present-day Tell Harube, a large site on the southern coastal plain of Palestine, about 5 kilometers (3 miles) inland from the Mediterranean coast. The tell, which is within the confines of Gaza City, covers an area of about 55 hectares. The ancient town (called Gḏt in Egyptian, and ḫazzatu or Azzatu in Akkadian) lies along the principal military and commercial route that connected Egypt and the Near East in antiquity.
Archaeology provides only limited evidence for the site's history, since virtually continuous occupation of the area from ancient times to the present day, combined with the unsettled political and military situation in the region for most of the twentieth century, has prevented its extensive excavation. W. J. Phythian-Adams cut several trenches through the mound's Late Bronze Age and Iron Age strata in 1922 on behalf of the Palestine Exploration Fund, but none of his finds can be linked to Egyptian activity at the site. More recent excavations have been conducted primarily near the coast, in the vicinity of Gaza's ancient harbor, and have focused on the city's abundant Roman and Byzantine remains.
Although Gaza is not mentioned in Egyptian texts before the New Kingdom, other sites in the vicinity have yielded evidence for Egyptian activity as early as the late Predynastic period. For example, excavations at Taur Ikhbeineh, a site on the Wadi Gaza about 8 kilometers (5 miles) south of Gaza, have uncovered both imported and locally made Egyptian pottery of the Naqada II horizon in association with Canaanite ceramics of the Early Bronze IA period (c.3500–3300 BCE). Such discoveries indicate that future excavations at Gaza should produce similar results.
Gaza first appears in Egyptian inscriptions in the fifteenth century BCE. In the Annals of Thutmose III, the king reports that he reached the town, “That-Which-the-Ruler-Had-Taken, Gḏt,” during his first Near Eastern campaign, after a ten-day march across the Sinai from Sile in the eastern Nile Delta. The appellation preceding the name “Gaza” suggests that the town had already come under Egyptian control at some point prior to Thutmose III's reign. For more than three hundred years thereafter, Gaza was the administrative center for the Egyptian province of southern Canaan and the staging point for Egypt's military campaigns in the Levant. The town's importance as an Egyptian administrative and military center is clear from its mention in a cuneiform tablet found at Taanach in the Jezreel Valley, which dates to the fifteenth century BCE, as well as from Amarna Letters 289 and 296 from the period of Amenhotpe IV (Akhenaten).
Gaza next shows up in Egyptian texts of the Ramessid period, when it is sometimes called “(the town of) the Canaan.” This term emphasized Gaza's important status for Egypt's control of the southern Levant. It first appears in a relief of Sety I in the hypostyle hall at Karnak, where the king reports on his storming of “the Canaan.” Two other nineteenth dynasty texts in which the town is mentioned are Papyrus Anastasi I and III. In the former document, which dates to the reign of Ramesses II, the town appears at the end of a recitation of the various way stations on the “Ways of Horus,” the Egyptian route across the northern Sinai. In an extract from Papyrus Anastasi III, which dates to regnal Year 3 of Merenptah and is often known as the Journal of a Border Official, several minor functionaries of the Egyptian administration at Gaza are named. Fragments of two architectural blocks inscribed with the names of Ramesses II were found in the 1970s, during road construction south of Gaza; they probably come from one of the fortified Egyptian sites near the northern terminus of the “Ways of Horus.”
Papyrus Harris I of the twentieth dynasty includes a reference to a temple of Amun called “The House of Ramesses-Ruler-of-Heliopolis,” built by Ramesses III in “the Canaan” in the land of Djahy. The invasion of Palestine by the Sea Peoples in that same king's reign resulted in Egypt's loss of Gaza and the rest of the southern coastal plain. The Onomasticon of Amenemope from later in the dynasty mentions Gaza, once again called Gḏt, in a part of the document that also names various southern Palestinian towns and groups of Sea Peoples. Gaza was the southernmost of the five cities of the Philistine Pentapolis, and it remained a Philistine urban center for nearly half a millennium.
The name of the town is probably intended in a partially preserved entry of the topographical list carved by Sheshonq I (r. 931–910 BCE) at Karnak to commemorate his invasion of Palestine at the beginning of the twenty-second dynasty. The town became an Assyrian vassal in the late eighth century BCE. Gaza was briefly occupied by Necho II in 609 BCE, during the course of his campaign to support the Assyrians against the Babylonians. The Egyptians apparently recaptured Gaza in 600 BCE for a short time, after they defeated the Babylonians in a battle on Egypt's eastern border. The town was incorporated into the Persian Empire during the twenty-seventh dynasty and was held by a Persian governor. The Egyptians briefly retook Gaza in the thirtieth dynasty, during a rebellion against the Persians. Alexander the Great besieged and destroyed Gaza on his way to Egypt in 332 BCE, and the town subsequently came under Ptolemaic rule in the late fourth century BCE.
- Gardiner, Alan H. “The Ancient Military Road between Egypt and Palestine.” Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 6 (1920), 99–116. The classic article on Egypt's military route across the northern Sinai during the New Kingdom.
- Giveon, Raphael. “Two Inscriptions of Ramesses II.” Israel Exploration Journal 25 (1975), 247–249. Publishes the architectural blocks of Ramesses II found south of Gaza.
- Katzenstein, H. Jacob. “Gaza in the Egyptian Texts of the New Kingdom.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 102 (1982), 111–113. Surveys the textual sources for the history and name of the city during the New Kingdom.
- Katzenstein, H. Jacob. “‘Before Pharaoh Conquered Gaza’ (Jeremiah XLVII 1).” Vetus Testamentum 33 (1983), 249–251. Attributes this biblical phrase to an event of 600 BCE.
- Katzenstein, H. Jacob. “Gaza: Prehellenistic Gaza.” In The Anchor Bible Dictionary, edited by David Noel Freedman, vol. 2, pp. 912–915. New York, 1992. A history of Gaza, based on textual sources, up to the city's conquest by Alexander the Great.
- Ovadiah, Asher. “Gaza.” In The New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land, edited by Ephraim Stern, vol. 2, pp. 464–467. New York, 1993. Focuses on the history and excavations of Gaza.
- Phythian-Adams, W.J. “Second Report on Soundings at Gaza.” Palestine Exploration Fund Quarterly Statement, 1923, pp. 18–30. Phythian-Adams' report on his excavations at Gaza in 1922.
James M. Weinstein