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Hazor as a Bronze Age City

Aerial view of Tel Hazor. The Bronze Age monumental buildings are covered by a roofed structure (upper-left part of the photo).

Hazor was one of the largest and most influential city-states in Canaan during the Bronze Age, particularly between about 1850 and 1200 B.C.E. The city is mentioned in the Hebrew Bible (Josh 11:10-13, Judg 4-5, 1Kgs 9:15, 2Kgs 15:29, 1Macc 11:67) and in contemporary texts from the great powers of Mesopotamia and Egypt. It consisted of a royal upper city, with monumental buildings such as palaces and temples, and an extended lower city for common people, with crafts-, trading-, and dwelling-quarters and temples and cult places of different architectural and religious character. How did this inland city, in a rather isolated location just a few miles north of the Sea of Galilee, become so large and influential? And what was the fate of Bronze Age Hazor?

Even today the large fortification rampart, which surrounded the city in this era, is still clearly protruding in the erased landscape on which the city was established. This defensive rampart was necessary to protect Hazor during what was an unsettled time in international politics. In this era, Canaan often became a battlefield in the power struggle between Egypt in the south and the Mitannians and Hittites in the north. In the latter part of the Bronze Age, the Canaanite city-states were under Egyptian domination. Consequently the region was exploited for resources and taxes to support the Egyptian armies on their way through the country. In this political environment, Hazor managed quite well not only because of its great fortifications but also because of its tactful approach toward both the northern and southern powers, which can be seen in the use of both Egyptian and Mesopotamian materials in the royal quarters of the city. This tactful stance is also indicated in documents that reveal Hazor’s membership in group of Canaanite city-states that were loyal to the Egyptian pharaoh. This diplomatic attitude was necessary for Hazor to maintain its position in international trade relations, in which the city held an important position as a trade node. This trade, in combination with the fertile hinterland that fed the population at Hazor, provides the key to understanding the city’s wealth.

Hazor declined at the end of the Bronze Age, as can be seen in the deteriorating buildings from the archaeological layers of this period. The city’s final destruction a few decades later was violent and is still shrouded in mystery. Scholars have numerous suggestions for who was responsible: the Egyptians, the Sea Peoples, another Canaanite city, the early Israelites, or revolutionary native inhabitants are all possible perpetrators. However, the breakdown may be related to the collapse of the majority of cities in the eastern Mediterranean at this time. This will probably continue to be an unsolved question, unless excavations reveal an archive with an account of events.


  • Kristina J. Hesse

    Kristina J. Hesse is a lecturer in archaeology at the Department of Archaeology and Ancient History at Uppsala University in Sweden. She is a researcher in Middle Eastern archaeology who has participated in fieldwork in Israel and Syria and has excavated at Hazor during eight seasons.