(assh' kih lahn) One of five principal cities of the Philistines (pentapolis), located on the Mediterranean coast on the trade route, Via Maris, and designated for Judah in the conquest. Ashkelon was a Mediterranean coastal city twelve miles north of Gaza and ten miles south of Ashdod. It is the only Philistine city directly on the seacoast. Its history extends into the Neolithic Period. The economic importance came from both its port and its location on the trade route, the Via Maris.
The location in southern Palestine put Ashkelon under considerable Egyptian influence throughout much of its history. The first mention of the city was in the nineteenth century B.C. Execration Texts, where a curse on the ruler and his supporters was written on pottery, then smashed, symbolizing breaking his power. A fifteenth century B.C. papyrus speaks of Ashkelon's loyalty to Egypt, and the fourteenth century Amarna Letters confirm that relationship with the ruler Widia claiming submission to the Pharaoh, although the ruler of Jerusalem claimed that Ashkelon had given supplies to the “Apiru. In this period the goddess Astarte was worshiped here by the Canaanites. The city revolted from Egypt and was subsequently sacked by Ramses II (1282 B.C.). Later that same century Pharaoh Merneptah captured the city.
The Old Testament record concerns the city after it had come under Philistine control. It was ruled by a ruler or seren supported by a military aristocracy. Joshua had not taken Ashkelon in the conquest of the land (Joshua 13:3), but it was included in the territory designated for Judah. It appears that Judah did take the city (Judges 1:18), but it belonged to the Philistines in the Samson account (Judges 14:19) and under Saul and David (1 Samuel 6:17;
2 Samuel 1:20). Ashkelon subsequently was independent or under the control of Assyria, Egypt, Babylon, and Tyre.
Amos 1:8 and
Jeremiah 47:7 refer to Ashkelon and her evils. With the coming of the Greeks, Ashkelon became a Hellenistic center of culture and learning. During the Maccabean Period the city flourished and apparently did not have hostilities with the Jews (1 Maccabees 10:36;
1 Maccabees 11:60). In fact, many Jews lived there. Rome granted the status “free allied city” in 104 B.C. A tradition was known in Christian circles that Herod the Great was born in Ashkelon, the son of a temple slave of Apollo. Herod did have family and friends there and gave the city some beautiful buildings, built a palace there, and left the city to his sister, Salome, at his death. The city was attacked by the Jews in the first Roman Revolt (66 A.D.) but survived and was faithful to Rome. It later became a Christian city, conquered by the Moslems in the seventh century, taken by the Crusaders, retaken by Saladin in 1187, and ultimately systematically destroyed by the Mameluke Beibars in 1270.
One of the earliest modern attempts at archaeology in Palestine took place in Ashkelon in 1815 when Lady Hester Stanhope did some digging and uncovered a huge statue of Zeus which subsequently she ordered destroyed (some say to avoid charges of stealing antiquities, others say to discover hidden treasure). Serious work was begun by John Garstang and the Palestine Exploration Society. The site has provided excellent materials of the Philistine period and especially was productive of Hellenistic and Roman occupation. George W. Knight