Ebla: An Untold Story

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"Which is preferable for man and for society, abundance or scarcity?"

~ Frédéric Bastiat, (1801—1850) Economic Sophisms

What is it about abundance that people fear?

Whether we like it or not Robert LeFevre was correct in his analysis of man’s love for government. Indeed, man establishes then condones the excesses, abuses, and maltreatment of the state. This stems from a perception of imminent danger in the form of marauding hoards, raptorial neighbors, predacious social misfits, war, sickness, aging, poverty, the lack of food, not being clothed, not having shelter or not being kept warm.

In short, the basics of life and happiness are consigned to whims of bureaucracies and its occupying drones who fancy themselves capable of manipulating economies through law. Thus, it falls to those who produce nothing, while living well as social parasites, to make available the necessary items which will alleviate the fears of the general population.

What is truly amazing is that those who so heartily support the concept of government and its persistent unjust practices would not think of violating the law of physics by sticking a fork in a live electrical outlet barehanded, for fear of harm if not a fatal finality to the act. However, on the subject of government and the state these same people will, with the maudlin rationalization of a small child, support and defend the form and function of the state in direct violation of and in contradiction to history and the natural law of freedom with wealth through abundance.

Thus we must conclude, with Bastiat, that those who support the state "…operate, if not intentionally, at least logically, on the assumption that a nation is rich (and freest) when it is lacking in everything."

The simple fact of history is that the greater the bureaucratic labyrinth, which defines the state, the more prolific the restrictive laws are that emanate from that state.

It is with the restrictive, inequitable, and unequal intent of these laws that we must deal. Now, either we agree with Bastiat, "…that they produce scarcity or we do not admit it. If we do admit it, we thereby confess that they inflict upon the people all the harm that they can do. If we do not admit it, then we deny that they limit the supply of goods and raise their prices…"

It becomes axiomatic then that as the state gains control of the economy the mood will change, from a benevolent protector of individual rights, to a state that forcibly seeks to compel collective conformity with its edicts; resulting in the loss of wealth and freedom congruent to an increasing scarcity of goods, famine, and war.

War further weakens the society through increased scarcity via lost production, social unrest, economic collapse, and eventually the loss of national and social identity. Thus, that which was created, defended then honored as the protector and suppler of the needs of society becomes the ultimate destroyer of man and his dreams. Here is where history lays the corpses of great empires.

Fortunately for us, there are a few shining moments in man’s history where the free market stood supreme in the minds of men and they were able to achieve the freedom, wealth and security all long for.

One such place was the ancient city state of Ebla (literally “White Rock”) named for the limestone on which the city was built.

No one would have known about this ancient city state if it hadn’t been for an obscure, almost overlooked, remark in Akkadian and Assyrian records concerning the city’s fall to the Assyrian empire by Sargon of Akkad’ s grandson Naram-Sin (ca. 2240 BC).

These ancient records lead a team of archeologists from the University of Rome and led by Paolo Matthiae to start a search for the ancient city of Ebla, in 1964. Their search centered on the Tell Mardikh, an ancient city 33 miles (53 km) southwest of Aleppo in northwestern Syria.

In 1975 their persistence paid off when Matthiae’s team found Ebla’s archives, which dated to the 3rd millennium BC. The ancient library of records was found practically undamaged and in the order in which documents had once been stored. The now collapsed shelving revealed more than 17,000 clay cuneiform tablets and fragments, offering an unmatched source of information about Ebla along with the world these ancient Syrian’s traded with and lived in.

The massive amount of information that should have been revealed from such a Herculean discovery would have shed a prodigious amount of light on the ancient world west of modern China. However, Middle Eastern politics and cultural biases have repressed the flow of knowledge to all but a trickle.

What has been learned only serves to heighten a longing for more of the lore of how these people lived.

Among these ancient records was found the first bilingual dictionary of the near Eastern languages. Thus we can assume that they traded extensively throughout the Middle East.

Those who lived in Ebla spoke a previously unknown Canaanite dialect, closely related to the Northwestern Semitic languages of Hebrew and Phoenician.

The text of some of these Eblaite tablets is clearly described as Sumerian cuneiform, with similarities to tablets from Adab and Abu Salabikh of Iraq.

Tablets have revealed that Sumerian teachers came to Ebla. Beyond that there is evidence from the “Canal of Ebla” near Adab which confirm that Eblaites went to Sumer as well. This coupled with vocabularies, syllabaries, gazetteers, and student exercises show clearly that Ebla took great pride in an extensive education and that Ebla was a major educational center.

These priceless records show Ebla had long-standing trade agreements that were sealed through marriage with the Hittite city of Emar; a city strategically located on southern bank of the Middle Euphrates River in what is now Turkey.

In Iran, Ebla’s commercial and diplomatic ally was the great trading center of Khammazi.

The ancient documents further reveal the Eblaites traded extensively throughout Mesopotamia but chiefly with the very ancient city of Kish and as far west as Egypt.

What is chief among these records is not the military might of this ancient people but their use of trade and business agreements with others to solidify their trade routes and draw others into Ebla’s sphere of influence. A sphere based on economic leadership that extended to as many as 17 city-states throughout what is now Lebanon and southeastern Turkey; areas rich in silver and timber.

One aspect of the Ebla culture, that is obvious by its absence, are the vainglorious stelas glorifying military conquests and the hoards of slaves that were common among the historical records of the Middle Eastern peoples.

This is not to say that the Eblaites didn’t have a standing army. In fact they did. However, their military was not made up of the general population but was hired by the city to defend its trade routes and protect the city.

There was conflict and we know of two events in which Ebla’s army marched on its great southeastern rival, the Amorite city of Mari, and even ruled it for a time with a military governor. This, however, is an exception and not the general means of Ebla’s solving international disputes.

It was left to diplomacy and trade to solve Ebla’s international problems.

The wealth of the Eblaites was grounded in the rich agricultural land of northern Syria. Here they raised barley, wheat, figs, grapes, pomegranates, olives and flax.

Among their exports was olive oil and it is among the tablets of Ebla that we have the first official documentation regarding olive trees and olive oil production. There are 12 tablets, dated ca. 2400 BC, which described the property dedicated to olive trees as consisting of some 3620 acres (1465 hectares) and producing a startling 700 tons of olive oil annually. Along with wine and beer this comprised the third largest product group the Eblaites exported.

Just as surprising is that in a population of some 15,000 people there would be found individuals who would own a total of 200,000 head of livestock, which consisted of sheep, goats and cattle.

Not unexpected is the fact that the bulk of their livestock was sheep. This, along with flax crops, supplied wool and linen for their cloth mills. Wool and linen cloth, including damask cloth without doubt graced many courts throughout the ancient near east, being the bulk of Ebla’s exports.

The Eblaites were not limited in their expertise. Second to their cloth, they were masters in woodworking, smelting and metal products manufactured from alloys of gold, silver, copper, tin and lead, all of which were in great demand by their neighbors.

All of this made Ebla a major manufacturing and distribution center and the people of Ebla extremely wealthy.

However, the story doesn’t end there. Over 2200 years before the First Olympiad (ca. 776 BC) and the beginning of Greek democracy we have a people of Syria who saw and practiced the natural law that freedom produces wealth through abundance.

This is best illustrated by their political system which was the first known democracy. You see the Eblaites understood that kings were not gods so they limited their rulers to terms, (the length of which we don’t yet know), and elected their ruler from the merchant class.

Thus the great mistake of hereditary kings was avoided but even further they gave no blanket power to the elected ruler but put him at the head of 14 governors. The merchant king was thus limited to protecting the trade routes and using diplomacy for the purpose of securing trade agreements.

While the elected ruler was entrusted with the defense of the city, the first lady of Ebla was also given the responsibility of overseeing Ebla’s greatest industry, the wool and cloth mills.

Now, what we don’t know is whether the rulers and the governors were paid out of public funds. What is missing (so far) is any tax information. If this continues to be true and the rulers were not paid from public funds then their income would have been linked to their investments in the city’s manufacturing making the elected officials and their wealth dependant strictly on their decisions while in power.

Thus, the well being and continued success of the society was coupled inextricably with the wealth of the ruling elite. Thus entangled, the onus of every decision would inescapably have directly affected the pocket book of those who held power. This would certainly explain why the first lady of Ebla was giving the responsibility of overseeing the cloth industry.

Regardless, Ebla is a history that should be taught for if anything it proves that wealth follows freedom.

Tim Case [send him mail] is a 30-year student of the ancient histories who agrees with the first-century stoic Epictetus on this one point: u201COnly the educated are free.u201D

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