a prominent mound of about 31 acres located near a major road leading from Israel's coastal plain to the Hebron hills. The site's location, the fertile land in the area, and an ample water supply from numerous wells contributed to its development as an important settlement.
In 1929 William Foxwell Albright identified ancient Lachish with Tell ed-Duweir. With the absence of inscriptions, this identification, which is generally accepted, is based on circumstantial evidence and archaeological data. Tel Lachish was first excavated (1932–1938) by a British expedition directed by James L. Starkey, assisted by G. Lankester Harding and Olga Tufnell. The excavations were terminated when Starkey was murdered by Arab bandits. Starkey published only brief excavation reports, and Tufnell completed the publication work (Tufnell, 1953; Tufnell et al., 1940; Tufnell et al., 1958).
Starkey carried out large-scale excavations on the summit of the mound and in the surrounding area. Most of the remains uncovered on the summit date to the Iron Age and later. Earlier remains were uncovered in a section cut near the northeast corner of the site and on the nearby slope. The Canaanite Fosse Temple was discovered near the northwest corner of the mound, and numerous graveyards and a Bronze Age settlement were uncovered in the area surrounding the mound. Few of Starkey's stratigraphic conclusions (with the exception of the Assyrian siege ramp) were challenged by later excavators. For purposes of interpretation and publication, the most recent excavation (see below) has kept Starkey's stratigraphic divisions and terminology, except for the Middle and Late Bronze Age phases in levels VIII and VII in which his divisions are not sufficiently flexible.
In 1966 and 1968 Yohanan Aharoni (1975), under the auspices of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, undertook limited excavations in the solar shrine area. In 1973, Tel Aviv University initiated full-scale excavations under the direction of David Ussishkin, assisted by Gabriel Barkay, Christa Clamer, Yehudah Dagan, John Woodhead, and Orna Zimhoni (Ussishkin, 1978, 1983). A reconstruction program for the Iron Age city gates is being carried out by Dagan, who also surveyed the surrounding region (Dagan, 1992). [See Restoration and Conservation.]
Neolithic, Chalcolithic, and Early Bronze Ages.
An assemblage of flint implements and a single pottery sherd found on the mound probably indicate the existence of a Pottery Neolithic site in one of ihc surrounding valleys. Chalcolithic Ghassulian pottery was found on the mound, suggesting a settlement. Remains from the end of the Chalcolithic period and the beginning of the Early Bronze Age were uncovered on the northeast corner of the mound and on a ridge northwest of the site, where settlers lived in caves. A dolmen on the northwest ridge is probably related to this settlement. EB remains were found on the northeast corner, in Area D (in the center of the mound) and in tombs, indicating that the site was extensively settled during this period.
Intermediate Bronze Age.
Except for a small settlement and its cemetery (cemetery 2000) on the ridge to the northwest there is no sign of habitation in the Intermediate Bronze Age (EB IV); 120 rock-cut single-chambered tombs were excavated. [See Tombs.] The period's pottery assemblage belongs to Ruth Amiran's southern Family A (Amiran, 1960) and to William G. Dever's Families J and S (Dever, 1980).
Middle Bronze Age.
To date no evidence has been recovered for the MB I Canaanite city, but there was new settlement on the mound and Lachish was an important city-state by MB II—III. A glacis with a lime-plastered sloping surface constructed around the site in the Middle Bronze Age is responsible for the existing mound's configuration, but no remains of a freestanding city wall on top of the glacis have been found. Along the bottom of the glacis, on the west, a fosse was cut into the bedrock. In the center of the mound the northwest wing of a large palace with massive brick walls and perhaps a second story was excavated in area P. The palace probably belonged to the city's ruler. Huge stone slabs in secondary use from an earlier, similar structure were also used in its construction. Destroyed by fire, this palace was subsequently repaired and reused for domestic and industrial purposes. [See Palace.] Remains of a cult place were found in area D, but the structure is badly preserved and its character and plan are unknown. Many votive vessels and animal bones indicate its ritual function. Starkey's level VIII in the northeast corner of the site dates to this period. Many rock-cut tombs were found outside the site, /ichly furnished with pottery, weapons, and scarabs. [See Grave Goods; Weapons and Warfare.]
Late Bronze Age.
The settlement decreased in size and declined in importance following the MB destruction. It did not regain prominence until the later part of the Late Bronze Age, then becoming one of the most significant city-states in Canaan. Papyrus Hermitage 1116A, dated to the reign of Amenhotep II (1453–1419 BCE), is the earliest written source referring to Lachish. It records food presentations to envoys from Lachish and other Canaanite cities. Several cuneiform tablets containing letters from kings of Lachish to their overlords, Pharaohs Amenhotep III and Amenhotep IV, in the fourteenth century BCE were found at Tell el-Amarna in Egypt. [See Cuneiform; Amarna Tablets.] Another letter, discovered at Tell el-Hesi, was apparently sent by an Egyptian official stationed at Lachish. [See Hesi, Tell el-.]
LB Lachish apparently was unfortified, and a temple was erected in the abandoned fosse near the northwest corner of the mound (Tufnell et al, 1940). It was rebuilt twice (phases I—III) and the finds were rich in each successive temple and in the surrounding pits, into which offerings had been thrown. The original fosse temple was modest; fosse temple II was larger. Fosse temple III, the largest, was destroyed by fire; it was apparently contemporaneous with the level VH domestic structures on the mound in area S. All were destroyed at the same time, probably toward the end of the thirteenth century BCE (Ussishkin, 1985). Buildings belonging to levels VII and VI (thirteenth-twelfth centuries BCE) were uncovered near the upper periphery of the mound, indicating that there was no city wall there then. However, the buildings along the upper edge of the site may have been adjoining, forming a line of fortifications around the city. In any case, by the fourteenth century BCE, the entire area excavated in area S up to the edge of the mound was open ground.
Information about the settlement between the end of the Middle Bronze Age and level VII is scarce. Some remains were uncovered in the northeast (Starkey's level VII) as well as in area P and in area S beneath level VII. In addition, many tombs contained pottery vessels, including Cypriot imports, and scarabs.
The last prosperous Canaanite city is represented in level VI. It demonstrates a cultural continuity from level VII, but the city was rebuilt along different lines: in area S the level VII domestic structures were replaced by a public building; the fosse temple was not rebuilt, and a new sanctuary was built on the acropolis (see figure 1), possibly as part of the royal palace. The main complex of the acropolis temple consists of an antechamber, a main hall, and a cella, climbing the slope in that order. The entrances to the three units are on a straight axis that passes through the center of the complex. The main hall is rectangular; its ceiling was supported by cedar of Lebanon beams resting on two huge columns. The plan of the temple shows affinities to shrines at Tell el- Amarna and Deir el-Medineh in Egypt. [See Amarna, Tell el-.] Various architectural elements, such as painted plaster, the stone staircase leading to the cella, and octagonal columns, indicate a strong Egyptian influence. Nevertheless, a gold plaque portraying a naked Canaanite goddess (Clamer, 1980) and a graffito of a Canaan-ite deity indicate that a Canaanite cult was performed there.
The level VI finds attest to strong ties with Egypt, in particular during the reign of Rameses III (1182–1151 BCE, low chronology of Wente and Van Siclen, 1976). Several bowl fragments inscribed in hieratic script document (as do similar inscribed bowls from Tel Sera') a harvest tax paid to an Egyptian religious institution, probably associated with a local temple (Goldwasser, 1984). [See Sera', Tel.] The recording of the harvest tax on votive bowls reflects the economic exploitation of southern Canaan by Egyptian authorities and their religious establishment, suggesting that Lachish was under direct Egyptian control. The level VI city was completely destroyed by fire, its inhabitants were liquidated or driven out, and the site was abandoned until the tenth century BCE. With the absence of inscriptions, the identity of the conquerors cannot be established. One possibility is that Lachish was destroyed by the Sea Peoples, who settled at about that time on the coastal plain. [See Philistines, article on Early Philistines.] (Significantly, Philistine painted pottery—monochrome as well as bichrome—has not been found at Lachish, except for some sherds in a cave on the slope.) The alternative possibility is that level VI was destroyed by the Israelites, as described in Joshua 10:31–32. The biblical record, which describes a large Canaanite city destroyed in a swift attack, fits the archaeological evidence. On the other hand, the motive for the destruction remains obscure: the Israelites did not settle at the site or in the surrounding region (Dagan, 1992) until much later.
A cache of bronze objects, one of which contains a cartouche of Rameses III, was found in area G beneath the level VI destruction debris. Thus, level VI could not have been destroyed before the later part of his reign—in about 1160 BCE. The destruction of Lachish may have coincided with Egyptian loss of control over southern Canaan (c. 1130 BCE), as without Egyptian protection unfortified Lachish could not defend itself.
Seven or eight brief inscriptions written in Canaanite alphabetic script have been recovered (Puech, 1986–1987), making Lachish the cardinal site in Canaan proper for studying this script. The earliest inscription includes four letters incised on an MB bronze dagger. [See Proto-Canaanite.]
The settlement was renewed, but unfortified, after a long period of abandonment in level V. It is usually assigned to the period of the United Monarchy and its destruction to Pharaoh Shishak (Sheshonq)'s campaign in about 925 BCE. Small domestic buildings were uncovered in different parts of the site. Aharoni (1975) discovered a cult room in the solar shrine area; its cultic equipment included a stone altar and pottery incense burners and chalices. The cult room was destroyed by fire; remains of destruction may also have been detected in area S. Level V cannot be dated with certainty because the date of the pottery characterizing it remains problematic.
A large fortified city was constructed in level IV, probably because of Judah's new strategic needs (Solomon's divided kingdom). [See Judah.] Lachish is cited in 2 Chronicles 11:5–12,23 as one of the cities fortified by Re-hoboam, but the list may refer to construction works by a later Judean king. Level IV appears to have been constructed by one of the early kings of Judah—Rehoboam (928–911 BCE), Asa (908–867 BCE), or Jehoshaphat (870–846 BCE).
The city was surrounded by massive fortifications. The city gate on the southwest included a roadway ascending into the city, an outer gate built as a projecting bastion, a six-chambered inner gate, and an open courtyard between the two gates (see figure 2). An outer revetment surrounded the site halfway down the slope; it supported a glacis that reached the bottom of the main city wall extending along the mound's upper periphery. Whether the outer revetment functioned merely as an obstacle preventing attackers from reaching the main wall or was a city wall that could have been manned in time of siege cannot be determined.
A huge palace-fort (palace B), apparently the residence of the Judean governor, crowned the center of the city. The edifice was built on a raised foundation podium whose superstructure is missing. The foundation podium has two differently constructed parts, A and B. It is generally believed that podium A belonged to an earlier edifice (palace A of level V) that was incorporated in level IV into the newly erected palace B. It seems more probable, however, that podium A was originally an integral part of palace B, and that it was constructed as a separate unit and, for technical reasons, in a different style. Palace B had two annexes. The northern building was probably a storehouse, while the southern one (labeled the “government storehouse” by Starkey) was either a stable or a storehouse (see below). A massive wall (the enclosure wall) connected the corner of the palace-fort and the main city wall.
A great shaft, a rock-cut installation (about 22.50 m deep) on the eastern side of the site, was partially cleared by Starkey. It may be an unfinished water system, but it is more likely the quarry that supplied the stones for the level IV monumental structures. A deep well uncovered at the site's northeast corner was probably the city's main water source, at least in the Iron Age. The beginning of level IV lacks domestic structures. In a later phase, however, a house was built in area S; some domestic remains were also found near the city gate, indicating the beginning of settlement in open areas of the fort.
2 Kings 14:19 and 2 Chronicles 25:27 record that King Amaziah (798–769 BCE) fled to Lachish when a revolt broke out in Jerusalem. The rebels followed him to Lachish and killed him. The king's choice of Lachish as a refuge indicates the city's importance in the kingdom of Judah. It is not known whether this event took place in level IV or III.
Palace B, the city gate, the “enclosure wall,” and the residence in area S (but apparently not the city walls) were rebuilt in level III, indicating their destruction at the end of level IV. As no remains of willful destruction were discerned, these structures may have been destroyed by an earthquake, such as the one that occurred in about 760 BCE, during the reign of Uzziah (Am. 1:1; Zec. 14:5).
The rebuilding of the city gate, the palace- fort compound, and the enclosure wall mark level III. The number of settlers at Lachish must have increased, as many buildings of domestic character were found in the areas south of the palace- fort and along the road from the city gate into the city. Of note is the enlarged palace-fort compound. Podiums A and B of former palace B, as well as an extension (podium C), formed an enlarged raised foundation for the new palace C. Its superstructure has not survived, except for some floor segments. The palace-fort and its two annexes opened into a large courtyard.
The southern annex was enlarged in level III. Its ground plan (and that of the smaller level IV building) resembles die controversial stable compounds at Megiddo and the storehouse at Tel Beersheba and probably served similar functions. [See Megiddo; Beersheba.] If these buildings were stables, the large courtyard might have been a training and parade ground for chariots from the Judean garrison. The lamentation of Micah (1:13) associates Lachish with chariots, and the Lachish reliefs (see below) portray burning vehicles, probably chariots, being thrown on the Assyrian attackers.
The level III city was destroyed in 701 BCE by Sennacherib, king of Assyria. Campaigning in Judah, Sennacherib established his camp at Lachish (2 Kgs. 18:14, 17; Is. 36:2, 37:8; 2 Chr. 32:9) and from there sent a task force to challenge King Hezekiah in Jerusalem. [See Jerusalem.] When the destruction of Ladiish was complete, its inhabitants were deported. The region of Lachish was probably included in the Judean territory Sennacherib turned over to the Philistine kings. The well-dated, large assemblages of pottery vessels sealed beneath the destruction debris of the level III structures form the basis for dating the pottery of Judah in that period (Tufnell, 1953; Zimhoni, 1990).
The main Assyrian attack was carried out in the southwest corner of the city. The archaeological data make possible the reconstruction of the battle that took place here (Ussish-kin, 1990). The Assyrian army laid here a huge siege ramp (the oldest siege ramp, and the sole Assyrian one known). [See Assyrians.] Starkey unknowingly removed a substantial part of it. Made of boulders heaped against the slope of the mound, its top reached the bottom of the outer revetment. It is estimated that 13,000–19,000 tons of stone were dumped “there. The stones of the upper layer were joined with mortar to create a compact surface. An earthen platform on top of the siege ramp provided level ground for the siege machines.
As a countermeasure, the defenders laid a counterramp against the inner side of the city wall, opposite the siege ramp. It was composed of mound debris topped by a layer of limestone chips. At its apex it is about 3 m higher than the top of the city wall, forming a basis for a new defense line apparently erected there. When the defense positions on top of the city walls collapsed, the Assyrians had to extend the siege ramp in order to attack the new, higher defense line. The second stage of the siege ramp is also composed of boulders.
Remains of weapons, ammunition, and equipment have been recovered, mostly at the point of attack at the southwest corner: a bronze helmet crest, scales of armor, sling-stones, iron arrowheads, a few carved bone arrowheads; a fragment of an iron chain, and twelve large, perforated stones apparently used by the defenders to unbalance the siege machines.
Starkey uncovered a mass burial—the scattered, disarticulated skeletons of about fifteen hundred individuals—in a few adjoining caves that may be associated with the Assyrian attack. D. L. Risdon (1939) has studied 695 skulls belonging to men, women, and children; three had been trepanned. Curiously, the crania bear a close racial resemblance to the contemporary population of Egypt.
A series of stone reliefs commemorating the conquest of Lachish existed in Sennacherib's palace at Nineveh (Kuyunjik), decorating the walls of a large room (Ussishkin, 1982). [See Nineveh.] The palace was excavated in 1847–1851 by Austen Henry Layard, who sent most of the reliefs to the British Museum in London. The original length of the relief series was 26.85 m; 18.85m were sent to London and thus preserved. From left to right, the series depicted Assyrian horses and charioteers, Assyrian infantry attacking the city, the besieged city itself, Assyrian soldiers carrying booty, deported families leaving the city, Judean captives, Sennacherib seated on his throne, the royal tent and chariots, and the Assyrian camp. The city is portrayed in detail: the city gate and city walls under attack (see figure 3), the huge siege ramp on which five siege machines are deployed, and a large structure in the center of the city, possibly the palace- fort. The perspective, in schematic Assyrian style, appears to be from a point on the slope of the hill southwest of the mound. It may be the point, probably in front of the Assyrian camp, from. which Sennacherib watched the battle from his throne, as depicted in the relief.
Royal Judean storage jars.
Tel Lachish is a key site for studying royal Judean storage jars and their stamps. By 1994, 403 royal stamps and 63 personal stamps from Lachish had been amassed: 85.60 percent of the royal stamps are of the four-winged type, and 73.96 percent of the identifiable royal stamps include the city name Hebron. All the stamped handles belong to storage jars of type 484, following Tufnell's classification (Tufnell, 1953), but many jars of this type were not stamped. Neutron activation analysis has shown that these jars were produced of similar clay, originating in the region of Lachish, indicating that they were manufactured at a single regional center.
Ten jars with stamped handles and many unstamped jars were restored. It appears thai jars of all die types found were used concurrently. The restorable jars were uncovered beneath the destruction debris of level HI and thus date to shortly before 701 BCE. This date fits the view that the royal storage jars were produced by Hezekiah's government as part of the preparations to meet the Assyrian invasion. The capacity of the stamped jars varies, so mat the stamps would not have been a royal guarantee of capacity. The personal stamps were also impressed on jars with royal stamps (Ussishkin, 1976), suggesting that the owners of the personal stamps were either potters or officials otherwise associated with the production of the jars. There is no consistent pattern to where on a handle the stamps were applied; many stamps were applied carelessly and were not ment to be read.
Following a period of abandonment, Lachish was rebuilt and refortified, probably during the reign of Josiah (639–609 BCE). The level II city was poorer and less densely inhabited, and its fortifications weaker than those of levels IV-III. The palace-fort was not rebuilt, and its ruins loomed over the center of the city. Numerous small houses were uncovered in different parts of the site.
A smaller city gate was built on the ruins of the earlier one. It contained an outer and an inner gate, with a rectangular courtyard surrounded by small rooms between them. The Lachish letters uncovered in one of these rooms hint that the city's headquarters were located in the city-gate complex. [See Lachish Inscriptions.] The outer revetment was repaired, and a new main stone city wall was erected on the remains of the previous wall.
Numerous Hebrew ostraca, inscriptions on pottery vessels, bullae, seals, and inscribed weights were found in level II. Most important are the Lachish letters, a group of ostraca interpreted as correspondence mostly sent to “my lord Yaush,” an army commander at Lachish, by a subordinate stationed at some point not far from the city, shortly before the Babylonian conquest (Torczyner et al, 1938). Yigael Yadin (1984) believed that the letters are copies or drafts of letters sent from Lachish to the commander in Jerusalem. Several inscriptions on vessels were found in a storeroom near the city gate, two of which define types of wine kept in the vessels. Two jar inscriptions mention dates—probably the regnal years of Zedekiah (596–586 BCE). Seventeen bullae stamped with Hebrew seals were found in the solar shrine area; another, stamped with the seal of “Gedaliah who is over the house”—possibly Gedaliah son of Ahikam (2 Kgs. 25:22)—was found on the surface of die mound.
Level II was destroyed in 588/86 BCE by Nebuchadrezzar, king of Babylon. Shortly before, Jeremiah (34:7) had named Lachish as one of the remaining Judean strongholds. A considerable amount of pottery—including storage jars stamped with a rosette emblem—was sealed beneath the debris of the houses, providing an indicative pottery assemblage for the period (Zimhoni, 1990).
After a period of abandonment following the destruction of level II, Lachish was rebuilt as a Persian government center. Level I covers the Babylonian, Persian, and die beginning of the Hellenistic periods. The fortifications were restored, and a small palace (the Residency), a temple (solar shrine), and a few large buildings were constructed. Judeans returning from the Babylonian Exile settled mere (Neh. 11:30). The Residency was constructed on the foundation podium of die Judean palace-fort, which was cleared of the debris from the level III palace-fort. The Residency was smaller than the earlier edifice. Its plan combined that of an Assyrian open-court house and that of a North Syrian bit-ḫilani; the square column bases in the porticos were carved in Achaemenid style. At a later phase of level I, the Residency was settled by squatters. The solar shrine, whose entrance faced east, was built in a style similar to it, and they are probably contemporaneous. The finds indicate that the shrine was in use until the Hellenistic period. The Persian-period finds include about two hundred small limestone altars found outside the mound near the southwest corner. [See Altars.] One altar bears an inscription mentioning incense. [See Incense.] It is not clear whether these altars were associated with the cult practiced in the solar shrine.
The settlement was abandoned during the Hellenistic period. For unknown reasons, Marisa/Mareshah and then Eleutheropolis/Beth-Guvrin replaced Lachish as the region's central settlement. [See Mareshah.] A segment of the Roman road from Eleutheropolis to Gaza, which passed near the site, was uncovered by Starkey. Numerous coins from different periods were found on the surface, indicating that the summit was continuously cultivated. The western part of the summit contained burials, devoid of any burial offerings, which probably belonged to bedouins. The latest remains include trenches, cartridges, and coins from Israel's War of Independence in 1948.
[See also the biographies of Aharoni, Harding, Layard, Starkey, and Tufnell.]
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- Ussishkin, David. “Levels VII and VI at Tel Lachish and the End of the Bronze Age in Canaan.” In Palestine in the Bronze and Iron Ages: Papers in Honour of Olga Tufnell, edited by Jonathan N. Tubb, pp. 213–230. London, 1985.
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- Wente, E. F., and C. C. Van Siclen. “A Chronology of the New Kingdom.” In Studies in Honor of George R. Hughes, edited by J. H. Johnson and E. F. Wente, pp. 217–261. Studies in Ancient Oriental Civilization, 39. Chicago, 1976.
- Yadin, Yigael. “The Lachish Letters: Originals or Copies and Drafts?” In Recent Archaeology in the Land of Israel, edited by Hershel Shanks, pp. 179–186. Washington, D.C., 1984.
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