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More than Battles of Armageddon: The Forgotten Story of Megiddo, An Archaeological Paradise

More than Battles of Armageddon: The Forgotten Story of Megiddo, An Archaeological Paradise

The city of Megiddo is well-known from ancient texts, but it was overlooked for many years. Over the centuries, people had forgotten whether Megiddo was a real city, or just a legend from the past.

Locating Megiddo

Megiddo is located near the Kibbutz Megiddo, about 30 kilometers (18.64 miles) from the city of Haifa, Israel. Ancient Greeks called it Armageddon. It thrived as a Canaanite city in the Bronze Age, but there is also a very dark story behind its fame in the modern world.

Late Bronze Age city gate at Megiddo.

Late Bronze Age city gate at Megiddo. (Golf Bravo/ CC BY SA 3.0 )

Megiddo is mostly remembered for the battles that took place there. The city faced at least three very important battles in history. The first one was in the 15th century BC, when king Thutmose III fought against a huge coalition of Canaanites led by the head of Megiddo and the city of Kadesh.

A few centuries later, in 609 BC, Pharaoh Necho II decided to follow in his ancestor’s footsteps and fight on the same battlefield with King Josiah of the Kingdom of Judah. The third battle was more recent. It took place in 1918 during World War I, when the Allied troops faced the Ottoman army. According to the Bible and Christian teachings, the city of Megiddo was also the site of the last battle between Satan and Jesus.

‘The Battle of Megiddo, 609 BC.’

‘The Battle of Megiddo, 609 BC.’ ( CC BY SA 3.0 )

Excavations at Megiddo

Archeologists have unearthed 26 layers of the city’s remains. Megiddo was excavated for the first time in 1903. For two seasons, the German archaeologist Gottlieb Schumacher (from the German Society) worked at the site. Unfortunately, much of his documentation was lost during World War I. But his research was also far from typical excavation standards.

Researchers returned to the site in 1925 when J. D Rockefeller Jr. founded the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago. The Hebrew University continued work at the site in 1960. Other research teams who excavated the site include: Tel Aviv University, George Washington University, Bucknell University, and finally, the Megiddo Expedition. In 2010, a group from the Jezreel Valley Regional Project, led by Matthew J. Adams, unearthed the earliest part of the city, which dates to the Early Bronze Age (3,500 – 3,100 BC).

The rich history of the city starts during the Paleolithic period, but the first settlement was created there around 7,000 BC. Some of the most interesting finds are from the Bronze Age. The temple built during the Early Bronze Age was monumental - maybe the largest in the Near East. This means that Megiddo was already a very developed city by that time.

Circular altar-like shrine from the Early Bronze Age, Megiddo, Israel.

Circular altar-like shrine from the Early Bronze Age, Megiddo, Israel. ( Public Domain )

The city reached its peak during the Middle Bronze Age. At that time, it covered about 10 - 12 hectares (about the size of 10-12 international rugby pitches). During the Late Bronze Age, the city was attacked by the Egyptian king Thutmose III - who plundered it. But the city was still inhabited after the attack. Megiddo was destroyed in 1150 BC by unknown causes. Most researchers suppose that it was damaged by Aramaean raiders. However, it was rebuilt and settled once again for a few centuries. Finally, Megiddo was abandoned in 586 BC.

A model of what Megiddo may have looked like in 1457 BC. (1978 photo)

A model of what Megiddo may have looked like in 1457 BC. (1978 photo) ( Public Domain )

Megiddo in the Amarna Letters

Letters from the reign of the pharaoh Akhenaten are some of the richest resources on politics during the 14th century BC. The texts are written in cuneiform in Akkadian - a diplomatic language during those times. They contain loads of information about politics and daily life. One of the letters is a text from a governor (or prince) of Megiddo named Biridiya, who tried to illuminate the pharaoh on the way in which his territories were being used. Biridiya wrote:

“Say to the king, my lord, my sun: a message from Biridiya, loyal servant of the king. At the feet of the king my lord, my sun, I prostrate myself seven times and seven times. May the king my lord think upon his servant and his city. In fact, I alone am cultivating: ah-ri-shu in Shunamma and I alone furnish forced laborers. But behold the mayors near me. They do not do as I do. They do not cultivate in Shunamma, they do not furnish forced laborers. I alone ia-hu-du-un-ni I all alone furnish forced laborers. They come from Jaffa from among the men available and from Nuribta. And may the king my lord take thought of his city.” [via Louvre Museum]

Letter from Biridiya, prince of Megiddo, to the king of Egypt. The text speaks of harvesting by corvee workers in the city of Nuribta.

Letter from Biridiya, prince of Megiddo, to the king of Egypt. The text speaks of harvesting by corvee workers in the city of Nuribta. (Rama/ CC BY SA 2.0 )

The letter is a rare document that speaks in the voice of a person who lived during the reign of Akhenaten. The governor of Megiddo became known through his letters to the pharaoh. One discusses the city of Jaffa and the other of Shunamma. However, the letter where he gives the above message about the use of the pharaoh’s lands is unique.

The Megiddo Archaeological Site

Now Megiddo is a National Park and UNESCO World Heritage Site. The site has been explored through continued archaeological excavations and it has become very attractive for tourists. Among the most impressive places in the ancient city are the 5,000-year-old temple from the Early Bronze Age, the remains of houses, and stables. Apart from this, archaeologists have discovered ivory carvings and a lot of beautiful jewelry from different time periods. In the past Megiddo was considered a scary battlefield, but now it is an archaeological paradise.

A Late Bronze Age female figurine.

A Late Bronze Age female figurine. (Mary Harrsch/ CC BY NC SA 2.0 )

Top Image: Ruin in a ‘sacred area’ of Tel Megiddo. Source: Mboesch/ CC BY SA 4.0

By Natalia Klimczak

References:

Amarna letter: to the pharaoh from the governor of Megiddo, available at:
http://www.louvre.fr/en/oeuvre-notices/amarna-letter-pharaoh-governor-megiddo

El-Amarna tablets, available at:
http://wsrp.usc.edu/educational_site/ancient_texts/elamarna.shtml

Megiddo, available at:
http://www.bibleplaces.com/megiddo/

The Megiddo Expedition: Archaeology and the Bible by Jennifer Westpfahl, available at:
http://www.uwlax.edu/urc/jur-online/PDF/2005/westpfahl.pdf 

Comments

Great article.The only addition I would make would be to state that it was attacked because of its stratigic location in the pass leading into the Jezreel Valley. If I remember correctly, archaeology has shown that it was sacked at least four rimes.

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