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Near East Kingdoms

Ancient Levantine States


Akšapa / Achshaph (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 Akšapa is known from the Amarna letters. This kingly correspondence of the fourteenth century BC was exchanged between the great powers of the period, along with many of the city states of Syria and Canaan. They have proven to be invaluable in providing a picture of habitation and governance in the smaller cities. Known as Achshaph to the Israelites, the city was to be found in Canaan's north. The modern archaeological mound of Tell Keisan, in Israel's north-western coastal corner midway between Halfa and Acre, provides one of the better candidates for its location. Other possibilities include Tell Harbaj, Tell an-Nakhl, and Tell Regev.

Ancient Tell Keisan may have served as a major granary centre for the city of Akko. At its height in the first half of the second millennium BC it was large and prosperous, possessing a defensive glacis and stone wall of a type which was very popular in the Bronze Age Near East.

A destruction layer can be seen around the 1200 BC period, during the region's chaotic climate-induce social collapse. The city was subsequently rebuilt and reoccupied from about 1050 BC, possibly as an outpost for Tyre. This dating does not match up with calculations for the Israelite 'conquest' of the region, perhaps providing further evidence that it instead took place a good century earlier (see also Jericho and Ai). Further cycles of occupation and rebuilding followed until it was finally abandoned after the Crusades had started.

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 Link: Encyclopædia Britannica.)

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 the city of Arvad, as well as others farther north. Achshaph is also occupied in this period, heading towards its highest level of development and wealth.

Amorites, Semitic-speaking farmers
Amorites, Semitic-speaking farmers from the south who integrated into Mesopotamia, and then Syria and 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 serves mainly as a granary centre for the nearby city of Akko. The city possesses a defensive glacis and stone wall of a type which is currently very popular in the region.

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.

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)

fl c.1350s BC


'Mayor' of Akšapa. Mentioned in three Amana letters.

1348 BC

FeatureAkhenaten institutes monotheism in the fourth year of his reign of Egypt with the sole worship of the sun god Aton (see feature link for more). In the following year he founds a new capital at Amarna. It is during this period that the Amarna letters are written between the pharaoh, Assur-Uballit I of Assyria, the Kassite rulers of Babylonia, plus Mitanni, the Hittites, Alashiya, Arzawa, and the city states of Syria and Canaan.

The letters also include further mention of Akšapa, the Egyptian form of whatever the Canaanite name is for the city (probably something close to the later Hebrew name of Achshaph). Endaruta confirms his loyalty and service to the pharaoh.

c.1200 BC

The entire Near East is hit by drought and the loss of surviving crops. Food supplies dwindle and the number of raids by habiru and other groups of peoples who have banded together greatly increases until, by about 1200 BC, this flood has turned into a tidal wave.

Already decaying, the Hittite empire is now looted and destroyed by various surrounding peoples, including the Kaskans and the Sea Peoples (and perhaps even selectively by its own populace). Unlike Gebal, Sidon, and Tyre, the site of Tell Keisan (possibly Achshaph) is destroyed and remains abandoned for a further century and-a-half during the region's short dark age.

Habu relief at Medinet
Attacks by the Sea Peoples gathered momentum during the last decade of the thirteenth century BC, quickly reaching a peak which lasted about forty years

c.1160s - 1150s BC

The Jebusites are conquered by the Israelites, as are many other very minor Canaanite city states which are situated in and around what becomes Judah and lower Syria. Dor, Gezer, Megiddo, Shimron-meron, and Tirzah can be counted amongst their number, along with the other Israelite Settlement period conquests.

The Israelite conquests are led by Joshua, but they appear to take place over a span of time, probably ten or twenty years if not more. Even referring to many of the conquests as city states may be generous. Many could be little more than obscure settlements and small tribes which are taken over piecemeal. Many also have not been pinpointed by modern archaeology, although educated guesses abound.

c.1125 BC

The Israelites have been subdued by Jabin, 'king of Canaan', in Hazor. Now they are roused to rebel. Jabin's associate, Sisera, is routed in battle at Merom, and Hazor itself is sacked and burned, possibly by the Israelites who then annexe it to their state. Jabin's allies (or vassals) include the kings of Achshaph and Madon, along with the king of the Hivites of the land of Mizpah.

This slightly fanciful view of the migrating Israelites does show a surprisingly small number of participants (more are cropped off from the left, but even so their numbers are very finite), something which chimes with the 'ruling elite' theory of migration which is detailed on the Israelites page

fl c.1125 BC


King of Achshaph. Ally of Hazor. Killed by Israelites.

Shimron's personal name is the same as that of the city of Shimron-meron, which appears to be conquered by the Israelites around the same time. There exists the possibility of a connection, although nothing survives to show it.

Archaeological dating of Hazor's destruction produces a date of around 1250-1220 BC, a good century before the approximate dating used here which seems to fit best with Old Testament events. The destruction layer for Tell Keisan (possibly Achshaph) is also too early for this event, being placed at about 1200 BC.

c.1050 BC

A weakened Egypt loses its remaining imperial possessions in Canaan. Tyre begins founding trading colonies or making permanent its existing outposts along the western Mediterranean coast, including that of Utica in North Africa. It may also be responsible for the rebuilding of the city at today's site of Tell Keisan (possibly the Achshaph of the Old Testament).

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

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.

663 BC

Tyre surrenders to Ashurbanipal of Assyria as the empire again conquers all of Phoenicia, drawing it directly into the empire. The site of Tell Keisan (possibly the Achshaph of the Old Testament) is re-inhabited during this century, but is caught up in the fall of the empire at the end of the century and is again destroyed.

The site is reoccupied throughout the Persian and Greek empire before being abandoned yet again in the second century BC. Rome re-ignites life on the site which survives until the thirteenth century Crusades.

The coming of the Crusaders occurred at a time at which the Islamic world was deeply involved in factional in-fighting, and at first they were dismissed as being a mere Byzantine raid

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