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The Canaanites were the indigenous people of the ancient Levant (modern Israel, Palestine, Transjordan, Lebanon and coastal Syria). They spoke a Semitic language related to Hebrew. During the Early Bronze Age, as trade with Egypt increased, strongly defended cities developed throughout the region which formed the centres of independent states. Egyptian campaigns were occasionally launched against some Canaanite cities but relations were normally maintained through trade.
Starting around 2000 BC, Canaanites began to infiltrate the Egyptian Delta, and their donkey caravans can be seen on a number of Egyptian tomb paintings. By 1700 BC they had seized control of the Delta and established a local dynasty known as the Hyksos or “Shepherd Kings”. This period (1700-1480) saw the development of a rich and imaginative artistic style, and it was at this time too that the Canaanites developed an alphabetic writing system that was passed on to the Phoenicians.
Around 1550 BC the Hyksos were driven from Egypt by the energetic kings of the Eighteenth Dynasty, and Tuthmosis III (1504-1450 BC) put the entire Canaanite region under direct imperial control. Throughout the period of the Egyptian Empire, disaffected and dispossessed Canaanites, known to the Egyptians as Habiru migrated to the hill country regions. This Habiru population formed the kernel of what was to become historical Israel, and it was referred to as such by the pharaoh Merneptah (reigned 1236-1223 BC) on a victory stele now in the Cairo Museum.