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Near East Kingdoms

Ancient Levantine States


Akko / Acco (Canaan)

In the mid-third millennium BC, city states began to appear in Syria as people benefited from interaction with Sumer and from improvements in irrigation. Within five hundred years, around 2000 BC, the same process was happening farther south and west, in the Levant, along the Mediterranean coast. Semitic-speaking Canaanite tribes occupied much of the area, creating a patchwork of city states of their own. The Phoenicians (more Canaanites) also occupied parts of this region, eventually founding their own mighty seaborne trading empire.

The city of Akko is sometimes shown as Acco, with both being Hebrew versions of the original Canaanite name, while Akka is the later Arabic version. This was the ancient city of Acre of the Crusades and now of modern Israel. It occupies a natural bay at the eastern end of the Mediterranean, one which provides an ideal trading centre. Initial occupation began around 3000 BC, but ended later during the same Early Bronze Age period. This was too early for the cause to be due to the regional decline which triggered Egypt's 'First Intermediate' and the end of Sumerian Mesopotamia. Instead flooding is suspected to be the cause.

The site was reoccupied during the subsequent rebuilding process which really kicked off around 1800 BC, and it has remained occupied ever since. However, the original site on which the ancient city grew is now a tell, an archaeological mound, about a kilometre and-a-half to the east of the modern city. It is known as Tel Akko in Hebrew and Tell el-Fukhar in Arabic.

A probable client city of Akko was Achshaph, located probably a short way to the south and still close to the Mediterranean coast, but with a location which is not entirely certain. The archaeological site of Tell Keisan is a favourite, but other options exist. The city may have served as a major granary centre for Akko.

Phoenicians shifting cedarwood from shore to land

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from Unger's Bible Dictionary, Merrill F Unger (1957), from Easton's Bible Dictionary, Matthew George Easton (1897), from Egypt, Canaan and Israel in Ancient Times, Donald Redford (Princeton University Press, 1992), from Early Israel and the Surrounding Nations, A H Sayce, from the Illustrated Dictionary & Concordance of the Bible, Geoffrey Wigoder (Gen Ed, 1986), from The Cambridge Ancient History, John Boardman, N G L Hammond, D M Lewis, & M Ostwald (Eds), from A History of Israel: From the Bronze Age through the Jewish Wars, Walter C Kaiser Jr (Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998), from Jewish War & Jewish Antiquities, Flavius Josephus, and from External Links: Encyclopædia Britannica, and Tourist Israel.)

c.2000 - 1800 BC

Egypt's 'Middle Kingdom' can be noted at this time for its expansion of trade outside of the kingdom. This includes maintaining a trading presence along the Mediterranean coast while Amorites settle and found several cities, which includes Arvad.

Tel Akko in Israel
Tel Akko sits on the eastern edge of modern Acre, with its focuss having been moved there during the region's Hellenistic period between 332-63 BC

The city of 'Akka' is mentioned by Egypt around 1800 BC, with this usually being equated with the Akko of Canaan. It has only just been re-occupied after some centuries of abandonment before and during the short dark age of this period which has followed the climate-induced decline of Sumer and urban living in Canaan.

1453 BC

The Egyptians conquer Canaan and Syria again and establish three provinces in their conquered territories which are named Amurru (in southern Syria), Upe (in northern Canaan), and Canaan (in southern Canaan).

The city which exists at Tell Keisan (which may or may not be Achshaph) at this time is a thriving and prosperous city, one which perhaps concentrates mainly on serving as a grain centre for Akko (or Aak as it is recorded by Egypt). It possesses a defensive glacis and stone wall of a type which is currently very popular in the region.

Map of Anatolia and Environs 1550 BC
Small cities and minor states which had been founded by the Hittites littered the meeting point between Anatolia and Syria around 1500 BC (click or tap on map to view full sized)

c.1360s BC

Šuwardata of Gath writes one of the Amana letters in which he states that only he and Abdi-Heba of Urušalim (Shalem?) have been fighting the habiru, albeit with aid from Surata of Akko and Endaruta of Akšapa.

fl c.1350s BC


Ruler of Akko. Mentioned in the Amana letters.

Burnaburiash (II) of Babylon complains to Egypt that its vassals, Surata of Akko and Šum-Hadda of Shimron, have raided his caravan. The outcome is unknown, but the letter illustrates the importance of Shimron in terms of raiding and trading, and Akko in providing support and imperial irritation.

738 - 734 BC

All of the Phoenician states become vassals of Assyria, including Sidon, but local arrangements for governance are left in place. In 734 BC the cities of Sumur, Arqa, and Gebal are all seized, while Tyre is forced to pay tribute and suffer partial deportation.

Akko is assaulted before being reduced to ashes, while nearby Tell Keisan (possibly Achshaph) is also destroyed during this century, and perhaps at this very point in time. The Philistines are next.

Tell Keisan in Israel
The archaeological site of Tell Keisan in today's north-western corner of Israel is one of the better candidates for the site of the ancient city of Achshaph

539 BC

All of Phoenicia is submerged within the Persian empire. Alexander the Great proceeds into the region during 333-332 BC to receive the submission of Ebir-nāri, which also gains him Harran, Judah, and Phoenicia. The Ptolemies largely rule Akko following his death, but the focus of the city is shifted west, gradually leaving the original site to become an abandoned tel. Rome makes it a principal base during the Judean revolt of AD 66-70. The city re-emerges during the Crusades as the Acre of Christian territories.

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