Trade and Cultural Contact in Bronze Age Israel

Trade and Cultural Contact in Bronze Age Israel


The Bronze Age (especially the Late Bronze Age) was an incredible time of cross-cultural interaction in Egypt and the Near East. Israel lies at the geo-political centre of the major powers of this time and so we can trace this contact by examining the written and archaeological remains that relate to the Levant during the Bronze Age.

Three interesting sources that reflect the trade, military and cross-cultural activities include:

  • The Amarna Letters
  • The Uluburun Shipwreck
  • The Egyptian "Story of Wenamun"

Unit Outline

Here is a suggested Scope and Sequence for studying this unit.


Useful timelines for the Bronze Age in the Levant.


Useful maps of the Levant during the Bronze Age, especially the Late Bronze Age.

The Amarna Letters

The Amarna Letters are a corpus (group) of clay tablets inscribed with letters written by foreign rulers and sent to the Pharaoh in Egypt. They were sent over a period of about 25 years during Dynasty 18 of the Ancient Egyptian New Kingdom. This is Late Bronze Age period for Ancient Israel and the Near East. The Pharaoh Akhenaten moved the capital of Egypt to a site known today as Tel el-Amarna and this is where the letters were discovered in 1887. The letters were sent to Egypt from rulers in Canaan as well as other parts of the Ancient Near East, including Assyria, Babylon, Hatti (the Hittites) and Mittani. They are written in cuneiform script, not Egyptian hieroglyphs.

A great introduction to the Amarna letters can be found here.

Useful translations of the letters can be found on these sites: (Accessible translations of some of the letters) (Accessible translations of some of the letters) (Tel Aviv University translation project; more technical) (Overview of all of the letters with links to some translations)


Select around 12 of the letters for the class to study. You may choose to divide the class into small groups and assign each group a 3-4 letters. At the conclusion of the activity each group can present their findings to the class.

1. Read through the letters that you have been assigned.

2. Highlight any names of places and people. Do some quick research to find out where or who they are and add them to your own glossary of People and Places. (The whole class can contribute to this list).

3. Plot any place names on a map of the Ancient Near East. This may be a shared class map.

4. Locate the rulers or cultures mentioned in the letter on your timeline.

5. List the concerns or issues raised by the foreign ruler in your letter.

6. Decide which of the following best describes your letter (you may choose more than one):

  • Complaint
  • Request
  • Report
  • Diplomacy
  • Ultimatum

7. Collate a tally of the above categories for the letters by liaising with other groups in your class.

8. Read through your letters again and answer the following questions:

  • Data mining: 
    • Who/what/where/when is mentioned or described in the letter?  
    • Is there any indication of how or why any event described occurred?
  • Interrogate the evidence it provides. For example: 
    • Is it indicative of change and/or continuity 
    • Is it indicative of progress and decline? 
    • Is it indicative of cause and consequence? 
    • Does it revealing of anything previously unknown? 
    • Does it help us understand the event(s) from the point of view of those involved?
  • Data analysis:
    • Is it a primary or secondary source? 
    • Who created it? When? Where? For whom? For what purpose?
  • Source evaluation:
    • Is the source internally logical? 
    • How does it compare to other sources? 
    • What might the limitations of the source be? 
    • How is the evidence provided by this source useful to an historian investigating the Late Bronze Age in the Levant?

The Uluburun Shipwreck

The Late Egyptian Story of Wenamun

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