Maritime trade in the Eastern Mediterranean under Assyrian rule

In a previous post I discussed the description of the Assyrian presence in the Levant during the 8th and 7th centuries BCE as the Pax Assyriaca – this peaceful, prosperous period of trade. I suggested that there are serious problems in seeing the historical period that way.

645Port_Ashkelon

Further evidence about trade in that period comes from the Philistine port cities. The main port of the Philistine cities in the 7th century was Ashkelon. It was the gateway for produce from the entire region (Master 2003; Faust and Weiss 2005). Master petrographically analyzed pottery at Ashkelon taken from 7th century layers. Local clays predominated, followed by those from the Shephelah, Phoenicia and the Negev. Other pottery came from the Aegean, Cyprus and the Nile area. On my reading of the data, there may also have been some pottery from the Judean or Samarian highlands (also terra rossa soils). The pottery evidence clearly shows the orientation of long-distance trade to the West with produce being drawn from its immediate hinterland to the East. This continues past trading patterns. Master is even able to state that “were it not for the overwhelming textual evidence demonstrating the dominance of Assyrian military power, there would be little if any evidence that a Mesopotamian empire, was in control of the region of Philistia.” (Master 2003:56). I would argue that we do have evidence of Assyrian military presence through the fortifications on the border to Egypt, but little evidence of trade with the more distant East.
I would suggest that exchange of goods did occur with Assyria, but more in the nature of high value goods, especially tribute.

Wheat from the Judaean Mountains was identified in the destruction of Ashkelon of 604 BCE. Faust and Weiss believe that this is indicative of a wheat trade with Judaea that was already initiated under the Assyrian Empire (Faust and Weiss 2005). I would suggest that rather than being evidence for a trade system administered by the Assyrians, it is evidence of the continued trade through the coastal cities, a trade that persisted through the period of Assyrian rule and continued after it.

The main drive for the export-oriented development of Ashkelon would have been the Phoenician trading network throughout the Mediterranean. The Phoenicians operated as middlemen moving goods anywhere in the Mediterranean (Master 2003:57). They created a lucrative and flexible economy. The Levant was part of that network as producers of commodities and importers of luxuries, which were paid to the Assyrians.

Master concludes that most of the Levant continued under the Assyrian empire as before: small-scale subsistence agriculture with some surplus (Master 2009:313). Some of that surplus was traded. The trade of commodities mainly was oriented towards the West.

A bibliography:
References:
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Blakely, Jeffrey and James Hardin
2002 Southwestern Judah in the Late Eighth Century B.C.E. Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 326:11-64.

Bunimovitz, Shlomo, and Zvi Lederman
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Elat, Moshe
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Fantalkin, Alexander
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Faust, Avraham
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Faust, Avraham and Ehud Weiss
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Gitin, Seymour
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Knauf, Ernst-Axel
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Kuan, Jeffrey Kah-jin
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Master, Daniel M.
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2009 From the Buqeah to Ashkelon. in J. David Schloen ed. Exploring the Longue Durée: Essays in Honor of Lawrence E. Stager. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2009.

Mazar, B., Trude Dothan and I. Dunayevsky.
1966. En-Gedi: The First and Second Seasons of Excvations 1961–1962. Jerusalem: The Department of Antiquities and Museums.

Na’aman, Nadav
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2003 Ekron under the Assyrian and Egyptian Empires. Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 332:81–91.
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O’Connell, Robert L.
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Oded, B.
1970 Observations on Methods of Assyrian Rule in Transjordan after the Palestinian Campaign of Tiglath-Pileser III. Journal of Near Eastern Studies. 29:177–186.
1992 War, Peace and Empire: Justifications for War in Assyrian Royal Inscriptions. Wiesbaden: Reichert.

Parker, Bradley J.
2001 The Mechanics of Empire: The Northern Frontier of Assyria as a Case Study in Imperial Dynamics. Helsinki: The Neo-Assyrian Text Corpus Project.

Postgate, J.N.
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Shai, Itzhaq, Aren M. Maeir, David Ilan, Joe Uziel
2011 The Iron Age Remains at Tel Nagila. Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 363:25–43.

Stager, Lawrence
1975 Ancient Agriculture in the Judaean Desert: a Case Study of the Buqeah Valley in the Iron Age. PhD Dissertation. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University.

Stern, Ephraim
1993 The new encyclopedia of archaeological excavations in the Holy Land. Jerusalem: The Israel Exploration Society.

Tadmor, H.
1966 Philistia under Assyrian Rule. Biblical Archaeologist 29:86–102.

Thareani, Yifat
2011 Tel ‘Aroer. Jerusalem: Nelson Glueck School of Biblical Archaeology, Hebrew Union College.

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One Response to Maritime trade in the Eastern Mediterranean under Assyrian rule

  1. Pingback: The Assyrian century: interpretations of texts and ruins | Imagining the past: Archaeology and the Bible

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