Ancient Near Eastern texts indicate that fortifications, whether they were of a city, citadel, or temple, were constructed at the behest of the king. The second-millennium B.C.E. Epic of Gilgamesh attributes the construction of the 6.2 mile (10 km) long city wall of Uruk to the titular character (I.11–23). Such a city wall was discovered in Uruk level III, which dates to the Early Dynastic I period (2900–2650 B.C.E.), the period to which the historical Gilgamesh (ca. 2750 B.C.E.) is dated via inscriptions. And in the Ur III period (ca. 2112–2004 B.C.E.) many Mesopotamian inscriptions record how kings built great walls (COS 2.138A, 2.141A; RIME 3/2:106, 290). References to the construction or refurbishment of fortifications on behalf of the king appear in the second-millennium literature not only of Mesopotamia but also of Egypt (Sinuhe) and the Hittites (Instruction of Arnuwanda; Laroche, 1971, p. 261). In the first millennium numerous Neo-Assyrian documents reference the construction of fortifications either at the bidding of the king or on the command of one of his officials (e.g., SAA 1.064, 138, 5.056, 291, 292, 13.028, 168, 15.113), and similar references appear in many monumental northwest Semitic inscriptions: Mesha (KAI 181:21b–22), Azatiwada (KAI 26:i.13–18), Zakkur (KAI 202: B5–8), and likely Panamuwa I (KAI 214:10).

The biblical texts also record that many of the kings of Israel and Judah constructed fortifications. In particular, for the later Chronicler, the building of fortifications was the very essence of being a powerful king. According to 1 Kings 9:15–19 and 2 Chronicles 8:4–6 Solomon erected fortifications in Jerusalem, Hazor, Megiddo, Gezer, Upper and Lower Beth-horon, Baalath, Tamar, or Tadmor, along with various store cities, cities for his chariots, and cities for his horsemen in order to consolidate the conquests of his father, David. Following the division of the United Kingdom, Rehoboam fortified and stockpiled numerous sites throughout Judah (2 Chr 11:5–12). His grandson Asa took the stones of Rama, which was fortified by Baasha, and fortified Geba and Mizpah (1 Kgs 15:17–25). In addition to these two sites, Asa fortified numerous other unnamed sites by surrounding them with “walls and towers, gates and bars” (2 Chr 14:6–7). In the northern Kingdom of Israel, Jeroboam built Shechem and Penuel (1 Kgs 12:25) and Omri fortified Samaria (1 Kgs 16:24). The Chronicler later attributed the construction of additional fortifications to Jehoshaphat (2 Chr 17:12), Uzziah (2 Chr 26:6–14), Jotham (2 Chr 27:3–4), Hezekiah (2 Chr 32:5, Isa 22:10), and Manasseh (2 Chr 33:14), while Nehemiah 3 relates how Nehemiah, with the blessing of his Persian overlords, had the walls and gates of Jerusalem rebuilt. 1 Kings 16:34 records the unique instance of Hiel of Bethel attempting to refortify Jericho. This attempt met with failure and was condemned by the biblical author. Further references to walls, towers, gates, and fortresses abound in the prophetic books and writings: Isaiah 2:15, 25:12, 26:1, 60:18, 62:6; Jeremiah 1:15, 1:18, 15:20, 21:4, 39:4, 48:41, 49:27, 51:12, 51:58; Ezekiel 26:4; Amos 1:7, 1:10, 1:14; Psalms 31:3, 71:3, 144:2; Proverbs 25:28; Song of Solomon 8:10. Many of these passages refer to various elements of fortifications as metaphors for the strength or protection of Yahweh.

Though the texts make the relationship between the construction of fortifications and royal prerogative clear, they are often devoid of explicatory details concerning the rationale for the style, magnitude, location, and number of such fortifications as identified through archaeological excavations and surveys. Understanding the rationale, including the function and meaning, of fortifications in the ancient world, particularly in ancient Israel, is possible to achieve when a more holistic approach is taken, one that addresses: (1) the motivating forces and reasons behind the construction and form of fortifications, (2) how those motivating forces used and were limited by the socioeconomic structures of a culture, and (3) how the geographical placement of fortified sites as a coherent network connected to the political organization and its aspirations. The remainder of this article contextualizes fortifications according to these broader geopolitical and socioeconomic considerations, and it emphasizes that over the Bronze and Iron Ages changes in political structure resulted in adjustments to the arrangement and specific manifestation of fortifications.

Middle Bronze II.

The Middle Bronze II (ca. 1850–1550 B.C.E.) is characterized by the presence of numerous competing autonomous cities, a limited number of which held dominance over their neighbors and essentially created regional kingdoms. One of these kingdoms was centered at Hazor, as is suggested by references in documents from Mari and the biblical reference to Hazor as “the head of all those kingdoms” (Josh 11:10). Another has been proposed at Ashkelon based on the archaeology and settlement pattern of sites in the Coastal Plain, which form multiple rings of protection around Ashkelon in a manner similar to defensive networks in northern Mesopotamia and Syria.

Throughout the Levant, massive earthen ramparts coated with protective glacis were often augmented by formidable city walls and robust gatehouses. Typically, the entryway of the gate was narrow and had shallow chambers that were deep enough to receive the open doors of the gate (Hazor strata 4–3, Megiddo X, Shechem XVI, Gezer XIX–XVIII). Its length was often dictated by the width of the earthen ramparts into which the gate was placed. The most common Middle Bronze–Age gate, the so-called Syrian gate, had massive flanking towers with internal rooms typically accessible from the entryway itself and two sets of doors—one set facing the city and the other facing outward—which, when closed, turned the gate structure into a makeshift citadel. These gates served to control access into and traffic out of a city; they were defensive checkpoints.

The reason for the magnitude and ubiquity of these defenses, particularly the ramparts, is not entirely clear; but there are two main interpretations: (1) they were functional and related to migrations of groups, namely the Amorites, and the development of siege weaponry during the Middle Bronze Age and (2) they were ideological reflections of the sociological and political settings of the period. According to the latter interpretation, the presence of massive fortifications—walls, ramparts, towers—was a commentary on the power and legitimacy of the ruling authority, foreign or local. Massive defensive features could serve as propaganda that actually reified the social or political hierarchy.

In a few cases, truly powerful city-states created a network of fortifications around a central core, as indicated by both the settlement pattern of excavated and surveyed fortified sites throughout the Levant and the texts discovered at Ebla (Early Bronze Age), Mari, and Ugarit that define specific types of fortified sites: cities, fortresses, and towers. Hazor and Ashkelon are two such sites that apparently had their own networks, but for the most part the Middle-Bronze pattern in the southern Levant involves isolated, impressively fortified cities without evidence of a defensive network beyond the urban core.

Middle-Bronze fortifications are some of the most substantial defenses to be constructed in the ancient world. They created an indelible impression on the landscape of the Levant, were often reused in later periods, and ultimately influenced not only the shape of many sites but also the nature of their subsequent fortifications. For instance, the Middle-Bronze ramparts at Ashkelon were reutilized and refurbished from the Iron I, when they served as the foundation for massive mud-brick towers, up until the Fatimid period (969–1153 C.E.), when they were refaced with stone. Moreover, Middle Bronze–Age fortifications attracted later kings, who, by appropriating such fortifications, inherited an already defensible site and established a sense of legitimacy by connecting themselves to monumental edifices. In Jerusalem the massive Bronze-Age fortifications surrounding the Gihon Spring continued to stand over 33 ft (10 m) in height into the Iron Age, highlighting Jerusalem’s suitability as a royal city.

Late Bronze Age.

With the expulsion of the “Hyksos” from Egypt and the subjugation of the Levant by the Egyptian New Kingdom during the Late Bronze Age (ca. 1550–1185 B.C.E.), Canaanite sites either continued to use fortifications constructed in the Middle Bronze Age, built a contiguous belt of houses around the perimeter (e.g., Megiddo VIIB, Tel Batash X–VII, Tell Beit Mirsim C; cf. Josh 2:15), or had to dismantle their fortifications at the behest of their Egyptian overlords. Only in rare instances were freestanding city walls erected, as at Hazor (stratum XV) and Tell Abu Hawam (stratum V). And although the Canaanite cities preserved a level of political and social autonomy, as indicated in the Amarna Letters (ca. 1350 B.C.E.), the Egyptians appear to have mitigated the difference in stature among the various city-kingdoms, presumably dissolving any coherent defensive networks around individual sites. All sites ultimately fell under Egyptian authority.

Authority was manifest in the smaller fortresses and “residences” erected by the Egyptians at Deir el-Balah, Tell el-Farאah (S), Tel Seraא, Tell el-Hesi, Tell Jemmeh, Ashkelon, Tel Mor, Tel Harasim, Jaffa, Aphek, Beth-Shean, Kamid el-Loz, and, according to Egyptian texts, Gaza—all sites along the international coastal highway linking Egypt with the northern Levant. These fortresses/residences were roughly square buildings between 52.5 and 82 ft (16 and 25 m) per side and had walls that varied between 4.5 and 8.5 ft (1.4 and 2.6 m) in width. Based on Egyptian reliefs, texts, and documents recovered from some of these buildings, these fortresses/residences housed small garrisons and/or Egyptian officials and served administrative and defensive roles. They allowed Egypt to exploit and administer Canaan without necessarily dedicating an entire army to the region or maintaining a presence in every single city. Indeed, the Amarna Letters suggest that the army was of such limited force that additional troops were requested by Canaanite vassals on a regular basis to counter the raids of the Hapiru. Further, these letters infer the relative weakness of both the fortifications and local Canaanite authorities in comparison to those in the Middle Bronze Age.

Iron I.

With the collapse of Egyptian hegemony over Canaan in the twelfth century a power vacuum was created that resulted in, or allowed, the construction of more massive fortifications. And although the peripheral belt of houses does continue to appear (e.g., Megiddo VIA, ʾIzbet Sartah III, Beersheba VII, Tel Esdar III) and is the most common type of fortification in the Iron I (1185–1000 B.C.E.), more robust fortifications also appear. At Tel Kinrot (stratum V) a 36 ft (11 m) wide city wall was constructed. Nearby Tel Hadar (stratum IV) was also fortified, as were Tel Miqne-Ekron (stratum VII) in the Coastal Plain and Khirbet ed-Dawwara and Giloh in the Hill Country.

Without an overarching political authority, fortifications were erected presumably at the behest of and under the direction of tribal/clan elders, local kings (sĕranîm), or possibly “judges.” No individual site appears to have had the power and/or capability to establish a surrounding defensive network, particularly in the Hill Country. It is possible that the motivating factor behind the presence and magnitude of fortifications in this period is the proximity of a site to a key trade route. The most robust fortifications appear at sites situated along or near the international Coastal Highway: Ashkelon (mud-brick towers on the reused Middle-Bronze rampart), Tel Miqne-Ekron (10.6 ft [3.25 m] thick mud-brick wall), Tel Batash (city wall and possible citadel), Ashdod (small citadel), and Tel Kinrot. Additional fortified sites, such as Tel Hadar and Giloh, the latter of which is a tower ca. 37.7 ft (11.5 m) long on each side, sat abreast other routes.

Iron II.

Beginning in the tenth or ninth century B.C.E. there was a development in and propagation of fortifications related to the formation of localized states such as Israel, Judah, and Damascus, each of which was carving out territory and erecting fortifications for the protection of its borders and resources. Early in this period the peripheral belt of houses was bolstered through its combination with more substantial casemate walls, as seen at Khirbet Qeiyafa (late eleventh–early tenth centuries B.C.E.). This technique, in which one or two casemates of the city wall served as a building’s outer room, is quite common (cf. Megiddo Palace 6000 and Gezer Palace 10,000) and continues into the Iron IIB–C (e.g., Beersheba, Tell en-Naṣbeh, Beth-Shemesh, and Tell Beit Mirsim), though not all casemate walls have buildings adjoined to them (Hazor X–IX). Appearing contemporaneously with casemate walls are broad (13–29.5 ft [4–9 m] in width), solid walls built of mud bricks (Lachish IV, Beersheba V, Ashdod IX, Hazor VIII). Some of these solid walls are constructed in segments that are staggered, giving the wall a “sawtooth” appearance (Megiddo IVA, Tell en-Naṣbeh IIIB).

The increased presence, and sometimes size, of fortification walls beginning particularly in the ninth century B.C.E. is the result of increasing military capabilities among the local kingdoms, capabilities which are themselves related to the centralization of political authority. Better fortifications were needed to defend against stronger and more organized enemies. Furthermore, sites along invasion routes were more strongly fortified than those less accessible or strategic. By the eighth century B.C.E. the Assyrians had established an empire that was able to threaten the Levantine kingdoms, largely because they had a standing army. This army was no longer tied to the agricultural cycle as before but could conduct campaigns of indefinite distance and duration. The erection of fortifications that could withstand prolonged sieges was the only recourse (aside from submission) for survival since time was no longer an issue (assuming the attacking army had sufficient provisions).

Even more diverse than the style of wall in the Iron II is the style of gate, which ranged from a simple breach in the wall (Mezudat Hatira) to structures with two (Beit Mirsim B3), four (Khirbet Qeiyafa, Ashdod X, Beersheba V), or six (Hazor X, Megiddo VA–IVB, Gezer VIII) chambers to grandiose complexes with inner and outer gates (Dan III, Bethsaida V). At the same time, some sites did not even have a proper gate but were apparently entered via ladder (Kadesh Barnea III, Horbat Rosh Zayit IIa).

City gates in the Iron Age, while maintaining some resemblance to their Bronze-Age predecessors, evolve. They continue to have chambers, though they are generally much deeper. Some have flanking towers, though of less considerable size. Double doors with metal bars still seal their entryways (Deut 3:5, Judg 16:3), but now there is only one set of doors; gate complexes can no longer be secured and serve as minifortresses as they once could. And although Iron-Age gates continue to serve a defensive role, they also become a nexus for political, judicial, economic, and in some instances ritual activities. These additional functions served by the gate are clear from both the biblical texts and the material remains. The deep, bench-lined chambers of many gates provided places for elders, judges, and kings to assemble to hear legal cases and to make proclamations (cf. Deut 21:19, 22:15, 25:7; Josh 20:4; Ruth 4:1–12; 2 Sam 19:8; 1 Kgs 22:10; Jer 36:10, 38:7; Amos 5:10; Neh 8:1, 3). The gates at Lachish (stratum III) and Dan (stratum III) had inner and/or outer plazas lined with shops where economic transactions took place (cf. 1 Kgs 20:34, 2 Kgs 7:1). Watering troughs appear in many gates (e.g., Gezer VIII), as does evidence for cultic activity such as standing stones, ritual vessels, and deposits of ashes and burnt animal bones (Dan III–II, Bethsaida 5; cf. 2 Kgs 23:8; Ezek 8:3, 5; 16:24, 31).

While these various functions of the city gate are well known and have been discussed in detail, the reason that Iron-Age gates take on additional roles has not been articulated, nor has the reason(s) behind their changes in design. Certainly, the evolution in design and the augmentation of functions for the city gate are related to the political organization characteristic of the early Iron Age (i.e., Iron I and early Iron IIA). With the collapse of the palatial system common in the Bronze Age there was no longer a central edifice where administration and legislation were conducted. Instead, a new location had to be designated for conducting the business that had previously occurred in the palace; the city gate appears to be this new location beginning in the Iron Age. Even with the subsequent rise of the Israelite monarchy and the reappearance of palaces (which are often in the vicinity of the gate), the gate continued to function as a multipurpose structure.

Subsequent to the amalgamation of activities conducted at city gates and the resulting adaptations in the gates’ plans, there does not appear to be any additional chronological development in the design of city gates or walls within the Iron Age. Instead, gates and walls of various forms are found concurrently and in every phase of the Iron II. Differences in the plans and types of fortifications, alternatively, should be understood in light of numerous variables: a site’s location, its perceived strategic importance, and its defensive and/or administrative role within the monarchies of Israel and Judah. When a broad diachronic, geopolitical perspective is taken, it becomes possible to discern the reasons for variation in fortification types. Political developments both in the Israelite monarchy and in its neighbors led to changing borders, which led to adaptation in defensive strategies that required adjustments in the type of fortification at a given site.

The United Monarchy of Israel.

Solomon is the first king of Israel to whom the construction of extensive fortifications is attributed in the biblical texts, specifically fortifications at the sites of Hazor, Megiddo, Gezer, Jerusalem, Upper and Lower Beth-horon, Baalath, and Tamar (or Tadmor). Textual and historical issues aside, these cities are the most strategic for controlling the main international trade routes and access to Jerusalem. If these select sites were controlled by a united Israelite monarchy, then that monarchy would have controlled almost all north–south and east–west trade through the southern Levant.

Possible aids for articulating any tenth-century B.C.E. Israelite defensive network in a more comprehensive manner are the additional small, fortified sites that appear from the Galilee to the Negev. In Galilee rectangular fortresses were constructed at Har Adir, Tel Ḥarashim, and Horvat Rosh Zayit; and there is a string of fortified sites in the western hills of Lower Galilee that likely demarcate the border between Israel and Tyre. Though most of these fortresses are poorly preserved, making any estimation of their sizes problematic, their locations with commanding views to the west and/or north suggest they are associated with Israel and not Tyre. To the south, in the Negev, multiple “fortresses” were built as well. Though the majority of these settlements were not really fortresses—the exceptions being Quseima, Mezad Refed, and Metzudat Hatira—but strategically placed four-room houses, their military function is not in doubt as they overlooked trade routes through the Negev; Quseima sat abreast the Darb ʾAzza, and Hatira and Refed commanded the route from Quseima to Arad. While they were not constructed to withstand major military actions, they would have served as watchtowers that were inhabited by people presumably loyal to Israel/Judah and who may or may not have been military personnel. A structure functioning in a similar manner was found at el-Khirbe, located on a route leading up from the Judean Wilderness to Jerusalem.

Though far from clear, it is possible to posit a unified defensive network for the United Monarchy of Israel. The appearance of fortified sites in the tenth century B.C.E., and in particular their distribution across the landscape, suggests a geopolitical situation akin to that portrayed for the United Monarchy in the biblical texts, when Tyre plays a prominent role and an Israelite hegemony over the Negev is assumed. Moreover, the distribution of fortified sites in the tenth century B.C.E. is in stark contrast to the distribution of fortified sites in the ninth century B.C.E. Nevertheless, the short period of the United Monarchy and the difficulty in dating archaeological remains to such a specific period make it difficult to offer a definitive presentation of any possible defensive network for the United Monarchy.

The Northern Kingdom of Israel.

With the division of the monarchy following Solomon’s death, the biblical texts attest to the creation of a new border between Judah and Israel, in the region of Benjamin. One of the first steps taken by both the Northern and Southern Kingdoms was to fortify this region (1 Kgs 15:17) because it was a crossroads in the Hill Country. At the same time, Aram-Damascus and Moab were increasing in power, causing the kings of Israel to focus their defensive efforts on new borders. Israel’s concern with defending against Damascus is clearest in the fortification of Dan (stratum IVa) and Hazor (stratum VIII). During the United Monarchy the settlement at Hazor was confined to one-half of the upper city and surrounded by a casemate wall. In the ninth century B.C.E., however, the settlement expanded to cover the entire upper city and was refortified with a solid wall. Analogously at Dan, a massive bent-axis gate complex was built to protect Israel’s northernmost site. On the east, large circular towers were constructed in the Jordan Valley (Khirbet el-Makhruq, Khirbet esh-Shaqq, Rujm Abu Muheir) at the entrances to routes leading into the heartland of the Northern Kingdom. Additional routes into Samaria were also guarded by fortified structures, which would have provided a barrier against any possible offensive taken by the Moabites (cf. KAI 181; 2 Kgs 3:4–27). The least defended border was the west, no doubt due to the good relations between Israel and the Phoenicians and the fact that the Phoenicians were not a viable military threat.

In general, the Northern Kingdom’s main threat was always from the north, which is why the fortifications were always strongest in that region. The biblical texts record numerous battles between Israel and Damascus, among its other neighbors, that often resulted in adjustments to Israel’s borders and, hence, a reconfiguration of its defense network (1 Kgs 15:16–24, 20; 2 Kgs 3, 10:32–33, 13:3, 14:8–14, 25). While any such changes are difficult to identify in the archaeological record for neighbors of such close proximity, the site of Tel Kinrot may illustrate these oscillations best. In the ninth century B.C.E. (stratum III) there is only a massive tower at the site. This tower may have been a forward Aramean position guarding the north–south international highway and the Plain of Gennesaret after they claimed the Huleh Valley during the reign of Jehoahaz. When the Israelites regained the Huleh, most likely under Jeroboam II, and extended the border back to Dan, they refortified Tel Kinrot with a fortress (stratum II), no doubt realizing its strategic location for protecting supply lines heading farther north.

The Southern Kingdom of Judah.

The topography of Judah was diverse, requiring Judah to implement multiple defensive strategies. To the east the Wilderness was always the least defended because it was the most unlikely direction from which an attack was expected (though consider 2 Chr 20:1–24); towers are the typical fortification in this region. In the northern Negev cities (Beersheba, Tel ʾIra, Tel Malhata, Aroer) and fortresses (Arad, Ḥorvat Tov, Horvat ʾUza) were established to control the key east–west trade route and access into the southern Judean Hills. During times of strength, Judah erected rectilinear fortresses and towers farther south in the wilderness of Zin and the Arabah to control trade. Rectilinear fortresses such as those at Arad, Mezad Hazeva, Kadesh Barnea, Tell el-Kheliefeh, Quseima, Kuntillet ʾAjrud, Horvat Radum, Horvat Tov, and Ḥorvat ʾUza developed only in Judah because the regions into which it typically expanded, the Negev and Arabah, were marginal zones devoid of cities but filled with nomadic tribes against whom protection, particularly for trade caravans, was often required. In times of weakness Judean hegemony over the region waned and local nomads and/or Edom commandeered such settlements.

Cities were the predominant type of fortified site in the Shephelah (Lachish, Beth-Shemesh, Mareshah, Tell Beit Mirsim), which was the main region through which invasions targeting Jerusalem transgressed. A geologically distinct region, the Shephelah can be divided into eastern and western halves at the ridge upon which Azekah and Tell Judeideh sit. Judah controlled the eastern Shephelah, and in times of strength, such as the days of Hezekiah, the kingdom held sway over the western half as well (extending to Tel Ereini, Tell es-Safi, Tel Batash, and Gezer). Very rarely did Judah ever control the Philistine Coastal Plain, a region that was typically autonomous or controlled by more powerful imperial forces. For instance, the Neo-Assyrian Empire fortified multiple sites in this region beginning in the mid-eighth century B.C.E.: Ashdod, Tel Jemmeh, Tell Abu Salima, Tel Seraא, and presumably Gerar.

Even if an enemy breached the heavily fortified Shephelah, they faced the narrow and precipitous ascents into the central Hill Country, which was truly one of the greatest deterrents to the conquest of Jerusalem. Additional fortified sites sat along or overlooking these ascents and at their summits (Gibeon, Khirbet el-Abhar, Giloh, Khirbet Abu et-Twein), though if these sites could be overcome, only a string of fortified sites (Hebron, Ramat Rahel, Jerusalem) along the narrow ridge of the central Hill Country would remain. That is why control of the region of Benjamin was imperative for Judah as well. That region provided Judah not only with its only east–west route through the mountains but also a strategic observational advantage with Nebi Samwil, further protection for Jerusalem from the north (by Tell en-Naṣbeh, Tell el-Ful, and the fortress at “French Hill”), and additional fertile agricultural land.


The political structures of ancient Near Eastern peoples—city-state, vassal kingdom, regional monarchy, tribal alliance—dictated the form and magnitude of fortifications in the southern Levant, along with the social organization and economic institutions that enabled the construction of such fortifications. At the same time, the socioeconomic structure of a society also influenced the political authority’s martial capabilities. For instance, practical matters such as materials for construction, workers, and time were all important factors that a ruler had to consider when erecting fortifications. These matters, in turn, were each linked to the social organization and economic ability of a given culture. Common in most of the cultures were institutions that provided manpower for the construction of fortifications and other civil projects without causing a major disruption to the agriculturally based lifestyle practiced by most peoples. The ilku and the mas systems provided corvée laborers, as did the military, which regularly dispatched (mercenary and/or standing) soldiers for construction projects during times of peace (1 Kgs 5:13–16, Neh 3). Yet as political ambitions grew, so did the institutions and bureaucracy necessary to enable military preparations, both offensive and defensive (e.g., the LMLK jar system in Judah).

The most common reason for the construction of fortifications was to protect resources that could be exploited by the ruling authority—humans, animals, water sources, and harvested agricultural produce. The general population certainly benefited from fortifications, but the fortifications were not built merely for their protection; they were built to protect a commodity or commodities that could be manipulated by those in power. What is necessary to protect these resources varies. Depending on the offensive capabilities of the enemy and the sociopolitical organization of the defenders, among other factors, the form and scale of fortifications fluctuated. In general, fortifications were the least extensive in periods characterized both by tribal or more localized rule (e.g., Early Bronze IV and Iron Age I) and by imperial rule (i.e., Canaanite vassal kingdoms in the Late Bronze Age). In the former context, rulers had limited resources and workers, but they also faced less vigorous military threats in comparison to other periods; raids typify military activity under such circumstances. In the latter context, the fortification of vassal kingdoms is both unnecessary, because the imperial power provides security, and disallowed, because the imperial power does not want vassals capable of rebelling and withdrawing to strongly fortified sites.

Fortifications are most robust when the political organization is on the level of the regional monarchy, for example, the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, and the city-state. Both instances allow for maximal construction of fortifications and require the most extensive defense, largely because of the proximity and comparative capabilities of the antagonists. With a city-state, defense is localized at the site itself, and sometimes a limited defensive network around the site, and fortifications peak in scale. This scenario is evident during the Middle Bronze Age IIB–C. In a regional monarchy, fortifications at individual sites are typically more modest in size in comparison to those of the Middle Bronze Age, but the number of fortified sites is far greater.

The second reason for the construction of fortifications is to consolidate territory taken through military expansion. As borders expanded, the authority would typically refortify sites that it conquered and/or construct new fortified sites such as fortresses or towers in order to control the acquired territory and often to create a coherent communication network. This is best illustrated by the Late Bronze–Age Egyptian fortresses/residences, the Neo-Assyrian fortresses in Philistia, and the rectilinear Judean fortresses in the Negev.

And the third reason for fortifications is ideological: population control. The presence of fortifications—walls, ramparts, towers, or fortresses—was a commentary on the power and legitimacy of the ruling authority, foreign or local. Again, the Late-Bronze Egyptian fortresses/residences and the Neo-Assyrian sites in Philistia, which were often built atop mud-brick platforms in order to stand out visually, are exemplars of the ideological use of fortifications, as are the numerous fortresses erected later by the Persians throughout the district of Abar Nahar (e.g., Shiqmona, Tell Kudadi, Tell Qasile, Ashdod, Tel Michal, Tell Jemmeh). Such ideological fortifications do not derive their authority from their size—they are always limited to one or a few well-built buildings—but from their mere presence. They are reminders of where the power actually lies.



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  • Herzog, Zeאev. “Fortifications: Fortifications of the Bronze and Iron Ages.” In The Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Near East, edited by Eric M. Meyers, pp. 322–326. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.
  • Kaplan, Jacob. “Further Aspects of the Middle Bronze Age II Fortifications in Palestine.” Zeitschrift des deutschen Palästina-Vereins 91 (1975): 1–17.
  • Keimer, Kyle H. “The Socioeconomic Impact of Hezekiah’s Preparations for Rebellion.” PhD diss., University of California, Los Angeles, 2011. A study that articulates the relationship between developments in warfare and socioeconomics, particularly in late eighth-century B.C.E. Judah.
  • Laroche, Emmanuel. Catalogue des textes Hittites. Paris: Éditions Klincksieck, 1971.
  • Liverani, Mario. “The Growth of the Assyrian Empire in the Habur/Middle Euphrates.” State Archives of Assyria Bulletin 2, no. 2 (1988): 81–98. An article that discusses models of the Neo-Assyrian Empire’s political and military expansion.
  • Mazar, Amihai. “Iron Age Fortresses in the Judaean Hills.” Palestine Exploration Quarterly 114, no. 2 (1982): 87–109. One of the first articles to discuss the defensive network of fortresses in Judah.
  • Morris, Ellen Fowles. The Architecture of Imperialism: Military Bases and the Evolution of Foreign Policy in Egypt’s New Kingdom. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 2005.
  • Parpola, Simo. “The Construction of Dur-Šarrukin in the Assyrian Royal Correspondence.” In Khorsabad, le palais de Sargon II roi d’Assyrie, edited by Annie Caubet, pp. 47–77. Paris: La Documentation Française, 1995. Discusses the correspondence between Sargon and his underlings concerning the construction of his capital city, Dur-Sharrukin. The emphasis is on the logistics of building this city as evidenced in the written record.
  • Trigger, Bruce G. “Monumental Architecture: A Thermodynamic Explanation of Symbolic Behaviour.” World Archaeology 22, no. 2 (1990): 119–132. Article that examines the ideology and symbolism behind monumental structures.
  • Yadin, Yigael. The Art of Warfare in Biblical Lands in the Light of Archaeological Study. 2 vols. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1963. The classic work on ancient Near Eastern warfare from the Neolithic to the end of the Iron Age. It is a typical military history that draws upon texts, archaeology, and ancient art.
  • Zertal, Adam. The Manasseh Hill Country Survey. 4 vols. Haifa: Israel Antiquities Authority, 1992–2005 (Hebrew). The first two volumes have been updated and translated into English (same title, Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 2004, 2008). These volumes contain excellent discussions of the settlement patterns within this region, site types, geology, and other topics.

Kyle H. Keimer