The State Archives of Early Syrian Ebla, brought to light between 1974 and 1976, have a revolutionary importance, and may be included, for the old age and for the amount of texts, among the most important discoveries of the cuneiform world since the half of the XIXth century. As I.J. Gelb, the most authoritative dean of Assyriological studies of Chicago, maintained, the Italian Expedition, with the Ebla excavations, and the discovery of the Archives, brought to the revelation of a new culture, a new language, and a new history.
In fact, until the discovery of the Early Syrian tablets of Ebla, everyone believed that pre-classical Syria did not know writing, until shortly before the age of Hammurabi of Babylon, in the XVIIIth century BC, whence the Royal Archives of Mari date. Mari is a site on the Middle Euphrates, whose culture, however, is prevalently a Mesopotamian one, and was discovered between 1934 and 1936. The texts of the Ugarit Archives, a site on the Mediterranean coast in northern Syria, brought to light starting in 1929, brought to the discovery of the most ancient alphabet in history, and are the other great epigraphic discovery made in Syria between the two world wars, yet they date from the XIVth-XIIIth centuries BC. In 1979, in the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Ugarit excavations, C.F.A. Schaeffer himself, the discoverer of Ugarit, stated that Ebla is a one millennium older Ugarit.
The more than 17,000 inventory numbers of cuneiform tablets of the Ebla Royal Archives, discovered in the main Archive Room, and in some smaller deposit of the Royal Palace G, are the result of the fragmentation of the approximately 5,000 original tablets, slightly less than 2,000 of which were intact. These tablets, dating from the years between 2350 and 2300 BC, are a priceless patrimony of information about the economic structure, social stratification, international relations, religious belief, state administration, literary culture, and everyday life.
The Archives texts, concerning three kings reigning in succession for approximately fifty years – Igrish-Khalab, Irkab-Damu, Ishar-Damu – are, for the largest amount, economic and administrative documents, analytic and synthetic, also monthly and yearly accounts, which register incomes and outcomes of the Palace: cereals, textiles, metals were delivered to the central administration, in order to be redistributed to the officials and personnel, as rations, or extraordinary gifts in special occasions, like the several ceremonies related to the royal family. Analyzing these documents it was also possible to reconstruct peculiar aspects of the life at Ebla and in its territory, like the fairs and markets, taking place in villages in the Ebla region, or the wars the town fought, particularly against Mari, the powerful and rich town on the middle Euphrates, with which Ebla was in direct concurrence for the dominion over the trade routes.
In the State Archives also kings’ letters were preserved, international treaties – the first ones in the history of humankind – a few literary texts of difficult interpretation, from hymns to exorcisms, monolingual and bilingual lexical texts. The latter, which are the oldest dictionaries in history, are of the strongest interest, because they show that at Ebla an advanced scribal school was active, connected with the main schools of Mesopotamia, in particular with those of Mari and Kish, but most of all because they offer for more than 1,500 words the correspondence between Sumerian and Eblaite.
The economy of Early Syrian Ebla was based on a strong integration among extensive agriculture, cattle breeding, with special regard for goats, sheep, and cows, and exploitation of the Lebanon mountains, from the Amanus to the Taurus, for timber, copper, and silver. The economic power of the town grew strongly in a few years in the Archives age for the close relations with even quite far away countries, from Egypt to Afghanistan, where the lords of Ebla took, in relevant amounts, respectively the Nubian gold, and the Badakhshan lapis lazuli.
Among the many studied, translated, and interpreted texts, one may recall those concerning the Ritual for kingship renewal, a long ceremony, lasting three weeks, during which the king and queen, accompanied by the statues of the main deities, Kura and Barama, went out of Ebla, in order to visit the deified royal ancestors’ burials and to make sacrifices and rites in preparation of their going back to Ebla in Kura’s Temple, where the final consecration of the royal couple took place, and they became an earthly image of the divine couple.
The data concerning the Early Syrian society of Ebla reveal, on the one hand, the relevant position of court ladies in general, and of some personage in particular, like queen Dusigu, who possibly reigned for some time during her son’s minor age, and, on the other hand, the division of power between the king and the vizier, the prime minister, who, specially towards the end of the Archives age, passed his function over to his son, and who even became related with the royal family.