Ancient economics revealed
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.
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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This Bible History Daily feature was originally published in December 2013.
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