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Ashkelon Excavations and History

ashkelon_rampThe modern city of Ashkelon is the southern seagate to the Holy Land.

In ancient times the sea port was strategically located on the Via Maris, the "Sea Road" and served as a meeting place connecting trade routes and sea lanes during most of history. The city is over 5,000 years old, making it one of the oldest cities in the world.

During its long history Ashkelon enjoyed five periods of prosperity, starting with the Canaanites, through the Philistines, the Phoenicians and the Romans and finally the Medieval & Modern Periods. 
Canaanite History (2000-1550 B.C.) 
ashkelon_calfAshkelon is the oldest and largest seaport yet known in Israel, and a thriving Middle Bronze Age (2000-1550 B.C.) metropolis of more than 150 acres, with commanding ramparts where the silver calf was found, including the oldest arched city gate in the world, still standing two stories high.
Excavations in Ashkelon, some of the largest in the country, have unearthed some remarkable finds over the years.

Among the most notable is a bronze and silver calf over 3,500 years old that may be distantly related to the biblical tale of the golden calf.

The calf predated the Israelites' exodus from Egypt with which the golden calf tale is associated but it gives us a rough idea how the biblical calf looked like.
The handsome four-inch-long, figurine was found inside a special clay vessel in the opening of a shrine located at the city's gate.
The calf 'greeted' visitors and residents upon entering the city or when leaving it.
During this period, Ashkelon was one of the largest and richest seaports in the Mediterranean.
Its massive fortified ramparts extended over a mile and a half.
They are still very impressive today. 

Philistine and Biblical History (1175-604 B.C)
Ashkelon developed into a flourishing port and agriculture center.
This huge seaport, from the era of David and Goliath, was fortified with thick mudbrick towers and battered slopes.
It contained a seaside bazaar and winery, and was the last of the Philistine cities burned down by King Nebuchadnezzar and his Babylonian armies in 604 B.C.E.
At about the same time that the Israelites were settling in Canaan, a new nation called The People of The Sea swept down the coast, spreading terror all the way to Egypt.
Some of these people became known as The Philistines, who went on to become the antagonists of the tribes of Israel that settled on the mountain ranges east of the Philistines.
Ashkelon was one of the Philistines' five main cities. It, along with Ashdod, Ekron, Gaza and Gath, was each ruled by a "seren" or captain.
During the rule of the Judges, Samson, the hero, went to Ashkelon and slew 30 men there after being deceived by a Philistine woman (Judges 14:19).
In the following years he continued to do battle with the Philistines but he also got involved in romantic affairs with several of their women.
Ashkelon is associated with the story of Samson and Delilah, and it is easy to believe that the lovely beach was one of their favorite playgrounds.
After the Philistines killed King Saul, his successor David cried out: "Publish it not in the streets of Ashkelon . . . lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice" (2 Samuel 1:20).
The cycle of war and peace between the Israelites and the Philistines continued for centuries.
At times when the people of Israel sinned, the Philistines even enslaved or ruled over the Israelites.
"And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord; and the Lord gave them into the hand of the Philistines for forty years." (Judges 13:1)
Yet, in historical terms, the Philistines were merely a blip in the wheel of time, existing for only some 600 years before their cities were destroyed by the Babylonians and like the Jews, carried off to exile.
The Jewish people returned, but for the Philistines history's curtain fell forever.
Ashkelons' destruction by the Babylonian army 2,400 years ago was so swift that archaeologists were able to uncover a city that had in effect been trapped in layers of dirt.
This total destruction fits perfectly with Jeremiah's prophecy that declared that "Ashkelon has perished" and that the sword of the Lord was drawn against Ashkelon.

Phoenician History
Due to Ashkelon's strategic location, it was not long before the city was rebuilt, this time flourishing under the Phoenecians, who ruled under Persian auspices.
The most fascinating discovery from this period is a graveyard for dogs located in prime seaside real estate. 
There were very few other dog cemetraies in the world and none as large as the one in Ashkelon.
The skeletons of about 700 dogs have allready been discovered.
The dig directors assume that the dogs were considered as sacred and played a major part in local healing rituals. 
 One interesting fact emerging from this period has ramifications lasting until today.
At the time, Ashkelon served as the southern extent of the Phoenecian, or for that matter the Western - Hellenistic civilization.
Already in Gaza, a mere 12 miles to the south, Arabs from the Arabian Desert began to settle. 
They established an eastern Arabic culture that prevented the Phoenecian culture from spreading southwards.
This division re-emerged today, as seen in the contrast between the Israeli city of Ashkelon and the autonomous Palestinian city of Gaza.
Because of its great port, Alexander the Great conquered Ashkelon during his conquest of Israel.
After the Jews in the 2nd century BC, led by the Maccabee brothers, threw off their Greek shackles, Ashkelon became an autonomous city.
As such it was given the right to mint coins.
Large quantities of these coins have been in found all over judea, which shows that they were current coingae among the Jews.

Roman History 
roman2While Ashkelon is never mentioned in the New Testament, it was an important city at the time.

Legend has it that the city was the birthplace of King Herod (in 37 B.C.) and this may explain why he constructed so many magnificent buildings in it, including his summer state house, expansive bath complex, splendid palaces and a water aquedoct.
The city reached its height of prosperity during the Roman period and was granted exemption from taxes, a privilege granted to very few other cities in the Levnat.
Roman Ashkelon was a prosperous city that flourished anew in trade, commerce and culture. Archaeolgical remains, such as the Council House and other public buildings testify to the city's wealth.
In the late Roman period the city became a major wine production 'power'.
Ashkelon's wines were among the finest in the world and were served on the tables of emperors and kings throughout the Mediterranean.

Medieval and Modern History 

mosaic1Ashkelon flourished under the Byzantines and later the Muslims, with the Jews living in basic harmony under each.

But as the Crusades laid waste to the Holy Land, Ashkelon became a city of refuge and later became an important strategic base that both sides aspired to conquer.

The city passed back and forth between the Muslims and Christians until it was captured and rebuilt by Richard Lion Hurt, king of England, in 1191.

The city was finally destroyed in 1270, a short time before the end of the Crusader kingdom in the Holy Land.

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