Tel Lachish (in Arabic, Tell ed-Duweir), the site of the biblical city, is a large mound whose summit and steep slopes cover an area of ca. 31 acres (12.5 ha). Lachish is situated in the Shephelah, a geographical zone of low hills extending between the Coastal Plain to the west and the Hills of Judah to the east. Fertile land for cultivation is available in the valleys between the low hills, and the region is renowned for its vines and olive trees. The mound is located near Nahal Lachish, a dry brook which fills with water in rainy seasons. Here apparently passed one of the main ancient roads leading from the Coastal Plain to the Hills of Judah. Wells, which were fed by the water of Nahal Lachish, supplied the water for the settlement. One deep well was uncovered on the summit of the mound. Settlement in all periods prospered here due to available land for cultivation, ample water, and the location near a central road. The origin of the name “Lachish” is obscure; it first appears in an Egyptian document of the late Eighteenth Dynasty. The name may have derived from a north Semitic root which means “to burn, to set on fire.”
Ancient Lachish was first identified by Claude R. Conder with Tell el-Hesi located farther to the southwest. In 1929 Albright identified Lachish with Tel Lachish, and this identification is generally accepted. The identification is based on the reference to Lachish in the Onomasticon of Eusebius, the bishop of Caesarea in the fourth century C.E., who stated that Lachish is situated on the seventh mile along the Roman road from Eleutheropolis (Beth Guvrin) to Gaza (Onom. 120:20), and on the results of the excavations.
Large-scale excavations were conducted at Lachish by three expeditions. The British Wellcome-Marston expedition worked on a large scale between 1932 and 1938. It was directed by John Starkey, aided by Olga Tufnell and Lankester Harding. The excavations were abruptly terminated when Starkey was murdered by Arab bandits, and Tufnell later published detailed excavation reports. Starkey dug on the mound proper as well as in the surrounding areas. The slope beneath the northwest corner of the mound was excavated and then turned into the main dumping place for the soil excavated on the summit. The Canaanite temple known as the Fosse Temple located at the bottom of the site, the Judean city walls and city gate, the central Judean palace-fort, the quarry known as the Great Shaft, the ancient well, and the Persian Residency and Solar Shrine were the main structures investigated. A trench aimed at examining the earlier strata was dug in the northeast corner. In the late Judean city-gate complex Starkey uncovered the famous Lachish Letters, about 20 ostraca written in ancient Hebrew. A settlement of the Early and Intermediate Bronze periods was excavated northwest of the mound, and several cemeteries were systematically uncovered in the surrounding low hills and valleys.
The second excavation was carried out in 1966 and 1968 by Yohanan Aharoni on behalf of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and later of Tel Aviv University. The excavation was limited in scope and scale and aimed at examining afresh the Solar Shrine and the underlying strata. Various Late-Bronze and Iron-Age remains were uncovered, including a cache of cultic objects that Aharoni interpreted as part of a shrine.
Large-scale, systematic excavations were renewed in 1973 by the Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv University. The excavations, which lasted until 1987, were directed by David Ussishkin, assisted by Gabriel Barkay, Christa Clamer, Yehudah Dagan, John Woodhead, Eli Yanai, and Orna Zimhoni. In addition to the excavations, the expedition started a project of restoration in the Judean city-gate complex, which was later stopped for lack of funds. Following the excavations, Yehudah Dagan started a systematic survey of the Lachish region, which was later extended to encompass the entire region of the Shephelah.
The renewed excavations were carried out in five fields on the summit of the mound: Area S, the main stratigraphic section; Area P, monumental Canaanite buildings and the Judean palace-fort; Area D, a trench in the courtyard of the palace-fort; Area G, the city gates; Area R, a section at the point of the Assyrian attack in 701 B.C.E.
The renewed excavations followed the terminology of the British expedition for the upper six strata, labeled levels VI–I. It was impossible to accommodate all the newly excavated Bronze-Age data within Starkey’s levels VIII and VII, and these phases will be properly numbered when the stratigraphic section of Area S is further excavated. The stratum beneath level VI was labeled level VII, and the underlying phases were temporarily labeled S-3, S-2, and S-1. The strata underlying level VI in Area P were temporarily labeled P-5 to P-1.
The Tel Lachish Stratigraphy (Dates b.c.e.)
|Period||Level||Areas D, P, S; levels||Starkey’s levels||Observations|
|Small settlement on site or vicinity|
|Early Bronze IA||North-West Settlement|
|Early Bronze IB–II||Small settlement|
|Early Bronze III||Extensive, probably fortified settlement|
|ca. 2200 Destruction or abandonment of settlement|
|Intermediate Bronze||North-West Settlement, Cemetery 2000|
|Middle Bronze I||Area D cult place, P-6||Settlement on site, Cemetery 9000|
|Middle Bronze II||P-5, P-4||VIII||Fortified city; glacis, palace, tombs|
|ca. 1550 Destruction by fire|
|Middle Bronze II||P-3||Squatters in palace|
|Late Bronze IA||Area P, interim phase||Meager remains|
|Late Bronze IB||?||Fosse Temple I|
|Late Bronze II||P-2; S-3–S-1||Fosse Temple II, El-Amarna period|
|Late Bronze IIIA||VII||P-1||VII||Fosse Temple III|
|ca. 1200 Destruction by fire|
|Late Bronze IIIB||VI||VI||Prosperous city, Egyptian hegemony|
|ca. 1130 Destruction by fire|
|Iron I||Occupation gap|
|Early Iron IIA||V||V||Judean kingdom period, unfortified settlement|
|Late Iron IIA||IV||IV||Judean fortress city, Palace B on Podia A and B|
|Iron IIB||III||III||Rebuilt fortress city, Palace C on Podia A, B, and C|
|701 Destruction by Sennacherib|
|Iron IIC||Occupation gap|
|II||II||Judean fortified settlement, Lachish letters|
|587/6 Destruction by Nebuchadrezzar|
|Persian||I (1)||I||Settlement and pits|
|Hellenistic||I (2)||Persian fortified center|
|I (3)||Deterioration of settlement|
|ca. 150 Abandonment of site|
Some settlement existed on the mound or in its vicinity already during the Pottery Neolithic and the Chalcolithic (“Ghassulian”) periods. This is indicated by some Pottery Neolithic pottery shards, flint implements, flint arrowheads, and a pebble figurine and by Ghassulian pottery shards and flint tools found on the site out of stratigraphical context.
During the Early Bronze IA the mound was not settled, but remains of this period were uncovered in the North-West settlement (Area 1500) situated northwest of the mound. It appears that during Early Bronze IB–II a small settlement existed on the mound itself. By Early Bronze III Lachish must have become a large settlement, possibly covering the entire mound. Excavations reached this level only in a sounding in the center of the summit, where remains of houses were uncovered. Large amounts of pottery were found in fills all over the site. It seems probable that Lachish was fortified during this period, like many similar contemporary settlements. Lachish, like many other sites, was destroyed or abandoned at the end of the Early Bronze period.
During the following Intermediate Bronze period the mound was nearly abandoned and the settlement shifted to the North-West settlement (Area 1500); a cemetery containing ca. 120 rock-cut tombs typical of the period, each containing a single burial, was uncovered to the north of the settlement (Cemetery 2000). The culture of this period was labeled “caliciform culture” by Tufnell. The pottery of the tombs was assigned by Ruth Amiran to her “Southern Family A” and by William G. Dever to his “Families J and S.”
The Middle-Bronze Period.
Remains of a cult place in the center of the mound and a graveyard at the bottom of its slope indicate that by Middle Bronze I the settlement at the site was renewed. Nothing, however, is known about its size. By Middle Bronze II Lachish was already a major city-state in southern Canaan. Israel Finkelstein estimated that the Lachish city-state comprised an area of 347.5 square miles (900 km2) and had ca. 5,600 inhabitants. The finds from Lachish proper include fortifications, a palace, and richly furnished tombs. One of the tombs contained a bronze dagger on which was incised a four-letter Proto-Canaanite inscription, the earliest inscription of this kind known.
A glacis, the typical form of fortifications in the cities of the Levant during the Middle-Bronze period, was constructed on the slopes and gave the mound its present square shape and steep slopes. Starkey excavated the glacis in the northwest corner. It was made of horizontal fill layers and coated with a layer of lime plaster. No evidence for a proper city wall extending along the top of the glacis has been found. A rock-cut fosse extended along the bottom of the glacis and the mound at least along its western side.
The northwestern wing of the ruler’s palace was uncovered during the renewed excavations in the center of the site; the rest of the edifice extends beneath the Judean palace-fort. The palace (level P-4) was built over the remains of an earlier structure with a similar plan (level P-5). The massive edifice had thick, mud-brick walls, which probably supported a second story. Several huge, well-dressed stone slabs, incorporated into the walls and floors, probably originated in the earlier building. The palace was destroyed in a fierce fire, which marked the end of the Middle Bronze–II city. The destruction of Lachish probably concurred with the destruction of other great contemporary cities, such as Jericho and Shechem. Following the destruction, the palace was later resettled for some time, and various industrial installations were found there.
The Late-Bronze Period.
Following the destruction of the Middle-Bronze city, the settlement recovered slowly, becoming again a large and important city-state in the fourteenth century, reaching its zenith in the twelfth century B.C.E. By that time it became one of the largest and most important Canaanite cities that prospered under Egyptian hegemony. Throughout this period Lachish, like Megiddo, Gezer, and other Canaanite cities, remained unfortified.
Lachish is mentioned for the first time in historical sources in a papyrus dated to the reign of Pharaoh Amenhotep II of the Eighteenth Dynasty (r. 1454–1419 B.C.E.), which lists offerings given to emissaries from Lachish and other Canaanite cities. In the el-Amarna archive were found several letters, from the fourteenth century B.C.E., written on cuneiform tablets, sent from the kings of Lachish to Pharaohs Amenhotep III and Amenhotep IV. Another tablet, found in Tell el-Hesi to the southwest of Lachish, was apparently sent by an Egyptian official stationed at Lachish. By that time Lachish was already an established city-state, its territory covering a large area of the Shephelah.
Only few remains of this city were uncovered on the mound, in the North-East section, Area P, and Area S. Many Late-Bronze tombs dug by Starkey contained a multitude of pottery vessels, including many Cypriot imports and numerous scarabs.
Starkey excavated a large Canaanite temple, labeled the Fosse Temple, at the bottom of the mound on its western side. It appears that after the destruction of the Middle-Bronze city the fortifications fell into disuse; pits containing Late Bronze–IA pottery, including Cypriot bichrome ware, were uncovered in the disused fosse. In the Late Bronze IB a modest temple was erected here. The temple was later rebuilt and enlarged twice, its three phases known as Fosse Temples I–III. The tripartite division of the Late-Bronze period is largely based on the phases of the Fosse Temple. Rich finds were recovered from all three temples and from the surrounding pits. A Mycenaean II kylix (a drinking cup with a loop handle) from Fosse Temple I and many ivory and faience objects, as well as a jar with a Proto-Canaanite inscription from Fosse Temple II, should be mentioned. It may have been a mortuary temple, hence its location outside the city proper. Fosse Temple III was destroyed concurrently with the level VII settlement ca. 1200 B.C.E., and it was not rebuilt when the city was reconstructed in level VI.
Level VI: The Latest Canaanite Settlement.
Following the destruction of level VII, the city was rebuilt. The architecture of level VI radically differs from that of the preceding level VII, but the material culture, including pottery, continued.
The city of level VI enjoyed a period of prosperity under Egyptian hegemony of the pharaohs of the Twentieth Dynasty, in particular Ramses III (r. ca. 1194–1166 B.C.E.). A number of hieratic inscriptions found in Lachish and Tel Seraʿ attest to the existence of some Egyptian administration in southern Canaan, including Lachish. This conclusion is supported by other finds, in particular two clay anthropoid coffins found in a tomb at the foot of the mound, one of which bears a pseudohieroglyphic inscription. In the coffins were probably buried either Egyptian officials or Canaanite officials in Egyptian service.
A large public building, characterized by a long, pillared hall, was uncovered in the stratigraphic section in Area S. A luxurious temple, possibly situated near the royal palace, labeled the “Acropolis Temple,” was uncovered in the center of the mound. The temple included an entrance chamber, a main hall, and a sanctuary. The entrances to all three units were set on the same axis, rising from west to east. Fragments of colored plaster indicate that the walls of the main hall were partly decorated. Trunks of cedar of Lebanon were used in the construction of the edifice. The temple portrayed much Egyptian influence in its architecture, such as the use of octagonal columns, and in the finds. However, a graffito of a Canaanite god and a beaten-gold plaque depicting a naked deity standing on a horse indicate that it was a Canaanite shrine.
Evidence of prosperous international trade and widespread cultural connections typical of the Late-Bronze period in Canaan was also prominent at Lachish. Pottery and other objects imported from Egypt, northwest Anatolia, Mycenae and Crete, Cyprus, Syria, Lebanon, and northwest Arabia were found. Most interesting is a Linear A inscription incised on a limestone bowl. Significantly, Mediterranean and Nile River fish, such as sea breams, drums, sea basses, sharks, rays, gray mullets, and Nile perch, were imported and consumed by the inhabitants of the city.
Seven or eight short inscriptions in Canaanite script were discovered at Lachish, making it a key site for the study of this script. The earliest is the four-letter inscription mentioned above, incised on a dagger found in a Middle Bronze–IIB tomb. Other short inscriptions were found on a jar from Fosse Temple II, on a bowl from a Late-Bronze tomb, and from level VI.
The level-VI city was totally destroyed by fire. The inhabitants must have been killed or deported, and several skeletons, including some of children and babies, were found buried in the destruction debris. A bronze object bearing a cartouche of Ramses III found in the destruction debris of level VI and two scarabs of Ramses IV (r. 1166–1160 B.C.E.) are the latest datable finds, probably indicating that the city’s demise coincided with the termination of the Egyptian hegemony in Canaan ca. 1130 B.C.E. This date, coinciding also with the destruction of Megiddo and other Canaanite cities, apparently marks the end of the Late Bronze Age in Canaan.
Following the fearful destruction, the site was abandoned during the Iron-I period. Surveys indicated that the settlements in the surrounding region also ceased to exist at that time. With the absence of inscriptions, who destroyed the Canaanite city-state of Lachish and the surrounding region can only be theorized. According to Joshua 10:31–32, Lachish was destroyed and its inhabitants killed by the Israelite tribes under Joshua. However, it seems more likely that Lachish was destroyed by the Philistine tribes that formed part of the invading Sea Peoples who settled in the Coastal Plain.
Level V: The Beginning of Judean Settlement.
After a long period of abandonment in the Iron-I period, Lachish was resettled in level V. The resettlement marks the beginning of Judean settlement of the Shephelah and the crystallization of the Judean kingdom. The new material culture is characterized by red-slipped, irregularly burnished pottery.
Various remains of this settlement have been uncovered. In the stratigraphic section of Area S a building was uncovered at the upper periphery of the mound. Its location proves that a fortification wall did not surround the level-V settlement. Further fragmentary remains were uncovered beneath the Judean palace-fort. Aharoni identified a cult room in his excavation in the Solar Shrine area. However, it seems that his find should be interpreted as a level-IV pit containing cultic vessels rather than a cult room. Starkey and Tufnell believed that the northern section of the foundation structure of the Judean palace-fort, labeled “Podium A,” originated in level V and formed the foundation structure of a level-V edifice, labeled “Palace A.” However, it seems that Podium A is contemporary with the adjoining Podium B, both forming two adjoining segments of the foundation structure of the level-IV palace-fort, labeled “Palace B.”
Lachish appears in the list of towns fortified by Rehoboam, king of Judah (r. ca. 926–910 B.C.E.) (2 Chr 11:5–12). Acceptance of this source as reliable would lead to the conclusion that Lachish was settled and fortified during Rehoboam’s reign. Tufnell assigned to Rehoboam Palace A built on Podium A. Aharoni, Yigael Yadin, and Dever assigned to Rehoboam the construction of level IV and its fortifications. Nadav Naʿaman, Volkmar Fritz, and Israel Finkelstein assigned the list, based on the archaeological evidence, to the reign of Hezekiah, the reign of Josiah, and the Hellenistic period, respectively.
With the absence of inscriptions, the dating of level V is based on general considerations regarding the date of the Early Iron-IIA period. Zeʿev Herzog and Lily Singer-Avitz date this period to the second half of the tenth century B.C.E. based on the identification of Arad in the list of Pharaoh Sheshonk I (also Shishak, r. ca. 935–914 B.C.E.) with Arad stratum XII. However, level V possibly dates to the earlier part of the ninth century B.C.E.
Level IV: The Judean Fortress City—The Earlier Phase.
The beginning of level IV is defined by the foundation of a massive fortress city, which turned Lachish into the second most important city after Jerusalem in the kingdom of Judah. Turning Lachish into a fortress city probably resulted from new strategic needs arising after the division of the United Monarchy. The fortress city of level IV was possibly constructed by Asa (r. ca. 913–873 B.C.E.) or Jehoshaphat (r. ca. 873–849 B.C.E.), but with the absence of inscriptions nothing definite can be decided.
The city was surrounded with a double-wall system. An outer revetment encircled the city at midslope. It was exposed by Starkey around the entire site. It is not clear whether the outer revetment was a proper wall on which warriors could stand and fight or merely a revetment supporting a glacis extending above it along the slope. The main city wall, which extended along the upper periphery of the mound, was built of mud bricks on stone foundations and was ca. 19.7 ft (6 m) thick. A large city-gate complex, the largest and most massive city gate known from Israel and Judah, was built on the western side. It consisted of four parts—a roadway ascending from the bottom of the site, an outer gatehouse connected to the outer revetment, an open courtyard, and an inner gate connected to the main city wall. The inner gate was a six-chambered gatehouse built of mud bricks on deep stone foundations.
A well was incorporated in the fortifications of the northeast corner of the site. It was ca. 144 ft (44 m) deep and apparently could supply sufficient amounts of water for the entire city. Quite possibly it was dug already in earlier periods and reused in level IV. The Great Shaft, a deep rock-cut pit at the eastern side of the mound, was considered at the time to be an unfinished water system. However, it is more likely to have been a quarry which supplied the stones for the monumental buildings of level IV.
The main public building, labeled the “Judean Palace-Fort,” was constructed in the center of the city. It served as the center of the Judean government and garrison. The huge edifice stood on a massive stone foundation structure, which consisted of two parts, labeled “Podia A” and “B.” Starkey and Tufnell believed that Podium A originated in level V but continued to be used in level IV. However, it appears that the two podia are contemporaneous, dating to level IV, and formed a basis for the main building, Palace B. Palace B was not preserved above foundation level, and almost nothing is known about its superstructure. Massive earth fills supported the foundation structure of the palace, the earth for the fills apparently taken from the Late-Bronze acropolis, causing its destruction. Palace B was flanked by two annexed buildings, a storehouse to its north and a stable for horses to the south. The stable, labeled by Starkey as “Government Storehouse,” was identified as a stable by analogy to the stable complexes at Megiddo. The building contained two rectangular units. As in Megiddo, each unit was subdivided into a central hall and two side aisles, where the horses stood. A massive wall, labeled the “Enclosure Wall,” whose function is not clear, connected the southwest corner of the palace-fort with the main city wall.
Level IV lasted for a long time, and three phases could be discerned in it in the stratigraphic trench of Area S. No domestic houses were found in the earlier phase, and the area between the palace-fort and the city wall remained empty at this phase. In the two later phases domestic houses were built here.
Level IV came to a sudden end, but no evidence for a willful destruction by fire was found. However, the palace-fort, the Enclosure Wall, and the city gate were apparently destroyed and had to be rebuilt in level III. It is possible that level IV was destroyed by an earthquake, perhaps the strong earthquake which occurred ca. 760 B.C.E. during the reign of Uzziah, king of Judah (r. ca. 791–739 B.C.E.) (Amos 1:1, Zech 14:5).
According to 2 Kings 14:19 and 2 Chronicles 25:27, Amaziah, king of Judah (r. ca. 800–783 B.C.E.), fled to Lachish following a revolt against him in Jerusalem. He was killed at Lachish by the rebels. There are no indications whether this episode took place in level IV or in level III. In any case, Amaziah’s choice of refuge indicates the special status of Lachish in the Judean kingdom.
The position of the level-IV fortress city vis-à-vis Philistine Gath is difficult to assess and as yet has to be fully explained. Lachish is situated ca. 9.3 miles (15 km) from Gath (Tell es-Safi), and Gath can be seen from Lachish and vice versa. It appears that Philistine Gath was established after the destruction of level VI at Lachish in ca. 1130 B.C.E. Philistine Gath prospered, and by the ninth century B.C.E. it became a large city (stratum IV) until its destruction by Hazael, king of Aram, in the second half of that century. Based on pottery evidence, it appears that the fortress city of Lachish level IV was built and coexisted with nearby Gath stratum IV but did not suffer a similar fate.
Level III: The Judean Fortress City—The Later Phase.
Level III represents the rebuilding of the level-IV fortress city. The city walls of level IV apparently continued without change, but the city-gate complex, the Enclosure Wall, and the palace-fort were rebuilt and enlarged. Many densely built domestic houses were uncovered in the area between the palace-fort and the city gate, reflecting an increase in population compared to level IV.
As in level IV, the palace-fort, now enlarged, crowned the center of the settlement. The foundation structure for Palace B in level IV, comprising Podia A and B, was enlarged by the addition of Podium C; and the new edifice, labeled “Palace C,” was erected on all three podia. Palace C, measuring ca. 249.3 by 118 ft (76 by 36 m), is the largest edifice presently known in ancient Israel. A flight of steps led to the entrance on the eastern side. Almost all the superstructure of the palace-fort was removed in the Persian period when the podia were cleared to form the base for the building of a new palace.
A large, enclosed courtyard extended to the east of Palace C. The annexed building of level IV on the northern side, apparently a storehouse, continued to be used. The small annexed building of level IV on the southern side was replaced by a similar but larger building, containing four units, which probably functioned as well as a stable. Quite possibly it housed a Judean unit of cavalry or of chariots, which may have used the large courtyard for training. In the center of this building was located the gate to the palace complex.
Level III was totally destroyed by fire in the Assyrian attack in 701 B.C.E. Following the end of the British excavations, the destruction date of level III became a subject of prolonged controversy. Most scholars, notably Albright, G. Ernest Wright, and Kathleen M. Kenyon, adopted Starkey’s suggestion that the destruction should be assigned to the Babylonian campaign of 597 B.C.E. On the other hand, Tufnell, later supported by Aharoni, argued that level III marks the Assyrian conquest of 701 B.C.E. The renewed excavations established that level III was destroyed by Sennacherib (r. 704–681 B.C.E.) in 701 B.C.E., and this conclusion has generally been accepted.
Large quantities of pottery vessels were uncovered beneath the debris of the destroyed houses. This rich, well-dated assemblage forms the basis for dating Iron-IIB pottery in Judah and that with one reservation. Following the severe destruction, Lachish was abandoned for a period of time; hence, all the level-III pottery uncovered there must predate the destruction in 701 B.C.E. However, quite possibly similar pottery was still in use for a while at those Judean sites, in particular those situated in the hilly regions of Judah, which were not destroyed in the Assyrian campaign.
LMLK storage jars.
Lachish is the key site for the study of the LMLK storage jars and their stamps, which have been found all over Judah. These stamps contain the inscription LMLK, that is, “[belonging] to the king,” and the name of one of four Judean towns—Hebron, Sochoh, Zif, and mmšt—as well as a four-winged or a two-winged symbol. All in all, as defined by André Lemaire, there are 22 different types of seals. In addition, there are “private” stamps bearing names and incised symbols portraying concentric circles. All of the stamps were impressed on similar storage jars of type 484, according to Tufnell’s division. Many jars of this type are not stamped. Petrographic and neutron activation analysis studies indicated that all the LMLK storage jars were made of Judean Shephelah clay, indicating that they were manufactured in a single production center, possibly located in the Lachish region.
Ten complete LMLK-stamped storage jars bearing four-winged and two-winged stamps as well as several unstamped jars were uncovered at Lachish in level-III contexts, thus proving that these stamps date to shortly before 701 B.C.E. More stamped handles were found at Lachish than at any other site in Judah: 415 LMLK and 76 “private” stamps, as well as several incised symbols of concentric circles; 350 LMLK stamps bear a four-winged symbol and only 62 are of the two-winged type; 232 of the four-winged stamps bear the name “Hebron.” It seems, as suggested by Nadav Naʿaman, that the LMLK-stamped storage jars were produced by the royal Judean government to meet the Assyrian invasion in 701 B.C.E.
Several other conclusions can be drawn on the basis of the finds from Lachish. Stamped storage jars of all types as well as unstamped storage jars were concurrently used. The capacity of the stamped jars varies, indicating that the stamps were not meant to guarantee the volume of the vessels. The number of stamps and the pattern of stamping vary from one storage jar to another. Both LMLK and private stamps were impressed on handles of the same jars; hence, the owners of the private seals were probably officials at the production center or the potters themselves. Finally, many LMLK and private stamps were carelessly applied, an indication that they were not meant to be read.
The Assyrian attack on Lachish in 701 B.C.E.
When Sennacherib arrived with his army in Judah during his third campaign, he turned first to attack Lachish and erected his camp there (2 Kgs 18:14, 17; Isa 36:2, 37:8; 2 Chr 32:9). From there he sent a force to challenge Hezekiah in Jerusalem. The facts that first Sennacherib turned to Lachish and later that detailed reliefs commemorated the conquest of Lachish in his royal palace at Nineveh indicate the special military importance of the fortress city in the kingdom of Judah.
The main Assyrian onslaught on the walls of Lachish was concentrated on the southwest corner. At this point a topographical saddle connected the site to the hill located to the southwest, where the modern village Moshav Lachish is situated. The fortifications of the city were especially strong at the southwest corner, where the outer revetment joined the main city wall; and a massive tower was erected here. Still, due to the topography, this corner offered the most convenient place to attack and force the city walls.
The Assyrian camp was probably erected on the hill to the southwest, but its remains were not preserved. It must have been a large camp, providing facilities for the expeditionary force and accommodating the king’s retinue and headquarters. Being relatively high and situated a short distance from the mound opposite the main point of attack, it was the optimal place for the camp.
The Assyrian army constructed a siege-ramp at the southwest corner, which was dumped against the slope to enable the siege machines to attack the wall. Although large parts of it were removed by Starkey, it could still be studied and reconstructed in the renewed excavations. The siege-ramp was ca. 230 to 246 ft (70–75 m) wide and ca. 164 to 197 ft (50–60 m) long at its center. It was constructed of fieldstones collected in the surrounding fields and heaped against the slope of the mound, and it is estimated that 14,330 to 20,944 tons (13,000–19,000 metric tons) of stones were used. The face of the ramp was coated with lime plaster. A platform made of soil for the siege machines to stand upon was prepared at the top of the ramp facing the bottom of the city wall. Significantly, the Lachish siege-ramp is the earliest uncovered in archaeological excavations and the only Assyrian siege-ramp known.
When the defenders realized that the Assyrians were constructing the siege-ramp they dumped a counterramp against the inner face of the main city wall opposite the siege-ramp. The counterramp was made of debris taken from the earlier levels of the mound and dumped in an orderly manner. A large depression in the surface of the mound near the northeast corner probably indicates the source of the debris used for the counterramp. The counterramp was ca. 393.7 ft (120 m) long, and its top rose ca. 9.8 ft (3 m) higher than the top of the main city wall. Some makeshift fence or wall, perhaps made of wood, must have crowned the rampart; but its remains were not preserved. Once the Assyrians managed to overcome the defense on the city walls, they had to extend the siege-ramp in order to attack the newly erected defense line on top of the counterramp.
Ample evidence indicating the fierce battle which took place here was uncovered in the southwest corner. No remains of the siege machines, which apparently were largely made of wood and leather, were found. However, more than 850 arrowheads, mostly of iron and some of bronze or bone; many sling stones; and several scales of armor were recovered. Also found at the bottom of the city wall was a bronze crescent, either part of a soldier’s helmet or part of the harness ornament of a horse. Of particular interest are a segment of an iron chain and 12 perforated stones, weighing each ca. 220.5 to 441 lb (100–200 kg), which were used by the defenders in attempts to unbalance the siege machines. Remains of burnt ropes were still attached to the perforations of two stones. It appears that these stones were tied to ropes and then swung from the walls like a pendulum. Many arrowheads and three perforated stones were also found in the city gate, indicating that the Assyrians also forced their way to the city through the gate.
A few years after the campaign in Judah, Sennacherib built his royal palace at Nineveh, known as the South-West Palace. In the palace, in a special room apparently dedicated to commemorate the conquest of Lachish, alabaster slabs depicting the attack on Lachish were erected. The palace was excavated by Henry Layard, and the Lachish reliefs are exhibited in the British Museum in London. The left part of the relief series is missing; altogether the series was ca. 88.5 ft (27 m) long, the largest and most detailed Assyrian relief depicting the conquest of a city. From left to right the series portrays the reserves of the army, the attacking of the infantry, the storming of the city, the transfer of booty, captives and families going into exile, Sennacherib sitting on his decorated throne, the royal tent and chariots, and finally the Assyrian camp. A cuneiform inscription identifies the city as Lachish.
Starkey uncovered mass, secondary burials in several adjacent caves on the western slope of the mound. He concluded that these were victims of the Assyrian attack, but this conclusion has been questioned by Orna Zimhoni and independently by Israel Ephʾal. Skeletons and skulls were piled here in disorder, in secondary burial. It appears that ca. 1,500 individuals were buried here. D. L. Risdon studied 695 skulls and concluded that they belonged to men, women, and children, apparently representing the civilian population. The racial type of the skulls indicates affinities to the Egyptian population of the time. Three skulls had been trepanned; one individual survived the operation, as shown by the healing of the skull, while the other two died shortly afterward.
Following the destruction, the inhabitants of Lachish were deported and the city was abandoned. The Lachish region was apparently included in the Judean lands transferred by Sennacherib to the Philistine kings. The fate of other Judean settlements in the Shephelah was no better. Evidence of total destruction was uncovered in the excavation of numerous towns in the region (e.g. Beth-Shemesh, Tel ʾEton, and Tell Beit Mirsim). The results of the archaeological survey conducted by Yehudah Dagan in the Shephelah were most striking: The number of sites declined from 289, covering a total area of 1,029 acres (416.4 ha, or 4,165 dunams), in Iron IIB, to 85, covering an area of 343 acres (139 ha, or 1,388 dunams), in Iron IIC, the decline clearly indicating the disaster that overtook this region in 701 B.C.E.
Level II: The Latest Judean Settlement.
After a period of total abandonment, Judean Lachish was rebuilt, possibly during the reign of Josiah (r. ca. 640–609 B.C.E.). The resettlement of Lachish probably coincided with the renewed prosperity of the Judean Shephelah following the collapse of Assyrian domination of the country. The new settlement of level II was sparsely inhabited in comparison to that of level III, and its fortifications were weaker.
The outer revetment was apparently repaired and a new main city wall constructed along the upper periphery of the mound on the stump of the levels IV–III main city wall. A new city-gate complex, composed as in the previous one of an approach roadway, outer gate, courtyard, and inner gate, was built. The gate courtyard was surrounded by rooms and apparently served as a government center in lieu of the palace-fort, which was not rebuilt and remained as a prominent ruin in the center of the settlement. Domestic buildings were uncovered along the eastern side of the ruined palace-fort, in the area of the Solar Shrine, and near the city gate and the southwest corner of the mound. Large areas on the summit, however, remained as uninhabited spaces.
Level II was totally destroyed by Nebuchadrezzar (r. ca. 605–562 B.C.E.) in 587/86 B.C.E., and quite possibly the site was then abandoned for a while. Lachish is mentioned in Jeremiah 34:7 as one of the Judean fortified cities attacked by the Babylonians. Large quantities of pottery vessels were buried beneath the debris of the destroyed level-II houses. This assemblage, together with a contemporary pottery assemblage from Jerusalem, forms the basis for dating the Judean pottery of the Iron-IIC period. The assemblage contained also rosette-stamped storage jars; 23 rosette-stamped handles were uncovered at Lachish. The rosette-stamped storage jars apparently formed some official system similar to that of the LMLK storage jars during the last years of the Judean kingdom.
Many Hebrew ostraca, bullae, seals, and marked weights were uncovered in level II. Most important are about 20 ostraca, known as the Lachish Letters, found in the destruction debris of a room, labeled the “Guardroom,” which was situated in the courtyard of the city gate. Most scholars agree with Harry Torczyner, who published the Lachish Letters, that these ostraca were letters sent shortly before the Babylonian conquest “to my Lord Yaush,” who apparently was the military commander of Lachish. It appears that they were sent by a subordinate commander stationed at a place where he could watch the signals from Lachish and Azekah, located northeast of Lachish, signals which are mentioned in the text of one of the documents. Another interpretation was offered by Yigael Yadin; he argued that these ostraca were drafts or copies of letters sent from Lachish to a commander in Jerusalem. This interpretation is supported by the fact that five of the “letters” were written on fragments of a single storage jar; many similar jars of this type were uncovered in the Guardroom.
Several other inscriptions written on pottery vessels were uncovered in a storeroom near the city gate. Two of them define the wine type stored in the vessels. Two other inscriptions mention the dates “in the fourth” and “in the ninth,” probably regnal years of Zedekiah (r. ca. 597–586 B.C.E.), the last king of Judah. Seventeen clay bullae bearing Hebrew names were discovered in a juglet in a house near the Solar Shrine. The reverse sides of the bullae bear impressions of the papyri they sealed and the string that tied the papyri. One bulla, discovered on the surface of the mound, bore the name “Gedaliah, who is over the house,” possibly Gedaliah, son of Ahikam, appointed by Nebuchadrezzar to rule the remaining population in Judah (2 Kgs 25:22).
Level I: The Persian and Hellenistic Periods.
The Book of Nehemiah mentions “Lachish and its fields” (Neh 11:30) in its description of the resettlement of Judah by Jews in the later part of the fifth century B.C.E. Based on pottery evidence, however, settlement at Lachish level I was renewed at the beginning of the fourth century B.C.E.
Following a phase represented by pits, Lachish was rebuilt as a Persian, fortified administrative center. A new city wall was built on the stump of the level-II main city wall, and a new city gate was built above the ruins of the previous one.
A central palace, labeled “Residency” by Starkey, was built on the foundations (that is, on the foundations’ podium) of the level III palace-fort (Palace C), which had been cleared of all the debris of its ruined superstructure. The Residency was smaller than its predecessor, combining an Achaemenid ceremonial edifice with a north Syrian portico. Many imported Attic vessels were found here. The ruined building was settled by squatters in the Hellenistic period.
A central shrine was built to the east of the Residency. It was built on a slope, facing east, with the sanctuary situated at the upper, western side of the building. Starkey labeled it the “Solar Shrine” due to its eastern orientation. It is not clear what cult was practiced here, and Aharoni, who dug it afresh, believed that it was a Jewish cultic site. The shrine was built in architectural style similar to that of the Residency, and both buildings seem to be contemporaneous and to have been built according to the same scheme. However, the pottery and coins found here date to the Hellenistic period and probably belong to the secondary period of use of the building.
About 200 small limestone altars typical of the Persian period were discovered in three separate groups outside the mound proper, in the vicinity of the southwest corner. Several altars were decorated, and one of them bears an inscription which mentions incense. It is unknown whether the altars were associated with the cultic activities in the Solar Shrine.
The settlement at Lachish dwindled at the end of the Hellenistic period in the second century B.C.E., and the site was abandoned. Marissa and then Eleutheropolis, situated a short distance to the east of Lachish, replaced the latter as the major cities in the region. Significantly, the Roman road from Eleutheropolis to Gaza passed near Lachish, as mentioned by Eusebius. One road segment was excavated by Starkey, and some parts were surveyed by Dagan. Many coins from different periods were found on the mound, indicating that it was cultivated. Many Muslim graves devoid of burial offerings, labeled medieval graves by Starkey, were excavated on the western part of the mound. Finally, remains from Israel’s War of Independence in 1948 were recovered in the renewed excavations; they include trenches, graffiti, coins, and cartridges.
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- Begin, Zeʿev B. As We Do Not See Azeqa: The Source of the Lachish Letters. Jerusalem: Yad Izhak Ben Zvi, 2000 (Hebrew).
- Ephʾal, Israel. The City Besieged: Siege and Its Manifestations in the Ancient Near East. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 2009.
- Torczyner, Harry, Lankester Harding, Alkin Lewis, et al. Lachish I: The Lachish Letters. London: Oxford University Press, 1938.
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- Tufnell, Olga, Charles H. Inge, and Lankester Harding. Lachish II: The Fosse Temple. London: Oxford University Press, 1940.
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- Ussishkin, David. The Conquest of Lachish by Sennacherib. Publications of the Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv University 6. Tel Aviv: Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv University, 1982.