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Iron Age Levant

Iron Age I

New ideas: In the Iron Age I, new ethnic and political identities emerged across the Levant.

Israelites, Philistines and Arameans, among others, are identified as "peoples" for the first time. As Egyptian rule in Canaan collapsed towards the end of Egypt's New Kingdom, new patterns of settlement and lifestyle emerged. On the Mediterranean coast, artifacts and customs reminiscent of Myceneans settled in Cyprus indicate the arrival of the Philistine immigrants from the Aegean.

On they came with fire prepared at their front, faces towards Egypt. Their main protection was the Pelset [Philistines], the Tjekru, the Shekelesh, the Da'anu, the Washosh and all the lands united. They laid their hands on countries as far as the circuit of the earth. Invasion of the Sea Peoples, Ramses III, Medinet Habu, Egypt

Archaeologists have uncovered little evidence to support the biblical account of the Exodus from Egypt and Israelites' conquest of Canaan. A stele of the Pharaoh Merneptah, however, mentions a people named Israel, placing them in the highlands of Canaan by 1208 BC. At the same time, many small villages appear as part of a new wave of settlement in the Judean and Samarian highlands. Although these settlements are clearly related to early Israel, their material culture (collared-rim storeage jars and "four-room" houses) is not significantly different from rural settlements elsewhere in the southern Levant.

Iron IA (1175 - 1125 BC)

Philistine Stage 1 settlements (identified by monochrome ware, reminiscent of Mycenean Ware IIIC1B) formed a Philistine pentapolis of main hubs: Gaza; Ashkelon; Ashdod; Gath; and Ekron. Egypt installed forts near each site of the pentapolis to contain the Philistines. Philistine culture is marked by strong Aegean traits: monopoly on iron working 1 Sam 13:19-21; art and architecture; unique dietary customs, including pork; later assimilated into Canaanite culture. Egyptian king Ramses III ruled during this time, and his mortuary temple reliefs mentioned active Sea Peoples population groups: Sherden (likely heralding from Sardinia); Sikil (Sicily); Tursha (Etruria); Ekwesh (Ashhiyawa); Danuna (Danunim); Pelset (Philistines). Additional reliefs at Medinet Habu show mostly Sherden and Philistines being killed en masse.

Iron Age IB

In Stage 2 settlements, the Philistines expanded north to Yarkon river and east into foothills (conflicting with Israelites). Monochrome ceramics were almost completely replaced by bichrome, with motifs remaining distinct from Canaanite and Egyptian ceramics. There was evidence of acculturation. The Philistines and the Mycenean motifs are very strongly similar, and likely heralded from Anatolia; they migrated over hundreds of years as they felt Hittite pressure. Philistine material culture includes: Ashdoda, a figure from Ashdod whose chair-like structure recalls Greece; and a goblet that cannot be set down, so that the user will be inebriated.

Iron Age II

Kings and bureaucrats: In the Iron Age II, nation-states arose in the southern Levant and nationality joined family and town as a source of identity.

We are determined to have a king over us, so that we may be like other nations, and that your king may govern us and go out before us and fight our battles. 1 Samuel 8:20

The kingdom of Israel under David and Solomon is the best known example of the "new states" of the Iron II period. From an archaeological perspective, however, our evidence for state government increases after Solomon (c 930 BC) -- in the period when Israel was divided into the two kingdom of Israel in the north and Judah in the south.

Between 900 and 750 BC, biblical states such as Israel, Judah, Ammon and Moab developed centralized governments with increasingly professional bureaucracies. This is marked by the occurrence of large-scale public works projects, such as elaborate water tunnels, the spread of standardizes weights and measures, and an increase in literacy. The Iron II period marks the first time that the alphabet was widely used since its invention in Bronze Age Canaan.

After 734 BC, the Assyrian Empire (based in northern Mesopotamia) began to intervene directly in the local politics of the southern Levant, helping to further concentrate power in the kingship and his officials, with whom the Assyrians dealt.

The Babylonians succeeded the Assyrians as the region's dominant power and ended the political independence of these Iron Age states -- most famously with Nebuchadnezzar's destruction of Jerusalem and the subsequent Jewish exile to Babylon in 586 BC.

Iron IIA (1000 - 925 BC)

Israel in the days of David and Solomon. At this point, archaeological sources (mostly destructions) and external sources are each very important. David's reign is from 1,007-970 BC, ruled form Hebron and Jerusalem was not a seat of Israelite power yet; his son Slomon succeeds him. 1,000 BC accession of David and Philistine destructions; Solomon's reign is 970-930 BC); Rehoboam's and Jeroboam's reigns start in 930 BC; 925 BC destructions due to Pharaoh Shishak (Sheshonq). In Jerusalem, there is an absence of evidence of David and Solomon (absent are their palaces, temple and administration). Also, no material culture correlates only to the 10th century BC; it all continues into the 9th century BC.

Late Bronze Age renaissance

Deurbanized Late Bronze Age settlements underwent a renaissance during the Iron IIA. A product of the LBA Renaissance was the United Monarchy, which was essentially run by warlords who oversaw a territorial kingdom with very few formal structures (ie, forts, palaces, etc).




Large territorial states re-emerged. Egyptian rulers (Siamun, Shishak etc) tried to regain control.


Tribal authority was replaced by state authority and dynastic lines re-emerged (ie, Davidic).


The designs of temples, fortifications and palaces were homogenized and became identical.


Phoenicians (Syro-Canaanites) were the middle-man of a robust palace-based Mediterranean trade. Cypriot pottery was traded again, as well as the artisans themselves. Horses and chariots were obtainable.

Iron Age IIB (925 - 720 BC)

With respect to ancient Israel, the Iron II is split into: the Early Divided Monarchy (930-839 BC) and the Late Divided Monarchy (839-720 BC).



Early Divided Monarchy

925 BC destructions by Pharaoh Shishak (Sheshonq) of Egypt. In the 9th century, Israel was in constant warfare with the Arameans (early to mid-9th century) and the threat of the Assyrians by Shalmanesser III (mid-9th century).

Late Divided Monarchy

In the 8th century, Assyrian king Tiglath-Pileser III (mid-8th century) also campaigned against Israel. In 720 BC, Samaria was finally destroyed by Sargon II and Israel fell.

Iron Age IIC (720 - 586 BC)