History Files

Near East Kingdoms

Ancient Levantine States


Amrit / Amurre / Marathos (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 town of Amrit was apparently founded by Amorite colonists from Arvad in the late third millennium BC, with that control lasting until the late twelfth century BC. Amrit was located in the modern Latakia province which is situated fifty kilometres to the north of Tripoli. However, the claim of Arvad's control over Amrit is dated to around 1600 BC, so if Amorites did indeed settle here in the late third millennium BC then it probably took around four or five centuries for Arvad's control to be established.

Like the rest of the region, Amrit saw a procession of various peoples and powers, including Canaanites, Amorites, Phoenicians, and the great empires of the first millennium BC. By the time Alexander the Great annexed the region to his Greek empire, Amrit was one of the biggest cities in the ancient world. It was also the Greeks who renamed it as Marathus or Marathos. However, 'Amrit' is a modern, Arabic name, so it is more likely that Marathos was a Greek adaptation of the original Amorite name which seems to have been lost. At least until the first century BC the city apparently played an important role, with coins being minted there. Today it houses the remains of the world's only well-preserved Phoenician temple, the Temple of Amrit.

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 Amarna Letters, William L Moran, 1992, from the Illustrated Dictionary & Concordance of the Bible, Geoffrey Wigoder (Gen Ed, 1986), and from External Links: Encyclopædia Britannica, and Ancient Amrit (The History of the Ancient Near East).)

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, apparently a century or two after Amrit itself is founded

Amorites, Semitic-speaking farmers
Amorites, Semitic-speaking farmers from the south who integrated into Mesopotamia, and then Syria and Canaan

c.1600 BC

Settlers from Arvad 'found' the city of Amrit, which remains under Arvad's authority until the twelfth century BC. Interestingly, settlement here may date to the late third millennium BC, which would mean that Amorites arrive here at the same time as they do in Arvad, but that it takes around four or five centuries for Arvad's control to be established.

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, Arvad is sacked, but the city manages to drive back the invaders and stage a recovery over the next four centuries.

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.1100 BC

Arvad's survival during the thirteenth century BC social collapse has still meant a weakening of its influence and local power. Amrit is now conquered by Assyria which is experiencing its first major burst of empire-building in Syria and Canaan.

627 - 626 BC

The Babylonians revolt against Assyrian dominance, something which spirals out of all control and threatens the very heartland of Assyria. At the same time the empire loses direct control of Amrit, with Arvad seeing its opportunity to resume command there.

604 - 539 BC

The Phoenician cities have apparently regained their freedom following the destruction of the Assyrian empire. Illusions of freedom are insubstantial, however. A resurgent Egypt battles against Babylonia towards the end of the seventh century BC, conquering and then losing control of Syria and then barely being able to hold onto Phoenicia.

Amrit, however, is taken under Babylonian control around thirty years before it conquers the entirety of Phoenicia. It is most likely subsequently incorporated into the Persian vassal kingdom of Arvad (until Alexander the Great captures Ebir-nāri in 333-332 BC). The Persians influence temple-building for the traditional Phoenician gods. The Greeks rename the city as Marathos (or more likely interpret the original name), just as another regional city, Ammon, is also renamed.

Temple ruins at the site of Amrit
The temple ruins at Amrit have been preserved, with the 'Save Amrit' voluntary organisation doing its best to do the same with the rest of the site (additional voluteers are welcomed through their website)

219 - 148 BC

Amrit gains its independence from Arvad during the gradual decline and fracturing of Seleucid territories in the Near East. This occurs in 219 BC, at the start of the Fourth Syrian War between Antiochus III and Egypt's Ptolemy IV for control of their mutual border.

By the time Alexander I Balas Epiphanes comes to the Seleucid throne, his kingdom is so fragmented and weakened by internal feuding which he seems incapable of offering any support when Arvad sacks and destroys Amrit in 148 BC. The city is never rebuilt, leaving its ruins to be discovered by archaeologists.

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