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 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 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?
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.
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?
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.
All content provided on this blog is for informational purposes only. The American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR) makes no representations as to the accuracy or completeness of any information on this blog or found by following any link on this blog. ASOR will not be liable for any errors or omissions in this information. ASOR will not be liable for any losses, injuries, or damages from the display or use of this information. The opinions expressed by Bloggers and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of ASOR or any employee thereof.