The Philistines who migrated to the coastal plain of Israel about 1200 B.C. settled in five major cities. Three of these were along the coastal branch of the International Highway leading from Egypt, but because of the presence of sand dunes, only Ashkelon was built on the shore. At 150 acres, the tell of Ashkelon is the largest Philistine city and one of the largest tells in all of ancient Israel.
Since 1985 Harvard University has been excavating Ashkelon under the director Lawrence Stager. More than a century earlier, Ashkelon was the site of the first “archaeological excavation” in the Holy Land when Lady Hester Stanhope conducted a small dig. Excavations have uncovered remains from nearly every period from the Neolithic Age until the 13th century AD.
During the Middle Ages, the Muslim rulers of Ashkelon re-used granite Roman columns to strengthen the construction. These columns now protrude from the eroded tell as waves have gradually washed away ruins on the shoreline. The Canaanite city was surrounded by a large rampart on three sides of the city and the fourth side was protected by the sea. Later fortifications took advantage of the rampart and walls were constructed on top of it. The city had no springs but a number of good wells and fertile soil.
One of the earliest intact gates in Israel was excavated at Ashkelon in the 1990s. The Middle Bronze mudbrick structure is contemporary with the well-known one at Dan. This photograph shows the area after it was reconstructed and open to visitors. Outside the gate a bronze calf was discovered, apparently once worshipped at the city entrance.
Ashkelon was an important city after the Babylonians destroyed the city and wiped out the Philistines. An important seaport in the Hellenistic period, Ashkelon became a free city in 104 BC and the birthplace of Herod the Great shortly after. Herod rebuilt the city and it flourished in the Roman and Byzantine periods. The Crusaders later re-fortified the city but Saladin captured it and destroyed it upon the approach of Richard the Lion-hearted.
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Ashkelon Excavations 2002 (Harvard, The Leon Levy Expedition) Information on digging at Ashkelon.
Ashkelon Excavations (University of Chicago, Oriental Institute) An official site offering brief, general information on the site.
Ashkelon (The City of Ashkelon) The municipal site; this link features greetings from the mayor, a “Tours and Sights” map, an article on the marina, and more.
Recent Discoveries at Ashkelon (University of Chicago, Oriental Institute) A good article, but dated (1995, updated in 1998).
Ashkelon (WebBible Encyclopedia, ChristianAnswers.Net) Interests the reader with biblically and other historically descriptive facts, including internal links to related topics.
Ashkelon (Walking in Their Sandals) Gives easy-to-read information on the location, biblical significance, etc. Features links to photographs and on-line scripture references.
Ashkelon (Christian Travel Study Program) Highlights major historical events at the site, but displays no pictures.
Ashkelon: Ancient City of the Sea (National Geographic) An article teaser with photos. Reveals the dynamic nature of excavations at Ashkelon.
Ashkelon (Virtual Israel Experience) A brief history of the city and the region, with a short paragraph on Ashkelon today. Several nice photographs.
Ashkelon’s Dead Babies (Archaeology Magazine) A fascinating article reporting on the startling find of nearly 100 infant skeletons in the sewer beneath a Roman/Byzantine bathhouse and considering the possible explanations.
Ashkelon Experience (Harvard, The Leon Levy Expedition) One excavator tells first hand what can be gained from the volunteer excavation experience.