“Egyptian Fortifications in Canaan” Rupert Chapman (EEG Meeting Talk)

On Sunday Rupert Chapman came to the Essex Egyptology Group to talk to us about his work on Egyptian fortifications in Canaan. He started by telling us about the different sorts of Egyptian fortification that exist, which have been categorised into four types by an author called Morris. The first two types are never found in the Levant; these are fortresses that control entry points into Egypt proper (for instance at Tell Haboua) and fortress towns such as Kuban in Nubia. The third type are migdol forts – migdol is a Hebrew word that means “tower” and the distinctive feature of these structures is a gate flanked by two towers. An example of this in Egypt is the entrance to Ramesses III’s temple at Medinet Habu. Chapman also compared them to much more modern structures – the early 20th Century AD Tegart Forts built by the British in Palestine (although those do not necessarily have two towers). The fourth type of Egyptian fortification, and the other one found in the Levant, is called an “administrative HQ” by Morris.

Chapman moved on to give us some context for the time period he was going to talk about. Contact between the Levant and Egypt occurs throughout Egyptian history (and probably before!). Chapman told us he’d been present during an excavation in the Levant that discovered the name of Narmer on one of the objects found – so evidence of contact immediately after the unification of Egypt. This early contact is based on trade, and the evidence suggests that the economies of the Levant and Egypt were intertwined – during the Intermediate Periods in Egypt the economy of the Levant tended to collapse as one of their big trading partners wasn’t trading as much. However despite this early and consistent contact there is no evidence for Egyptian fortifications in the Levant until quite late on in Egyptian history. During Horemheb’s reign at the beginning of the 19th Dynasty a lot of new bases appear. There is evidence for permanent settlement of Egyptian people in the Levant in the 19th & 20th Dynasties. This includes bodies in cemeteries who were laid out as if they had been mummified (although if there was any attempt to mummify them it wasn’t that successful). They had been wrapped in Egyptian quality linen and were buried with Egyptian goods, and sometimes in improvised ceramic coffins. Interestingly there is also evidence of Aegean peoples in the Levant at this time – they were mercenaries in the Egyptian army. There were also Aegean mercenaries in the Hittite armies at this point, and so at the Battle of Kadesh there were Aegeans on both sides.

The next part of the talk, which was probably the bulk of it, focused on a selection of the sites in Canaan where Egyptian fortifications are found. The first of these are the string of so-called “Governor’s Residences” along the coast road leading from Egypt to the Levant. Petrie excavated them & named them thinking of the British Empire Residencies he was familiar with, but Chapman thinks it’s more plausible that this structures are police posts. So rather than an important official each fort would be used by a small garrison who guarded that section of the important trade route. They weren’t as fortified as you might think – whilst they could withstand a local riot or a Bedouin raid they wouldn’t be much use against an army. So they’re more about keeping traders safe than occupying foreign territory.

Chapman then moved on to discuss one of the 10th Century BC (so c. Third Intermediate Period) “palaces” at Megiddo. He says that the floor plan of this building is clearly more analogous to an Egyptian building than a local Levantine one. The gates in particular show features typical of Egyptian entrances and not local ones. The walls are built using Phoenician building techniques but have the very deep foundations that are characteristic of Egyptian fortification walls. Chapman’s theory is that the “palace” was built by Shoshenq I who founded Dynasty 22. As corroborating evidence there was a fragment of Shoshenq I’s victory stela found at Megiddo, however this is not a theory that all the experts share.

The site at Beth Shan a bit south of the Sea of Galilee has been occupied since the Neolithic and several levels of the archaeology are Egyptian. The buildings have Egyptian type layouts and construction, and some of the more substantial ones even have Egyptian inscriptions and decoration. There is also a lot of pottery of Egyptian designs found in these strata – not just the sort of thing that might be imported, but also the everyday type of thing that would be used once or a few times and then disposed of. The Egyptian presence here runs from the 18th Dynasty through to the 20th Dynasty and the site is the “administrative HQ” type – in one of the levels they have identified an admin building with a grain silo, probably used for ration distribution.

The last of the sites Chapman talked about was Tell es-Sa’idiyeh in Jordan and unlike the other sites the excavations there haven’t been published yet. The site is in east Jordan, and controls access to a fordable place on the river Jordan as well as one of the major trade routes running eastwards from there. There are two periods of definite Egyptian occupation of the site, the later of these dates to the 19th-20th Dynasties. The site is not all that well fortified – it wouldn’t’ve held off more than raiders – and so again it falls into the “administrative HQ” category of fortifications. This particular spot is a good place for an Egyptian Royal Estate: it’s in one of the few places in Jordan where it’s wet enough to produce high quality linen, it is on the olive oil and wine trade routes and so controls them and it’s a good grain growing region. Chapman thinks they have identified the commisariat (food and drink supply point) for the city in a building originally designated the “Western Palace”. Inside this (Egyptian style) building there are bread ovens and a grain silo. Just outside it is a pool, attached to the water supply for the city in which were found several storage jars – which would’ve been placed there to keep their contents cool. The water supply itself is an Egyptian feature – the spring just outside the city walls is linked to the city via a covered walkway & staircase of a design often found in Egyptian fortifications in Nubia. In the Levant these are also found only in Egyptian sites and not local ones.

The end of the Egyptian period of occupation is interesting as the city appears to’ve been destroyed although not by enemies. First there are signs that it becomes a bit run down, doors are blocked up and buildings get a bit unmaintained. Then the whole city is burnt down – all the valuables removed, leaving just things like the large pottery storage jars that were in the pool at the commisariat (too big and too cheap to be worth the effort to move). Chapman believes this is a sign of an orderly retreat on the part of the occupants, destroying the city after they left so that it couldn’t be used against them if they were to return to reconquer the area.

The last part of Chapman’s talk was rather more speculative – a couple of his thoughts & theories about the sites he talked about and some things further afield. For instance – during the Mycenean period in Greece, which is contemporaneous with the Egyptian occupation of these sites there is a sudden appearance of forts that are very similar in design to these Egyptian ones. There’s no hint that there is any Egyptian occupation, just buildings of that sort of design (including the concealed & protected water systems). Chapman speculates that this has something to do with the Aegean mercenaries in the Egyptian army at this time – when they go home they take the Egyptian army techniques with them. Either they work for the local rulers or become the local rulers, and build forts the way they’ve learnt how to do.

Keeping with the mercenaries in the Egyptian army Chapman also talked about what may’ve happened after the Egyptians pulled out of Canaan at the end of the 20th Dynasty. As he’d discussed in the context of Tell es-Sa’idiyeh this seems to’ve been an orderly retreat – valuables cleared and later destruction of the forts by the previous occupants. He speculates that perhaps the period where the fort gets run down before it is destroyed is actually after the main Egyptian army pulled out and the mercenaries (or some of them) might’ve stayed on occupying the fort and taking advantage of the power vacuum left by the retreat of the Egyptians. He thinks this might possibly be the kernel of truth behind the Phillistines in the biblical stories of David and Saul.

Tell es-Sa’idiyeh doesn’t get abandoned forever after the destruction of the 20th Dynasty fortification. At first there is a small village on the site, and then a new town which appears to’ve been planned and laid out in one go rather than growing over time from the village. There is evidence that it is again making linen, and although the temple they’ve found is in a Canaanite architectural style there are indications that it was for the worship of Min. So Chapman speculates that this is again a royal estate as it was back in the 20th Dynasty, although he didn’t say if he thought this was a Canaanite estate with imported linen makers, or a Egyptian one. After this town was destroyed by the Assyrians the rest of the history of the site through until the Roman period is as a sort of grain depot where grain from the surrounding area is collected together and stored. Chapman thinks this is another sort of royal estate (not Egyptian this time). Interestingly, it’s known that Anthony gives Cleopatra an estate in Jordan during his period in power there. Chapman thinks it’s not outside the bounds of possibility that this was Tell es-Sa’idiyeh, and perhaps Cleopatra even requested that one because it was associated with Egypt in the past (I’m not sure I buy this latter part, there’s so much time passed and dynasties come & gone between then and Cleopatra that I’m not sure there would be records of which estates had been where or whose).

This was a talk of two parts, really – the earlier discussion of the archaeology was quite dry but in the last part where Chapman began to speculate a bit more broadly the subject came more to life.