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Egypt’s Final Redoubt in Canaan

The fiery end of the last Egyptian colony

By ROGER ATWOOD

Monday, June 12, 2017

Jaffa Thebes Limestone Relief

 

For three centuries, Egyptians ruled the land of Canaan. Armies of chariots and 10,000 foot soldiers under the pharaoh Thutmose III thundered through Gaza and defeated a coalition of Canaanite chiefdoms at Megiddo, in what is now northern Israel, in 1458 B.C. The Egyptians then built fortresses, mansions, and agricultural estates from Gaza to Galilee, taking Canaan’s finest products—copper from Dead Sea mines, cedar from Lebanon, olive oil and wine from the Mediterranean coast, along with untold numbers of slaves and concubines—and sending them overland and across the Mediterranean and Red Seas to Egypt to please its elites.

 

Jaffa Gaza Clay CoffinsJaffa Faience Horus EyeAs with many colonial ventures before and since, military conquest led to a new cultural order in the occupied lands. Across Israel, archaeologists have found evidence that Canaanites took to Egyptian customs. They created items worthy of tombs on the Nile, including clay coffins modeled with human faces and burial goods such as faience necklaces and decorated pots. They also adopted Egyptian imagery such as sphinxes and scarabs. For the Egyptians, Canaan was a major trophy. Artists in Egypt carved and painted narratives on the stone walls of temples boasting about vanquished subjects and depicting Canaanite prisoners naked and bound at the wrists.

 

Yet Egypt’s presence in Canaan ended sooner than the pharaohs might have expected. With Canaan under assault from seaborne invaders and hit by drought so severe it caused food shortages, Egypt’s colonial rule began to crumble around 1200 B.C., starting in the north and gradually spreading south. Egypt did not fall alone. The eastern Mediterranean’s two other great powers of the day, the Hittites in central Turkey and the Mycenaeans in Greece, saw their capitals sacked and their governments fail. They all toppled in the pan-Mediterranean Late Bronze Age collapse of the twelfth century B.C. Egypt’s 2,000-year-old dynastic system survived, but it lost its trade ties throughout the Mediterranean and its valuable outposts in Canaan.