Ebla in the Third Millennium B.C.

Works of Art


In 1964, Italian archaeologists began to excavate a mound in northwestern Syria known as Tell Mardikh. From 1975, work concentrated on an area they called “G.” Here was discovered a palace dating to the second half of the third millennium B.C. Thousands of well-preserved cuneiform tablets were found in palace G demonstrating Ebla’s close links to southern Mesopotamia, where the script had developed. In one of the palace rooms, over 14,000 tablets were excavated. The larger tablets had originally been stored on shelves but had fallen onto the floor when the palace was destroyed. The find spots of the tablets allowed the excavators to reconstruct their original position: they were stored by subject. The Ebla tablets record the cultural, economic, and political life of northern Syria. The majority of the tablets are inscribed in the local Semitic language, known today as Eblaite. Other artifacts provide evidence of Ebla’s close relationship with the Mediterranean world and Egypt. Exquisite sculpture in the round was recovered. Composite statues had been created from different colored stones. Much of the artistic style preempts, and possibly influences, the quality work of the following Akkadian empire (ca. 2350–2150 B.C.). The sculpture and the royal archive were preserved by chance when Ebla was attacked and the palace contents were buried under the building’s rubble. Sargon and Naram-Sin of Akkad, the conquerors of much of Mesopotamia, each claim to have destroyed Ebla, but the exact date of destruction is the subject of continuing debate.

Department of Ancient Near Eastern Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

October 2002


Department of Ancient Near Eastern Art. “Ebla in the Third Millennium B.C.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/ebla/hd_ebla.htm (October 2002)

Further Reading

Matthiae, Paolo "Ebla and the Early Urbanization of Syria." In Art of the First Cities: The Third Millennium B.C. from the Mediterranean to the Indus, edited by Joan Aruz with Ronald Wallenfels, pp. 165–68.. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003.

Weiss, Harvey, ed. Ebla to Damascus: Art and Archaeology of Ancient Syria. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, 1985.