[To survey the city as a form of human settlement in the ancient Near East, this entry comprises five articles:

The overview article treats the emergence of cities and the process of ubanization; the remainder treat the development of cities and urban life through time in specific regions.]

An Overview

Cities were the physical focus for the rise of civilization in the ancient Near East. While what constitutes a city in the modern world is fairly clear, there is no uncomplicated definition of a city in the ancient Near East. In the archaeological literature the terms village, town, and city are usually used interchangeably. A working definition of city is that it is a relatively permanent, compact form of human settlement, having a particular kind of relationship to its surroundings, and populated by a fairly large number of diverse individuals who are socially differentiated. Clarity of definition of the city, and the nature of its relationship to other forms of settlement, emerges only in surveys of the relationships of settlement forms to their surroundings.

Center and Periphery.

To understand what cities were in the ancient Near East, the ideas of center and periphery need to be examined. Cities, and other forms of permanent settlements, were parts of interdependent systems that included a center and its surroundings. Thus, the modern idea of a rural-urban dichotomy is not helpful in understanding the city in the ancient Near East. Many modern rural-urban differences are typical only of industrial-urban, not of pre-industrial societies. Because all ancient Near Eastern cities were part of an agriculturally based economic system, the city and its surroundings were interdependent. People living in the area around a city were dependent on the city, and urbanites depended on the sustaining area of the city's surrounding region. People living in the area around a city were dependent on the city for many things—temples, storage facilities, security, specialists of various kinds, craftspeople who could process goods, and administration or social leadership. Definitive urbanization involved the regulation of the agricultural surplus—that portion of agricultural produce not consumed by the primary producers. The capacity to extract and invest this surplus was a principal function of cities and their administrative officials. As payment for this administrative service, urban officials exacted tribute or taxes from the inhabitants of the surrounding area. Similarly, a city's inhabitants required the agricultural produce of the city's hinterland for their sustenance.


CITIES: An Overview. Figure 1. A city in relationship to its villages. (Courtesy F. S. Frick)

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The interdependence between center and periphery becomes recognizable in the archaeological record when the people in the city's hinterland are also organized into settlements, creating a two-level hierarchical system: a city (usually walled) and its villages (usually unwalled), as schematically pictured in figure 1. This interdependence of the city and its surrounding settlements limited the size of such a system. A city and its villages had to be close enough together to make continuous exchange possible. If the system was in a geographic area where there were no physical barriers, it was theoretically possible for it to expand as far as available means of transportation between the center and the most remote village would allow. [See Transportation.] The expansion of the system was also a function of the productive capacity of a city's surrounding area.


CITIES: An Overview. Figure 2. A central city in relationship to its associated city-village systems. (Courtesy F. S. Frick)

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As cities that were part of such a simple two-tier system expanded, their sustaining areas would begin to encroach on those of neighboring city-village systems. When this happened, a competitive situation developed between the centers of the two systems. Because of this, a new kind of sociopolitical organization was needed to channel human energy into production rather than destruction. From several systems of two tiers, a new three-tier system was created: a central city that administered an area consisting of several city-village systems (see figure 2). A city that was the center of a two-level system can be thought of as a local center, while the central city in a three-level system is a regional center in a city-state.

Urbanization Process.

The process of urbanization is not a unitary, universally homogeneous process; it assumes different forms and meaning, depending on prevailing historic, economic, and cultural conditions. How did urbanization proceed in the ancient Near East and what technologies and forms of social and political organization were involved?

The earliest traces of human existence in the Near East come from the Paleolithic period, where strata indicating short periods of occupation with long intervals between them and skeletal remains have been found in caves (e.g., at Shanidar in present-day Iraq and on Mt. Carmel in present-day Israel). This situation changes with the beginning of the Neolithic period, when the first relatively permanent settlements based on a combination of hunting and gathering and agriculture appear. It is clear, from the fact that archaeological evidence for both phenomena appears at about the same time, that there is a positive correlation between the beginnings of permanent settlements and of food production.

Neolithic settlements were usually some distance from one another and were located in environments where there was ready access to several different ecological niches (food production was still unreliable and had to be supplemented by hunting and food gathering). One of the best-known Neolithic settlements, Beidha, located southeast of the Dead Sea in modern Jordan, is found in such a setting. Another important Neolithic site is Çatal Höyük in modern Turkey. In addition to being located in a differentiated ecological setting, Çatal Höyük is a settlement where a densely built-up area of about 440 sq m has been excavated, in which there were houses of equivalent size and plan, suggesting a socially undifferentiated community. Neolithic Jericho has often been called a city, mostly because of its massive walls and fortification system. While Jericho and other Neolithic settlements anticipate some developments in later cities, they differ from cities, as defined here, because they were not the center of a settlement system. These Neolithic sites should thus be regarded as protourban settlements.

With increasing experience with agriculture came more dependable food production. The necessity of having to settle at sites that offered the safety net of food gathering decreased, and it became feasible to establish settlements in a wider range of environments and nearer one another. With higher agricultural yields, the cultivated area required to feed a person was also reduced. [See Demography.] With more intensive agriculture, settlements could be located closer together, a prerequisite for the creation of structured relationships between them in the sense of the formation of settlement systems, which was also a necessary precondition for urbanization. There is, however, no single identifiable cause in the nexus of social, economic, and political transformations that was a sufficient cause for the emergence of cities. Changes in social organization induced by commerce, warfare, or technological advances had to be validated by some instrument of authority if they were to achieve institutional permanence. This instrument of authority, rather than any particular form of activity, was the generating force for urbanization. Gideon Sjoberg (The Preindustrial City, Past and Present, Glencoe, 1960, pp. 67–68) equates authority with social power. For him, the preindustrial city was a mechanism by which a society's rulers could consolidate and maintain their power.

Urbanization in Mesopotamia.

The first true cities emerged in Mesopotamia in the Early Bronze Age, at the close of the fourth millennium. Habuba Kabira (South), a city on the Upper Euphrates River in present-day Syria, appeared in this period. It had a rectangular layout, a defensive wall, and evidence of social differentiation in the form of a separate block of buildings for the upper class at the southern end of the site. [See Habuba Kabira.]

By 3600 BCE the development of urban centers was focused in southern Mesopotamia. Uruk (modern Warka in Iraq) offers an impressive example of urban development in this early period, when isolated settlements gave way to regional centers. Uruk was a substantial ceremonial center and became the largest early city in southern Mesopotamia. Around it lay several small towns and villages. Near the beginning of the third millennium it began to expand rapidly, reaching its greatest size by around 2700 BCE. At that time its population was forty thousand–fifty thousand and its defensive walls enclosed an area of 400 ha (988 acres). [See Uruk-Warka.] Uruk has been excavated (intensively in those areas of the city that were temple sites) and is also known from the Gilgamesh epic, which reflects a much older period, although in the form in which it now exists was written later. Gilgamesh, the hero of the epic, was probably the ruler of Uruk in the Early Dynastic I period (c. 2600 BCE), after the city had reached its largest size. At the beginning of the poem, Gilgamesh has oppressed the people of Uruk in order to build up the massive city wall, which has been identified in excavations as having a circumference of 9.5 km (6 mi.), with about nine hundred semicircular towers. Besides the walls of such early cities, evidence leads to the assumption that the highly developed economic organization of such settlements required not only abstract methods of control, but other forms of social organization.

While some early urban sites on the southern Mesopotamian plains had areas of 400 ha (988 acres) or more, those of Upper Mesopotamia appear to have had a maximum size of only about 100 ha (494 acres). This suggests a ceiling beyond which such sites could not or did not grow. Scholars routinely assume that the size of early cities was limited by the productive capacity of their immediate sustaining area. Fundamental to our understanding of early urban systems is the notion that the extraction of agricultural surpluses enabled early centers to expand and to accommodate specialized economic sectors. While some early centers (e.g., early Uruk) may have been self-sufficient for food, typically it was the outlying settlements that produced the surplus supporting the populations and institutions of urban centers. The latter case is illustrated by the Ugaritic texts that record the contributions of outlying settlements to the centralized economy.

During roughly the first half of the third millennium, wide areas of the Mesopotamian countryside were significantly depopulated, as most of their inhabitants took up residence in politically organized city-states. In the general vicinity of Uruk, for example, the number of villages and towns fell precipitously from 146 at the beginning of the millennium, to only 24 by about 2700 BCE. Meanwhile, the number of cities (i.e., sites exceeding 50 ha, or 123.5 acres, in area) grew from two to eight. Structural changes occurred simultaneously in the newly emergent cities. Accompanying urbanization was increasing militarism, reflected in the construction of massive urban fortifications and in a host of myths, epics, and historical inscriptions recounting the internecine struggles of these city-states. There was also increasing social stratification and the decay of kin-based social units.

The cities of southern Mesopotamia were conquered about 2340 BCE by an invasion of Semites from Babylonia to the north, under Sargon (Sharrukin) of Akkad, who is regarded as the first ruler to create an empire—that is, an expanded state based not solely on cities, but upon territorial control. Administratively, Sargon created a new capital rather than basing his power on an established city. He thus set a pattern of imperial rule in which the capital city became only an administrative center, not an essential political unit. The Akkadian Empire, however, lasted fewer than two centuries. It was overthrown shortly after 2200 BCE by the Guti from the north, who exercised loose administrative control for about a century, allowing the reemergence of independent cities. They were succeeded by the first Babylonian kingdom, whose best-known king was Hammurabi (c. 1792–1750 BCE).

Paralleling these developments in the south was the appearance of a new power in northern Mesopotamia, the Assyrians. The Assyrians marked the realization of a trend in urban development that had begun with Sargon of Akkad—the transition in the city's role from an independent center to the tool of territorial empire builders, a useful administrative unit but no longer an entity that was central to the mentality of ruler or subject. Under Hammurabi, city temples no longer managed land, reducing the city's pivotal role. [See Assyrians; Temples, article on Mesopotamian Temples.] Thus, “empire” began to be conceived of not as the extension of the control of a city and its ruler, but as the government of a territory by a king and his army. As a consequence, the basis of power shifted from an urban-centered economic organization, with its exploitation of agriculture and trade, to military conquest of and exaction of tribute from subject peoples. The Assyrians thus represent the final shift from control by a city to control on a territorial basis, perhaps exercised through cities but not connected with any specific one. This was the pattern followed by the Persians, by Alexander, and to some extent by the Roman emperors.

Urbanization in Palestine.

Urbanization gained momentum in Palestine toward the end of EB I and the beginning of EB II (c. 3000 BCE), as indicated by the sudden appearance of many cities, among them Ai, Beth-Yeraḥ, Bab edh-Dhra῾, Jericho, Megiddo, Tell el-Far῾ah (North), and Tel Yarmut. One feature of these early cities was the appearance of large public buildings, some of which may have been temples.

Toward the end of the Early Bronze Age (EB III, 2650–2350 BCE), urbanization peaked in Palestine and a period of rival city-states emerged in Mesopotamia. In Mesopotamia, urban development was linked to changes in water supply, which not only affected agriculture, but influenced settlement patterns. Because major cities in Mesopotamia were located on watercourses, the receding of water into fewer watercourses must have involved a gradual linkage between the settlements and the remaining watercourses. In addition, it led to the tendency for a few settlements to grow larger at the expense of others. In the area of Uruk, for example, the number of settlements decreased from sixty-two in the Early Dynastic I period to twenty-nine in this period.

While urbanization in Palestine peaked in EB III, by the end of EB IV (2350–2000 BCE), there were no urban settlements left. What caused this disappearance of urban culture? Three explanations have been offered. One is ecological and parallels the Mesopotamian situation of scarce water resources. This explanation maintains that there was a decrease in rainfall and a consequent lowering of the water table, which made concentrated settlements impossible. A second explanation suggests that the urban centers were destroyed or abandoned following incursions from either the north or the south. A third explanation sees the city-state system reaching the point of self-destruction as the result of city-states' raids on one another, as evidenced by the repeated strata of destruction and reconstruction at EB II–III sites.

The second urban period in Palestine, the Middle Bronze Age (2000–1500 BCE), saw the reemergence of urban centers. MB city walls had towers built at intervals of 20–30 m and in MB II (1800–1650 BCE), a glacis at the base of the walls that formed a smooth, steep slope to protect the walls from attackers. While some MB cities were reestablished on EB sites, MB II also saw new, large cities established that were enclosed with earthen ramparts (e.g., Qatna [100 ha, or 247 acres] in Syria and Hazor [60 ha, or 148 acres] in Israel). [See Hazor.] LB cities in Palestine (1500–1200 BCE) showed continuity with MB cities, with few positive developments and a general decline in urban life.

In Late Iron Age I and Iron II Palestine (c. 1000–587 BCE), urbanization flourished with the support of the monarchy, for which cities were an essential part of the administrative system. A hierarchical order of settlements developed, ranging from the capital cities of Jerusalem and Samaria at the top to small fortified sites at the bottom. Between these were major and secondary administrative centers and fortified provincial towns. Most Israelite cities were about 3–7 ha (7–17 acres) in area, with only the central cities of Jerusalem and Samaria being larger, with an area of 30–50 ha (74–123.5 acres). Unlike their Bronze Age predecessors, the Iron II Israelite cities did not accommodate a large number of farmers but were inhabited mostly by families belonging to the political, military, economic, and religious elite.

Significance of the City.

Although they are sometimes used interchangeably, there is a distinction between the terms city and urbanism. Urbanism implies those characteristics that distinguish cities from simpler settlements, but it also refers to the organization of an urbanized society, which includes those settlements associated with cities. A city, on the other hand, is the physical center that manifests many important characteristics of the urban condition. Urbanization refers not exclusively to the processes by which cities are formed and people are incorporated into an urban-centered sociopolitical system. It refers also to the acquisition of characteristics associated with city life and to the changes in the patterns of life that are apparent among city dwellers. Cities become symbols, as well as things. Humans are not neutral toward cities but surround them with values and beliefs. The city can be seen as the embodiment of good or evil, as representing progress or decline, and as being the site of human alienation or human salvation.

Apart from the usefulness of cities for administration and defense, they appealed to those who felt their individuality was repressed by social organization based on kinship. On the positive side, cities offered these individuals a measure of freedom, anonymity, privilege, the opportunity to develop their skills, and the stimulation of being part of a more heterogeneous sociopolitical unit than a kin-based one. However, the significance of cities in the ancient world was not limited to such opportunities. The status of women, for example, seems to have deteriorated substantially with urbanization. Although archaeologists have only recently begun to examine such issues, inferences can be drawn from ethnographic studies. The advent of permanent settlements initiated changes that led to increased inequality in status between the sexes. The rise of cities also caused more unequal distribution of wealth. Most preurban societies were basically egalitarian with little specialization, except for that determined by age and sex. Urban societies, however, are characterized by specialization of tasks and serious inequalities in the distribution of wealth.

Cities in their physical form are long-lived. At the same time, urban societies change more than any other social grouping. Cities are thus amalgams of physical structures and people. They are settings for daily rituals—the sacred and the secular, the random and the established. Cities are the ultimate memorials of human struggles and achievements: they are where the pride of the past is put on display.


  • Eisenstadt, Shmuel N., and Arie Shachar. Society, Culture, and Urbanization. Newbury Park, Calif., 1987.
  • Frick, Frank S. The City in Ancient Israel. Society of Biblical Literature, Dissertation Series, no. 36. Missoula, 1977.
    Survey of urbanization and the significance of the city in ancient Israel
  • Nissen, Hans J. The Early History of the Ancient Near East, 9000–2000 B.C. Translated by Elizabeth Lutzeier and Kenneth J. Northcott. Chicago, 1988.
    Revision and expansion of the author's 1983 work. Nissen uses a unique combination of the analysis of material culture and written data to trace the emergence of the earliest isolated settlements, the growth of networks of towns, the emergence of city-states, and finally the appearance of territorial states
  • Redman, Charles L. The Rise of Civilization: From Early Farmers to Urban Society in the Ancient Near East. San Francisco, 1978.
    Although a bit dated in parts, Redman's work provides a useful summary mainly for students of archaeology, anthropology, and ancient history. Organized according to developmental stages rather than regionally or chronologically
  • Rohrbaugh, Richard L. “The City in the Second Testament.” Biblical Theology Bulletin 21 (1991): 67–75.
    Bibliographic essay that includes discussions of works by both ancient historians and modern social scientists
  • Trigger, Bruce G., et al. Ancient Egypt: A Social History. Cambridge, 1983.
    Trigger's chapter, “The Rise of Egyptian Civilization,” is a valuable piece on urbanization
  • Ucko, Peter, et al., eds. Man, Settlement, and Urbanism. Cambridge, Mass., 1972.
    Proceedings of the 1970 meeting of the Research Seminar in Archaeology and Related Subjects. Although somewhat dated, it includes an impressive, wide-ranging, interdisciplinary collection of essays dealing with settlement patterns and urbanization in various parts of the world

Frank S. Frick

Cities of the Bronze and Iron Ages

In the Near East, the type of settlement known as a city, first developed in Mesopotamia during the second half of the fourth millennium and spread to other areas in the region by the beginning of the third millennium. Since that time, the city has embodied a way of life; in the ancient Near East, except in Egypt, “history” has meant the history of cities. A new level of human civilization began with the emergence of urban life, accompanied by other innovations that developed in the fourth millennium and came to fruition in the third: religions with personal gods and mythical tales that expressed people's beliefs and worldviews; mastery of metalworking (the smelting and working of copper and bronze), and the invention of writing as a means of preserving transactions in all areas of society. This transitional period in human civilization was rooted in certain existing technological features: the building of fixed houses out of a variety of materials, the domestication of plants and animals, the use of the wheel, the production of ceramics from clay, and the manufacture of cloth from plant fibers. In spite of the other decisive changes that took place in economic life, in the ancient Near East agriculture remained the basis of the economy. The city did not supplant other forms of settlement, but coexisted with them.

Early Settlements.

The founding of settlements begins with the round houses built in the Natufian period (10,000–8,000 BCE). The first round houses at ῾Einan (῾Ein Mallaḥa) on Lake Hulah in Israel were constructed of perishable materials on a stone foundation. [See ῾Einan.] In the Neolithic period, which followed (8000–4000 BCE), air-dried mud bricks became the main building material, combining the advantages of easy manufacture and use with the demands of load-bearing capacity and durability. During this period some settlements already covered a large expanse: Qal῾at Jarmo in the region of the Zagros Mountains was about 1 ha (approximately 2.5 acres), Tell Hassuna on the Upper Tigris River was 3 ha (about 7 acres), and Çatal Höyük in Anatolia was approximately 12 ha (30 acres). [See Jarmo; Çatal Höyük.] In addition, as the examples of Tell es-Sawwan on the Middle Euphrates River and Tell es-Sultan (Jericho) in the Jordan Valley show, settlements were surrounded by a wall even before it is possible to speak of the city proper. [See Jericho; Jordan Valley.] To be sure, fortifications were an important, if not a compellingly necessary criterion in laying out a city; in the Neolithic period, however, all the additional features that legitimate the designation “city” were lacking. In any event, the Neolithic settlements that were fortified were the forerunners of the ensuing urbanization.

Elements of Urbanization.

A number of factors inhere in the establishment of the city as a viable community, although not all of them were present to the same degree. Certain natural prerequisites include land that could be cultivated, a sufficient water supply to enable the self-sufficiency of the inhabitants, and a strategic location favorable for commercial traffic. Community life required a stable social order as well as social differentiation. The ruler was at the head of a city and at the top of the social pyramid. The inhabitants in turn formed classes—priests, warriors, merchants, artisans, free workers, peasants, and slaves—in a hierarchy based on the respect accorded to their occupations and their economic strength.

In terms of urbanism's economic foundations, the production of a surplus and the division of labor, which in turn necessitated an exchange of goods and trading activity, is assumed. The invention of writing significantly facilitated the differentiated economic and social systems, as did other organizational mechanisms such as calendars, taxes, and legal systems. In addition to the social, economic, and legal framework, the formal expression of the divine in the form of cult and mythology was a stabilizing element that legitimated the unequal distribution of resources. The combination of characteristics in one place justifies speaking of a settlement as a city. The external appearance of a city devolved from elements of size and planning, fortification, and public buildings that reflect a high level of cultural development.

Earliest Cities.

The cities that developed in Mesopotamia in the second half of the fourth millennium had a long history of settlement: the Sumerian settlements at Ur, Uruk, Eridu, and Nippur in southern Mesopotamia and Tepe Gawra on the Upper Tigris. [See Ur; Uruk-Warka; Eridu; Nippur; Tepe Gawra.] In these sprawling city complexes the temple precincts, which stood on a raised terrace surrounded by a separate wall, occupied an extraordinarily large area, surpassing the extent of the palace by several fold and reducing the residential quarter to a minimal area of the city. The dominant spatial position of the cult precinct, as well as its social, economic, and political role in urban life, also characterized cities founded later in the third and second millennia (Aššur, Eshnunna; Khafajeh; Ḫursagkalama, and many others), even when the residential quarters occupied a large area, as at Babylon. [See Aššur; Eshnunna; Khafajeh; Babylon.] Only in the Assyrian residence cities like Nineveh, Nimrud, and Khorsabad did the palace of the ruler begin to assume a dominant position, while the space occupied by the temples sharply declined. [See Nineveh; Nimrud; Palace.] The division of cities into distinct regions and quarters makes it evident that their layout was planned, a fact also visible in other of its organizational elements, such as the positioning of gates and streets. The city form that was valid for thousands of years came to an end with the decline of the Neo-Assyrian (or Neo-Babylonian) Empire during the middle of the first millennium BCE. [See Assyrians; Babylonians.]


Even before the end of the fourth millennium, elements of urbanization appeared in Syria. The city of Habuba Kabira on the Middle Euphrates River shows all the elements of conscious planning. The temple precinct lies in the southern part of the city, and with the “middle-room house” a well-developed house type was in use (although the city's palace has not yet been discovered). A network of streets divided the residential quarter into individual districts, and the straight city wall displays projecting towers at regular intervals. During the third millennium, the construction of fortified cities spread throughout Syria, with public buildings, a temple, and a palace occupying a dominant position. All the large urban centers—Mari, Alalakh, Ebla, Hama, Ugarit, and Byblos—were founded after 3000 BCE; most of them continued to exist until the invasion of the Sea Peoples at the beginning of the twelfth century BCE. [See Habuba Kabira; Mari; Alalakh; Ebla; Hama; Ugarit; Byblos.]

As the area controlled by the city expanded, the palace began proportionally to occupy the largest area. Archives found at sites such as Mari, Ebla, and Ugarit show how the adoption and development of cuneiform script were necessary to facilitate the administrative and diplomatic correspondence this expansion created. [See Cuneiform.] Each city was self-sufficient to the extent that its food supply was grown in the surrounding territory and most of its utensils and tools were manufactured within its walls. An extensive trade assured the procurement of necessary raw materials in exchange for certain agricultural products or finished wares. In Syria urbanization led to the establishment of numerouss city-states, whose individual power was reflected in the differing size of the areas under their control. These city-states collapsed during the twelfth century BCE and were not revived until the beginning of the first millennium by immigrant Arameans. [See Arameans.] In the center of these new urban centers were extensive palace districts grouped around a building of the ḫilani type, as can be seen at Tell Ḥalaf, Tell Ta῾yinat, and Zincirli. [See Ḥalaf, Tell.]

Bronze Age Palestine.

For ancient Palestine there is a lack of the continuity of urban centers found in Syria. Instead, three distinct periods of urbanization are separated from each other by a nonurban interval. The first urban period is identical with Early Bronze II and III (2950–2350 BCE), the second with Middle Bronze II (1950–1550 BCE) and Late Bronze I and II (1550–1200/1150 BCE). At the beginning of the first millennium, during Iron II (1000–587 BCE), a reurbanization, representing a new cultural influx, occurred; this phase may be considered a third urban culture. Each of the three time periods has a distinct character—they do not collectively represent a single culture.

Early Bronze Age.

In most places EB I (3150–2950 BCE) open settlements precede the fixed cities of EB II (2950–2650). This continuity of settlement can be firmly established at Kinneret, Khirbet Kerak/Beth-Yeraḥ, Megiddo, Beth-Shean, Tell el-Far῾ah (North), Jericho, Tell esh-Sheikh Ahmed el-῾Areini, and Arad, as well as at other locations. The transition to fortified cities was based on local development and was not the result of foreign influences. [See Beth-Yeraḥ; Megiddo; Beth-Shean; Far῾ah, Tell el-(North); Arad.] Some cities, such as Hazor and Beth-Shemesh, were founded on previously unsettled territory. [See Hazor; Beth-Shemesh.] Others, such as Tell el-Far῾ah (North) and Arad, were abandoned again by the end of the period. However, in EB III (2650–2350 BCE) new cities were also founded in some places, such as Ai, Khirbet Yarmuk, Tell el-Khuweilifeh, Tell el-Ḥesi, Tell Beit Mirsim, and Khirbet ez-Zeraqun. [See Ai; Ḥesi, Tell el-; Beit Mirsim, Tell; Zeraqun, Khirbet ez-.] None of the EB cities survived the collapse of urban life that took place during the second half of the third millennium.

The large size of some of the EB cities is striking: Khirbet Kerak, Khirbet Yarmuk, and Tell esh-Sheikh Ahmed el- ῾Areini covered an area of 25 ha (62 acres) or more. Somewhat smaller cities include Aphek (12 ha, or 30 acres); Ai (11 ha, or 27 acres); Arad (10 ha, or 25 acres); and Megiddo (6 ha, or 15 acres). [See Aphek.] Like the settlements that preceded them, the cities generally lay in the vicinity of water sources on the plains or on hilltops. However, even sloping terrain could be settled, as at Kinneret, Ai, Khirbet ez-Zeraqun, and Arad. The fortifications varied considerably in their means of construction. In some cases, mud-brick walls 2–6 m thick were erected on stone foundations, from which semicircular or quadrangular towers projected. In other cases, the walls were brought to a width of 8–10 m and more when parallel segments were joined; occasionally, the walls were also protected by a glacis. Openings in the city wall were secured by flanking towers, but a separate gate construction had not yet developed. Numerous posterns in the wall and in the towers provided additional entrances. [See Fortifications, article on Fortifications of the Bronze and Iron Ages.]

In domestic construction the dominant model was the broadroom house, already widely disseminated in the fourth millennium. The single-room basic form could be expanded by extensions and additional rooms, which resulted in farm-steadlike entities that were enclosed by a surrounding wall. The process of subdividing and joining rooms created multiroomed houses and shifted the entrance to the narrow side. Haphazard construction resulted in haphazard streets that occasionally broadened into small squares.


CITIES: Bronze and Iron Ages. Plan of Megiddo. City of stratum IVB, ninth century BCE. (Courtesy V. Fritz)

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The basic house form was also adopted for public construction; the broadroom temple received an antechamber, however, as the excavated examples show at Megiddo, Ai, Khirbet Yarmuk, and Khirbet ez-Zeraqun. Temples with courtyard altars and subsidiary buildings usually formed a separate cult precinct, which at Ai and Khirbet ez-Zeraqun lay on the highest point of the city. The only EB III palace thus far discovered is at Megiddo, probably depending on foreign influence; like the temple precincts, it was separated from the rest of the city by an enclosure wall. In contrast to domestic construction, the palace was well laid out in groups of rooms accessible from corridors. The ground plan of the palace did not develop from the local types; rather, it is presumed to have been adopted from Mesopotamia. Still, although EB temples and palaces occupied their own districts next to the residential areas, these buildings did not have the spatial dominance characteristic of cities in Mesopotamia.

Overall, during EB II and III urbanization was at a very basic level of development. Only the very beginnings of orderly layout and construction are recognizable, and social differentiation is expressed only slightly in architecture, given the limitations of the broadroom house type; large buildings occur rarely. The defense systems show a great concentration of effort, even though gate construction was not developed. The palace at Megiddo implies the existence of centralized rule and political hierarchy, which can be assumed for the other cities as well.

In spite of their predominantly agrarian character, EB cities did not exist in isolation. Agriculture certainly formed their economic foundation; nevertheless, assorted finds point to extensive interregional and intraregional connections. Copper weapons and tools presuppose an intensive trade with the deposit sites in Feinan on the eastern side of the ῾Arabah. [See Feinan.] The presence of various pottery forms as well as the use of cylinder seals and stamps on vessels indicate connections with Mesopotamia and Egypt. [See Seals.] In addition, pieces of imported Palestinian pottery found in Old Kingdom graves prove the existence of trade relations with Egypt. Although writing had not yet been invented in this region, the administration of the cities functioned. It is not known why the cities at the end of EB III were abandoned, but in the period that immediately followed, urban culture was virtually nonexistent.

Middle–Late Bronze Age.

The reemergence of urbanization at the beginning of the second millennium bears the stamp of a new culture, with no connection to that of EB II and III. Because this culture seems fully formed at its inception in MB IIA (1950–1750 BCE), it may not have developed locally—it may have been introduced by outsiders, by new immigrants. The majority of the cities, most of which were extraordinarily large, were erected in two waves in the twentieth and the eighteenth centuries BCE. The Old EB hilltop sites of Dan, Hazor, Megiddo, Shechem, Aphek, Gezer, and Jericho were newly fortified, and previously unoccupied sites were settled, as at Akko, Bethel, and Yavneh-Yam. [See Dan; Hazor; Shechem; Gezer; Akko; Yavneh-Yam.] Only occasionally did an unfortified settlement precede the fortified city, as at Shechem and Gezer. The MB–LB cities surpassed the EB cities in size. Megiddo reached 10 ha (25 acres), while Dan and Akko covered a surface of about 20 ha (49 acres). The largest cities, such as Ashkelon and Kabri, were built on about 60 ha (148 acres); Hazor was built on 80 ha (198 acres).

The hallmark of the MB–LB cities is their massive fortifications: in addition to the freestanding wall, which had already existed in EB II and III, innovative earthen ramparts were constructed that, including the defensive wall on top of them, could reach heights of up to 12 m. At Hazor and Yavneh-Yam these wall systems are still visible in the landscape; at Dan, Akko, and many other places they were collapsed and eroded into massive mounds of ruins. Parallel to new techniques to strengthen the city's fortifications was the development of the gate structure as an independent component of the wall system. Various gate forms developed from the basic idea of towers flanking an entryway.

Within the city wall, temples and palaces generally occupied a considerable amount of space. In domestic construction a previously unknown form, the courtyard house, appeared (see above). Its hallmark is the arrangement of rooms around a centrally positioned open space that can be bordered on two, three, or four sides by rooms of different sizes. In the process, an attempt was frequently made to establish an approximately square ground plan. With the addition of more rows of rooms, the domestic unit could grow significantly. Because the courtyard provided lighting and ventilation for the rooms, several houses could be contained in individual blocks (the so-called insulae).

In each city there was at least one palace as a residence for the local ruler. A common characteristic of all palaces is the central inner courtyard, around which the rooms were arranged as in the courtyard house. To expand, two rows of rooms could be laid out one behind the other, or the number of inner courtyards could be increased. Although large palace complexes have been uncovered at Hazor, Shechem, Megiddo, Aphek, and Lachish, identifying the functions of their spatial components has so far not been possible. [See Lachish.] In temple construction, a new form, the long-room temple, with its entrance on the narrow side, appeared in wide distribution. The type, adopted from a Syrian prototype, was sometimes modified, as at Shechem and Megiddo, by the addition of flanking towers. Other temple forms were also used.


CITIES: Bronze and Iron Ages. Plan of Tell es-Seba῾ (Beersheba). City of stratum II, eighth century BCE. (Courtesy V. Fritz)

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CITIES: Bronze and Iron Ages. City of Lachish. Reconstruction of the stratum II city, seventh century BCE. (Courtesy V. Fritz)

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In the course of the millennium, although virtually all the cities were destroyed several times and subsequently rebuilt, their essential elements were maintained. Their complex layout is evidence of a complex social organization: reflections of its defense, domestic life, religious practices, and political features are all visible. Because the city needed commodities from the surrounding countryside, it established control over its hinterland, which presumably consisted of farmsteads and villages. Most of the inhabitants of the city were peasant farmers. Its other inhabitants included the ruling family and the political elite, artisans, merchants, and sacral personnel. In all respects, the MB II city represents a highly developed culture.

Urban culture entered a decline during the Late Bronze Age: the size of cities as well as their number decreased, and the strength of their fortifications diminished. After 1200 BCE, numerous cities were destroyed and not rebuilt. Even at sites such as Megiddo, which were still inhabited in the twelfth and eleventh centuries BCE, there are signs of a clear break in the material culture, which no longer bears an urban stamp. Explanation for this gradual disappearance of the urban centers in the course of several decades of the twelfth century are still being debated by scholars. Among the possibilities are the invasion of the Sea Peoples, internal conflicts, the end of Egyptian hegemony under the later Ramessides, the collapse of trade with the Mycenaean world, and changes in the natural environment. Some combination of these factors is likely.

Iron Age Palestine.

In about 1150 BCE the urban culture that had existed since the beginning of the second millennium disappeared from history. Subsequent occupation preserved isolated elements in some places, but the hallmark of the new nonurbanized period was the founding of numerous small settlements, villagelike in character, outside the territory of the former city-states. It was not until the Israelite kingdom was established in the tenth century BCE, that a reurbanization began within the boundaries of the territorial state. For the royal period the city became the sole settlement form. In that period generally, new cities were founded on the sites of former Bronze Age cities, although occasionally, as at Beersheba, a city could be placed on top of a former settlement from Iron I. [See Beersheba.] The hill-country sites, however, offered the necessary prerequisites for survival with respect to food supply, water sources, and defense. With this reoccupation of the old settlement sites, an urban tradition can be seen, despite differences in the size and layout of the newly founded cities compared to the Bronze Age cities.

The most important element of the Iron Age city was its fortifications. Because all the cities were then under the aegis of a central government, large buildings such as temples and palaces generally declined in significance. Even with some local governance, the Israelite city was subject to the monarchy. The city was thus no longer an independent political entity but was part of a state. The city's agrarian economy meant that its inhabitants were peasants who worked the lands around it. The city's most important function became the protection of its inhabitants.

Iron Age urbanization was the product of a new political situation, not the result of a developmental process. Presumably the establishment of the city was related to the military and administrative demands of the emergent nation-state. Contemporaneous with the spread of the cities, an increase in the population can be seen: on the average, cities were relatively small, with an area of 3–5 ha (7–12 acres), the population varied from a few hundred up to two thousand adult inhabitants. On the basis of their spatial organization, the cities excavated so far can be divided into three groups.

  • 1. Residential cities. No form of planning is apparent in residential cities, and as a result their streets form a maze. As in the pre-nation-state villages, the houses are crowded ad hoc within the circuit of the walls. There are no public buildings and a single gate provides access, as, for example at Tell en-Naṣbeh (Mispe) and Tell Beit Mirsim. [See Naṣbeh, Tell en-.]
  • 2. Cities with limited administrative or military functions. Unlike residential cities, cities with limited administrative or military functions are exemplified by careful planning throughout (e.g., stratum II at Kinneret, stratum II at Beersheba, and stratum VA at Megiddo, even though it lacks an ordered pattern for its streets). A number of pillared houses that served as public buildings appear in the immediate vicinity of the city gate. Residential houses were arranged in rows or in blocks, and the streets either ran parallel to the city wall or were laid out in straight lines and led into an open area in front of the gate. Although the largest portion of the city's total area was taken up by residential buildings, the city presumably served a broader military or administrative function.
  • 3. Administrative or military centers. The development of the city as an administrative or military center appears to have first taken place following the Divided Monarchy, when the demands on and possibilities of the kingdom increased. Buildings with a public function predominated, although a certain number of residential buildings have been excavated (e.g., Lachish strata IV–II, Megiddo stratum IVB). At Lachish a large palace and its subsidiary buildings occupy the center of the site. If this complex was indeed the official residence of a regional governor, Lachish could be described as the earliest provincial capital. At Megiddo several complexes of pillared houses, which may be related to military provisioning, and a palace occupy the largest amount of space. Because troops may have been stationed there, Megiddo may have been a garrison city. Similar arrangements can be assumed for the kingdom's capital cities, Jerusalem and Samaria. In Jerusalem Solomon's royal palace and the Temple and its subsidiary buildings were all in the northern part of the city. [See Jerusalem.] In Samaria the palace formed an independent complex with its own surrounding wall in the center of the city. [See Samaria.]

The early Israelite city was therefore not a uniform entity; its divisions were structured by function—by different economic and political concepts. The three types of city appear in the ninth and eighth centuries BCE. It is not yet known whether they already existed in this form during the United Monarchy in the tenth century BCE. In spite of their differences, the three types of cities share characteristics: a more or less strongly pronounced oval configuration linked to their strategic siting on a tell or a hilltop (cities on a slope, such as Kinneret stratum V, are the exception); a strong circumvallation system, which included massive walls, casemate walls, inset/outset walls, towers projecting from a linear wall; egress and exit through a single gate, which, in the absence of other structures, served civil and defensive functions and could be expanded to a massive building with up to six chambers; and predominating domestic construction (the Israelite pillared house, the three-room house, and the four-room house). [See Four-room House.] A number of cities, such as Jerusalem, Meggido, and Hazor, had their own water systems, which represent not only significant technical achievements but a strong social organization. [See Water Tunnels.]

Many of the cities founded after the beginning of the monarchic period show systematic planning. Only a state with the desire to expand must factor in the need for defense and take corresponding protective measures. Iron II urbanization in Israel, in that it coincided with the formation of the state, was integrally related to political concerns. The settlement was placed within a circumvallation expressly to provide security for its inhabitants in time of war. The technical execution of this arrangement was adapted to the country's construction traditions and topography.

Almost all of these cities were destroyed either during the Assyrian conquest in the second half of the eighth century BCE or in the Neo-Babylonian campaigns at the beginning of the sixth century BCE; they were never rebuilt. The more than two-thousand-year-old continuity of urban construction in the hill country came to an end with the termination of monarchic rule. The few settlements assigned to the end of the Judean monarchy generally lie outside the area of old settlement sites. With the conquest by the Assyrians and the Babylonians, the development of cities in the southern Levant was brought to an abrupt end.


  • Adams, Robert McC. The Evolution of Urban Society: Early Mesopotamia and Prehistoric Mexico. Chicago, 1971.
  • Amiran, Ruth. “The Beginning of Urbanization in Canaan.” In Near Eastern Archaeology in the Twentieth Century: Essays in Honor of Nelson Glueck, edited by James A. Sanders, pp. 83–100. Garden City, N.Y., 1970.
  • Barghouti, Asem N. “Urbanization of Palestine and Jordan in Hellenistic and Roman Times.” In Studies in the History and Archaeology of Jordan, vol. 1, edited by Adnan Hadidi, pp. 209–229. Amman, 1982.
  • Frick, Frank S. The City in Ancient Israel. Missoula, 1977.
  • Fritz, Volkmar. Die Stadt im alten Israel. Munich, 1990.
  • Hammond, Mason. The City in the Ancient World. Cambridge, Mass., 1972.
  • Herzog, Ze'ev. “Israelite City Planning Seen in the Light of the Beer-Sheba and Arad Excavations.” Expedition 20 (1978): 38–43.
  • Kempinski, Aharon. The Rise of an Urban Culture: The Urbanization of Palestine in the Early Bronze Age. Jerusalem, 1978.
  • Mellaart, James. The Neolithic of the Near East. London, 1975.
  • Shiloh, Yigal. “Elements in the Development of Town Planning in the Israelite City.” Israel Exploration Journal 28 (1978): 36–51.
  • Tcherikover, Avigdor. Hellenistic Civilization and the Jews. Philadelphia, 1966.
  • Ucko, Peter, et al., eds. Man, Settlement, and Urbanism. Cambridge, Mass., 1972.

Volkmar Fritz

Translated from German by Susan I. Schiedel

Cities of the Persian Period

Although a large number of sites in Palestine were settled in the Persian period (538–332 BCE), too few remains have been uncovered and insufficient evidence preserved to allow us to reconstruct city plans. The poverty of architectural remains is surprising, for this is a relatively late period, in which, in Persia and Greece, a high standard of building was reached. The scarcity of finds is considered by some scholars to be a result of the widespread destruction in Palestine at the end of the First Temple period. Carl Watzinger maintained that town life in Judah ceased entirely in the Persian period, a view William Foxwell Albright accepted, noting that the results of excavations indicated that the resettlement of Judah was a slow process, and it was not until the third century BCE that the country recovered anything like its old density of population. Kathleen M. Kenyon, in her general discussion of this period, speaks of the decline in town life in Palestine and the concentration of the population in villages. As evidence, she cites both the Persian-period stratum at Tell en-Naṣbeh, in which rich finds were discovered without building remains, and the situation at Samaria, where a densely populated urban area was converted into a garden for the Persian governor. However, these theories reflect less the actual situation at that time than the fragmented remains.

Three characteristic features of Persian-period strata have contributed to the archaeological picture and the disappointing results from the excavations at the large mounds: (1) after the Persian period, numerous mounds were abandoned and never resettled (e.g., Megiddo, Tell el-Ḥesi, and Jericho, among others), and because the stratum from this period was the topmost on the site, it was exposed to the dangers of denudation; (2) at those sites where settlement continued (at Samaria, Shechem, Ashdod, Ashkelon, and Ramat Rahel, for example), the Persian-period level of occupation was severely damaged by intensive building activities in the Hellenistic-Roman period; and (3) at most of the large sites excavated (such as Hazor, Megiddo, Tell Jemmeh, Tel Sera῾, Lachish, and Tell el-Far῾ah [South]), the mound was largely occupied by a palace-fort or other large building.

City Planning.

Surveys and excavations of Persian-period settlements throughout Palestine reveal that the coastal plain and perhaps Galilee were very densely populated, while a full account of the cities in the mountain region is yet to be made. The contemporary Greek historian Herodotus describes Gaza as “not inferior to Sardis” (3.5). Indeed, architectural remains in Gaza reveal several examples of well-planned settlements.

Outside Palestine, most cities were built according to the Hippodamic plan (principles of town planning developed by Hippodamus of Miletus in Asia Minor, in the fifth century BCE). The plan divides residential areas into symmetrical blocks, separated by streets that cross each other at right angles. Different functions were assigned to different parts of the town: residential, public, cultic, and recreational (for sport). A fine example of the classic Hippodamic plan is Olynthos, in Macedonia.

There are also examples of well-planned towns along the coast of Palestine, such as at Akko. In the latest city at Tell Abu Hawam, the front of a building was uncovered facing a main road that ran roughly parallel to the city's longitudinal axis. At Shiqmona, a residential quarter consisting of two streets set at right angles to one another contained houses built with considerable symmetry. A similar discovery was made in the excavations at neighboring Tel Megadim, where a quarter was found to be intersected by a broad, straight thoroughfare. The large blocks of buildings flanking the road were separated by lanes that crossed the main road at right angles. The houses themselves were divided into a number of smaller units with a similar plan. Along the southern coast, excavations at Jaffa and Tell el-Ḥesi have revealed a similar well-planned Persian-period stratum.

The recent large-scale excavations at Dor have uncovered another coastal town in which all the strata and remains from the Persian period were strictly laid out according to the Hippodamic plan. Dor's residential quarter is the finest and best-preserved example of Hippodamic planning yet found in Palestine. Its closest parallel is Olynthos. The picture emerging at Dor is that a row of stores and workshops stood along the length of the inner face of the Persian-period city wall. The doors of the shops opened onto a ruler-straight street running parallel to the north–south wall. On the opposite side of the street, whose width is about 2 m, is a fine facade belonging to a long, narrow residential block of buildings. The eastern door of each unit in the row opens onto the street opposite the row of shops. The building is about 20 m wide. Its western side, which faces a street that runs parallel to one on its east, was also uncovered. This elongated block of buildings, preserved to a height of more than 2 m and traced for a length of dozens of meters, was probably crossed by passages leading from one street to the other, but these seem to fall outside the areas excavated so far. Another, identical, building or block of houses existed to the west of this second street. Partition walls divided the block by length and width into small units, or “apartments,” whose doors opened, in each case, onto the closest street. In one or two places there are traces of basements. It seems also that the easternmost street, between the residences and the stores, was originally roofed, to provide shelter for pedestrians.

Based on the finds, the latter structures were in use throughout the Persian and Hellenistic periods. There is no indication of violent destruction, but rebuilding took place periodically. With each reconstruction the floor was raised, which resulted in as many as two Persian and three Hellenistic floor levels: the openings were blocked and the walls rebuilt on a higher level. Thus, from one phase to the next, the inner divisions of the building and the function of its rooms varied; for example, in one stage, two small plastered water reservoirs were added. However, none of the alterations affected the external walls. Many coins were found on the different floors, as well as stamped handles from Greek wine amphorae, especially from Rhodes and Knidos, that yielded reliable dates for the building stages. The outer walls of the building were constructed in the style of the period, mostly of well-hewn, hard sandstone ashlars laid in headers. The inner walls and divisions, however, were built in typical Phoenician style: ashlar piers with a rubble fill.

The surprising feature of these plans is that, while the town plan of Olynthos seems to belong to the fourth century BCE—after the time of Hippodamus—Dor was probably laid out in its earliest form in the late sixth century BCE. Dor may thus have served as one of the models from which Hippodamus developed his theories.

Domestic Architecture in Palestine.

Remains of houses as well as fortresses and public buildings have been uncovered at Ayyelet ha-Shahar, Hazor, Megiddo, Akko, Gil῾am, Tell Abu Hawam, Shiqmona, Tel Megadim, Dor, Tel Mevorakh, Tel Michal, Tell Qasile, Tell el-Ful, Lachish, Tell el-Ḥesi, Ashdod (fortress north of Ashdod), Tell Jemmeh, Tell el-Far῾ah (South), Tel Sera῾, ῾Ein-Gedi, Tell es-Sa῾idiyeh, and elsewhere. The plan of these structures indicates that design and construction in the Persian period were surprisingly uniform, whether buildings were private or public. The plan, known as the open-court plan, features an open court surrounded by rooms on several or all sides. The one exception is the Residency at Lachish, which, in addition to an open court, also has two monumental entrances flanked by two columns, typical of the ḫilani type. There is no scholarly consensus on the origin of the two building types.

Open-Court Plan.

W. F. Petrie sought parallels for the fortress he discovered at Tell Jemmeh and in the two fortresses he had excavated earlier at Daphnae and Naukratis in Egypt. Unfortunately, the data were inadequate for dating. Carl Watzinger accepted Petrie's chronology but rejected his correlation with the Egyptian fortresses, maintaining that fortress A at Tell Jemmeh derived from a Babylonian or an Assyrian source. When similar buildings were subsequently discovered at Megiddo, particularly the fortress and building 736, its excavators, Robert S. Lamon and Geoffrey M. Shipton, recognized the similarity between Building 736 and the earlier open-court buildings at the site, such as buildings 1052 and 1369. They made the comparison with the Residency at Lachish, but their conclusions were too general to be useful. Later assessments usually agree on a Mesopotamian source, either Babylonian or Assyrian (Shmuel Yeivin; Amiran and Dunayevsky, 1958). Ruth Amiran and Immanuel Dunayevsky, after a comprehensive typological analysis of examples from Palestine, Syria, Assyria, and Babylonia, concluded that this type of open-court building was Assyrian and reached Palestine as Assyria's influence spread. Their distinction between an “Assyrian plan,” which has rooms flanking the court on all sides, and a “Persian plan,” which has rooms only on three sides, may be too fine. The excavators of Megiddo, for example, stated that their fortress may very well have had a fourth row of rooms but that, built so close to the edge, it slid down the slope. This may also have been the case for their building 736, which lacked rooms on the fourth side, perhaps lost to a trench dug by Gottlieb Schumacher that damaged the building on that side.

A survey of the plans of the open-court buildings from the Persian period discussed by Amiran and Dunayevsky and those discovered later reveals that although the basic layout is retained, it is not always uniform. In the Persian period, as in the Iron Age, the arrangement of rooms around a court took on different forms. At Hazor, the rooms of the fortress and the farmhouse enclosed the four sides of the court, a layout also found at Tell el-Ḥesi in F. J. Bliss's city VII and in phase 5d of the recent excavations; at Tell Jemmeh in building B; at Tell Sera῾ in area D, stratum V; in the fortress recently discovered north of Ashdod; and in the fortresses at Tell es-Sa῾idiyeh. The courts are surrounded on only three sides in area A at Akko, at Tell Qasile, and in building A at Tell Jemmeh. In some instances, the grouping of rooms varies from place to place (Shiqmona, Tel Mevorakh, Lachish building G/12/13, and ῾Ein-Gedi building 234); in others, it is impossible to ascertain (Ayyelet ha-Shahar, the stratum I buildings at Megiddo, Gil῾am, Tell Abu Hawam, Tel Megadim, Ashdod, Tell el-Ḥesi, and Tell el-Far῾ah (South), although all the available evidence points to a central court enclosed by rooms. It seems reasonable, nonetheless, to conclude that the open-court plan was introduced into Palestine at the end of the Assyrian period and continued without modification into the Babylonian and Persian periods.

Lachish Residency.

Of all the buildings in Palestine attributed by their excavators to the Persian period, only the palace at Lachish deviates in construction from the rest. The main distinction is the two ḫilani-type entrances, not found elsewhere in Palestine. Olga Tufnell (in her final report of Lachish) concurred with Watzinger's earlier interpretation of the building as “Syro-Hittite.” Like Watzinger, she encountered difficulties locating appropriate parallels. The closest she found is the palace of the Assyrian governor at Arslan Tash (whose plan it in no way resembles). Finding examples similar to the Lachish Residency led Albright to a strained comparison to early Parthian palaces, such as the small palace at Nippur in Babylon. Yohanan Aharoni's assessment of the plan of the Residency as a combination of a Syrian ḫilani building and an Assyrian open-court house accurately conveys its essence, which is a fusion of two distinct building styles. Moreover, architectural fusion is a characteristic of provincial Persian palaces. The Lachish Residency therefore clearly seems to have been constructed under Achaemenid influence. The reason for its unique appearance among the buildings of the Persian period in Palestine may be that it is the only building that can be interpreted with certainty as a palace; the others may have served different purposes. [See Lachish.]

The Fortifications.

Defensive walls assigned by their excavators to the Persian period have also been uncovered at Akko, Tell Abu Hawam, Megiddo, Gil῾am, Tel Megadim, Tel Mevorakh, Jaffa, and Tell el-Ḥesi. These towns are on the coast and in the Shephelah, the region between the coast and the Judean hills. Remains of other walls have been cleared at Samaria, Jerusalem, Tell en-Naṣbeh, and Lachish, as well as at Rabbat Ammon and Heshbon in Transjordan. In the Late Persian period, many city walls were demolished and replaced by smaller fortresses: at Hazor, Megiddo, Dor, Tell Qasile, Tell Jemmeh, Tel Sera῾, Tell el-Ḥesi, Ashdod, and Tell es-Sa῾idiyeh, for example.

At Tell Abu Hawam, a wall was discovered surrounding phase B of stratum II on the south and east. It was built in small sections—each of which stood at a slightly different angle—of fieldstones, with ashlars added for reinforcement at each of its turns. Another small segment of this wall was discovered on the west side of the site. A very similar multiangled wall was also found at Gil῾am belonging to the site's second phase of the Persian-period settlement (fourth century BCE). The wall, which enclosed a rectangular area 100 × 200 m, consisted of two faces of worked or otherwise well-dressed stones taken from the preceding settlement. Between the two faces was a fill of fieldstones. Two segments of this wall, each about 30 m long, were uncovered, one on the east and the other on the north.

The settlement at Tel Megadim was also defended by a wall that enclosed a rectangular area of about 15 dunams (approximately 4 acres). It was built of bricks on a stone foundation. Three sections of the wall have been uncovered so far: about 170 m on the west, about 100 m on the north, and 20 m on the south. This was a typical casemate wall, whose outer and inner walls were divided into rooms that served as dwellings and storerooms. It was apparently erected in stratum III and may have been in use in stratum I. A similar casemate wall was uncovered at Tel Mevorakh in stratum IV (fourth century BCE). The Persian settlement at Tell Abu Zeitun was fortified with a brick wall only in its last phase, according to its excavator, Jacob Kaplan.

Stratum II at Jaffa, which Kaplan assigned to the end of the fifth and beginning of the fourth centuries BCE, was also enclosed by a city wall. One section, about 12 m long and 2.5 m wide, discovered on the east side of the city, was built of well-dressed local sandstone. The stones were shaped like bricks lying on their sides and were set perpendicular to the wall, like headers. At set intervals they were strengthened by piers of stretchers. At Tell el-Ḥesi, the remains of a wall that enclosed both the early and the later phases of the city were found. According to Bliss, its excavator, the north sides of the buildings of city VII (500–400 BCE) leaned against the city wall. This wall continued in use in city VIII (400–332 BCE), during which time it was broadened and strengthened. At Sheikh Zuweid, according to Petrie, city F, which he dated to 497–362 BCE, was enclosed by a thick wall on the west. It was a continuation and repair of the previous wall of city G. It is difficult, however, to establish the true date of the various strata from Bliss's excavation report, leaving the chronology in doubt.

The second group of defense walls from the Persian period in Palestine comes from the cities of Judah. In Jerusalem, Kenyon in her excavations (1961–1967) on the crest of the eastern hill, discovered a fragment of the city wall from the Persian period (which she called Nehemiah's wall) erected on high bedrock. She found settlement levels from the fifth–fourth centuries BCE against it (to which a large tower had been added in the Hasmonean period). Jerusalem in the Persian period had therefore been confined to a narrow strip on the summit of the eastern hill. In Kenyon's opinion, the “Valley Gate,” or western gate, uncovered by J. W. Crowfoot, also belonged to the fortifications of that city. The walls were built of large, worked stones whose interstices were filled with smaller stones, a method of construction considered by the excavator to parallel that of the Valley Gate. At Tell en-Naṣbeh, Joseph Wampler assigned a small wall erected outside the large Iron Age city wall to the later phase of stratum I. He interpreted this wall as a modification of the city's defenses which took place after the destruction of the large (previous) wall. Wampler dated this wall to 575–450 BCE.

Clearer remains of Persian-period city fortifications were uncovered at Lachish, where their date parallels that of the Residency (450–350 BCE). Aside from the area of the city gate, which will be discussed subsequently, remains of a wall assigned to stratum I were discovered above the lower wall of the First Temple period. A section of wall investigated was constructed above a 2-m layer of collapsed debris that had piled up after the destruction of the last wall of the First Temple period (stratum II). The upper courses were of worked stones, most of them taken from earlier buildings. The spaces between the stones were filled with clay or small stones. One section of this wall cleared in square E-19 was constructed of fieldstones. The wall was built at a right angle to the road and blocked direct access to the outer gates. The main upper city wall (on the summit of the mound) was built above the course of the stratum II wall. Two sections of this wall were uncovered flanking the gate; in comparison with the previous wall, they were badly constructed. These meager data suggest that the towns in the Judean hills were also fortified, albeit poorly, in the Persian period. [See Judah.]

Towns in Transjordan were also fortified at this time, as is evidenced by recent excavations at Heshbon. A stone wall, 1.10 m thick and preserved to a height of 3–5 m, has been assigned by its excavators to the Persian period. The wall defended the acropolis. Remains of a tower and perhaps also the beginning of a gate were discovered on the eastern side of the excavated area. It recently became clear that the fortresses encircling Rabbat Ammon definitely continue into the Persian period.

Throughout most of the Persian period, Dor's fortifications were the last Iron Age city wall, actually the “Assyrian” wall, with insets and offsets and a two-chambered inner gate. The wall protected the city for the length of time it was a provincial capital: at first of an Assyrian, then of a Babylonian, and finally of a Persian province. It seems that this was also the case at Megiddo. The massive and sophisticated fortification system at Dor was destroyed under Ptolemy II, when the great Phoenician revolt against Persian rule was suppressed in the mid-fourth century BCE. Judging from the archaeological evidence revealed in the excavations, a new fortification system was built at Dor very shortly after, in the late Persian period.

A significant feature of this fortification system is its method of construction: it is clear that the Phoenician building tradition was still alive in Palestine in the mid-fourth century BCE. The outer wall and all of the inner dividing walls were built in its characteristic style: ashlar piers built of headers and stretchers—one stone laid lengthwise and two widthwise across the pier, with a fieldstone fill. As far as we know, all the city walls of coastal Palestine and Phoenicia were built in this way from the tenth to the ninth centuries BCE, as seen at Megiddo and Tyre, down to the third century BCE, at Dor and Jaffa and elsewhere along the coast. The gate of the wall at Dor has not yet been cleaned. Some parts of this Phoenician wall have been preserved to a height of more than 2 m and are among the most impressive examples of their kind yet found in Palestine.

In the third century BCE, when this last “Phoenician” wall from the fourth century, together with its adjacent buildings, was apparently still standing, the city received a new fortification system. This time the wall was built in the Greek style previously encountered only rarely in Palestine (in particular at Samaria, Akko, and Mareshah [Marisa], which had become Greek settlements at the very beginning of the Macedonian conquest).

This new wall was built entirely of large, thick rectangular blocks of sandstone (about 1 m long), most of them laid in headers facing the exterior. The relative flexibility of sandstone and its ability to receive blows without breaking enabled the blocks to withstand the advanced siege machines of the period. It was a massive construction, about 2 m thick, whose foundations cut through all the preceding walls on its eastern side. Square towers, set about 30 m apart and built in the same style, projected beyond the wall. Two of these towers have been uncovered so far, the earliest examples of their type in Palestine. The new wall's distinctive style and towers are unmistakably Greek innovations.

The change at Dor from fortifications built in the Phoenician style to those in the Greek style represents the final stage in the transformation of the Palestinian city from a largely “oriental” city to a Hellenistic one—a process begun much earlier. With this change in the walls, the gates of the eastern tradition, such as those at Megiddo and Dor, were replaced by purely Greek-style gates. These changes were certainly the result of the introduction of the new Greek siege weapons, such as the ballista, as has recently been shown by Ilan Sharon (1991).

The picture that emerges in Ilan Sharon's discussion of Dor's fortifications and their resemblance to those at nearby Megiddo makes it necessary to reevaluate the latter's fortifications. Scholars have long accepted that the Assyrians established stratum III at Megiddo, rebuilding the offset-inset wall and constructing the two-chambered gate. The findings at Dor will now enable the exact date of the destruction of that advanced system of fortifications at Megiddo to be fixed.

Persian-period remains at Megiddo consisted of three complexes. The third complex, in area D, was interpreted by Ephraim Stern as the entrance gate of the city and dated to stratum I. It includes a building in the north, near the gates from the Israelite period. The building stands somewhat south of these Iron Age gates. Its two parallel rectangular rooms (nos. 603 and 604) are constructed at a distance from each other and are oriented in a line with the Israelite gate. Two other structures near the “gate” are also attributed to the Persian period: a complex of three rooms (nos. 634–635, 576), which is joined by wall 1045 and with it constitutes a separate fortified area; and another complex of rooms (nos. 1346–1348). These two complexes have been interpreted as the barrack of the garrison force.

The wall, gate, and settlement at Megiddo were destroyed in about 350 BCE by the Persian army during the Phoenician revolt. Thus, at both Dor and Megiddo, a two-chambered gate and offset-inset wall existed from the time of the Assyrian conquest to the mid-fourth century BCE. The fortress in area C at Megiddo was built above the offset-inset wall, replacing it, and was the only fortification on the site. Built after the rebellion, this fortification was in place until the city's final destruction by the Greek army and its abandonment In 332 BCE.

The phase at Dor contemporaneous with the fortress at Megiddo contains the “casemate wall,” or more precisely, the row of houses that formed a wall around the periphery of the city. These too were built after the destruction of the offset-inset wall in approximately 350 BCE and were later replaced by a solid Hellenistic wall erected by Ptolemy II. It is possible that the Persians—after their bitter experience with the Phoenician rebellion—refused to permit strongly fortified settlements. This may be why so many fifth- and especially fourth-century BCE Palestinian sites have no city walls and small fortresses. For example, at Hazor (strata III–II), the date of fortress III could not be established because it yielded no datable remains. The date of fortress II was fixed by coins to the late fourth century BCE, specifically to the reign of Artaxerxes III (359/8–338/7 BCE). Destroyed during the conquest of Alexander the Great, that fortress also existed only during the last phase of the Persian period, exactly as at Megiddo and Dor.

Fortresses with a similar plan, dating to the same period, have been found at other sites—at Tel Michal, Tell Qasile, Ashdod, Tell Jemmeh, Tell el-Ḥesi, Tel Sera῾, and Tell es-Sa῾idiyeh among them. The poverty of the remains of Palestinian fortifications from the Persian period provides us with only the barest hint of the period's construction practices. What is clear is that the major towns of Palestine in the Persian period were either thoroughly fortified or defended only by fortresses. This can be deduced both from the historical sources and from what is known of the siege techniques of the period, such as those described by the Greek historian Thucydides in the Peloponnesian War.

[See also Dor; and Furniture and Furnishings, article on Furnishings of the Persian Period. In addition, many of the other sites mentioned are the subject of independent entries.]


  • Amiran, Ruth, and Immanuel Dunayevsky. “The Assyrian Open-Court Building and Its Derivations.” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, no. 144 (1958): 25–32.
  • Sharon, Ilan. “Phoenician and Greek Ashlar Construction Techniques at Tel Dor, Israel.” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, no. 267 (August 1987): 21–42.
  • Sharon, Ilan. “The Fortifications of Dor and the Transition from the Israelite-Syrian Concept of Defense to the Greek Concept” (in Hebrew). Qadmoniot 24 (1991): 105–113.
  • Stern, Ephraim. Material Culture of the Land of the Bible in the Persian Period, 538–332 B.C. Warminster, 1982.
    Covers the architecture of Palestine in the Persian period (pp. 1–67)
  • Stern, Ephraim. “The Walls of Dor.” Israel Exploration Journal 38.1 (1988): 6–14.
  • Stern, Ephraim. Dor, the Ruler of the Seas: Twelve Years of Excavations at the Israelite-Phoenician Harbor Town on the Carmel Coast. Jerusalem, 1994.
    Discussion of the introduction of Hippodamic city planning in the Levant

Ephraim Stern

Cities of the Hellenistic and Roman Periods

Unlike the Mesopotamian temple-cities that emerged in about 2700 BCE whose view of the world was sacral and which were controlled by a priestly caste, the earliest forms of the Greek cities show signs of competing forms of preurban social arrangements—aristocratic warlords, status, property, and kin groups. A radical reorganization in the emerging polis was called for, by which arete, or courage, as the supreme value, was transformed into loyalty to the city and its institutions. Religious commitment played an essential role in terms of devotion to the patron god or goddess, bequeather of the constitution which bound all together.

From its very inception, therefore, the Greek city fostered a more independent character, further developed in the classical period as various forms of government—monarchic, aristocratic, oligarchic, and democratic—established themselves successively between 800 and 400 BCE. The political circumstances of Greece's wars with Persia had led to the formation of various intercity leagues in the fifth and fourth centuries BCE, while leaving intact those institutions that had developed, the hallmark of polis society—the demos, or people, ekklesia, or “general assembly,” and the boule, or council. These and other institutions had received theoretical underpining through the writings of Plato and Aristotle and hence became a permanent legacy of the Greek city to Western civilization. In addition, certain architectural features had also emerged, distinct visual expressions symbolic of the city's self-understanding.

Alexander is reputed to have established seventy cities, as his all-conquering campaign took him to the heart of the Persian Empire and beyond. Even if Plutarch's numbers are exaggerated and not all foundations were of equal splendor, the city of Alexandria demonstrates that for Alexander the Greek city had a cultural as well as a defensive or administrative role to play in his grand scheme. Natives were invited to join with Greek settlers to wed east and west into one great cosmopolis. New cities were established and older, Oriental ones were transformed from their hieratic and aristocratic character in accordance with the Greek ideals. The typical institutions of the polis spread the Greek way of life, as can be seen from the many architectural remains, inscriptions, and other signs of the Greek presence in the East. Despite his best intentions, Alexander initiated a subtle change in the role of the city, which was accentuated in succeeding centuries, first under the Hellenistic monarchies and later by Rome (Jones, 1971). The city was to become the instrument of empire and those aspects of its character that impeded this had to be adapted to meet the new agenda. Thus, the Ptolemies and Seleucids continued the policy of establishing new cities, upgrading older ones, or bringing about a synoecism of smaller settlements in their various territories. Some, such as Alexandria, Antioch on the Orontes, and Palmyra were to continue to flourish because of their political and/or strategic locations on the main trade routes between East and West. [See Alexandria, Antioch on Orontes; Palmyra.] Thus the increase in the commercial life of the city in the Hellenistic age, as new trade routes were opened and travel between cities was greatly developed, led to an increase in the ethnic mix within cities and to the establishment of separate quarters in some instances—as, for example, the Jewish quarter in Alexandria. Because cities were no longer fully free and autonomous but subordinate to monarchical rule, the democratic style of government was considerably curtailed. New elites of wealth emerged, favored by central administrations in a patron/client relationship. This in turn meant architectural development, as local wealthy people vied with each other in honoring their patron in the form of public buildings or, as in the case of Herod the Great and his sons, actually founding cities in their honor (Samaria/Sebaste, Caesarea Maritima, Caesarea Philippi, Tiberias). [See Samaria; Caesarea; Tiberias.] Even external appearances were modified as the classical Greek style was blended with more ornate Oriental ones or made to conform to Roman conservative taste, for example, regarding nudity.

These developments continued under the Romans, as they gradually replaced the Hellenistic monarchies from the second century BCE onward (Stambaugh, 1988). The role of the cities then had less to do with the spread of culture than being administrative centers within the provincial system or being rewards for veterans of various campaigns through the founding of colonies. Older cities Rome had destroyed (Carthage, Corinth, Philippi) were reestablished by Julius Caesar. [See Carthage.] These colonies were closely tied to Rome, both politically and culturally, imitating Rome's senatorial form of government and even its architecture: aqueducts, bathhouses, and amphitheaters. [See Aqueducts; Baths.] In some instances their citizens were allowed to vote in Rome itself. Gradually, the right of Roman citizenship was extended to some provincials, thus replacing the privilege of being a citizen of an individual city with the rights of citizenship of the mother of all cities (Acts 21:39, 22:38). Despite these close bonds with Rome, the provincial administration remained intact, acting as a kind of watchdog at the regional level, on behalf of Rome (Sherwin-White, 1963). Cities allowed to mint their own coins, a mark of some independence, had to ensure that the coins bore emblems of Roman imperial rule. Local magistrates were particularly concerned not to prevent anything that could be construed as civil disturbance because this could cause trouble with Rome, as in the case of Paul's visit to Thessalonike (Acts 17:5–9). Yet, they were caught between the task of maintaining law and order and not offending Roman sensibilities when a citizen was involved (Acts 16:37–39).

In the Byzantine period, previous policy with regard to cities continued—namely, to develop them wherever possible, provided there were enough locals willing and able to take on the administrative burdens, particularly the collection of taxes. Throughout the third century CE, there was a serious decline in imperial rule, arrested militarily by Diocletian (r. 284–305). A centralized bureaucracy developed which in time became unwieldy—one reason the Byzantine emperors sought to support local municipalities wherever possible. A network of loyal clients, they allowed local elites to reemerge, curtailing the power of the central civil service. Constantine's declared policy to found new cities and revive others resulted, by the sixth century, in almost all imperial territory being ruled by the cities, with the remnants of the old provincial system carved up among them. In the process, the cities were reduced in importance, their status almost wholly dependent on their performance as outposts of imperial rule. Increasingly, the number of men of substance who might fulfill the role of decurions or magistrates declined, either because they were drawn into the imperial administration or because they decided to withdraw from public life entirely. The architectural trappings of grandeur were maintained, with the development of domed roofs and the free representation of classical motifs, but internally the life had been drained from the towns in supporting a tottering empire. Increasingly, the large villas in the countryside, and of course the Christian monasteries, were the places where the cultural role of the cities of a previous age were maintained and carried forward. [See Monasteries.]

Architecture of Ancient Cities.

Many handbooks on town planning and architecture are known from Hellenistic and Roman times (e.g., Vitruvius), as well as from the accounts of travelers and geographers, such as Strabo and Pliny, which add to what is known of the visual aspects of ancient cities. The period eclectic styles and conceptions—Etruscan, Greek, Roman, and Semitic—influenced each other at different locations. (Pompeii's state of preservation by the lava from the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius In 79 CE provides a unique example of that eclecticism.) Certain characteristic features emerge with great regularity, however, confirming that it is possible to talk about the ancient city and about architecture playing a role in determining when a settlement was a city.

There is ample evidence to suggest that proximity to a plentiful supply of water was the determining factor in settling most ancient sites, and elaborate measures were taken to ensure one, as can be seen from the arrangements at Hazor, Megiddo, and Jerusalem itself. [See Hazor; Megiddo; Jerusalem.] In addition to the supply from a local source, the numbers of cisterns, underground storage pools, channels and conduits which have been unearthed indicate that collection of rainwater was important, for both civic and domestic purposes. [See Cisterns; Reservoirs.] The aqueduct, often carrying water from a considerable distance, is associated with Roman hydraulic engineering. It is estimated that in the first century CE Rome itself had as many as nine different ones drawing water from sources 19–80 km (12–50 mi.) away. The remains of aqueducts are scattered throughout the Roman territories, the one at Caesarea Maritima being the most notable in ancient Palestine. The absence of such an amenity was noted and to be remedied at the citizens' expense. Despite the preponderance of Roman remains, however, there is evidence that the Greeks had mastered the technique earlier (Owens, 1991, p. 158). Sometimes water was transported through underground channels, such as at Sepphoris in Galilee, which is fed from two springs, 3 and 5 km (2 and 3 mi.) from the city and with an elaborate system of storage and pressure tanks at various levels along the way. A similar installation has been found at Gadara, Jordan, possibly designed by the same architect (Tsuk, 1995). Population increase meant an extra demand on the water supply, and this was further accentuated in Roman times with the introduction of the public baths, found at almost every significant site from the first century CE onward.

Health needs also demanded sewer and drainage systems. The location of many cities on elevated ground was a natural aid, but the existence of the famous cloaka maxima, from the sixth century BCE, still in use in Rome, shows how early this feature had become a part of town planning. At Caesarea there is evidence to suggest that Herod's architects designed the underground sewer chambers so that maximum advantage could be gained from the tides to wash the city's waste out to sea. This feature of Roman towns in particular has been attributed to Etruscan influences on the basis of the evidence from Veii, where rock-cut and stone-built channels have been found. The literary evidence suggests that the sanitary conditions in many cities, especially in the poorer quarters, were virtually nonexistent, however. Thus, the building of public latrines, often ornately decorated on the outside, became a feature of many Roman towns.

The acropolis/arx was the city's highest point and also its religious focal point. The temple of the city's chief patron deities (the Parthenon of the goddess Athena in Athens and the temples of Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva in Rome) and their cultic personnel were located on it. It both symbolized the city's freedom and independence and served as a place of refuge, at least for the chief citizens in times of attack. Hence, the notion that walls were essential for the true city was prevalent, even when this was not always the case. Sometimes natural features, such as deep ravines, determined the siting of cities on jagged promontories or inaccessible hills (Pergamon in Asia Minor). [See Pergamon.] Josephus's description of Gamla, where Galilean Jews resisted the Romans In 66 CE, also shows a consciousness of the value of natural terrain for defense (War 4.4–10). [See Gamla.] The Greeks seem to have developed walls as a system of fortification independently of the street plan, so there were interior open spaces which could cause problems if the city came under attack. The Romans, on the other hand, integrated streets and walls to the point that casemate houses formed part of the wall and could function as further support in times of attack or siege.

In the late Roman period walls made a symbolic statement. City walls were poorly constructed in terms of defense, yet functioned as clearly demarcating spatial distinctions between insiders and outsiders: interior walls separated patrician from plebeian quarters and religious from secular ones, and provided toll boundaries and controls for the movement of goods both into and within the city. Walls could also function as status symbols similar to public monuments. In particular, gates took on this feature of public adornment, becoming the focal point for commerce and meeting, sometimes rivaling the agora or forum, which was always located at the center of the settlement. In later times, the streets leading to the gate and from there to the forum were also suitably adorned and were occasionally interrupted with smaller squares which provided for social interaction. Such places also provided welcome for the visitor on the approach to the forum, which otherwise might have appeared forbidding and hostile.

The agora, or forum, was thus the most important central place within the city, not merely for commercial transactions but also for legal, administrative, and religious functions. Their developing location within the overall city plan demonstrates the ways in which the institution of the polis was itself transformed over time. As a human community, the polis institution portrayed an ordered way of life in which law was supreme. The idea of a town plan is associated as early as the fifth century BCE, with Hippodamos of Miletus, to whom the notion of the grid system of streets crossing each other in a regular pattern is attributed. [See Miletus.] This plan seems to have been almost universally accepted at a relatively early period. In Roman times cities were bissected by a main thoroughfare, running north–south, the cardo maximus, which usually led to, and sometimes through the forum. This was intersected by an east–west main street, the decumanus, or “tenth street.” Shops and other public buildings were located along these two main axes, while the residential areas, the insulae, or blocks of apartments, were on narrower and sometimes unpaved streets.

In some instances, the cardo formed a T junction with the decumanus and did not carry on beyond the forum, terminating in a basilica, portico, or temple. [See Basilicas.] This represented a more conservative approach to spatial organization, suggesting a less open perspective to the visitor. The actual forum area itself seems to have developed from an open area in which everyone intermingled freely to being walled in from the Augustan Age onward, and therefore with controlled entry and egress, as can be seen in the various imperial fora in Rome itself. This development would seem to suggest a concern with policing crowds and the possibility of a more differentiated approach to public social relations between urban elites and ordinary people. Amphitheaters, as enclosed areas for the live animal shows, and bathhouses, both hallmarks of Roman architecture, even when the amphitheaters were not located centrally, indicate similar attitudes: the desire of the imperial administration to offer entertainment and leisure for the masses, while avoiding popular movements of unrest. Despite these developments, architectural evidence for ongoing and varied activity in the forum, essential to the life of the city as a political community—temples, law courts, senate house, rostra, shops—is clear. The theater, which already was very much a feature of the Greek city, continued into Roman times. It was centrally located, which indicates its continued importance to civic life. [See Theaters.]

In an honor/shame culture, the endowment of buildings was seen as an act of piety and a demonstration of munificence or generosity, thereby gaining public esteem for the donor. Wealthy people vied with each other in honoring their political master, which from the first century CE onward was the emperor or some member of his family. The Herodian building program in Palestine is an outstanding example, corresponding to the watershed in art and architecture of the Augustan Age generally (Zanker, 1988). The aim was to celebrate Rome's victory in the new age of peace that had dawned. The buildings are larger, more majestic and ornamental; the decorative art was more elaborate, exploiting suitable themes from the classical period to express the new order symbolically—the ultimate political realization on a universal scale of classical ideals. The new artistic expression combined the best traditions of Greek aesthetics and Roman virtue. Statues and busts were not just used for propaganda but to adorn the fora and main thoroughfares; fountains and water houses (nymphaea) were a constant feature, even in private houses. The adornment of buildings with marble facades and the erection of columns, commemorative niches, stairways, and stoas along main thoroughfares all contributed to a splendor which celebrated Rome's glory. Mosaic pavements and frescoed walls were standard decorative elements of both public and private buildings, imposing a uniformity of style and taste throughout the vast territory, often at the expense of local traditions and native habits. [See Mosaics; Wall Paintings.]

City as Social System.

The Greek polis was first and foremost a community rather than a settlement (astu) and this involved political, economic, and cultural organization. These aspects were already well defined in the classical period, and while modifications inevitably occurred under the Hellenistic monarchies, and to an even greater extent under Roman imperial administration, the essential function of its institutions nevertheless continued in place.

Political life.

Essential to the very notion of the city was the demos, or people, the body of free citizens who shared in all the rights and privileges associated with such membership and who felt obligated to the maintenance of the polis institutions through services of various kinds as circumstances demanded (Finley, 1983). Not everyone in the settlement was a citizen—slaves, foreigners, and other unpropertied inhabitants were not. In theory, women were equally capable of discharging the duties of the citizen, but in practice their role was restricted to that of the private sphere, except in exceptional circumstances of the wealthy. Thus, despite the evolution from oligarchy to democracy in both Greece and Rome, citizenship was a privilege, not a right. Regular assemblies (ekklesiai) of all the citizens were held, but the running of the city's affairs on an on-going basis was delegated to the boule, or council, elected from the citizens with one of its members acting as chief (politarch or archon). There was in addition, a host of other city officials, such as the market manager (agoranomos), the chief of police, and tax collectors, among others. As well as the privileges of citizenship there were also responsibilities (leitourgiai)—to support a war effort, to sponsor a theatrical performance or religious ceremony, or, in Roman times, to pay for a temple, statue, or other public building. Under the empire the tendency was to revert more and more to the oligarchic style of government as the one which could best be trusted to maintain Roman interests (MacMullan, 1974). Some of the older cities of the east, such as Tyre, were allowed to continue to mint their own coins, as well as Roman imperial ones. [See Tyre.] When the right was granted to other, newer foundations, such as Sepphoris (66 CE) and Tiberias (100 CE), Rome was always clearly acknowledged in the emblems and the legend. [See Tiberias.]

Rome came to rely more and more on the towns to impose and maintain imperial rule, a policy already well exemplified in the first century through the increased urbanization of Palestine after the First Jewish Revolt (Jones, 1931). [See First Jewish Revolt.] Michael Avi-Yonah (1966) has attempted to map the boundaries of the various cities on the basis of such archaeological remains as milestones and such literary sources as Eusebius's Onomasticon. More recent archaeological work based on central-place theory and relying on archaeological surveys has developed computer-aided models to understand the role of towns as centers within larger administrative and commercial configurations (Rihll and Wilson, 1991). These studies help to underline the fact that the institution of the city with its own territory was deemed to have on-going relevance in political terms, long after its independence had been drastically curtailed in the interests of empire.

Polis as economic system.

The preindustrial city was very dependent on resources available from the immediate hinterland. Scholars agree that the relationship was quite different from that obtaining since the industrial, public health, and transport revolutions. The relationship was symbiotic, but without both benefiting equally from the single most important resource, namely the land (Finley, 1985; Hopkins, 1978, 1980; Wallace-Hadrill, 1991). There is a need to differentiate among the urban elites (a small minority of the total population), the retainer and merchant classes, and the poor, on the one hand, and the large landowners (who often resided in the city and formed an important segment of the urban elite), the small freeholders, the lessees, day laborers, and agricultural slaves, on the other. Thus, access to the basic resource was uneven, and the few at the top of the social pyramid that was the polis stood to gain much more from its successful exploitation than those farther down the social scale. Urban elites needed the peasantry in order to live the life of luxury, and those among the peasantry who had a disposable surplus of grain or other produce needed the cities as places of local demand or as depots and collecting centers for the larger market.

Scientific study of the pottery of Galilee shows that certain villages specialized in supplying the household wares for a wide region, including the urban center of Sepphoris (Adan-Bayewitz, 1993). [See Galilee, article on Galilee in the Hellenistic through Byzantine Periods.] This is a sign of a developing economy, in which the notion of the village as remote hamlet where peasants lived in total isolation from the larger culture has to be considerably modified, at least beginning in the Hellenistic period. A similar pattern repeated itself in Egypt and Syria as well (Harper, 1928; Bagnall, 1993), so that the prevalent idea of the ancient city as being totally parasitic on the surrounding countryside, following the influential studies of Moses Finley (1977, 1983, 1985), is perhaps overstated (Whittaker, 1990). Nevertheless, it remained true that, as far as peasants were concerned, the countryside was not the city and different norms prevailed. (The peasantry is said to have formed a subculture rather than an independent class.) It was only in the Late Roman and Byzantine periods that the signs of affluence associated with the city flowed into the countryside, as wealthy Romans abandoned crowded cities for their country villas.

Within the confines of the city conceived in narrower terms of the urban center itself, financial considerations loomed large: the costs of building a city and maintaining its public space, even when forced labor and the freely rendered tasks, or munera, of the citizens could be relied on to cover a wide range of services. According to a later version of a letter attributed to Hadrian (fl. 130 CE), philosophers, rhetoricians, schoolteachers, and doctors were exempted from the responsibilities of the gymnasium, marketplace, priesthoods, maintaining the supply of corn and oil, jury service, embassies, and obligations to local and provincial offices. However, these exceptions were rare and honor demanded undertaking them with a display of munificence. The competition among the wealthy for popular esteem had its own hazards, as they were expected to make cash handouts to all comers at weddings and other family celebrations. The financial pressures even on the elites were considerable, and the financing of the urban system, which on the whole was not economically productive, was ultimately draining. Little wonder that in some instances, especially at the lower end of the spectrum, people sought to avoid the duties of office. The situation varied enormously from one city to another, especially in the case of older cities in the east that had their own constitutions and other wealth-generating activities, such as their location or a hinterland. By the end of the third century CE, there were signs of increasing state compulsion with regard to the assumption of office, a clear indicator of how the old order had been eroded (Brown, 1971).

Cities as cultural systems.

As mediums of culture, cities functioned in many different ways and at several different levels. The spread of Greek as the lingua franca is widely attested from inscriptions, coins, and literary sources. Initially, this was partly the by-product of the cities as administrative and commercial centers, a system in place since Alexander and his immediate successors settled veterans and other Greeks in the new cities. A policy of active hellenization was also part of the underlying philosophy of the new cities within the “one world” vision that inspired the encounter between Greece and the East. Thus, the gymnasium, or Greek school, became one of the essential features of the city, where the epheboi, or “elite youth,” were given a special education according to Greek ideals comprising both literary and physical aspects. The links between epheboi training and citizenship were very strong, but not absolute: these youths could be disqualified from citizen status on other grounds, such as not being freeborn (Tcherikover, 1964; Doran, 1990). The links between the educational system and citizenship remained very close, however.

Religion, as well as education, was intimately bound up with the life of the city and life in the city, from the perspective of a worldview in which there was no separation between the sacred and the secular (Zaidman and Schmitt-Pantel, 1992) The very act of foundation was itself associated with the religious rite of consulting an oracle or the auspices (auguries). Failure to do so might provoke the ire of the gods. The whole subsequent life of the citizens was surrounded by various rituals, private and public, enshrined in laws often inscribed in stone in public places. While certain officials were designated to carry out religious functions on behalf of the citizenry, essentially this was the responsibility of the whole demos. The city's charter was a gift from the patron deity, and its due observance meant divine protection for all who dwelt within its walls. The temple in honor of the patron deity; other temples in the fora of the larger cities; shrines, including those in private houses, and sacred groves; and mosaics and frescoes with religious themes all indicate the pervasive role religion played in the life of the average inhabitant of the Greco-Roman city.

It would be a mistake to see the official religious practice of the city as a purely formal affair, devoid of any devotional appeal for the individual. Nevertheless, the Hellenistic period witnessed an amazing increase in the mystery religions, offering the experience of personal intimacy with the divine and mutual support of the members of the various cult groups (collegia), in addition to the public religious ceremonies of the city (Cumont, 1956). The various mysteries—Isis, Magna Mater, Dionysus, and Mithras being the most popular and most widely diffused—became a feature of the cosmopolitanism of the age. Originating as local cults in Egypt, Phrygia, and Syria, they traveled widely, even to Rome itself, where they were treated with suspicion, if not downright hostility, at first. Gradually, however, their popularity grew, and the Roman army played a significant role in disseminating them in the West, especially the cult of Mithras. This phenomenon is highly significant to understanding the social situation within the cities and the need for social organizations other than those of the city itself and the extended family or tribe. In addition to the mystery cults, burial associations ensured a decent interment for their members, often consisting of the poor and slaves. [See Catacombs.] The insight into urban social relations that can be gleaned from these developments of religion in the city suggest a considerable amount of isolation, even alienation, especially as far as the lower orders were concerned. They also indicate a growing preoccupation with individual identity and uncertainty about life's meaning in an “age of anxiety” (Dodds, 1965). This was fertile soil in which Early Christian groups could sprout. The evidence from the Pauline letters, Acts of the Apostles, and the correspondence between Pliny and the emperor Trajan make clear that within less than a century of its inception, the religious movement which had originated in rural Galilee had adapted well to the urban life of the empire (Meeks, 1983; MacMullan, 1984; Stambaugh and Balch, 1986). In this they were merely following patterns already established by Jews in the Diaspora synagogues (Kasher, 1990; Feldman, 1993).


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Seán Freyne

Cities of the Islamic Period

Islamic urbanism maintained and built upon the traditions of the ancient cities and civilizations of the Near East, creating a vibrant urban culture, but one with numerous regional variations in architecture and morphology. Most of what is known about cities in the Islamic period comes from written historical sources and analyses by art and architectural historians of existing monuments published in journals and edited collections. Archaeological excavations of Islamic sites are the exception rather than the rule: many contemporary cities in North Africa and Southwest Asia are built over core Islamic settlements and even earlier ancient sites, inhibiting major excavations.

Islam began in the early seventh century CE and was confined principally to the region of Mecca and Medina until Muhammad's death In 632. Yet, within the next several years most of the Arabian Peninsula was conquered, followed quickly by the Arab conquests to the north in which the weakened Sasanian Empire and the eastern parts of the Byzantine Empire were soon absorbed into the caliphate, the greater Islamic state. [See Sasanians; Arabian Peninsula, article on The Arabian Peninsula in Islamic Times.] Damascus fell In 636 and northern Syria by 641; Iraqi cities were taken within the first years of the conquests; Hamadan/Ecbatana, Isfahan, and the main cities of western Iran fell by 644; Egypt was conquered by 642 and the rest of North Africa by 711; Spain was absorbed between 711 and 759; and Bukhara and Samarkand were taken In 712 and 713, respectively. [See Damascus; Ecbatana; Isfahan.] Within a century after Muhammad's death, the Islamic state reached from Spain and Morocco to Transoxania.

The Muslim conquerors usually established themselves on the outskirts and suburbs of established cities, becoming the ruling and military elites. The local population was subject to taxation but otherwise left to continue its commerce, agriculture, and local customs, including religion. Conversions to Islam for most of the conquered peoples did not, in fact, take place for several centuries (and fully developed Muslim urban societies emerged only by the eleventh and twelfth centuries). Some new garrison towns were initially founded, and these amsar (sg., misr) housed many of the bedouin warriors from the Arabian Peninsula. Basra and Kufah in Iraq and Fustat in Egypt were the three most important amsar, being used as military bases for furthering the Arab conquests. Fustat, founded In 642 just north of the Byzantine fortress of Babylon on the Nile River, is the only early amsar that has been excavated. [See Fustat.]

Damascus became the capital of the Umayyads (661–750), the first major Islamic empire. The transformation of the Greco-Roman street grid of this city into a more irregular pattern under Islam (Jean Sauvaget, “Esquisse d'une histoire de la ville de Damas,” Revue des Études Islamiques 8 [1934]: 421–480) became the classic case study that helped promote the erroneous view that all Islamic cities lacked form and order. Baghdad was the newly built capital of the second great Islamic empire, the ῾Abbasids (750–1258), a round city possibly based on a Sasanian, Parthian, and/or Median city plan. Located on the southern, or right bank, of the Tigris River, in the center of contemporary Baghdad, there is no trace of the round city today. Continuing an ancient tradition, ῾Abbasid caliphs often built new palaces, or even capitals, which sometimes lasted only the lifetime of the ruler. Samarra, located 100 km (62 mi.) north of Baghdad, was such a ninth-century capital. Strung along the Tigris River for many kilometers, the now long-abandoned capital has been the focus of considerable archaeological work, including the German excavations by Ernst Herzfeld in the early twentieth century and the more recent survey operations sponsored by the British School of Archaeology in Iraq. [See Baghdad; Samarra, article on Islamic Period.]

Islamic cities in Spain often developed on the foundations of Roman towns that had deteriorated for several centuries under the Visigoths. Cordoba, Toledo, Seville, Valencia, and Zaragoza were revived as cities. They contributed to a brilliant Hispano-Arab civilization that, however, began to decline by the eleventh and twelfth centuries and was finally ended by the Christian reconquista and the fall of the last Islamic dynasty of Granada In 1492. There were several smaller and newly planned royal cities, including Medina al-Zahira and Medina al-Zahra, the latter on the outskirts of Cordoba and the focus of extensive archaeological excavations by the Spanish.

In Iran many of the Islamic cities were built on Sasanian foundations, which in some instanced represented even earlier settlements. Hamadan, for example, was built on the Median and Achaemenid capital of Ecbatana. Siraf, one of the few excavated Iranian Islamic sites, was built partly over the Sasanian port city of Gur. The Congregation, or Friday, Mosque in many of the first Islamic cities in Iran was often founded on existing Zoroastrian fire temples, providing an additional sacredness to the location and making a symbolic statement: an Islamic building was replacing the principal Zoroastrian place of worship (similar to the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem).

The importance of the religion of Islam in the lives of the inhabitants of the Near East led to the idea by Western Orientalists that there was a unique Islamic city. This model, begun in particular by French scholars working in North Africa, is largely a myth. The cities of the Islamic period resembled their antecedents in morphology and characteristics, except that many Islamic towns became considerably larger and were less likely to be located on a tell. The structure of the towns was often determined by settlements expanding into adjacent agriculture fields; hence, as in many Iranian cities, irrigation systems could also influence morphology. There were palaces, city walls, fortresses, principal places of worship and shrines, residential quarters, and major commercial areas. Major streets were rather straight (only sometimes influenced by the Greco-Roman grid system, as in Herat and Damascus), while residential areas often consisted of numerous dead-end alleyways. Courtyard houses were common in both the ancient and Islamic periods, and where there are tall, multiple-stories buildings, as in Yemen, these types also existed in pre-Islamic times. [See Yemen.] The city continued to be a center for a local agriculture-based hinterland, with long-distance trade being characteristic of certain settlements as well.

By at least the eleventh century, Islamic cities did begin to have some specific characteristics and institutions: religious schools (madrasah) for training clergy; mosques, shrines, and mausolea, which proliferated; great bazaar complexes; religiously endowed property (waqf); and merchant guilds (senf). There also developed a rather distinctive separation of public and private space, encouraged by some local interpretations of Islam. How this division differs from the use of space by ancient cities of the Near East is still poorly understood.

Significantly, however, there are considerable similarities in form and function between ancient and Islamic cities within a region, while there are even greater differences in morphology among Islamic cities (and ancient cities) from one region to another. Islamic urbanism, in the guise of a new religion, continued the traditions and patterns of the cities of the ancient Near East.

[See also Mosque.]


  • Abu-Lughod, Janet L. “The Islamic City: Historic Myth, Islamic Essence, and Contemporary Relevance.” International Journal of Middle East Studies 19 (1987): 155–176.
    The historical evolution and problems of the concept of the Islamic City
  • Bonine, Michael E. “The Morphogenesis of Iranian Cities.” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 69 (1979): 208–224.
    An analysis of the formation and evolution of Iranian settlements; shows how morphology often reflects traditional irrigation and agricultural systems
  • Bonine, Michael E., et al. The Middle Eastern City and Islamic Urbanism: An Annotated Bibliography of Western Literature. Bonn, 1994.
    More than seventy-five hundred entries; focuses particularly on the literature on Islamic urbanism in English, French, and German
  • Creswell, K.A.C. A Bibliography of the Architecture, Arts, and Crafts of Islam to 1st January 1960. Cairo, 1961.
    Classic and indispensable reference work for studies of architecture and individual monuments, although neither urban nor social studies are included. Supplements appeared in 1973 and 1984
  • Creswell, K.A.C. A Short Account of Early Muslim Architecture. Revised and supplemented by James W. Allan. Aldershot, 1989. Creswell's 1958 edition of this work was an abbreviated version of his monumental Early Muslim Architecture, 2 vols. (Oxford, 1932–1940).
    His meticulous plans, drawings, and photographs are still largely unrivaled, although many of his dogmatic interpretations have been superseded by subsequent studies and broader viewpoints
  • Grabar, Oleg. The Formation of Islamic Art. New Haven, 1973.
    The art and architecture of the Islamic city, including the symbolic significance of the mosque, palace, and other elements
  • Hakim, Besim Selim. Arabic-Islamic Cities: Building and Planning Principles. London, 1986.
    Using principally Tunis as an example, this work shows the influence of Maliki Islamic law in many architectural and urban structures, including street widths, use of jointly owned walls, and building heights
  • Hourani, Albert, and S. M. Stern, eds. The Islamic City. Oxford, 1970.
    One of the classic collections of papers on the Islamic city, resulting from a symposium at Oxford University in 1965
  • Lapidus, Ira M. “The Evolution of Muslim Urban Society.” Comparative Studies in Society and History 15 (1973): 21–50.
    Analyzes the components and evolution of Muslim urban society, particularly the role of schools of Islamic law and religious institutions; demonstrates that a true Muslim urban society did not emerge until about the eleventh and twelfth centuries CE
  • Von Grunebaum, G. E. “The Structure of the Muslim Town.” In Von Grunebaum's Islam: Essays in the Nature and Growth of a Cultural Tradition, pp. 141–158. London, 1955.
    The characteristics of the Islamic city; helped perpetuate and popularize a simplified and mostly erroneous stereotypical model of the Islamic city
  • Wirth, Eugen. “Die orientalische Stadt: Ein Überblick aufgrund jüngerer Forschungen zur materiellen Kultur.” Saeculum 26 (1975): 45–94.
    The continuities of characteristics of the Islamic city derived from the ancient city of the Near East; emphasizes that many features attributed to the Islamic city are also found in many earlier cities

Michael E. Bonine