Watch out Lachish – Here come the Babylonians!

Posted: July 3, 2014 in Ancient Near Eastern History, History
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Arrow heads from Iron Age Lachish

Arrow heads from Iron Age Lachish

In the North things went from bad to worse for the Assyrians and their Egyptian allies against the Babylonians. Defeats at Haran and at Carchemesh marked the end of the Assyrians as a nation and the destruction of the Egyptian army, the remnants of which headed south to regroup along the Egyptian border. Following in the pattern laid down by Sennacherib, King Nebuchadrezzar II of Babylon conquered Syria and then the Phoenician states before making his way down the Via Mara to retake the cities of Philistia. It is not clear what he did then, since the evidence strongly suggests that he approached Lachish from the North rather than from the west. During the excavations in the 1930s a series of Ostraca were found in the seventh century destruction level, which have become known as the Lachish letters.

One of the Lachish Letters

One of the Lachish Letters

These are a series of messages sent to Yoash commander at Lachish from Hoshiah, the commander of an outpost probably in the hills to the North of the city. These messages include one about a party that is travelling down into Egypt. Although it doesn’t say anything further about the nature of their mission we do know from other sources that there were missions from the Judean court to the court of the Pharaoh requesting aid against the Babylonians. Others complain of lack of support or are requests to send supplies. But perhaps the most relevant one states ‘We cannot see the beacons of Azekah’ . Azekah was the nearest Judean fortress city, 11 miles to the north of Lachish. It is thought that the only reason these beacons would no longer burn was that the city had fallen. This suggests that, unlike Sennacherib, Nebuchadrezzar had entered into Judah from Samaria and captured the chain of provincial fortified cities, of which Lachish, was the most southern. Azekah has fallen it is saying and we are next, we are alone and the Babylonians are coming.

where the lachish letters were found
The site where the Lachish letters were found
Photo by Charles Meeks (

Unlike the Assyrian campaign, we have very little information about the Babylonians siege of Lachish, other than the city fell and was destroyed sometime between 588 and 586 BCE. Having completed his destruction of the garrison cities Nebuchadrezzar turned towards Jerusalem, besieging and destroying that city as well.

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