Lachish is the site of one of the great annihilating battles of the ancient world, when the city tried to stand up to the invading Assyrians. It paid a terrible price.
The Tell or mound at Lachish is imposing. It was formed from different settlement layers during the Bronze Age. After that period, the site was uninhabited until the 10th century BC.
During the 9th century BC it was strongly fortified, and a palace was added. This city lasted until the conquest by Sennacherib in 701BC. Later on there was some rebuilding, but the city was only a pale reflection of what had been there before.
Aeriel view of
Lachish. The siege ramp built at
Ground plan of excavations at the city of Lachish
An ostracon excavated at Lachish; these ostraca were inscribed pottery fragments pleading for help during the invasion of the Babylonians in 587 BCE. Help did not come. See the ground plan above for the location where they were found.
the entrance to Lachish,
Reconstruction of six-chambered city gate
Excavated ruins of the six-chambered gate
The fortifications for the city consisted of a double ring of walls. The only gate was on the west side; it had six chambers, three on each side. Each of these three sections could be shut tight against an attacking enemy. During peace-time the three sections were used by the guards who were positioned at the gate.
The center of the city was dominated by a palace and its support buildings. There was a large residential building, a row of six storerooms, an entrance building and an open courtyard. The entrance to these public buildings was via a grand stairway leading from a large courtyard. A street led directly from the city entrance to the entrance gate of the palace.
Lachish was an important center of royal administration. The palace was divided into three areas:
Wall reliefs from
Nimrud show a battering ram used in the attack on Lachish.
Wall relief showing Assyrian archers shooting from behind a wicker shield wall. In front of them is a siege ramp and battering ram. Above left are the impaled bodies of enemy soldiers.
using composite bows. Their armor was made of small metal plates sewn into
Psychological warfare is not new. The Assyrians tortured captured enemy soldiers in sight of their family still within the city. These captives are having skin peeled from their bodies.
Lachish was the most important city in Judah after Jerusalem. During his campaign in 701BC, Sennacherib sent an embassy to Jerusalem from Lachish. By the time it returned, he had already overrun Lachish, something he must have seen as a significant military victory, since he portrayed the scene in a relief on the palace walls in his capital, Nineveh.
In a series of scenes, the Assyrian infantry storm the walls of Lachish, with rows of archers taking aim at the defenders on the walls:A pile of slingstones found at the site of Lachish
A huge pile of stones, used as the base of a ramp built by the Assyrians to storm the city, can still be seen in the south-western corner of the ruins.
The final destruction of Lachish took place at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar in 587BC - at the same time Jerusalem was destroyed.
Trepanated skull excavated at Lachish, evidence of advanced medical techniques
(Cornfeld, G., Pictorial Biblical Encyclopedia, 1964, p.89-94)
Lachish was a major fortified city of Palestine all throughout the history of Israel.
It takes a prominent place in the Bible story and also appears in other sources — mainly Assyrian — as an important Judean city. Strategically situated, Lachish was the largest of the chain of fortresses guarding the approach to the mountains. Its acropolis covered 18 acres.
The Wellcome-Marston expedition directed by J. Starkey began excavations in 1932. These were continued for six seasons until 1938, when the murder of Starkey forced their abandonment. Up to that time only Israelite levels had been uncovered. Evidence for earlier periods remains
scanty (this article was written in 1964).
Lachish was first fortified during the age of the Patriarchs. The approach to its walled summit was protected by a steep white plastered glacis, with a wide fosse (ditch) at the foot. Such a defence system suggests the presence of the Hyksos, who controlled Egypt and Palestine from the 18th to the middle of the 16th century BC, when they were expelled and replaced by the Egyptians.
The Egyptians discarded the old defences. The
fosse was filled in, and in its place a small temple was built. Between 1480 and 1260
BC, the temple was twice rebuilt and enlarged. The richness of its contents and its position outside the city wall bear witness to the prosperity and security of the period.
Dr. K. Kenyon described the 15th century BC Canaanite temple of Lachish (see excavations at right) and its sacrificial altar: "The temple was simple in plan, consisting of an oblong sanctuary with two attached rooms, only one of which was entered from the sanctuary. It is notable that there was no inner room or Holy of Holies, such as was required by the Hebrew religion and has been found in much earlier Semitic sanctuaries.
The roof had been supported on columns, probably of wood, of which the bases were found in position on the central axis.
The entrance was screened by a wall which prevented a view into the sanctuary from the outside.
The shrine consisted of a low bench, one foot high, from the front of which three rectangular blocks projected (see a reconstruction of the Temple floor plan at right). It is suggested that the cult objects stood on the bench and that the projecting blocks served as altars. The existence of three projections suggest that a trinity of deities was worshipped.
On the central axis in front of the shrine were two jars sunk in the floor, which may have been receptacles into which libations were poured, while against one end of the bench was found a great pile of vessels, abandoned when the temple was rebuilt, which presumably served as containers of liquid and solid offerings.
Outside the temple was found a number of pits used for the disposal of vessels which had served a similar purpose.
There was also a long bench along one wall, which, on the analogy of the more numerous benches found in the later structure, may also have served for the deposit of offerings.
The remains suggest that the deities worshipped in this temple and its successors were Resheph, the Canaanite-Syrian god of war and storm, and possibly the goddess Elath.
The first mention of Lachish in documents comes during this (Late Bronze) period.
In the 14th century BC El
Amarna letters, there is a statement by the King of Jerusalem that the people of Lachish made common cause with the
Habiru and killed their king. This has been confirmed by a tablet found in nearby Tel-el-Hesi.
Lachish Conquered by the Israelites?
The third and last temple appears to have been violently destroyed. Because of an Egyptian hieratic (cursive) inscription found on a bowl, dated by the excavators to around 1200 BC and referring to the 4th year of the Pharaoh's reign, some scholars think the temple may have been destroyed during a raid by the Egyptian Pharaoh Mernephtach, whose fourth year was 1220 BC. Mernephtach's great victory stele (see right) recording his victory over Israel dates from the 5th year of his reign, which could be a year after the capture of Lachish.
Other scholars credit Joshua with the destruction of Lachish, accepting as accurate the detailed description of its conquest given in the book of Joshua (10:1-5, 31-33).
Having defeated a Canaanite coalition army, Joshua hanged its leaders and assigned the town to the tribe of Judah.
After being deserted for a time, Lachish took its place as one of the foremost fortified cities of the separate Kingdom of Judah.
Level V, the first Israelite city, had been surrounded by a brick wall which enclosed a large palace built on a platform 32 metres square, made of stones packed with earth. This may be an example of a millo (filling) like the one David constructed in Jerusalem.
Lachish was probably fortified along with other Judean cities by Rehoboam, the first Judean king around the time of Pharaoh Shishak's Palestinian campaign in 925 BCE. Lachish was spared on that occasion and her importance may have increased as a result of the destruction of two of her neighbours, Debir (Tel Beit Mirsim) and Beth-Shemesh, at that time.
During the 9th century BC, a second brick wall on a stone foundation was added, and the palace was rebuilt. This expansion was probably part of the building programs of the kings, Asa and Jehoshaphat, recorded in the Bible.
The double-walled city stood until Sennacherib's Palestine campaign nearly two centuries later.
The Assyrian siege and capture of the town, and its sequel, is one of the most vividly documented of all ancient engagements. The whole story was pictured in detail on a large wall relief in Sennacherib's palace in Nineveh. It also serves as a good illustration of the city's importance at the time as a Judean military base. Sennacherib had set out in 701 BC to crush an anti-Assyrian coalition formed among Syria, Palestine and Egypt, led by the Judean king, Hezekiah. The Egyptians were defeated at Elteke.
Sennacherib then took Ashkelon and Joppa and laid siege to Lachish (II K. 18:14).
After a bombardment by slings and arrows, part of which is shown on the wall relief at right, Assyrian sappers attacked the walls under cover of "siege-engines" pushed up the slope on wooden legs.
From behind towers and shields, the defenders hurled stones and brands on to the siege-engines, which were kept soaked with water as a defensive measure.
After the battle the city's surrender is shown, with the townspeople, wearing long robes, leaving the city carrying their possessions. Nearby hang three impaled bodies.
See the stone wall relief for the grisly aftermath of the capture of
Lachish as captured citizens, carrying what they can, leave their
The inscription above his headreads : "Sennacherib, King of the World, King of Assyria, sat upon a throne and passed in review the booty (taken) from Lachish." The area's hilly nature is indicated by the continuous scale pattern; fruit trees and vines are also shown. While Sennacherib was encamped at Lachish, he received the tribute from Hezekiah (11 K. 18:14-16) which saved Jerusalem and with it all Judah from total destruction.
his throne in camp. Detail of the Assyrian conquest of the Jewish
fortified town of Lachish (battle 701 BC).
battle the city's surrender is shown, with the hapless townspeople leaving the city carrying their possessions.
Apart from the burnt debris found in the corresponding level, other evidence of the conquest of Lachish included a large pit which contained a jumbled mass of more than 1,500 bodies. Starkey interpreted this as the debris raked up in the city after the war. Three trepanned skulls
(see photograph above) found among them are interesting evidence for early medical practice. An unfinished well, 144 feet deep, which had probably been intended as a water supply for the besieged city but had
been abandoned, was also found.
During the following (7th) century, a new stone wall and a gate were built, with guardrooms in the gatehouse between the walls. In one of these rooms, the Lachish letters were found.
The Lachish letters, the outstanding discovery of the last Israelite level (II), consist of 21 inscribed potsherds, mostly letters, but including various lists and business records. Now in the British Museum, only about a third of
them could be deciphered. W. F. Albright has commented on their significance: "Since they form the only known corpus of documents in classical Hebrew prose, they have unusual philological significance, quite aside from the light they shed on the time of Jeremiah." They all appear to have been addressed to Yoash, the commander of the fortress at Lachish, by Hoshaiah, commander of an unidentified outpost not far from the town. He is mentioned by name once only, but a certain continuity in theme suggests that he sent all the letters.
Other sections of the letters have also been interpreted against the background of the Book of Jeremiah and seem to supplement its information. The letters indicate a conflict between the king and an unnamed prophet. Jeremiah is accused of "weakening the hands of the people", presumably by preaching against the Egyptian anti-Babylon alliance, then official policy in Jerusalem. The book of Jeremiah records that because of this attitude, he and the prophet Tuviah 'were officially
persecuted'. A Lachish letter deals with the same situation in relation to "a prophet" who is not named. It has been suggested that this may have been the same Tuviah. Alternatively, three different parallel cases (Jeremiah, Tuviah and the prophet of the Lachish letters) may reflect a whole party jointly opposing official policy and being punished for it.
The last level of Lachish belongs to the period of resettlement of Judah after the Persian conquest, during the time of Nehemiah (11:30), about the middle of the 5th century
BC. An administrative centre was built on the acropolis, with a large building serving apparently as the governor's residence. A small temple, dedicated to the sun and facing east was also found. This remained in use until the site was finally abandoned in the 2nd
century BC. Settlers during the Roman period made their homes at Duweir, south of the tel.