About 7000 BCE people established a village at Tel Megiddo in what is now Israel. The village site was located strategically at the head of a pass through Camel Ridge which overlooks the Valley of Jezreel. This small village eventually grew to become an important Canaanite city-state. It would also be the site of a major battle with the Egyptian army and would give rise to the concept of apocalypse. The site was abandoned in 586 BCE.
By 2000 BCE the Canaanites were occupying Palestine and southwestern Syria. The major Canaanite cities included Megiddo, Hazor, and Beth Shan. Canaanite culture appears to have developed locally, but was influenced by the Harifian hunter-gatherers. The Canaanites were renowned for their export of purple cloth to the cities of Mesopotamia.
With regard to language, the Canaanites spoke languages which are considered a part of the Northwest Semitic languages (which includes Hebrew). About 1600 BCE, the Semitic-speaking Canaanites began writing texts using a 32 letter alphabet which was derived partially from the Egyptian hieratic script.
The Battles of Megiddo:
Thutmose III was the nephew and stepson to the female pharaoh Hatshepsut. Some feel that he became king—a full king, a justified king—by marrying Hatshepsut’s daughter. He became king at a very early age although Hatshepsut ruled in his place. During this time he was probably in training with the military, and upon the death of Hatshepsut assumed the throne. Many Egyptologists feel that Thutmose III became the greatest military pharaoh in Egyptian history.
For the ancient Egyptians of the New Kingdom, war was big business. War was not about establishing peace or about defense: it was an economic undertaking. The idea of Egyptian war was to march out, conquer foreign territories, and bring back lots of loot. During this time, Egypt’s agricultural surpluses enabled it to maintain a standing army, and armies are meant to be used.
During the second year of his reign (1478 BCE), Thutmose III led his army to Megiddo. At an earlier time, this region had sent tribute to Egypt, but the people in the area had grown independent and the tribute had stopped. Thutmose III set out to remedy that.
This was not a stealth attack: moving a large army (estimated at 10,000 to 20,000 infantry and chariots) meant that the Canaanite coalition under the King of Kadesh knew that the Egyptians were coming. There were three basic routes that the Egyptians could take: two of these were wide and open, while the third, (through the Wadi Ara) was through a rather narrow valley. Military strategy generally indicated that the valley route should be avoided as it would mean that the army would be spread out in single file and unable to fight effectively. Knowing this, the Canaanites positioned their forces to intercept the Egyptians at the other two routes.
The Egyptian generals told Thutmose III that to go "man behind man, horse behind horse" through the narrow valley would be to invite annihilation. Thutmose III disagreed and said:
I’m the falcon. I’m the pharaoh. I won’t put you at danger, but I will go. If any of my men want to follow, follow me.
The men followed Thutmose III and consequently the Egyptian army took the Canaanites off guard and wiped them out. The Egyptians plundered the dead on the battlefield and the surviving Canaanites retreated to the walled city of Megiddo. The Egyptians captured 924 chariots and 200 suits of armor.
For seven months the Egyptians laid siege to the city. Finally, with the use of a special battering ram—a kind of hut on wheels to protect their men—the Egyptians broke through and conquered the city. According to the account of the battle recorded at Karnak, the victorious Egyptians brought home 340 prisoners, 2,041 mares, 191 foals, 6 stallions, 924 chariots, 1,929 cattle, 22,500 sheep, and 502 bows.
Following this battle, Thutmose III returned to Egypt as a hero. Each year for the next 18 years, he led his army north into present-day Syria to obtain new wealth and booty. His military exploits were recorded on the walls of his temples in Karnak.
The Egyptians did not establish colonies in the territories they conquered. Their religion focused on resurrection: the idea that the body was going to literally get up and go again in the next world. For this reason, it was important to have the body mummified and buried on Egyptian soil. Thus, instead of establishing colonies, the Egyptian army marched out each year, obtained the wealth, and then marched home.
Each of the kings conquered by the Egyptians was required to send a son to Egypt. In Egypt, they would be educated in the Egyptian manner and when they returned home to rule, they would rule with Egyptian sympathies.