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 third 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. 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 third 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.