Doomed city: walls and fortifications, the great gateway, siege weapons
The Tell at Lachish (see the site below) is imposing. The bottom layers were formed from different settlements during the Bronze Age. After that, there was a long silence. The site was uninhabited until the 10th century BC.
Suddenly in the 9th century BC it became important again. It was strongly fortified, and a palace was added. This seems to have been its peak period, lasting until the conquest by Sennacherib in 701BC. Later on there was some rebuilding, but the city was only a pale reflection of what it had once been.
Lachish, the doomed city
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 the buildings was via an open stairway leading from the 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 seemed to be divided into three areas:
Lachish was certainly 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.
In a series of scenes,
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.
Aerial view of the Lachish tel. Remains of the siege ramp is on the lower right side of the
Topographic map of the site, with some of the excavated buildings marked
The walls and fortifications of Lachish
Fortifications consisted of a double ring of walls, with the six-chambered gate on the west side.
The city walls of Lachish as they are stormed by invading soldiers
Captives being taken from Lachish. Notice the design of city towers at left of image
The top of a stone pillar excavated at Lachish
Photographs of the excavated Assyrian siege ramp, still intact, from the successful assault
The gate to the city of Lachish
This model of the gateway at Gezer shows a design common to many fortified cities of the time, including Lachish
The excavated gateway to the city
The ramp that formed the approach to the gates
This panel from the Lachish relief in the British Museum shows the city walls (center) under attack from a battering ram (right); this suggests that the main attack was on the walls rather than the gate
One of the temples at Lachish
Floor-plan of the Temple as it was originally
The remains of this temple, burnt with the rest of the city in about 1200 BC
Stairs leading to the sanctuary
A drawing of the central, most sacred area of the Temple
Weapons used in the siege of Lachish
wall carving of battering ram and archers.
Arrow heads excavated at Lachish
Sling-shot ammunition excavated at the site of Lachish
Battering-ram, sappers and archers from the Lachish relief.
Cities in biblical times
A city in biblical times could be anything from 6 hectares (15 acres) - Megiddo, to 10 hectares (25 acres - Ai, Gezer and Arad. It was protected by a ring of walls, with gates or posterns. The fortification could be a wall or a rampart. Inside the walls there were houses of varying shapes and sizes, but also monumental buildings which covered a substantial part of the area inside the wall. Among these were the temple and the palace, often at the center of the settlement or in a prominent position. All the houses were accessible via narrow streets.
City walls had different methods of construction and size. The earliest cities have mud brick walls from 2 to 6 meters thick on stone foundations, with projecting semicircular or rectangular towers. In another case, the walls were 8 to 10 meters wide. The gate had towers flanking it on either side.
The earliest type of domestic building was the wide-room house. Its floor was below ground level and the house was entered by two steps. Benches ran along the walls. This basic form was enlarged by the addition of annexes and additional rooms, and a house often had several rooms, in which the entrance from the street was in the shorter wall.
Until the beginning of the 1st millennium BC, the biblical lands were a place of city states, independent of each other and, if we can judge from the amount of attention lavished on the walls and fortifications, often warring with each other.
For much of this time there was an imperial power lurking in the wings - usually Egypt, but also Mesopotamia, Assyria, etc. This power would exercise a certain amount of control, for though generally speaking the area was not rich and not really worth conquering in its own right, it lay on several important trading roads, especially the route between Egypt and the north and east.
In the struggle for power between Egypt and Syria or the rulers of Mesopotamia, it was important to control these routes open.
'Tel Lachish, the mound of the ancient city of Lachish, is located in the lowlands of the Judean Hills, some 40 km. southeast of Jerusalem. The abundance of water sources and the fertile valleys of the area favored the existence of a prosperous city over a considerable period of time.
The mound of the city was first excavated during the 1930s. Systematic and in-depth excavations of large areas of the mound were again conducted between 1973 and 1987.
The Canaanite city
A large, fortified Canaanite city was established at the beginning of the 2nd millennium BCE on a hillock dominating the surrounding area. It was fortified by a wall and a glacis, a ramp-like structure of compressed earth with a hard, smooth surface of lime plaster. The fortification was completed by a fosse (moat) at the foot of the glacis.
A large palace of numerous rooms and a courtyard, probably the residence of the Canaanite King of Lachish, stood on the acropolis - the highest part of the city. It could not be completely exposed, as a later Israelite palace was built above it.
From letters sent by the kings of Lachish to their overlords, the pharaohs of Egypt (the 14th century BCE el-Amarna correspondence) it may be deducted that Lachish was an important urban center and the seat of the Egyptian governor of southern Canaan.
Two temples are known from this period at Lachish. Finds from the Fosse Temple, at the western foot of the mound, include cult vessels, offering bowls and imported items of pottery, faience and ivory, all evidence of wealth. The temple on the acropolis, with Egyptian architectural elements, included an entrance chamber, a main hall (16 x 13 m.) and a raised holy of holies. Two octagonal stone columns supported the wooden ceiling, while the walls were decorated with painted plaster.
Canaanite Lachish was totally destroyed by fire at the end of the 12th century BCE. According to one theory, the destruction was wrought by the Philistines of the nearby Coastal Plain; according to another, more widely accepted theory, it was wrought by the Israelites, whose capture and destruction of the city is recorded in the Bible. (Joshua 10:31,32)
The Israelite city
Rebuilt as a fortress-city of the Kingdom of Judah, Lachish gained in importance after the split of the kingdom into Judah and Israel. As the largest city on the western border of the Kingdom of Judah facing the Philistines of the Coastal Plain, Lachish was fortified with a double line of massive mud-brick walls on stone foundations. The main city wall on top of the mound was 6 m. wide, with a sloping glacis supported by a revetment wall along the middle of the slope. The city gate, in the southwestern wall, is one of the largest and most strongly fortified gates known of this period. It consists of an outer gate in a huge tower built of large stones which protrudes from the line of defenses. The gatehouse, on top of the mound, consists of three pairs of chambers with wooden doors on hinges.
A palace-fortress was built on the acropolis and probably served as the residence of the governor appointed by the King of Judah. During the 8th century BCE a new wing was added to the palace, enlarging it to 76 x 36 m. Next to the palace was a courtyard with stables and storerooms; the whole complex was surrounded by a wall with a gatehouse.
The city of Lachish was destroyed by the Assyrian army during Sennacheribís campaign against the Kingdom of Judah in 701 BCE. The destruction was total; the buildings were burned to the ground and the inhabitants exiled. The Assyrian campaign, during the reign of King Hezekiah, and the encampment of the Assyrian army at Lachish are described in detail in the Bible. (2 Kings 18:14-17; 2 Chronicles 32:9)
The conquest of Lachish is depicted in monumental stone reliefs found at Sennacheribís palace at Nineveh, providing a rare contemporary "photograph" of the battle and conquest. These relief-images of the Assyrian attack have been confirmed by archeological evidence at the site: the attack on Lachish was launched from the southwest; the attackers built a siege ramp against the slope of the mound, which according to calculation contained some 15,000 tons of stones and earth! The ramp was covered with plaster to allow the Assyrian battering ram to be moved up to the city wall and breach it. The cityís defenders constructed a counter-ramp inside the city, thus raising the city wall, which forced the Assyrians to raise the height of their ramp in order to overcome the cityís new defenses. The fierceness of the battle is attested to by the remains of weapons, scales of armor, hundreds of slingstones and arrowheads.
During the reign of King
Josiah (639-609 BCE), the city of Lachish was rebuilt and fortified.
This much poorer city was captured and destroyed by the Babylonian army
in 587/6 BCE. (Jeremiah 34:7) In one of the rooms, which opened onto a
courtyard outside the city gatehouse, a group of ostraca were found
during the excavations in the 1930s. Now known as the Lachish Letters,
they constitute an important corpus of Hebrew documents from the First
Temple period. Written in paleo-Hebrew script on pottery sherds, they
are messages sent by the garrison commander of a small fortress to his
commanding officer in Lachish.'
In its time, Assyria was the strongest regime to have rolled across the ancient Near East. It stretched from east of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers to the Mediterranean Sea, and from just below the Black Sea south to Gaza, Sinai and finally the Nile Delta and points south.
In 701 BCE, the Emperor Sennacherib invaded and subdued the coastal territory of the Philistines, stopping an Egyptian army that rushed north to challenge him. Then he turned ea
ngdom of Judah. Hezekiah paid heavy tribute, but his kingdom was the only pocket left uncontrolled by the empire.
One wall relief, taken from Sennacherib's palace in Nineveh, depicts the battle for Lachish. That town, which guarded the road from the southernmost coast up to Hebron and the southern Judean hill country, faced the full force of Assyrian power and wrath.
If you can't get to London, stare at a photograph of that multi-panel frieze, and envision it as a three-dimensional computer model you can enter. You'll be swept into the chaos of siege and battle.
Four-wheeled battering rams rolled up a carefully constructed siege ramp and pounded the wall, probing for weaknesses. Ranks of archers and sling-throwers took aim at the defenders on the parapets. The Judeans shot arrows and hurled stones and firebrands.
Bold Assyrian infantrymen raised their shields while trying to heave the scaling ladders up. Some, repulsed, hurtled to earth. Bodies piled up. Screams and smoke filled the air. Still the battering rams pounded.
Assyrian rulers glorified war. They developed specialized corps - cavalry, sappers, combat engineers, snipers, aquatic units - and "modernized" their weapons and strategies. Perhaps that was why Isaiah, who witnessed the growing Assyrian threat, prophesied a time when nations would no longer "study war."
You will see the "modern" military machine Assyria unleashed against Lachish as you follow the path from the parking lot to the tel's gate structure. On your right, the cutaway slope of tightly compacted earth and stones is the Assyrian siege ramp, built against Lachish's southern wall. (Inside the wall, the Judeans built a counter-ramp.)
Near the siege ramp, a path slopes up toward Lachish's ancient gate on what was originally a chariot ramp. As you climb it to the elaborate gate structure, the largest in ancient Israel (Lachish was evidently second in importance only to Jerusalem), note the city wall on your right. An advancing Assyrian, typically carrying his shield on his left arm, would expose his right flank to archers on the walls.
At the top, the invaders had to break through an outer gate, pivot to the right while they were packed in a small courtyard and exposed to fire from bordering towers, and break through an inner gate, the remains of which you can now walk through.
But the Assyrians surmounted the town's defenses, as they did, according to Sennacherib's own account, at 45 other Judean towns. Inside Lachish's walls, though the site is undeveloped and only partially excavated, there is evidence of fierce burning at the level of the Assyrian invasion. Arrowheads, sling-stones and the crest of an Assyrian helmet offer only hints of the tumult and destruction highlighted in the Assyrian frieze.
The people inside these walls must have been terrified, perhaps huddling in the palace complex that still sits just to the left inside the gate complex. Perhaps, in what might have been a spin-off sanctuary of the Temple in Jerusalem, priests performed desperate rituals in hope of divine intervention.
The residents were right to be afraid, for gruesome fates awaited captives of Assyria. They were uprooted, tortured, led away with bags over their heads, with limbs lopped off, with rings in their noses or lips. The stone relief of Lachish's conquest shows the exile of prisoners as vividly as the battle itself.
The horror recorded at Lachish could be reconstructed at virtually any biblical city or fortress. But toppled stone walls cannot reveal the hatred, the fear, the blood and the destroyed families. In recalling the drama of the Lachish conquest, footage of Kosovan refugees takes on a perspective of timeless, tragic, human experience.
Using Lachish as a base, the Assyrian army moved into the hills against Jerusalem but, according to II Kings (20:35), was smitten by an angel of God and retreated. Lachish was rebuilt, again became the southwest guardian of Judah and later faced a new enemy, the Babylonians.
Evidence linked to the Babylonian attack, though sparse, is chilling and poignant. Among the 18 Hebrew ostraca (fragments of inscribed pottery) found in a guardroom, one reads, "Let my lord know that we are watching over the beacon of Lachish, according to the signals which my lord gave, for Azeka is not to be seen."
This is like a movie scene in which the blip of an aircraft disappears from a radar screen. That one simple message encapsulates Lachish's isolation and doom before the Babylonian onslaught.
The book of Jeremiah (34:7) confirms that Azeka
and Lachish were the last cities to fall, leaving Jerusalem alone.'
'A wall looms high and vivid in the northwest corner, bare of the dirt that covers the rest of the tel. It is probably part of the buttressed wall that stood as Lachish resisted the invasion of the Assyrian Empire, 2,700 years ago, during the reign of King Hezekiah over the kingdom of Judah.
Along that buttressed wall, which exploited an earlier Canaanite trench below, one can easily imagine the Judeans perched on its ramparts shooting arrows and hurling stones, torches and perhaps clay jars filled with hot oil down on the invaders.
For it is war - its shadows and all-pervasive biblical (not to mention human) reality - that we see, more than anything else, while picking our way through the undeveloped but potentially riveting site of Lachish.
We can best understand Lachish by staring at the Assyrian wall sculptures which were discovered in Assyria's ancient capital, Nineveh (now Iraq), and other sites, and are now exhibited in the British Museum. The Assyrian rulers lined their palaces with battle scenes advertising the awesome power of their empire.
The destruction of Sennacherib's army, by Lord Byron
(describing an incident during the reign of King Hezekiah)
came down like the wolf on the fold,
leaves of the forest when summer is green,
Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast,
lay the steed with his nostrils all wide,
lay the rider, distorted and pale,
widows of Asshur are loud in their wail;
in Old and New Testament times - Architecture of the Bible; Bible Study Resource
Copyright 2012 Elizabeth Fletcher