New study examines the rise of the Philistine city-states
The Philistines have long been a mysterious force in the history of the ancient Levant, with few records detailing their early years in the lands of the Bible. The organized, urban nature of Philistine sites in later periods has led some scholars to suggest that they entered the land as invaders, bringing with them a highly developed urban culture. A recent study published in the journal Levant, however, pushes back against this theory. The study, which examined archaeological finds from several Philistines cities, concluded that Philistine urbanization occurred gradually and only took place after they entered the southern Levant and were integrated with the local Canaanite community.
The study used both traditional archaeological methods as well as remote sensing to examine strata from various Philistine cities, including Ashdod, Ashkelon, Tel Miqne (biblical Ekron), Tell Qasile, and Tell es-Safi (biblical Gath). Through this analysis, the team concluded that, despite the high level of urban planning evidenced at Philistine sites, such organization appeared gradually over time and according to different principles. For example, while each site had rectilinear spaces, main streets running at cardinal directions, and ordered structures and fortifications, they also exhibited considerable variability in their individual features, such as street width and building size. Such variability indicates that multiple factors helped shape these cities and that there was only a moderate degree of shared urban planning between them.
Little is known about the origins of the Philistines, who first appeared in the region during the transition between the Late Bronze and Early Iron Ages (c. 13th–12th centuries B.C.E.) as part of the famous Sea Peoples. In the Hebrew Bible, they are described as a powerful coalition of urbanized city-states that threaten the upstart Kingdoms of Israel and Judah. This new study, however, suggests their urban character was a relatively late development. Instead, it likely took generations for the immigrant Philistines to achieve the status and organization they became known for in later periods.
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