooms, but it seems that it planned to the royal reception requirements and nothing else
– The Royal Palace E
Its construction dates back to the Middle Bronze Age, only its northern wing, which reached about 15,000 m2, was revealed. It may have been the residence of the king or the room of the central administration, or a place for storage and goods under the control of the palace. It was built on the northern end of the Acropolis, in the middle of it is a rectangular courtyard, its western and northern walls are wider than the other two walls, surrounded by rooms on the north and east and a porch on the south, indicating that the palace is large.
– The Southern Palace FF
This palace is located south of the low city, and extended over an area of approximately 1000 m2. The owner of this place was the official who took care of the caravan passage and the of the messengers (or apostles), and the archaeologist found in it large rooms containing ponds that may have been used as animal stables, or tanneries.
B- The Temples:
– Ishtar’s Temple (Temple D)
It was built on the slop of the Acropolis and was closely associated with the royal palace G. It likes most of the temples in Ebla, it was constructed according to tripartite plan and an entrance which was located in the southern part of it and leads to a corridor then to anti
cella and a long cella. On the back wall of the cella there was a niche meant to host the Ishtar goddess’s cult statue, which was in her quality as patron deity of the whole town
– Temple B2
The other main temple, in fact the largest temple at Ebla, was located in the Lower Town North, and was part of a large cult complex, Ishtar’s Cult Area وin the Lower Town (Area P). It was located by the edge of a wide-open space, the Cisterns Square, where ceremonies took place.
– Shamash’s Temple (Area N)
It located east of Ishtar’s Cult Area, the smaller Shamash’s Temple (Area N) stood, dedicated to the Sun God, which also featured one long cella. This cult place, which several hints lead to believe was attributed to the god of justice, was meaningfully oriented to the East, where Sun rises in the morning.
C- Royal Tombs
The Excavations in the Western Palace led the mission to discover the royal cemetery dating back to the Middle Bronze Age, and four ground burials were discovered in the central area of the palace, and there are three other tombs that excavator believes have been constructed for funerary functions.
The three royal tombs located in the middle of the palace were composed of caves connected with each other, and the initial discoveries indicate that the Tomb of the Princesses (1800 BC) located in the south is the oldest of the three burials, and it is followed by the funeral burial located to the east of the first. The name is the Tomb of the Lord of the Goats (1750 BC), while the one located to the west is the most recent of them, and it was called the tomb of the Cisterns (1700 BC).
D- The rampart and Gates
The rampart of the imposing defensive system and was pierced by four gates, to the: 1- North-West Gate – Aleppo Gate – is actually below the modern path leading into the site, and only one side outer sector of it was brought to light: a massive semi-circular wall. 2-
North-East Gate – Euphrates Gate – is preserved only in the northern side. It featured the classical monumental tenaille structure, with a strong development in length marked by three successive pairs of buttresses and two rooms; it is quite likely that this entrance, like Damascus Gate, also had an advanced gate. 3- South-East Gate or Steppe Gate is the least preserved: the walls were nearly all pillaged, but is quite likely that it was also the least monumental of the four, as it led towards a direction not basic for the commercial and political life of the urban center. 4- South-West Gate or Damascus
Gate is the most monumental and best preserved one. Nearly 50 m long it really includes two entrances: the innermost sector, with a main gate with three pairs of buttresses and two rooms, and by an outer sector with a second shorter gate, with two pairs of buttresses and only one room. The two main entrances to the Old Syrian town
Ebla provided us with significant artistic and urban discoveries. Not to mention its major ritual archives, among the important founds we have a small statue of wood charred due to the fire that the royal palace was exposed to, representing one of the kings of Ebla and dating to the third millennium BC, and a statue of a wild bull with a human head in the royal palace G is made of wood and covered with gold.
As for the pottery industry, it was prosperous and highly developed, and the discoveries of the royal palace and the Western Palace came during the Middle Bronze Age attest to outstanding products of the ancient Kingdom.
- Matthiae, Ebla: An Empire Rediscovered, 1980.
- Matthiae, Ebla, la città rivelata, 1995.