The Philistine Marketplace at Ashkelon

Ancient Economics Revealed

A WINDOW INTO ANCIENT ECONOMICS AT PHILISTINE ASHKELON. At the Philistine marketplace in Ashkelon, people visit the wine and butcher shops and examine a shipment of Greek pottery, placed next to some local Philistine cooking pots. An Egyptian official stands nearby as silver is weighed on the scale. The artifacts found at the marketplace in Philistine Ashkelon illuminate ancient economics. Credit: Balage Balogh/ArchaeologyIllustrated.com.

Perhaps at first glance, a study of ancient economics does not sound as interesting as examining ancient battles or treasure-filled tombs. Yet arguably the results of such a study are more valuable for reconstructing daily life for the average person. The seventh-century B.C.E. (Iron Age) marketplace at Philistine Ashkelon—the only archaeologically-demonstrated marketplace in the ancient Near East—provides a window into ancient economics. In “Buy Low, Sell High: The Marketplace at Ashkelon” in the January/February 2014 issue of BAR, Daniel Master and Lawrence Stager examine what was traded and by whom at this Philistine sea port.

Unlike other coastal cities with ports separate from the city, Ashkelon—one of the five cities of the Philistine Pentapolis mentioned in the Bible—was situated directly on the sea, with its marketplace overlooking the Mediterranean. Not surprisingly, the economy of Ashkelon was based on maritime trade. Experienced seafarers, the Philistine merchants traveled far and wide, crossing the Mediterranean world and forging economic and political ties as they went.

The free eBook Life in the Ancient World guides you through craft centers in ancient Jerusalem, family structure across Israel and articles on ancient practices—from dining to makeup—across the Mediterranean world.

In 604 B.C.E., Nebuchadnezzar conquered Philistine Ashkelon, burning it to the ground. While utterly devastated, the Iron Age city was sealed in the process, and it is thanks to this act of destruction that the marketplace—and its record of ancient economics—is so well preserved. Through archaeological excavation of the Ashkelon marketplace, the bustling world of the Philistines before their demise has been revealed. Archaeologists have gained insight into many aspects of Philistine life—from their imported luxury goods to their local cooking ware to even their diet!

Examination of the Ashkelon marketplace has also altered our conceptions about ancient economics and how business was done in the ancient world. Rather than bartering for goods with other goods, it is clear that at Philistine Ashkelon all goods were exchanged for and purchased with silver, which was weighed at the scale in the marketplace, thereby necessitating standardized weights. Clustered in one area of the marketplace’s street, where the scale was likely located, numerous weights have been uncovered. These weights correspond to several different metrological systems, indicating that a diverse clientele frequented the marketplace at Philistine Ashkelon.

Both the merchandise and the types of shops uncovered—including a grain shop, a butcher shop and a wine shop—show that those in Philistine Ashkelon enjoyed a high standard of living. They were very connected with the Mediterranean world and with their powerful ally to the south, Egypt. Indeed, the “ancient” economics of Ashkelon sound rather modern! For more details about the Philistine marketplace and interpretation of its discoveries, see “Buy Low, Sell High: The Marketplace at Ashkelon” by Daniel Master and Lawrence Stager.

BAS Library Members: Read the full article “Buy Low, Sell High: The Marketplace at Ashkelon” by Daniel M. Master and Lawrence E. Stager in the January/February 2014 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

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Learn more about Ashkelon in the BAS Library:

Strata: “Altar-ed Theories at Ashkelon,” BAR, May/June 2012.

Mordechai E. Kislev and Ehud Weiss, “Weeds & Seeds,” BAR, November/December 2004.

Michael R. Shurkin, “The Dog Days of Ashkelon,” Bible Review, April 2004.

Lawrence E. Stager, “The Fury of Babylon: Ashkelon and the Archaeology of Destruction,” BAR, January/February 1996.

Lawrence E. Stager, “Eroticism and Infanticide at Ashkelon,” BAR, July/August 1991.

Lawrence E. Stager, “Why Were Hundreds of Dogs Buried at Ashkelon?” BAR, May/June 1991.

Lawrence E. Stager, “When Canaanites and Philistines Ruled Ashkelon,” BAR, March/April 1991.

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Posted in Daily Life and Practice, The Ancient Near Eastern World.

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10 Responses

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  1. Rolf says

    The proper term is BC not BCE,
    Unless you want to insult Christians.

  2. Gene R. says

    BCE has been defined as meaning “Before the Christian Era” or “Before the Common Era”. Actually that is a more meaningful term since the birth of Christ preceded the date presumed by a sixth century monk who set up the BC/DC numbering system. So BCE and CE(Christian or Common Era) has replaced the older BC/AD designations among academics, scientists, archaeologists and many publishers. Of course to each their own. As a Christian I do not find the term offensive.

  3. Gene R. says

    Sorry, BC/DC should be BC/AD as to the monk’s numbering system.

  4. Scott says

    I care not, whether Academics want to insult Christians or not. But I do expect Academics to remain relatively free from prejudice. We are not bothered by the names of the week, whose names refer to Nordic gods, such as Wodin, Thor, Friga (is that right?), Saturn. We don’t flinch that the months of the year have pagan god origins, such as Janus, Augustus, etc. Many of our words refer to pagan origins such as dis-aster, etc. So why the objection to BC (before Chris), also a religious symbol, as so many human symbols have been. Religious hatred starts somewhere, and usually only ends with massive killing or a subjugated status of slavery or even worse. Where ever it is found, it should be eliminated if scholars want to remain scholars and not propagandists.

    Further, I have sometimes come across Christians (some so called) who find to much fault with words that appear to have pagan origins. These also are wrong and they should appreciate that more than most, since they are often prejudged as well. Our collective (species) history is full of very varied legacies, most of which include the fact we were once all pagan except for nearly just one man, Abraham. We can not change the truth of history. We can only cover up and lie about it, but the truth remains. Mature credible scholars will do their best to purge themselves of prejudice and hatred and be constantly vigilant about it !!!

  5. mark says

    I find it interesting that a diverse marketplace such as this, would have only a single scale to purchase by. Could this single scale that used different weight units for different cultural monetary disbursements (e.g. Egytian dynre verses Mediterranean) been a type of monetary exchange to a weighted Ashkelon coinage; that was then used to purchase from various markets? This would make mandate tributes (sales taxes) easier to pay and also open up the marketplace to personal haggling on price with the shopkeeper. Furthermore, on a busy day transactions would get so backed up if you only had a single source (checkout) to purchase your items; it would be the same as going to a mega-mall here in the states and only have one checkout counter for the whole mall. Let me know what you think.

  6. Cahyana says

    I remember on my pastor exposition about the impact of Palestinian culture to the Israeli Kingdom for a long time … and has still brought down a big problem of today’s political setting

Continuing the Discussion

  1. The Philistine Marketplace at Ashkelon | Dr. Claude Mariottini – Professor of Old Testament linked to this post on December 19, 2013

    [...] Bible History Daily, an online publication of the Biblical Archaeological Society has an interesting article on the Philistine marketplace at Ashkelon. [...]

  2. The Philistine Marketplace at Ashkelon | MakePhoto.org linked to this post on February 12, 2014

    [...] Ashkelon: Philistine Marketplace Reveals Ancient Economics – Biblical Archaeology Society [...]

  3. The Philistines in Jordan | newsantiques.com linked to this post on April 2, 2014

    […] were positioned on the coast; Philistine religion displays distinct Aegean characteristics; and the Philistine market at Ashkelon was once located straight away on the sea, suggesting a western center of attention for Philistine […]

  4. The Philistines and Their Cities | Bible Study With Randy linked to this post on July 17, 2014

    […] seaport city. For a brief description of Ashkelon’s economics click on the following link: http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/ancient-cultures/daily-life-and-practice/the-philistine-ma…For a current look at what is happening at Tel-Ashkelon see the following site: […]


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