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Near East Kingdoms

Ancient Levantine States

 

Megiddo (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 Assyrians knew the city of Megiddo as Magaddu or Magiddu, the Egyptians as Makedo, Maketi, or Makitu, and the Amarna tablets as Magidda or Makida, with this and the Assyrian versions being Akkadian-influenced. The New Testament, heavily influenced by the recently-dominant Greek language as it was, referred to it in Greek as Armageddon, proposed site of the final apocalyptic battle between heaven and hell.

The date of initial occupation of the site during the Neolithic period is contested, with the two camps of opinion seemingly split over 7000 BC and 5000 BC. The latter date is supported by archaeological Stratum XX which contained Yarmukian culture artefacts of the seventh millennium BC Neolithic Pottery A period. Further occupation occurred during the later Wadi Rabah Pottery B culture. The city reached the apogee of its independent development during the Bronze Age when it was a powerful regional city state with advanced facilities and defences. Conquest (or assimilation) by Israel followed two successive sequences of abrupt change, after which it served as an Israelite royal city.

The modern archaeological mound of Tel Megiddo is located in today's northern Israel, roughly thirty kilometres to the south-east of Haifa. It is situated at the northern end of the defile known as the Wadi Ara, a river valley which takes travellers through the Carmel mountain ridge. The city was also highly important for its position on one of the main trade routes into ancient Egypt.

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.3000 BC

Early Bronze Age development in Megiddo has produced a sizable settlement with a temple. The latter is one of the grandest structures of its type and period, and one of the largest in the entire Near East at this time. Such a structure in Canaan at this time is remarkable. It provides an astonishing symbol of the first - enthusiastic - flourishing of sophisticated urban life here.

The mound of Tell Megiddo
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)

A monumental compound exists to the south of the temple, principally to the period between about 3090-2950 BC. The great stone walls around it may be defensive or ceremonial. Bones from copious amounts of animal sacrifice litter the small rooms which lie between the walls. Megiddo remains a sophisticated city state through much of the third millennium BC.

c.2300 - 2000 BC

The city declines during the end of the millennium, although it is far from unique in this. In southern Mesopotamia, the great city of Ur is rapidly fading in power and influence as harvests fail and the population declines. The same pattern is repeated around the Fertile Crescent.

c.2000 - 1800 BC

Egypt 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. However these incomers quickly settle down, rebuild the city, and resurrect trade. Megiddo also recovers during this period, but perhaps not as an Egyptian ally.

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)

1453 BC

Egypt reasserts its authority in the region following the disturbance of the 'Second Intermediate' 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 but not Megiddo).

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. The city state of Megiddo strives to remain outside this area of control, having reached its absolute height of sophistication under an independent kingship which has a royal tomb in the city.

fl c.1450s? BC

?

Unnamed king. Defeated but lived. Vassal of Egypt.

Egypt's resurgence sees the combined armies of Kadesh and Megiddo defeated at the Battle of Megiddo, along with troops which are part of a coalition of Canaanite kings (the precise date of the battle is disputed, being assigned dates across a forty year period in the first half of the century).

The king of Kadesh manages to escape the battlefield along with his surviving forces, while the Megiddo survivors are besieged inside the city's walls. When the city falls it is incorporated into Egypt's empire, while the king of Megiddo, having also survived the battle, accepts vassalage under Egypt.

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.

fl c.1348 BC

Biridiya

King of Megiddo. Vassal of Egypt.

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. Megiddo is mentioned, with its king, Biridiya, penning five surviving letters. He is also mentioned in other materials.

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. Egyptian control of the Levant is abruptly ended, but many city states are barely able to survive this period, let alone re-establish any previous dominance they may have had.

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

c.1160s BC

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. Dor, Gezer, Megiddo, Shimron-meron, and Tirzah can be counted amongst their number, along with the other Israelite Settlement period conquests.

c.1150s BC

?

King of Megiddo. Killed by Israelites.

c.1150s BC

The Israelite conquests are led by Joshua, but they appear to take place over a span of time, probably ten or twenty years if not more. Not all of these conquests can be backed up by archaeological evidence, however.

In fact, archaeology has shown very little evidence of warfare in relation to most Canaanite cities around this time. The archaeological dating for the destruction of Jericho, for example, actually places that event at about 1500 BC, right in the middle of the period in which the Israelites had supposedly been in Egypt.

Israelites
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 detailed in the introduction on that page

c.1125 BC

Israel has 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 themselves who then annexe it to their state.

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. However, Megiddo itself does indeed witnesse change at around this very point in time.

The archaeological Stratum VIIB ends roughly in line with the termination of Egyptian dominance in the Levant (around 1140 BC) to give way to Stratum VIIA which introduces Philistine Bichrome ware. Megiddo is well outside the early Philistine centres of control though, so Megiddo must gain its pottery through distribution from the region's new dominant power rather than being occupied by them.

c.1073 BC

At or after this date, Megiddo Stratum VIIA is terminated by the destruction of the palace and an adjacent building. Since subsequent occupation appears to consist of a mixed Israelite and Philistine cultural influence, one or the other is likely to have attacked or seized the city.

Relief from Medinet Habu
Shown here is a relief from Medinet Habu which details Philistines with their distinctive feathered headdresses, making them an unusual sight on the battlefield

c.925 BC

Egyptian Pharaoh Shesonk mounts a full-scale invasion of Samaria, also attacking Megiddo but mainly ignoring Judah. Megiddo shows an archaeological layer of total destruction between the late eleventh century BC and the late tenth which is usually attributed to Shesonk's campaign, mainly because he places a stele there to attest to his capture of the city.

c.900 - 732 BC

Megiddo becomes a stronghold of the northern Hebrew kingdom of Samaria. The city is rebuilt, services are improved, and the fortress especially is strengthened. Megiddo in this period is one of the most advanced Iron Age cities in the Canaan region.

This comes to an end in the eighth century BC. The city is destroyed and rebuilt. The culprits for the destruction are unknown, but it is Assyria under Tiglath-Pileser III which rebuilds it, as the capital of its new province of Magiddu (still using the city's established name, but through an Assyrian interpretation) after he has conquered Damas and Samaria.

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

c.609 BC

Egypt is able to attempt to prevent the westward expansion of Babylonia, although Pharaoh Necho's forces are expelled from Syria in the process. Megiddo is conquered during this push - at the Battle of Megiddo - as Necho personally leads two campaigns against the Babylonians, between 609-605 BC.

The city fades under Egyptian dominance, losing much of its former importance now that it is neither a city state, a northern stronghold, or a provincial capital. Abandonment would seem to come quickly, around 586 BC. One alternative opinion pushes that date back to about 350 BC in the Persian-dominated Near East, when the town of al-Lajjun is built nearby as a presumed direct replacement.

 
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