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Open Access Publications from the University of California

UC World History Workshop

UC Berkeley

Regional Foundations for Internationalism in the Ancient Near East: The Case of Canaan


In the early 15th through 13th centuries BCE, the world of the Near East, from the Mediterranean to modern day Iran, was linked together in what historians today call the First International Age. Correspondence from that period found at El Amarna in Egypt and other sites in Mesopotamia and Anatolia details the diplomatic and economic exchanges between the “Great Powers” of the time (Babylon, Assyria, Mittani, Hatti, and Egypt), and contains letters from the Egyptian vassal kingdoms in the Levant, known as Canaan.

The complex diplomatic interchanges and active economic trade during this period were possible because of the status of Canaan as a series of semi-autonomous vassal states under the Egyptian empire. Canaan acted as the economic center for the entire region, linking the goods and kingdoms of southwest Asia, Africa, and southeastern Europe into a single trading system. Though under the nominal control of Egypt, Canaan served as neutral territory for all the powers, enabling complex political and diplomatic interchange throughout the region.

This paper explores the conditions within Canaan that allowed this system of exchange to flourish, and will show that a number of military, political, and cultural factors in Canaan, which were cultivated by the Egyptians, allowed the region to act as an international territory facilitating trade and political interaction between the Great Powers.

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