What now for the people of Lachish?


Lachish has fallen but what happened to the inhabitants? The likelihood is that a large number were killed. A burial site on the western slope of the Tel has revealed at least 1500 bodies. The Assyrian records state that in total over 200,000 people were taken from the land of Judah and transported back to Assyria. This was quite in keeping with the practice of both the Assyrian and later the Babylonian empires. They would move populations around within the Empire so that the population had little connection with the land in which it was living. The departure of the deportees from Lachish are depicted in the reliefs as they carry their worldly goods, heading for a foreign land. It has been suggested that this is the world’s first depiction of refugees. The final panel in the relief shows Sennacherrib surveying his loot both material and human as it leaves the city. The caption reads ‘Sennacherib, king of the world and king of Assyria sat on his throne and watched the booty of Lachish pass before him’


In Samaria which the Assyrians had captured in 720, it is reckoned that the vast majority of the population were deported to the Assyrian homelands and replaced by immigrants from other parts of the empire. These deportees of course are what has become known as the 10 lost tribes of Israel and about whom there are many legends as to where they ended up ranging from Africa to America. It is in fact far more likely that they ended up in Assyria. So from the Assyrian records we can see that a large number of people were deported from Judah following Sennacherib’s campaigns and this would no doubt have included the surviving population from the city of Lachish.


Recent excavations in the Kurdish region of Iraq have actually shed some light on this subject. The area excavated and surveyed by Maorandi Bonacassi was at the heartland of the Assyrian Empire close to the centres of power such as Nineveh. Bonacassi’s work has suggested that the area contained at least 130 settlements, 2 river ports, only 70 miles of canals, numerous aqueducts and the irrigation of hundreds of square miles of agricultural land. The conclusion drawn from these findings is that this was a large Imperial agricultural enterprise delivering food and water to Nineveh and other major centres. To put into some perspective the scale of the work here – it has been estimated that the canals would have required 200,000 m³ of stone to build and the aqueducts a further 600,000 m³ of stone. This is in addition to the labour required for agricultural purposes. The logical conclusion from all of this is that this whole Imperial estate required a large source of forced labour for construction, maintenance and agriculture. I think is highly likely that this or other estates like it were the final destination of the deportees from the city of Lachish.


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