The political history of the Middle East in antiquity is principally the story of the continuing struggle for control of the Fertile Crescent, the arching swath of territory circumscribing the Arabian Desert between Egypt and the lands of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers that the Roman emperor Trajan named Mesopotamia. Over the centuries, the primary antagonists in this struggle were the rulers of Egypt and Mesopotamia. The prize for which they contended, for the most part, was domination of the trade routes of the eastern littoral of the Mediterranean Sea. These routes passed through the relatively narrow strip of territory stretching from the Egyptian frontier in the Sinai desert to the northern reaches of the Euphrates River in Asia Minor that constituted the land bridge between Africa and Asia. The histories of the lands contained within that geopolitical arena, which today are host to the states of Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria, were conditioned to a large extent by the prevailing state of the Egyptian-Mesopotamian struggle for regional supremacy.
As a consequence of its geopolitical role as a buffer zone between the major powers of antiquity, the people that settled along the narrow strip of territory were never permitted to evolve into a major political power in their own right. It was always in the interest of Egypt and Mesopotamia to keep the territory divided into numerous small states that would be dependent on one or the other of the major powers for their political survival. And, indeed, it was only during periods of stalemate between or internal disarray in Egypt and Mesopotamia that any formidable states arose in the land-bridge region, only to be suppressed or destroyed once the struggle between the major powers resumed. Because of this, the political history of the core region of the ancient Middle East can best be understood in terms