Kamid el-Loz – A Short Story in 900 Words

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By: Marlies Heinz

Across 2000 years of history the residents of Kamid el-Loz, one of the major sites in Lebanon’s Beqa’a plain, lived through:

  • three phases of urbanization, de-urbanization, and re-urbanization
  • two phases of collapse and the irreversible dissolution of urban life
  • four episodes of imperialist rule

Can this be summarized in 900 words?

The modern village of Kamid el-Loz and the site

Lebanon and neighboring areas. Map by Chr. Krug

Kamid el-Loz from the north

Location of Kamid el-Loz. Map by Chr. Krug

Urbanization, de-urbanization, re-urbanization

The people of Kamid el-Loz set up urban structures three times. The first and second were built during the Middle Bronze Age II period (1750-1550); the third was during the Late Bronze Age (1550-1200 BCE). Each city was characterized by a palace and temple, administrative complexes, residential quarters, and workshop areas indicating functionally differentiated and socially stratified communities. Burials inside both residential houses and the palace demonstrate the importance of social bonds among the population, even after death.

The Kamid el-Loz tell

Child burial in decayed administrative area

Middle Bronze Age (MBA) palace

The burnt MBA palace courtyard

The palace and administrative area, Middle Bronze-Late Bronze

The urban communities of Kamid el-Loz, or at least their political representatives, used iconic buildings like the palace and temple to represent or symbolize the social order of the city. But why make any changes at all, especially in the iconic buildings? Why didn’t holders of political power represent themselves as guardians of local tradition, since this was one of the most powerful tools for political legitimation in ancient Near Eastern societies? Who had founded the three cities, and whose tradition did they signify when setting up these seats of religious and mundane power?

We postulate that all three cities had a functional differentiated and a social stratified society. For the Late Bronze Age, cuneiform texts found in the palace of city three provide important details on the political situation in Kumidi, as the city was called at the time. The Egyptian New Kingdom empire that dominated the entire Levant had effectively disempowered the local ruler of Kumidi and had installed an Egyptian administrator at the site. Kumidi was the base from which Egyptian-dominated trade routes, monitored the borders with the Hittite empire, and controlled local villages. However, in the architecture of Kumidi this political “convulsion” remains unseen – but why, if visualization of the ruling order was so important?

Palace P 5. Late Bronze Age

Cuneiform tablet from palace P4, Late Bronze Age

Ring of Thutmosis III, gift in palace burial, Late Bronze Age

The residential area in the west, Late Bronze Age

The Late Bronze Age temple, T 4

Palace P4 (yellow )- over P5, Late Bronze Age

The iconic buildings of both city one and two were set on fire, and while the residential areas were not burned, residents abandoned their homes nonetheless, bringing urban life temporarily to an end. Only squatter settlements remained alive, as the few people who stayed reused burnt and decayed buildings, transformed their functions, installed provisional homes for the living and final resting places for their deceased in the ruins.

The surrender of city three and the developments that followed were different. No one set the city on fire, its buildings, iconic and residential ones, were simply abandoned and then decayed. Whether coincidental or connected, the abandonment of Kamid el-Loz occurred at the same time as the Egyptian empire collapsed – and with it the foreign rule over Kumidi.

City three was the last urban settlement in Kamid el-Loz. What followed was a 700 year period of modest rural life (Iron Age I and II, about 1200-540 BCE). Permanent and mobile settlers lived together on the site. No iconic buildings were set up, which means that life at the site went on without any elites, or that the demands of elites did not produce substantial visibility.

 

Iron Age I-II rural settlement

The Return of Imperial Rule

Around 550 BCE imperial rule returned to the Levant, beginning with the Persian Empire (ca. 550-330 BCE) that expanded from modern Iran as far west as Greece. Almost at the same time, there was a far-reaching cultural break in Kamid el-Loz – all the settlement areas of the site were transformed into a cemetery, a habitat exclusively reserved for the dead. A vast cemetery had come into being; all the deceased were buried in simple pits, some without any burial gifts, while others had exceedingly rich inventories. The timing of this break at Kamid el-Loz occurred with the rise of the Persian Empire. Again, this raises the question: is this a mere coincidence or more?

Rich burial Iron Age III, Persian period

Hellenistic settlement in the west

Hellenistic inscribed pottery

The Roman settlement in the east

Roman sarcophagi

The Persian Empire declined after about 200 years, but not so the imperial domination over the Near East. What followed politically was the rule of the Greeks (about 332-30 BCE). Culturally, Kamid el-Loz saw the reestablishment of a settlement and likewise the continuation of the onsite cemetery, although the burial rites, in particular the entombment of deceased in clay coffins, now left without burial gifts, was new. The new settlers kept close connections with the Aegean, as shown by Aegean pottery and Hellenistic inscriptions. But the Greek inscriptions pose additional questions – who were the settlers residing in Kamid el-Loz, what languages were spoken at the site, and who was literate at the time?

Hellenistic domination fell victim to growing Roman imperialism (30 BCE-300 CE) and in turn almost all aspects of culture at Kamid el-Loz changed. New house forms, burials in stone sarcophagi, new types of pottery, metal and glass objects as well as coins, also appeared for the first time at Kamid el-Loz. These hint at an entirely new cultural orientation of the residents. Only the site’s rural mode of life, and its use by both the living and the dead, recall prior occupations. All the questions asked before – what caused these fundamental changes at Kamid el-Loz and who were the protagonists – must be asked once again.

Marlies Heinz is Professor of Near Eastern Archaeology at the University of Freiburg.

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2 Comments for : Kamid el-Loz – A Short Story in 900 Words
  1. Pingback: Kamid el-Loz – A Short Story in 900 Words | The ASOR Blog | Talmidimblogging

  2. Pingback: Weekly Roundup of Archaeology, History and Historical Fiction March 18-24 | Judith Starkston

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