Carchemish in the Bible and History

Carchemish: Hittite fortress and provincial capital

This Bible History Daily post is excerpted with permission from Mark Wilson’s Biblical Turkey: A Guide to the Jewish and Christian Sites of Asia Minor (Istanbul: Ege Yayınları, 2010), pp. 42–44. —Ed.


The site of Carchemish sits at the modern Turkey-Syria border. Photo: Mark Wilson.

Carchemish (Karkamış or Kargamış) was an important Hittite fortress and provincial capital located on the west bank of the Euphrates River. After the Hittite Empire fell in the 12th century B.C., it became the center of an independent kingdom. Today the höyük (tel) of Carchemish is a restricted military area lying just east of the Turkish town of Karkamış and north of the Syrian border town of Jarablus (Turkish: Jarabulus).

The city is first mentioned in cuneiform records dating from the 18th century B.C. During the 14th century B.C. a Hittite viceroy, usually a royal prince, was stationed at Carchemish in order to control Syria to the south. In the Neo-Hittite period (11th–8th century B.C.) the city reached its height, impacting the region especially through its school of sculpture. The Carchemish school may have even influenced the Greeks through the Phrygians.


The höyük (tel) of Carchemish. Photo: Mark Wilson.

In 876 B.C. Ashurnasirpal II marched west from Nineveh and took heavy tribute from Carchemish. The Assyrian king wrote about this expedition: “I took over the chariot corps, the cavalry, and the infantry of Carchemish.” Pisiris was the last king of the Carchemish kingdom when the Assyrian king Sargon II sacked the city in 717 B.C. (Isaiah 10:9). Neco II, the pharaoh of Egypt, occupied the city in 609 B.C. and used it as a base for attacking the Babylonians. The Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar II devastated the Egyptians here in 605 B.C. (Jeremiah 46:2). During the Greco-Roman period the city was called Europus.

Carchemish. Photo: Mark Wilson.

Carchemish. Photo: Mark Wilson.

The excavation history of Carchemish is quite illustrious. The British began the excavation in 1911 under D. G. Hogarth assisted by T. E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia). Leonard Woolley took over the work in the summer of 1912, and Lawrence served as his assistant for three seasons. With the outbreak of World War I in 1914 the British expedition was forced to leave the excavated sculptures on site when they departed.

Interested in the empires of the ancient Near East? Read about the great civilizations of Mesopotamia in our FREE eBook From Babylon to Baghdad: Ancient Iraq and the Modern West.

mark-wilson-2013Mark Wilson is the director of the Asia Minor Research Center in Antalya, Turkey, and is a popular teacher on BAS Travel/Study tours. Mark received his doctorate in Biblical studies from the University of South Africa (Pretoria), where he serves as a research fellow in Biblical archaeology. He is currently Associate Professor Extraordinary of New Testament at Stellenbosch University. He leads field studies in Turkey and the eastern Mediterranean for university, seminary and church groups. He is the author of Biblical Turkey: A Guide to the Jewish and Christian Sites of Asia Minor and Victory through the Lamb: A Guide to Revelation in Plain Language. He is a frequent lecturer at BAS’s Bible Fests.

More from Mark Wilson in Bible History Daily:

Visiting Turkey: Museums of Archaeology Dazzle

Tradition or History? BAS Travelers Encounter Both on Rhodes

Ancient Phoenix: The Harbor That Might Have Been

Destroying a Temple

Money Talks through Ancient Coins

Of Pirates and Virgins: Greek and Turkish Scholars Colloquiating

Pella: A Window on Survival

This Bible History Daily feature was originally published on August 24, 2016.


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