large Bronze Age site in northern Syria, located 60 km (37 mi.) south of Aleppo. The tell, a slightly irregular oval, has a surface area of nearly 60 ha (148 acres). The large lower town surrounds the acropolis, which reaches a height of 431 m and is located almost at the center of the settlement. At the tell's extreme periphery, the outline of the town's ancient outer fortification, 22 m higher than the level of the surrounding fields, is relatively visible. The Italian Archaeological Expedition of the University “La Sapienza” of Rome has worked at the site every year since 1964, under the direction of Paolo Matthiae.
Before the excavations at Tell Mardikh, Ebla was known from two copies of Old Akkadian royal inscriptions by Sargon and Naram-Sin of Akkad, who both boasted of conquering the town; from the Sumerian statue B of Gudea of Lagash as the region of provenance of precious wooden objects; and from economic texts of the Third Dynasty of Ur. [See Akkadian; Akkade; Lagash; Ur.] During the seventeenth and fifteenth centuries BCE, Ebla appears in rare quotations in the texts of Alalakh VII and IV; after its final destruction, at the beginning of the fifteenth century BCE, Ebla is mentioned in a Hurrian fragment dealing with ritual from the archives of Ḫattuša and on the hieroglyphic list at Karnak of Pharaoh Thutmose III's Syro-Palestinian conquests. [See Alalakh.] The identification of Tell Mardikh with Ebla was made In 1968 after the discovery, in the western part of the acropolis, of a basalt torso with an inscription of Ibbit-Lim, son of Igriš-Khep, king of Ebla, dedicated to the goddess Ishtar (c. twentieth century BCE). The formative period of Mardikh I (c. 3500–3000 BCE) is known from fragmentary levels of its central and final phases on the acropolis.
The city's development peaked in Mardikh IIB1 (c. 2400–2300 BCE), the period of Royal Palace G and of the cuneiform tablets in the state archives (see below). [See Cuneiform; Tablet.] The extent of the urban center probably reached nearly 50 ha (124 acres) before the end of Mardikh IIB1, whose destruction is attributed to Sargon II of Assyria. [See Assyria.] That destruction brought to an end a phase of great economic and political expansion. The settlement was then reduced in size and may have been limited to only its northern region in Mardikh IIB2 (c. 2300–2000 BCE).
The Mardikh IIB2 period corresponds to the chronological horizon of ῾Amuq J. [See ῾Amuq.] It is thus far represented in the lower town on the northwest only by an imposing building, called the Archaic Palace, nearly 500 sq m of whose trapezoidal plan have been exposed. The still poorly known intermediate palace of Mardikh IIIA was erected over part of this building, and, later, the large and quite well-preserved northern palace of Mardikh IIIB (see below). The Archaic Palace was quite probably the royal residence contemporary with the Third Dynasty of Ur. [See Palace.]
Following a presumed second destruction, a renaissance took place in the urban center in the Mardikh IIIA phase (c. 2000–1800 BCE), whose ceramic horizon largely corresponds to Hama H (twentieth century BCE). [See Hama.] The settlement at Ebla was rebuilt according to a precise urban pattern: the town had a double fortification wall composed of an inner wall surrounding the citadel, and an outer circumference wall with four imposing gates that enclosed a belt of large secular and religious buildings in the lower town and public buildings on the citadel. The outer wall, nearly 3 km long, was a typical earthen rampart that enclosed nearly all of the site's 60 ha. It was limited at the bottom by a revetment of large stone blocks; a relatively shallow wall was constructed at the top, lost almost everywhere except east of the southwest gate. The inner wall also had a high sloping revetment rising out of stone blocks at its base; a high slope in the middle was dug from the side of the ancient tell on the acropolis; and, at the top, a mud-brick wall had a deep scarp at its base, also constructed of mud brick. The stratum IIIA buildings underwent reconstruction in the following phase, Mardikh IIIB (c. 1800–1600 BCE). After the total destruction of Mardikh IIIB (c. 1600 BCE), provoked by the invasion of the Old Hittite king Ḫattušili I (or, more probably, of his successor, Muršili I), a large part of the town was finally abandoned. [See Hittites.]
Large sectors are known of the extensive Royal Palace G, from the first great period at Mardikh (IIB1), which corresponds to Early Bronze IVA. Nearly 2,400 sq m of the palace have been excavated, mostly on the western and southern slopes of the acropolis; the complex probably extended across the top of the acropolis. The peripheral quarters of its western wing specialized in food production, and the southern wing was devoted to storage; both are quite badly preserved. The well-preserved area on the southwest slope was the most important: it included a large exterior space with a porch, called the Court of Audience; the royal dais was on its north. On the east, a monumental stairway (22 m long) overcame the nearly 6-meter difference in the level between the lower town and the acropolis. South of the gateway, which was really the main entrance to the palace, the administrative quarter was divided into a limited outer sector below the porch and an inner sector with a court (also with a porch) that opened, to the south, to the throne room (L. 2866); the throne room was nearly 16 × 11 m in size.
The cuneiform tablets of the state archives, which include more than seventeen thousand inventory numbers of complete and fragmentary documents, were placed in the major archive room (L. 2769) in the outer sector of the administrative quarter; a smaller number were found in a lesser archive (L. 2712) below the eastern porch of the Court of Audience, but north of the gateway, in a trapezoidal storeroom (L. 2764). [See Libraries and Archives.] The archives, which include economic, administrative, juridical, and lexical accounts and literary texts and letters, offer exceptional documentation of the city's social and economic structure, as well as information about administrative organization, religion, and literature. Particularly important is the contribution they make to linguistics: the language of the archives is a very archaic Semitic language that some scholars consider to be a dialect of Old Akkadian; others believe to be an older, independent Semitic language called Eblaic; and still others consider an antecedent of later Northwestern Semitic languages. The texts cover a period of not more than forty or fifty years and are contemporary with Kings Igriš-Halam, Irkab-Damu, and Išar-Damu, who ruled with the help of some very high officials—Ibrium, Ibbi-Zikir, and Dubukhu-Adda, who also succeeded from father to son, like the kings.
The discovery, in the inner court of the administrative quarter, of several fragments of Egyptian bowls of diorite and alabaster from the pharaonic period and a lid with the name of Pharaoh Pepi I of the sixth dynasty, offers a basic synchronism between Sargon of Akkad, Pepi I of Egypt, and Išar-Damu of Ebla, at about 2300 BCE. In the royal palace of Mardikh IIB1 (see above), whose ceramic horizon corresponds to phases J8–6 at Hama, and perhaps to the final phase of ῾Amuq I, several fragmentary masterpieces have been found of ancient palatial furniture. Among these, of primary importance are two steatite plaques of headdresses, originally belonging to two royal figures, a male and a female; wooden carvings with mother-of-pearl inlays, primarily of animal figures, decorating a chair and a table; several fragments of composite panels of a series of figures of officials, carved in high relief in wood, covered with gold leaf, and completed with limestone, steatite, and lapis-lazuli detailing for the clothing and headdresses; and cylinder seals known from impressions on clay sealings with friezes of athletic contests typical of the late Early Dynastic tradition in Mesopotamia, but with several typically Syrian figures (e.g., the great goddess dominating wild animals and the cow woman, inspired by the figure of the bull man). The note-worthy Standard of Ebla that was discovered belongs to an early phase of Mardikh IIB1 (c. 2400 BCE). Several of its figural marble inlays are preserved, with scenes of triumph and divine figures representing the lion-headed eagle over two human-headed bulls, a symbol of an early Syrian deity of war—of the Sumerian Ningirsu or Ninurta type. [See Sumerians.]
Sacred and royal architecture.
The citadel also contained temple D, dedicated to the goddess Ishtar, with a longitudinally tripartite typology. The temple may be considered a very old antecedent of Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem, built in the tenth century BCE. [See Jerusalem.] In the lower town, a belt of sacred buildings surrounded a large part of the acropolis. In the northeast sector was the temple of the god Shamash. To the northwest were the northern palace and the sacred area of Ishtar, with the great temple P2 and monument P3, an imposing cult terrace with a court that hosted the sacred lions of the goddess. In the west and southwest sectors were the large western palace (more than 7,500 sq m); temple B of the god of the netherworld, Resheph; and sanctuary B2, dedicated to the cult of the royal deified ancestors.
The northern palace was a ceremonial building related to kingship, and the western palace was the residence of the crown prince.
It is meaningful that the area of the royal necropolis was situated among the western palace, temple B, and sanctuary B2. [See Necropolis.] Three important tombs, dating from between 1825 and 1650 BCE, were excavated: the Tomb of the Princess (c. 1800 BCE), the only intact one, from which a group of jewelry (including six bracelets, an earring decorated with granulation, a pin with a star-shaped head, and a necklace) and more than sixty clay pots were recovered; the Tomb of the Lord of the Goats, found with gold jewelry, bronze weapons, stone vases, ivory talismans, more than seventy clay pots, and an Egyptian ceremonial mace belonging to Pharaoh Hetepibre Harnejheryotef (r. 1770–1760 BCE); and the Tomb of the Cisterns, closed in about 1650 BCE, but sacked at the time of the conquest of the town in about 1600 BCE. [See Tombs; Jewelry; Weapons.]
Art and iconography.
Several fragments of very important sculptures were found in the Old Syrian town of the end of Mardikh IIIA, and of the first and central phases of Mardikh IIIB: carved double basins with ritual and mythical reliefs from temples B, D, and N (c. 1850–1750 BCE) and large fragments of important royal statues, particularly from temple P2, of a seated king and of a standing queen (c. 1700 BCE). These were the first evidence of the great statuary of inner Syria, contemporary with the classical style of the Old Syrian culture. Although at Ebla remains of Old Syrian glyptics are rare, several impressions on jars from the western palace produced a dynastic seal belonging to a crown prince, king Indilimgur's son (reigned c. 1650 BCE), with the figures of Hadad, Khebat, and of the owner, who receives life from the two great gods. Another significant example of art produced in Mardikh IIIB is the ivory carvings, in an egyptianizing style, discovered in the northern palace: elegant figures, carved in the ajouré technique, represent the gods in the Egyptian pantheon, from Horus to Sobekh and Hathor to Montu; heads wearing Osiris's atef crown presumably are representations of deified Old Syrian kings. These ivories probably date to about 1700–1650 BCE; they likely decorated the back of a throne or of a ceremonial bed. Other ivory pieces, probably slightly older, include a miniature figure in the round of an offering bearer carrying a gazelle and an ajouré figure of a king wearing the typical ovoid tiara. These pieces are evidence of the activity at Ebla of workshops whose output was in the Old Syrian style.
The remains of Mardikh IVA–B (c. 1600–1200 BCE) are scattered and limited to sectors on the acropolis. Traces of rural settlement mark the Mardikh VA phase (c. 1200–900 BCE); the settlement was enlarged in Mardikh VB–C (c. 900–535 BCE). In a central phase of Mardikh VIA–B (c. 535–60 BCE), a small rural palace was built on the northern part of the acropolis. During the second century BCE, or slightly afterward, the tell was totally abandoned. The last evidence of a human presence at Tell Mardikh is scant: traces of scattered houses belonging to a third-century CE agricultural settlement; some remains, as yet unexcavated, of a poor monastic settlement that may date to the fourth–fifth centuries; and, in a peripheral region, some reused stone blocks with short Arabic inscriptions in Kufic script that may date to the ninth century—the period in which the First Crusade passed through the region and in which the name Mardikh appears in written sources for the first time.
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