First inhabited before 3000 BCE, the ancient city-state of Ebla served as a major regional trading hub and seat of power for northern Syria throughout much of the third and early second millennia BCE. Ebla is located next to the modern city of Tel Mardikh, approximately midway between Aleppo and Hama, and has been the source of significant advances in historical knowledge of the region in the last century.
For many years, historians knew of the existence of an important trade and political center named Ebla from a variety of ancient records and sources. No one knew where this city-state had been located, however, until a team of Italian archaeologists discovered its ruins in the 1960s. Ebla’s structures were impressive: defensive walls surrounding the site were as thick as 40 meters and reached as high as 22 meters, and the city’s acropolis housed many noteworthy artifacts connected to the palace and the temple to the goddess Ishtar. Most significant by far, however, was the 1975 discovery of over 1800 complete tablets and many thousands of fragmented tablets from the city’s archives.
These records were written in a previously unknown language that has since been named Eblaite. A member of the semitic language family but written in Sumerian cuneiform, Eblaite was probably the lingua franca of the region’s educated elite. Scholars have studied the language extensively since its discovery and have learned much about related semitic languages through their study of Eblaite.