Mark Wilson May 30th, 2011
MITZPE RAMON, ISRAEL–Every time I visit the British Museum in London, I examine the fascinating relief from Nineveh showing The Siege of Lachish. The detail is extraordinary as the story is told in sequence through dozens of panels. It is a brutal tale of conquest and pillage, giving insights into the heart of an empire long since extinct. Today Will and I visited the archaeological site of Lachish on the way back from Jerusalem. Our friend Yoav gave us an excellent tour — and we were the only people there. The main gate and approach road is shown in the image above.
Lachish was a walled city at the boundary between the hill country and the coastal plain. It is mentioned several times in the Bible, most notably when captured by Joshua from the Canaanites (see Joshua 10: 1-32). The famous Siege of Lachish was in 701 BCE when the Assyrian king Sennacherib sought to conquer the tiny nation of Judea (see II Kings 18). Lachish watched over the coastal plain and the main approaches to Jerusalem.
The city wall on the approach to the main gate. Soldiers marching up the road would have their right sides exposed to this wall. Since they typically carried their shields on their left arms, they are here vulnerable to defending archers at the top of the wall.
The Assyrians did not attack Lachish directly by the main gate. They instead built a siege ramp of stones and wood on the weakest corner of the walled city. They wheeled battering rams and towers up this ramp, eventually breaching the wall despite a counter-ramp attempted by the Judean defenders. This is one of the best preserved siege ramps in the ancient Near East.
A view of the inside of the city showing remnants of the commander’s palace at the highest point.
The view from Lachish into the Judean Hills. Hebron is visible at the top of the distant ridge.
An archaeological controversy (or at least it should be one) is this well in or near the city walls of Lachish. Geologists have shown conclusively that it was a failed well — it did not reach the aquifer (Weinberger et al., 2008). The builders of the well may have thought that all they had to do was penetrate down as far as the wells outside the city to hit water, but those wells were in a perched aquifer of alluvium. The Lachish well is in Eocene chalk. The city may have been running out of water when it was besieged.
It was a privilege to visit such an historic site and have the luxury of a personal guided tour by Yoav.
Weinberger, R., Sneh, A. and Shalev, E. 2008. Hydrogeological insights in antiquity as indicated by Canaanite and Israelite water systems. Journal of Archaeological Science 35: 035-3042.