Since prehistory, the nature and extent of interactions between Egypt and Syria-Palestine (the Levant) had fluctuated across the North Sinai land bridge and through maritime contacts. Although Wadi el-Arish in North Sinai forms the traditional geopolitical and sociocultural border between Egypt and the Near East, Egyptian and Near Eastern raids and territorial expansion across this desert frontier periodically modified the political borders.

Late Predynastic (Early Bronze Age I).

The late Predynastic (Naqada II–III; c.3500–3050 BCE) in Egypt corresponds to the Syria-Palestinian Early Bronze Age I (also termed EB IA-C, or Proto-Urban for EB IA-B). Although much of Syria-Palestine was inhabited by pastoralists and nomads, at this time settlements (mostly unfortified) and city-states began to emerge (e.g., Arad, Jericho, Megiddo, Beth Shan, and Tell Farah North). Syria and Palestine formed intermediaries for maritime and overland trade between Egypt and Mesopotamia, while maritime and overland routes may have connected Mesopotamia to Upper Egypt via the Red Sea and Eastern Desert (Quseir to Naqada, Coptos, and Hierakonpolis).

Near Eastern imports and influence appeared at this time in Egypt (e.g., at Maadi, Buto, Minshat Abu Omar, Giza, Abusir, Saqqara, Matmar, Naqada, and Abydos). They encompass lapis lazuli from Badakshan, pottery (late Uruk ware), cylinder seals (Protoliterate style), architecture (decorative wall cones at Buto), and artistic motifs (a “hero”-figure separating two animals; ship designs) from Mesopotamia; silver from Anatolia(?); pear-shaped mace heads, wood and resins (pine, cedar, and cypress or juniper), and pottery (ʿAmuq-style) from Syria; copper ores perhaps from Feinan (South Arabah); turquoise from Sinai; and olive oil, wine, salt, sulphur, bitumen (Dead Sea), resins, stone vessels, flints, and imported and locally copied pottery from Palestine. For instance, more than four hundred Palestinian pots appear in Tomb U-j at Abydos (Naqada IIIa2), while Palestinian pottery includes Red Polished ware (“Abydos ware”), Light Faced Painted ware, some Combed ware, and jars (with lug-handles, ledge-handles, and knobs), bowls, and loop-handled cups.

Egyptian items occur at more than thirty EB I sites in Palestine (e.g., ʿEin Besor, Arad, Lahav, ʿEreini, and Tel Halif), reaching Megiddo to the north and Transjordan to the east. In North Sinai, the ratio of EB I–II Egyptian to Palestinian pottery is 80 percent to 20 percent. Yadin, Yeivin, Dessel, and Amiran/Ben-Tor hypothesize variously that the intense EB IB Egyptian material presence and influence in North Sinai and Palestine represent the product of an Egyptian invasion, a colony, a symbolic expression of sociopolitical power, or trade. Locally copied and imported Egyptian products include copper tools (axes, knives), flints (knives, sickle blades, chipped stones), stone palettes, pottery vessels (bowls, lotus-shaped bowls, bread molds, bottles, jugs, juglets, store jars, globular and drop-shaped jars, and cylindrical pots), clay sealings and vessels (with serekhs bearing the names of Ka, “Scorpion”?, and later kings). Imports from Egypt consist of alabaster mace heads, alabaster and faience vessels, pendants, beads (faience, calcite, carnelian, ostrich shell, and gold), Nile mollusks, catfish, and a faience baboon statuette. Egyptian construction techniques appear in mud-brick buildings, such as at EB IB ʿEreini, which contains much Egyptian influence and is interpreted by some as a colonial “capital.” Some human remains from EB I burials are said to resemble “African” (i.e., Egyptian) populations. Egyptian pottery (e.g., possible Nubian ware) appears at Habuba Kabira in North Syria, while possible Egyptian gold occurs at Tepe Gawra (Mesopotamia).

Early Dynastic Period (Early Bronze Age II).

The Early Dynastic (Archaic), Period (first–third dynasties, c.3050–2632 BCE) spans Early Bronze Age II. Settlement intensified in EB II Syria-Palestine, and many sites were fortified. Contemporary and later Egyptian texts, including the Palermo Stone, assert direct Egyptian contact with Palestine through the smiting of Near Easterners (“Asiatics”) and the “east.” King Khasekhemwy's statue base from Hierakonpolis records the exaggerated massacre of more than 48,000 northerners, reflecting intense military activity in Sinai and Palestine. Egyptian sculptures and other depictions display Near Easterners with beards, long hair, a headband, a short kilt, and arms often bound behind their backs. Redford (1992, pp. 32–33) lists the names applied to Near Easterners: “shoulder-knot people,” “kilt-wearers,” “kilties,” “people of the bow,” “archers,” “the wild men of Asia,” “northerners,” “those-who-are-across-the-sand,” and Aʿamu (ʿʒmw, a West Semitic-derived word for “Asiatics”).

Egyptian products and influence continued in EB II South Palestine. Finds include imported and locally made pottery, stone vessels, a knife handle (at Ai), clay sealings and inscribed pots (some bear serekh-names of Narmer, Hor-Aha, and Den?), and architectural influences in mud-brick and stone buildings. Egyptian items also appear in Syria. A major port town in Lebanon, Byblos, yielded a stone vessel fragment of King Khasekhemwy and a second/third dynasty alabaster jar sherd naming Neferseshemre (“scribe of the royal tree-cutters”); Egyptian-style pottery occurs in the ʿAmuq region of Syria.

Mesopotamian products and influence continued in Egypt during the first dynasty in the form of architecture with elaborate niches and buttresses, and cylinder seals, but these disappear by the second dynasty. Levantine products found in Egypt match the preceding period, but include seals with stylistic similarities to ones at Byblos, and cedar in royal burials at Abydos. Imported Red Polished ware becomes scarce in sites from the second and third dynasties: Red Polished ware continues, and Combed ware increases. Egyptian trade with the Near East appears in texts and jar sealings citing foreign items. One official is titled “Administrator of Foreign Lands.” Texts term maritime ships “Byblos-ships.” Late references note ship-building in Khasekhemwy's reign. Artistic motifs common to Egypt and the Levant include persons smiting prisoners and lions and bulls trampling foes.

Old Kingdom (Early Bronze Age III).

The Old Kingdom (fourth-sixth dynasties, c.2632–2191 BCE) spans Early Bronze III. Although extensive urbanization continued in Palestine, many sites suffered abandonment, resettlement, or destruction, culminating in the termination of EB III. Egyptian activity and influence is less evident in North Sinai and Palestine, but continues in Syria.

Old Kingdom texts refer to the desert regions and possibly southwestern Palestine as Hariu-shaʿ (ḥryw-šʿ), “(the land of) the Sand Dwellers.” Pyramid Text 716 alludes to Egypt's defense against Near Eastern incursions, mentioning the double-ram gate that repels the Fenkhu. Other texts locate the Fenkhu in West Syria and Lebanon, while the region to the east is termed Qedem, and the population is labeled Aʿamu. Mesopotamian texts from the third and second millennia BCE mention “the land of Amurru,” which includes “the West,” “the West-land,” and all regions west of the Euphrates to the Mediterranean (“the sea of Amurru”). In another text, the Sumerian king of Lagash, Gudea (c.2100 BCE), obtains cedar from the mountains of Amana (Amanus) and stone from Basalla in the Amorite mountains in Syria-Palestine.

Imported Palestinian pottery appears in Egypt as late as the fourth dynasty, when Combed ware potsherds peak in quantity (one Combed ware pot yielded aromatic resin from a coniferous tree). The archaeological record, however, reveals decreasing Egyptian contact with EB III Palestine. The attribution of a cache of Early Dynastic calcite vessels from Ai (“Et Tell”) to EB III is contested and otherwise placed in EB II; L. E. Stager notes that only one Egyptian drop-shaped pot is known from EB III Palestine. In contrast, the textual-pictorial record reveals Egyptian military activity against Near Easterners (Aʿamu), who are taken captive (sqr.w-ʿnḫ, “bound for life”). The fifth dynasty tomb of Yenty at Deshasheh depicts Egyptians besieging a fortified Near Eastern town. Sixth dynasty texts from Weni's tomb (reign of Pepy I) describe campaigns against “sand-dwellers” in Sinai and Palestine, during which Weni destroys villages, enclosures, and vineyards, and cuts down fig trees. Weni uses a ship to reach a place near “Gazelle-Nose,” which is equated with Wadi Tumilat (eastern Delta), Mons Cassius, or Mount Carmel in northern Palestine (possibly reflecting Megiddo's destruction evident in level XVI).

Egyptian contact with northern Palestine and Syria is better known archaeologically. The EB III temple at Byblos contains fragments of architecture (uraei friezes, obelisks); Egyptian votive offerings for the “Mistress of Byblos” (Hathor/Baʿalat) include statuary, stone vessels, and artifacts of private and royal persons of the fourth, fifth, and sixth dynasties. Egyptian texts locate Byblos (Kpny), sometimes called “Fort Byblos” (Wntt Kbn), in the cedar-producing land of Negaw (Lebanon). Ebla, a major Syrian city, contains Egyptian artifacts.

Syrian imports and influence appear in Egypt (e.g., at Giza; Saqqara, Meidum, and Matmar) and include lumber, pottery (Red Polished ware, Metallic Combed ware, flasks), wine, olive oil, fruit, resins, animals, and people. By the late third dynasty, an increasing number of foreigners (captives or migrants) occur in texts listing laborers working on state construction projects. Texts mention Lebanese cedar for ship construction, palace doors, and masts. The Palermo Stone entry for Sneferu cites cedar from Lebanon. The remnants of Lebanese cedar, fir, cypress, and juniper occur throughout Egypt in funerary boats, sarcophagi, and beams in pyramids. Cedar resin is attested in embalming rituals. Texts cite Asiatic and other interpreters in Egypt, while relief fragments from Sahure's pyramid complex at Abusir illustrate the maritime transport from the Near East to Egypt of bears, pottery, and male and female persons of various ages, interpreted as merchants or captives.

First Intermediate Period (Middle Bronze Age I).

The First Intermediate Period (seventh to early eleventh dynasties, c.2190–2040 BCE) parallels Middle Bronze I (elsewhere EB IV, EB-MB, EB IV/MB I, Caliciform, or Intermediate Bronze Age). Many EB III Palestinian towns were abandoned or destroyed, and shifting populations established new towns and seasonal camps elsewhere, including more than 390 new camps in the Negev. In contrast, settlements continued in Syria (e.g., Ebla and Byblos), and these yield evidence, albeit problematic, for some Egyptian trade or residual influence. The impoverishment, decentralization, and disintegration of Egypt's Memphite government in the late sixth dynasty coincided with the advent of widespread changes (c.2300–1950 BCE) in climate and vegetation: higher temperatures, droughts, soil erosion, deforestation, and resulting low crop yields. This led to increased mortality rates in human and domestic and wild animal populations through famine and disease, as well as rising strife in the socio-cultural, economic, and political spheres, evident in corruption, reversals in social status, rising provincial centers, civil war and nomadic incursions from arid regions.

Although Egypt's destabilization coincided with a dramatic reduction in Egypto-Asiatic relations (imported Levantine pottery disappears from Egypt), North Sinai yields Palestinian “caliciform” pottery and Egyptian Red Sealing-Wax ware. A later text, the Admonitions of Ipuwer, mentions the cessation of contact with Byblos, but this text and others—the Instructions for Merikare and the Prophecy of Neferty—also report Near Eastern (“archers”) incursions into the Nile Delta; this situation awaits confirmation by increasing archaeological work on this period in the Delta.

Middle Kingdom (Middle Bronze Age IIA).

The Middle Kingdom (late eleventh and twelfth dynasties, c. 2040–1786 BCE) coincides with Middle Bronze IIA (elsewhere termed MB I). Around 2040 BCE, the Theban ruler Nebhepetre Montuhotpe I (mid-eleventh dynasty) reunified Egypt, defeating the tenth dynasty Herakleopolitan ruler in Middle Egypt, and other rulers and Asiatics in Lower Egypt. The stela of a contemporary official, Khety, at Deir el-Bahari, records expeditions to Sinai (Biʒw), activity against Asiatics, and the retrieval of turquoise, metals, and lapis lazuli. Other late eleventh dynasty texts note military and other contact with the Near East. A stela from Deir el-Ballas cites activity in the “Qedem-lands” (eastern Syria). A captioned head-smiting scene mentions using a throw-stick against “the eastern foreign lands.” A king's steward, Henenu, is said to subdue “them-who-are-across-the sand,” and to obtain lumber from “the cedar slopes.” General Antef's tomb displays Egyptians besieging a fortress defended by Asiatic-style persons. At Abisko near Aswan, a graffitto of Tjehemau mentions a campaign to kill the Asiatics of Djaty in Palestine.

After a brief resurgence of civil war in the late eleventh dynasty, the twelfth dynasty emerged under the leadership of Amenemhet I, who moved the capital to Itjtawy (el-Lisht) near Memphis. The Prophecy of Neferty and Story of Sinuhe indicate that he fortified the eastern Delta (the “wall of the ruler”) to prevent incursions from Sinai and Palestine.

The Middle Kingdom state adopted magic—the so-called Execration Texts—to prevent internal and external threats to Egypt's security. This magic involved ritually cursing existing and potential enemies by writing names of Near Eastern and other chieftains, their personnel, regions, and cities on pottery vessels and clay figurines of bound captives, which were then broken and buried. Weinstein, Redford, and others observe that these texts (Mirgissa, Berlin, and Brussels groups) display a reduction in names for Near Eastern regions and chieftains in contrast to increasing town names throughout the twelfth dynasty. At this time, MB IIA populations abandoned many MB I seasonal camps and resettled EB I–III towns, fortifying some towns but leaving many unfortified.

Middle Kingdom texts call Syria-Palestine “Retenu,” which includes Upper Retenu (northern Palestine) and Lower Retenu (Syria). Late eighteenth-century BCE letters from Mari (Tell Hariri in Syria) locate the region of Amurru south of the city of Qatna in an area dominated by Hazor (northern Palestine). The toponym “Canaan,” which usually encompasses Palestine, first appears in a Mari text that cites the “men of Canaan” in the town of Rahisum. Of interest, the Mari archives (c. 1820–1760 BCE) contain 24,000 cuneiform tablets, some of which mention trade connections throughout the Levant, but they lack references to Egypt.

From the late eleventh dynasty, few Egyptian objects appear in Palestine, while the twelfth dynasty shows some increased contact and military activity in the Near East. The Story of Sinuhe relates the flight to Syria-Palestine of a royal bodyguard who is wrongfully implicated in the assassination of Amenemhet I. Sinuhe visits Byblos in Lebanon and Qedem in eastern Syria; he mentions a land called “Yaa,” and finally settles in Upper Retenu (northern Palestine), which contains some Egyptian residents (fugitives?). One text, from the time of Senwosret I, asserts that the dangers—lions and Near Easterners (“Asiatics”)—faced in travel abroad are sufficient for emissaries to will their belongings to their children. A stela of general Nesu-montu (reigns of Amenemhet I and Senwosret I) reports action against the “Sand-dwellers.” Other early twelfth dynasty officials allude to Egyptian contact with Lebanon; for example a fleet of ships is built of Lebanese cedar. Redford and others list epithets of officials that detail military action against Near Easterners: throat-cutter of “them that are in Asia”; one who silenced “them-that-are-across-the-sand”; one who repressed “the enemies of Asia” and “rebels of the northern lands”; and one who destroyed “the wild bow-people, namely them-that-are-across-the-sand.” A text from Saqqara, dated to Amenemhet II, documents the sending of an army in ten ships to Khenty-she (the Lebanese coast) to attack places in “Asia.” A text of Khu-Sebek, dated to Senwosret III, records a campaign into Retenu to attack Skmm (Shechem?). A commander of troops under Amenemhet III has an epithet describing him as opening the land of the “Asiatics.”

Archaeological evidence shows less definite Middle Kingdom contact with Palestine. Weinstein tallies fewer than fifty Egyptian and Egyptianizing items from secure MB IIA-A/B contexts: scarab and scaraboid seals, calcite and faience vessels, and carnelian jewelry. Other Egyptian products, such as stelae and statues of royalty and officials (e.g., Djehutihotep at Megiddo) occur in insecure contexts. In contrast, more Egyptian contact appears in Syria: The royal cemetery and temple at Byblos produce Egyptian-style architecture, statuary, stone vessels, and other artifacts with private and royal inscriptions (Amenemhet III–IV). Nine royal tombs at Byblos use Egyptian-style reliefs, hieroglyphic texts, and titles (ḥʒty-ʿ, “count”; iry-pʿt, “hereditary prince”). In the later tomb of King Antin, hieroglyphic texts call him “ruler of rulers” and “foreign ruler.” Ugarit has a statue of one of Amenemhet II's daughters and two sphinxes of Amenemhet III.

Weinstein and others contest the various hypotheses claiming extensive Egyptian economic, diplomatic, and military activity (including a Middle Kingdom “empire” with garrison posts) in MB IIA Palestine, based on various texts and Middle Kingdom statuary and stelae found at Syrian-Palestinian sites. Most of the statuary cited as evidence for an empire is either ex situ (a later introduction) or could simply reflect contemporary royal gifts, votives, and other exports. One twelfth dynasty epithet describes an official accompanying the ruler's monuments to distant lands, but this may reflect reciprocal gift-giving rather than a marker of empire. Redford and others assert that the otherwise abundant Middle Kingdom texts lack evidence for the administrative infrastructure and garrison posts required to maintain an Egyptian empire in Palestine.

Near Eastern products and people appear in Egypt. Beni Hasan tomb 3, of Khnumhotep, depicts a caravan of Near Easterners on donkeys coming to Egypt from the land of Shut (Transjordan?). Archaeological and textual-pictorial sources reveal Canaanite imports of cattle, cedar, perhaps silver, olive oil, wine, and pottery. The Saqqara text of Amenemhet II lists several expeditions that bring Near Eastern tribute, booty, and prisoners to Egypt from ḫnty-š (coastal Syria), Ṯmpʒw (western Syria), Iwʒs (Alshe), and Iʒsy (Alasiya, or Cyprus).

Late Middle Kingdom (Middle Bronze Age IIB).

The late Middle Kingdom (thirteenth dynasty c. 1786–1665 BCE) spans Middle Bronze IIB (elsewhere MB II). Although an Egyptian votive of Neferhotpe I appears at Byblos, evidence of Egyptian activity decreases in MB IIB Syria-Palestine, which displays an increase in settlement size, fortifications, and destruction levels at many sites. In contrast, textual evidence shows many Near Easterners residing in Egypt during this period, prior to the “Hyksos” seizure of control in northern Egypt. The verso of Papyrus Brooklyn 35.1446, dated to Year 2 of Sobekhotpe III, reveals that Near Easterners formed as much as 56 percent of children and adult servants working in one Theban household. At this time, Tell ed-Dabʿa (northeastern Delta) yields houses (with courtyards), funerary pottery, and other artifacts that match the architectural styles and material culture found throughout MB IIB-C Syria-Palestine.

Second Intermediate Period (Middle Bronze Age IIC).

The Second Intermediate Period (fourteenth–seventeenth dynasties, c.1664–1569 BCE) encompasses Middle Bronze IIC (elsewhere termed MB III). Many scholars (e.g., Grimal, Ahlstrom) accept or reconstruct the fourteenth (“Xois”), fifteenth–sixteenth (“Hyksos”), and seventeenth (“Theban”) dynasties as contemporary rivals ruling in the Delta and Nile Valley, based on surviving excerpts from classical treatises and Manetho's third-century BCE history of Egypt. Other scholars, however, assert that the fourteenth dynasty reflects a royal pedigree for and preceding the Hyksos rulers of the fifteenth, and place the sixteenth and seventeenth in a linear succession of Egyptian rulers centered at Thebes in Upper Egypt who inherit the remnants of the thirteenth dynasty's kingdom.

A Near Eastern invasion of Egypt probably occurred during the weakened rule of the late thirteenth dynasty, a time of the rise and fall of warring Amorite states throughout the Levant: Khana in the middle Euphrates, Yamkhad centered on Aleppo in Syria, Qatanum in the middle Orontes region, and Hazor in Galilee. Second Intermediate Period and later texts report an invasion and settlement of Near Easterners in the eastern Delta. The name “Hyksos” (Manetho's “shepherd kings”) appears in later classical texts but is derived from a Middle Kingdom term, ḥḳʒ ḫʒswt (“rulers of foreign lands”), commonly applied to Palestinian rulers. A text of Kamose (seventeenth dynasty) defines these invaders as “Asiatics” (ʿʒmw), and calls King Apophis a “ruler of Retenu” and “a Syrian chief.”

After invading the Delta, the Hyksos soon captured Memphis, removing statuary to Tell ed-Dabʿa. They subsequently dominated Upper Egypt as far south as Thebes, which lies north of a Hyksos garrison post at Gebelein, and received taxes from Egyptian vassal nomes. A stela of Kamose and later texts note the establishment of Near Easterners in garrisons (“the places of the Asiatics”) throughout northern Egypt. The late seventeenth dynasty Theban rulers fought the Hyksos: Seqenre-Ta'o's skull bears axe and dagger wounds that match Hyksos-style weaponry. Kamose erected two stelae detailing several campaigns, the last of which reached the Hyksos stronghold and capital at Avaris but failed to defeat or dislodge the Hyksos. Kamose indicates that the frontier between the Hyksos (fifteenth dynasty) and Egyptian (seventeenth dynasty) territories lay at Cusae in Upper Egypt (Nome 15).

The Hyksos material culture assemblage found at eastern Delta sites—Tell ed-Dabʿa, Tell el-Maskhuta, and Tell el-Yahudiyya—is basically identical with the material found at MB IIB-C sites in Syria-Palestine. The presence of donkeys in some burials at Tell ed-Dabʿa is also attested in Palestine. The Hyksos rulers and officials retained West Semitic names, which number a large proportion in epigraphic materials from the Delta. The Hyksos rulers also promoted Egyptian culture, however, commissioning statues copying Middle Kingdom styles, stelae, and buildings decorated with Egyptian art and hieroglyphic inscriptions. Their titulary retains the Egyptian title “son of Re,” while their names contain the theophoric element -reʿ. Although Canaanite deities such as Baʿal, ʿAnat, Ashtarte-Qudshu, Horon, and Resheph dominate the Hyksos pantheon, some of these Canaanite deities appear in their equivalent Egyptian forms: Seth represents Baʿal, and Hathor, “Mistress of the Two Trees,” represents ʿAnat. Further Canaanite influence in Hyksos religion is represented by a large Canaanite-style cultic precinct at Tell ed-Dabʿa. Extensive maritime contact between the Hyksos and the Near East is attested in Kamose's second stela, which describes the harbor of Avaris as containing hundreds of cedar ships with cargoes of products from Retenu: gold, silver, turquoise, lapis, incense, fat, honey, moringa oil, willow, boxwood, sticks, fine woods, and numerous bronze axes.

Despite the early eighteenth dynasty kings' attempts to eradicate Hyksos monuments, the Hyksos and the Second Intermediate Period introduced many long-lived foreign innovations to Egypt: chariots and horses, composite bows, body armor, musical instruments (lutes, lyres), and game boards. Many West Semitic terms appear as loan words in hieroglyphs, such as names for military equipment (e.g., markabata, “chariot”) and personnel (kusina, “charioteer”; maryannu, “chariot officers”).

During MB IIC, large fortified towns appeared throughout Palestine, surrounded by huge ramparts and trenches. Although scholars debate the nature and extent of Hyksos influence in Palestine, the Hyksos probably either dominated or formed alliances with city-states in southwestern Palestine; at the time of their expulsion from Egypt, the Hyksos retained access to and control of Sharuhen (Tell el-ʿAjjul?) in southwestern Palestine. The quantities of material wealth and the decrease in Palestinian sites yielding destruction layers suggest that MB IIC was a prosperous and relatively peaceful period. Extensive trade connections with Egypt are attested by Egyptian statuary, gold jewelry, amulets, scarabs, and calcite vessels at many Palestinian sites. Egyptian/Hyksos epigraphic material and artifacts occur in the MB IIC temple at Byblos. Small black/gray perfume juglets with white-filled punctate designs (commonly called “Tell el-Yehudiyya ware” after their original find spot) characterize the Hyksos period and occur throughout Palestine, Syria, Cyprus, Egypt, and Nubia.

Early Eighteenth Dynasty (Late Middle Bronze Age IIC and Late Bronze Age 1A).

The reigns from Ahmose to Hatshepsut (c.1569–1482 BCE) span late Middle Bronze IIC and Late Bronze 1A occupation levels in northern Mesopotamia and Syria-Palestine. Many MB IIC Amorite sites and kingdoms were destroyed (Mari, Khana, Yamkhad) or reduced by Egyptian, Hittite, Hurrian, and Indo-Aryan invasions at different times between 1569 and 1482 BCE, and were replaced by new Aryian-Hurrian kingdoms and vassals in the Levant (Mitanni, Khanigalbat, Alalakh, Kadesh?) and southeastern Anatolia (Kizzuwadna in Cilicia).

King Ahmose (c.1569–1545 BCE) expelled the Hyksos from Egypt, capturing Tjaru (Tell Heboua) in Sinai and Avaris about his regnal years 11–12. He spent three years in defeating the Hyksos at Sharuhen and organized one campaign into Syria-Palestine as far as Byblos, initiating a policy of extending Egypt's frontiers northward to prevent future invasions. Amenhotpe I (c.1545–1525 BCE) sent an army into Syria, fighting at Tunip, Qedem, and other places near the Orontes River. Thutmose I (c.1525–1516 BCE) campaigned once in Retenu, fighting troops in “Naharin” (eastern Syria, locally called “Mitanni”): he reached the Euphrates, where he erected a boundary stela, and hunted elephants in Niya in the Orontes region. Thutmose II (c.1516–1504 BCE) subdued Shasu bedouin in the Sinai and possibly the Negev region, while Hatshepsut (coregent with Thutmose III, c.1502–1482 BCE) dispatched an expedition to Byblos for cedar.

Mid-Eighteenth Dynasty (Late Bronze Age 1B).

The long reigns of Thutmose III and IV span Late Bronze 1B (c.1481–1410 BCE). Egyptian texts reflect ethnic and political changes in LB 1A Palestine, borrowing new names for Palestine (Kharu, or ḫʒrw, derived from ḫurru-land) and its inhabitants (Kharians, Kharu). Prior to Thutmose III's sole rule (c.1481–1452 BCE), the kingdom of Kadesh in the Orontes region formed an anti-Egyptian coalition of 330 Levantine princes, who gathered at Megiddo to confront Egypt. Thutmose III mobilized an army in his year 22/23 (c.1481 BCE) and traversed Palestine, rewarding loyal vassals; a later tale alludes to his capture of Joppa, which would become a major grain storage and chariot depot. Thutmose III held council at Yehem and decided to take the narrow and potentially disastrous 'Aruna Pass through the Carmel Range to Megiddo, bypassing the safer western and eastern routes via Yokoneam and Tanaach. His strategy worked: He outmaneuvered and dispersed the divided Near Eastern forces; however, a breakdown in Egyptian discipline allowed the enemy to reach Megiddo and resist for seven months before surrendering and swearing oaths of allegiance; the ruler of Kadesh evaded capture.

Despite this victory and the establishment of a fortress in Lebanon, Thutmose III led sixteen more expeditions into Syria-Palestine. He directed expeditions in Years 24, 25, and 26/28? to assert Egypt's authority and collect tribute. He quelled a rebellion in Syria in Year 29, capturing Wartet and Ardata. Further Syrian discontent necessitated a campaign in Years 30 against Kadesh, Sumur, and Ardata, and in Year 31 against Ullaza, collecting Near Eastern tribute. In Year 33, Thutmose fought and defeated an army of Naharin (Mitanni). He erected a boundary stela at the Euphrates adjacent to Thutmose I's stela, collected tribute, received gifts from Babylonia and Khatte (Anatolia), and hunted elephants in Niya. In Year 34 he toured Syria, receiving booty, tribute, and gifts from Retenu, Djahy, Nukhashshe, and Cyprus. Year 35 required a major campaign against Djahy, in which Thutmose captured Arayana and defeated a Mitannian army in Naharin. During five campaigns in Years 36 to 40, Thutmose fought Mitannians and others in the district of Nuges, placed a garrison at Ugarit (noted in a text dating to Amenhotpe II), toured Retenu, subdued Shasu bedouin, and received tribute from Retenu, Djahy, Alalakh, and other states), as well as gifts from Cyprus and Khatte. In Year 42 (or possibly Year 37), Thutmose III led a major campaign against Syria, capturing Arqata, Kadesh, their satellite towns, and Tunip, which contained an Egyptian base. He fought against the land of Takhsi and Naharin and received tribute.

Amenhotpe II (c.1454–1419 BCE) fought against Takhsi in his Year 3, during his coregency with Thutmose III. A renewal of Mitanni's domination and influence in Syria and a pending rebellion against Egypt's garrison in Ugarit precipitated Amenhotpe II's Year 7 suppression of rebels in Retenu and Syria, which culminated in the mass deportation of 89,600 people—Khurians, Nukhashsheans, bedouin, and ʿApiru. The capture of a Mitannian messenger in southern Palestine revealed Mitanni instigating unrest among Egypt's Palestinian vassals, who later rebelled and were subdued by Amenhotpe II in Year 9. Mitanni and Amenhotpe II later negotiated peace, possibly owing to Khatte's rising threat to Mitanni and Egypt's desire to stabilize its northern empire. The new frontier followed the Orontes River south to Kadesh and east to the Euphrates, officially distinguishing Egypt's northern vassals—Ugarit, Byblos, Beirut, Sidon, Tyre, Amki, Kadesh, the land of Upe, and Damascus—from Mitanni's vassals, Mukishe (Alalalkh), the Nukhashshe lands, Niya, Tunip, and Qatna. Despite the Egyptian-Mitannian peace, which brought exchanges of letters and gifts, and Thutmose IV's marriage to a Mitannian princess, Thutmose IV (c.1419–1410 BCE) still needed to suppress rebellions in Syria-Palestine and established a fort in Khurru, Syria. The northern empire now contained the provinces of Canaan (Palestine), Upe (Damascus region and Beka' Valley), and Amurru (western Syria), which were administered from Gaza, Kumudi, and Sumur (which replaced Ullaza), respectively. Each headquarters city had a commander, garrison, and storehouse.

Late Eighteenth Dynasty (Late Bronze Age 2A).

The period from Amenhotpe III to Horemheb (c.1410–1323 BCE) covers LB 2A. Early in Amenhotpe III's reign (c.1410–1382 BCE), ʿApiru nomadic warriors infiltrated western Syria and created the militaristic kingdom of Amurru (an earlier indigenous name that now designated western Syria). Although it gained recognition as an Egyptian vassal, Amurru began expanding its territory, threatening neighboring vassals like Byblos; it was implicated in the seizure of Sumur, Egypt's northernmost headquarters city. Despite a campaign against Amurru by Amenhotpe III in his Year 5, by Mitanni—probably on Egypt's behalf—and by Amenhotpe IV (war scenes, Years 1–5?), Amurru continued its expansion, capturing Sumur, Tunip, and Byblos, and threatening Amki and Ugarit. ʿApiru disruptions in Palestine prompted Amenhotpe IV (c.1382–1365 BCE) to place a military governor in Jerusalem to secure this region.

In early LB 2A, Khatte (i.e., the Hittites, also rendered “Hatti”) began fighting Mitanni for control of Aleppo in Syria, sending envoys to Egypt in Year 3 of Amenhotpe IV; later (c.1377 BCE) it successfully invaded, defeated, and seized Mitanni and its vassal territories of Aleppo, Mukishe, Nukhashshe, Niya, and Ishuwa. Although Khatte avoided attacking Egypt's territory, it defeated the troops of Kadesh and Abina, Egyptian vassals assisting Mitanni against Khatte, made a treaty with Egypt, and released the captured rulers of Kadesh and Abina. During Amenhotpe IV's reign, some former Mitannian vassals attempted—without success—to defect from Khatte to Egypt. Infighting expanded and intensified among Egypt's vassals, some of whom defected to Khatte, thereby placing Egypt's frontier south of Nahr el-Kelb (the Eleutheros Valley). Although Hittite texts mention rebellions by Kadesh, Amenhotpe IV failed to regain Kadesh in his Year 15. He was succeeded by Senkhkare (c.1365 BCE) and then Tutankhamun (c.1364–1355 BCE), the latter of whom also tried and failed to retake Kadesh. Tutankhamun's widow wrote to King Shuppiluliumas requesting marriage to a Hittite prince, but the prince was murdered en route by his Egyptian escort, thereby ending the eighteenth dynasty's royal line and allowing Ay to ascend the throne (c.1355–1352 BCE). An unprovenanced Egyptian text of contested authenticity records Horemheb (c.1352–1323 BCE) campaigning in Syria, where he briefly regained Ugarit and reached Carchemish.

Nineteenth Dynasty (Late Bronze Age 2B).

This dynasty (c.1322–1149 BCE) encompasses Late Bronze 2B. During Ramesses I's reign (c.1322–1321 BCE), crown prince Sety campaigned in the “Fenkhu-lands,” and returned in his first regnal year to suppress a Shasu bedouin uprising in northern Sinai and Syria-Palestine. Sety I (c.1321–1304 BCE) defeated rebel vassals besieging Rehob and Egypt's garrison at Beth Shan. He received the submission of vassal princes in Lebanon, possibly visited Ullaza and Kumudi, and erected victory stelae at Beth Shan and Tyre. Although Sety I regained Amurru and Kadesh (where he erected a stela), the Hittites recaptured them, precipitating Ramesses II's (c.1304–1237 BCE) Year 4 campaign to secure Amurru, which defected to Egypt. In Year 5, Ramesses II attempted to retake Kadesh, failed, and returned to Egypt, leaving his Palestinian vassals in rebellion. He reasserted Egypt's suzerainty over Syria-Palestine in Year 6/7 (?), pacifying Canaan and Moab, in Year 8, fighting in Galilee and central Syria at Dapur; and in Year 10, attacking Dapur and erecting a stela at Nahr el-Kelb. Although rising tensions between Egypt and the Hittites led to an increase in Egyptian troops at Beth Shan in Year 18, later political developments culminated in a peace treaty between Egypt and Khatte in Year 21, fixing the Egyptian/Hittite border from Nahr el-Kelb to Damascus.

For the remainder of the nineteenth dynasty, Egyptian–Hittite relations grew friendlier: Ramesses II married a Hittite princess in Year 34; a Hittite prince, later King Tudkhalia IV, visited Egypt in Year 36/37; Ramesses II married another Hittite princess in Year 40/45; and the Hittite and Egyptian royal families corresponded frequently. Merenptah (c.1237–1226 BCE) provided Khatte with grain shipments during a famine. In his Year 5 he repulsed a Libyan invasion and reported peace with Khatte, the loss of Khurru (Syria now belonged to Khatte), the plundering of “the Canaan,” and the capture and/or destruction of Ashkelon, Gezer, Yanoam, and Israel. (Since Sety I's reign “the Canaan” often referred to Gaza, the capital of the Egyptian province of Canaan, or Palestine). Information about Egyptian with the Near East relations is sparse for Amenmesse (c.1226–1222? BCE), Sety II (c.1222–1215 BCE), Siptah (c.1215–1209 BCE), and Tawosret (c.1209–1201 BCE), but their names, except perhaps Amenmesse, occur on items in Sinai and Palestine. Egyptian texts mention Syrians living in Egypt, including a Canaanite, Bay, who rose to vizier under Siptah and Tawosret.

Early Twentieth Dynasty (Iron Age 1A).

The reigns of Sethnakhte and Ramesses III–VI (c.1200–1149 BCE) cover Iron Age 1A. The Elephantine Stela from Year 2 of Sethnakhte (c.1200–1198 BCE) mentions that he restored Egypt after Near Easterners—that is, the vizier Bay—had usurped the throne. Ramesses III (c.1198–1166 BCE) repulsed Libyan invasions in Years 5 and 11, and defeated an overland and maritime invasion by the Sea Peoples into Palestine and Egypt in Year 8; elsewhere, the Sea Peoples devastated Anatolia—including Khatte, Cyprus, and Syria. Ramesses III incorporated numerous captives into the army, stationing, clothing, and provisioning them in garrisons. Papyrus Harris I records that Ramesses III subjugated bedouin in Seir (Edom in South Arabah), established a temple in “the Canaan,” and constructed many naval and cargo ships to transfer produce from Djahy to Egypt. The temples of Amun at Thebes, Re at Heliopolis, and Ptah at Memphis owned fleets to transport cattle, grain, oil, cedar, and personnel from more than 159 Palestinian towns belonging to them. Texts dating to Ramesses IV (c.1166–1160 BCE) note the receipt of Near Eastern livestock, products, tribute, and slaves. Ramesses IV's Wadi Hammamat stela of Year 3 calls him “a destroyer of foreign lands who rounds up Asiatics in their valleys.” Deir el-Medina ostracon number 11 (reign of Ramesses V, c.1160–1156 BCE) mentions Syrians living in Egypt. Egypt's northern empire may have continued as late as Ramesses VI (c.1156–1149 BCE), whose name is the last one found at Serabit el-Khadim in the Sinai, and occurs on a ring from Deir el-Balah in the northeastern Sinai, on a bronze statue base at Megiddo, and on a scarab from Alalakh.

New Kingdom (Eighteenth-Twentieth Dynasties).

Egypt obtained male and female Near Eastern slaves through warfare, royal gifts, annual vassal dues, and slave markets. Although many captives were branded and tattooed with the king's name, and communities of captives were often transplanted throughout Egypt's empire (e.g., Libyans placed in the Near East), the family members of rulers of conquered Levantine cities were taken as hostages to Egypt. Within Egypt, slave populations were replenished through the offspring of slaves or were redistributed throughout society as rewards, gifts, inheritance, or barter. Slaves had legal rights, owned property, and sometimes obtained freedom through adoption by owners, marriage to Egyptians, or royal or official intervention. Near Eastern slaves and residents mentioned in documents often bear names citing deities (Ishtar-ummi, “Astarte Is My Mother”; Pa-tjai-Baal), or their place of origin (Pen-Hazor, “the one from Hazor”; Pa-assur, “the Assyrian”), but frequently give their children Egyptian names (Pa-ameru, “the Amorite,” calls his sons Merire and Useretmin).

Near Eastern personnel and slaves are recorded in the army, garrisons, temple and palace workshops, royal funerary temples, the royal harem, and in the kʒp or “royal nursery,” an elite institution in which the sons of high-ranking officials and vassal rulers were educated in the Egyptian language and customs. These people appear as conscripts, mercenaries, laborers, brick-makers, doorkeepers, potters, masons, carpenters, shipwrights, vintners, concubines, maids, singers, dancers, weavers, interpreters, administrators, magicians, doctors, and cupbearers to the king. They may even attain viziership (like Aperia in the late nineteenth dynasty). Other Near Easterners were transient visitors, such as merchants, messengers, emissaries, and the pastoralists who entered Egypt to water their flocks in the summer; the last are depicted arriving in Egypt by overland caravans and ships.

Near Eastern influence increased dramatically in the New Kingdom owing to massive influxes of slaves and migrants, as well as intense Egyptian contact with its Levantine vassals and neighbors. Near Eastern innovations, products, and influence appear in many forms: weaponry, such as composite bows, and chariotry; metallurgy, with new techniques of making jewelry; vertical looms; the production of glass; music and the new lyre and flutes; ship-building techniques; provisions like pomegranate wine; clothing and its decorative motifs—Egyptians, including Amenhotpe III, often wear Syrian wrap-around garments with fringes; vegetation, as Thutmose III imports and depicts exotic plants, art motifs and details; cuneiform script, used in international correspondence; foreign tales like Astarte and the Sea or The Tale of ʿAnat and Seth; and at least 391 Semitic loan words, which reflect many aspects of Egyptian society and culture. Egypt received large quantities of raw materials: lumber, metals and minerals, gems, glass, and incense; craft products including weaponry, jewelry, and metal vessels; provisions such as oil, wine, and honey; and domestic and wild animals—cattle, sheep, goats, Syrian elephants, and bears. Near Eastern deities, such as Resheph, Qudshu, Baʿal, ʿAnat, Horon (an Amorite god of shepherds), and Soped (“lord of the east”), were introduced or assumed greater importance in Egypt in this period. For instance, a temple to Baʿal existed at Memphis, while Amenhotpe III requested a visit by the cult statue of Ishtar of Nineveh to cure an ailment.

In return, archaeological and textual sources indicate that a broad range of Egyptian items, livestock, personnel, and influence were dispersed from Egypt to its vassals, garrisons, and Near Eastern neighbors. We find messages in Akkadian, ships, anchor stones with hieroglyphs, architectural elements, funerary and commemorative stelae, statues, statuettes, ushabtis, local figurines with Egyptian motifs and elements, and anthropoid coffins. Evidence exists for wrapped and perhaps mummified bodies at Tell el-Saidiyeh and Megiddo. Horses were traded, and provisions exchanged. A wide range of luxury goods and craft objects are also mentioned in inventories.

Egyptian and Kushite or Nubian residents, servants, traders, messengers, and members of military and other expeditions appeared throughout Syria-Palestine, while some Near Easterners married Egyptians. Many Levantine hostages were returned, after adopting Egyptian names, language, and customs, to inherit the rulership of vassal city-states. Near Eastern texts term these vassal rulers “mayors” (Akkadian, ḫazanuti), “supervisors” (Akkadian, rabiṣu), and “governors” (Canaanite, šākin mâti).

Late Twentieth Dynasty (Iron Age 1B).

The reigns of Ramesses VII–XI (c.1149–1076 BCE) cover early Iron Age 1B (c.1149–1000 BCE). An Assyrian text from the Year 3 (c.1071/70 BCE) of King Assur-bel-kala mentions a gift of a crocodile and an ape from an Egyptian king (Ramesses XI, c.1106–1076 BCE, or Smendes, c.1076–1050 BCE). A contemporary Egyptian text details the maritime journey of an Egyptian priest, Wenamun, to Byblos to obtain cedar for the divine boat of Amun, and reveals much information on postimperial Egyptian trade and other relations with Philistia and Phoenicia, especially Byblos.



  • Aharoni, Y. The Land of the Bible: A Historical Geography. 2d ed. London, 1979. Contains many references and indexes for ancient Near Eastern toponyms.
  • Ahlström, G. W. The History of Ancient Palestine. Minneapolis, 1993. A comprehensive synthesis of the archaeology and history of Palestine, including Egypto-Asiatic relations.
  • Andelkovic, B. The Relations between Early Bronze Age I Canaanites and Upper Egyptians. Belgrade, 1995. A well-illustrated synthesis of imported EB Age I items and influences within the Egyptian and Palestinian material culture assemblages, arranged by region and site.
  • Ben-Tor, A. “New Light on the Relations between Egypt and Southern Palestine during the Early Bronze Age.” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 281 (Feb. 1991), 3–10.
  • Bietak, M. Avaris the Capital of the Hyksos: Recent Excavations at Tell ed-Dabʿa. London, 1996. An overview of the Austrian excavations at Tell ed-Dabʿa with many illustrations.
  • Bietak, M. “Egypt and Canaan During the Middle Bronze Age.” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 281 (Feb. 1991), 27–72.
  • Bleiberg, E. The Official Gift in Ancient Egypt: Inw. Norman, Okla., 1996. A study of 179 contexts for the official exchange of gifts (inw) between Egyptians, and Egyptians and foreigners, of different status.
  • Donadoni, S., ed. The Egyptians. Translated by R. Bianchi et al. Chicago, 1997. English translations of studies by various specialists, including sections on soldiers, slaves, and foreigners, by S. 'Ibada al-Nubi, A. Loprieno, and E. Bresciani, respectively.
  • Ehrich, R. W., ed. Chronologies in Old World Archaeology. 2 vols. 3d edn. Chicago, 1992. An invaluable synthesis and synchronizing of the prehistoric to 2000–1500 BCE material cultures of different regions and subregions of the world using sequence dating, relative dating, and absolute dating (calibrated radiocarbon dates).
  • Esse, D. L. Subsistence, Trade, and Social Change in Early Bronze Age Palestine. Studies in Ancient Oriental Civilization, 50. Chicago, 1991. A recent assessment of international relations between Palestine and neighboring regions, with illustrations, distribution maps, plans, photos, and an extensive bibliography.
  • Hayes, W. C. A Papyrus of the Late Middle Kingdom in the Brooklyn Museum (Papyrus Brooklyn 35.1446). Brooklyn, 1955. Translation and discussion of a late Middle Kingdom papyrus with information regarding Egypto-Asiatic relations and other matters, dating from Amenemhet III to Sobekhotpe III.
  • Hoch, J. Semitic Words in Egyptian Texts of the New Kingdom and Third Intermediate Period. Princeton, 1994. An extensive work with many references, a study of Egypto-Asiatic relations in the realm of language for the eighteenth to twenty-fourth dynasties.
  • Hoffmeier, J. K. Israel in Egypt: The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Exodus Tradition. Oxford, 1997. Although the main focus concerns the Exodus tradition, it also provides many references, an index, and a synthesis for “Asiatics” (Canaanites and Israelites) in Egypt before and after the Exodus period.
  • Kitchen, K. A. Pharaoh Triumphant: The Life and Times of Ramesses II, King of Egypt. Warminster, 1982. On events including a summary of the periods preceding and postdating this king.
  • Levy, T. E., ed. The Archaeology of Society in the Holy Land. New York, 1995. Articles by various authors with an up-to-date overview, references, and illustrations concerning different aspects of ancient society in Syria-Palestine from the prehistoric to Ottoman periods.
  • Malek, J., and S. Quirke. “Memphis, 1991: Epigraphy.” Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 78 (1992), 13–18. The best facsimile copy of an important Middle Kingdom text concerning relations with the Near East.
  • Mark, S. From Egypt to Mesopotamia: A Study of Predynastic Trade Routes. Studies in Nautical Archeology, 4. London, 1997.
  • Mumford, G. D. “International Relations between Egypt, Sinai, and Syria-Palestine during the Late Bronze Age to Early Persian Period (Dynasties 18–26: c.1550–525 B.C.).” Ph.D. diss. University of Toronto, 1998.
  • O'Connor, D., and E. H. Cline. Amenhotep III: Perspectives on His Reign. Ann Arbor, 1998. For international relations, see chapter 7, which includes Egypt and the Levant, Anatolia, Aegean, Mesopotamia, and Nubia.
  • Oren, E. D., ed. The Hyksos: New Historical and Archaeological Perspectives. University Museum Monographs, 96; University Museum Symposium Series, 8. Philadelphia, 1997. This major work has the most up-to-date synthesis concerning the Hyksos and contains many articles by experts on this period of Levantine history, archaeology, and international relations.
  • Redford, D. B. Egypt, and Canaan in the New Kingdom. Beer-Sheva, Studies by the Department of Bible and Ancient Near East, 4. Jerusalem, 1990. A synthesis of textual material regarding officials, administration, infrastructure, maintenance, taxation, Egyptian cultural impact, and other relations with the Near East by Egypt's New Kingdom empire in Canaan.
  • Redford, D. B. Egypt, Canaan, and Israel in Ancient Times. Princeton, 1992. A well-referenced synthesis from the Predynastic to the Saite period.
  • Ward, W. A. Egypt and the East Mediterranean World 2200–1900 b.c.: Studies in Egyptian Relations During the First Intermediate Period. Beirut, 1971. Although more material is becoming available for the First Intermediate Period from ongoing excavations, few treatments are devoted to relations with the Near East during this time period, and this remains an invaluable synthesis of material predating 1970.
  • Weinstein, J. M. “The Egyptian Empire in Palestine: A Reassessment,” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 241 (Winter 1981), 1–28. Although more recent studies have appeared regarding Egypt's New Kingdom empire, this article remains an invaluable contribution to our understanding of Egypt's relations with Palestine and provides a thorough assessment of archeological evidence.
  • Weinstein, J. M. “The Significance of Tell Areini for Egyptian-Palestinian Relations at the Beginning of the Bronze Age.” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 256 (Fall 1984), 61–69. In-depth treatment of Egypt's relations at Tell Areini and other sites in southwestern Palestine during the Early Bronze Age.

Gregory D. Mumford