Alalakh was one of many city states which
flourished in ancient Syria in the third and second millennia BC,
the product of increasingly successful attempts at rain-fed
agriculture in the north.
Originally known as Alakhtum, it lay at the heart
of the fertile plain of Antioch. It is now a nine metre-high mound, or
'tell', called Tell Atchana in southern Turkey, and was built on the bend of the Orontes as
the river hooks towards the south-west to
empty into the eastern Mediterranean.
The city was established as a permanent settlement
in around 3400 BC. The earliest archaeological layer, Level XVII,
can be dated to this period.
Lying on the flourishing north-south trade routes,
by 2700 BC Alalakh had a king of its own. Although
unnamed by the Sumerian scribes who recorded his existence, he was busy adorning the facade of his palace with
huge columns built of specially-moulded mud bricks. This was a fashion
which had been set by
his Sumerian trading clients in southern Mesopotamia, such as those who had already built the
colonnades of Warka and Kish.
No further mention of the city is available until
it was occupied by Amorites at the start of the second millennium
BC. Probably taken over in order to control the trade routes between
Sumer and the Hatti in Anatolia, the city gained its second palace at this
time, built during the last days of the third dynasty of Ur.
Again sinking into obscurity for over two hundred
years, during a downturn in regional prosperity, the city was still known as Alakhtum at least until the eighteenth
century BC, as records from Mari clearly show.