The Ancient Period Of Palestine

stairs palestineThe ancient period of Palestine is as fascinating as it is historic. In fact, the earliest humans remains were found in Ubeidiya – some three kilometers south of the Sea of Galilee. These remains are said to be dated c. 1.5 million years ago — during the Ice Age. It is also important to note that the region even saw the earliest migrants from Africa. These, of course, were Homo erectus species — or humans that were able to stand upright. During the Proto-Canaanite Period, the region was synonymous with rugged terrain and small hills. There were mountains that surrounded the trees and — what would eventually become –villages.

The first pre-historic dig in Palestine dates back to 1925. This was in the area of Wadi El Amud between the Sea of Galilee and Safed. This is where the discovery of the Palestinian Man in the Zuttiyeh Cave took place. This means there was human development in the region — and in fact, Homo sapien fossils were found in rock shelters near Nazareth and further South. This was part of the paleoanthropological site dig that took place during the mid-20s as well. Studies of these fossils show a time period of 90 — 100,000 years ago — with indications of tribal and ritual behaviors. This meant that the earliest settlers in the area were significantly intelligent and cunning.

Mount Carmel is also a historic area in the region. In fact, Palestinians herald the area for Cave of Kebara. This ancient site was also home to human settlers during 60,000 — 48,000 BP. The Tabun Cave was even occupied by tribes during the Lower and Middle Ages — 40,000 — 500,000 years ago. The area is also known as the Levant, which means an area or region made up of inter-related tribes and peoples. For example: the Middle East is a Levant since it contains Iraq, Iran, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and other Arab nations. Ancient Palestinians also lived in the area of Es Skhul for a long period of time. This was also the place for the earliest human burial cemeteries, along with ground stone tools found during many archaeological digs.

Ancient Palestinian land included the Shuqba Caves in Ramallah. The latter, of course, is a holy area situated in the modern-day West Bank. Similarly, Wadi Khareitun near Bethlehem was a haven for stone, wood and animal bone tools. These were directly related to the Natufian culture, and other remains of ancient tribes have been found in Jericho, Beidha, Ein Mallaha and Tel Abu Hureura. Some of the first settlements were also found near Tel es-Sultan in Jericho. This included a religious shrine, along with a long staircase and several walls. Evidence shows that these settlements date back to 9,000 BCE — along with Gaza, Sinai and other areas that were inhabited by Ancient Palestinians. It is important to know, however, that the Sinai establishments were comprised of peoples that originated from Egypt and Syria.

By the Bronze Age (2200-3000 BCE), new migrant groups had entered the region. This was mainly due to the demand for urban fabrics and textiles. There were several Canaanite city-states form in the plains and coastal regions as well. This included mud-brick homes, along with defensive walls and farms. Irrigation ditches were also built to secure some of the earliest farming and plant cropping in the region. The Canaanite city-states traded — and had diplomatic relations –with Syria and Egypt. There was also an influx of nomads and wanderers into the region by 2,300 BCE. These Bedouins mainly came from east of the Jordan River and upper desert areas.

Ancient Palestinians were heavily influenced by surrounding civilizations. This includes Egypt, along with Syria, Crete, Phoenicia and Ancient Mesopotamia (Iraq). In fact, the Palestinians learned about agriculture and pottery making from their neighbors. Similarly, they taught their neighbors how to harvest crops — especially fruits and vegetables. A true delight in the region back then were grapes and olives — which grew naturally on trees across ancient Palestinian lands.

The Hellenic Period Of Palestine

ruin palestineThe Hellenistic period covers the tumultuous time between the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC and the emergence of the Roman Empire.

Alexander the Great conquered the region in the late 330s; however, after his death, control of the region changed hands several times during the Diadochi wars between the rulers Laomedon of Mytilene, Ptolemy I and Antigonus I. Ptolemy I eventually proved victorious in 312 BCE by defeating Antigonus’ son, Demetrius I, at the Battle of Gaza; however, he withdrew from the region shortly thereafter.

Ptolemy I re-captured the region after Antigonus I was killed at the Battle of Ipsus, which Ptolemy did not take part in. This left the victors, Seleucus I and Lysimachus, to divide up the Antigonid Empire between them. Ptolemy then decided to make a pre-emptive strike against Seleucus I, which initiated the Syrian Wars, during which the northern portion of Palestine fell to the Seleucid Empire in 219 BCE. The Seleucids then advanced on Egypt, but were defeated in 217 BCE at the Battle of Raphia. In 200 BCE, Southern Palestine also fell under the control of the Seleucid Empire following the Battle of Panium.

During this period, the region experienced significant growth and development such as urban planning and the establishment of well-built cities. Trade and commerce also flourished in areas such as Ashkelon, Jaffa, Jerusalem, and Gaza. While the Persians did not interfere with the internal affairs of their subjects, the Greeks followed a strict policy of Hellenization, which encouraged the adoption of Greek culture. The continued pressures of Hellenization by the Seleucids resulted in the Maccabean Revolt, an uprising in the Judean Mountains.
Although this revolt was quashed in 160 BCE at the Battle of Elasa, the Seleucid Empire began to rapidly decline, beginning with the overthrow of King Alexander Balas by Demetrius II in 145 BCE at the Battle of Antioch, which was the empire’s capital.

A civil war then erupted in 116 BCE between Seleucid’s half-brothers, Antiochus VIII Grypus and Antiochus IX Cyzicenus. This led to a breakup of the kingdom and certain principalities being granted independence, including Judea. This allowed the leader of Judea, John Hyrcanus, to carry out a military conquest in 110 BCE against the independent Hasmonean kingdom by raising a mercenary army, which significantly increased Judea’s regional influence over Jerusalem.

The Hasmoneans gradually extended their authority over a large part of the region and forced the populations of the neighboring regions to convert to Hellenism. This created an alliance between the Judeans, Samaritans, Galileans and others who fought for control over the region, which gradually became known as Judaea. During the Third Mithridatic War of 73–63 BCE, the Roman Republic established its influence in the region.