History Files
 

Near East Kingdoms

Ancient Levantine States

 

Arvad / Arwad (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.

Founded by Amorite settlers at the start of the second millennium BC, Arvad was also populated by Canaanites, and later became a Phoenician kingdom. Known as Arado, Arados, or even Aradus to the Greeks, and by many more variations thereafter, the fishing town of Arvad fills the only island belonging to modern Syria. It is located three kilometres from Tartus and is approximately seven hundred metres long.

Limited resources meant that it was always dependent upon the mainland for its survival, but the island was also important as a base for commercial ventures into the Orontes valley. A large part of it was walled to an impressive extent, with an artificial harbour being built between the eastward side and the mainland. This housed what became a regionally-powerful navy. For much of the time, the small city of Amrit fell under Arvad's control, along with Sumur (virtually opposite it on the mainland), and apparently a number of regional cities in northern Canaan. Sidon had a similar hold over cities in the south.

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 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.

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.

1472 BC

FeatureTuthmosis III of Egypt begins to permanently extend Egypt's influence in the Near East by conquering Canaan (including early Palestine) and entering into Syria on the southern borders of Mitanni. The city of Arvad is one of those taken in Canaan (see feature link for more on Tuthmosis). This invasion seems not to 'stick'.

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). Each one is governed by an Egyptian official. Native dynasts are allowed to continue their rule over the small states, but have to provide annual tribute.

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)

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. During this period the Amarna letters are written - diplomatic correspondence with 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 descriptions of the disruptive activities of the habiru, and how the Amorites and Arvad are teaming up to disrupt Egyptian possessions in Syria.

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

Phoenician Arvad

City states began to appear in Syria in the third millennium BC. By the start of the second millennium BC the same was happening in the Levant, along the Mediterranean coast. Semitic-speaking Canaanite tribes created a patchwork of city states of their own, while the later-appearing Phoenicians (more Canaanites) also founded their own mighty seaborne trading empire.

Although concentrated more in Syria and extending down into Mesopotamia, the Amorites also occupied areas of northern Canaan. They founded the island state of Arvad around 2000 BC. Within less than half a millennium they dominated other small cities in the region, especially along the coastal strip which forms modern Lebanon. Disaster struck in the form of the social collapse at the end of the thirteenth century BC. Climate-induced drought and famine triggered large-scale population movements in the Near East, along with wholesale looting and raiding, principally by the Sea Peoples.

Arvad was sacked, although it was by no means the worst off in this period. Its people managed to expel the attackers, after which they settled down into a pattern of reduced means during a two-to-three hundred year dark age. It emerged as a different kind of Canaanite city, a Phoenician one. Possibly still only a city state with a ruling figure, Arvad is alternatively suspected by some scholars to be the world's first republic, one in which its citizens formed the government. Whether they did or not, there are extremely few rulers of any kind who are known for this period, and the names of the few which are known only survive through their interaction with the Assyrians.

Phoenicians shifting cedarwood from shore to land

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from The Histories, Herodotus (Penguin, 1996), 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: The Role of the Phoenician Kings at the Battle of Salamis (480 BC), Josette Elayi (Journal of the American Oriental Society Vol 126, No 3 (Jul-Sep 2006), pp 411-418, available via JSTOR), and An Updated Chronology of the Reigns of Phoenician Kings during the Persian Period (539-333 BC), Josette Elayi (Trans 32, 2007, available in English at DigitOrient), and The Assyrian king who kept on killing lions, Yasmine Seale (Apollo).)

c.1050 BC

A weakened Egypt loses its remaining imperial possessions in Canaan. The country's political fragmentation had begun during the same drought and famine which had destroyed so much in the Near East, and the 'Third Intermediate' would continue that process with a number of dynasties of Libyan origin ruling.

Book of the Dead for the Chantress of Amun Nauny
The papyrus 'Book of the Dead' formed part of the burial for Nauny, a chantress of Amun, around 1050 BC, who died in her seventies as Egypt was suffering a low point due to the recent onslaught of droughts and attacks

876 BC

Ashurnasirpal II of Assyria completes his conquest of much of Syria during this period. He also takes areas of Philistia and Urartu. Carchemish pays tribute in 882 BC, apparently becoming a vassal in 870 BC, and Arvad is made tributary in 876 BC, although it soon rebels.

fl 853 BC

Matinu-ba'al / Mattan Baal

Earliest-known lord (baal) of Arvad. Little else known.

853 BC

FeatureMatinu-ba'al is a member of an alliance of states which also includes Ammon, Arqa, 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.

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.

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)

c.740 BC

Since Ammon is made a vassal of Assyria around this time, and many other Syrian and Phoenician cities also fall around this period, it seems likely that Arvad becomes a vassal state too. Even the city of Byblos is paying tribute by 738 BC, when Tiglath-Pileser campaigns in Sam'al and captures Samaria and Damas.

fl 701 BC

Abd-ilihit / Abdilihit

Became a vassal of Assyria (following a rebellion?)

704 - 701 BC

With the death of Sargon 'the Great' of Assyria, many of his subject states rebel, especially Chaldaeans and neighbouring groups. With the recapture of Babylon a priority, it takes the Assyrians until 701 BC to get around to quelling similar rebellions in Judah and the Phoenician states. This is when Arvad's Abd-ilihit is forced to pay tribute to his new (renewed?) masters.

676 - 612 BC

Assyria conquers all of Phoenicia. However, despite being under the nominal control of the Assyrians, the Phoenicians continue their highly profitable trading enterprises in the western Mediterranean. The Arvadites frequently supply sailors to Tyre to help with its endeavours.

Ashurbanipal of Assyria
Ashurbanipal is illustrated during a lion hunt, almost a ritual in the Assyrian royal search for order amidst the seemingly everyday chaos of life

fl 664 BC

Yakinlu

Vassal of Assyria.

c.664 BC

Yakinlu is compelled by Ashurbanipal of Assyria to submit and send one of his daughters to become a member of the royal harem, along with a large amount of tribute in the form of a dowry.

fl 650s? BC

Azibaal / Ozbaal (I)

Vassal of Assyria under Ashurbanipal.

612 - 573 BC

The Phoenician cities appear to regain their freedom after 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.

573 - 539 BC

Having already secured Syria and destroyed the Assyrian empire, Babylonia now conquers Phoenicia, including Arvad. As a result, many Phoenicians emigrate to the colonies, especially Carthage, which quickly rises to become a major power.

But then, in 539 BC, Arvad and all of Phoenicia is submerged within the Persian empire. Arvad is one of four 'kingdoms' created by the Persians in Phoenicia, and is ruled by Vassal Kings.

Persian & Greek Vassal Kings of Arvad / Arados (Phoenicia)

Like the other Semitic-speaking Phoenician cities, at its height Arvad (or Arwad) controlled a number of smaller cities. Unlike Sidon and Tyre though, these were principally located in Phoenicia itself, such as those of Amrit and Sumur. In fact, its position as the northernmost of the four greatest Phoenician cities meant that its focus was always a little different, more trading and interacting with northern Syria than establishing Mediterranean colonies.

Known as Arado or Arados to the Greeks, and by many variations thereafter, the fishing town of Arvad fills the only island belonging to modern Syria. It is located three kilometres from Tartus and is approximately seven hundred metres long. Limited resources meant that it has always been dependent upon the mainland for its survival, but the island was also important as a base for commercial ventures into the Orontes valley.

Independence ended in 701 BC, following Assyria's final invasion and conquest of the Levant in 738 BC. Local arrangements for governance were generally allowed to continue, however, setting a pattern for subsequent domination by Babylonia, Achaemenid Persia, and the Greek empire of Alexander the Great. One of the main reasons for this, especially under the Persians, was that it was the Phoenicians who made up much of the empire's naval forces, both building and manning the ships.

As part of the Achaemenid empire, Arvad was one of the four Phoenician vassal 'kingdoms' to be established and controlled by sub-kings in the name of the Persian king (the others being Byblos, Sidon, and Tyre). Overall, Achaemenid-era Phoenicia formed part of a large satrapy which was commanded from Babirush (Babylon) and which included Ebir-nāri (Syria). Later Achaemenid Syria and Phoenicia seem to have been established as a single satrapy in their own right, away from oversight by Babylon. Ebir-nāri dominated this arrangement, with a capital which was probably at Damascus or Sidon. Unfortunately, the task of establishing a chronology for the kings of Arvad during the Persian and Greek periods is even more difficult than it is for the similarly-vague Byblos.

Phoenicians shifting cedarwood from shore to land

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from The Persian Empire, J M Cook (1983), from The Histories, Herodotus (Penguin, 1996), from The Cambridge Ancient History, John Boardman, N G L Hammond, D M Lewis, & M Ostwald (Eds), from Alexander the Great, Krzysztof Nawotka (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2009), from Jewish Antiquities, Flavius Josephus, from Alexander the Great, I Worthington (Routledge, 2004), and from External Links: Encyclopædia Britannica, and the Nabonidus Chronicle, contained within Assyrian and Babylonian Chronicles, A K Grayson (Translation, 1975 & 2000, and now available via Livius in an improved version), and Encyclopaedia Iranica, and Ancient History Encyclopaedia, and The Role of the Phoenician Kings at the Battle of Salamis (480 BC), Josette Elayi (Journal of the American Oriental Society Vol 126, No 3 (Jul-Sep 2006), pp 411-418, available via JSTOR), and An Updated Chronology of the Reigns of Phoenician Kings during the Persian Period (539-333 BC), Josette Elayi (Trans 32, 2007, available in English at DigitOrient).)

539 BC

Arvad and all of Phoenicia is submerged within the Persian empire. Arvad is one of four 'kingdoms' created by the Persians in Phoenicia, and is ruled by governors (in the form of a retained native monarchy for which documentation is sadly lacking) in the name of the Persian king.

Cyrus the Great
Cyrus the Great freed the Indo-Iranian Parsua people from Median domination to establish a nation which is recognisable to this day, and an empire which provided the basis for the vast territories which were later ruled by Alexander the Great

fl 500? BC

Ozbaal? / Agbalos (II)

Ruled? Vassal of Persia.

fl 480 BC

Maharbaal / Merbalos

Son. Vassal of Persia.

480 BC

FeatureInvading Greece in 480 BC, the Persians subdue the Macedonians and the Thracian tribes (except for the Satrai, precursors to the Bessoi). Then the vast army of Xerxes makes its way southwards and is swiftly engaged by Athens and Sparta in the Vale of Tempe. The Persian army is held up long enough for the Athenians to prepare their navy for a seaborne engagement with the Persian fleet.

Athens, as the leader of the coalition of city states known as the Delian League, fights the Persian navy at the battles of Artemisium and Salamis, the latter being a resounding Greek victory. Tetramnestus, son of Anysos of Sidon, is present - along with Anysos himself, and other leading Phoenicians such as Mattan of Tyre and Maharbaal of Arvad (Merbalos is the Greek form of his name) - but the battle leaves much of the Persian navy destroyed and Xerxes is forced to retreat to Asia, leaving his army in Greece under Mardonius to face defeat in 479 BC.

c.425 BC

Arvad is a little late in starting to mint its own coinage, copying the other three cities of Byblos, Sidon, and Tyre about a generation later than their start date of circa 450 BC. Most Arvadian coins bear the same two letters: 'M' and ☽, when they do not fall off the flan. In some series they are separated by the head of the deity, which can be understood if they represent the abbreviations of two words.

Several interpretations have been proposed concerning these two letters, but no consensus has been reached. Perhaps the most logical theory is that it simply says 'king of Arvad', without naming individual kings.

Arvad coin of the late fifth century BC
Two sides of an Arvad coin are shown here, dated to between about 420-400 BC which would mark it as being amongst the earliest of the city's issues, complete with two identifying letters on the reverse instead of the three of the fourth century BC

c.400 BC

The series of coins which is produced between about 400 BC to 333 BC carries a third letter after the other two, with these being proposed as being the initial of the reigning king (alternatives are available such as governors or magistrates, but kings seem most likely seeing as they are certainly in place before and after this phase). The letters are shown below, in no particular order, along with reasonable suggestions of a complete name. An average reign of seven or eight years could be allotted to each king, but of course some reigns would be longer and some shorter.

☽-

Coin inscription.

Y-

Coin inscription.

K-

Coin inscription.

M-

Coin inscription.

N-

Coin inscription.

S-

Coin inscription.

fl 343/342 BC

☾- / Abdashtart?

Coin inscription.

P-?

Coin inscription.

339 - 331? BC

Gerashtart / Gerostratos

Vassal of Persia. Reigned 7 years to 331 BC.

334 - 332 BC

In 334 BC Alexander of Macedon launches his campaign into the Persian empire by crossing the Dardanelles. Much of Anatolia falls by 333 BC and Alexander proceeds into Syria during 333-332 BC to receive the submission of Ebir-nāri, which also gains him Harran, Judah, and Phoenicia (principally Byblos and Sidon, with Tyre holding out until it can be taken by force).

Alexander the Great crosses the River Graneikos
Alexander the Great crossed the River Graneikos (or Granicus) in 334 BC to spark a direct face-off with the Persians which had been brewing for generations, and his victory in battle near the river sent shockwaves through the Persian empire

Gerostratos of Arvad (or Arados to the Greeks) is only too ready to ally himself to Alexander the Great, even supplying ships to aid in the conquering of Tyre. His son, Strato, personally welcomes Alexander, but it is unknown whether he reigns now, later, or at all, and whether Gerashtart remains on the throne.

? BC

Abdashtart / Strato / Straton

Son. Reigned?

329? BC

The cities of Arados, Byblos, Sidon, and Tyre are incorporated into the satrapy of Syria within the Greek empire. The satrap in Syria is probably Menes (probably the son of Dionysius who had been raised to the circle of Alexander's 'Bodyguards' in 333 BC - a major distinction which would mark him out as a commanding figure), although his role has been called into question by some scholars.

323 - 320 BC

Immediately following Alexander's untimely death, Syria and Phoenicia are assigned to Laomedon. He is confirmed in his position during the second partition of Alexander's empire in 321 BC in the middle of the First War of the Diadochi, while Cilicia has been separated as a satrapy in its own right. But Ptolemy of Egypt soon begins taking an interest, offering him a large bribe to hand over his satrapy. When Laomedon declines his offer, Ptolemy sends an army under the command of Nicanor to take it by force by 318 BC.

Laomedon has little with which to resist so he is taken prisoner, escapes, and seemingly joins the general opposition to the Antigonids. His final fate is unknown while Antigonus governs Syria (and Phoenicia) during the period of the remaining Wars of the Diadochi.

313 - 301 BC

The domination of Syria and Phoenicia by Ptolemy of Egypt briefly comes to an end in 313 BC when he joins the widespread opposition to the Antigonids. In 312 BC Seleucus Nicator defeats Demetrius, son of Antigonus, at the Battle of Gaza which briefly allows Ptolemy to reoccupy Coele Syria. Following a reversal in battle fortunes he pulls out again as Antigonus invades Syria in strength to occupy it.

Battle of Ipsus
The Battle of Ipsus in 301 BC ended the drawn-out and destructive Wars of the Diadochi which decided how Alexander's empire would be divided

301 - 63 BC

Much of Syria and Phoenicia are gained by the Hellenic Seleucid empire following the decisive Battle of Ipsus in 301 BC, although Seleucus allows Ptolemy to retain Coele Syria. Seleucus had already declared himself king of Syria and Babylonia in 305 BC, immediately founding the city of Seleucia in Mesopotamia by massively rebuilding and expanding an existing settlement.

Arvad is later renamed Antiochia in Pieria by Seleucid king, Antiochus I Soter. Over the years, the Seleucids go to war against Ptolemaic Egypt over the rest of Syria, with full possession finally being gained at the end of the Fifth Syrian War in 195 BC. With the final fall of the Seleucids in 63 BC, Phoenicia is taken by Rome.

 
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