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Tell Sukas in Syria: The Neolithic Period through the Present

Selected Excerpt on Neolithic Tell Sukas

The Neolithic of the Levant (1978)
A.M.T. Moore (Oxford University)

Chapter 5: Neolithic 3 Tell Sukas (Pages 302-304)

Excerpts and Definitions and Addendums:

Tell Sukas is located on the coast of Syria about 16 miles south of Latakia. It lies on a fertile plain bordered by coastal mountains. It has a northern and southern harbour indicating that the site was important in antiquity. Its ancient name was Su-uk-su (Shuksa) and as such it is mentioned in Egyptian - Ugaritic - and Hittite documents. Two soundings were originally made by Emil Forrer in 1934 (*2) ...

Later the Danish archaeologist P.J. Riis excavated at Tell Sukas under the auspices of the Carlsberg Foundation in five campaigns (1958-63). Riis et al labeled the various periods as such (*A):

The Neolithic Period N (circa 6550-4800 BC) is divided into three phases: Early -- Middle -- Late local Neolithic. The Neolithic finds are comparable with those from Ras Shamra - Byblos - and Tell Ard Tlaili. The Neolithic is seperated from the Chalcolithic level by a hiatus (*2)

Period M (Chalcolithic Period) and Period L (Early Bronze Age) are not represented in the publications of Tell Sukas volumes one through eight. We resume with the Middle Bronze Age

Periods K and J belong to the Middle (circa 2000-1600 BC) and Late Bronze (circa 1600-1170 BC) Ages respectively. There were signs of a destruction at the end of Period J, presumably caused by the Sea Peoples or by an earthquake about 1170. The most remarkable find from the period was the collective pit grave placed inside the settlement. The presence of querns and the bones of oxen and sheep among the finds hint at the sustenance of these inhabitants. Evidently Sukas was partially destroyed by fire at the end of the LB (ibid) .....

The north-eastern and highest part of Tall (sic) Sukas contained the ruins of several private and public buildings dating from the late 2nd until the latter part of the 1st millenia BC (Periods J-E). Walls consisted of rubble; boulders or cobbles laid in clay or earth and sometimes mixed with potsherds. This building material came from the neighbouring fields or sea-shores. Sun-dried brick was not much in use in contrast to what was the case in the interior of Syria (*1).

The Iron Age Period H (circa 1170-675 BC) is divided into two phases: Phoenician II (circa 1170-850 BC) and Phoenician I (circa 850-675 BC). Olives -- oil -- grain -- oxen -- sheep -- goats -- fish and molluscs were identified as the settlement's most important foodstuffs. In this period the relationship between Sukas and Cyprus and the Aegean was good as indicated by the imported Greek and Cypriot pottery. Sukas was partially destroyed in the Assyrian invasion of the Syrian coast in about 850 BC marking the transition period between phases H-II and H-I (*2).

The finds from Periods H-J-K have testified to a gradual and consistent architectural development with no essential changes in spite of occurring catastrophes; among which the most important one was that of the years about 1170 BC. On the other hand there was abundant evidence of a complete break in tradition between these earlier remains and those of Period G. The latter showed no unambiguous signs of habitation; and only a certain limited continuity could be observed as regards the building Complexes (I-IV) excavated (*1).

The most likely explanation of the background for the first genuine Greek settlements is that they could only be established at a time when the dynasts of the Asiatic hinterland and not the Phoenicians were the real masters of the coast. It is possible that that the Assyrians under Shalmaneser III may have permitted Greeks to settle there but the kings of inner Syria would have a more direct and lasting interest in favouring non-Phoenician colonists (ibid).

Following the destruction of Sukas in 677 or 671 BC by the Assyrians under King Esarhaddon the Greeks settled here forming the majority of the population which also include the Cypriots (*2).

The foundation of a Greek sanctuary may primarily have been the result of a gradual inner develpment at Sukas. Still, it was perhaps occasioned by a local conflagration or even by a war-like devastation of the earlier buildings. In this case there might be some connection with one of the Assyrian campaigns under Esarhaddon. In the former year (campaign) Sidon and stelae commemorating his victory over Tyre and Egypt in 671 were among other places at Til (sic) Barsip near Carchemish (*1).

Period G was divided into three distinct Greek Building Phases: G3 (circa 675-588 BC) -- G2 (circa 588-552 BC) -- G1 (circa 552-498 BC). An iron sickle and basalt grinding stones illustrate the importance of agriculture; oxen - sheep - goat and deer (gazelle) bones are also present. Fish and mollusc remains were also recorded (*2).

ANECDOTE: If we look for an event to account for the destruction which occurred in the first third of the 6th century BC (division between Phase G3 and G2) there seems at first to be quite a number of possibilities: Psammetichus II and his expedition to Phoenicia in 591; the Neo-Babylonian operations under Nebuchadnezzar II in Palestine and Phoenicia in 597 and 588-573; and the Pharao (sic) Apries and his attacks on the Neo-Babylonians and their Phoenician vassals in 588. The Psammetichus epiosode should be eliminated as a peaceful pilgrimmage and the campaigns of Nebuchadnezzar in those years apparently did not give rise to any disaster in Northern Phoenicia. Whereas the Neo-Babylonians had the upper hand on the continent it is evident that the Egyptian fleet was victorious, which may have induced the Tyrians to start the revolt against the former in 585. According to Diodoros - Apries - having sent large land and sea forces against Cyprus and Phoenicia, won a great naval battle over them, took Sidon and scared the other Phoenician city-states to side with Egypt. Herodotus - on the other hand - says only that Apries led his army against Sidon and fought Tyre at sea. If the statement of Diodoros on Cypriote participation in this war is based on a reliable source it is not absolutely impossible that the Egyptian offensive of 588 had disasrous effects on the Northern Phoenician coast just opposite Cyprus (*1).

About the middle of the 6th century a new catastrophe befell the site, this time possibly due to a punitive expedition of the Neo-Babylonian Nabonidus and his Syrian campaign in 553-2. Forrer, when interpreting his finds, thought that the destruction took place in 539, the year of Cyrus's conquest of the Neo-Babylonian Empire; but this idea is not a priori rendered probable by literary evidence for it has been expressly stated that the Phoenicians voluntarily submitted to the Persians (ibid) .....

Tell Sukas was nearly desolate after the end of G1 until it was re-occupied by Phoenician settlers. Period F or the Neo-Phoenician Period lasted from about 380 to 140 BC. The new town was characterized by a completely different buiding plan which did not follow the former Greek Hippodamian outline (*2) ..... Virtually a quite new town was built and this could only be achieved beacuse the old settlement had been at least partly destroyed and deserted so that the site remained in ruins for a number of years. The final blow to the Greek settlement was given in 498 BC; this date is only a terminus post quem for the rebuilding of the town (*1).

Two phases were identified from Period E or the Late Hellenistic I-II Period: Phase E1 (circa 117-68 BC) and E2 (circa 140-117 BC); both were destroyed by an earthquake (*2).

Periods A-D were not discussed in any detail by the authors: A belongs to the period spanning the Late Middle Ages up to the present; B to the Crusader Period; C to the Byzantine Period; and D to the Roman Period (ibid)

(*A) Sukas: Publications of the Carlsberg Expedition to Phoenicia
8 Volumes (1970-1986) Library of Congress # AS 281 D2144

(*1) Sukas I: The North-East Sanctuary and the
First Settling of Greeks in Syria and Palestine
Volume 5 (Pages1-179) [1970] LC # AS 281 D2144

(*2) Source: An Article by Ali Abou Assaf in
The Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Near East

The History of the Ancient Near East Electronic Compendium