site located in the Turkish province of Hatay, near the mouth of the Orontes River, in the ῾Amuq plain (36°19′ N, 36°29′ E). The site commanded the area's principal trade routes and was selected by C. Leonard Woolley In 1936 as a link between the early cultures of the Aegean and the Asiatic mainland.

The mound (750 × 300 m) is an oval, its axis being roughly northwest by southeast. The elevation slopes from about 9 m at the northwestern end to the level of the plain on the southwest. Horizontal excavation was concentrated in the north and northwestern parts of the mound, with several deep soundings providing a continuous sequence of seventeen architectural levels reaching back to the early second millennium BCE. The succession of temples, palaces, and town defenses confirmed the city's prominence, particularly during levels VII and IV. Those periods are noted for their royal archives, which identify the ancient site as Alalakh, capital of the province Mukish, vassal to the kingdoms of Yamḫad (modern Aleppo) in the eighteenth–sixteenth centuries BCE and Mitanni in the fifteenth–fourteenth centuries BCE. [See Alalakh Texts; Aleppo; Mitanni.] Providing key synchonisms with the kings of Yamḫad, Mari, Babylon, Ḫatti, Mitanni, and Egypt, these archives are central to discussions of absolute chronology for the second millennium BCE and have been cited, in particular, in support of the “middle” chronology. [See Mari; Babylon.] The two archives also reveal changes in social structure and ethnic composition that, combined with the material remains, bear, in particular, on the problem of Hurrian infiltration and culture. [See Hurrians.] Subsequent spells under Hittite suzerainty between levels III and I ended in the city's final destruction, tentatively correlated with the onslaught of the Sea Peoples. [See Hittites.] Level O represents a brief attempt at recolonization in the twelfth century BCE.

History of Excavation.

Woolley, on behalf of the British Museum in London, conducted eight seasons of excavation between 1937 and 1939 and 1946 and 1949. His first exploratory soundings, begun as an offshoot of the excavations at the Mediterranean port of Tell al-Mina, were followed In 1937 by more extensive investigations of the level I–IV residential houses and associated citadel wall. The level IV palace and archives, discovered at the end of this season, were fully excavated In 1938, when investigations along the northern and northwestern ridge of the tell exposed older fortifications of VI and V as well as the city gate of VII. The fourth season (1939) was marked by the discovery of palace VII and its archives beneath the private houses of IV–VI. Directly west of the palace. Woolley encountered the temple precinct, which became the focus of the first postwar season In 1946. By the end of the fifth season, most of levels I–VII had been uncovered, and a sounding below palace VII exposed precursors in levels VIII and IX. Extended down to the water table In 1947, this deep sounding produced seven further levels, X–XVI; a second sounding in the temple precinct reached virgin soil below level XVII, under the present water table. The last two seasons were devoted to problems of stratigraphy in the temple sounding and the fortifications of levels I–VII. [See the biography of Woolley.]

The finds were divided mainly between the British Museum in London and the Hatay Museum in Antakya, but some also went to the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford University and to the Universities of Sydney and Melbourne, Australia. The field notes and negatives are stored at the Institute of Archaeology, London. The results of the excavations were published in preliminary reports between 1936 and 1950. Woolley's final publication In 1955 followed two volumes on epigraphy by Sidney Smith (1949) and Donald J. Wiseman (1953). Much of the secondary literature is devoted to problems of stratigraphy and chronology.

Stratigraphy and Chronology.

The absolute chronology at Alalakh hinges on the dating of the archives in levels VII and IV. That dating, in turn, depends on the reconstruction of the local genealogy and on synchronisms with external king lists as well as ceramic and glyptic assemblages.

Level VII constitutes an architectural phase represented by a city gate, ramparts, a temple, and a palace. Archaeologically, level VII is considered coterminous with the palace, whose archive of 175 tablets spans at least two rulers at Alalakh, coinciding with at least five rulers at Yamḫad. Both the palace archive and architecture suggest a short occupation of fifty to seventy-five years. Originally, Smith (1940), followed by Woolley (1953, 1955), fixed the time span of VII at 1780–1750 BCE. In his assessment, based on ceramic and glyptic evidence as well as the Venus tablets of Ammisaduqa, Smith assumes a synchronism between Yarimlim of level VII, Hammurabi of Babylon, and Zimrilim of Mari.

Following the publication of the texts In 1953, it transpired that the contemporary of Hammurabi and Zimrilim was Yarimlim of Yamḫad, grandfather of Yarimlim of Alalakh to whom the oldest palace records pertain. The dates were revised to about 1720–1650 BCE by advocates of the “middle” chronology (see above). Following Benno Landsberger (“Assyrische Königsliste und ‘dunkles Zeitalter,’” Journal of Cuneiform Studies 8 [1954], p. 8), Albrecht Goetze (1957, p. 23) linked the destruction of VII with Muršili I and the sack of Babylon during the reign of Samsuditana. However, texts found at Boğazköy In 1957 reveal that it was Ḫattušili I who destroyed Alalakh during his second Syrian campaign. [See Boğazköy.] Proponents of the “low” chronology question the accuracy of the Venus tablets and dispute the glyptic and ceramic parallels between Alalakh VII and Egypt's twelfth dynasty. Instead, they would correlate them with Middle Bronze IIB/C material in Palestine. The introduction of Bichrome ware, Base Ring I, and Cypriot Monochrome in VIB suggests a destruction date of about 1575 BCE or later for VII, which would thus span the late seventeenth–early sixteenth centuries BCE. Despite reservations about the dating of Bichrome Ware based on its presence in Megiddo stratum IX, which ended in destruction supposedly at the hands of Thutmose III In 1468/67 BCE, recent evaluations of historical and archaeological data support the “low” chronology.

Woolley's proposed hiatus between the destruction of level VII and the beginning of level VI is also questioned. Levels VI and V were associated by Woolley with two re-buildings of the fortress, each of which comprised two distinct phases: VIA and B, VA and B. The correlation of VI–V with the MB IIC and Late Bronze I period (c. 1575–1460 BCE) is supported by ceramic parallels from recent excavations at Tell Hadidi and Mumbaqat. [See Hadidi, Tell.]

The beginning of level IV, according to Woolley, is marked by the construction of the Niqmepa palace, which was destroyed in the reign of Niqmepa's son, Ilimilimma, before the end of level IV. Because, contrary to Woolley's assumption, six of the three hundred tablets in the palace archive pertain to Idrimi (once considered to be Niqmepa's grandson but now recognized as his father), it is uncertain who built the palace. Idrimi's date derives from his inscribed statue, although the text, if composed posthumously, has little historical value. Vassal to Parrattarna, king of the Hurrians, and indirectly linked with the Hittite king Zidanta, Idrimi is now dated to about 1470 BCE. In recent studies (Gates, 1981, pp. 8–9; Gates, 1987, p. 76; Heinz, 1992) he is associated with the southeastern wing (C1–9) of the palace and the triple serai (Tk. [orig., Pers.], “palace”) gate, both assigned to level VB. Woolley's 1460/50 BCE date for the start of level IV conforms with the relative dating of the Mitannian rulers and the dates of Mediterranean imports in IV. Niqmepa is vassal to Sauštatar, king of Mitanni, whose seal occurs at Nuzi, where it may have been used as an heirloom. [See Seals; Nuzi.] The absence of Bichrome Ware in Alalakh IV, combined with the presence of Cypriot Base-ring II Wares and a Mycenaean IIIA sherd, places the destruction of palace IV after 1425 BCE. The end of level IV, attributed to an invasion by Šuppiluliuma I, was once dated 1370 BCE but might be as late as 1340 BCE, according to the “low” chronology.

Level VII provides an end date for levels XVII–VIII encountered in two deep soundings. Woolley's correlation between these two soundings, however, was based on the sequence of structures below VII and is currently challenged by a comparative study of the pottery (Heinz, 1992). In both soundings, levels IX–VIII represent subphases of VII. Whereas in the palace sounding, levels XVI–XIV=XIII, in the temple sounding, levels XVI–XV=XIV and XI=X. Woolley's original fourth-millennium date for the beginning of the “Archaic” levels was questioned as long ago as 1957 by Machteld J. Mellink (review of Woolley, Alalakh, in American Journal of Archaeology 61 [1957]: 395–400). Her observation that the uniform ceramic assemblage of XVII–VIII matches the early MB repertoire has since been confirmed by several studies drawing on comparative evidence from recent excavations, in particular at Tell ed-Dab῾a in the Egyptian Delta, and Tell Mardikh/Ebla, Tell Habuba Kabira, Tell Hadidi, and Mumbaqat in Syria. [See Dab῾a, Tell ed-; Ebla; Habuba Kabira.]

The uppermost levels, III–I, share ceramic elements. The destruction following level II, which contained Late Cypriot IIB ware, signals the end of a period of Hittite domination (c. 1350/40–1275 BCE). Level I is dated by the presence of Late Minoan IIIB pottery to the late thirteenth–early twelfth centuries BCE, preceding the arrival of the Sea Peoples.


A circuit wall, city gate, and fortress enclosed a palace, a temple, and residential houses. Of these, only the palace and temple were traced down through the Archaic levels. While the temple location remained more or less fixed, the palace moved from the temple area to the city gate in the mid-second millennium BCE.

Middle Bronze IIA (levels XVII–X).

The temple was traced back to level XIV, but best known is the temple plan of XIIA–B. Considered a precursor to the Neo-Hittite bitḫilani, this multistoried temple included a cella and an anteroom fronted by a courtyard. In the palace sounding, level XII also produced the earliest remains of a monumental building with a colonnade, followed in levels XI–X by an imposing structure with a stairway and courtyard.

Middle Bronze IIB (levels IX–VII).

The sparse architectural remains of levels IX–VIII are considered subphases of the temple and palace of level VII, which also includes a rampart, gate, and “fortress.” The so-called Yarimlim palace is built in three sections on a terraced terrain along the city wall. The official quarter (rooms 1–13), embellished by basalt orthostats, contains the main entrance, courtyard, audience chamber, and archive room. It rises to the central block in which a stairway leads to the living quarters above. Both the audience chamber and the upper living room were divided by wooden columns on basalt bases between two projecting piers, a feature that recurs in levels IV–I. The walls were decorated by frescoes of architectural and naturalistic designs of Cretan inspiration. Stairs lead down to a possible hypogeum, which remains an enigma. The southern section probably served a domestic function.

The adjoining temple contained related tablets. Its unusually thick walls suggest an upper story; its plan, which consists of a shallow antechamber and deep cella with an altar aligned on a central axis with the entrance, is related to third-millennium North Syrian prototypes.

Also typical of Syria and Palestine in the MB II period is the “three-entrance” city gate framed by lateral towers crowning an earthern rampart or glacis. The gate's association with level VII is based on its relative position below the fort/fortress of level IV.

Middle Bronze IIC–Late Bronze I (levels VI–IV).

Although the remains of levels VI and V were encountered in all areas of excavation, their subphases, A and B, were less apparent outside the fortress. The first major construction is the nine-room palace and triple (serai) gate of level VB, now associated with Idrimi, that were later incorporated as the south wing in Niqmepa's level IV palace. The separation of the palace from the temple and its relocation near the city gate indicate major social or political change. Its plan, comprising a central hearth room surrounded by smaller utility and storage rooms, is in the tradition of contemporary houses. Its main distinguishing feature is its monumental entrance with stairs and a columned portico. Polished basalt orthostats line the walls of the entrance and anteroom leading to stairs and an upper story. Like temple XII, this arrangement is seen as a precurs or of the earlier bit ḫilani plan. Columned porticoes also mark two ceremonial rooms of the later extension built by Niqmepa's son, Ilimilimma, and recur in the fort. The level IV temple, superimposed on the sunken cella of temple V, resembles the axial plan of temple VII, which conformed to a local North Syrian tradition.

The town defenses, traced to levels V and VI, were only partially remodeled in level IV. The entrance leads through a narrow passage with two right-angle turns. It opens into a courtyard bordered on the northwest by the fortress, which is integrated with the gate buildings and contains formal rooms with columned porticoes.

Late Bronze IIA–B (levels III–I).

Following the destruction of level IV, the fort and temple were rebuilt on a massive scale by the Hittite conquerers. It occupied the entire northwest quarter of the citadel, including the old palace area. Its destruction at the end of level II was succeded by a rebuilding on a smaller scale.

Temple III comprised two double-storied shrines with opposite orientations. In shrine A, the altar is located in the courtyard, with the cella, presumably, upstairs. Temple II marks a reversion to the axial plan of levels IV and VII. Temple I is a one-story building consisting of a large cella, antechamber, and courtyard. Apart from porticoed doors, its distinguishing features include a triple-niched cella in phase A and an annex in phase B.


The ceramic evidence comes from all levels at Alalakh and supplements the tablets from levels VII and IV as a chronological index. Attempts to subject this material to statistical analysis have been thwarted by lack of information in the final report (McClellan, 1989), but comparative studies of the pottery assemblage have led to adjustments in Woolley's correlation between levels at Alalakh and their association with dated assemblages in Mesopotamia, Palestine, and the Aegean.

Middle Bronze IIA (levels XVII–X).

The type index of levels XVII–X is “ ῾Amuq-Cilician” ware, with its characteristic trefoil-mouthed jugs, carinated bowls, and high-footed vessels decorated with a painted triglyph-metope frieze containing geometric, plant, and animal motifs. Dated parallels from northern Syria, Cilicia, and Anatolia range within the MB IIA period. From level XII comes a solitary “red-cross bowl,” whose far-flung analogs date to the EB III period. Level X saw the introduction of Khabur Ware and gray burnished Ware, both characteristic of the MB IIB period.

Middle Bronze IIB (levels IX–VII).

The burnished gray ware that began in level X is characteristic of IX–VIII but also occurs in levels VII–V. Khabur Ware, too, continues through VIII. The ceramic assemblage of VII is marked by the absence of painted pottery and by bowls and handleless pots with carinations and flaring rims.

Middle Bronze IIC–Late Bronze I (level VI A–B).

The main feature of VI is the abrupt influx of Syro-Palestinian wares (black lustrous juglets, painted craters, and footed goblets), which together with Cypriot imports (Bichrome, Red-on-Black, and Monochrome ware in VIA; White Slip I and Base Ring I in VIB), provide a chronological indicator of the transition from the Middle to the Late Bronze Age.

Late Bronze IA–B (levels V–IV).

Level V is marked by imported White Slip I and II, Base Ring I, late Khabur Ware, and Black Impressed Ware. The disappearance of Bichrome Ware and Khabur Ware in level IV and the introduction of Nuzi Ware have long overshadowed the transitional character of this level. In it, Cypriot imports (White Slip I and II, Base Ring II) increased, while new types appeared that became more common in levels III–I.

Late Bronze IIA–B (levels III–I).

The white-painted Nuzi Ware blends into “Atchana Ware,” a local variation whose shapes and decoration show strong Aegean affinities. In level II, the fashion for Cypriot wares is superceded by Mycenaean IIIA and B imports, the main ceramic element of level I.


The glyptic material from Alalakh comprises cylinder seals mainly but also scarabs. Actual cylinder seals span a broader time range and show greater variety. They are, however, qualitatively inferior to the seal impressions, which occur mainly on envelopes in VII and on tablets and jars in IV. These include seal impressions of the rulers of Alalakh, Yamḫad, and Mitanni. In VII, the standard compositional scheme comprises an inscription and three standing figures: the king/seal owner, a deity, and an interceding goddess. The style evolves from solid, delicately modeled figures (baroque) toward thinner, elongated figures executed in flat relief (rococo). Although locally produced, the designs show Egyptian, Babylonian, and Cappadocian as well as Aegean and Cypriot inspiration. The seal impressions from IV are in contrast with contemporary seals. Whereas the former reveal a preference for recut older or foreign products with distinctive designs, the latter, made of sintered quartz, are uniformly drill decorated, which characterizes the widespread Mitannian Common Style. There are local variations, of which the Alalakh group appears to be one.

The oldest cylinder seals belong to the late fourth–early third millennia. Once cited as evidence for the early dating of the Archaic levels, they are now recognized as antiques. The latest seals, showing figures with raised arms supporting the winged disk, are related to Hittite iconography, which, ultimately, however, derived from northern Syria.

Small Finds.

As a result of numerous violent destructions followed by looting, few of the small finds were found in situ and their dates are largely open to debate. Composite statues were popular during VII, to judge by the stone heads and fragments from the floor of the temple. Most remarkable is the black diorite “head of Yarimlim,” a priestly figure, whose beard and moustache may have been highlighted by paint or incrustation. Two crude basalt figures found in the northeast gate tower of level V belong to a growing number of statuettes from Syria, northern Mesopotamia, and the Levantine coast. They date to the middle and late second millennium BCE, and their contexts suggest a guardian function. The well-known seated statue of Idrimi, identified by its autobiographical inscription, was found broken and buried in the temple IB annex. Thought to have survived several centuries as an object of veneration, it is unclear whether the statue was ever mounted on the basalt lion throne found nearby. Made of white stone, with eyes and eyebrows inlaid in black stone, the statue's striking frontality was once considered characteristic of Hurro-Mitannian art. However, its tall hat and wraparound cloak with its thick rolled hem place it firmly in the Old Syrian tradition. Egyptian influence is seen in the somber facial expression and the position of the hands. More puzzling is the abstract sculpture of a ram's head from palace IV, whose only parallel comes from Nuzi. Evidence of Hittite supremacy during level III is manifested by the basalt slab of a Hittite royal relief showing Tudhaliya and his wife, which was found inverted as a paving slab in temple I. Also of this general period, but considered typically North Syrian, are two cornestone lion sculptures with the head, chest, and forelegs carved in the round; the body is rendered in relief.

Most noteworthy is a bronze god seated on an eagle from the level VII gate and a bronze goddess from temple V. A ritual spearhead with molded lions gripping the blade is considered to be of Hittite inspiration. This and a ceremonial sword with an inlayed hilt and a lunate handle were found in level I and are difficult to date.

Alalakh's location at the heart of the ivory trade network is evidenced by the store of elephant tusks found in palace VII. Used primarily for appliqué or inlay, the raw material was worked by local craftsmen, although Egyptian and Hittite inspiration is apparent. The repertoire of luxury products includes statuettes, toilet boxes, and bowls from the temple, palace, and graves.

The discovery of faience vessels and polychrome glass beads in the level VII temple and palace is consistent with the MB glass and faience industry in Syria and Anatolia. [See Glass.] These precede the earliest glass vessels and the first vessels of glazed terra cotta found in level VI. The glaze is alkaline, not lead, as once thought. Woolley's discovery of sherds of polychrome, core-formed glass vessels in level VI must be cited with caution: examples found outside Alalakh date to the mid-fifth century BCE. Other cast or molded glass objects reported from level VI, notably a nude-female plaque, are in keeping with external finds.


  • Collon, Dominique. The Seal Impressions from Tell Atchana/Alalakh. Alter Orient und Altes Testament, 27. Kevelaer, 1975. Comprehensive publication of the seal impressions from Alalakh, with a critical examination of their chronological and sociological role, combined with an art historical study of style and iconography. Collon's dating of level VII is now obsolete.
  • Collon, Dominique. The Alalakh Cylinder Seals. British Archaeological Reports, International Series, no. 132. Oxford, 1982. Valuable catalog with much information on dating, iconography, and distribution included with the descriptions in the individual entries.
  • Dietrich, Manfried, and Oswald Loretz. “Die Inschrift der Statue des Königs Idrimi von Alalah.” Ugarit Forschungen 13 (1981): 201–269.
  • Oller, Gary Howard. “The Autobiography of Idrimi: A New Text Edition with Philological and Historical Commentary.” Ph.D. diss., University of Pennsylvania, 1977. Reedition of the text with a useful summary of existing theories on the inscription and a critical evaluation of its historical significance.
  • Smith, Sidney. The Statue of Idri-mi. Occasional Publications of the British Institute of Archaeology in Ankara, no. 1. London, 1949. The original translation and evaluation of the Idrimi inscription, which has been amended and augmented by newer readings, notably Oller (1977) and Dietrich and Loretz (1981).
  • Wiseman, D. J. The Alalakh Tablets. Occasional Publications of the British Institute of Archaeology in Ankara, no. 2. New York, 1953. Primary reference work for most of the 460 tablets from Alalakh, with a useful introduction and synopsis of key developments in population, social structure, religion, and literature. Additional tablets were published by Wiseman in “Supplementary Copies of Alalakh Tablets,” Journal of Cuneiform Studies 8 (1954): 1–30.
  • Woolley, C. Leonard. A Forgotten Kingdom. London, 1953. Popular account of the excavations.
  • Woolley, C. Leonard. Alalakh: An Account of the Excavations at Tell Atchana in the Hatay, 1937–1949. Oxford, 1955. The final publication of Woolley's last excavation, an overview of the general results. On the whole, the chronology is outdated and Woolley's interpretation of the lower strata, in particular, is doubtful. Recent studies on the pottery, small finds, and glyptic have been frustrated by inadequacies and inaccuracies with regard to information on findspots, types, and quantities. Best used in conjunction with the field notes and actual objects.

Primary Sources

Secondary Sources

  • Albright, William Foxwell. “Stratigraphic Confirmation of the Low Mesopotamian Chronology.” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, no. 144 (1956): 26–30. Pioneering study of the low chronology, which has recently gained favor.
  • Gates, Marie H. C. Alalakh Levels VI and V: A Chronological Reassessment. Syro-Mesopotamian Studies, 4.2. Malibu, 1981. Novel approach to the dating of Alalakh VII and IV by means of the LB assemblages of the intervening levels VI and V, which support the low chronology.
  • Gates, Marie H. C. “Alalakh and Chronology Again.” In High, Middle, or Low? International Colloquium on Absolute Chronology Held at the University of Gothenburg, 20–22 August 1987, edited by Paul Åström, pp. 60–86. Gothenburg, 1987. Updated version of her 1981 work.
  • Götze, Albrecht. “Alalaḫ and Hittite Chronology.” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, no. 146 (1957): 20–26.
  • Heinz, Marlies. Tell Atchana/Alalakh: Die Schichten VII–XVII. Alter Orient und Altes Testament, 41. Neukirchen-Vluyn, 1992. The most recent in-depth investigation of the early ceramic assemblage, with a view toward defining its date and context. Drawing on comparative material from recent excavations, Heinz proposes adjustments to Woolley's stratigraphic correlations and supports the MB horizon suggested by Mellink and others.
  • McClellan, Thomas L. “The Chronology and Ceramic Assemblages of Alalakh.” In Essays in Ancient Civilization Presented to Helene J. Kantor, edited by Albert Leonard, Jr., and Bruce B. Williams, pp. 181–212. Studies in Ancient Oriental Civilization, no. 47. Chicago, 1989. Lucid discussion of the central issues affecting the chronology of Alalakh, which the author attempts to solve by means of a statistical analysis of pottery types in various levels. Relying heavily on Woolley's publication, McClellan's results are perhaps less reliable than those of Heinz (1992), which are based on her inspection of the actual sherds. See the comments on McClellan by Heinz in Akkadica 83 (1993): 1–25.
  • Smith, Sidney. Alalakh and Chronology. London, 1940. The basis for the middle chronology, which gained a wide following and is still prevalent in textbooks despite the faulty synchronisms between the kings of Alalakh and Babylon.

Diana L. Stein