Trade and Cultural Exchange at Hazor
by Kristina J. Hesse
Culturally and religiously, the city of Hazor was part of the Syro-Mesopotamian sphere of influence during the Bronze Age, as the city’s artifacts and architecture show. Geographically, however, the city was located at the juncture of northern and southern Canaan. This location between the great commercial centers of Egypt and Syria-Mesopotamia was highly beneficial for Hazor’s cultural and economic development. The city’s position along important trade routes and between areas with different raw materials made it easy to obtain goods for the city’s own use and for export (see map of trade routes).
Documents reveal that between about 1800 and 1750 B.C.E., Hazor was involved in trade and the exchange of gifts, artisans, and emissaries with the great Mesopotamian city of Mari along the Euphrates River. The cities’ mutual relationship was built mainly on Hazor’s need for tin, a commodity that Mari imported from the east and that Hazor imported for internal production and likely also for distribution to Egypt. The city also needed textiles for processing and trade: special Hazor garments are mentioned in a clay document found in the city. This type of garment is also mentioned in a document from the latter part of the Bronze Age, found at tel el Amarna in Egypt. In return, Mari needed processed precious metals, textiles, and perhaps high-quality agricultural products from Hazor. Mari also needed to use Hazor as a transit hub for obtaining Egyptian commodities, such as precious metals and stones. As a consequence, messengers, traders, and craftsmen all met at Hazor and exchanged diplomatic and cultural goods and information.
Hazor continued to function as a transit hub for long-distance trade between Egypt and Syria-Mesopotamia in the latter part of the Bronze Age. During this period we can also see an increase in Cypriote and Mycenaean pottery in the city. Some of the main ports of southern Syria and northern Palestine, where goods from Cyprus and the Aegean arrived, were accessible to Hazor, so the city could choose to use the harbors offering the best terms. Hazor commanded the agricultural and pastoral lands of the fertile Huleh Valley, and at least some of Hazor’s exports from this period were refined agricultural goods. Written documents attest to the production of textiles and wine, and olive production was probably also prominent.
The abundance of imports and other evidence of trade and mercantile activity unearthed in excavations indicate that a trading quarter was located in the lower city. Caravans loaded with raw materials and luxury items may have stopped in this quarter, changed pack animals, rested, reloaded, taken goods on and off, and most likely also paid some kind of tax on their way between the harbor cities and inland areas. This significant location along the main trade routes and between the most important ports on the Mediterranean indicates that Hazor might also have been a transit hub for diverse long-distance luxury items from distant places such as Egypt, Africa, South Arabia, and Mesopotamia, destined for the palaces of the Aegean.
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.
The island-filled sea between Greece and Turkey, which opens to the Mediterranean sea on the south.
An Egyptian archaeological site built by Akhenaten and notable for its cache of ancient diplomatic letters.
The stage of development during which humans used copper or bronze weapons; in the ancient Near East, approx. 3300 to 1200 B.C.E.
Together with the Tigris, the Euphrates is one of the two defining rivers of Mesopotamia.
A city along the Euphrates River.
Another name often used for the area of Israel and Judah, derived from the Latin term for the Roman province of Palaestina; ultimately, the name derives from the name of the Philistine people.
Relating to spiritual guidance or oversight of a church community.
The region spanning from the mouth of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers north to Anatolia (southern Turkey) and west into modern Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and Jordan; also referred to as the Fertile Crescent.
Literally "mound," a small hill-shaped site containing numerous occupational layers of a town or city built on top of one another over millennia.