The cuneiform tablets found at the site of Ebla didn’t give up their stories easily.1 In 1974, when Italian excavators first discovered the main archive room in the ancient palace,2 the sight of the clay tablets must have been almost overwhelming. As the archaeologists carefully removed the dirt, thousands of cuneiform tablets appeared, piled on the ground, some still in exactly the order in which they had been placed 4,300 years ago, before the palace burned down (see Fig. 5.1).
Fig. 5.1 Ebla tablets when discovered in the ruins of the palace, c. 2300 bce. (© NPL—DeA Picture Library/Bridgeman Images)
The intact ones, 1,727 of them,3 looked for all the world like stacked roof tiles but were covered in careful columns of ancient script. Others had tumbled against one another, most of them in pieces, some in minute fragments. The potential knowledge contained in those rooms was incredible. Ultimately, 17,000 artifacts with cuneiform script were uncovered and they proved to be parts of at least 3,500 tablets,4 ranging from large square documents the size of a laptop computer to small memos that would easily fit in your hand. These tablets promised to reveal a previously unknown world. Until that moment, historians had almost no textual evidence at all from Syria in the third millennium BCE, during the same time as the Early Dynastic city-states of southern Mesopotamia. (There are still almost no Syrian documents for the previous period, from 3100–2600 BCE.)5 But now, for the mid-third millennium BCE, they had more evidence than anyone could have dreamed of. One gets such a sense of connection to the people of Ebla just from seeing these tablets, let alone reading them. The scribes who wrote them and stacked them on shelves and in baskets had lives, interests, and families. They also had very human frustrations—one small tablet in the archive had been balled up, perhaps in anger, while it was still soft. The imprints of the scribe’s fingers (even his fingerprints) are clearly visible where he squeezed the tablet in his hand before tossing it aside.6
There was just one big obstacle to overcome in writing history based on the palace archive—a lack of royal inscriptions. The vast majority of the tablets recorded lists of administrative details about the day-to-day running of the palace. These are not unlike the tablets from the E-Mi in Girsu, only the people of Ebla didn’t speak Sumerian. Their language has been dubbed Eblaite; it was a Semitic language, so it is distantly related to languages such as Arabic and Hebrew. The scribes used a lot of Sumerian cuneiform signs, but it’s clear that the language they were thinking in was Eblaite. The history contained in these tablets wasn’t there to be picked up and read; even the names of the kings and queens had to be fathomed through their mentions in lists that were not intended for posterity.
The scribes seem to have been largely preoccupied with recording the production and distribution of textiles, which was clearly just as important here as it was at Lagash, if not more so; 543 of the documents consist of monthly registers of endless amounts of clothing and cloth of different types (see Fig. 5.2). Fortunately, when these textiles were distributed, the scribes would note the reason why they were being given out or to whom they were being given. From this, we get glimpses of life beyond the textile warehouse. Other administrative lists that pertain to metals, agriculture, herds of animals, and palace revenues add to the picture.
Fig. 5.2 Administrative tablet from Ebla listing textiles, clothes, and jewelry, 2350–2300 bce. (Erich Lessing/Art Resource, NY)
And, fortunately, the big archive room also included some other documents that the scribes had deemed worth keeping, including a few ritual texts, hymns, and incantations, dictionaries and lists of words, and a few royal decrees, letters, diplomatic reports, and agreements with other states.7
Tabur-damu and Ishar-damu of Ebla: A Royal Couple
When a young woman named Tabur-damu became engaged to King Ishar-damu of Ebla around 2300 BCE, the kingdom was flourishing. Ishar-damu ruled from a sprawling and finely built palace in the capital city, a little more than 54 kilometers (33 miles) south of the already important city of Halab (now Aleppo).8 The palace, which archaeologists uncovered, was spread out over 2,400 square meters (almost 26,000 square feet)9 on an acropolis overlooking the city. The city wall would have been visible in the distance, surrounding the 60 hectares (148 acres) of densely packed buildings that made up Ebla. Fields and countryside extended in all directions beyond.
During Ishar-damu’s reign, Ebla was one of the major kingdoms of his era; it included at least twenty cities that recognized him as their king, it was home to more than 700 villages that were mentioned in the archives,10 and it stretched at least 200 kilometers (125 miles) from east to west across northwest Syria. The kingdom of Ebla bordered other powerful kingdoms of the day, Nagar to the east in the Habur River region, and Mari to the southeast along the Euphrates. Both were homes to major kings and both were thriving. The three kingdoms were not always at peace with one another, however. Ebla and Mari had a particularly contentious relationship.
King Ishar-damu did not rule alone. Not only was he assisted by his queen, like the kings of the Sumerian city-states, but Ebla had a long tradition of the king sharing power, at least to some extent, with a vizier. The vizier’s title, confusingly, was written with the Sumerian word “lugal,” which in the south meant “king.” When the Ebla tablets were first being read, this led to some early speculation that these lugals were also kings. But, although viziers led many military campaigns, it soon became clear that they were subordinate to the king. The two men worked together, but it was Ishar-damu who was the king, and his “lugal” was a man named Ibrium who served him as vizier. A collection of notable men known as “lords” provided input as well.
At the time of his betrothal to Tabur-damu, King Ishar-damu had already been on the throne for at least thirteen years. This was a normal amount of time for a complete reign for a king in this era, but Ishar-damu was still a young man when he got engaged. He had been just a child when his father died and he had come to power. And therein lies a story, so before we get to know Tabur-damu and follow her through the elaborate royal wedding, it might be good to pause for a moment to get to know more about the family she was about to enter.
Dusigu: Queen Mother
Ishar-damu’s father was King Irkab-damu (c. 2325 BCE), who ruled Ebla for eleven years. But Ishar-damu wasn’t his oldest son, and he wasn’t a son of his father’s queen (known as a maliktum in the local Eblaite language), whose name had been Keshdudu. In fact, Ishar-damu’s mother had no title.11 People in the palace at the time of his birth might not have given him much thought at all. But to dismiss his future prospects would be to overlook the formidable qualities of his mother, Dusigu. When she joined the court, Dusigu was just one of the “king’s women.” A king’s secondary wives and concubines were all called the “king’s women,” lumped together in this category along with his mother’s sisters and his own daughters. They didn’t even all live in Ebla. At one point, an Ebla king had as many as twenty “king’s women” in his Ebla palace, along with five at palaces elsewhere in his kingdom.12
So Dusigu was initially one of the king’s women, one of many. But then Irkab-damu’s queen Keshdudu died, perhaps soon after they married, and Irkab-damu never married another maliktum. Dusigu seems to have spotted an opportunity, or perhaps she was the king’s favorite secondary wife and it was his preference for her that propelled her up in the ranks of the women. In whatever way it happened, from that time on, she became increasingly prominent in lists of the king’s women.13
In spite of having no official title, Dusigu acquired considerable power and must have been a brilliant woman; King Irkab-damu came to depend on her. Like Baranamtara in Lagash, who lived around the same time, she took a role in diplomatic relations with other kingdoms and participated in rituals, and she moved up through the ranks of the royal women at court until her name was listed first among the women in important documents.
When her son (the future king Ishar-damu) was born, Dusigu employed a wet nurse to feed and take care of him. As an important woman at court, Dusigu could not be tied to the fusses and whims of a young baby. The wet nurse, Kisadu, could take care of all that. Wet nurses made public life possible for many prominent women in ancient Near Eastern history. In time, the baby prince was weaned, but Kisadu stayed on at court. In fact, she lived there throughout her life.14 Her own son was about the same age as Ishar-damu and they may well have been playmates. Perhaps his nurse Kisadu continued to be one of Ishar-damu’s confidantes, even when circumstances propelled him to take the throne at a young age.
King Irkab-damu’s death must have been traumatic for the kingdom, especially given that there seems to have been no obvious heir to the throne. His queen probably hadn’t lived long enough to give birth to an heir, so any of the sons of secondary wives and concubines might have become king.15 Prince Ishar-damu was not the oldest among his brothers; he might even have been the youngest. But Dusigu was the most powerful woman in the palace, and somehow she maneuvered her young son Ishar-damu onto the throne.16 He might have been only four years old!17
Such a young boy was in no position to administer a great kingdom. You may not be surprised to hear that those same hierarchical lists that were kept by palace scribes sometimes listed Dusigu’s name before that of her young son Ishar-damu, even after he became king.18 His mother was certainly advising him and helping him make decisions in his early years, and she may well have been serving as his regent, effectively running the country.19 And, at last, she had a title. She had never been queen—maliktum—but, with her husband’s death and her son’s ascension to the throne, she became the “great mother of the king.”20 It must have been gratifying.
When it came time for King Ishar-damu to marry, he needed advice. Marriage was a very big deal for a king of Ebla; the woman he married would become the maliktum, who would play a vital role in the kingdom and hold significant power. She oversaw a host of servants, advised her husband, and helped run the court. Princes and kings in ancient Mesopotamia don’t seem to have married for love (a truth in almost every era of history); a candidate for queen had to come from a family of the right social status and, in Ebla, she had to show promise as a leader herself. For suggestions of whom to marry, King Ishar-damu turned, as you might have already guessed, to his mother.21
Dusigu had someone in mind. Her own late husband, King Irkab-damu, had a brother, and that brother had a daughter, Tabur-damu, who fit the qualifications for queen nicely. First-cousin marriages were not frowned on in the ancient Near East; in fact, they were often seen as ideal because property stayed within the family. It might not have hurt that Dusigu already knew her niece well and must have realized that Tabur-damu would probably be willing, as maliktum, to take second place among the women, beneath the “great mother of the king,” Dusigu herself. The maliktum was traditionally the most powerful woman in the court and some other prospective brides might not have been inclined to allow Dusigu to retain her power.
It turns out that Dusigu wasn’t the only one who supported the match; the gods also agreed. The king ordered omens to be read when his mother proposed that Tabur-damu should be maliktum, and they came back positive. Certainly Ishar-damu would never have gone ahead with the marriage if the gods had been against it.
The Marriage of Tabur-damu and Ishar-damu
Now Tabur-damu had been chosen; she was to become the maliktum. Perhaps she found this to be an intimidating prospect, or perhaps she was thrilled. There’s no way to know. No matter how she felt, her life was about to change dramatically, starting with the wedding ceremony itself and the month of rituals that followed it. Every step during this transition was carefully planned and had to be performed just so, in exactly the way that it had been performed by royal couples in Ebla for as long as anyone could remember. The ceremony was so important that it was recorded on ritual tablets that were kept in the palace archives. These weren’t generic; one had been written out when King Ishar-damu’s father, Irkab-damu, went through the ceremony with his queen,22 and one would be written out to record the exact proceedings that Ishar-damu and Tabur-damu would go through.23 The documents recorded almost exactly the same movements and devotions each time, but the court archivist in Ebla apparently felt the need to have a separate record of each.
The traditional marriage ritual had been designed, in part, to introduce a queen from a foreign land to the people of Ebla. But Tabur-damu was not from a foreign land, nor was she marrying a stranger. She had grown up in the same city where she would reign. It was familiar. She spoke the language, she understood the rituals, she worshiped the local gods. No doubt she could easily find her way around the grand palace, with its workshops and storerooms, and its vast courtyard with a dais for the king’s throne. Tabur-damu presumably didn’t need to be introduced,24 but she had to go through all the stages of the ceremony anyway. Only then would she truly be seen—by the gods, the divine former kings and queens, and the people of Ebla—as queen.
By the time the marriage ritual day arrived, the palace administration had been planning the ceremonies for some time. The royal wedding symbolized not just the initiation of the new queen but a rebirth and renewal for the king as well. He was finally old enough to truly take power and would now rule with the queen at his side.
Although kings and viziers ruled and administered the land of Ebla, many of the significant events in Ebla had something to do with royal women. These were the moments that stand out among the administrative records. They were when the biggest expenditures were made, such as when a prince or princess was born, when a princess married a foreign king, when a princess was initiated into the priesthood, or when a royal woman died (whether in Ebla or elsewhere).25 Queens and other royal women were revered, both in life and after death, and they were active in all aspects of the life of the court. As in the southern city-states at the same time, no one would have dreamed of restricting their movements to a separate area of the palace, secluded from the men. The only palace activity that fell outside the purview of the royal women was warfare.26
Everyone in the court at Ebla, male and female, had a clear sense of their place in the pecking order, and their names were listed on administrative texts according to this hierarchy. Various royal women, perhaps secondary wives and concubines of the king, ranked lower than the queen, as did princesses, along with wet nurses of the royal children.27 Tabur-damu must have known, though, that Dusigu, the queen mother, had been at the top of the list for many, many years. Tabur-damu would be in second place until her mother-in-law died.28
First Day of the Wedding
When the first day of the wedding ceremonies arrived, Tabur-damu wasn’t in Ebla.29 She was at her father’s estate somewhere outside the city.30 This first day wasn’t a public event but a private one. In this way, it was probably not unlike the beginning of a wedding for any couple at the time. The father-in-law or the groom himself (if his father was deceased, as in the case of Ishar-damu) traditionally came to the bride’s house with gifts for her and for her family.
The term for these gifts is often translated as the “bride price,” but this gives the wrong impression. The groom was not buying the woman from her parents. Gifts were exchanged in both directions. In cases when the father of the royal groom was still alive, he was showered with presents by the bride’s parents, as was the groom himself. On one occasion, a princess from Ebla married the heir to the throne of the powerful kingdom of Nagar. The groom was offered a set of three garments that made up a standard package (his official representative got the same), along with 1 mina and 20 shekels (627 grams or 1.4 pounds) of gold plate. But the king of Nagar, father of the groom, received more. In addition to the standard garments, he was given several gold vessels—a gold plate weighing 2 minas; two gold vessels, called bur-kak (these were used in the wedding ceremony) weighing more than 1 mina; and various other gold vessels totaling 45 shekels. This represented 1.9 kilograms (more than 4 pounds) of gold. The gold that circulated in Ebla in vast quantities was imported from Anatolia.31 The king of Nagar wasn’t deprived when it came to silver, either, which also came to Ebla from Anatolia.32 His gift included 50 minas of silver—23.5 kilograms (almost 52 pounds)!33 All these were provided by the Ebla king, the father of the bride. No one ever refers to these as a “groom price,” but they served the same purpose as what is sometimes termed the “bride price.” People who had given and received gifts had an ongoing obligation to one another, and this would be true of Ishar-damu and Tabur-damu. He was not paying for a bride and taking her away; he was tying himself to her family. Her family was doing the same.
In addition, the father of Tabur-damu provided considerable wealth for his daughter’s dowry and trousseau. These goods belonged to her, not to her husband, for the rest of her life.
The palace would have distributed gifts lavishly to officials of the court and their families, just to mark the occasion. We don’t have a list of these gifts for Tabur-damu’s wedding, but one does survive, a generation later, for the wedding of her daughter, Keshdut (who was called “daughter of the queen”),34 to a prince of the kingdom of Kish, which was far to the southeast of Ebla.35 The gifts are listed on a big tablet; it records a considerable and generous distribution of palace wealth in the form of hundreds of textiles and articles of clothing. Not only did the vizier of Ebla receive a gift at this time, but so did six of his sons, twenty women of his family, and nineteen men in the family of the previous vizier. “Elders,” religious leaders, and traders also benefited. The vizier provided gifts, as well as receiving them. Notably, he gave the queen of Kish seventy-four items made of cloth, and he gave her husband a set of the three items of clothing that were always grouped together, and two gold and lapis lazuli bracelets. The list goes on and on, including gifts to fifty-five high-ranking women, including Tabur-damu herself, as mother of the bride. Even dignitaries who happened to be in Ebla at the time, visiting from towns that had nothing to do with the royal marriage, all benefited from the largesse associated with the wedding. Gift-giving on a grand scale was an important part of diplomacy and power throughout ancient Near Eastern history. Outdoing one’s neighbors in the number and quality of one’s gifts was a sign of importance and wealth.
On that first wedding day, King Ishar-damu would have brought a large number of animals for his father-in-law (who was also his uncle), along with other gifts for Tabur-damu’s family members.36 For his new wife he brought a bracelet, a gold chain, and the all-important ceremonial clothes that she would wear on her wedding day: a dark red garment, a yellow-orange one, and a multicolored item.37 Unfortunately, we really don’t know the exact translations of the terms used for these articles of clothing, but it seems likely that one was a dress, one a veil, and one a band of some kind. Tabur-damu was strictly forbidden to wear these until later.38
It was also crucial that the groom should bring two sheep to sacrifice to the gods. Some sort of divination might have been involved, as one sheep was sacrificed to the sun god and the other to the god of his wife’s family.39 A reference to these two sheep shows up again in the ceremony later; it seems likely that their wool was eventually used to make some sort of item for the couple, or perhaps swaddling for a future baby.40
Presumably Tabur-damu’s family shared meals with their new son-in-law over the course of the day. Given that he was a king, Ishar-damu certainly didn’t arrive alone; the events might have been closed to the public, but Tabur-damu’s family house was no doubt full of people that day.
At some point during the day, King Ishar-damu anointed Tabur-damu’s head with oil. This tradition had incredible staying power in Syria; for more than a thousand years it continued to mark the symbolic moment when an engagement was formalized. From that time on, the two were considered to be a couple. No matter how long it took for them to reach the date of the marriage ceremony, they were legally husband and wife once the woman had been anointed.
Second Day of the Wedding
In Ebla, it took almost no time at all between the anointing and the actual wedding. The couple slept apart that night and, early the next morning, Tabur-damu made her way to Ebla. This portion of the ceremony seems to have been hers alone, without her husband present, and the citizens of Ebla would have been well aware that it was happening. She arrived at the Kura Gate of the city, perhaps at the northwest end of the town.41 The gate must have been one of the biggest and most important entrances to Ebla, as it was named for the city god. The gate opened and she entered, bringing with her gifts for the gods. She was in civilian clothes; she still wasn’t allowed to wear her marriage robes just yet. It’s likely that everyone in Ebla had the day off work for this once-in-a-lifetime celebration and that the streets were lined with cheering people, some of them scrambling onto walls or rooftops to get a look at their new queen.42 Had Tabur-damu not been a native of Ebla already, this would have been her introduction to her new city. It’s hard to imagine a more dramatic moment, but perhaps it was also a joyful one. She was apparently not veiled; she could see the faces of the people around her. They were no doubt thrilled to have a new queen.
Tabur-damu took a ceremonial route through the city to reach the temple of the god Kura, following in the footsteps of generations of queens before her. The temple was near the king’s palace, on the “Saza,” the acropolis of the city of Ebla.43 The entrance to the Saza has been excavated in modern times and it was impressive, with a portico and monumental steps up to the acropolis, extending for 22 meters (72 feet). As she climbed the stairs, Tabur-damu was coming close to one of the most important moments in the day.
As she entered the Saza, Tabur-damu had to present a gift related to those two sheep who had been sacrificed the day before: she handed over their wool, which would later be woven into a special garment.44 Near the temple, she came to a place called the marasum where her husband seems to have been waiting. Marasum means “cultivated land,” but if it were literally that, it would be an odd thing to find inside a temple complex. It was probably an open space adjoining the temple. Here she stopped. She was finally allowed to don her wedding garments. The ritual text specifies that “the queen enters the Cultivated Land and her red, yellow-orange and embroidered garments are presented to her, and her golden chain is presented to her in the Cultivated Land, and the queen is dressed with them in the Cultivated Land, and the king veils the queen and they enter the temple of Kura.”45 Everything about her garments, including the colors and shapes, had symbolic importance. One robe was called a dururu and it could only be worn by married women (and married goddesses).46 The robing seems to have been a public event, and some scholars think that this action, when she was veiled by her husband, was the crucial moment, the moment when Tabur-damu became queen.47
As the king and queen entered the temple, their eyes would have taken a moment to adjust. It was dark—in stark contrast to the sunny courtyard—and the statues of the gods resided in the holy cella at the center of the building. There the royal couple presented gifts to Kura and his divine wife Barama, and to three other gods of Ebla.48 The marriage was complete; the gods approved.
This wedding didn’t happen in isolation. Kings and officials all over the Near East would have received messages from Ebla informing them about it and, in response, they sent valuable gifts. An alabaster lid with an inscription from the reign of King Pepy I of Egypt was found in the palace at Ebla; this (and the container it belonged to) might well have been a wedding gift to Ishar-damu and Tabur-damu from the pharaoh.49 Marriages were gift-giving extravaganzas, providing an opportunity for wealth to flow into and out of Ebla on an epic scale.
At some point, perhaps on this second day, the members of the court and the family of Tabur-damu enjoyed a huge banquet of bread, meat, and other dishes, along with wine and beer. Singers and musicians provided music for the guests. The food was prepared by the chefs of the palace, of whom there were at least thirteen, all of them women.50 Tabur-damu and Ishar-damu would have presided at the dinner—the king with his new queen, enjoying their last day in Ebla before their (for lack of a better word) honeymoon.
There is plenty of evidence at Ebla for banquets associated with weddings, though not for Tabur-damu’s wedding in particular. When one diplomatic marriage took place between a high-ranking Ebla woman (a niece of the vizier) and the king of the land of Dulu (which might have been an ancient name for Byblos on the Mediterranean coast), records were kept of many different kinds of breads served at the banquet.51 Another tablet records forty-two jars of wine sent from Ebla to the king of the land of Nagar when he got married.52 No doubt even more wine was needed for the banquet at the wedding of the king of Ebla himself. Wine was produced in Ebla and also imported from its allies;53 the weather was more suitable for grapes in this part of Syria than in Sumer. As for the singers and musicians, they appear in just about every representation of a banquet throughout Mesopotamian history (see Fig. 5.3). And when the prince of Nagar later traveled to Ebla to marry a local princess, he brought six singers with him (along with eighty other people from his homeland).54 The Mesopotamians loved music.
Fig. 5.3 Limestone plaque showing a banquet with a harpist in the upper registers. Early Dynastic period. (Scala/Art Resource, NY/Art Resource)
Beginning of the Honeymoon
Once the wedding ceremonies in Ebla were complete, the new couple prepared to set off on their four-week honeymoon. But they weren’t going somewhere pleasant to relax and take a romantic break. They actually spent a great deal of their honeymoon in a building with the gloomy name of the “House of the Dead”—a mausoleum. This was an obligation that they had to fulfill to the gods and to their ancestors for vital reasons. It was no doubt a grueling experience, but it was also essential, transforming the couple and blessing their reign.
The couple didn’t travel alone. Several officials accompanied them on the honeymoon, along with, remarkably, the cult statues of the divine couple Kura and Barama.55 These statues embodied the gods, and the gods protected Ebla, so they rarely left their temple home. The actions the gods took during the honeymoon were so critical that the priests and the people of Ebla were willing, perhaps even eager, to let them leave. They must also have been very well protected along the way. Statues of gods in Ebla were made of precious materials—lapis lazuli, silver, bronze, and gold—formed over a wooden core, and they were dressed in the finest clothing.56 It’s not that the priests and priestesses would have feared that anyone would steal the statues for the value of their materials, though. Everyone, including bandits and highwaymen, feared the gods; it would have been unthinkable to melt down the faces or hands of their statues. The gods would have been swift in their punishment. Everyone believed that. But the statues of city gods made for very valuable hostages if seized by enemy forces. Fortunately, the honeymoon travel was entirely within the borders of the Ebla kingdom, so the gods were unlikely to be threatened en route.57
The royal couple, gods, and officials had one more obligation before leaving Ebla. They performed a sacrifice, dedicating a sheep to the deity of the sun, and another to a royal ancestor, King Ibini-Lim, who had ruled long, long before, as the tenth king of Ebla. Dead kings of the Ebla kingdom figured prominently on the honeymoon. This wasn’t the last sacrifice to Ibini-Lim on this journey; he was clearly considered one of the great kings of the past.
After the sacrifice, the procession left Ebla and seems to have traveled northeast, in a meandering journey that stopped in six towns over four days. Each town was a place of pilgrimage, and in each they performed sacrifices to gods and to one or more past kings.58
The final destination of the honeymoon procession was a place called Binash.59 This holy place was where at least three former Ebla kings had been buried,60 and here the Ebla delegation settled in for a three-week stay in the House of the Dead. During this time King Ishar-damu and Queen Tabur-damu were consecrated to the city gods, Kura and Barama.61
Deified Former Kings of Ebla
The kings and queens of Ebla seem to have been particularly aware of their genealogy—more so than rulers in some other places and times in Mesopotamia—and equally aware of the power of their dead ancestors to intercede in the living world. The former kings were gods now, deified after death. The names of these earlier kings of Ebla, sadly, mean nothing to us. We have just a list of them, carefully recorded, passed down by scribes over generations, and found in the excavation of the palace.62
There are twenty-six names on the list, but documents only survive from the reigns of the last four to rule before the destruction of the kingdom—Kun-damu, Igrish-Halab, Irkab-damu, and Ishar-damu—and the vast majority of the tablets that were found in the excavations at Ebla date to just the last two of those.63 Those other kings on the list—they’re just names without stories. Some of them would no doubt have been as familiar to the people of Ebla as George Washington or Abraham Lincoln are to Americans today. The people might have told stories about the great victories or reforms of these kings, they might have known which of them first built a palace on the acropolis in Ebla. They would have known, perhaps, why many of them were not buried in Ebla proper but in other places in the kingdom with names such as Irad, Uduhudu, and Lub.64 The town of Binash might well have been a place of pilgrimage for Eblaites not just during the royal honeymoon. As the resting place of deified kings, it might have attracted worshipers and petitioners. As far as the people of Ebla were concerned, these kings continued to influence events on Earth and they required a lot of attention.65
The tablets found during the excavations of the palace at Ebla were written over about a fifty-year period.66 If that was a typical span for the combined reigns of four successive kings, then the kings on the rest of the list would have stretched back as much as 325 years before the destruction of the palace at the end of the reign of Ishar-damu. The first among them, back in the twenty-seventh century BCE, were some of the earliest kings anywhere. A king named Sagisu, for example, might have ruled 225 years before the time when the royal couple Ishar-damu and Tabur-damu showed up to pay homage to him.
The House of the Dead
When Tabur-damu and Ishar-damu arrived in Binash, the whole procession entered the House of the Dead there. It must have been a relatively big place, but there’s nothing like it that has survived from Mesopotamia or, at least, that has been recognized as such, so it’s hard to envision it. Was it above ground or underground? Were the tombs of the kings under the floor? Were guards or priests employed to protect them? It seems likely that the tombs themselves weren’t visible, but that the deceased kings were felt to be present because of the proximity of their graves, and because they were probably represented in the House of the Dead by statues.67
Once the members of the entourage were inside, a purification ritual took place, and a priest presented offerings to the gods and the dead kings. The description of what happened next is curious and a little hard to decipher. It records that “the divine couple, [the gods] Kura and Barama, come to the house of the dead and enter the chamber. And they remain there.”68 So it seems that the statues of the city gods of Ebla were set up in the House of the Dead, where they would live for the next three weeks. As for the royal couple, “the king enters his chamber and the queen enters her chamber.” Were these rooms in the House of the Dead where the royal couple lived during this time? It seems so. We know that they stayed in the mausoleum at night, apparently in these separate chambers.
While the ancestral king Sagisu was being honored, with offerings of two sheep and “one silver bird,”69 two more statues were being added to the crowd of sculptures in the chamber: images of Ishar-damu and Tabur-damu themselves. These had been brought along for the entire journey from Ebla. The scribe wrote, “While the new king (Ishar-damu) offers the sheep in the temple of the god of Sagisu, the ancestor, then they placed that statue of the king . . . , (and) that of the queen . . . the young carvers made them.”70 These statues were valuable. Their expense had been calculated in silver (though they probably were not made entirely of silver). An administrative text records that “305 g (almost 11 oz) of silver” was the “value of one statue, which is that of the king and the queen, for Binash.”71
A statue, as we have seen, was much more than a representation, in the minds of the people of Mesopotamia in this era. It didn’t necessarily look anything like the person, in fact. But it had a magical connection with its subject and it had a life force. The statues of Ishar-damu and Tabur-damu joined statues of former kings and queens in an unearthly community here in the House of the Dead. Free from the constraints of time, they could communicate among themselves, worship, and be worshiped. And all the statues, like the demanding men and women they represented, expected to be provided with food, drink, clothes, and gifts. Having the god and goddess, Kura and Barama, temporarily among them in the form of their statues made this a supremely important event. It was as though the gods were introducing the new couple to their ancestors.
A night passed. Did Tabur-damu manage to sleep? Would the presence of the images of all those dead kings and queens just outside the door (and of their remains beneath the floor) have been reassuring or unnerving?
The ritual text reports that, next, “When those of the cloth arise, the king and the queen depart and sit on the thrones of their fathers and await the presence of the sun god.” Apparently, the royal couple woke up before dawn to watch the sun rise, while seated on thrones. It continues, “When the sun (god) rises, the invocation priests invoke and the lamentation priests intone the laments of when the birth goddess Nintu was angered.”72 It has been proposed that the whole marriage ritual was focused on the fertility of the royal couple73 and the presence of the birth goddess in this episode does seem to support that suggestion.
The birth goddess continued to play a crucial role, as Nintu “makes an announcement, and the announcement that Nintu makes is that there is a new god Kura, a new goddess Barama, a new king, a new queen.”74 Somehow, the royal couple and the divine couple were both made “new” after these laments and incantations to the birth goddess. It was perceived to be a real and radical transformation. Ultimately what resulted was that the king and queen acquired the authority to rule. Another document referred to preparations for this event as “the purification of the mausoleum of Binash for the enthroning of the king . . . (on the occasion of) the king’s attaining sovereignty.”75 Although Ishar-damu had already ruled Ebla for thirteen years, only now was he old enough to marry and to go through the consecration ceremony, to become truly powerful. He shared his authority with Tabur-damu, his queen, his maliktum. They were both legitimate in the eyes of the gods.
You might think that just one morning of these invocations would have been plenty, but the process continued for twenty-one days—three programs of ceremonies of seven days each—with the royal couple continuing to offer libations and sacrifices during the days, while sleeping at night in the House of the Dead.76
Before the entourage left to return to Ebla, they made sacrifices one more time, and this time they added one for King Igrish-Halab. He was not a distant ancestor like the others, he was Ishar-damu’s grandfather. He may not have been buried in Binash, but he could receive gifts and sacrifices there.77
Return to Ebla
Finally, the ceremonies of the House of the Dead were over and the group could return to Ebla, trusting that the gods and the dead kings would bless the reign of Ishar-damu and Tabur-damu. The royal couple didn’t go straight to the palace, however. Their first stop was in the temple, where the gods Kura and Barama were restored to their normal places and where the king and queen ate a meal of offerings that had been provided to them. The royal couple then spent the night in the temple. The ritual text specifies that “in that day the king lies in the temple (of Kura) on a linen sheet. And also the queen lies in the temple of the gods of the king.”78
The whole process was, in a way, one huge rite of passage for Tabur-damu. She had come so far since the first day of her wedding. From now on, Tabur-damu was allowed to eat ritual meals that were reserved for royalty. She had gone from being a civilian (albeit one from a branch of the royal family) to a queen, the maliktum of Ebla, deserving of offerings in her own right.
As time passed, Tabur-damu no doubt grew comfortable living in the palace. She would have had her own quarters, her servants and ladies-in-waiting,79 but for three years after her marriage to Ishar-damu, Tabur-damu continued to be outranked by the queen mother, Dusigu.
Death of Dusigu
The queen mother Dusigu died three years after the wedding of Tabur-damu and Ishar-damu, in the fourth year of the vizier Ibbi-zikir,80 and her devoted son must have been heartbroken. He named the year to commemorate her death.81 Everyone in the kingdom would have realized her importance. Gifts flowed into the palace on the occasion of her funeral.82
And now Tabur-damu was the highest-ranking woman in the land; she was the mother of royal children, including the crown prince Irak-damu and the princess Keshdut.83 Tabur-damu ruled with her husband as maliktum, and her name at last appeared at the top of the lists of women.
But Tabur-damu still had a responsibility to Dusigu, even after her mother-in-law’s death. The statue of Dusigu that sat among the statues of the ancestors, and held some part of the dead queen’s life force, continued to require offerings and respect. This relationship between the living and dead queens was illuminated in a surprising way. During the excavations of the Ebla palace, a group of artifacts was discovered that came from a single object: a kind of tableau of small sculptures that would have been mounted at the top of a pole as a standard that could be carried in ceremonies.84 Such things are portrayed in relief sculptures from other places and eras in Mesopotamia; it seems entirely likely that they would have existed in Ebla as well.
This tableau features two women (see Fig. 5.4). One is tall, standing, and has one hand on her waist and the other balled into a fist and held against her face. Her long dress is made of a smooth fabric without ornamentation except for the fringe around the edge. She wears nothing on her head. The other figure is much smaller, seated, and wears an old-fashioned fleeced cloak that completely swamps her. On her head is a turban. Between them stands a bronze incense burner. The scene seems to depict the younger woman as a living figure, worshiping a less-than-lifesize statue depicting the older woman. Paolo Matthiae, director of the Ebla excavations, has a persuasive explanation for this scene. The smaller figure, he says, is Dusigu, after her death, in the form of her funerary statue. The younger figure is Tabur-damu, paying homage to her mother-in-law.85 The choice of this image for a royal standard might have been designed to make the case that Tabur-damu was now the equal of her late mother-in-law. But it might instead have indicated that Tabur-damu was still in the inferior position; perhaps it was made to mark Dusigu’s deification.86
Fig. 5.4 Reconstruction of the standard of the maliktum from Ebla, c. 2300 bce. (Copyright Missione Archeologica Italiana in Siria. Republished with permission of Walter de Gruyter and Company, from “The Standard of the maliktum of Ebla in the Royal Archives Period” by Paolo Matthiae, ZA 99 (2008); permission conveyed through Copyright Clearance Center, Inc.)
Textiles in Ebla
At Ebla, as we have seen, textiles were always foremost among the luxurious goods distributed as gifts, both at home and to distant kingdoms. Silver and gold featured as well, but those weren’t native products. The only way for the land of Ebla to obtain silver and gold was from other lands, mostly in Anatolia. And the only way to obtain them from other lands was through trade or luxury gift exchange. As in Lagash (and throughout Mesopotamia and Syria), textiles were the obvious choice of export or luxury gift. The evidence for this in Ebla is even clearer than in Lagash—all those hundreds of records of distribution of clothing and fabrics reflect the engine of the kingdom’s economy.
The king of Ebla owned between 80,000 and 136,000 sheep,87 so the palace had vast stores of wool that could be manufactured into the styles that were most appealing. Even so, the records show that wool was imported from other regions as well—from Mari and elsewhere88—and textiles and wool were seized as booty during military campaigns. The industry had an insatiable need for ever more wool.
It was distributed in many ways. The majority of textile production for the palace was done by hired workers (men and women), some working directly for the royal women, some working for the palace more generally, and some working outside the palace but under royal oversight.89 Anyone spending time in Ebla in the twenty-fourth century BCE couldn’t have avoided discussions about textiles; their production was ubiquitous. A court visitor would know, for certain, that he or she would be going home with one or more lengths of fine Eblaite cloth.
But textiles weren’t just reserved for the people in power. Unlike in Mesopotamia at the same time, wool and textiles were used, along with food, as payment for workers (including weavers and dyers).90 Even a man who had been hired by the palace to buy textiles in faraway Kish was paid for his work in textiles! The relevant text reads as follows: “I gu-mug textile, 1 ib-textile to the son of Abadan, the merchant, who goes to the town of Kish to buy textiles.”91
At Ebla, cloth was made in a bewildering number of styles, each of which had a name, though almost none of the names can be translated. Some were of plain, undyed wool, which came in gray, black, spotted, and (rarest of all) white.92 Others were dyed using vegetable dyes, and some were multicolored.93
They were stored in special rooms in the palace—the “house of wool” and the “house of textiles”—from which they could be distributed as needed.94 As in a modern rug shop, these rooms were probably piled high with folded lengths of fabric—tall piles of red garments here, piles of gossamer-thin yellow-orange ones there. The administrative tablets account for thousands of textiles on hand in these rooms at a given moment. The storeroom must have been as securely guarded as a treasury; those garments and fabrics represented decades of man-hours (or, more often, woman-hours) of work, and immense wealth.
Diplomatic Letters and Treaties in Ebla
Given the prominence of textiles in so many moments of gift-giving at Ebla, it comes as a surprise that the one diplomatic letter that survived in the palace archive listed no textiles at all; the gifts from Ebla were of ropes and wagons. The letter was addressed to an envoy of the distant land of Hamazi, hundreds of miles to the east. The letter wasn’t from the king of Ebla; it was sent instead by his steward, a man named Ibubu. Ibubu assured the Hamazi envoy that they were equals: “I am (your) brother and you are (my) brother.”95 Their kings were also allies. Ibubu wrote that “Irkab-damu, the king of Ebla is the brother of Zizi, the king of Hamazi.”96 Just as the queen of Lagash and the queen of Adab had exchanged gifts, so did the high officials of Ebla and Hamazi. Ibubu asked for “the finest quality equids,” noting that in exchange he was sending his counterpart “ten (wagon) ropes, and two boxwood wagons.” No doubt similar exchanges took place between the kings themselves, and probably between their queens as well. To judge from the administrative documents, expensive gifts seem to have been forever on the move between allied lands, but this letter is the first example of diplomatic correspondence that accompanied them.
The letter shows that the diplomatic system was well established, though sadly we have no evidence for its inception. As in Sumer, “brotherhood” referred to a formal relationship between allied states, and that alliance was maintained through the regular exchange of letters and gifts, carried across long distances, often far beyond Ebla’s borders, by messengers and ambassadors. The same diplomatic system also left its imprint on other documents in the archives—records of goods sent out and received, and messengers dispatched.
The messengers and envoys who conveyed the letters and gifts were protected in their work by formal treaties between the states they represented. Even the source of their food was designated by the ever-meticulous diplomats who had drawn up the agreement. Only one such treaty survives from this early period, but it seems likely to have been typical; nothing about it suggests that it was the only one of its kind. It, too, was found in the Ebla palace, and it governed Ebla’s relationship with a vassal state to the east, Abarsal. The treaty includes these clauses: “Arriving messengers will stop as long as ten days and will eat their travel provisions. But if you want them to stay (longer), you will give them travel provisions. . . . Messengers receiving a gift will not be given travel provisions: they will come back without travel provisions.”97 If a king insisted on detaining another king’s envoy or messenger for longer than the standard ten days, he had to either provide him with food for the return trip, or he had to give him a gift. One can imagine a messenger from Ebla waiting, day after day, for a letter to take back to his king, all the while reminding his counterpart in Abarsal (no doubt politely) that he was owed travel provisions. His own king didn’t have to pay for the delay. Appropriate treatment of the king’s representatives was essential in this diplomatic world.
Enar-Lim and Ruzi-malik: Merchants Traveling between Ebla and Dugurasu
Two men, Enar-Lim and Ruzi-malik, made some of the longest journeys from Ebla, traveling all the way to a distant place called Dugurasu. The gifts they carried to the king there were particularly extravagant. Two historians, Maria Giovanna Biga and Piotr Steinkeller, have recently made a startling assertion: Dugurasu was in Egypt.98 This is extraordinary because one of the striking omissions from surviving cuneiform documents of this era has always been any reference to Egypt. As we’ve seen, the Sumerians of the Early Dynastic period seem to have been completely unaware of the existence of the spectacular civilization with which they are now so often compared. But the kings of Ebla were not only in contact with Egypt, they sent men there regularly.
The scholars make a fascinating case: the goods that envoys brought back from the “king of Dugurasu” included linen, elephant ivory, hippo teeth, copper, bronze, and monkeys—exactly what one would expect from Egypt.99 As we have seen, a lid of a stone container from Egypt has been found at Ebla.100 And at least a little of that gold in Ebla could well have come from Egypt, as it did a thousand years later when close ties were again forged between Egypt and Syria.101
Dugurasu was definitely a major power and it was far away. The king of Dugurasu never came to Ebla (unlike the vassal kings and some of the neighboring kings who came to pledge their support for Ishar-damu), and he was the only foreign king to whom the king of Ebla sent large amounts of tin, lapis lazuli, and silver.102
There’s another clue about the location of Dugurasu, this one from Egypt itself. An autobiography of an Egyptian official named Iny shows the other side of the relationship; he traveled to Byblos and on farther into Syria, right at this same time, in the reign of Pepy I (whose alabaster vase lid was found in the Ebla palace). What did he bring back to his king? Silver, tin, lapis lazuli, and oil—exactly the goods that Ebla sent to Dugurasu.103 Biga suggests that the name of Dugurasu may have come from an Egyptian town in the eastern Nile Delta, but presumably references to the “king of Dugurasu” were to the king of Egypt.
One document from the Ebla archive records the travel provisions and gifts allocated to Enar-Lim and Ruzi-malik when they were bound for Dugurasu during the reign of Ishar-damu.104 The two men were not Ebla natives. They lived in the land of Kakmium, on the coast, to the northwest of Ebla, and they worked for a merchant there named Ilum-Bala.105 Merchants from Ilum-Bala’s firm in Kakmium almost always accompanied envoys from Egypt (assuming that this was the location of Dugurasu) when they traveled to or from Ebla.106
Enar-Lim and Ruzi-malik must have spent some time preparing for their travels once they arrived in Ebla from their hometown. They were paid by the palace, splitting the standard allocation of money between them for their journey (each of them received five shekels of silver—a substantial sum).107 They each also received a double set of clothes. They needed to make a good impression on arrival—the king of Dugurasu was an important man. Presumably someone in the delegation was also given a letter for him (perhaps one not unlike the letter to the envoy of Hamazi) in which Ishar-damu greeted the king of Dugurasu as a brother and asked him to send goods that were needed in Ebla. In the letter, King Ishar-damu would also have listed the gifts that the Egyptian envoys, accompanied by Enar-Lim and Ruzi-malik, were bringing with them.
These gifts were extravagant; we know that from the administrative list. They included items produced in Ebla, which were listed first: the king of Dugurasu received the standard set of three garments that were the trademark of Eblaite gift-giving (and certainly of the finest quality), and a dagger decorated with gold, no doubt fashioned in an Ebla palace workshop. The other gifts that they brought for the Dugurasu king were raw materials derived from lands to the east and north of Ebla—they had been obtained as a result of trade and gift exchange and were being passed on—4 minas (1.88 kilograms, 4 pounds) of silver (probably from Anatolia), 4 minas (1.88 kilograms, 4 pounds) of tin, 13 minas (6.11 kilograms, 13 pounds) of lapis lazuli (both probably from Afghanistan), and a “stone” that was not described further, but may have been a standard stone weight.108
The merchants from Kakmium, Enar-Lim and Ruzi-malik were employed by the court in Ebla to accompany six representatives of the king of Dugurasu on their journey. These six men were responsible for transporting the gifts from Ebla to their king, just as they had been responsible for bringing their king’s gifts to Ebla in the first place. The representatives from Egypt weren’t named in this text, but one of them would have been the chief envoy, who was often listed as a man named Awa.109
The Egyptian men were also given clothes by the Ebla administration, though they didn’t receive the payment of silver. No doubt the cost for their travel was supported by their king. All eight of the travelers, from both Kakmium and Dugurasu, also received gifts from the Ebla treasury. The Egyptian men were given a bag, along with a silver and gold bracelet weighing ten shekels, and Enar-Lim, the merchant from Kakmium, received a copper and gold bracelet weighing thirty shekels. Ruzi-malik seems to have been senior to Enar-Lim, to judge from the gifts he received. Besides getting the clothes, the five shekels of silver, and the same kind of bracelet as his companion, he also received a white bag, a foot band, and a silver dagger.
Not every object carried by the men was a gift. Some of the Ebla documents imply that the men traveling on these journeys may well have taken objects to trade for personal gain as well. The merchants from Kakmium might have brought wine or timber from their homeland to sell in Ebla,110 and the envoys and deputies from Egypt sometimes received payments in Ebla, apparently for goods that they were selling. These were probably the same types of items that had been sent by their king as gifts: elephant and hippopotamus ivory, beads made of semiprecious stones, copper, and linen textiles.111
One has the sense that the journey back and forth between Ebla and Egypt would have been a familiar one to these men who were traveling together. The first leg of the journey from Ebla took them to the Mediterranean coast at Kakmium. From there, they traveled south, either on foot or by boat, with a stop at the coastal city of Dulu, which was almost certainly an ancient name for Byblos. Archaeology shows that Byblos already had a long history of trade with both Egypt and Syria, and the tablets show that Dulu was one of Ebla’s most reliable trading partners, providing many of the same goods that came from Dugurasu. The expedition then continued on from Dulu to Egypt—Dugurasu.
They would have traveled about 1,370 kilometers (850 miles) to get there, a journey that would have taken them about two months. With a stay when they got there and the return journey to follow, Enar-Lim and Ruzi-malik were leaving Syria for at least six months. One can’t help wondering what the merchants thought of the lands they visited, and all the varying landscapes and cities they encountered along the way.
The roads in the kingdom of Ebla and beyond it were well traveled. The people of Ebla knew that a wide world extended beyond their immediate domain, and the mechanisms of diplomacy were well established. Formal gift exchange with distant kings may, in fact, have been more reliable than trade in providing luxury goods for the court.
Sometimes the king couldn’t send an envoy in his place; sometimes he had to leave Ebla and travel himself. The reasons for these expeditions were usually religious. In fact, the king and the crown prince made a pilgrimage of some kind every single month, which meant that they regularly spent days away from the capital city.112 They had rituals to perform in shrines that were as much as a four-day journey away from home. Although the purpose of the travel was to maintain good relationships with the gods across the kingdom, it must also have had a unifying effect on the people. The king’s procession was no doubt a sight to see as he and his attendants made their way on a regular circuit of towns and villages. He was not distant and secluded, locked up in his palace. He was right there, out among his people, on a regular basis.
It was not just men who traveled. Princesses and queens journeyed around the kingdom as well. In fact, many of the adult daughters and sisters of the king had moved away from Ebla to live elsewhere. Some of them had married leaders of city-states or powerful foreign kings, and they moved to the courts of their husbands. These types of diplomatic marriages were a fixture of Mesopotamian diplomacy, and we’ll look into them in more detail later. The princesses from Ebla who became queens of other lands weren’t forgotten by their families; they continued to receive gifts from home on a regular basis, especially, of course, after giving birth. On this happy occasion, many textiles and jewels arrived, not just for the mother but also for her baby.113
The princesses could come home, too. Tisha-Lim was a queen of the city of Emar (one of the cities within the Ebla kingdom, though quite a long way away from the capital), and she shows up regularly on the administrative lists: she was in Ebla frequently. It seems likely that she had been born in Ebla and found plenty of reasons to come home to visit.114
Other Ebla princesses were inducted as priestesses of gods or goddesses whose shrines were in other towns. King Ishar-damu’s sister Tinib-dulum, for example, became a priestess of the agricultural god Adabal. Adabal had three main centers of worship; Tinib-dulum’s assignment was to his main temple in the distant city of Luban, far away in the mountains near the Antioch plain.115 When inducted, she traveled there in style; she took five princes with her, probably to carry her there in a sedan-chair.116 And she was provided with rich gifts (mostly textiles, of course) when she was inaugurated, in this case by the “lords”—the elders who advised the king.117
Once she had settled in Luban, Tinib-dulum would not have been deprived of the company of people from the capital city. She no doubt took attendants with her from the court, and her new home of Luban was a popular site of pilgrimage. Once a year, a group of pious and powerful young men from Ebla made a thirty-nine-day journey to thirty-six holy places associated with the god Adabal, starting with the great temple at Luban. They traveled there during the same month each year,118 the month of the great festival for the god. The group was made up of between five and fourteen men, and sometimes the king, Ishar-damu—priestess Tinib-dulum’s brother—was among them.119 We don’t know how formal or informal the visits to Luban might have been. Certainly the men had religious rituals to attend to when they were there, sacrifices and libations to make, and prayers to offer. It seems likely, though, that the royal brother and sister had a chance to see one another and to talk.
Queen Tabur-damu traveled across the kingdom too, even though, as a native Eblaite, she had no other “home” to travel to. Most importantly, she and her husband King Ishar-damu returned to the House of the Dead at Binash on their wedding anniversary each year for a ceremony that pertained to what was called “their dressing.”120 They were clothed in particular garments made of black and white wool that had been made for the occasion. Black wool was common, but, as we’ve seen, white wool was rare. It was reserved for royalty.
Like the men traveling to the shrines of Adabal, Tabur-damu had a religious reason to travel, not just to Binash but also to visit the sanctuary of the goddess Ishhara. Unlike the priestess Tinib-dulum, Tabur-damu probably wasn’t carried in a sedan-chair on the journey, but she had her own chariot.121 Her mother-in-law Dusigu did the same thing, though perhaps the two royal women didn’t visit Ishhara’s temple together. It would be fascinating to know whether Tabur-damu and Dusigu got along well, and how they each advised King Ishar-damu. Regrettably, administrative texts shine no light on this at all.
Destruction of Ebla
Queen Tabur-damu and King Ishar-damu must have consulted oracles when they chose a son who would inherit the throne of Ebla on the death of his father, and they had also possibly started negotiations for an appropriate wife for the crown prince, a future maliktum. But it was not to be. Ishar-damu and Tabur-damu turned out to be the last of their dynasty. Ebla had probably been a great power for more than 300 years and must have seemed, to its subjects, stable and eternal. But the kingdom of Ebla was about to fall victim to the same political storm that would bring an end to the dynasty in Lagash. Someone attacked, plundered, and burned the Ebla palace to the ground, inadvertently preserving all the clay records that immortalized their era. That someone was a king from a distant region of central Mesopotamia called Akkad, which we will visit in the next chapter.