The Siege of Lachish: History from Both the Victors and Defeated
The siege of Lachish was an event that happened in 701 BC. During this incident, the Israelite settlement of Lachish was besieged and conquered by the Assyrians. It is often said that “History is written by the victors,” but the siege of Lachish is different from many other ancient battles in that we have information about this event from the perspective of both the victors (the Assyrians) and the losers (the Israelites). For the former, there is a set of Assyrian stone panels known as the Lachish Reliefs, whilst for the latter, there is the Hebrew Bible.
A Short History of Lachish
Lachish (called today Tell ed-Duweir or Tel Lachish) is a site located about 40km (24.9 miles) to the southwest of Jerusalem between Mount Hebron and the Mediterranean coast. This site is said to have been occupied since the Pottery Neolithic (5500 – 4500 BC). During the 2nd millennium BC, a Canaanite settlement was established at Lachish.
The 14th century Amarna Letters (also referred to as the Amarna Correspondence or Amarna Tablets) shows that the Lachish was a subject of the Egyptians. At the end of the 12th century BC, the Canaanite city of Lachish was completely destroyed by a fire. During the 10th century BC, Lachish was established as an Israelite settlement.
Following the split of the Kingdom of Israel into Judah and Israel, Lachish became an important site, as it was the largest city on the western border of the Kingdom of Judah facing the Philistines of the Coastal Plains.
- Looking to ancient wisdom for guidance on modern day refugee crisis
- Archaeologists discover Assyrian fortifications from a legendary battle
- Weapons and tactics change, but PTSD goes back millennia
As a result, Lachish became a heavily fortified hill settlement and was the second city after Jerusalem in the Kingdom of Judah. The defenses of Lachish included two massive city walls – one on the middle of the slope, and the other along the top, a glacis (an artificial sloping rampart) in between them, as well as a palace-fort on a raised platform in the center of the mound.
The remains of the palace—fort at the Lachish archaeological site. Tell ed-Duweir, Israel. (CC BY SA 3.0 )
The Story from the Book of Kings
According to the Book of Kings in the Hebrew Bible, Hezekiah, the King of Judah, refused to pay tribute to the Assyrian king, Sennacherib:
And the Lord was with him; and he prospered whithersoever he went forth: and he rebelled against the king of Assyria, and served him not.
As a result, Assyria attacked Judah, and took many of the cities:
Now in the fourteenth year of king Hezekiah did Sennacherib king of Assyria come up against all the fenced cities of Judah, and took them.
Judean captives being led away from Lachish following the victory of the Assyrians. ( Public Domain )
Finally, Hezekiah surrendered to Sennacherib, and paid tribute to the Assyrian king:
And Hezekiah king of Judah sent to the king of Assyria to Lachish, saying, I have offended; return from me: that which thou puttest on me will I bear. And the king of Assyria appointed unto Hezekiah king of Judah three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold. And Hezekiah gave him all the silver that was found in the house of the Lord, and in the treasures of the king's house.
- Assyrian stele containing ancient curse will not be reunited with its other half
- Superweapon of the Ancient World: A History of Chariots - Part I
- Archaeologists Reveal Secrets Found in Ancient War-Torn City of Karkemish, Turkey
The Assyrian Version
An Assyrian version of these events, allegedly in Sennacherib’s own words, agrees with the account of the Hebrew Bible, though with additional numbers thrown in:
"Because Hezekiah, King of Judah, would not submit to my yoke, I came up against him, and by force of arms and by the might of my power I took 46 of his strong-fenced cities; and of the smaller towns which were scattered about, I took and plundered a countless number. From these places I took and carried off 200,156 persons, old and young, male and female, together with horses and mules, asses and camels, oxen and sheep, a countless multitude."
Relief from Sennacherib’s palace in Nineveh celebrating the Assyrian destruction of the city of Lachish. This section depicts women and children, followed by a man driving oxen, fleeing from the besieged city. ( C. Reeder/British Museum )
In addition to this account, the Assyrian side of the story is also represented by the Lachish Reliefs. These reliefs are a set of stone panels found on the walls of Sennacherib’s palace in Nineveh, near modern day Mosul in Iraq, during the middle of the 19th century. These reliefs depict the siege of Lachish vividly, from the march of the Assyrian soldiers at the start of the campaign, to the scaling of the walls of Lachish, and finally, the capture of the defeated after the fall of the city.
It may be added that the graphic depiction of the siege of Lachish is not unique, as panels depicting Sennacherib’s other victories were also found on his palace walls. These include his campaigns in the marshlands around the Gulf, and the siege of a city in the mountains of Armenia or Persia.
Nonetheless, it is interesting that both the “winners” and “losers” seem to agree on the cause (not giving tributes) and effect (the “taking” of Judah’s cities) in the siege of Lachish. This is one example of history being written by both the victors and the defeated.
Featured image: One of the panels from the Lachish Reliefs depicting the Assyrian assault on Lachish. Photo source: ( CC BY SA 4.0 )
The Bible : Standard King James Version , 2014. [Online]
Available at: http://www.kingjamesbibleonline.org/
Hirsch, E. G. & Price, I. M., 2011. Lachish. [Online]
Available at: http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/9576-lachish
King, P. J., 2005. Why Lachish Matters, A Major Site Gets the Publication It Deserves. [Online]
Available at: http://members.bib-arch.org/publication.asp?PubID=BSBA&Volume=31&Issue=4&ArticleID=8
Podora, E., 1945. Reliefs from the Palace of Sennacherib. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, 3(6), pp. 152-160.
www.bbc.co.uk, 2015. A History of the World in 100 Objects, Episode 21: Lachish Reliefs. [Online]
Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/154mNjkBrC9vmm3J3xL1m8p/episode-transcript-episode-21-lachish-reliefs
www.odysseyadventures.ca, 2012. The Siege of Lachish. [Online]
Available at: http://www.odysseyadventures.ca/articles/lachish_slides/lachish_text.htm
www1.chapman.edu, 2015. Lachish. [Online]
Available at: http://www1.chapman.edu/~bidmead/G-Lach.htm