Ancient Civilizations: The Hittites, Canaanites, and Phoenicians

Contributor: Suzanne Riordan. Lesson ID: 13075

Which ancient people were the first to work with iron? Which became shipbuilders and expert sailors? Which invented the alphabet? Ever heard of the Hittites, the Canaanites, and the Phoenicians?


World, World

learning style
Auditory, Kinesthetic, Visual
personality style
Lion, Otter
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

  • Have you ever wondered where our English alphabet came from?

Though the Egyptians and Sumerians were the first people to develop writing, they did not invent an alphabet. They only had picture-writing. An alphabet is where a symbol (a letter) stands for a sound. 

  • So, which ancient people were the first to figure out this much easier way of writing?

Let's find out!

After the first great civilizations arose in Egypt and Mesopotamia, the people who lived near these areas began to "catch" civilization from their neighbors. These people were the Hittites, the Canaanites, and the Phoenicians.

Though not as well-known as their more famous neighbors, these people also made some major contributions to our world.

Complete the Hittites, Canaanites, and Phoenicians Lesson Notes, found under Downloadable Resources in the right-hand sidebar, as we take a look at each one of these civilizations.


The Hittites came from a land full of mountains to the northwest of Mesopotamia. The area is sometimes called Anatolia or Asia Minor. The Hittite Kingdom covered most of the area that now makes up the countries of Turkey and Syria.

map of the Hittite Kingdom circa 14th century BC

Image by Própria, via Wikimedia Commons, was released into the public domain.

Around 2000 BC, people began to settle in this area. They built a city called Hattusa in the mountains. Living in the mountains kept them safe from enemy attacks. They learned how to raise and train horses and build chariots. They became strong warriors and began to take over weaker kingdoms. They also took control of the trade routes between Egypt and Mesopotamia, and they began to grow rich.

But the Hittites got a little too over-confident when they began to move further south toward Egypt, igniting battles the Egyptians. In the battle of Kadesh, the Egyptians and Hittites fought what was probably the biggest chariot battle in history, involving over 5000 chariots. They worked in pairs: one soldier shot arrows from his bow while another drove the chariot. The Hittite chariots were heavier and slower than the Egyptians, and they lost the battle.

The Egyptians and Hittites then signed what is thought to be the first peace treaty in history! They agreed not to fight anymore, and that neither side would go into the other's territory. They also formed an alliance, saying that they would help each other fight against other enemies.

Here is an image of the actual tablet that the treaty was written on:

tablet of Treaty of Kadesh

Image by locanus [cropped], via Wikimedia Commons, is licensed under the CC BY 3.0 license.

Hittite Culture

The Hittites had a written language that was a combination of the Sumerians' cuneiform and the Egyptians' hieroglyphics. They were skilled farmers, traders, and artists. They also had a code of law like the Sumerians.

However, their main contribution to the world was in the use of iron. They learned how to mine the metal and use it to make tools, weapons, and artwork. This knowledge spread, and it was very important to the rest of the world because people had been using bronze up to that time, and iron is much stronger.

End of the Hittite Kingdom

Around 1200 BC, the Hittite Kingdom came to an end. Strangely, there is no record of what happened to them. There may have been a famine, or an enemy may have attacked. But the Hittites abandoned their capital at Hattusa and left very few traces of their existence behind.

Lion's Gate at Hattusa


The land that lay between the Hittite Kingdom and Egypt was called Canaan.

map of Canaan

Image by Lea, Philip, via Wikimedia Commons, is licensed under the CC BY 2.0 license.

Because Canaan contained the trade routes between Egypt and Mesopotamia, both the Egyptians and the Hittites wanted to control it. Because there was so much conflict over this region, the people of Canaan built their cities on hills to escape all the fighting! Some of their major cities were called Damascus, Jericho, and Jerusalem.

The Canaanites did not unite into a single kingdom but rather had independent cities with 10,000 or more people. These people also borrowed some of their culture from the Egyptians and Sumerians.


Some of the Canaanites lived near the Mediterranean Sea, in cities named Tyre, Sidon, and Byblos. This area is where the country of Lebanon is today.

map of Phoenician territory

Image by Kordas based on Alvaro's work, via Wikimedia Commons, is licensed under the CC BY 3.0 license.

The Greeks took their word for "book" from the city of Byblos, because it supplied the surrounding civilizations with papyrus on which to write. That's where we get the word "Bible" from.

The Canaanites, who lived near the sea, came to be called Phoenicians. Their name comes from a Greek word for purple. They were named this for the purple dye that they produced and traded, which eventually made them rich! Purple garments came to symbolize a person's importance and were worn by wealthy Romans and Greeks.

The Phoenicians became expert shipbuilders and sailors, and they sailed as far as Spain and England!

Phoenician boat

They sent ships and caravans all around the ancient world to trade their goods. They traded purple dye, glass, pottery, and wood. This area is especially known for its cedar trees, and one Phoenician king even gave King Solomon of Israel the wood he needed to build the temple in Jerusalem.

The Phoenician civilization came to an end around 300 BC, when Alexander the Great conquered the area. However, the Phoenicians made a very important contribution to the rest of the world: the very first alphabet.

Phoenician alphabet

At this time, the Egyptians had their hieroglyphics, and the Sumerians had their cuneiform writing; however, both used pictures to stand for words. The Phoenicians were the first to develop a system of writing that used shapes to stand for sounds. It was much easier to learn 22 symbols for sounds instead of thousands of picture symbols, don't you think? Most other people thought so too, and the idea of this kind of alphabet spread throughout the world.

So we could really say that it's thanks to the Phoenicians that you can read this lesson!

Now, keep reading in the Got It? section, where you'll make a map of these civilizations and write your own lesson on their accomplishments!

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