Ebla (Arabic: إبلا, modern: تل مرديخ, Tell Mardikh) was one of the earliest kingdoms in Syria. Its remains constitute a tell located about 55 km (34 mi) southwest of Aleppo near the village of Mardikh. Ebla was an important center throughout the 3rd millennium BC and in the first half of the 2nd millennium BC. Its discovery proved the Levant was a center of ancient, centralized civilization equal to Egypt and Mesopotamia and ruled out the view that the latter two were the only important centers in the Near East during the early Bronze Age. The first Eblaite kingdom has been described as the first recorded world power.
Starting as a small settlement in the early Bronze Age (c. 3500 BC), Ebla developed into a trading empire and later into an expansionist power that imposed its hegemony over much of northern and eastern Syria. Ebla was destroyed during the 23rd century BC; it was then rebuilt and was mentioned in the records of the Third Dynasty of Ur. The second Ebla was a continuation of the first, ruled by a new royal dynasty. It was destroyed at the end of the 3rd millennium BC, which paved the way for the Amorite tribes to settle in the city, forming the third Ebla. The third kingdom also flourished as a trade center; it became a subject and an ally of Yamhad (modern-day Aleppo) until its final destruction by the Hittite king Mursili I in c. 1600 BC.
Ebla maintained its prosperity through a vast trading network. Artifacts from Sumer, Cyprus, Egypt and as far as Afghanistan were recovered from the city's palaces. The kingdom had its own language, Eblaite, and the political organization of Ebla had features different from the Sumerian model. Women enjoyed a special status, and the queen had major influence in the state and religious affairs. The pantheon of gods was mainly north Semitic and included deities exclusive to Ebla. The city was excavated starting in 1964 and became famous for the Ebla tablets, an archive of about 20,000 cuneiform tablets found there, dated to around 2350 BC.[note 1] Written in both Sumerian and Eblaite and using the cuneiform, the archive has allowed a better understanding of the Sumerian language and provided important information over the political organization and social customs of the mid-3rd millennium BC's Levant.
A possible meaning of the word "Ebla" is "white rock", referring to the limestone outcrop on which the city was built. Ebla was first settled around 3500 BC; its growth was supported by many satellite agricultural settlements. The city benefited from its role as an entrepôt of growing international trade, which probably began with an increased demand for wool in Sumer. Archaeologists designate this early habitation period "Mardikh I"; it ended around 3000 BC. Mardikh I is followed by the first and second kingdoms era between about 3000 and 2000 BC, designated "Mardikh II". I. J. Gelb consider Ebla as part of the Kish civilization, which was a cultural entity of East Semitic-speaking populations that stretched from the center of Mesopotamia to the western Levant.
During the first kingdom period between about 3000 and 2300 BC, Ebla was the most prominent kingdom among the Syrian states, especially during the second half of the 3rd millennium BC, which is known as "the age of the archives" after the Ebla tablets.
The early period between 3000 and 2400 BC is designated "Mardikh IIA". General knowledge about the city's history prior to the written archives is obtained through excavations. The first stages of Mardikh IIA is identified with building "CC", and structures that form a part of building "G2", which was apparently a royal palace built c. 2700 BC. Toward the end of this period, a hundred years' war with Mari started. Mari gained the upper hand through the actions of its king Saʿumu, who conquered many of Ebla's cities. In the mid-25th century BC, king Kun-Damu defeated Mari, but the state's power declined following his reign.[note 2]
The archive period, which is designated "Mardikh IIB1", lasted from c. 2400 BC until c. 2300 BC. The end of the period is known as the "first destruction", mainly referring to the destruction of the royal palace (called palace "G" and built over the earlier "G2"), and much of the acropolis. During the archive period, Ebla had political and military dominance over the other Syrian city-states of northern and eastern Syria, which are mentioned in the archives. Most of the tablets, which date from that period, are about economic matters but also include royal letters and diplomatic documents.