The biblical Gaza is an ancient site located in the modern city of Gaza in the southernmost portion of the Levantine coastal plain. The ancient site is called Tell Haruba, ca. 148 acres (60 ha) in size, and approximately 2.5 to 3.1 miles (4–5 km) from the Mediterranean seashore. The site is in a well-watered location and surrounded by rich agricultural lands. Its location is dictated by the route of the road running through the Nile delta along northern Sinai toward the Levant, well known from Bronze-Age times. The site is settled from Bronze-Age through modern times and is often mentioned in diverse historical sources. Unfortunately, it is poorly known from an archaeological point of view because of a lack of excavations. This article focuses on historical and archaeological evidence from the Bronze Age until the beginning of the Hellenistic period.

Textual Sources.

Gaza is first mentioned in the annals of Thutmose III (r. 1504–1450 B.C.E.) and throughout the Egyptian New Kingdom continues to appear quite often in various inscriptions, including in the el-Amarna letters. Throughout the New Kingdom, Gaza is referred to as “Pa-Canaan” (“the Canaan”; in some sources it is referred to as “Gazata”), indicating its role as the capital of the Egyptian province of Canaan, where the Egyptian governor of this province sat. Petrographic analysis of the el-Amarna letters has revealed that some of the letters from rulers of other cities in Canaan were actually written in Gaza, an indication of the administrative role of the city. In the early Nineteenth Dynasty, in the reign of Seti I (r. 1318–1304 B.C.E.), the earliest depiction of Gaza as a well-fortified city appears on the relief of a campaign of his to Canaan in ca. 1294 B.C.E.

Gaza figures in the biblical text as one of the five cities of the Philistine Pentapolis and, as such, is oft-mentioned relating to different stages of the Israelite historical narratives, the premonarchic cycles until the end of the Judahite kingdom. Throughout these texts, the role of Gaza as a Philistine city of central importance is maintained. Notice should be made of the mention of Gaza in the books of Joshua and Judges, among others, as one of the cities of the Philistines (Josh 13:2–4) and that it was not captured by the Israelites (Judg 1:18). Likewise, Gaza figures centrally in the Samson narratives (Judg 13—16). Finally, Gaza is condemned in Amos 1:6.

The Assyrian sources mention Gaza from the reign of Adad-nirari III (r. 810–783 B.C.E.) and onward. Tiglath-pileser III (r. 745–727 B.C.E.) campaigned to and captured Gaza and its king Hanno in 734 B.C.E., who had rebelled against Assyria. Hanno later rebelled again, and Sargon II (r. 721–705 B.C.E.) once again captured Gaza and deposed him from his throne in 720 B.C.E. This capture of the fortified city of Gaza is depicted in the reliefs of Sargon II at Khorsabad. Sil-bel, the next king of Gaza mentioned in the Assyrian texts, remained loyal to Assyria during Hezekiah’s rebellion in the late eighth century B.C.E.; and following the Assyrian suppression of this revolt, Sennacherib gave over territories that had been captured from Judah to Gaza and other Philistine cities. Sil-bel (whose name implies acceptance of Assyrian domination) continued to reign in Gaza for a lengthy period and is mentioned during the reigns of Esarhaddon (in 677) and Ashurbanipal (in 667). Gaza is also mentioned in an Egyptian inscription on a statuette on which Pediese, son of Api, the “messenger of Canaan and Philistia,” is mentioned; but unfortunately, the dating within the Iron Age is not clear.

During the second half of the seventh century B.C.E., Gaza played an important role in the Egyptian–Babylonian power plays for domination of the southern Levant, apparently changing hands several times (Jer 47:1 [and apparently Herodotus, Hist. 2.159] mentions its capture by a pharaoh, apparently Neco II), before finally being destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar in his campaign to Philistia in 604 B.C.E. Finally, during the reign of Nabonidus Gaza is a Babylonian garrison town, and the king of Gaza receives rations in the court of the Babylonian king.

Gaza was captured by Cyrus II (r. 585–529 B.C.E.) in 539 and served as an important station for the Persian attempts to conquer Egypt. In ca. 450 Herodotus (3.5) notes the extraordinary size of the city. Following a brief conquest of the city by the Egyptians in 350 B.C.E., Artaxerxes III (r. 358–338 B.C.E.) retook Gaza in his renewed attempt to conquer Egypt.

Gaza was the only city in the Levant to remain loyal to the Persians when Alexander the Great (r. 336–323 B.C.E.) reached the region in 332. The city, which was governed by the Persian eunuch Baris, held out against Alexander’s siege for two months but was eventually captured. Alexander killed all the male citizens, sold the women and children into slavery, and captured an enormous amount of booty. He then turned the city into a fortress.

Archaeological Remains.

The archaeological evidence from the city of Gaza itself is very limited, mainly because the modern city of Gaza is built directly upon the ancient city. In 1922, Pythian-Adams conducted a limited sounding, which consisted of three trenches that were dug into the fortifications of the city. While never fully published, he attempted to date the five phases of the fortifications that he discovered from the Late Bronze Age through the Hellenistic period. Very few finds were noted, save for various imported wares of the Late Bronze Age as well as decorated Philistine wares and Iron-Age pottery. While no additional excavations relating to the preclassical periods have been conducted in the ancient city of Gaza, excavations at nearby sites, both in the first half of the twentieth century (e.g., Petrie at Tell el-Ajjul and Anthedon) as well as later (e.g., de Miroschedji and Sadeq at Tell es-Sakan, Fischer and Sadeq at Tell el-Ajjul, Humbert at Anthedon, Steel et al. at al-Moghraqa), have revealed rich archaeological finds dating from the Early Bronze Age (Tell es-Sakkan), many sites of the Late Bronze Age, and limited evidence of the late Iron Age (Anthedon). In addition, a recent survey of the ancient city suggests that parts of the ancient mound may be available for excavation in the future (and that the ancient city may extend to the hill overlooking the city, Ali Muntar). Unfortunately, extensive development in and around the modern city of Gaza has destroyed many ancient sites. Nevertheless, it is hoped that in the future it will be possible to excavate remains from this important city. In 2008 an archaeological museum was opened in Gaza, which houses various remains from this city’s history.

Bibliography

  • Burdajewicj, M. “Gaza pendant les périodes du Bronze moyen et récent et de l’Âge du Fer.” In Gaza mediterranéenne: histoire et archéologie en Palestine, edited by J.-B. Humbert, pp. 31–39. Paris: Errance, 2000.
  • Clarke, J., L. Steel, and M. Sadeq. “Gaza Research Project: 1998 Survey of the Old City of Gaza.” Levant 36 (2004): 31–36.
  • Fischer, P., and M. Sadeq. “Tell el-אAjjul 2000: Second Season Preliminary Report.” Ägypten und Levante 12 (2002): 109–154.
  • Humbert, J.-B., ed. Gaza mediterranéenne: histoire et archéologie en Palestine. Paris: Errance, 2000.
  • Humbert, J.-B., and M. Sadeq. “Fouilles de Blakhiyah—Anthédon.” In Gaza mediterranéenne: histoire et archéologie en Palestine, edited by J.-B. Humbert, pp. 105–120. Paris: Errance, 2000.
  • Katzenstein, H. J. “Gaza in the Egyptian Texts of the New Kingdom.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 102, no. 1 (1982): 111–113.
  • Katzenstein, H. J. “Gaza, Prehellenstic Gaza.” In The Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 2, edited by D. N. Freedman, pp. 912–915. New York: Doubleday, 1992.
  • Miroschedji, P. de, and M. Sadeq. “Tell es-Sakan, un site du Bronze ancient, découvert dans la région de Gaza.” Compte Rendu de l’Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres 2001 (2001): 123–144.
  • Petrie, F. Ancient Gaza I: Tell el Ajjul. London: British School of Archaeology in Egypt, 1931.
  • Pythian-Adams, W. J. “Second Report on Soundings at Gaza.” Palestine Exploration Fund Quarterly Statement 56 (1923): 18–30.
  • Steel, L., J. Clarke, M. Sadeq, et al. “Gaza Research Project: Report on the 1999 and 2000 Seasons at al-Moghraqa.” Levant 36 (2004): 37–88.
  • Steindorff, G. “The Statuette of an Egyptian Commissioner in Syria.” Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 25 (1939): 30–33.
  • Tadmor, H. “Philistia under Assyrian Rule.” Biblical Archaeologist 29, no. 3 (1966): 86–102.

Aren Maeir