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Near East Kingdoms

Ancient Levantine States


Arad (Canaan)

The Levant between about 10,000-3000 BC was the centre of the Neolithic Farmer revolution in the Near East. The process of domesticating wild crops was a gradual one, taking place during the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A and Pre-Pottery Neolithic B. The subsequent Pottery Neolithic established the settlement structures which would later turn into city states, along with the crop farming and pastoralism which would support them.

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 Canaanite city of Arad can be pinpointed as the archaeological mound of Tel Arad in modern Israel. This location lies ten kilometres to the west of the modern city of Arad on the plain of the same name, very close to the southern edge of the Palestinian West Bank. The ancient site consists of an upper level which, unusually, was not the site of the earliest settlement. This was the lower city which lies some way distanced from the upper city.

Arad was first permanently inhabited as an unfortified scattered settlement during the late Chalcolithic period (around 4000-3400 BC). A small unfortified centralised settlement was raised during the Early Bronze Age 1B (3200-3000 BC). Around 2900 BC this was over-built by the site's first planned and sophisticated city, and it was this which remained inhabited for about three and-a-half centuries.

This early Canaanite city was protected by a thick wall of 2.5 metres in depth, with a total running length of 1,176 metres, plus two gates (at least), and semi-circular towers. A palace arose on the city's western side. Residential houses were built using a uniform 'Aradian' design which consists of a rectangular room which was entered from the courtyard, along its long side. The city's temple and sacred precinct lies at its heart.

Today the Tel Arad mound lies within the Tel Arad National Park. Work has been undertaken to restore the walls both in the upper and lower city areas. An example of a Canaanite-era house has also been rebuilt.

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: Encyclopaedia Britannica, and Wanderleb, and The Canaanite King of Arad, and Tel Arad (Bible Walks).)

c.2900 BC

At a point around this date the early Canaanite city of Arad is created over the site of a pre-existing settlement, utilising what becomes known as the lower city area. The area of occupation expands to cover ten hectares of ground, complete with fortifications and a palace.

Map of Anatolia and Environs 2000 BC
This was the situation in Anatolia which was inherited by the Hittites as they formed their early empire in the eighteenth century BC (click or tap on map to view full sized)

However, it is destroyed around 2700 BC due to circumstances unknown. It is in this period that central trading sites arise in the Negev Highlands, fuelled by the copper industry in the Arabah and early trade with Egypt. The possibility exists that Arad, in a less suitable location, is abandoned by its populace and is put to the torch as they leave.

c.1200 BC


King of Arad. Killed along with his followers.

c.1200 BC

The unnamed king of Arad may be little more than a pastoral tribal leader who claims some territory but whose resettled 'city' is (now) little more than a farming town on the edge of habitable Canaan.

In fact, the old site may not have been touched at all (a finding which is supported by archaeology). Even the Old Testament (Numbers 21:1-3) states that this king dwells in the Negev, the large semi-hospitable desert on the southern border of today's Israel.

However, the Old Testament coverage of an event which involves 'Arad' is confusing and possibly contradictory unless it is taken as two events. If that is the case then the Aradites, along with the Amalekites, come down from the hills to deal the Israelites 'a shattering blow'.

Aerial view of Tel Arad in Israel
The current archaeological site of Tel Arad is probably one of the easier ones to link back to its ancient origins, with the early Canaanite city seen at the lower edge of the photo and the first millennium BC Israelite stronghold at the top

Then the Israelites strike back, defeating and destroying the Aradites and claiming their town, which they rebuild in the eleventh century BC. This event does tie in with the archaeology as it is when the upper city is constructed. This gains heavily-fortified walls which are destroyed and rebuild at least six times during the Israelite and subsequent Judean phases of ownership.

1st century BC

During the Herodian period the city's well undergoes renovation work. Several additional plastered storage pools are added around it.

The city is abandoned at the end of the Second Jewish Uprising in AD 135, although several citadels in succession are subsequently added under Roman domination of Judea. The site is finally abandoned during the early Islamic empire period (in the eighth century AD).

Model of Jerusalem in the first century AD
Hans Kroch build this model of the city of Jerusalem of the first century AD in the 1960s, with only the empty streets giving away the fact that it is not a full-sized city

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