One Hurrian text tells of a conflict concerning manumission at Ebla, modern Tell Mardikh, 45 miles south of Aleppo in Syria. Since 1975, Italian excavations at Ebla have yielded thousands of cuneiform tablets from the second half of the third millennium B.C.E. Although Ebla is known mainly as an Early Bronze Age site, the Italian excavations have shown that the city experienced a revival during the Middle Bronze Age (2200–1550 B.C.E.). The flourishing Middle Bronze Age city was destroyed about 1600 B.C.E., never to be rebuilt again. Our Hurrian tale provides an explanation for the city’s demise.

This story is known from a series of cuneiform tablets in the Hurrian language, with Hittite translation, unearthed in 1983 at the Hittite capital of Hattusha. The earliest Hurrian version was probably composed in Mittani-controlled north Syria and then brought to Hattusha in the 16th century B.C.E., after the Hittite king Hattushili I conquered parts of north Mesopotamia.

The tablets tell of a disagreement between Megi, the ruler of Ebla, and the elders of the city. Ebla’s main god, the Hurrian storm-god Teshub, orders that the enslaved people of the town of Igingallish be freed. Although Megi is willing to defer to Teshub, the elders do not want to part with their slaves—thus causing the storm-god’s wrath:

“If you make a manumission,” Teshub says, “Your arms will smash the enemy, so that your fields will prosper to (your) fame.

“If you do not make a manumission … the seventh day I would come to you, to yourselves, and the city of Ebla I shall destroy and make it like an unsettled place … The lower city I shall smash like a goblet, the upper city I shall erase like a clay pit. Into the middle of the market place I will smash the foundation like a goblet … The (hearth) of the lower city I shall put into the river, [the hearth of the] upp[er city] into the lower city!”

Megi then reports to the city’s elders, telling them of Teshub’s demands. They respond mockingly:

“Why are you constantly talking (such) obsequiousness, Megi, star of Ebla?” … If Teshub is in need of silver, we shall give him a shekel of silver; half a shekel of gold, one shekel of silver. If Teshub is hungry, we shall fill up a parisu-measure of barley for him; half a parisu of emmer we shall fill up, one parisu of barley. If Teshub is naked, we shall clothe him, the god, with a garment … (But) we shall not make a manumission! Megi, your heart shall not be pleased … The sons of Igingallish we shall not release in peace. If we release them, who will feed us? They are (our) cup-bearer, waiter, cook (and) washer. The product of the spinner is like hair, like the skin of your cows. If you wish a manumission, your own slave be released, your own slave girl be released! Give your son away, your wife shall be sent to her father’s (house).”

Upon hearing these words, Megi addresses Teshub, sobbing in distress:

“Listen, Teshub, great Lord of Kumme! I am ready to grant it, but my city does not grant a manumission.”

Although the text does not explicitly say so (at least not the fragmented text found at Hattusha), it seems Teshub carries out his threat and destroys Ebla.

Translation by the author, mainly from the Hurrian text.

Mittani kings bore Hurrian names until they actually ascended to the throne; then they assumed their Indo-Aryan names. A number of Hurrian words dealing with the breeding and training of horses are also Indo-Aryan.