Posts Tagged ‘crusader’

Grid 20 – The “Snake Tower”

July 10, 2014

While Rebekah has been digging to her heart’s content in the Grid 16 step trench, I have been mostly working in Grid 20, which we affectionately refer to as the “Snake Tower.”  As you can imagine, this name has a purpose.  It’s not that it looks like a snake or has some meaningful historical origin, but in recent times a snake or two was spotted when it was being surveyed for excavation, and as with nicknames, it caught on.

Here is a view from down the rampart slope, looking up.

Here is a view from down the rampart slope, looking up.

So how does this grid and it’s architecture factor into the history of Ashkelon?  The majority of what you see in the photo is Islamic era construction, some of it possibly Crusader.  This is much later than most of the history we have focused on in this blog related to Ashkelon (apart from historical overviews).  The grids we were in last year were from much earlier time periods (me in Grid 51 Persian layers, Rebekah in Grid 38 Philistine layers).  Grid 20, our “Snake Tower” location, was initiated this year to investigate the latter years of Ashkelon’s fortifications and how they were modified over time during the different Islamic periods (11-12th century A.D.) and the Crusader periods following.

Photo of earlier construction at the base of the tower, explained below.

Photo of earlier construction at the base of the tower, explained below.

It is interesting in the photo above, that we actually do tie back to earlier times.  This does not quite not make it back to the Persian period, but the current thought by experts is that you do see some Hellenistic (Greek) wall construction in this photo.  In the center, notice the larger blocks with white lime mortar, extending up to where the current ground level is at the edge of the trench.   The block composition and mortar style is similar to structures found some years ago in Grid 47, where the odeon (small Roman theater) was built on top of previous Hellenistic construction.  Something interesting to think about as we expose this wall and lower layers is how the original digging for the foundations for the larger and taller Islamic wall would have exposed and reused foundational elements of the Hellenistic walls.  This would have happened some 1,000 years after the Greeks were fortifying the site.  As we are digging the site today, it is some 1,000 years after the Muslims and Crusaders were occupying the site.  I wonder if, when the Muslims or Crusaders were digging their foundations, they took a moment to ponder whose wall they were coming down on and thought about it in any way as we do today, asking the questions of “who built this,” and how or why.  Of course, they may have been building as fast as possible to prevent the next invasion.  If in that mode, it does not leave much time for historical reflections.

This is another view of the site, from the top of the ramparts, complete with excavation shades.

Typical excavation tools and setup here

Typical excavation tools and setup here

Below is a photo of a wall foundation.  What is interesting here, as with the front of the Snake Tower, is the reuse of ancient columns in medieval architecture.  In the Snake Tower itself, the use of columns looks aesthetic, but would serve as a strengthening component when used at 90 degree angles to the layout of the tower.  However, in the photo below, you can see where columns were used in parallel orientation with a wall foundation, which would actually make the wall less stable, particularity when the mortar begins to chip away.  The wall just behind this, still standing, also has some column use parallel with the wall.  Admittedly, it has been standing for over 1,000 years…so I suppose we owe the design engineers some credit.

Wall foundation

Wall Foundation

Why do you want this view?

Sunrise from the "Snake Tower"

Sunrise from the “Snake Tower”

In the parting shot for this post, it is apparent why this location was a perfect spot for ancient occupation.  Ashkelon’s ancient ring of sand dunes, with the gaps filled to create the earthen ramparts which still exist and shape the site today, provided an excellent vantage point over the surrounding land.  Philistine or Greek, Islamic Fatimid or Crusader, ancient defenses were all about vantage point.  All directions were visible from Ashkelon’s ramparts, but north and east could particularly be viewed for some distance.  Take away the modern buildings and introduce ancient cropland and barren patches, and you have the view which would have existed for centuries–just change the names of the occupants or the invaders.  But, even though their names changed, through all the transitions, the city name always seemed to stick.  Much like the “Snake Tower” for Grid 20.

Ashkelon through the Ages, Part II

June 25, 2013

We left off last time with the history of the city of Ashkelon in the Persian occupation. This only occurred after the city had remained mostly abandoned for about 50 years following Nebuchadnezzar’s destruction. For awhile, they lived happily, burying dogs and digging pits to infuriate archaeologists. Eventually, though, a fabulous Greek by the name of Alexander swept through the Levant and incorporated Ashkelon into his magnificent empire. This began the Hellenistic period of Ashkelon’s life, marked mostly by a change of pottery and a rise in Grecian cultic practices. The Ashkelonites loved the Attic pottery so much that they began running a fairly blatant counterfeit business, selling knockoff Atticware.

Roman Theater, Ashkelon

Roman Theater Built over Hellenistic Fortifications, Ashkelon

But, as Alexander’s empire crumbled, and the Maccabean Revolt passed, the Hasmonean kingdom received Ashkelon for its own, and the formerly Philistine city was in the hands of the Israelites. As Rome rose to power, Ashkelon maintained a form of independence. Cleopatra VII was fond of the city, as it was of her. It welcomed her with open arms when she fled there for refuge for a time, and received a coin minted in her honor. The city was eventually absorbed into the Roman Republic at around 63 BC. In 30 BC, the Idumaean king, Herod the Great, beautified Ashkelon–as was his wont–adding baths and fountains, and his usual enormous pillars.

Byzantine Basilica, Ashkelon

Byzantine Basilica, Ashkelon

Rome faded, and her remnant, the Byzantine Empire took her place. Byzantium ramped up the religion, and even created a map for religious pilgrims called the Madaba Map–featuring such sites as Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and even…Ashkelon. In time, the crusaders came to drive the heathen from the holy sites. A mild fiasco ensued when the Egyptian Fatimid army holed up at Ashkelon and conducted raids against the Kingdom of Jerusalem. The crusaders naturally retaliated, sometimes effectively, sometimes not. Eventually though, in 1191 AD, Saladin leveled the city to prevent the crusaders from regaining a healthy foothold there. The Richards of England renovated it, but only to have it knocked down again in 1270 when the Egyptian Mamluk sultan Baybars decided enough was enough. Ashkelon laid low for the next 400 or so years, disguised as Majdal, until 1953, when it again took back its name and developed into the bustling vacation city it is today.

Crusader Arch, Ashkelon

Crusader Arch, Ashkelon

To summarize, here’s a quick timeline:

Canaanite — 2000-1150 BC

Philistine — 1150-604 BC

Babylonian Destruction — 604 BC

Persian — 604-332 BC

Greek — 332-63 BC

Roman– 63 BC-330 AD

Byzantine — 330-1453 AD

Crusader — 1099-1191 AD

Islamic — 1187-1270 AD

Ottoman to Modern Ashkelon — 1270-Present

Modern Ashkelon from Tel Ashkelon

Modern Ashkelon from Tel Ashkelon