History Files
 

 

Middle East Kingdoms

Ancient Central Levant States

 

 

 

MapCanaanite City States (Kinakhna)

Ancient Canaan was the region of the coastal Middle East which stretched from the Sinai near Egypt up to Syria. The name's origins are obscure, but it first appears in the third millennium BC. In the second millennium BC Canaan was a region of emerging minor city states which were superseded in the first millennium BC by fairly minor kingdoms, many of which played an important regional role but which were still highly vulnerable to conquest by the great empires. The Old Testament, mostly written down in the middle of the first millennium BC, claims that the mythical figure of 'Canaan' was the grandson of Noah.

In linguistic terms, Canaan refers to the West Semitic group of languages. The region was also the birthplace of the modern phonetic alphabet. When Egypt conquered the Levant in 1453 BC, they established their own province, which they called Kinakhna (Canaan). While the two terms - Levant and Canaan - are, to an extent, interchangeable, and refer to the region south of Syria, the latter term refers to a specific section of the Levant.

Outside the cities of the Levant there were populations of habiru, a range of outsiders which ranged from semi-nomadic social outcasts and those who had fled the debt-ridden city system, to unemployed farm labourers and mounted mercenary archers. Between 2000-1200 BC, these groups plagued the established order with frequent raids and looting, and the attitude to them was invariably hostile. In the Egyptian Amarna letters they were constantly presented as a threat to the stability of the region, although the regional manpower shortage was sometimes so acute that they could still be hired as labourers or mercenaries. Originally the habiru were thought to be the early Israelites, with 'habiru' becoming Hebrew, but more recent thought suggests the Hebrews might only have been one group of habiru, probably not even aligned with the groups in the north, or else not related to them at all.

(Additional information from Illustrated Dictionary & Concordance of the Bible, Geoffrey Wigoder (Gen Ed), 1986, and also from External Link: Time Maps.)

c.5000 BC

Gebal is founded as a permanent settlement.

c.4000 BC

Sidon is founded as a permanent settlement. This is at the same time as a structure of concentric stone circles known as Rujm al-Hiri is built as an astrological temple or observatory, or perhaps a burial complex. A 2011 theory proposes that it is part of an ancient method of disposing of the dead, where the flesh is removed from a body prior to the bones being buried in an ossuary, a common practise in the region at this time.

The site's name means 'stone heap of the wild cats' in Arabic. In Hebrew it is known as Galgal Refaim, or the 'wheel of ghosts'. It lies close to the militarised Golam Heights in modern Israel and is therefore seldom visited. It consists of four circles - the outermost more than 152 metres across (500 feet) - made up of an estimated 42,000 tons of basalt stone, the remains of massive walls that experts believe could rise as high as nine metres (thirty feet). It is an enormous feat of construction carried out by a society about which little is known. It seems likely that Rujm al-Hiri serves residents of villages nearby that are part of the same Chalcolithic Period agrarian civilisation that exists in the region between 4500 and 3500 BC. There is a tomb at the centre of the site which it is generally agreed is added millennium or two later (but still to early for Og of Bashan).

Rujm al-Hiri
The site at Rujm al-Hiri dates to 4000 BC, but it was re-used around 3000-2000 BC to house a tomb, legendarily belonging to King Og of Bashan (who actually lived about 1135 BC)

c.3000 BC

Biruta is founded as a permanent settlement.

c.2800 BC

Hazor is founded as a permanent settlement.

c.2000 BC

Arvad is founded as a permanent settlement.

c.2000 - 1800 BC

Egypt maintains a trading presence in the region.

Amorites infiltrate the area and capture some cities by force, and create others, but once they settle in, the area becomes prosperous again. The principle Canaanite cities or small states at this time include Ammon, Amrit, Arvad, Biruta, Edom, Gebal, Gerar, Hazor, Shalem, Sidon, and Tyre.

Biblical Canaanite City States

By around 1750 BC, the time in which the Bible claims areas of Canaan were was being settled by the early Israelites, the Syrian peoples were apparently dependencies of Elam for a short time, but the existence of the Biblical Elamite king, Chedorlaomer, cannot be confirmed. The local Canaanite city states reported by the Old Testament in Genesis 14 are listed here, but as the Old Testament was written down over a thousand years after the event, the names became very distorted and are subject to much modern research regarding their historical equivalents. Josephus also provides an interpretation of the names, shown after the Biblical versions here.

(Additional information on the Amarna letters by Sean B, and from The Amarna Letters, William L Moran, 1992.)

c.1750 BC

Amraphel

In Shinar.

c.1750 BC

Shinar, or Sennaar, is equated with Babylon, making the king identifiable with Hammurabi, although this theory appears to be falling out of favour with many scholars. Amraphel, allied with 'Chedorlaomer' of Elam, 'Arioch of Ellasar' (originally thought to be Rim-Sin of Larsa, but now thought more likely to be the early Hurrian King Ariukki), and 'Tidal, king of nations' (probably the Hittite king, Tudhaliya I), attack the early Israelites during a general conflict. After twelve years of paying tribute, the following Canaanite 'five cities of the plain' have rebelled:

c.1750 BC

Bera / Ballas

In Sodom. No trace of Sodom has ever been found.

c.1750 BC

Birsha / Barsas

In Gomorrah.

c.1750 BC

Shinab / Senabar

In Admah / Adama.

c.1750 BC

Shemeber / Sumobor

In Zeboiim / Zeboyim.

c.1750 BC

Zoar

In Bela.

c.1749 BC

Despite their resistance, the rebellious city states of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim, and Bela are defeated within a year. The city of Salem also figures in this period in connection with Abraham of the Israelites.

During the rebellion, Sodom is aided by Lot, adopted son of Abraham. Thereafter he is found living within the city itself, shortly before it is destroyed (as Josephus says) by means of God casting 'a thunderbolt upon the city, and set[ting] it on fire, with its inhabitants; and laid waste the country with the like burning.' Curiously, after this destruction, the vale that is home to the destroyed city is afterwards called Lake Asphaltitis.

c.1503 BC

Thutmose I invades the Levant and Syria, sweeping through much of it. Egypt establishes a presence but does not appear to remain in force.

1453 BC

Egypt reasserts its authority in the region by conquering territory in the Levant and Syria as far north as Amurru. The Egyptians establish three provinces which are named Amurru (in southern Syria), Upe (in the northern Levant, which may correspond to Damas), and Canaan (in the southern Levant, which includes Gebal). Each one is governed by an Egyptian official. Native dynasts are allowed to continue their rule over the small states, but have to provide annual tribute.

c.1400 BC

Amorites capture the previously Amorite and Canaanite city of Bashan in Syria.

c.1371 - 1358 BC

The Amarna letters between Egypt and Assyria, and the city states of Syria and Canaan, describe the disruptive activities of the habiru, painting them as a threat to the stability of the region.

Rohl's theory is that the habiru of the Amarna letters are the Israelites of David. Findings indicated that the three years of drought, famine, and plague of the Amarna letters and those of David's time may be same. Another theory is that Moses (an individual who is probably much closer to the period in which the Amarna letters are written than David) is 'the rebel Mesh' of amelut-sagaz-Mesh (habiru) of the Amarna letters.

Canaanite bronze figure
This photo shows a bronze figure from Tyre, created between 1400-1200 BC and probably representing the Canaanite god Baal in the role of a warrior

c.1310 BC

In the lead up to their confrontation with Egypt at the Battle of Kadesh, the Hittites conduct raids deep into Canaan. Rib-Adda, king of Gebal, reports to his Egyptian overlords on additional and apparently devastating raids by the habiru. He mentions the nearby minor city of Irqata (or Arqa, Biblical Arkite, which is now a village near Miniara in the Akkar district of northern Lebanon, 22km north-east of Tripoli, near the coast). Apparently the people of Irqata are among the last in their area to hold out against the habiru, along with another minor city, Sumur, and Gebal itself. Only Gebal remains unconquered.

fl c.1310 BC

Aduna

'King of Irqata'. Killed by the habiru.

fl c.1310 BC

?

'King of Sumur'. Killed by the habiru.

c.1200 - 1020 BC

There is general collapse in the region as instability grips the Mediterranean coast for some decades, with the first, and biggest victim being the Hittite empire. It is quite possible that the habiru play some part in this. One theory holds that they unite as an identifiable Canaanite people around this time and begin to attack and conquer many of the local city states under the collective name of Israelites. Their main opponents in the south are the newly arrived Philistines and in the north the incoming Aramaeans, while some of the Sea Peoples also settle along the coast and probably contribute their skills to the region's maritime society. The Canaanites are reduced to owning the shores of Phoenicia, where cities such as Sidon and Gebal survive, and become the sea traders known as the Phoenicians.

Midianites

The Midianites were mentioned in the Old Testament as a minor group of 'city states' which lay on the southern borders of Edom, along the Gulf of Elath and bordered to their own south by the Arab tribes. The Moabites were nomads (which suggests that their city states were nothing like as established or permanent as those in the north of Canaan) and they controlled parts of the Arabah, the Negeb, and the Sinai. They are thought to have been connected to the Moabites through their religious practises, but little else seems to be known about them, although one opinion has suggested that they were Arabs rather than Semitics. They are also mentioned in the Qur'an as the Madyans.

c.1230 BC

Moses begins to lead the loose confederation of Israelite tribes out of Egypt, shortly after his marriage to a Midianite woman, Zipporah daughter of Jethro the Midian priest whom he had met in the Sinai.

c.1198 BC

Moab is defeated and subjugated by the Israelites, as are a number of minor city states, including those of the Midianites and various other Canaanite cities.

c.1198 BC

Balaam

First-known ruler of the Midianites.

c.1198 BC

Evi

c.1198 BC

Rekem

c.1198 BC

Zur

c.1198 BC

Hur

c.1198 BC

Reba

c.1120 BC

Gideon of Israel defeats the Midianites after what appears to be an attempt to cattle-rustle and steal crops by the Midianites and their allies, the Amalekites.

c.1080 BC

Israel is subdued by the Midianites to the south (probably only on a very local and temporary basis).

Jebusites

In around the 1170s BC, the Israelite tribes are estimated to have been conquering various Canaanite cities during the creation of their own state. By this stage a Canaanite tribe known as the Jebusites, which traditionally had already been occupying the mountains near the city of Shalem in the Judean Mountains, had also occupied the city itself. According to the Old Testament, the city's king led the Jebusites from the following cities against the Israelites, but they were totally defeated and their cities were incorporated into the new Israelite state.

(Additional information from The Amarna Letters, William L Moran, 1992, and the Illustrated Dictionary & Concordance of the Bible, Geoffrey Wigoder (Gen Ed), 1986.)

c.1170s BC

Hoham

King of Hebron (then called Kirjath-arba).

c.1170s BC

Piram

King of Jarmuth.

c.1170s BC

Japhia

King of Lachish (Tell Lachish/Tell ed-Duweir).

c.1170s BC

Debir

King of Eglon (Tell el-Hesi?).

c.1170s BC

Adonizedec of Shalem leads the fragmented Canaanite tribes against Joshua of the Israelites, but they are defeated at Gibeon and apparently suffer again at Beth-horon, not only from attacks by their pursuers, but also from a great hail storm. The five allied kings take refuge in a cave at Makkedah and are imprisoned there until after the battle, when Joshua commands that they be brought before him. They are brought out, humiliated, and put to death, and Jebusite Shalem is conquered. They take control of the city but apparently lose it again twenty years later during an invasion by the Philistines.

975 BC

The Jebusite king Araunah is mentioned in the Old Testament in relation to Shalem during the formation of the Israelite kingdom, so he is probably the city's ruler. The Jebusites have been resisting Israelite attempts to re-take the city for some time, resorting to mocking their assailants for their failures. Now King David manages to conquer the city once and for all, taking it as his new capital and renaming it hebiru-Shalem, or Jerusalem. From this point onwards, the city serves as Israel's spiritual centre, as well as its administrative capital. When Israel divides into Samaria and Judah in 928 BC, Jerusalem serves as Judah's capital.

FeatureThe Israelite Settlement Period

The period of Israelite settlement after the exodus from Egypt is a controversial and confusing time. General instability in the region had seen the fall of the Hittite empire in Anatolia, the Canaanites were being reduced in territory to the shores of Lebanon (to eventually become the sea traders known as the Phoenicians), the Philistines and other Sea Peoples were first settling on the lower coast of the Levant, and various neo-Hittite city states were arising in northern Syria, many of which came into contact with the Israelites.

These, then, are the Canaanite cities said to have been conquered by the Israelites, along with (very) approximate dates in which each city was defeated or conquered. The evidence for an Israelite conquest is very controversial, relying almost entirely on the Old Testament and showing very little basis in written documents or archaeology of the period. If it was a conquest rather than a simple transition between one ruling group of Canaanites and another then it must have been very small-scale in terms of regional politics, and probably nowhere near as important as it is portrayed by the Old Testament.

(Additional information from the Illustrated Dictionary & Concordance of the Bible, Geoffrey Wigoder (Gen Ed), 1986.)

c.1200 BC

Arad the Canaanite

Ruled the south.

c.1198 BC

The Israelites conquer Moab.

c.1170 BC

The Canaanite king of Shalem leads the fragmented Jebusites against Joshua of the Israelites, but they are instead defeated and conquered, with their cities being incorporated into the Israelite state. Shalem becomes the Israelite capital of Jerusalem.

c.1170 BC

?

King of Jericho.

c.1170 BC

?

King of Ai, near Beth-el.

c.1160s BC

The Jebusites are conquered by the Israelites, as are many other Canaanite city states situated in and around what becomes Judah and lower Syria, with Dor amongst their number. Referring to them as city states may be a little grand. Probably they are little more than obscure settlements and small tribes that are taken over piecemeal.

c.1160s BC

Horam

King of Gezer.

c.1160s BC

?

King of Hormah.

c.1160s BC

?

King of Arad.

c.1160s BC

?

King of Libnah.

c.1160s BC

?

King of Adullam.

c.1160s BC

?

King of Makkedah.

c.1160s BC

?

King of Beth-el.

c.1160s BC

?

King of Tappuah.

c.1160s BC

?

King of Hepher.

c.1150s BC

?

King of Aphek.

c.1150s BC

?

King of Lasharon.

c.1150s BC

?

King of Shimron-meron.

c.1150s BC

?

King of Taanach.

c.1150s BC

?

King of Megiddo (the Bible's Armageddon).

c.1150s BC

?

King of Kadesh (under control of Ashtata?).

c.1150s BC

?

King of Carmel.

c.1150s BC

?

King of Gilgal.

c.1150s BC

?

King of Tirzah. This city was later the original capital of Samaria.

c.1125 BC

The kings below are all allies of Hazor in the coalition of the 'kings of Canaan' against Joshua and the Israelites at the 'waters of Megiddo'. Hazor itself is sacked and burned.

c.1125 BC

Jobab

King of Madon. Ally of Hazor.

c.1125 BC

Shimron

King of Achshaph. Ally of Hazor.

c.1125 BC

Hermon

King of the Hivites of the land of Mizpah. Ally of Hazor.

Phoenician & Canaanite City States

The 'Phoenicians' would not have recognised this term in relation to them. They were Canaanites, the descendants of peoples who had previously populated much of the Levant, but who were now hemmed in on a long Mediterranean coastal strip by various more recent arrivals, such as the Israelites (largely Canaanites themselves), the Philistines, the Sea Peoples, and the Aramaeans. Relatively unscathed by the chaos of the twelfth century collapse, from this fertile region they quickly prospered. Replacing the region's previous dominant trading power, Ugarit, they created an even greater trading empire of their own which stretched across the Mediterranean. Some scholars argue that because their sailing ability, which was not well attested before the collapse, suddenly became very pronounced afterwards, the Phoenicians may have intermingled with some of the Sea Peoples to produce this more dynamic branch of Canaanites.

Their civilization was organised into city states on the same pattern as the ancient Greeks and Syrians. Each city state was politically independent, and would suffer domination by another city, come into conflict with it, or prosper through intermarriage and trade. Sidon and Tyre were the most powerful Phoenician cities, but in time the colonies in North Africa proved to be more powerful than either of them. Close allies with the Israelites, the Phoenicians intermarried with them from the eleventh century onwards, and greatly influenced Israel's architecture.

(Additional information from and A Royal Dedicatory Inscription from Ekron, S Gitin, T Dothan, & J Naveh (Israel Exploration Journal 47, 1997).)

The principle Phoenician cities along the coast are Biruta, Byblos, Hazor, Tyre, Sarepta, and Sidon. Other Canaanite cities include Ammon, Dor, Edom, and Moab, while the Philistines establish city states of their own further south. Arabs from the peninsula, who are camel nomads, are in close contact with the Syro-Palestinian region and provide luxury goods such as incense from Saba.

1104 BC

This is the traditional date upon which the colony of Gadir is founded in southern Iberia. No archaeological evidence for occupation at this date can be found but, as with the colony of Utica, this is probably because these posts are temporary at first, and are not permanently occupied until the ninth century.

A colony is also founded at Utica, and further colonies are founded (and permanently settled between the eighth and seventh centuries) at Hadrumetum (Susah, Sousse), Lixus, Mogador (Essaouira, the most distant Phoenician colony), Siga (Rachgoun), and Tipasa (east of Cherchell). Finds of a similar age have been made at Motya (Mozia) in Sicily, Nora (Nurri), Sulcis, and Tharros (San Giovanni di Sinis), Bithia, Bosa, Caralis, Nora, Olbia, Sulcis, and Tharros on Sardinia, and Gadir and Almuńecar in Spain.

c.1050 BC

A weakened Egypt loses its remaining imperial possessions in Canaan. The Phoenician city states expand their territory at this time, but are checked in the south by the Philistines. Archaeological evidence for a mass settling of people in this southern region and at this time has yet to be found, suggesting that the Philistines are formed of small, mobile groups who take a while to establish themselves and take control of the region.

Shiloh is a Canaanite town that has become the central sanctuary site of the Israelite confederacy during the period of the judges. Following the Israelite conquest of Canaan, the Tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant had been installed in Shiloh, but the Ark is now captured by the Philistines during a battle at Ebenezer (site unknown), and Shiloh is soon afterwards destroyed. Excavations at Khirbat Sayūn in modern Jordan during 1920-1932 suggest that Shiloh remains a ruin for several centuries. The Philistines decide to return the Ark after about seven months.

c.1035 BC

The kingdom of Israel is founded while the Phoenicians are creating trading posts along the North African coast, such as Carthage and Utica, in southern Italy, in the Mediterranean, such as Kition on Cyprus and on Corsica, and in southern Spain, such as Gadir and Tarshish. Merchants are also known to trade with the occupants of the Land's End region of Britain, and general opinion is that these traders are Phoenicians, although there is no surviving proof.

fl c.970? BC

Hadadezer

King of Zobah. Fell to David.

c.970? BC

A young officer of Zobah, Rezon, son of Eliada, escapes the Israelite conquest of the city and establishes himself in Aram Damascus, where he 'founds' an important kingdom.

928 - 925 BC

The break-up of Israel allows Damascus to rapidly grow in power and at times even threaten the existence of its southern neighbour. It also gains the important caravan routes westwards to the Phoenician ports, bringing immense wealth into the city.

738 - 676 BC

The end of the region known as Philistia (Palestine), as well as the remaining cultural Philistines, now comes when the Assyrians sack the remaining towns and cities and sells the inhabitants into slavery. The city of Ashkelon may be the last to fall, in 701 BC. Subsequent kings appear in Ekron (at least), but they write their inscriptions in a Canaanite dialect that is very close to Phoenician. All of the Phoenician states also become vassals of Assyria, but local arrangements for governance are left in place.

676 - 612 BC

Assyria conquers all of Phoenicia. However, despite being under the nominal control of the Assyrians, the Phoenicians continue their highly profitable trading enterprises in the western Mediterranean. They begin to move farther inland on Sardinia in their hunt for important natural resources such as lead and silver mines. They establish a fort on Monte Sirai, the oldest-known Phoenician military building in the west, presumably to protect their acquisitions from an increasingly hostile native Sardi people.

612 - 573 BC

The Phoenician cities appear to regain their freedom after the destruction of the Assyrian empire.

573 - 539 BC

Babylonia conquers Phoenicia. As a result, many Phoenicians emigrate to the colonies, especially Carthage, which quickly rises to become a major power.

Later Phoenicia

Under Persian control, Phoenicia formed part of a satrapy that included Syria and Mesopotamia. Later, Syria was created a satrapy in its own right. The province extended from the Amanus to Sinai and included Salamis on Cyprus. The administrative divisions of the Syrian province were likely the same as during Neo-Babylonian rule (Damascus, Hamath, and Hauran, within later Batanea) and the capital was probably Damascus or Sidon. Persian freedom-laws allowed the cities of the Levant to continue to practice their own religions, carrying out their own commercial activities, and establish colonies along the Mediterranean coast.

Although they provided a fleet which was vital to Cambyses in the conquest of Egypt, the Phoenicians refused to help him in his proposed attack on Carthage, their ancient colony, and the idea was abandoned. However, they sided with the Persians against the Greeks in the wars (490-449 BC), which were, from a Syrian point of view, a precious occasion for getting rid of the Greek presence in the Mediterranean.

(Additional information from External Link: Encyclopędia Britannica.)

539 - 333 BC

All of Phoenicia is submerged within the Persian empire. Many Phoenicians emigrate to the colonies, especially Carthage, which quickly rises to become a major power. The many other colonies in the western Mediterranean also become more important. On Sardinia, for instance, Phoenicians mount a defence against a native Sardi uprising that secures them control of much of the island.

333 - 323 BC

The region is conquered by the Greek empire under Alexander the Great.

323 - 320 BC

Syria and Phoenicia are governed by the Greek general, Laomedon.

323 - 319 BC

Laomedon of Mitylene

Greek satrap of Syria and Phoenicia.

320 - 301 BC

The Empire of Antigonus governs Phoenicia during the period of the Wars of the Diadochi.

301 - 198 BC

Phoenicia is ruled by Egypt between 301-198 BC, until Antiochus III of the Seleucid empire invades Coele Syria as part of the Fifth Syrian War and defeats Ptolemaic General Scopas at Panion near the source of the River Jordan in 200 BC. This gains him control of Palestine and Phoenicia (which includes the city of Miletus), and Antiochus grants special rights to the Jewish temple state.

68 - 64 BC

Phoenicia is conquered by Rome and remains within the republic, empire and later Eastern Empire until AD 637.

AD 551

Much of Phoenicia is destroyed by a great earthquake. The cities decline in importance and archaeological evidence from this period is fragmentary.

637 - 1110

The Islamic empire sweeps through the region, conquering everything in its path.

1110 - 1291

Much of former Phoenicia falls into the hands of the Crusader kingdoms.

1291 - 1517

The region falls under the Mameluke sultans.

1517 - 1697

The Mamelukes are conquered by the Ottoman empire.

1697 - 1842

While still nominally part of the Ottoman empire, the Shihabi amirs of Lebanon are semi-independent.

1842 - 1918

Direct rule is re-established by the Ottoman empire.

1918

The French mandate of Lebanon is established.