Before the denudation of the hills occasioned by the collapse of intensive Byzantine terrace olive farming, Roman Legio (Lejjun) in the Jezreel Valley guarded the main pass to and from the coast. Its predecessor was Tell el-Mutesellim, excavated and definitively identified as Megiddo by Gottlieb Schumacher (1902), the University of Chicago (1925–1939), and a consortium led by Tel-Aviv University (1992–present).
Megiddo's location and springs attracted game and paleolithic hunters, leading to agricultural settlement in the middle Neolithic (ca. 7000 B.C.E.). In Early Bronze IB (3300–3100) it boomed into a city, or a collection of villages, of over 50 hectares, incomparably larger than any settlement in its vicinity. On the mound, temples appeared, possibly originating as a sacred area (temenos) common to the villages that grew together into the city. By the end of EB I, the temples formed a 1500-m2 complex with massive walls and enormous basalt offering tables; very likely, a palace was interposed between temenos and town. Presumably, the site's social stratification and the wealth derived from mediation of long distance trade between Egypt and the East.
The settlement evaporates in EB II (3100–2700), when village populations in the Jezreel gathered together in fortresses, perhaps having combined against Megiddo's residents. In EB III–IV (2700–2000), without a town below, the mound was walled; “megaron” temples built of massive stones appeared on the temenos. In Middle Bronze (2000–1500), tombs supplanted the temple structures, arguably representing a shift from state god to ancestral worship. The MB shift followed socioeconomic collapse in Egypt and Mesopotamia. At the same time, dwellings filled the mound, with a palace, gate and city wall, and extended beyond it to the north, on the lower terrace, and possibly to the west, in areas covered now by Byzantine debris.
Early in the New Kingdom (1550–1100), Egypt erected an empire in Asia. The kings of Canaan's city-states gathered to stem the tide at Megiddo, where extramural areas were surrounded by an earthen rampart. (Finkelstein [2000, 2006] dates this lower terrace earlier). However, Thutmosis III surprised the Canaanite field force, surrounded the site, and, after a seven-month siege, accepted the kings' promise of future fealty. Megiddo remained a center of imperial administration from the mid-fifteenth into the twelfth century. Beside the gate, an elegant palace was erected, expanding throughout Strata IX–VIIA. It included imported basalt and shell floors and a treasury with Egyptian and local ivories. Meanwhile, a temple, of the “migdol,” or tower, type, was built over the Middle Bronze funerary area (the EB temple area). As Egypt's aegis deteriorated, the site, filled with aristocratic villas and their dependents, underwent another transformation. The villas increasingly accumulated both foreign contacts and imported goods, and the palace was destroyed, rebuilt, and, ultimately, destroyed again. By the mid-twelfth century, one villa was attached to a funerary society. By the late eleventh century, in Stratum VI, these elite elements had supplanted the palace entirely. The temple area ceased to function as a sanctuary. The lower terrace was abandoned.
The eleventh- to tenth-century elite enjoyed ties with Israelites in their hills' hinterland, and probably intermarried with them. Destroyed in a fierce conflagration, Megiddo passed into Israelite hands by late in David's reign (ca. 990). The destruction may be attributed to neighboring city-states, to activity of Saul, David's predecessor, or to Absalom, David's son and, briefly, supplanter. At any rate, David's successor Solomon exploited Megiddo as a provincial capital. The shift is reflected first in Israelite-like pillared housing, in Stratum VB, and then in the elite city of Stratum VA/IVB. The latter featured palaces at the north end of the mound, near the gate, and in the south. Across from the northern palace was an elite structure with a wealth of cultic material. No temple construction is evident from Stratum VIB forward.
The dating of the Iron I–IIA strata has been called into question, particularly by Israel Finkelstein and David Ussishkin. They downdate VIA to the mid-tenth century, assigning its destruction to the Pharaoh Shishaq, and trace VA/IVB to the Omrides. The basis of this redating is a differential view of Jezreel, excavated by Ussishkin, and of Philistine settlement, argued by Finkelstein. However, the pottery evidence is too elastic to sustain such specific dating in the absence of texts, and the framework erected through historical texts favors a more traditional chronology. In particular, the correlation of tenth-century Negev settlements, including Arad XII, with Shishaq's Karnak list (see also below) confirms the possibility that the pottery of VA/IVB could be Solomonic. Further, the correspondence of similar gates at Megiddo, Gezer and Hazor with the list of Solomon's fortifications in 1 Kings 9:16 cannot be attributed to the luck of some later writer.
In Stratum VA/IVB, probably Solomonic in origin, domestic quarters seem to be absent. At Hazor, in the contemporary Stratum X(B–A), the same situation obtains. Tell el-Far´a (Tirzah) seems to mirror the strategy of limiting administrative centers, or at least their acropolises, to state functionaries. These towns have no temples: they are not independent royal polities. Thus, some external authority governed Iron IIA Hazor and Megiddo, both probably Solomonic; Tirzah was probably the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel beginning with the reign of its first king, Jeroboam I.. The population was sent out to work the land. Only later were domestic structures common on any of these sites. At Megiddo, even Stratum IVA (ninth to eighth centuries, possibly even early-seventh) has limited domestic architecture. The old temple and palace areas are devoted to industry. Only in the Assyrian era (Stratum III, eighth to sixth centuries) does the area devoted to domestic housing outweigh that for palaces. At Hazor, domestic structures begin to dominate in the eighth century (Stratum VIII). With these centers' reincorporation into an imperial structure, the pattern reverts to one of a city-state with a population concentrated inside the walls. The Assyrian strategy was to break the nation-state into component parts rather than continue its political integration.
Toward the end of the tenth century, Shishaq left a stela at Megiddo, the northernmost site on his invasion itinerary. Probably, he took over, and completed, Stratum VA/IVB, again as an administrative outpost. From the tenth century, the site stood on the border with Tyre. In the mid-ninth century, its fortifications were used to shield the Judahite king Ahaziah during Jehu's coup. In its final phases (II–I), Megiddo served as a Babylonian and Persian fortress on the border between Samaria and Tyre. It did not survive into the Hellenistic era. By the Roman era, when Lejjun was situated nearby, the site's identity was forgotten. The Byzantine deforestation made a marsh of its pass. Pilgrims of the period and later located “the valley of Megiddo” in the eastern Jezreel. When the book of Revelation mentions “Armageddon” (Rev 16:16, NIV; NRSV: “Harmagedon”), it transfers a reference in Zechariah, which compares a final battle at Jerusalem to mourning in the Valley of Megiddon (Zech 12:11), to the site itself. It evinces no knowledge of the site's then-lost location.
- Finkelstein, I., David Ussishkin, and Baruch Halpern, eds. Megiddo III. The 1992–1996 Seasons. Tel Aviv: Tel Aviv University Institute of Archaeology, 2000.
- Finkelstein, I., David Ussishkin, and Baruch Halpern, eds. Megiddo IV. The 1998–2002 Seasons. Tel Aviv: Tel Aviv University Institute of Archaeology, 2006.
- Harrison, Timothy P. Megiddo 3. Final Report on the Stratum VI Excavations. Oriental Institute Publications, 127. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004.
- Kempinski, Aaron. Megiddo. A City-State and Royal Centre in North Israel. Munich: C. H. Beck, 1989.
- Lamon, R. S. and G. M. Shipton. Megiddo I. Seasons of 1925–34. Strata I–V. Oriental Institute Publications, 42. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1939.
- Loud, Gordon. Megiddo II, Seasons of 1935–39. Oriental Institute Publications, 62. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1948.