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.


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:
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Master, Daniel M.
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Oded, B.
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Parker, Bradley J.
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Shai, Itzhaq, Aren M. Maeir, David Ilan, Joe Uziel
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Stager, Lawrence
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Stern, Ephraim
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Tadmor, H.
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Thareani, Yifat
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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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