(gay' zuh) Place name meaning, “strong.” Philistine city on the coastal plain about three miles inland from the Mediterranean Sea. It was the southernmost town of the Philistine city-state system which also included Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ekron, and Gath (1 Samuel 6:17).
While the site is especially associated with the Philistines, many other groups have inhabited it throughout history. That history extends from a period prior to the arrival of the Philistines, a period when the Avvim occupied the village (Deuteronomy 2:23), on down to the present. The inhabitants of Gaza at times were referred to as the Gazites or Gazathites (Judges 16:2).
Gaza's important role in ancient history was due to its strategic location on the major coastal plain highway which connected Egypt with the rest of the Ancient Near East. Because of its strategic location, Gaza witnessed the passage of numerous caravans and armies and often got caught in the middle of the political struggles of the Ancient Near East. This is reflected in a brief review of the highlights of Gaza's history. According to the records of Thutmose III, Thutmose captured Gaza on his first campaign to Palestine and made it a major Egyptian center. The Amarna Letters identify Gaza as the district headquarters for Egyptian holdings in southern Palestine. For Solomon, Gaza was the major center on the southern border of his kingdom which ran “from Tiphsah even to Azzah (Gaza)” (1 Kings 4:24).
Gaza was often affected by the political struggles and turnovers that took place during the Assyrian and Babylonian periods. Tiglath-pileser III collected tribute from Gaza during his military campaign against Israel and Syria about 734 B.C. Hezekiah “smote the Philistines, even unto Gaza” as he tried to re-establish Judah's independence (2 Kings 18:8) about 705-704 B.C. Sennacherib reinforced his control of Gaza as a vassal state as he invaded Judah in 701 B.C. Pharaoh Neco conquered Gaza about 609 B.C. and made it an Egyptian holding, but it remained in Egyptian hands for only a few years. Sometime after 605 B.C. the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar conquered Gaza and made it a part of his empire.
In addition to the biblical references sighted above, Gaza is mentioned in other biblical accounts. Many of Samson's encounters with the Philistines apparently took place in or near Gaza (Judges 16:1-3,Judges 16:21). Amos charged that along with the city of Tyre, in Phoenicia, Gaza engaged in slave trade with the Edomites (Amos 1:6-10). Gaza's role as a major site on the coastal plain highway during the New Testament period is reflected in the story of the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26-40). While both biblical and extra-biblical sources attest to Gaza's lengthy history, the site has never had a thorough archaeological excavation. A work of that nature is virtually impossible because the remains of the biblical town are buried presumably under the modern city. See Philistines.