Megiddo: military architecture, gates and fortifications - a city prepared for war 

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Ivory carving of a goddess or queen

Archaeology: Megiddo

A roaring lion, symbol of war

Ancient Warfare

Solomon's temple, the walls of Jericho, the gates of Megiddo

Ancient buildings

Mud-brick house in an ancient town, reconstruction

Ancient Bible cities

The gates at Megiddo, reconstruction

Megiddo: the gates 






Position, position! Megiddo's role in history is due to its strategic position on the Megiddo Pass, beside the fertile and well-populated Valley of Jezreel. Rich, centrally located, it saw many battles - hence its connection with 'Armaged'don', the great battle between God and Satan at the end of time (Revelations 16:16).

The ruins of Megiddo, looking out over the Jezreel Valley

The ruins of Megiddo, looking out over the Jezreel Valley. 
The mound of earth at right shows the depth of excavations.

Its excavated features include a stone gate from Canaanite times and a large Bronze Age altar, part of a religious complex from the third millennium BC. The altar, if that is what it is, is extraordinarily large, 10metres in diameter. A staircase leads up onto a platform, and large concentrations of animal bones and ashes were found nearby. A question: if it was an altar, in the center of the city and tended by priests, why would there be debris from a sacrifice left lying around where it would attract flies and other vermin, and be unsightly. Surely decomposing matter would have been cleared away? Unless this sacrifice was made immediately before the city was taken by an enemy...

MEGIDDO,BIBLE ARCHITECTURE,Megiddo's strategic positionFor much of Israel's history there was an imperial power lurking in the wings - usually Assyria or Egypt. Though the land of Israel itself was relatively unimportant, it lay on the route between Egypt and the north and east, and was therefore strategically important. The great powers fought to control the road up the coast, which turned inland near Megiddo via the Plain of Esdraelon and crossed the Jordan on the road to Damascus. In times of peace the area was no less important, since it had to be kept open for trade. Megiddo's strategic position is evident in the photograph above: overlooking the fertile plain of Esdraelon, with Mount Tabor at right in the distance. Nazareth lies in the hills on the left hand side of the picture. 

MEGIDDO,BIBLE ARCHITECTURE,Excavations at the site of Megiddo

Excavations at the site of Megiddo

Plan of excavations at Megiddo

Plan of excavations at Megiddo

A model of Megiddo, showing the set of fortified gateways at the entrance of the city

A model of Megiddo, showing the set of fortified gateways at the entrance of the city 

Reconstruction of the palace and walls at Megiddo

Reconstruction of the palace at Megiddo, 
probably from the time of King Ahab of Israel - husband of the notorious Jezebel

Note: for indepth information on Megiddo, go to  Bible Archaeology: Megiddo


Gates and fortifications

'Fortresses usually had the following tactical features:  their position was easily defended, often on a steep hill, and amply provided with water, and in terrain that permitted the swift marshalling and deployment of soldiers and chariots...... Another common trait was that these fortresses were in a flanking, rather than a blocking, position. This enabled the forces based upon, or convening upon, any of them to attack a foe who did not heed the threat to his flank, or to attack in their own time, and under no less favorable conditions, all those enemies who were aware of the danger to their flank and rear and had become pinned down in a siege of one of the major fortresses.'

Special attention was paid to the gates, the most vulnerable spot in any fortress. In its most sophisticated form the approach to the gate was guarded by a double set of gate towers, such as in Megiddo, Samaria and Lachish. If he penetrated the out gate, the attacker would find himself channelled into the passage between the gates, which had firing positions all along, exposing him to crossfire from two, three or four directions. 

Even if the entrance was defended by a single gate tower, it was usually a very strong and deep structure with internal guard rooms and upper-floor firing apertures so as to harass the enemy inside the gate. The gate towers had at least a double set of gates on the outside and on the inside. The gateway passage could also be blocked in an additional manner between the partition walls of the chambers flanking it.

Larger towns (such as Megiddo) had citadels in which the defenders could make a last stand. These served as quarters for the regular garrisons quartered in the towns as well as arsenals of weapons for the population in times of trouble. Their elevated position and towers served as command posts for the direction of the overall defense.


Human figures show the scale of the gateway and defensive walls

Human figures show the scale of the gateway and defensive walls pictured below

Gateway and defensive walls of ancient Megiddo

Gateway and defensive walls of ancient Megiddo

Gateway and defensive walls of ancient Megiddo

MEGIDDO,BIBLE ARCHITECTURE,Archaeological sketch of the six-chambered gateway

Archaeological sketch of the six-chambered gateway to the city of Megiddo

Floor-plan of the six-chambered gates at Megiddo; 
outer gates at bottom left, six-chambered gates at top right


Altar, grain silo, storage complex

MEGIDDO,BIBLE ARCHITECTURE,circular construction is said to have been an altar

The circular construction (above) is said to have been an altar. It may also have been 
the site of a small temple, either open-air or covered, standing on a raised platform

MEGIDDO,BIBLE ARCHITECTURE,Grain storage silo, with stairs leading to the bottom of the space            MEGIDDO,BIBLE ARCHITECTURE,Grain storage silo, with stairs leading to the bottom of the space (detail)

Grain storage silo, with stairs leading to the bottom of the space (see detail at right)

The water system

In the 9th century BC, King Ahab, husband of Jezebel, built an enormous water system with a 30 meter shaft and a 70 meter tunnel. The tunnel was cut through the stone from both ends at the same time, like Hezekiah's Tunnel in Jerusalem, and the builders were only 1 foot off when they met in the middle of the cutting.

'A secure water supply could make all the difference in withstanding a siege if the assault failed. The engineers were able to tap very deep subterranean water tables, or even to tunnel hidden passages to outside sources of water: Megiddo is a good example.' (Battles of the Bible, Chaim Herzog and Mordechai Gichon)

MEGIDDO,BIBLE ARCHITECTURE,long tunnel connected the city with its water springs


 A long tunnel connected the city with its water springs 

About cities

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 rang 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 streets.

A city had to be situated near a water supply, with wells in the nearby plains or valleys.

City walls had different methods of construction and size. The earliest cities have mudbrick walls from 2 to 6 metres thick on stone foundations, with projecting semicircular or rectangular towers. In another case, the walls were 8 to 10 metres wide. The gate had towers flanking it on either side.

The earliest type of house 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. 

MEGIDDO,BIBLE ARCHITECTURE,map showing location of Megiddo



Megiddo is the place where the final battle between God and Satan will take place. It was re-fortified at about the time of King Solomon. Jezebel's husband Ahab built the water system here. 


Megiddo was strategically placed to dominate a fertile region and a busy highway. The upside of this was that it became rich and  powerful; the downside was that it drew enemies like flies to honey. It was built and destroyed 25 times over a period of 3,000 years.


Megiddo lay on the main Egypt-Syria highway, just where the Irron Valley opens up to the wide and fertile Jezreel Valley.


Excavations show the earliest structures date to around 3,300BC, but it was occupied much earlier. It was abandoned in about 350BC.


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fresco by Franz Matsch of 'The Triumph of Achilles'

This fresco by Franz Matsch of 'The Triumph of Achilles' shows the walls of Troy in the background. 
The walls of a fortified city like Megiddo would have been similar.



Bible Architecture: Housing in Old and New Testament times - Architecture of the Bible; Bible Study Resource
Megiddo: Gate and fortifications; water system; excavations; archaeology

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Copyright 2012 Elizabeth Fletcher