The first physiologically modern humans appeared in the Levant around 110,000 BC. Ancient Israel spans 8300 BC to Alexander the Great's arrival in 332 BC and is located in the southern Levant.
Syro-Phoenician = Syro-Canaanite = Syro-Palestinian = Levantine (coast). Periods are not defined just by material culture, but also by Egyptian dynasties.
The Levant was much more lush over 4,000 years ago.
|Late Epipaleotlithic||12500 - 10000 BC|
|Natufian||10800 - 8300 BC||Pre-Neolithic people lived for two million years by gathering seeds, fruits and tubers from the wild, and by hunting game animals (gazelle, ibex, fallow deer and red deer). The Natufian is largerly hunter-gatherer. Incipient farming. Hunter-gatherer communities growing increasingly sedentary. Earliest domestication of plants (possibly like wheat and barley) and early animal domestication (such as the dog). Another nice thing about Natufian right before Neolythic was the development of aesthetic like lots of jewelry. Based on lithics, regional cultures of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic developed at the close of the Natufian.|
The Bronze and Iron Ages (3300 - 550 BC) are the chronological setting for the Tanak (Old Testament). Although archaeologists have discovered few traces of the Patriarchs of Genesis, they have learned a great deal about life in Bronze Age Canaan and Iron Age Israel. This is the period of the flowering of great civilizations in Egypt, Mesopotamia and Anatolia. The Levant was a buffer zone between superpowers, and these great neighbors greatly influenced life throughout the Levant.
Egypt in Canaan
For more than 300 during years the Late Bronze Age and early Iron Age, Egypt ruled Canaan.
In 1456 BC, Pharao Thutmoses III won a decisive battle against a coalition of Canaanite rulers at Megiddo. Egypt used Canaan as a buffer against rival empires further north, and a source of revenue through taxes, tribute and trade.
Inasmuch as every prince of every northern land is shut up within it, the capture of Megiddo is the capture of a thousand towns! Annals of Thutmoses III
Egypt stationed small garrisons in major towns like Jerusalem and established administrative centers with Egyptian bureaucrats at cities like Beth Shean. Canaan developed sporadically under Egyptian rule. Although some major centers prospered, many towns and villages declined in size or were abandoned. No new city walls were built. The experience for the Egyptians in Canaan was often one of homesick despair, but others viewed it as a career oppportunity.
I am dwelling in Damnationville with no supplies. Those supplies I brought are gone, and there are no asses, (since they) have been stolen. I spend the day watching the birds and fishing, eyeing the road [from Egypt] with longing. The heat here never lets up! Egyptian solider stationed on Mediterranean coast
P Anastasi IV, 12/5-13/7
Deities, arts and technology were intermingled between Egypt and Canaan.
Egyptians and Canaanites often lived side by side. Musical instruments, poetry, myths, weapons, clothing designs -- even gods and goddesses -- passed from one culture to the other. Many of these influences were long-lasting. Scribes in Iron Age Judah continued to use Egyptian numbers 550 years after the end of the Egyptian empire.
Israel was a kingdom in the southern Levant that split into two separate domains, the Northern Kingdom (which retained the name Israel) and the Southern Kingdom (called Judah), with the latter centered around Judah. Both were totally exiled during the Babylonian era.
After destroying Ashkelon and the Philistine coastal plain, the Babylonians besieged Judah and controlled it from 604-538 BC (Jerusalem was destroyed in 586 BC). The Persian Empire (its first incarnation was under the Medes) began around this time. The Babylonian administration in Judah used an Assyrian approach of balkanization. The new Levantine territories were: Megiddu (capital at Megiddo); Samerina (Samaria); Dor; and Yehud (Mizpah). There was a short-lived temple to Yahweh in Yehud (Jer 41:4–6).
Judah's population underwent an extreme decline.
There were almost 120 sites in the time of Josiah, and just over 40 sites in the time of Babylonia. There had been more sites even before the United Monarchy. Luxury items, once popular, vanished almost completely from the archaeological record.
The Babylonian presence in Judah is attested only by its army.
Babylonians spent too little physical time in Judah to leave a lasting impression on the material culture (besides the population depletion). However, the army left behind scythian arrowheads (a giveaway of Babylonian presence), slingballs and much fiery destruction. Destroyed sites included Ashlar House, House of Ahiel, Burnt Room and House of the Bullae.
The period of Persian hegemony (538-332 BC) began when Persian king Cyrus captured Babylon in 539 BC and assumed control of Babylonian territory. The Levant (aka land Beyond the River) was Persia's fifth satrapy (aka province) and was divided into Samaria (aka Samerian), Dor, Megiddo and Judah (aka Yehud). These provinces were clearly defined by: coinage, which was minted specially for each province; bullae, which bore the names of provinces; and textual attestation of governors of the satrapy Beyond the River.
Upon capturing Babylonia, Persian king Cyrus issued the Edict of Cyrus (538 BC) allowing the Jewish exiles to return to their homeland.
The Persian era in Jerusalem was of great significance. When Cyrus captured Babylon, he issued decrees that those who had been exiled by the Babylonians could return to their homelands and start rebuilding. The Jews were now free to return, and there were two waves of immigrant from Babylon back to Jerusalem. The first return to Jerusalem (also called the Persian I period, 538 - 450 BC) climaxed when the Temple was rebuilt; and the second return to Jerusalem (Persian II period, 450 - 332 BC) signified a return to glory for Jerusalem and the Jews.
Persian period material culture was cosmopolitan.
Vessels were rarely painted during the Persian period. Burnishing was the norm, as well as knife shaving, ribbing (a new development) and impression. In Persian-ruled former-Israel, the earliest coins were Greek. These were replaced by Phoenician coins from Tyre, Sidon and Arwad (but not Byblos). By the 5th and 4th centuries BC, the five Beyond the River satrapy (Yehud, Samaria, Ashdod and Gaza) each manufactured their own coins. During 400-344 BC, Egyptian coins also were used.
There were three pottery styles during the Persian period as the Levant became increasingly cosmopolitan. The local pottery style continued local Iron Age traditions. The eastern pottery style was a local imitation of imported “eastern” wares (Assyrian, Persian, Phoenician and Egyptian). The western pottery style was a local imitation of imported “western” wares (Greek).
The cosmopolitan nature of Persian control over the Levant extended to burial customs.
|Cist Burial||Found at Gezer.|
|Phoenician Tophets||Found at Achzib and Ruqeish.|
|Phoenician Shaft Tombs||Phoenician shaft tombs of the 5th and 4th centuries were anthropoid sarcophagai. They did not contain Achaemenid pottery, although they sometimes contained Greek wares.|
|Rock-Cut Bench||The rock-cut bench tomb.|
|Infant Storejars||Infant storejar burials ("tots in pots").|
|Tumuli||Tumuli tombs were found in the Jordan Valley.|
Persian hegemony ended in 332 BC with Alexander the Great's conquest of the Levant.