This page includes information that may not reflect the current views and values of the Penn Museum.

< Canaan home


contact us >

Time > EarlyBronze | MiddleBronze | LateBronze | IronI | IronII
Map |
Climate | Glossary | Bibliography | Activities

For more than 300 years during the Late Bronze Age and early Iron Age, Egypt ruled Canaan. Deities, arts and technology were intermingled between the two cultures.


The Egyptian culture developed alongside Cannan and Ancient Israel for thousands of years. Early on in its history, Egypt was unified under the rule of a single king, or pharaoh. In the Old Kingdom of Egypt (2675&emdash;2130 BCE), the pharaoh was the head a highly centralized government and his officials oversaw massive building projects along the Nile River. The most famous of these projects were the three Great Pyramids built in the Giza Plateau as tombs for the pharaohs Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure. It was also during the Old Kingdom that the process of mummification came into use to preserve the body of the Egyptian deceased.

The peace and prosperity of the Old Kingdom ended in years of civil war and discord (c. 2130&emdash;1980 BCE) known as the First Intermediate Period. The Pharaoh Mentuhotep II eventually reunified Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt to begin the Middle Kingdom (c. 1980&emdash;1630 BC). Thebes became the most important center for Egyptian religion and many pharaohs chose to be buried across the Nile River in the Valley of the Kings.

Turmoil once again boiled in Egypt as the Hyksos, foreigners of Canaanite origin, took control of Lower Egypt in the Second Intermediate Period (c. 1630&emdash;1539 BCE). Native Egyptian rulers from Thebes eventually expelled the Hyksos from the Nile River delta and re-established the centralized government. Egyptian control was extended in the New Kingdom (c.1539&emdash;1075 BCE). Aggressive pharaohs marched their armies south into Nubia and north as far as Syria.

In 1456 BCE, Pharaoh Thutmoses III won a decisive battle against a coalition of Canaanite rulers at Megiddo. The great Pharaoh recorded his triumph in Egypt:

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

predynastic bowl

Egypt used Canaan as a buffer against rival empires further north, such as the Mitanni. Canaan was also a source of revenue through taxes, tribute and trade. Egypt stationed small garrisons in major towns like Jerusalem and created administrative centers like the one at Beth Shean in Israel. These centers had buildings with distinctive Egyptian architecture and were inscribed with hieroglyphs. 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.

Egyptian imperialism led to a dramatic increase in cultural exchange. Many Egyptian bureaucrats and soldiers were stationed in Canaan and Egyptians and Canaanites often lived side by side. Musical instruments, poetry, myths, weapons, clothing designs&endash;even gods and goddesses&endash;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.

Although it may be interpreted from Egyptian written sources that Egypt exercised little control over this region after the Nineteenth Dynasty, the archaeological evidence from Palestine suggests otherwise at least for the first kings of the Twentieth Dynasty. Beth Shan remained an Egyptian colony with houses built according to Egyptian style, complete with door lintel inscriptions in hieroglyphics. Egyptian architectural structures, square-shaped houses made of mud-brick, occur at Aphek, Ashdod, Beth Shan (1550 and 1700 houses), Gaza, Hesi, Jemmeh, Joppa, Tell el-Farah S (Sharuhen) and Tell Masos and Tell esh- Sharia (Ziklag). The Timna copper mines continue to be controlled until perhaps Ramesis VI. Egyptian pottery can be cited from many early Iron I sites as well. In summary, it seems at least plausible to suggest that Egypt continued to dominate this region at least until the mid-part of the century and perhaps to the end of the century at least at Beth Shan.

Egyptian contact in Iron II is limited to minor incursions. I Kings 9:16 records that the Egyptian Pharaoh destroyed Gezer. Shishak, the first Pharaoh of the 22nd Dynasty, led a military campaign during the fifth year of Rehoboam, Solomon's son (1 Kings 14:25-26, 2 Chronicles 12:2- 9). A boundary stela of the Egyptian monarch was set up at Megiddo, and the king recorded his victory on the first pylon at the Temple of Karnak (ANEP., 349). At the end of the seventh century, Egyptian forces attempted to defeat the army of Sennacherib. Necco, Pharaoh of the Twenty-sixth Dynasty, campaigned in Palestine and northward to the Euphrates in 609. Necco's forces defeated Josiah at the Battle of Megiddo where the Judah king was slain in battle (2 Kings 23:29-30, 2 Chronicles 35:20-25).

© 1999 | University of Pennsylvania Museum
more online exhibits at:
Penn Museum Sites