< Canaan home

Personal Identity

contact us >

Home&Family | Writing | Warfare | Glossary | Bibliography | Activities

Little information survives about specific individuals in the Bronze and Iron Ages except in the Bible. Portraits, private letters and diaries are non-existent and biographical statements belong only to kings.

Most people were identified by a single name, used in combination with their father's name when specificity was important. Names were often theophoric -- including the name of a god or goddess within them.

The societies of the Bronze and Iron Age southern Levant were patriarchal and gender was an important factor in shaping the opportunities and social roles of the individual. In art and literature, women were portrayed as mothers and objects of desire, but also as warriors and priestesses. Interpreting evidence for the role of women in ancient society is difficult, since the evidence itself may be a product of the interests and priorities of men.

Archaeology has revealed some information on the manner in which Canaanites and Israelites would adorn themselves. It is apparent that both women and men wore make-up and jewelry. Kohl, a black eye-paint derived from antimony, was the most common cosmetic product. Make-up was applied by means of a stick or small spoon and stored in shallow bowls. Men and women alike would scent themselves with perfumed oils.

Clothing was a principal indication of status. In Egyptian art, Canaanite nobles are shown wearing elaborately patterned woven clothing.

In the Iron Age, fringed garments were associated with special status. Elite clothing was often multi-layered and required fasteners. Toggle pins were used until the later Iron Age when fibulae, an ancient version of the safety pin, spread across the Near East. Both Canaanites and Israelites wore a frontlet, or headband, on the forehead. Men and women typically worked from sunrise to sundown, perhaps taking a siesta in the hottest part of the afternoon. Leisure time would be spent in storytelling, music and dance. Games involving moving pieces across a board according to the roll of dice were popular.

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