Elliot Fernandez

1st Millennium BC in the Ancient Near East

The First Millennium BC encompasses the Iron Age in the Ancient World and sees the transition from the Ancient Near East to classical antiquity.
Elliot Fernandez
Elliot Fernandez
He has a degree in History from the Autonomous University of Barcelona (2009) and a Master's in World History from Pompeu Fabra University (2011).
Post on 2022-03-24 | Updated on 2023-01-25

The new Syria-Palestine reality

The Phoenician cities

On a narrow strip of land between the mountains of Lebanon and the Mediterranean Sea and with very favourable conditions for agriculture, a series of cities arose that would soon become very powerful. In what is now Lebanon, vineyards, olive trees, fruit trees, etc. were already being cultivated in the 1st millennium BC. The only problem was the narrowness of the territory.

In this coastal strip, the most important cities were: Arwad, Byblos, Beruta or Beritos (present-day Beirut), Sidon and Tyre. These cities enjoyed great prosperity from 1200 BC onwards. These cities never formed a political unit. The term “Phoenicians” was invented by the Greeks. The Phoenician cities were the result of a long process of sedentarisation by the Amorites, who had founded cities that were part of the Canaanite culture. The coastal cities based their life on trade.

Phoenician territory
Map of the Phoenician territory and the main cities.
Source: Wikipedia.org

From the 12th to the 10th century BC, it was a time of great prosperity. Complete independence of the city-states. Cities were very active in trade and craftsmanship. The Phoenicians became the merchants of the whole area.

From the 9th century BC, the political reality began to change. The Assyrians regained strength and crossed the Euphrates River. In the middle of the 9th century BC, Shalmaneser III (Assyrian king) forced all the Phoenician cities to pay a tax. This control increased until the middle of the 8th century BC, when Tiglath-Pileser III conquered all the Phoenician cities except the southernmost, Tyre.

In the 7th century BC, with the Assyrian Empire gone, the successors, Babylon, occupied the Phoenician cities and conquered Tyre. This meant the loss of independence for these Phoenician cities, which they would never regain.

Commercial issue

The Phoenicians went to the West to look for unprocessed products (silver, metals, gold). In the East they were looking for swords, slaves… The political situation in which the Phoenicians found themselves was not very organized. The Phoenicians had an advantage, as they brought processed products and obtained raw materials in exchange. They made expeditions in search of ivory. International trade moved to the Red Sea.

Tyre’s suppliers: there were major absences, such as Egypt, which produced nothing of interest, and Babylon, as a result of the Assyrians’ blockade of them. Most trade was by land, despite being coastal cities. Only exotic goods could arrive by sea.

Trade in the 2nd millennium BC was the work of the great states. In Egypt, trade was managed by the pharaoh. They were expeditions of states with whom he maintained diplomatic relations. In contrast, Phoenician trade in the 1st millennium BC consisted of private fleets, protected by local commerce. The Phoenicians were merchants, specializing in the transport and resale of goods.

There are two major periods in this trade:

11th-10th centuries BC:

4th-7th centuries BC:

Trade routes of the Phoenician cities
Map of the trade routes of the Phoenician cities through the Mediterranean.
Original source: Wikipedia.org

It seems that the alphabet came to the Iberian Peninsula thanks to the Phoenicians. Iron metallurgy arrived via the colonizations.

Israel and Judaism


The term Jew came into being when the reality of the state of Israel had disappeared. Religious identity replaced political identity. The Hebrews existed before the state of Israel was established.

When the Hebrew ethnic group existed, they were not politically united. When the Hebrews formed the political unit, Israel, not all the original groups were present. Before 100 B.C. we speak of tribes of Hebrews.


Map of the division between the two kingdoms, in northern Israel and southern Judah. Source: Wikipedia.org

David’s kingdom

Jewish eschatology: since the kingdom of Israel had been eliminated, God’s coming was to be expected. They endured as long as they could in exile in Babylon.

Universal empires

The situation in the Middle East during the 1st millennium was as follows:

These phenomena led to the emergence of new political realities such as the State of Israel and the Phoenician city-states.

Assyrian Empire

The city of Babylon had a statue dedicated to the deity Marduk in the time of King Hammurabi in 1790 BC. When the Hittites took the city in 1595 BC, they took this statue. When Babylon regained its power, it also took back the statue of Marduk in 1550 BC. The Assyrians, in the 13th century BC. (ca. 1244 BC), occupied the city and took the statue back. It returned to Babylon at an unknown time. In the 12th century BC, the statue was in the city of Susa. The statue of Marduk returned to Babylon in the time of Nebuchadnezzar I, indicating that Babylon had regained its power.

Assyrian Empire
In green, the expansion of the territories of the Assyrian Empire. Source: Wikipedia.org


934-859 BC:

Years 859-727 BC:

Years 727-705 BC:

705-612 BC:

In this period, the Assyrian Empire faced two major difficulties in ensuring its survival:

Internal difficulties:

The Neo-Babylonian Empire

Events between 612 BC (the fall of Nineveh) and 539 BC (the fall of Babylon)

Middle East around 600 BC
Map of the Middle East around 600 B.C. At this time the Assyrian Empire disappeared and the Chaldeans and the Medes divided it up. As well as the victory of the Chaldean king, Nebuchadnezzar II, against the Egyptians that allowed him to control the whole region of Canaa.
Source: Wikipedia.org

Babylon in the time of the Assyrians:

Babylon also suffered a severe period of crisis:

The fall of the Assyrians was the result of an alliance between the Babylonian king Nabopolassar and the Median king Cyaxares. They attacked them until they destroyed the last independent city, Nineveh, in 626 BC.

The Medes were not used to running a large state, but they were used to running a federation of tribes. They preferred to finish off the Assyrians and cede control to their allies. Babylon also preferred to defeat the Assyrians.

In 612 BC there was the pact of division of territories. The Babylonians would control all of Mesopotamia. Assyria and Egypt (which they never got) and all the lands surrounding Assyria were left to the Medes. This pact lasted 100 years, until it was broken because the reality of the Iranian tribes changed. The personal coalition was no longer content with control of these lands, but saw itself as capable of controlling the richest lands in the Middle East.

Nebuchadnezzar II

After the fall of Nineveh, they launched a campaign to control the cities of the Near East. They occupied Tyre and Jerusalem. The chronicles of Nebuchadnezzar II prefer to emphasize his restoration work in Babylon. Babylon was at a time of prosperity:

Babylon was a centre of international culture, with a strong ethnic syncretism. We find groups speaking Aramaic, Akkadian, Chaldean, Kassites. We find deportees from Assyrian times. This great international culture was drowned out by the traditional culture. The official model of culture tended towards archaism, nationalism to the extreme. The Chaldean kings, in order to justify their power, return to ancient traditions. They called themselves kings of Akkad. They recovered the Akkadian language. Furthermore, they begin to study Sumerian. They continued to use cuneiform writing. They did not accept architectural novelties. Any public act had to be blessed by the stars.

In 539 BC, the last Babylonian king, Nabonidus, was dethroned by Cyrus II the Great, who entered Babylon as a liberator. The Babylonian dynasty disappeared.

Egyptian decadence

During the 1st millennium, Egypt experienced an immense crisis. Egypt ceased to be a great power as a universal empire. Egypt’s history was turbulent.


Third Intermediate Period (1085-664 BC)

Low Period (664-525 BC)

Late or First Persian Period (525-404 BC)

The Persians came to Egypt with the will to integrate, not destroy. In the Saitic period there were cultural phenomena, as with Hammurabi. They stuck to the old hieroglyphic tradition.

Royal Necropolises

Cities had to defend themselves from their surroundings. Fragmentation of the administration.

The Persians

In 1800 BC, the first pastoral peoples entered the Iranian plain from Central Asia. They originated from a region along the Indus. A sedentary culture had developed there by 2500 BC, known as the Indus Valley Civilisation, in cities such as Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa.

The early Aryans or Proto-Indo-Europeans are thought to have begun to branch out and expand around 3000 BC and in the middle of the second millennium. The Indo-Iranians reached Iran and India, where some scholars believe they destroyed the Indus Valley civilization around 1500 BC.

Between 1300 and 900 BC we find a strongly Aryanized Iranian plain, with a number of federated tribal organizations (herdsmen groups, herds of cows in the waterlands and goats, sheep in the arid areas).

Assyrian pressure on these Iranian peoples forced the creation of a counter-power to stop Assyrian expansion. In 625 BC the story begins, with the rise to power in Media of their king Cyaxares, who established an alliance with Babylon to attack the Assyrians. In 612 BC, Media and Babylonians occupied the last Assyrian city. The kingdom of Cilicia, Egypt and Media lived in peace for 30 years.

In the division of the Assyrian Empire, the Medians bore the brunt. The situation began to change from 550 BC onwards. The Persian king Cyrus II the Great gained hegemony within the Iranian confederations. He became related to the Median royal family and gained power. The Persians had a different way of relating to their neighbours. The first thing Cyrus II of the Achaemenid dynasty did was to attack the Kingdom of Lydia in 547 BC and Cilicia.

The Persian empire
The Persian empire in 490 BC

Between 545 and 539 BC, Cyrus II the Great wanted to ensure internal peace between the Iranian groups. In 539 BC, he returned to the Near East and conquered Babylon, creating the central core of the Persian Empire.

Cyrus II’s son, Cambyses II, conquered Egypt and began the expansion of the Mediterranean, which was to be the work of the next king, Darius the Great. Persian expansionism provoked the first Median War (a war in which most of the united Greek cities, led by Athens, fought against the Achaemenid Empire (empire of the Persians), also known as the Median Empire).

First Medical War

The conquest of Phrygia and Lydia led to the conquest of the Greek cities of Asia Minor. These cities appealed to Athens and Sparta for help, but in the end it was Athens that helped them. The Ionian revolt failed, in about 500 BC. Darius the Great, as king of a great empire, had to move elsewhere to secure control of his empire. With an empire of this size, there was a lot of instability.

For this reason, Darius appointed his generals as governors of the province of Phrygia and Lydia to ensure the complete pacification of the area. Darius’ army, now commanded by Artaphernes and Datis, a middle admiral, was sent in early September 490 BC to land in the bay of Marathon and threaten a land attack on Athens. This army numbered no more than 25,000 halflings and 1,000 cavalrymen, as it was transported entirely by sea.

The arrival of the Persians in Attica provoked the defensive organization of the inhabitants of Athens. 40 km from Athens, the Athenians defeated the Persians against all odds. The first Medical War, won by the Athenians, was followed by a second part in the second Medical War.

The Second Medical War (480 – 479 BC)

Battle at the Pass of Thermopylae (480 BC). The Spartan heroes were killed. The Persians returned to Athens. The Battle of Salamis took place there. The Athenian fleet by sea managed to break up the Persian fleet. The Persian army retreated, and the Persians were again attacked by the Greeks at the Battle of Platea (479 BC).

After the experience of the Medical Wars and in order to prevent further Persian attacks, the Greek cities joined together in a great military alliance to prevent the return of the Persians. It became known as the Delian League, led by the Athenians.

End of the Persian Empire

The Persian Empire continued to survive despite defeats until a strong power was created between Thrace and Greece in Macedonia, led by Philip II of Macedon (359 BC – 336 BC), who after conquering Greece wanted to conquer the Persian Empire.

The Persian Empire was conquered by Philip II’s son, Alexander III the Great (336 BC – 323 BC). In 334 BC, he began the conquest of the Persian Empire. After three victories against the Persian army, he gained control of the Empire. In 336 BC, the Persian Empire came to an end.

The Assyrians had a mentality of eliminating the enemy. The Persians acted with a criterion of absorption and integration. They ruled one way in Iran, another in Egypt…

The Persians incorporated three major Iranian concepts:

The Persians established the capital, Persepolis. The Persian court moved frequently to Ecbatana, Babylon or Susa.

Darius unified the system of weights and created the first Middle Eastern coinage, the gold dinars and the silver dinars.

Near Eastern elements that the Persians copied: