History Files

Near East Kingdoms

Ancient Levantine States


Hazor (Canaan)
Incorporating Naphtali

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 settlement of Hazor was originally founded around the twenty-ninth century BC. It quickly expanded and grew, perhaps as a planned - and grand - city from the very beginning. After that the city dominated one of the main trade routes from Mesopotamia to the Mediterranean, reaching its peak in the second millennium BC when it achieved a population of around forty thousand inhabitants, twenty times that of contemporary Jebusite Shalem.

For much of this period it was an Egyptian vassal. However, following the short dark age at the end of the millennium the city re-emerged as a dominant regional power which in the eleventh century BC became a threat to the newly created Israelite state. Eventually it had to be conquered.

The city is situated near the Mediterranean coast at the modern archaeological site of Tell el-Qedah (its Arabic name, although it is seemingly also known as Tell Waqqas, another Arabic name). The name Hazor probably meant 'enclosure, settlement', and was therefore hardly a unique name in the region. It was the most important of the Hazors, however, and following conquest by the Israelites it became the main fortified site within the Biblical territory of Naphtali. Lying about fifteen kilometres to the north of the Sea of Galilee, this territory became home to the Israelite tribe of the same name.

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), from Damascus: A History, Ross Burns (Routledge, 2005), and from Arameans, Wayne T Pitard (2000), 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 several cities. 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.

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

c.1790s - 1776 BC

Ishi-Addu of Qatna is an ally (willing or otherwise) of Shamshi-Adad's kingdom of Upper Mesopotamia. When that kingdom falls around 1776 BC, Qatna is restored to full independence. It soon governs a number of towns, including Hazor and many which are controlled by Amorites.

However, it takes Hammurabi of Babylon until about 1761 BC to fully conquer former Sumerian Mesopotamia, but the importance of that conquest suggests that he starts conquering Syrian city states almost as soon as the kingdom of Upper Mesopotamia collapses. He is known to capture Qatna during his reign.

fl c.1760s BC

Ibni-Addu / Yabni-Hadad

Akkadian and West Semitic forms of the same name.

Hazor is one of only two Canaanite settlements mentioned in the archives at Mari. Seven tablets (to date) have been discovered there which are related to Hazor. One of them reveals that the city is so important that Babylon finds it convenient to place two ambassadors here. Other tablets associate Hazor with the trade in tin, essential for the manufacture of bronze weapons in this period.

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)

1550 - 1453 BC

With the city being a major military target, Egypt maintains control over it. In 1453 BC it campaigns to conquer the whole of Canaan and Syria so that it can establish three provinces in their conquered territories which are named Amurru (in southern Syria), Upe (in northern Canaan), and Canaan (in the south).

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. Sadly the names of most of Hazor's rulers have not survived the passage of time.

c.1400 BC

The city is sacked and burned by aggressors unknown. Subsequent occupation sees the local Canaanite script being used on cuneiform tablets in place of Babylonian Akkadian, while Egypt governs the region with a lighter touch than many later occupiers.

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

fl c.1360s BC

Abdi Tirshi

Egyptian vassal. Mentioned in Amana letters.

c.1371 - 1358 BC

The Amarna letters between Egypt and the city states of Syria and Canaan describe the disruptive activities of the habiru, and of Hazor, which is accused of siding with them to capture several cities belonging to Tyre and Ashtaroth (within Bashan's territory).

c.1285 BC

Hazor is sacked and burned by Egyptian Pharaoh Seti I. The reason seems to be unknown, but this period witnesses the height of opposition between Egypt and the Hittites, with Syria and Canaan their battleground.

c.late 1200s BC


Name may be an Egyptian version of Jabin.

c.late 1200s BC

Jabin (I)

Jabin I & II (below) may be one and the same person.

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.

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

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). Major Canaanite cities such as Gebal, Sidon, and Tyre all survive while Arvad is sacked, but recovers.

Egypt loses control over Hazor when it becomes one of those cities along the Mediterranean coast which is destroyed by marauding groups of Sea Peoples, probably at a point slightly after this date. Quickly rebuilt, apparently, Hazor becomes locally dominant, establishing hegemony over various city states and tribes in its region.


Unknown king.

fl c.1125 BC

Jabin (II)

Biblical 'King of Canaan'. Temporarily subdued Israelites. Killed.

fl c.1125 BC


Military commander.

c.1125 BC

Sisera is the Canaanite military leader of Hazor who leads a coalition of the 'kings of Canaan' against the Israelites at the 'waters of Merom'. His allies include the kings of Madon, Mizpah, Shimron, and Achshaph. However, a surprise attack is launched against him and he flees. He hides in a Kenite tent where he is killed while asleep by the Kenite chieftain's wife, Yael, who drives a tent peg through his skull.

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

The remains of Hazor from this period are covered in a layer of ash which, along with fire damage to artefacts, indicates that the city is sacked and burned by invaders, possibly by the Israelites themselves.

The Old Testament indicates that there are two separate battles and destructions of Hazor, both against King Jabin, but with the second campaign being led by one of the Israelite judges. Perhaps this is propaganda on the part of the Israelites who later record this event, perhaps it is the same tale told twice, as two events when it should be a single event, or perhaps the Israelites are those very 'Sea Peoples' who destroy the city around 1200 BC.

Thereafter the city is settled by semi-nomads, presumably Israelites, and presumably those of the Naphtali tribe. The upper part of the city is eventually rebuilt as a royal garrison. After about 1035 BC the city becomes part of the territory which later falls under the command of the northern kingdom of Samaria.

Samaria excavations
This general view of the 1933 excavations of the city of Samaria shows them while looking towards the north

855 - 854 BC

Damas makes its long-awaited attack on Samaria, destroying Hazor along the way. However, Ben-Hadad of Damas and thirty-two vassal kings are strategically defeated by Ahab of Samaria no less than twice in two years.

Alternatively this attack may be a misattribution by later editors of the Old Testament and may instead refer to the throwing off of Damascene domination by Jehoash in the early eighth century BC. As for Hazor, the city is rebuilt later in the same century.

738 - 734 BC

All of the Phoenician states become vassals of Assyria, including Sidon, but local arrangements for governance are left in place. In 734 BC the cities of Sumur, Arqa, and Gebal are all seized, while Tyre is forced to pay tribute and suffer partial deportation. Akko is assaulted before being reduced to ashes, while the territory of Naphtali is annexed. The Philistines are next.

Despite its having been rebuilt with heavier fortifications, the Assyrians capture Hazor (in 733 BC) and incorporate it into their empire. The city is largely destroyed by the conquest, and its surviving population is forcibly deported.

Tiglath-Pileser III of Assyria
Tiglath-Pileser III dominated the Levantine city states during the later years of the eighth century BC, terminating the kingdom of Samaria and, shown here, with his foot on the shoulder of Hanunu of the Philistine city of Gaza, a gesture of dominance in the face of Hanunu's crouched submission

Despite the destruction, a small temporary settlement subsequently forms on the site, made up of inhabitants who gradually return or filter in from surrounding territories, before the Assyrians rebuilt the citadel on the western edge of the site. Seemingly the city is returned to Samarian control before that vassal kingdom is destroyed.

2nd cent BC

The city of Hazor is abandoned during the Hellenistic Seleucid period in the region, probably after the struggle between Jonathan Apphus of Judea and Seleucid king, Demetrius II, in one of the frequent wars which eventually extinguishes the Seleucids and hands the Near East over to Rome.

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