An important trade center situated on the W bank of the upper Euphrates at one of the main fords of that river. A principal trade route ran from Nineveh up to Haran (only about 88 km [55 mi] E of Carchemish), then crossed the Euphrates at Carchemish, and continued on to the Orontes Valley in Lebanon, from which point other routes led to the Mediterranean or S to Palestine and Egypt. Caravans passing through provided revenue in the form of taxes, and the city evidently became quite wealthy.
Because of its strategic position, both commercially and militarily, control of Carchemish was sought by aggressor kingdoms from early times. Pharaoh Thutmose III (of the middle of the second millennium B.C.E.) obtained plunder from it, and Ramses III also records an assault on the city. Ashurnasirpal II (of the ninth century B.C.E.) describes his crossing of the Euphrates on rafts buoyed up with inflated goatskins and claims to have received tribute from the king of Carchemish that included 20 talents of silver, 100 talents of copper, 250 talents of iron, plus gold objects, furniture inlaid with ivory, garments of linen and wool, and other booty.
Carchemish figures in the Biblical account at Isaiah 10:9-11, where Jehovah foretold the Assyrian attack against Israel and Judah. The boastful Assyrian ruler is described as listing Carchemish among the kingdoms that could not withstand his might. This doubtless refers to the Assyrian conquest of the independent kingdom of Carchemish by Sargon II, a contemporary of King Hezekiah. Thereafter Carchemish was ruled by an Assyrian governor.
Then, after the fall of Nineveh, the Assyrian capital, Pharaoh Necho led his army northward to the aid of the Assyrians. King Josiah of Judah unwisely tried to turn the Egyptian forces back at Megiddo and was killed in the attempt (c. 629 B.C.E.). (2Ch 35:20-24) In 625 B.C.E. a decisive battle was fought at Carchemish between the Egyptian and Babylonian armies. Nebuchadnezzar led the Babylonians to a smashing victory over Pharaoh Necho’s forces and swept over Syria and Canaan. This battle marked the end of Egyptian imperial strength in these regions. The Bible account at Jeremiah 46:2 is paralleled by that of the Babylonian Chronicles (B.M. 21946), both describing the defeat of the Egyptian army.
Excavations have been made at the imposing mound of Carchemish, which is SE of the small Turkish town of Karkamış (formerly Cerablus or Barak). The Syrian town of Jerablus, just across the border, adjoins the 93-ha (230 acre) site. A large number of documents in the language presently called “hieroglyphic Hittite” were found, and it is believed that Carchemish was dominated for about two centuries during the latter part of the second millennium B.C.E. by the empire whose capital was Hattushash. (See, however, HITTITES.) Also found were reliefs bearing, among other things, the image of a sphinx, as well as the crux ansata symbol, or ankh, indicating strong Egyptian influence.