Megiddo: military architecture, gates and fortifications - a city prepared for war
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).
ruins of Megiddo, looking out over the Jezreel Valley.
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...
For 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.
Excavations at the site of Megiddo
Plan of excavations at Megiddo
A model of Megiddo, showing the set of fortified gateways at the entrance of the city
of the palace at Megiddo,
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 pictured below
Archaeological sketch of the six-chambered gateway to the city of Megiddo
of the six-chambered gates at Megiddo;
Altar, grain silo, storage complex
The circular construction (above) is said to have been an
altar. It may also have been
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)
A long tunnel connected the city with its water springs
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.
This fresco by Franz Matsch of 'The Triumph of
Achilles' shows the walls of Troy in the background.
in Old and New Testament times - Architecture of the Bible; Bible Study Resource
Copyright 2012 Elizabeth Fletcher