The second millennium B.C. can be conveniently divided into two periods. During the Middle Bronze Age, Amorite tribes from Syria settle across the region. Many large sites are fortified employing massive cyclopean stone blocks. Akkadian cuneiform inscribed on clay tablets is widely used. City-states such as Ebla and Aleppo dominate the Syrian plains, linking northern Mesopotamia with the Mediterranean coast. Byblos is once again in close trading contact with Egypt. Throughout the southern Levant, settlements are enclosed behind thick fortification walls set atop steep ramparts.
During the latter half of the second millennium B.C., the Late Bronze Age sees Egyptian hegemony in Canaan to the south. Further north, the powerful Mitanni empire dominates Syria until the Hittites expand into the region from Anatolia. The coastal city of Ugarit flourishes amid the economic, political, social, and cultural competition among the Egyptians, Minoans, Mycenaeans, Mitannians, Mesopotamians, and Hittites. Records at Ugarit are written in both Akkadian cuneiform and an alphabetic cuneiform recording the local language. Toward the end of the period, a number of city-states throughout the Levant are violently destroyed. Many northern sites, including Ugarit, are never reoccupied. Scholars continue to debate the precise nature of these events.
Nomadic populations, probably Amorites, settle throughout the northern region, where the pottery indicates contacts with Anatolia. Egyptian records tell of military campaigns to Canaan in the south. Caravans of Canaanites go to Egypt for trade.
Large-scale reurbanization occurs throughout the region. Major kingdoms such as Yamhad in Syria come to dominate the north, whereas important city-states like Hazor are established in the south. Similar stone statues of seated rulers are found at Hazor and Ebla suggesting relations between the two kingdoms. Burials include bone-inlaid wooden boxes decorated with Egyptian motifs. Faience vessels are made of sand molded over a core. Syrian cylinder seals, found throughout the region, are of outstanding beauty and craftsmanship, often incorporating Egyptianizing motifs. One of the most common representations on these seals is of a royal figure in a fringed garment, standing before a god wearing a horned headdress.
Dynamic interaction throughout the Near East and the eastern Mediterranean brings about a period of internationalism characterized by the transmission of artistic motifs and styles derived from the Near East, Egypt, and the Aegean, through portable items of ivory and bronze, as well as seals. While many languages are spoken throughout the Near East, the Akkadian language and cuneiform script dominate the written record. At the site of the Egyptian capital at Amarna, an archive including cuneiform letters chronicles the correspondence among rulers of Egypt, the city-states of Syria and the Levant, Cyprus, Assyria, Babylonia, Anatolia, and Mitanni. Cities on the coast serve as major emporia for trade with Cyprus, Crete, and Mycenaean Greece.
While bronze continues to be used for weapons and tools, the twelfth century B.C. marks the beginning of a gradual transition to the use of iron. The alphabetic script, first developed by the Canaanites toward the end of the Late Bronze Age, appears more frequently on ostraca, weapon points, and pottery.
“The Eastern Mediterranean, 2000–1000 B.C.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/ht/?period=03®ion=wae (October 2000)