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Near East Kingdoms

Ancient Levantine States


Jericho (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 town of Jericho (or Arīḥā in Arabic) is located in today's Palestinian West Bank. Claimed as one of the earliest continuous-occupied settlements in the world, it was not at all continuously occupied. Its origins can be extended as far back as about 9000 BC, not long after the Neolithic farming revolution erupted across the Near East, but there were frequent phases of abandonment. The first inhabitants of the site appear to have been Mesolithic hunters (probably of the Kebaran culture) who were adopting the new, settled way of life. Their descendants formed an organised community which built a massive stone wall around the settlement. A second wave of Neolithic arrivals around 7000 BC brought additional cultural depth to this community, but not pottery.

The town's existence after 6000 BC was somewhat bumpy until the process of creating city states in Canaan was in full swing from the start of the second millennium BC. This city remained in use - albeit with breaks - until at least the fifteenth century BC. During this period it supposedly played a role in the Old Testament which would earn it the title of first city to be conquered by the Israelites. The dating is somewhat off for this to be true (although rival dating claims do exist and similarly fail to match up with archaeology), but the tale of the walls of Jericho tumbling is still frequently retold. It was briefly - and finally - reoccupied in the ninth century BC.

A Herodite palace of the first century BC was built a little to the south, while the later Crusader-era town existed a little to the east of it which became today's still-occupied settlement. The original site became the impressively-high archaeological mound of Tall Al-Sulṭān.

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 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, and from External Link: Encyclopædia Britannica.)

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).

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

The settlement's size justifies the reference to it as a town, with a suggested population of around two or three thousand. To have achieved such a building and population growth, the inhabitants must be farmers and must also have discovered how to irrigate their basic crops to improve fertility and yield.

c.7000 BC

A fresh wave of arrivals, 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

A re-inhabited Jericho begins to display a degree of influence from developments which have been taking place in the north. There, in Syria, an ever-increasing number of villages have already appeared. These are still Neolithic but are now marked by the use of pottery.

The first pottery-users of Jericho live relatively primitive lives compared to those of the first two waves of settlement. They occupy simple huts which are sunk into the ground, probably being pastoralists for the most part. Occupation remains sparse and possibly intermittent for the next two millennia, possibly also with these pastoralists using the site on a seasonal basis.

Walled Jericho
During the third millennium BC Jericho was gradually expanded and enriched with improved building work and stone walls

c.3000 - 2300 BC

In common with the rest of Canaan, albeit at a very small scale at first, Jericho begins to be built up and expanded. In the third millennium BC it is largely Syria which witnesses the appearance of true city states, benefiting from interaction with Sumer and from improvements in irrigation. It takes until around 2000 BC for the same process to appear at full stretch farther south and west, in the Levant.

However, Jericho again becomes a walled town, with walls which are rebuilt many times as the town grows into an early city. Around 2300 BC there is another break in occupation, with nomadic newcomers taking over the region, possibly Amorites who are also busy taking control of areas of Syria.

c.2000 - 1800 BC

Amorite control over Jericho may have been brief, or not particularly strong (Amorite progress into Canaan is never particularly strong). By 1900 BC, Jericho has new masters, Canaanites who share the same culture as the rest of most of those groups which are located between Syria and the Sinai.

Egypt now maintains a trading presence in the region following links which date back a further millennium. To the north, the Canaanite city of Gebal is overrun and burned by Amorites during the period of disturbance which follows the collapse of Sumer.

Map of Anatolia and Environs 2000 BC
At the start of the second millennium BC, a series of small city states in Anatolia which had existed for perhaps a millennium now began to emerge from obscurity (click or tap on map to view full sized)

However these incomers quickly settle down, rebuild the city, and resurrect trade, apparently - and eventually - supported through trade with and influence from the Mitanni empire. Unfortunately no information is available on the rulers of Jericho during just about any period, let alone this one.

c.1170 BC

The late second millennium BC city of Jericho has reached the height of the location's advancement and progress. Unfortunately it is only famous in the Old Testament for being the first town to be attacked by the Israelites. This occurs immediate after Joshua leads his followers across the River Jordan.

c.1170 BC


King of Jericho. Killed. City destroyed, but misattributed.

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, the cause being an earthquake (supplies in the city are untouched by would-be attackers).

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 in the Israelite introduction

According to the Old Testament, following its 'destruction' by the Israelites Jericho apparently remains abandoned until Hiel the Bethelite establishes himself there in the ninth century BC.

fl 870s - 850s? BC

Hiel the Bethelite

Of Beit El, a little to the north-west of Jericho.

c.870s? BC

Hiel of Beit El occupies part of the site of the long-abandoned city of Jericho early in the ninth century BC, during the reign of Ahab of Samaria. Two of his sons apparently die during the reconstruction process, seemingly involving a large granary and possibly some associated minor buildings.

The venture seemingly fails to find long-lasting success. The granary is all that has been discovered by archaeology on the site. However, a sizable settlement does exist in the seventh century BC, perhaps being terminated around the time of the second Babylonian exile in 586 BC. Following this the site is finally abandoned.

1st century BC

Herod the Great establishes a winter residence within the vicinity of Jericho, and it is there that this Judean ruler dies in 4 BC. Archaeology shows that the palace area of this period is quite impressive and extensive, developed as an act of his dedication to Roman subservience. This, though, is about 1.6 kilometres south of the old city.

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

There remains an occupied Jericho in the second millennium AD Crusader period, but this is on a third site, about 1.5 kilometres to the east of the old city. This survives to be developed into the modern town of Jericho, leaving the ancient city area safely undeveloped so that it can be discovered by archaeologists in the twentieth century AD.

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