Life, love and conflict in the hill country around 1200BC
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In a Milk and Honeyed Landon
Far from the Spaceportson

Richard Abbott

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Words and Customs

Most terms and phrases used will be quite familiar to readers. One that probably will not be is the word kef, used here for the headscarf worn by both men and women from childhood onwards. A person’s kef signals their social and family status, in ways that would be easily recognised by people from the same community. Wearing head coverings of different kinds is still an important part of middle eastern life, and pictures from ancient Egypt and elsewhere show that this was also the case in the past.

Coinage was unknown at this time, with trade and other transactions usually managed by the transfer of weights of silver. Indeed, many of our terms for coins originated as descriptions of particular weights. Within a small community, just as within an extended family today, most exchange would be by barter, or by mutually satisfactory exchange of obligation. Silver would only be used where the participants in the trade did not know, or perhaps did not trust one another.

Within most towns and cities, standing armies were unknown except perhaps for a small retinue personally loyal to the chief or king. The economic base of communities was agriculture, and most small states simply could not afford for much of the population to be away from the land for very long. If for some reason a body of armed men was needed—and was allowed by the overall regional ruler—then it would be called up at need and disperse as soon as feasible. Similarly, work on what might be called civic projects affecting more than a single village relied on a system of labour called up by the local leader. In many parts of the middle east this tradition persisted until very recently, and often goes under the name of corvée labour. It is generally agreed that the limitations of this system meant that projects lasting longer than a month or so at a time could not realistically be undertaken.


The month names used by the Canaanites generally, and the people of this region in particular, are not known with certainty. The following list is used in the books, based largely on studies such as that of R.R. Stieglitz, “The Phoenician-Punic Menology”, pp211-221 in Boundaries of the Ancient Near Eastern World, edited by M. Lubetski, C. Gottlieb and S. Keller, JSOT Sup 273, Sheffield Academic Press 1998.

  • Hiyaru: February - March
  •   [Spring equinox]
  • Nisan: March - April
  • Matan: April - May
  • Dabah: May - June
  •   [Midsummer]
  • Kiraru: June - July
  • Tsah: July - August
  • Mepagh: August - September
  •   [Autumn equinox]
  • Etanim: September - October
  • Bul: October - November
  • Merap: November - December
  •   [Midwinter]
  • Pegerim: December - January
  • Ibalatu: January - February
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