Massive Fortification Wall Protecting Assyrian Harbor Excavated Near Ashdod

Bible and archaeology news

A massive fortification wall comprised of a mud-brick interior bolstered by layers of mud and sand was discovered near modern-day Ashdod in Israel. The wall protected an Iron Age Assyrian harbor. Biblical and Assyrian texts provide the context for the defensive construction. Photo: Philip Sapirstein/TAU.

Archaeologists from Tel Aviv University discovered the remains of a massive fortification wall built around an Iron Age Assyrian harbor near modern-day Ashdod in Israel. The fortifications were comprised of a mudbrick wall more than 12 feet wide and 15 feet high that was bolstered by hundreds of feet of layered mud and sand on either side. The crescent-shaped defensive wall covered more than 17 acres and seems to have protected an artificial harbor, according to the excavation’s director, Dr. Alexander Fantalkin.

In “Assyrian Palace Discovered in Ashdod” in the January/February 2007 issue of BAR, editor Hershel Shanks details the history of Ashdod when the fortification wall was built, as it is recorded in both Assyrian records and the Biblical text:

Not long after the Assyrians put an end to the northern kingdom of Israel in 721 B.C.E. and deported its citizens to Assyria (2 Kings 17:5–6), Sargon II, the Assyrian ruler, proceeded south along the Mediterranean coast all the way to the Egyptian border at Gaza, where he defeated the Egyptian army. Later (in 713 B.C.E.), when the ancient Philistine city of Ashdod made a rebellious alliance with neighboring rulers, Sargon attacked it (Isaiah 20:1). According to Assyrian records, Sargon replaced the ruler of Ashdod (Aziru) with his brother (Ahimetu). However, as soon as the Assyrians withdrew, the people of Ashdod rebelled again—this time against Ahimetu—and installed a new ruler, Yamani. In response, Sargon laid siege to Ashdod yet again and finally exiled its citizens as he had done with the Israelites. Ashdod became an Assyrian city-state. From Assyrian records, we even know the names of two puppet-kings of Ashdod (Mitinti and Ahimelech) who ruled as vassals of the Assyrian emperor. Ashdod served as the provincial center of Philistia and the south in the Assyrian empire.

A 3D reconstruction of the Hellenistic-period ruins above the Iron Age fortification wall. Photo: Philip Sapirstein/TAU.

It is as yet unclear who initiated the construction of the fortification wall. The wall may have been built before or after the Philistine rebellion, at the initiative of the locals or under the command of the Assyrians.

The project uncovered ruins from the Hellenistic period (4th–2nd centuries B.C.E.) above the Iron Age fortifications, and a statement from the American Friends of Tel Aviv notes that the Ashdod-Yam Archaeological Project researchers used photogrammetry to create a 3D reconstruction of all the features of the excavation.

Click here to read more about the Iron Age fortification at Ashdod.

BAS Library members: Read more about the Assyrians at Ashdod in
Hershel Shanks, “Assyrian Palace Discovered in Ashdod,” as it appeared in the January/February 2007 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

Interested in the Philistines at Ashdod? Visit the BAS Library Philistine Special Collection.

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