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Near East Kingdoms

Ancient Levantine States

 

Arqa / Irqata (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 successful early first millennium BC city of Arqa (or Arka) - its Akkadian name, and also its modern Arabic name - was Rome's Irqata (although variations of this name may also be valid prior to Rome's arrival in the region, while Rome later rechristened it as Arca Caesarea and also recorded it as Caesarea Ituraeorum). The Old Testament records it as Arkite. Today it is the archaeological site of Tell Arqa which sits next to the modern coastal village of Arqa, near Miniara in the Akkar district of northern Lebanon, twenty-two kilometres to the north-east of Tripoli. It also sits at the outlet of the 'Homs Gap' into the Mediterranean, a main communications artery with inland Syria. This made it a militarily strategic location from its early days.

The earliest settlement here was during the Near East's Neolithic period, with a sophisticated city emerging around 3300 BC. Remnants of the Early Bronze Age city (3300-2000 BC) can be seen in the modern archaeological site. All excavated structures in this layer belong to a dwelling quarter of densely-built houses which are separated by a narrow, zigzag-shaped street. Houses had mud-brick walls, with wooden beams extensively used as a major material for the internal sections and an upper story for living space. There was also a granary which acted as a silo for long term preservation, mainly for the grain to be sown the next year.

It is unclear whether the later pre-Assyrian-period city had a kingship. No kings are known, although that is not necessarily a hindrance to a claim of a kingship having existed. However, the city is mentioned in the fourteenth century BC Amarna letters where it pleads to Egypt for help by sending a 'message from Arqa and its el[d]ers'. Possibly it was governed by these elders and was generally subject to another city, perhaps the regionally-powerful Gebal.

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 Wanderleb.)

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. Arqa itself is mentioned in Egyptian tablets of this period, but as an enemy rather than a subject or ally.

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). Arqa is destroyed by the Egyptians and a site at Tell Kazel (Sumur) is made the region's new principal city. Arqa is diminished by this act even though it is rebuilt, but the city recovers.

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

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.

fl c.1310 BC

Aduna

'King of Irqata'. Killed by the habiru.

He mentions the nearby minor city of Arqa whose citizens are apparently amongst the last in their area to hold out against the habiru, along with another minor city, Sumur, and Gebal itself. Only Gebal remains unconquered.

853 BC

FeatureNow briefly independent, Arqa is a member of an alliance of states which also includes Ammon, Arvad, Byblos, Damas, Edom, Egypt, Hamath, Kedar, and Samaria. Together they fight Shalmaneser III of Assyria at the Battle of Qarqar which consists of the largest known number of combatants in a single battle to date (see feature link), and is the first historical mention of the Arabs from the southern deserts.

Map of Canaan and Syria c.850 BC
When the Neo-Assyrian empire threatened the various city states of southern Syria and Canaan around 853 BC, they united to protect their joint territory - successfully it seems, at least for a time (click or tap on map to view full sized)

Arqa sends ten thousand troops to aid the coalition. Despite claims to the contrary, the Assyrians are defeated, since they do not press on to their nearest target, Hamath, and do not resume their attacks on Hamath and Damas for about six years.

c.740 - 734 BC

Ammon, Arvad, and many other Syrian and Phoenician cities fall around this period to Assyria. Even the city of Byblos is paying tribute by 738 BC, when Tiglath-Pileser campaigns in Sam'al and captures Samaria and Damas. Arqa is not spared, being forced to take deportees who have been forcibly removed from their home cities and - officially - being conquered in 734 BC.

1st century BC

Arqa's quiet and relatively isolated existence during the second half of the first millennium BC sees its Hellenic Seleucid masters fade in terms of power, with civil wars destroying them from within. With the final fall of the Seleucids in 63 BC, Phoenicia is taken by Rome, while Arqa is recorded by them as Irqata or as Arca Caesarea.

Tell Arqa in Lebanon
The modern site of Arqa, the tell or mound of Arqa near the modern village of the same name, displays many relics of its Roman period, with archaeology also detailing several preceding layers of occupation

It is additionally recorded as Caesarea Ituraeorum (Iteruans) presumably for the reason that the Iteruans (local nomadic tribes) are heavily invested in this area. The old city is largely abandoned in favour of a new construction on the plain of Arqa which survives in today's Lebanon.

 
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