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Near East Kingdoms

Ancient Levantine States


Canaan / Kena'ani / Kinakhna

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. Following the climate-induced social collapse of the thirteenth and twelfth centuries BC, the Phoenicians (more Canaanites) emerged to dominate parts of this region, eventually founding their own mighty seaborne trading empire.

Ancient Canaan was the region of the coastal Near East which stretched from the Sinai near today's border with Egypt, to the border with modern Syria (and partially across it too). The origins of the name 'Canaan' are obscure. It first appears in written records from the third millennium BC. When Egypt conquered the Levant in 1453 BC it established its own province, which it called Kinakhna (Canaan). This would seem to be a slight distortion of the word which survives in Hebrew (itself the descendant of a Canaanite language), which is Kena'ani, or the Akkadian Kinahna, all non-Canaanite variations of the same word.

In linguistic terms, the region which formed Canaan is used to refer to the West Semitic group of languages. The region was also the birthplace of the modern phonetic alphabet, via the Phoenicians. The Old Testament, mostly written down in the middle of the first millennium BC, claims that the mythical figure of 'Canaan' was the grandson of Noah. What was left of Canaan at the start of the first millennium BC, following the arrival of migrant groups and the formation of new states, became the core of today's Levant.

While the two terms - Levant and Canaan - are, to an extent, interchangeable, and refer to the region to the south of Syria, the latter term refers to a specific, expanded area which also includes Israel, Palestine, and Jordan, as well as Lebanon which largely encompasses former Phoenician territory.

The third millennium BC witnessed Canaan's largest settlements in the process of becoming small walled ancient cities. Canaan of the second millennium BC saw these cities further emerging as city states, with arable territory around their walls often jealously guarded. The early first millennium BC saw these states becoming minor kingdoms, many of which played an important regional role but which were still highly vulnerable to conquest by the great empires which would dominate from the eighth century BC onwards.

Phoenicians shifting cedarwood from shore to land

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Sean Bambrough, Wayne McCleese, and from the John De Cleene Archive, from The Amarna Letters, William L Moran (1992), from the Illustrated Dictionary & Concordance of the Bible, Geoffrey Wigoder (Gen Ed, 1986), from Palestine, Joshua J Mark (available via the Ancient History Encyclopaedia website), from Easton's Bible Dictionary, Matthew George Easton (1897), from the NOVA/PBS documentary series, The Bible's Buried Secrets, first broadcast 18 November 2008, from the Encyclopaedia Britannica, from Melchizedek, King of Sodom: How Scribes Invented the Biblical Priest-King, Robert R Cargill (Oxford Scholarship Online, 2019), from Jewish War & Jewish Antiquities, Flavius Josephus, and from External Links: Time Maps, and The Land of Gerar, Y Aharoni (Israel Exploration Journal 6, No 1, 1956, pp 26-32, available via JSTOR), and Ancient History Encyclopaedia, and Encyclopaedia Britannica, and Shechem (Ancient Near East).)

c.9000 BC

The settlement of Jericho is founded around this time by Mesolithic hunters (probably of the Kebaran culture) who are adopting to the recent emergence of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic farming revolution which has swept the Near East. Within a millennium their descendants have formed an organised community which is capable of building a massive stone wall around the settlement.

Pre-Pottery Neolithic house at Beidha
The Pre-Pottery Neolithic (PPN) lasted in the Levant until the middle of the sixth millennium BC, but the lack of pottery certainly did not prevent rapid advances in early farming techniques and the creation of settled town life, as shown by this sample PPN house at Beidha

c.8000 BC

By this date the Pre-Pottery Neolithic site of Jericho has been inhabited for about a thousand years. An organised community has become capable of building a massive stone wall around the settlement, which is strengthened at one point before this date by the addition of massive stone towers (although these may even predate the wall).

c.7000 BC

A fresh wave of arrivals into Jericho, possibly from more advanced centres in Syria, bring cultural depth and population increase to the town, but not pottery. This phase of advancement lasts a further millennium before the town seems largely to be abandoned for reasons unknown.

c.5000 BC

Gebal is founded as a permanent settlement. This follows an initial settlement phase which can be dated to 8000-7000 BC, during the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B period. Archaeology can still find Neolithic traces of the earliest occupation. However, the first sophisticated buildings which go towards forming a town only appear in the third millennium BC. Megiddo similarly appears at this time but flourishes earlier than Gebal.

Gebal's Ahiram sarcophagus (Byblos)
Ahirom of Gebal (fl 1000s BC) is not attested in any other ancient source, becoming famous to modern scholars only through his Phoenician-inscribed sarcophagus which was discovered in 1923 by the French excavator, Pierre Montet, in Tomb V of the royal necropolis of Byblos

c.4000 BC

Both Arad and Sidon are founded as permanent settlements, although on somewhat different scales. This is at the same time as a structure of concentric stone circles known as Rujm al-Hiri is built as an astrological temple or observatory, or perhaps a burial complex. A 2011 theory proposes that it is part of an ancient method of disposing of the dead, where the flesh is removed from a body prior to the bones being buried in an ossuary, a common practice in the region at this time.

The site's name means 'stone heap of the wild cats' in Arabic. In Hebrew it is known as Galgal Refaim, or the 'wheel of ghosts'. It lies close to the militarised Golam Heights in modern Israel and is therefore seldom visited.

It consists of four circles - the outermost more than 152 metres across - made up of an estimated 42,000 tons of basalt stone, the remains of massive walls that experts believe could rise as high as nine metres. It is an enormous feat of construction which is carried out by a society about which little is known.

Rujm al-Hiri
The site at Rujm al-Hiri dates to 4000 BC, but it was re-used around 3000-2000 BC to house a tomb, legendarily belonging to King Og of Bashan (who actually lived about 1135 BC)

It seems likely that Rujm al-Hiri serves residents of villages nearby which are part of the same Chalcolithic period agrarian civilisation which exists in the region between 4500-3500 BC. There is a tomb at the centre of the site which it is generally agreed is added a millennium or two later (but still to early for it to be Og of Bashan).

c.3000 BC

Perhaps energised by the recent arrival of Semitic-speakers into Canaan, Beroth is founded as a permanent settlement. At this time its location is made up of two islands in the delta of the River Beirut. The river later silts up to form a contiguous landmass, connecting the site fully to the land around it. Even so, the river supplies the settlement's water needs, principally via the wells which give the later city its very name, meaning 'city of the wells'.

c.2800 BC

Hazor is founded as a permanent settlement, using the 'upper city' site. Later expansion into the 'lower city' only occurs in the eighteenth century BC, during a period of trade domination in the region by Egypt.

Ruins of Hazor
During the second millennium BC, Hazor was one of the region's largest cities, including the upper city and the lower city, and extending to about eight hundred dunams in size

c.2334 - 2279 BC

Sargon 'the Great' claims to be the first king to unite Mesopotamia (Sumer and Agade - although Enshakushanna of Uruk had already achieved that). He expands his territory by defeating Lagash and Kazallu, subsequently invading Syria and Canaan four times, and campaigns against the Gutians, the Hatti, and Marhashi.

c.2200 - 2000 BC

Beginning around 2400 BC but greatly accelerating from about 2200 BC, a cold, dry period begins in the Near East which lasts for three hundred years. Both Sumer and Egypt endure a short (climate-induced) dark age at this time, and almost every site in Canaan is either completely abandoned or greatly reduced in size.

The same circumstances force various waves of semi-nomadic invaders to seek new territory, including the Amorites who engulf Syria and northern Mesopotamia, as well as northern areas of Canaan.

c.2000 BC

Arvad is founded as a permanent settlement, as is Dor. Perhaps two hundred years before this event, the primitive settlement of Ai is destroyed (the site is now in the Palestinian highlands of the West Bank). Archaeology proves this level of destruction, which had previously been ascribed to the Israelite Settlement period (about 1170 BC - see below), but the cause is unknown (the climate-induced collapse around this time would seem to be a likely enough reason though).

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

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 several cities in the north.

The city of Arqa is also mentioned in Egyptian tablets of this period, but as an enemy rather than a subject or ally. Megiddo may be another enemy. As for Hazor, it appears to be one of the few cities to remain inhabited throughout the short dark age in this very period, following the climate-induced decline of Sumer and urban living in Canaan.

Once the Amorite infiltration into the area settles down, the area becomes prosperous again. The principle Canaanite cities or small states at this time include Ammon, Amrit, Arvad, Beroth, Edom, Gebal, Gerar, Hazor, Shalem, Sidon, and Tyre, but there are also many other, smaller cities.

Canaan (Old Testament Period)

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. They also invaded and gained control of Gebal, dominating other small cities along the coastal strip which forms modern Lebanon, while other cities such as Sidon remained free of Amorite influence.

By around 1750 BC, the approximate period in which the Old Testament claims that areas of Canaan were being settled by the early Israelites (albeit with any dating for this period subject to debate), the Syrian states were apparently dependencies of Elam for a short time, although the existence of the Biblical Elamite king, Chedorlaomer, cannot be confirmed.

The many Canaanite city states which were reported by the Old Testament in Genesis (14) are included here or are linked to respective pages. However, as the Old Testament was written down over a thousand years after the events of this period, the names became very distorted and are subject to much modern research regarding possible historical equivalents. Josephus also provides an interpretation of the names, with these being included after the Biblical versions.

Outside the cities of the region were populations of habiru, a disorganised movement of outsiders who included semi-nomadic social outcasts, refugees from the debt-ridden city system, unemployed farm labourers, and equally unemployed mounted mercenary archers. Between about 2000-1200 BC, these groups plagued the established order. The larger states viewed them as a threat to the stability of the region, although the regional manpower shortage was sometimes so acute that they could still be hired as labourers or mercenaries. The Shutu (or Shasu) may have been much the same type of people.

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 Test of Time, David Rohl (Arrow, 2001), from Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, David Noel Freedman, B E Willoughby, & Heinz-Josef Fabry (G Johannes Botterweck & Helmer Ringgren, Eds, William B Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999), 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, from the NOVA/PBS documentary series, The Bible's Buried Secrets, first broadcast 18 November 2008, and from External Link: Encyclopædia Britannica.)

fl c.1750 BC


In Shinar (Babylon?).

c.1750 BC

Shinar, or Sennaar, is equated with Babylon, making the king identifiable with Hammurabi, although this theory appears to be falling out of favour with many scholars.

Ancient Babylon
Babylon began life as a modest town which had been seized from Kazallu, but was quickly fortified by the building of a city wall in the nineteenth century BC

King Amraphel of Shinar is allied with 'Chedorlaomer' of Elam (probably King Kudur Lagamar), plus 'Arioch of Ellasar' (originally thought to be Rim-Sin of Larsa, but now thought more likely to be the early Hurrian King Ariukki), and 'Tidal, king of nations' (probably the Hittite king, Tudhaliya I, with the 'nations' probably being the recently-conquered Hatti).

Together they attack the early Israelites during a general conflict. After twelve years of paying tribute, several Canaanite 'cities of the plain' rebel and need to be brought back into line. These are the five cities of the Vale of Siddim which are mentioned in the Old Testament. Chedorlaomer also attacks the Rephaim and defeats them, while the Horites are said to be members of the coalition which includes Sodom and Gomorrah, and they are similarly defeated.

c.1749 BC

Despite their resistance, the rebellious city states of Admah, Bela, Sodom, Gomorrah, and Zeboiim are defeated within a year. The city of Salem also figures in this period in connection with Abraham of the Israelites.

During the rebellion, Sodom is aided by Lot, adopted son of Abraham. Thereafter he is found living within the city itself, shortly before it is destroyed (as Josephus says) by means of God casting 'a thunderbolt upon the city, and set[ting] it on fire, with its inhabitants; and laid waste the country with the like burning'.

Mount Sodom near the Dead Sea
Mount Sodom near the Dead Sea may have overlooked the 'Vale of Siddim' and the five cities which are mentioned in this instance of attempted eastern domination of Canaan

1600s BC

Ar of Moab may in fact be a place or region within the kingdom rather than a king. If so then it is located on the south bank of the River Arnon, close to Moab's northern border. An Egyptian execration text dated to the seventeenth century BC refers to an 'Ayyab' as king of the Shutu, but this is not 'Ar' of Moab.

The name is possibly a variant form of 'Job', with Jobab of Edom being a handy candidate. However, tentative identification of the mysterious Shutu has linked them with the Moabites and Ammonites to the north of Edom.

c.1650 BC

Jacob of the Israelites spends some years in Harran, where he meets his wives. As he returns them and his large family to Hebron, Jacob stops off at the Canaanite city of Shechem where his daughter is attacked, so Jacob's sons slay all the males within the city walls.

This is the approximate date of the ending of the Middle Bronze Age, precisely the time period in which archaeology backs up the destruction of the city. Its recently-installed great in-sloping wall of cyclopean masonry has failed to protect it.

Map of Anatolia and Environs 1550 BC
A short dark age followed the Hittite collapse and the creation of power vacuums in Babylonia and Syria (caused by the Hittites) during the sixteenth century BC (click or tap on map to view full sized)

There seems to be no broad suggestion of disturbances or destruction across Canaan as a whole in this period, but it is unlikely to be a coincidence that the Hyksos, led by Salitis, founder of the Fifteenth Dynasty, overrun Egypt during the reign of Dudimose I. Egyptian protections across Canaan are likely to be disrupted.

c.1503 BC

Thutmose I invades Canaan and Syria, sweeping through much of it. Egypt establishes a presence but does not appear to remain in force. However, the raid does provide a foretaste of soon-to-be renewed Egyptian dominance in the region.

1453 BC

Egypt reasserts its authority in the region by conquering territory in Canaan and Syria as far north as Amurru. The Egyptians establish three provinces which are named Amurru (in southern Syria), Upe (in northern Canaan, which may correspond to Damas), and Canaan (in the south, which includes Gebal).

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.

Canaanite bronze figure
This photo shows a bronze figure from Tyre, created between 1400-1200 BC and probably representing the Canaanite god Baal in the role of a warrior

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.

While the letters do not mention Sarepta, a voyage along the Levantine coast by an Egyptian vessel does contain someone who records the existence of the city. The letters also describe the disruptive activities of the habiru, painting them as a threat to the stability of the region.

Rohl's discredited theory is that the habiru of the Amarna letters are the Israelites of David. Findings may indicate that the three years of drought, famine, and plague of the Amarna letters and those of David's time may be same, but of course there is nothing to say that similar events could not be repeated over the course of the three or four hundred years between the usual dating for these two.

Another theory is that Moses (an individual who is probably much closer to the period in which the Amarna letters are written than is David) is 'the rebel Mesh' of amelut-sagaz-Mesh (habiru) of the Amarna letters.

Tushratta tablet to Amenhotep III
The cuneiform tablet inscribed with a letter from Tushratta, king of Mitanni, to Pharaoh Amenhotep III, covers various subjects such as the killing of the murderers of the Mitanni king's brother and a fight against the Hittites

c.1340 BC

Sensing the weakness of the neighbouring Mitanni empire (as well as of Egypt), Aziru of Amurru makes a secret deal with the Hittite king, Suppiluliuma. He also establishes himself as a strong king in the region, taking control in Damas and even going so far as to conquer the city of Sumur, where the Egyptian representative has his residence.

The restoration of the city is demanded, but Aziru forces Egypt to recognise him first. However, relations with Egypt are soured by constant complaints from Gebal.

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.

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.

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

c.1230 BC

According to the Old Testament, and dated to this approximate point by calculating back from more certain events, Moses begins to lead the loose confederation of Israelite tribes out of Egypt, shortly after his marriage to a Midianite woman, Zipporah daughter of Jethro the Midian priest whom he had met in the Sinai.

The Hebrews have multiplied from a band of seventy into a people numbering thousands (possibly an exaggerated figure), but they have been reduced to slavery. A tribal nobility still exists, however, and is represented in the sources by the descendants of Levi.

The most recent of his descendants is Moses, who possibly fulfils the role of an advisor or even minister to an unnamed pharaoh who may be Ramses II. Moses is also claimed as an ancestor figure of the early Ethiopian kings.

Strangely, and perhaps not coincidentally, the Old Testament has Moses first encountering his god, Yahweh, in the form of a burning bush when he reaches the land of the Midianites. Egyptian records mention that the Midianites (whom they know as Shasu) are found at a place called YHW (probably pronounced 'yahoo') in the deserts of southern Jordan. The name seems to be picked up by the Israelites and passed on to others they meet in Canaan.

Mount Nebo
Mount Nebo in the north of Moab is reputedly the spot at which Moses died, within sight of the promised land on the other side of the Dead Sea

c.1200 BC

There is general collapse in the region as instability grips the Mediterranean coast for some decades, with the first, and biggest victim being the Hittite empire. It is quite possible that the habiru play some part in this.

One theory holds that they unite as an identifiable Canaanite people around this time and begin to attack and conquer many of the local city states under the collective name of Israelites. Their main opponents in the south are the newly-arrived Sea Peoples who are known as the Philistines, and in the north the incoming Aramaeans, while other groups of Sea Peoples also settle along the coast and in time probably contribute their skills to the region's maritime society.

The ('old') Canaanites are reduced to dominating the Canaanite Mediterranean coastal strip, where cities such as Sidon and Gebal survive, and where their people become the sea traders known as the Phoenicians.

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

It has been strongly suggested that the Israelites themselves are also Canaanites, and that the traditional exodus never occurs. This theory seems to be backed up by archaeological finds (although a temporary event such as an exodus would be hard to locate archaeologically). Alternatively the exodus could involve a small social elite which soon dominates the Canaanites it finds.

In recent years the idea has been strengthened regarding there being no exodus. The climate-induced social collapse of the end of the thirteenth century BC - and the long lead-up towards it of perhaps a century directly, and several centuries more indirectly - results in groups of dispossessed people congregating in Canaan in new groups (as mentioned above).

Known by the established powers by various names, including habiru, these groups would appear in essence to be drop-outs from established society, people who want to find a new way of living outside what they see as an unjust and restrictive society.

The mummy of Ramses III
The mummy of the last great pharaoh, Ramses III, revealed the fact that his throat had been slit to a width of seven centimetres, more then enough to kill him instantly

Following the social collapse, which also results in the declining fortunes of Egypt, these new communities seemingly emerge over the next two hundred years as a new people, with new, unfussy pottery and a monotheistic culture. Either with or without the addition of a small cultural elite which has fled Egypt, they have formed the people known as the Israelites who now begin their Settlement period in the region.

Canaan (Israelite Settlement Period)
Incorporating Adullam, Ai, Aphek, Beit El, Beth-el, Carmel, Gilgal, Hepher, Hivites, Jokneam, Lasharon, Libnah, Lobana, Luz, Madon, Makkedah, Mizpah, Taanach, & Tappuah

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.

Disaster struck in the form of the social collapse at the end of the thirteenth century BC. Climate-induced drought and famine triggered general instability and large-scale population movements in the Near East. This came hand-in-hand with wholesale looting and raiding, principally by the Sea Peoples. The Hittite empire in Anatolia fell almost overnight. The Philistines and other Sea Peoples were starting to settle on the lower coast of the Levant, and various neo-Hittite city states were arising in northern Syria, many of which came into contact with the early Israelites.

This was the period which seems to have witnessed the main phase of Israelite settlement of Canaan following the supposed exodus from Egypt, although it is a controversial and confusing period. The independent Canaanites of old gradually found themselves being reduced in territory to the shores of today's Lebanon (eventually to become Phoenicians). Their language was very closely related to ancient Hebrew, demonstrating the likelihood that both they and the Israelites largely shared origins.

The Canaanites of the interior are the very people and their cities who were being subjugated or culturally dominated by the various new arrivals. Many cities of southern Canaan are claimed in the Old Testament to have been conquered by the Israelites, and these are noted here along with (very) approximate dates in which each city was defeated or conquered.

These conquered cities (or groups) include Achshaph, Adullam (a minor town, long since abandoned), Ai (mistakenly attributed), Aphek (with at least two modern locations which may match up), Beth-el (or Bethel - its Hebrew name apparently - formerly being known by the Canaanite name of Luz, lying near Ai in the highlands of the modern Palestinian West Bank, and also known by the Aramaean version of the name: Beit El), Carmel (the mountain, with some occupation at its foot), Gilgal (on the western bank of the Jordan, with Jericho to its west, this being the location at which the Israelites crossed the river), Hepher (very poorly detailed, other than its being located on the western side of the River Jordan), and the Hivites (a largely mysterious Canaanite group).

Also included are Jericho, Jokneam ('in Carmel', probably referring to Tell Kaimun, a former settlement on the eastern slope of Mount Carmel), Kadesh, Lasharon (possibly the ancient site of Sarona, on the plateau about 10.5 kilometres to the south-west of Lake Tiberias (the Sea of Galilee)), Libnah which is also known as Lobana, Madon (possibly today's Madin ruins, about midway between Nazareth and the Sea of Galilee), Makkedah (close to Lachish, in the southern Shephelah), Megiddo, Mizpah (the land of the Hivites, location unknown), Shimron-meron, Taanach (today's village of Ti'inik in the northernmost tip of the West Bank), Tappuah (now ruins in the West Bank, alongside the modern village of Taffuh), and Tirzah.

The evidence for an Israelite conquest is very controversial, relying almost entirely on the Old Testament and showing very little basis in written documents or archaeology of the period. If it was indeed a conquest rather than a simple transition between one ruling group of Canaanites and another then it must have been very small-scale in terms of regional politics, and probably nowhere near as important as some readers of the Old Testament may assume.

FeatureQuite the opposite, it seems. A good deal of recent archaeological examination of the region has almost entirely disproved the idea of a sweeping conquest by a newly-arrived militaristic group and their followers (see feature link for one examination).

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 Test of Time, David Rohl (Arrow, 2001), from Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, David Noel Freedman, B E Willoughby, & Heinz-Josef Fabry (G Johannes Botterweck & Helmer Ringgren, Eds, William B Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999), 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, from the NOVA/PBS documentary series, The Bible's Buried Secrets, first broadcast 18 November 2008, and from External Links: Encyclopædia Britannica, and Jokneam (Bible Atlas).)

c.1200 - 1000 BC

Emerging out of the collapse and dark age, the principle Phoenician cities along the coast are Arvad, Beroth, Gebal, Hazor, Sarepta, Sidon, and Tyre. Phoenician trading posts soon spring up along the Mediterranean coastline, later to become permanent colonies.

Ruins of Sarepta in Lebanon
The modern town of Sarafand sits immediately alongside the two-thousand year-old Roman ruins of Sarepta in Lebanon

Non-Phoenician Canaanite cities or states include Ammon, Amrit, Arad, Arqa, Dor, Edom, Geshur, Moab, Shalem, Shechem, and Sumur, while the Philistines establish or re-establish city states of their own farther south which include Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ekron, Gath, Gerar, and Gezer. Camel nomad Arabs from the peninsula are in close contact with the Syro-Palestinian region to provide luxury goods such as incense from Saba.

c.1200 - 1198 BC

It would seem that the Aradites, along with the Amalekites, come down from the hills to deal the Israelites 'a shattering blow'. Then the Israelites strike back, defeating and destroying the Aradites and claiming their town. Very quickly afterwards, in a progression of Israelite migration and attacks, they defeat and subjugate Moab, along with a number of minor Canaanite city states which includes those of the Midianites.

c.1170s BC

Adonizedec of Shalem leads the fragmented Jebusites against Joshua of the Israelites, but they are defeated at Gibeon. They apparently also suffer again at Beth-horon, not only from attacks by their pursuers but also from a great hail storm.

Ancient Jerusalem
The ambitious Ophel excavation in Shalem (Jerusalem) has produced many finds, but precious little before the tenth century BC, by which time the city was in Israelite hands

The five allied Jebusite kings take refuge in a cave at Makkedah (close to the Jebusite city of Lachish and also mentioned in the 1160s BC, below), and are imprisoned there until after the battle, when Joshua commands that they be brought before him.

They are brought out, humiliated, and put to death, and Shalem is conquered (Beroth is included as a supporter of this Canaanite coalition). They take control of the city but apparently lose it again twenty years later during an invasion by the Philistines.

fl c.1170 BC


King of Ai, near Beth-el. Misattributed to this period.

c.1170 BC

The supposed Israelite destruction of Ai cannot be confirmed. The archaeological evidence does show a layer of destruction for this city, which is located in the highlands of the modern Palestinian West Bank, but this layer has been dated to 2200 BC.

Similarly, the fall of Jericho which the Old Testament attributes to Joshua as the leader of the Israelites is also inaccurate. The city's destruction has firmly and confidently been dated to about 1550 BC.

Tell Lachish in Israel
Tell Lachish in Israel represents the highly-developed post-Jebusite city of Lachish, by which time it was firmly part of the first millennium BC Israelite state(s)

c.1160s BC

According to the Old Testament, 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. The cities of Dor, Gezer, Megiddo, Shimron-meron, and Tirzah (the original capital of Samaria) can be counted amongst their number while the rest are listed below.

Jabin, 'king of Canaan', rules a Canaanite coalition from the northern city of Hazor, but he as the 'head of all those kingdoms' is defeated by Joshua at the 'waters of Megiddo'. Conquest, however, does not come until about 1125 BC (see below).

Even referring to these 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.

The site of Tel Megiddo in Israel
The archaeological site of Tel Megiddo in Israel is the location of the city of Megiddo in the Old Testament and other surviving records, as well as being the basis of the New Testament's 'Armageddon' (the Greek form of its name)

fl c.1160s BC


King of Libnah / Lobana. Later part of Judah.

fl c.1160s BC


King of Adullam (minor town, now abandoned).

fl c.1160s BC


King of Makkedah (site of the Jebusite defeat of 1170s BC).

fl c.1160s BC


King of Beth-el / Bethel (on the western side of Ai).

fl c.1160s BC


King of Tappuah (in today's south-western West Bank).

fl c.1160s BC


King of Hepher (on the western side of the River Jordan).

fl c.1150s BC


King of Aphek / Aphec (the site of later Philistine battles?).

fl c.1150s BC


King of Lasharon (the King James Bible's 'Sharon').

fl c.1150s BC


King of Taanach / Ti'inik (northern West Bank).

fl c.1150s BC


King of Jokneam 'in Carmel' (Mount Carmel).

fl c.1150s BC


King of Gilgal / Galgalatokai (eastern border of Jericho).

c.1160s BC

With their recorded series of battle victories seeing them claim control of a large swathe of Canaan, the Israelites are able to divide the land between their various tribes. The now-elderly Joshua is granted the city of Timnath-heres (or Timnath-serah) in the territory of the tribe of Ephraim, where he settles.

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

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 still-tribal state. Jabin's allies (or vassals) include the kings of Achshaph, Madon, and Shimron, along with the king of the Hivites of the land of Mizpah.

fl c.1125 BC


King of Madon. Ally of Hazor.

fl c.1125 BC


King of the Hivites of the land of Mizpah. Ally of Hazor.

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 identity of the 'Hivites of the land of Mizpah' is a mystery which is yet to be solved. The name 'Hivites' may not even be an accurate translation of the original. The Hittites have been suggested as a popular alternative, although their empire is now gone and only neo-Hittite city states such as Carchemish remain, in northern Syria and adjoining areas of Anatolia. Their existence is confirmed during David's reign over Israel, but after that they disappear, likely absorbed into the general population.

Ruins of Hazor
During the second millennium BC, Hazor was one of the region's largest cities, including the upper city and the lower city, and extending to about eight hundred dunams in size

c.1120 BC

Gideon of the Israelites defeats the Midianites after what appears to be an attempt to cattle-rustle and steal crops by the Midianites and their allies, the Amalekites. The latter crop up several times in the form of a fringe group which aids others in attacks against the Israelites.

c.1080 BC

The Israelites are subdued by the Midianites who penetrate their territories from the south. However, given the general description of the Midianites as nomads and bandits, a full invasion of Israelite territory seems unlikely. Perhaps this concerns events which are on a very local and temporary basis.

c.1050 BC

A weakened Egypt loses its remaining imperial possessions in Canaan. The Phoenician city states expand their territory at this time, but are checked in the south by the Philistines. Archaeological evidence for a mass settling of people in this southern region and at this time has yet to be found, suggesting that the Philistines are formed of small, mobile groups who take a while to establish themselves and take control of the region.

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

The Canaanite town of Shiloh has become the central sanctuary site of the Israelite confederacy during the period of the judges. Following the Israelite take-over of areas of Canaan around a century beforehand, the Tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant had been installed here, but the Ark is now captured by the Philistines during a battle at Ebenezer (site unknown), and Shiloh is soon afterwards destroyed.

Excavations at Khirbat Sayūn in modern Jordan during 1920-1932 suggest that Shiloh remains a ruin for several centuries. The Philistines decide to return the Ark after about seven months while the Israelites can now be considered to be a settled population within a politically rearranged Canaan.

Canaan (Independent City States)

The ancient regions of Syria and Canaan both went through city-building phases in the third and second millennia BC respectively. The second millennium BC across the Semitic-speaking Levant was a period of progress, intensive trade - especially with Egypt which maintained a level of dominance in the region - and minor internecine squabbles. The rise of Mitanni and then the Hittites complicated the political situation, with smaller states having to chose sides while the great powers jostled for superiority.

Disaster struck in the form of the social collapse at the end of the thirteenth century BC. Climate-induced drought and famine triggered general instability and large-scale population movements across the Near East. The Sea Peoples, which included the Philistines and many other small groups, invaded areas of the Canaanite and Syrian coasts to take over many cities, with the Aramaeans doing the same in the north, and the early Israelites apparently carrying out the same process farther inland, albeit on a less historically-sound basis.

Out of a period of about three centuries of increasing chaos and then a short dark age, the Israelites had formed a kingdom of their own - Israel - while many other cities emerged under new or altered ownership. The Phoenicians of the Levantine coast were the Canaanites of the first millennium BC, while the other regional states were largely blended forms of culturally-dominant incomers and less visible Canaanite natives.

The name Canaan itself began to fall out of common use, especially once the great empires began to conquer and control the entire Near East, starting with Assyria, but continuing with Babylonia, Persia, and the Greeks. Finally, domination by Rome saw the region transition from ancient period to early medieval period.

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 Test of Time, David Rohl (Arrow, 2001), from A History of Israel: From the Bronze Age through the Jewish Wars, Walter C Kaiser Jr (Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998), from A Royal Dedicatory Inscription from Ekron, S Gitin, T Dothan, & J Naveh (Israel Exploration Journal 47, 1997), from The History of Esarhaddon (Son of Sennacherib) King of Assyria, BC 681-688, Ernest A Budge, from Jewish War & Jewish Antiquities, Flavius Josephus, and from External Link: Encyclopædia Britannica.)

c.1035 BC

The kingdom of Israel is founded while the Phoenicians are creating trading posts along the North African coast, such as Carthage and Utica, in southern Italy, in the Mediterranean, such as Kition on Cyprus and on Corsica, and in southern Iberia, such as Gadir and Tarshish.

Ruins of Gadir (Cadiz)
The surviving ruins of the Phoenician city of Gadir are few in number although some signs of them can be found, but did these pillars provide a name for the nearby 'Pillars of Heracles' (the modern Straits of Gibraltar) thanks to Hercules himself supposedly completing one of his labours here?

Merchants are also known to trade with the occupants of the Land's End region of Britain, the ancestors of the Dumnonii tribe, and general opinion is that these traders are Phoenicians, although there is no surviving proof.

975 BC

The Jebusite king, Araunah, is mentioned in the Old Testament in relation to Shalem during the formation of the Israelite kingdom, so he is probably the city's ruler. The Jebusites have been resisting Israelite attempts to re-take the city for some time, resorting to mocking their assailants for their failures.

Now King David manages to conquer the city once and for all, taking it as his new capital and renaming it hebiru-Shalem, or Jerusalem. From this point onwards, the city serves as Israel's spiritual centre, as well as its administrative capital. When Israel divides into Samaria and Judah in 928 BC, Jerusalem serves as Judah's capital.

c.970? BC

The Old Testament recounts that 'when David destroyed Zobah's army, Rezon gathered a band of men around him and became their leader; they went to Aram Damascus where they settled and took control'.

Damascus wall
This colour photochrome print shows a wall in Damascus' defences which is rumoured to be the one over which St Paul escaped in the first century AD

This Rezon is a young officer of Zobah, the son of Eliada, who escapes the city's fall and establishes himself in Damas, where he 'founds' Aram Damascus - in other words he takes control of it with his band of men - and severely threatens Israel and its northern successor, Samaria. The changes mean that Damas also replaces the eclipsed Zobah as the main centre of Aramaean power in the Levant.

928 - 840 BC

The break-up of Israel in 928 BC allows Damas to rapidly grow in power and at times even threaten the existence of its southern neighbour. It also gains the important caravan routes westwards to the Phoenician ports, bringing immense wealth into the city.

In the ninth century, the Assyrians invade and subjugate Syrian states, including Bit Adini, Bit Agusi, Carchemish, and Pattin, by which time many small and semi-obscure cities have arisen, such as Gamgum and Gan Dunias, along with the kingdom of Kedar in eastern Syria.

FeatureHowever, the Assyrians do not have it all their own way. In 853 BC they are defeated by a coalition of Syrian and Canaanite states which seems to be led by Damas (see feature link), and around 840 BC it is Damas which is the dominant city state in the region, not the Assyrians.

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)

738 - 676 BC

The end of the region known as Philistia (Palestine), as well as the remaining cultural Philistines, now comes when the Assyrians sack the remaining towns and cities and sells the inhabitants into slavery. The city of Ashkelon may be the last to fall, in 701 BC.

Subsequent kings appear in Ekron (at least), but they write their inscriptions in a Canaanite dialect which is very close to Phoenicia. All of the Phoenician states also become vassals of Assyria, but local arrangements for governance are left in place.

However, the conquest is not total. In 679 BC Esarhaddon of Assyria conducts a campaign against the Cimmerians. He defeats them and their leader, Teuspa, in the region of Hubusna (probably Hupisna-Cybistra), but the area is not pacified.

In the same year Esarhaddon's troops also fight a war in Hilakku (Khilakku), and a few years later they punish the Anatolian prince of Kundu (Cyinda) and Sissu (Sisium, modern Sis), who has allied himself with Phoenician rebels against Assyrian rule. The regions to the north of the Cilician plain repeatedly cause trouble for Assyria.

Cimmerian warriors
This image shows Cimmerians battling early Greeks - prior to the advent of accepted 'Classical' Greece - with the mounted Cimmerians warriors apparently being accompanied by their dogs

676 - 612 BC

Assyria finally 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.

They begin to move farther inland on Sardinia in their hunt for important natural resources such as lead and silver mines. They also establish a fort on Monte Sirai, the oldest-known Phoenician military building in the west, presumably to protect their acquisitions from an increasingly hostile native Sardi people.

612 - 573 BC

The Phoenician cities appear to regain 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, with the former conquering and then losing control of Syria, and then barely being able to hold onto Phoenicia. Megiddo in northern Canaan is conquered and held by Egypt during this push and afterwards too.

573 - 539 BC

Having already secured Syria and having been instrumental in destroying the Assyrian empire, Babylonia now conquers Phoenicia. As a result, many Phoenicians emigrate to the colonies, especially Carthage, which quickly rises to become a major power.

Stone carving of Phoenician ship
This first century AD stone carving reflects Phoenician ship design from an earlier age, although by the time it was created the Phoenicians had long since been subsumed within later states

As a region, the use of 'Canaan' falls out of use if it has not already. When Rome comes to dominate in the first century BC, the core of Canaan is formed into the province of Judea, while an elongated Syria also includes northern Canaanite areas.

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