In preindustrial society, agriculture was the mainstay of the economy. The importance of land as the principal factor of production in the ancient economy is evident in the productive branches that were based on agriculture, including the making of olive oil and of wine and the growing of grain. The location of the land of Israel at crossroads through which several international highways passed allowed commerce that was based not only on local agricultural production but also on trade in luxury goods. The study of the Bronze- and Iron-Age economy is based on sources that are numerous and diverse but that can be divided into two principal groups: written materials and archaeological finds.

The written materials include literary works, royal texts, administrative documents, as well as seals. Some of the texts are contemporaneous or nearly so with the events they describe; others were written long after those events and were based on earlier written sources or on oral traditions.

The biblical text is the principal written source for reconstructing economic activity during the Bronze and Iron Ages. Biblical law offers a systematic, detailed, and focused expression of the socioeconomic values that the legislator wanted to convey to society. Of all the prohibitions in the Pentateuch, however, only a few manifest an effort to shape economic life. Examples include the prohibition on taking interest: “If any of your kin fall into difficulty and become dependent on you, you shall support them; they shall live with you as though resident aliens. Do not take interest in advance or otherwise make a profit from them, but fear your God; let them live with you” (Lev 25:35–36). Another prohibition on fraudulent weights and measures is “You shall not have in your bag two kinds of weights, large and small. You shall not have in your house two kinds of measures, large and small” (Deut 25:13–14). In contrast, actual economic practices can be inferred from several verses describing economic activity that appear sporadically in the biblical text. For example, the forceful prophetic denunciations of deceit in weights and measures show the central place of retail trade in the Iron-Age economy. Consider, for instance, the reproof directed by the prophet Micah to the wealthy men of Jerusalem, who deal deceitfully by the use of short weights and measures (Mic 6:9–16). His comments on the weighing and measuring processes indicate the widespread use of scales and weights.

It is nearly certain, however, that the Bible’s laws reflect only some of the social and economic practices that were followed. The biblical text makes no mention, for example, of laws regarding such matters as sharecropping, the leasing of real property, and the writing of legal documents. Some economic laws, though not mentioned in biblical legislation, are alluded to in passing in the prophetic narratives as customs or norms; and it therefore may be inferred that they were practiced. An example is the king’s right to confiscate the property of rebels (1 Kgs 21) or to expropriate the property of one who has emigrated (2 Kgs 8:1–6).

Archaeological Findings.

Archaeological findings include the traces of material culture that are discovered in excavations. These findings reflect, in a direct and unmediated manner, the period in which they were created and from which they were left behind; and they provide the most credible evidence of economic life during that period. The archaeological findings that are of use in reconstructing ancient economies are comprised of the structures and installations uncovered as well as the wide range of other artifacts found at the various sites. The installations found at a site, such as winepresses, olive presses, and granaries, provide evidence of the economic branches that developed in the land of Israel. The distribution of installations indicates the degree of importance assigned to each branch of agriculture and to nonagricultural crafts and industries. The findings revealed within these structures and installations include ceramics, organic materials both botanical and zoological, stoneware, metalware, and small finds. These findings make it possible to assess the scope of activities in production, as well as local and international trade.

Economic Branches.

In preindustrial society, land was the main factor of production and, accordingly, the most important economic resource. It was not only the rural populace that was engaged in agriculture; most city-dwellers were also involved in it. The economy of the land of Israel was based on three principal economic branches: grains, olives, and grapes. The earliest evidence for the existence of these branches in the land of Israel goes back to prehistoric times. But only at the beginning of intensive settlement in the Judean and Samarian mountains, during the Early Bronze–I period, did the cultivation of these crops assume their central place in the economy. Their importance is expressed in historical accounts from all periods beginning with biblical times and continuing in preindustrial villages of the early twentieth century. The Bible makes abundant references to these branches as well as to various terms related to viticulture and the production of wine, which are mentioned hundreds of times (for example, Isa 5:1–6, 16:10; Jer 35:5, 39:10; Hos 10:1; Amos 6:6). Similarly, one can see a full treatment of olives and olive oil (for example, 2 Kgs 18:32, Isa 17:6, Jer 11:16, Mic 6:15). Later sources also abound in accounts of the significance of these branches of the economy. Worthy of mention among the later sources is the comment of Rabbi Yohanan that “one’s assets should be divided in three: one-third in grain, one-third in olives, and one-third in grapes” (b. t. B. Meṣiʾa 107b).

Commercial Activity.

One of the principal characteristics of economic activity is the existence of trade, both local and international. The extent of the commercial system can be inferred, first and foremost, from the presence of imported artifacts found at various sites. But it is not only the mere existence of commerce that is important in assessing the economic system; also significant is its complexity. A simple system of exchange has no intermediaries, with manufacturers bringing their own products to market. But with rising sophistication in the level of commerce, there emerges a chain of intermediary merchants whose role is focused solely on buying and selling various products. The existence of a class of professional merchants suggests as well that internal commerce is being conducted on a large scale, for nearby markets can easily be reached by the manufacturer, with no need for an intervening merchant. The status of merchants in antiquity has been extensively studied. The subject is of considerable importance, for the very existence of an independent merchant class can be indicative of the development in the past, as in modern times, of a market economy based on supply and demand.

The study of ancient trade economy is based on two main approaches: the substantivist and the formalist. According to the substantivism model market-based economic activity does not predate the fourth century B.C.E. According to this view ancient and undeveloped societies were familiar only with reciprocity and redistribution. The devotion to that idea led proponents of this model to find some other way to characterize the ancient Near-Eastern societies in which diverse economies had developed, referring to them as economies of “premarket” commerce. That sort of commerce, they maintained, was marked by trade agreements, and participation in it was limited to official agents of the religious or governmental authorities. Economic initiatives clearly attest to the existence of a market economy, as existed in the Assyrian colonies that were established in Anatolia early in the second millennium B.C.E. (the Kārum). They were regarded as having been limited to the elite social classes and being involved primarily in high-value raw materials. The substantivists maintain, accordingly, that long-distance trade in ancient times was not conducted under the rules of a market economy in which prices were set by supply and demand. Rather, it was part of the economic system controlled by the state and subservient to its interests.

In contrast, the formalists understood the market economy as an expression of rational economic behavior, which was manifested in ancient economies as well. Their most widely accepted example of an ancient market economy was the Kārum. In their view the Assyrian merchant colonies in Anatolia (ca. 1800 B.C.E.) engaged in long-distance trade, and the merchants profited, as individuals, from the import and export of various goods.

The diverse findings throughout the ancient Near East in general, and the land of Israel in particular, attest to the lively commercial activity throughout the second and first millennia B.C.E. Nevertheless, it must be noted that evidence for the existence of a market economy in one society does not necessarily warrant broad generalizations, for it is possible for islands of a market economy to exist in an expanse characterized by other economic systems.

An example of commercial activity on a large-scale was exposed in Ashkelon, the central port city of Philistia in the seventh century B.C.E. The market area included both shops and administrative buildings. In the eastern building, named by the excavators the “shops building,” a butchery and a wine shop were discovered. The identification of room 431 as a butcher shop was based on a large number of bones that were found in it, containing two complete lower forelegs of cattle. Storage jars and juglets found in room 423 allowed the excavators to reconstruct this room as a wine shop. Next to the wine shop an ostracon dealing with wine trade was discovered. It seems that it was used for receipt or delivery of five storage jars of beer and an unknown amount of red wine. A storehouse with three narrow, elongated rooms was built near the shop building. It appears that in this building the goods were stored before transferring them to the shops. The complex contained two additional structures: the administrative center and the “counting house.” The finds in the counting house included weights of bronze and stone and a fragment of scales. The finds from the marketplace in Ashkelon allow reconstruction of the mechanisms of the trade economy in the Iron Age. But the excavators could not agree on theory (substantivist or formalist).

The System of Roads.

The system of roads constitutes the infrastructure for all economic–commercial activities, for the conveyance of merchandise requires transportation arteries that can be traversed by humans on foot and by animals. The most frequent biblical word for road is derekh (for example, Gen 38:14, Num 21:33). The words orah and netiv seem to be used in the same sense as derekh, and it is impossible to assign them distinct definitions. The roads were not paved in any way and were formed by the regular passage of humans and beasts. Of all the biblical words connoting types of roads, the only one linked to construction activity is mesilah (Isa 62:10). The word appears as well in the Mesha Stone, which contains the phrase mesillat ba-arnon (“the highway in the Arnon”). It is possible that the reference there is to a paved road, for the channel of the Arnon stream was difficult to traverse. According to Tidwell (1995), the term mesillah refers not to a road that passes outside the limits of settlements but to the approach road known from the archaeological findings that led from the base of the tell to the main gate. That road was bounded on both sides by walls and included the paved plaza before the city gate.

Two international roads traversed the land of Israel. The first was the road that ran from Egypt to northern Syria and continued from there to Mesopotamia and Anatolia; it is sometimes referred to as “Via Maris” (derekh ha-yam). The road began in the eastern Nile delta, from which it ran north along the southern Coastal Plain. It forked into several branches, one near the coast and the others farther east, until it came to Aphek, near the sources of the Yarkon River. From Aphek it continued northward along the Sharon and then northeastward toward the Jezreel Valley, Transjordan, Damascus, the Lebanon Valley, and on into northern Syria, Mesopotamia, and Anatolia. The northern segment of this road diverged at Megiddo, running northward toward Acre and from there to Tyre and Sidon and continuing to northern Phoenicia. Second in importance was the road known as derekh ha-melekh, “the King’s Road” or “the King’s Highway.” It began in the southeastern Aravah, near the Gulf of Eilat, from which it traversed the length of the eastern bank of the Jordan, extending northward to Damascus. It there joined the eastern branch of the Sea Road and turned toward Mesopotamia.

The local road system included primary and secondary roads that traversed the length (north–south) and breadth (east–west) of the land of Israel, forming a network that linked cities and nearby villages as well as settlements more distant from one another. The principal north–south road followed the central mountain range along the watershed line between Hebron and Shechem. This road is described in Judges 21:19—“the highway that goes up from Bethel to Shechem.” Along the road were important cities such as Devir, Hebron, Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Mizpeh, Bethel, and Shechem. Additional north–south roads ran on both sides of the mountain road. To its west, a road ran along the trough valley, from Tel Halif in the south to Beth-Shemesh in the north. To its east, another north–south road ran along the Jordan Valley depression, from Jericho to Beth-Shean. In addition, there were east–west roads running the breadth of the land of Israel, some following stream channels that were easily traversed and served as natural routes.

Local Commerce.

The city gate had particular significance in urban life, for it was a necessary transit point, sometimes the only transit point for residents and visitors entering and leaving the city. It therefore became a natural crossroads and meeting point for the population as a whole. Moreover, since the area near the gate was free of structures, it lent itself to the building of squares and plazas that could accommodate large numbers of people for all manner of gatherings. The biblical sources tell of the gate’s importance in commercial activity. Jerusalem had several gates, each designated for a particular sort of commerce; references are found to the fish gate (Zeph 1:10) and the potsherd gate (Jer 19:2). That commerce in flour was conducted at the gate of Samaria can be inferred from 2 Kings 7:1: “But Elisha said, ‘Hear the word of the Lord: thus says the Lord, Tomorrow about this time a measure of choice meal shall be sold for a shekel, and two measures of barley for a shekel, at the gate of Samaria.’” Another biblical phrase is “the square at the gate” (2 Chr 32:6), connoting the plaza near the city gate. The term apparently refers to the squares built outside the city gate and inside the city adjacent to the gate. For example, Lachish had a set of gates comprising an outer gate and an inner one; between them was a plaza in which the city’s commercial activities could be conducted.

Commercial Markets and Resident Foreign Merchants.

Another biblical word connoting a place where commercial activity was conducted is huz or huzot. In its core meaning the word denotes an area outside the houses, that is, the street (2 Sam 1:20, Ezek 26:11), but it came to refer exclusively to an area of the market in which commercial activity was conducted. Jeremiah 37:21 refers to huzot hʿopym (the “bakers’ street”), evidently the place where bakers sold their wares to Jerusalem’s residents. It is almost certain that the city had other huzot, that is, markets in which merchants selling particular products were concentrated. The existence of such markets in the Philistine cities is evident from David’s lament for Saul and Jonathan, in which he cries, “Tell it not in Gath, proclaim it not in the streets of Ashkelon” (2 Sam 1:20). The huzot are mentioned again following the account of Ahab’s victory over the Arameans. In his surrender agreement, Ben-Hadad, the Aramean king, proposes that “thou shalt make markets for thee in Damascus, as my father made in Samaria” (1 Kgs 20:34).

This verse implies as well the existence of international commercial agreements providing for the permanent presence of foreign merchants. An example of that practice is the presence of Assyrian merchants in Kanish, Anatolia, during the nineteenth century B.C.E. This commercial arrangement was based on agreements between representatives of the city of Ashur, the Assyrian merchants sent from there, and the local Anatolian principalities in which the merchants were located. The commercial agreements grew out of the economic benefit they afforded both sides. A further example of the presence of foreign merchants in a capital city appears in Nehemiah 13:16, which speaks of Phoenician merchants in Jerusalem during the fifth century B.C.E.: “Tyrians also, who lived in the city, brought in fish and all kinds of merchandise and sold them on the sabbath to the people of Judah, and in Jerusalem.” From the biblical account, it appears that the Phoenician merchants were not a separate group; rather, they sold their wares alongside the local merchants, who sold local agricultural produce.

Means of Payment.

The principal means of payment in the ancient world was barter. The barter method is characterized by an exchange of goods directly for other goods without using money. Barter was used for trading in agricultural produce, light industrial products, and even luxury goods, obviating precise means of weighing and measuring. The main drawback to the system was that it required transporting goods long distances. Moreover, if valuable goods were traded, it was impossible to measure their exact value. For that reason, a uniform system of weights came to be employed, involving the use of a balance. The earliest evidence of the use of balances in the Near East dates from the beginning of the second millennium B.C.E., but it appears that their use in the land of Israel did not begin before the Late Bronze–Age period. Two groups of weights, made of hematite, shaped like grains of wheat, have been discovered—one in Neve Yam, south of Atlit, and the another at Yavneh Yam. This type of weight, widely used in Egypt, was in use in Canaan throughout the Late Bronze Age as well. Balance pans made of bronze and bone have been uncovered at strata dated to the Late Bronze Age and Iron Age; these sites include Tel Gerisa, Megiddo, Ashdod, and En Gedi. A balance beam was found at Lachish and dated to the ninth century B.C.E. The beam, evidently made of ivory, is of an Egyptian type. A similar beam was found at Megiddo.

A further indication of the use of balances is the biblical injunction against deceitful practices: “You shall not have in your bag two kinds of weights, large and small. You shall not have in your house two kinds of measures, large and small” (Deut 25:13–14). The prophets likewise admonished the people not to transgress the prohibition against deceit in weights and measures. These rebukes, issued by Amos and Hosea, who prophesied in the Kingdom of Israel (Amos 8:5, Hos 12:8), and by Micah, who prophesied in the Kingdom of Judah (Mic 6:12), show the widespread use of a system of weights based on balances and weights during the Iron Age II.

There are no details about weight systems before the eighth century B.C.E., but from the end of that century the shekel system became the usual one within the Kingdom of Judah. The basic unit in that system of weights was the shekel, symbolized by ♉ and weighing, on average, 0.4 ounces (11.33 grams). Additional units were multiples based on 2, 4, 8, 16, 24, and 40. The importance of the shekel is evident from its frequent appearance in the biblical text (Gen 23:16, Exod 38:29, 1 Sam 9:8, Ezek 45:12). At times, only the numerical amount of silver is mentioned and the word “shekel” is omitted, presumably because it was self-evident that the unit of weight was the shekel and there was no need to state it (for example, Gen 20:16, 2 Kgs 6:25, Hos 3:2, Zech 11:12 ). Because a monetary system involving coins having fixed value had not yet come into use, the word “shekel” connotes only a unit of weight. Payment in transactions was made in silver or other metals, in accord with the weight set by the parties to the transaction. For example, Jeremiah purchases the field of Hanamel ben Shalom for 17 shekels of silver: “And I bought the field at Anathoth from my cousin Hanamel, and weighed out the money to him, seventeen shekels of silver. I signed the deed, sealed it, got witnesses, and weighed the money on scales” (Jer 32:9–10).

Of the shekel weights found in Judah whose provenance can be determined, 66 percent come from private assemblages. That may suggest that commerce in the period of the Kingdom of Judah was conducted primarily in open markets, where balances could not be left in place; accordingly, weights were kept by merchants in their homes. Alternatively, it may suggest retail trade conducted within the private household, which would account for the weights being found in residences. Other weights found within the land of Israel are associated with different systems of weight used during the course of the Iron Age. Phoenician dome-shaped weights have been discovered at Achziv, Tell Keisan, and Horbat Rosh Zayit. Weights of this sort are also characteristic of the Phoenician area itself. An additional type ascribed to the Phoenician system includes tortoise-shaped weights. These weights, which maintain the Egyptian tradition of weights shaped like animals, have been found as well at Samaria and in the Philistine region. Assyrian weights in the shape of a crouching lion have been found at Arad and Tel Jemmeh, while weights of a Babylonian type, a sleeping-duck shape, have been found at Jerusalem and Atlit. The use of a uniform system of weights brought about the transformation of metal bars into a commercially important means of payment.

The metal was melted, refined, and shaped into uniform patterns, producing bars having a uniform weight that allowed for exact payment. An example is provided by the metal chunks bearing the seal of king of Samʿal, “Bar Rakkab son of Panamuwa,” from the second half of the eighth century B.C.E. For transactions of low value, small pieces of silver would be cut from the block of metal. These pieces were termed bizei kesef (Judg 5:19, “spoils of silver”). Excavations at various sites in the land of Israel have produced hoards of silver dated to the eighth and seventh centuries B.C.E. A hoard of silver was found in Eshtemoa. The hoard, which contained 55 lb (25 kg) of silver pieces in varied shapes, was stored in five jugs. Two of the jugs bore the inscription hamesh (“five”) written in ink. An analysis of the find suggests dating it to the eighth century B.C.E. Six additional silver caches, dated to the seventh century B.C.E., were found at Ekron. They contain, in all, 305 pieces of silver weighing a total of 50.1 ounces (1,419.6 grams). The hoard included mainly broken silver jewelry and pieces of silver, preserved only because of their value.

International Commerce.

International commerce requires enough wealth to support purchasing and shipping, roads that allow for the easy movement of caravans, and, of course, assurances that roads and those traversing them will be secure. Because these factors were beyond the capacity of private hands, one can be almost certain that if international commerce had existed, it would have involved governmental initiatives. For example, the merchants involved in international commerce are referred to in the Bible as “the king’s traders” (1 Kgs 10:28). It is unknown, however, whether these merchants were part of the governmental apparatus or independent merchants whose stay in a particular place was under the auspices of and with the support of the king. Many documents attest to the existence of this in the ancient Near East. In the archive of Zimrilim, king of Mari, Hazor was mentioned as the destination for a shipment of tin. Trade in tin was conducted under governmental auspices, and the shipment of tin from Mari was addressed to Ibni-Adad, the king of Hazor. Documents from the Neo-Assyrian period mention Assyrian merchants trading independently in a foreign land, but their presence there was in the king’s service. For example, they served as officers in the Assyrian army while still engaging in trade. One may assume that merchants often had to forge political connections that opened distant markets to them. That enhanced their position in the royal court, and they enjoyed benefits related to their commercial activities.

Archaeological findings, like the biblical texts, allow reconstruction of the network of international commercial ties during the Bronze and Iron Ages. During the late Bronze Age, the Canaanite storage jar came into use, marked by a tapering body and an accentuated heavy base, narrow and thickened. This particular shape facilitated shipping. An Egyptian tomb painting from the time of the New Kingdom depicts a Canaanite ship anchored at an Egyptian port, from which a cargo of storage jars of the Canaanite type was being unloaded. The shipwreck was discovered in the waters of Uluburun (Turkey), providing additional evidence for export of agricultural products from the land of Israel during the fourteenth century B.C.E. The location of the ship attests to the existence of a maritime trade route in the Mediterranean, used by commercial vessels. The ship’s cargo included copper and tin ingots, glass ingots, elephant and hippopotamus tusks, traces of ebony wood, and more than 150 Canaanite storage jars. Of the 59 such jars whose contents were examined, 76 percent contained traces of the Pistacia atlantica tree, from which a resin can be extracted that was evidently used as a fragrance-enhancing additive for wine. Petrographic analysis of these jars shows their source to be the northern coast of the land of Israel, a region in which P. atlantica trees were common. Additional Canaanite storage jars included traces of grains, almonds, figs, pomegranates, olives, and grapes.

“The catalog of merchandise” that appears in Ezekiel’s prophecy about the fall of Tyre shows that agricultural products were the principal export commodity also during the Iron Age. Ezekiel’s prophecy, chapter 27, dating from the beginning of the sixth century B.C.E., lists the nations and states with which Tyre maintained commercial relationships. The list contains the full range of products: metals, animals, ivory, wood, fabrics, agricultural produce, spices, precious stones, and gold. The agricultural products mentioned in the prophecy originate mainly in the land of Israel and Transjordan. The verse describes Judah and the land of Israel (maybe the Kingdom of Israel), which traded in the wheat of Minnith, millet (pannag), honey, oil, and balm (Ezek 27:17). Wheat and pannag are associated with the production of grain. Also mentioned are olive oil, honey, and balm, all coming from the land of Israel. It appears, therefore, that throughout the Bronze and Iron Ages, exports from the land of Israel were comprised primarily of agricultural produce, including oil, wine, and various types of fruit.

Faust and Weiss (2005) introduced an international commerce system, which included four agricultural regions in southern Israel during the seventh century B.C.E. Ashkelon, the site of a huge Mediterranean port, was at the heart of the local economic system. Ashkelon and its immediate vicinity was used primarily for the production of wine. The inner Coastal Plain and the Shephelah, farther to the east and best represented by Ekron, were used mainly for the production of olive oil. Judah and the Negev formed the third and fourth regions of production (for grains and grazing). This complex economic system was peripheral to the Mediterranean economic system of the seventh century B.C.E., the driving force behind Phoenician maritime trade.

The State Economy.

During the course of the Bronze and Iron Ages, a range of political systems existed in the land of Israel. While the Middle Bronze Age and Late Bronze Age were characterized by a sociopolitical system based on Canaanite city-states, during the Iron Age national kingdoms took shape in the area, such as those of Israel and Judah. But despite the differences between these systems, their ways of managing the state economy had much in common. The state administrative system acted as the executive authority, whose role was to see to the smooth running of the kingdom. To that end, senior officers and officials were appointed with the responsibility for taxation, military organization, and the king’s treasury. The written sources suggest that the state economy drew no distinction between the king’s personal budget and that of the public. On the one hand, the king had to fund all expenditures; on the other hand, he could appropriate all forms of income to his own needs, without any obligation to direct them to particular purposes.

In general, payments made by the state economy were of two sorts: recurring payments to fund regular services, such as compensation for services performed by various groups on behalf of the community, as well as a development budget to be invested in infrastructure. Similarly, the governmental sector had two principal sources of income: tax receipts, including offerings, gifts, and tariffs, as well as profits earned from property owned by the governmental sector. An example of compensation paid by the king to his loyalists is the practice of having them eat from the king’s table (1 Kgs 2:7, 4:27, 18:19). This practice was well known in the Mesopotamian region as well; a Mari document dated to the eighteenth century B.C.E. uses the term naptan šarrim (“the king’s meal”), whose participants included emissaries from distant lands and senior palace officials. Another form of stipend was the granting of “leftovers from the king’s table.” A similar term, “those who eat from the king’s table,” refers to royal officials and other members of the elite who dined off the king’s table and were granted allocations of meat. A group of documents found at Calah (Nimrud) and dated to the second half of the eighth century B.C.E. shows that in addition to portions of meat, the palace provided daily allocations of wine to those who had jobs in the royal service. Through the regular provision of food—whether by having people dine “at the king’s table” or by granting them “leftovers” from that table—the king fostered the loyalty of his beneficiaries, the key people on whom his rule was based. Also to be mentioned in this context is King Jehoiachin of Judah, who, after being released from imprisonment by the Babylonian king Evil-merodach (Amēl-Marduk), “Every day of his life he dined regularly in the king’s presence. For his allowance, a regular allowance was given him by the king, a portion every day, as long as he lived” (2 Kgs 25:29–30).

The state economy included the cost of the implementation of public works, such as fortification systems, storage houses, palaces, temples, and water systems. The investment in public works is the main characteristic of a centralized government since only a state initiative allows recruitment of the extensive manpower that is required in order to carry out these works. A description of these appears in 1 Kings 15:22: “Then King Asa made a proclamation to all Judah; none was exempt: they carried away the stones of Ramah and its timber, with which Baasha had been building; with them King Asa built Geba of Benjamin and Mizpah.” In order to fortify the new border between Judah and Israel, Asa recruited all the people of Judah for corvée and he did not dismiss anyone from this requirement. In the Bible, corvée was called also sebel (“to carry”) since this labor was associated with carrying heavy loads on the shoulder (1 Kgs 5:15–17). Since the government was obligated to cover only the living expenses of corvée laborers, the construction costs were quite low.

Along with its expenses, the governmental sector derived its income in large part from the imposition of taxes. The tax collected from residents of the kingdom was paid particularly in kind and sometimes in silver or other metals. Inasmuch as the principal industries in the land of Israel were the growing of grain, the production of olive oil, and the production of wine, taxes were paid primarily in those commodities.

Assyrian texts provide numerous details with regard to the taxation process. It can be assumed that the taxation system in the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah was based on those particular principles. Local rulers in each area were responsible for the collection of taxes. The collecting officials had the assistance of the military forces, who not only enforced the legal mandate to collect the tax but also helped in the transportation of the agricultural products to the regional storehouses. The finished agricultural products collected as tax were mostly stored in governmental warehouses. Evidence for this appears in the Arad inscriptions. Some ostraca refer to wheat that originated in the settlements in the Negev region (Yagur and Hazar Susah) and in the mountain region (Lower ʾAnim, Upper ʾAnim, and Maʿon). This produce was brought to the storehouse in the fortress, where it was kept for consumption by the soldiers who traversed the region. It seems that in wartime, when the public sector incurred expenses higher than usual, the tax burden imposed on the population was increased. The sums collected through the usual tax system were insufficient to cover the costs of war, and therefore, taxes specifically intended for that purpose were added. An example is the tax imposed by King Jehoiakim on the populace of Judah to cover the tribute paid to Pharaoh Neco (2 Kgs 23:33–35).

The royal estates were an additional source of income. In the various estates agricultural products were grown according to the regional climatic conditions. The agricultural output of these estates was used primarily to sustain the king’s household, his officials, as well as the army. It is likely that the surplus was sold in the markets, as were amounts exceeding the requirements of private households.



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Hayah Katz