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Assyrian archers

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Lay-out of the ancient temple at Lachish

Lachish Architecture

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Slings in warfare


 


 


 

 

Lachish

Lachish is the site of one of the great annihilating battles of the ancient world, when the city tried to stand up to the invading Assyrians.  It paid a terrible price.

A Powerful City

Lachish: Map showing the position of Lachish in ancient IsraelThe Tell or mound at Lachish is imposing. It was formed from different settlement layers during the Bronze Age. After that period, the site was uninhabited until the 10th century BC. 

During the 9th century BC it was strongly fortified, and a palace was added. This city lasted until the conquest by Sennacherib in 701BC. Later on there was some rebuilding, but the city was only a pale reflection of what had been there before.

 

Lachish: Aerial view of Lachish with siege ramp built by the Assyrians in bottom right of photograph

Aeriel view of Lachish. The siege ramp built at 
the time of the Assyrian invasion is still visible at the bottom right of the mound.

Lachish: Ground plan showing different areas of Lachish that have been excavated by archaeologists

Ground plan of excavations at the city of Lachish

Lachish: An ostracon (inscribed pottery fragment) excavated at Lachish

An ostracon excavated at Lachish; these ostraca were inscribed pottery fragments  pleading for help during the invasion of the Babylonians in 587 BCE. Help did not come. See the ground plan above for the location where they were found.

Lachish: Artist's impression of the gate complex and entrance of Lachish

Reconstruction of the entrance to Lachish, 
showing the various gates an enemy had to penetrate

Lachish: Artist's impression of the six-chambered gate that led into Lachish

Reconstruction of six-chambered city gate

Lachish: Stone remains of the six-chambered gate and entrance to Lachish

Excavated ruins of the six-chambered gate

 

Ready for Trouble

The fortifications for the city consisted of a double ring of walls. The only gate was on the west side; it had six chambers, three on each side. Each of these three sections could be shut tight against an attacking enemy. During peace-time the three sections were used by the guards who were positioned at the gate.

The center of the city was dominated by a palace and its support buildings. There was a large residential building, a row of six storerooms, an entrance building and an open courtyard. The entrance to these public buildings was via a grand stairway leading from a large courtyard. A street led directly from the city entrance to the entrance gate of the palace.

Lachish was an important center of royal administration. The palace was divided into three areas: 

  • a residential building for the governor who administered the surrounding land on behalf of the king

  • storage magazines for taxes paid in goods and products, or for provisioning of the army or of court officials

  • quarters for servants and staff.

The Assyrians Come

Lachish: Wall reliefs from Nimrud show a battering ram and archers used in the attack on Lachish

Wall reliefs from Nimrud show a battering ram used in the attack on Lachish. Archers shoot 
from the walls of the city - a tower and gate are clearly shown.

Lachish: Well-equipped archers shoot their arrows into the city; a battering ram attacks the city's wall; captives hang impaled on spikes

Wall relief showing Assyrian archers shooting from behind a wicker shield wall. In front of them is a siege ramp and battering ram. Above left are the impaled bodies of enemy soldiers.

Lachish: Assyrian archers using sophisticated composite bows. Manufacturing these bows was beyond the capacity of small nations like Israel.

Assyrian archers using composite bows. Their armor was made of small metal plates sewn into 
a protective garment reaching from shoulder to thigh.
See ARMOR IN ANCIENT WARFARE.
Manufacturing composite bows was beyond the capacity of small nations like Israel.

 

Lachish: This grusome wall relief shows prisoners being flayed - skinned.

Psychological warfare is not new. The Assyrians tortured captured enemy soldiers in sight of their family still within the city. These captives are having skin peeled from their bodies.

Lachish was the most important city in Judah after Jerusalem. During his campaign in 701BC, Sennacherib sent an embassy to Jerusalem from Lachish. By the time it returned, he had already overrun Lachish, something he must have seen as a significant military victory, since he portrayed the scene in a relief on the palace walls in his capital, Nineveh. 

Lachish: Small round stones used a slingstones In a series of scenes, the Assyrian infantry storm the walls of Lachish, with rows of archers taking aim at the defenders on the walls:A pile of slingstones found at the site of Lachish

  • the outer walls of the city are stormed

  • Assyrian battering rams and siege machines advance and then penetrate the walls

  • Judean captives are marched out of the city, while others are stripped naked and impaled on the Assyrian spears

  • the captives are tortured and murdered

  • in the last panel King Sennacherib sits on his throne, receiving the servile captives and the booty that has been taken from Lachish. 

A huge pile of stones, used as the base of a ramp built by the Assyrians to storm the city, can still be seen in the south-western corner of the ruins.

The final destruction of Lachish took place at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar in 587BC - at the same time Jerusalem was destroyed. 

Lachish: Image of a trepanated skull found at Lachish

Trepanated skull excavated at Lachish, evidence of advanced medical techniques

 

See other fascinating links between 
Archaeology and the Bible

  

 

 

 


LACHISH

(Cornfeld, G., Pictorial Biblical Encyclopedia, 1964, p.89-94)

Lachish was a major fortified city of Palestine all throughout the history of Israel. It takes a prominent place in the Bible story and also appears in other sources mainly Assyrian as an important Judean city. Strategically situated, Lachish was the largest of the chain of fortresses guarding the approach to the mountains. Its acropolis covered 18 acres.

Excavations

The Wellcome-Marston expedition directed by J. Starkey began excavations in 1932. These were continued for six seasons until 1938, when the murder of Starkey forced their abandonment. Up to that time only Israelite levels had been uncovered. Evidence for earlier periods remains scanty  (this article was written in 1964).
Prehistoric Lachish: The first settlement of Lachish began in caves to the north-west of the tel in the Chalcolithic period (around 3500 BC). During the period of urbanization in Palestine some 1,500 years later the settlers moved up to the top of the tel and the former cave dwellings were used for burials.

Patriarchal and Canaanite Age

Lachish was first fortified during the age of the Patriarchs. The approach to its walled summit was protected by a steep white plastered glacis, with a wide fosse (ditch) at the foot. Such a defence system suggests the presence of the Hyksos, who controlled Egypt and Palestine from the 18th to the middle of the 16th century BC, when they were expelled and replaced by the Egyptians. 

The Egyptians discarded the old defences. The fosse was filled in, and in its place a small temple was built. Between 1480 and 1260 BC, the temple was twice rebuilt and enlarged. The richness of its contents and its position outside the city wall bear witness to the prosperity and security of the period.

The Canaanite Temple

Excavations at the temple or sacred area at Lachish.Dr. K. Kenyon described the 15th century BC Canaanite temple of Lachish (see excavations at right) and its sacrificial altar: "The temple was simple in plan, consisting of an oblong sanctuary with two attached rooms, only one of which was entered from the sanctuary. It is notable that there was no inner room or Holy of Holies, such as was required by the Hebrew religion and has been found in much earlier Semitic sanctuaries. 

The roof had been supported on columns, probably of wood, of which the bases were found in position on the central axis. 

The entrance was screened by a wall which prevented a view into the sanctuary from the outside. 

The shrine consisted of a low bench, one foot high, from the front of which three rectangular blocks projected (see a reconstruction of the Temple floor plan at right). It is suggested that the cult objects stood on the bench and that the projecting blocks served as altars.Aritist's impression of the Temple as it would have been before destruction The existence of three projections suggest that a trinity of deities was worshipped. 

On the central axis in front of the shrine were two jars sunk in the floor, which may have been receptacles into which libations were poured, while against one end of the bench was found a great pile of vessels, abandoned when the temple was rebuilt, which presumably served as containers of liquid and solid offerings. 

Outside the temple was found a number of pits used for the disposal of vessels which had served a similar purpose. 

There was also a long bench along one wall, which, on the analogy of the more numerous benches found in the later structure, may also have served for the deposit of offerings. 

Photograph of the excavated temple area at Lachish The remains suggest that the deities worshipped in this temple and its successors were Resheph, the Canaanite-Syrian god of war and storm, and possibly the goddess Elath. 

The first mention of Lachish in documents comes during this (Late Bronze) period. 

In the 14th century BC El Amarna letters, there is a statement by the King of Jerusalem that the people of Lachish made common cause with the Habiru and killed their king. This has been confirmed by a tablet found in nearby Tel-el-Hesi.

Lachish Conquered by the Israelites?

The third and last temple appears to have been violently destroyed. Because of an Egyptian hieratic (cursive) inscription found on a bowl, dated by the excavators to around 1200 BC and referring to the 4th year of the Pharaoh's reign, some scholars think the temple may have been destroyed during a raid by the Egyptian Pharaoh Mernephtach, whose fourth yeStone victory stele of the Egyptian Pharaoh Merenptahar was 1220 BC. Mernephtach's great victory stele (see right) recording his victory over Israel dates from the 5th year of his reign, which could be a year after the capture of Lachish.

Other scholars credit Joshua with the destruction of Lachish, accepting as accurate the detailed description of its conquest given in the book of Joshua (10:1-5, 31-33).

Having defeated a Canaanite coalition army, Joshua hanged its leaders and assigned the town to the tribe of Judah.

Lachish in the Kingdom of Judah

After being deserted for a time, Lachish took its place as one of the foremost fortified cities of the separate Kingdom of Judah. 

Level V, the first Israelite city, had been surrounded by a brick wall which enclosed a large palace built on a platform 32 metres square, made of stones packed with earth. This may be an example of a millo (filling) like the one David constructed in Jerusalem. 

Lachish was probably fortified along with other Judean cities by Rehoboam, the first Judean king around the time of Pharaoh Shishak's Palestinian campaign in 925 BCE. Lachish was spared on that occasion and her importance may have increased as a result of the destruction of two of her neighbours, Debir (Tel Beit Mirsim) and Beth-Shemesh, at that time.

During the 9th century BC, a second brick wall on a stone foundation was added, and the palace was rebuilt. This expansion was probably part of the building programs of the kings, Asa and Jehoshaphat, recorded in the Bible. 

The double-walled city stood until Sennacherib's Palestine campaign nearly two centuries later.

Sennacherib at Lachish

The Assyrian siege and capture of the town, and its sequel, is one of the most vividly documented of all ancient engagements. The whole story was pictured in detail on a large wall relief in Sennacherib's palace in Nineveh. It also serves as a good illustration of the city's importance at the time as a Judean military base. Sennacherib had set out in 701 BC to crush an anti-Assyrian coalition formed among Syria, Palestine and Egypt, led by the Judean king, Hezekiah. The Egyptians were defeated at Elteke. Stone wall relief showing the aftermath of the capture of Lachish

Sennacherib then took Ashkelon and Joppa and laid siege to Lachish (II K. 18:14).
The relief shows Assyrian soldiers in formation: spearmen carrying round shields and wearing helmets with bronze crests (one was found at Lachish); pairs of bowmen and slingers with stones in their hands. Lachish was defended by a double wall constructed on the principle of salients and recesses (pictured in the relief and confirmed by excavation). 

After a bombardment by slings and arrows, part of which is shown on the wall relief at right,  Assyrian sappers attacked the walls under cover of "siege-engines" pushed up the slope on wooden legs. 

From behind towers and shields, the defenders hurled stones and brands on to the siege-engines, which were kept soaked with water as a defensive measure. 

After the battle the city's surrender is shown, with the townspeople, wearing long robes, leaving the city carrying their possessions. Nearby hang three impaled bodies. See the stone wall relief for the grisly aftermath of the capture of Lachish as captured citizens, carrying what they can, leave their once-proud city.

Away from the battle, Sennacherib is pictured seated on his throne (see below) in front of his tent and chariot. He welcomes his victorious soldiers while captive Judeans prostrate themselves before him. 

The inscription above his headreads : "Sennacherib, King of the World, King of Assyria, sat upon a throne and passed in review the booty (taken) from Lachish." The area's hilly nature is indicated by the continuous scale pattern; fruit trees and vines are also shown. While Sennacherib was encamped at Lachish, he received the tribute from Hezekiah (11 K. 18:14-16) which saved Jerusalem and with it all Judah from total destruction.

Wall relief shows Sennacherib receiving the surrender of the city of Lachish

Sennacherib on his throne in camp. Detail of the Assyrian conquest of the Jewish fortified town of Lachish (battle 701 BC). 
Part of a relief from the palace of Sennacherib at Niniveh, Mesopotamia (Iraq)

A wall relief shows the citizens of Lachish after they have surrendered; those who survive are taken off as slaves

After the battle the city's surrender is shown, with the hapless townspeople leaving the city carrying their possessions.

Apart from the burnt debris found in the corresponding level, other evidence of the conquest of Lachish included a large pit which contained a jumbled mass of more than 1,500 bodies. Starkey interpreted this as the debris raked up in the city after the war. Three trepanned skulls (see photograph above) found among them are interesting evidence for early medical practice. An unfinished well, 144 feet deep, which had probably been intended as a water supply for the besieged city but had been abandoned, was also found.

Judean Lachish under Nebuchadrezzar

During the following (7th) century, a new stone wall and a gate were built, with guardrooms in the gatehouse between the walls. In one of these rooms, the Lachish letters were found.

The beginning of the 6th cent. BC, Judah's darkest hour, saw Lachish attacked twice: first (in 598-597 BC) by Nebuchadrezzar, who invaded Judea in response to an attempted rebellion against Babylonian domination by Jehoiakim and in reprisal exiled the cream of Judean citizenry to Babylon. The second attack is attributed to the final Babylonian conquest of 586 BC, when Lachish was apparently the last city to fall before Jerusalem. This is reported by the Bible (Jeremiah 34:7) and confirmed by the Lachish letters.

The Lachish Letters (Ostraca)

The Lachish letters, the outstanding discovery of the last Israelite level (II), consist of 21 inscribed potsherds, mostly letters, but including various lists and business records. Now in the British Museum, only about a third of them could be deciphered. W. F. Albright has commented on their significance: "Since they form the only known corpus of documents in classical Hebrew prose, they have unusual philological significance, quite aside from the light they shed on the time of Jeremiah." They all appear to have been addressed to Yoash, the commander of the fortress at Lachish, by Hoshaiah, commander of an unidentified outpost not far from the town. He is mentioned by name once only, but a certain continuity in theme suggests that he sent all the letters.
The letters can be dated to the last days of Zedekiah just before the final conquest, by Letter IV in which Hoshaiah writes: "And let (my lord) know that we are watching for the signals of Lachish, according to the indications which my lord hath given, for we cannot see Azekah." Apparently Azekah had already fallen and Lachish and Jerusalem faced the enemy alone. This is the position described by Jeremiah (34:7) when Nebuchadrezzar fought against "all the cities of Judah that were left, Lachish and Azekah; for these were the only fortified cities of Judah that remained." With its destruction by the Babylonians, the main period of occupation of Lachish came to an end.

A Supplement to Jeremiah

Other sections of the letters have also been interpreted against the background of the Book of Jeremiah and seem to supplement its information. The letters indicate a conflict between the king and an unnamed prophet. Jeremiah is accused of "weakening the hands of the people", presumably by preaching against the Egyptian anti-Babylon alliance, then official policy in Jerusalem. The book of Jeremiah records that because of this attitude, he and the prophet Tuviah 'were officially persecuted'. A Lachish letter deals with the same situation in relation to "a prophet" who is not named. It has been suggested that this may have been the same Tuviah. Alternatively, three different parallel cases (Jeremiah, Tuviah and the prophet of the Lachish letters) may reflect a whole party jointly opposing official policy and being punished for it.

Persian Period

The last level of Lachish belongs to the period of resettlement of Judah after the Persian conquest, during the time of Nehemiah (11:30), about the middle of the 5th century BC. An administrative centre was built on the acropolis, with a large building serving apparently as the governor's residence. A small temple, dedicated to the sun and facing east was also found. This remained in use until the site was finally abandoned in the 2nd century BC. Settlers during the Roman period made their homes at Duweir, south of the tel.

 

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