By Levi Clancy for Student Reader on
A member of the Sea Peoples, the Philistines heralded from Aegea -- possibly from the collapsed Mycenaean civilization -- and settled on the Canaanite coast in the early 12th century BC. Their early history is recounted from Egyptian and biblical sources; their later history and decline are recounted in Assyrian, Babylonian and the Bible (which describes them as "uncircumcised" aliens).
The Philistines maintained a unique identity in their cities and settlements for ~600 years. They likely were brought into the Levant as mercenaries hired by Egypt, then settled on the coast and controlled important ports. They became increasingly Orientalized, and when Philistine hegemony was decimated by Assyrians and Babylonians, they were not distinguishable from the Canaanites.
Philistia's Stage 1 Settlement was conquest of southern coastal plain and establishment of the five cities of the pentapolis: Ashkelon, Ekron, Ashdod, Gath (Tell es-Safi) and Gaza. The pentapoli were bounded by Egyptian forts. Philistine material culture had strong Aegean traits amidst: ceramic assemblage; circular hearths; and dietary customs. Philistia's ceramic assemblage for this period of (~1175-1125 BC; Mycenaean IIIC1b) is Philistine Monochrome.
Philistia's Stage 2 Settlement was expansion beyond Pentapolis centers north to the Yarkon River and east into the foothills. The Philistine Monochrome that characterized Stage 1 Settlements were almost completely replaced by a new assemble, Philistine Bichrome (~1125-1000 BC).
The Amarna letters mention seafaring mercenaries working for Egypt as early as the 14th cent BC. These mercenaries were hired to raid Byblos (in Canaan) and cities on the Mediterranean's eastern coast. Reliefs at Luxor and elsewhere describe a 13th cent BC battle at Qadesh, where Sea Peoples helped Ramesses II fight Hittites. A power vacuum ensued, and the Philistines and other Sea Peoples opportunistically advanced inland until Ramesses III stopped them. Ramesses III's mortuary temple provides the first specific mention of Philistines: "Foreign countries made a conspiracy...their confederation was the Philistines, Tjeker, Shekelesh, Denye and Weshesh... ."
Upon defeating the Philistines, Ramesses III granted them permission to settle on the southern coastal plain of Canaan (along with the Sherden and Tjeker). Thus, Philistines arrived on the Canaanite coast as both hostile invaders destroying and re-settling Canaanite cities, and as mercenaries in Egyptian-controlled garrison towns. Reliefs at Madinat Habu reveal not just infantry and chariotry Philistines, but civilians as well; they wanted to settle in their newly conquered lands, which spanned from the Yarkon River, to the northwestern Negev, to the western slopes of Judea. They seem to have not suffered foreign attacks at this time, as Philistine homes were sometimes outside of city walls.
The Bible mentions five Philistine (aka Cherethites in Zephaniah 2:5; Ezekiel 25:16) capitals, forming the Philistine pentapolis of Gaza, Ashdod, Ashqelon, Gath and Ekron.
Ashqelon was a critical Mediterranean port in its time. Gaza and Ashdod have kept their ancient names.Semi-autonomous and smaller Philistine settlements include Ziklag, Timnah and Jabneh. After territorial victory over the Israelites, Philistines expanded to west of the Jordan river. Philistine material culture lost its Aegean tradition and Egyptian and Phoenician influences grew dominant. Their power peaked during ~1,050-1,000 BC.
Israelites remained subordinate until Saul established a monarchy, his son Jonathan defeated the Philistines at Michmash and David famously encountered Goliath (a Philistine). When David established the United Monarchy about ten years later, he had "defeated the Philistines and subdued them, and he took Gath and its villages out of the hand of the Philistines" (1 Chronicles 18:1). David then continued to invade Philistine territories, possibly even reducing some to vassaldom. At most Philistine cities, thick layers of debris and ash have been found that date to the start of the 10th century.
In the four centuries after their military eclipse by David, Philistine cities suffered huge military defeats by Assyria and Babylon. Assyrian kings Tiglath-Pileser III (744-727 BC), Shalmaneser V (726-722 BC) and Sargon II (721-705 BC). all of Syria and Palestine to the Egyptian border succumbed to Assyria's hegemony. Although these territories were divided into vassals, some cities enjoyed an 8th century BC renaissance. Ashdod had its own king, and Ekron reached its economic zenith only by the beginning of the 6th century BC. However, local uprisings led to mass deportations (other deportees replaced them). One inscription from Sargon II's palace at Khorsabad reads:
I besieged [and] conquered the cities Ashdod, Gath, Asdudimmu; I declared his images, his wife, his children, all the possessions and treasures of his palace as well as the inhabitants of his country as booty. I reorganized [the administration of] these cities [and] settled therein people from the [regions] of the East which I had conquered personally. I installed an officer of mine over them and declared them Assyrian citizens ad they pulled the straps [of my yoke]." translated by A. L. Oppenheim in ANET, p 256
The Istanbul Prism, a Babylonian document, mentions that Nebuchadnezzar II campaigned in Philistine ~600 BC and imprisoned the king of Ashdod. Philistine cities became part of Neo-Babylonia, and centuries of assimiliation, decimation, deportation and re-settlement had destroyed Philistia's ethnic distinction.
Gaza, Ashqelon and Ashdod flourished again in the Perisan, Hellenistic and Roman periods; however, their heritage had been scrubbed of any Philistine traces.
The Philistines initially worshipped the Great Goddess of the Aegean. The Bible mentions Philistian worship of Dagon, a Canaanite god only adopted by the Philistines at the end of the 11th century BC as local customs were assimilated. A Philistine temple at Tell Qasile was built ~1,1150 BC in an Aegean style. enlarged ~1,100 BC and then rebuilt after destruction by Israelites. Amidst the artifacts are various pottery stands, ceremonial masks, libation vessels and figurines. Bones have been found of sacrificed Goats, sheep, camels, cattle and even hippopotamses. At Ashdod, a female deity shaped like a chair was worshipped until Sargon II's conquest.
An enormous yet airy palace at Ekron was discovered with a cult stand reminiscent of those made for Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem by Hiram, king of Tyre (1 Kings 7:27-30). Philistia's pentapoli have not yielded burial grounds, but Philistine cemetaries at other sites have shown great diversity. Egyptian anthropoid coffins, Mycenaean rock-cut chamber tombs and even cremation have all been noted. In a nod to Aegean culture, dramatically grieving female terra-cotta figurines have been found in burials. The Philistines eventually fully assimilated into Canaanite culture.
Philistine Monochrome and Philistine Bichrome. Monochrome formed first, then developed into red and black bichrome on white slip. Birds, fish, spirals, concentric semicircles and chevrons were all motifs borrowed from an early 12th century BC Mycenean assemblage. White slip eventually gave way to red, hand-burnished with dark brown decoration. In addition to Mycenea, other influences include Cypria, Egypt and local Canaan.
Well-planned towns with thick mud-brick fortifications. Different parts of town each had their own industry. They had hearths.
Included Ashdoda Figurines.
Ate pork and beef in place of goat and mutton. Pork consumption is unique to the Philistines.
Depicted with headdresses and very short kilts. Simple upper garments; soliders may have worn breastplates.
Like Egyptian vessels, Philistine ships had furled sails, a single mast with a crow's nest, and rigging; oars were used only as rudders, however. Like contemporaneous Aegean vessels, the prow and stern were decorated with birds' heads.
Monopoly on Iron working (1 Sam 13:19–21).
Dothan, Trude. 1995.
Joshua, Judges, Ruth, I-II Samuel