Lachish PDF Print E-mail
Written by Stephen Langfur
Article Index
Historical outline
The Siege Ramp
Tour of the Tell
Logistical Note

What was the most important city in Judah? Jerusalem. And what was the next most important? In terms of size and might, one would have to say Lachish (pron. lah-kheesh). It lay west of Judah's mountain among the hills of the Shephelah, not far from the Great Trunk Road, roughly midway between Ashkelon and Hebron.

Lachish is off the beaten track of tourism. (No rest rooms!) A group is likely to be alone there. Although it is well laid out with paths and markers, there is a feeling of untamed solitary majesty about the place.

location of Lachish 

With its 18-acre plateau, the tell rivals those of Galilee, but the surrounding hills hug in so close that we do not see its massive height from afar. We round a bend in the road and suddenly it looms above us.

The history of Lachish stretches back to the third millennium BC. One city followed another on the hill: Early Bronze,   Hyksos, Canaanite, Judean and Persian. The question is why here?

The answer concerns the coordination of several factors: farmland, defensibility, water supply and location.

Of farmland there was plenty: fertile valleys surround Lachish. As for defensibility, the city's natural hill is high. We do not know where the earliest water source would have been. There are no springs in the entire region of the Shephelah, for its surface limestone is of a type impermeable to water. Beneath the riverbeds (wadis), however, water does collect in winter, and beside the tell runs such a wadi. At some point (perhaps not until the 10th or 9th century BC), the inhabitants dug a well from the upper slope of the hill. It is at least 140 feet deep.
Lachish: aerial of well and riverbed
The final factor in determining the presence of a city here was location. Lachish lay near the Great Trunk Road connecting Egypt, Damascus and Mesopotamia, but not on it – not, that is, on the plain. Therefore, we would not expect it to become a great mercantile center like Megiddo, Hazor or the nearby Philistine cities of Ashkelon and Gaza. However, any army marching on the Trunk Road – say, an Assyrian army attacking Egypt, or an Egyptian army heading north or east – would have had to reckon with Lachish. This fact perhaps explains its name, which may have been an ancestor to the Arabic word lakish: contrary, resistant, itchy.

There is more to say about location. Starting here, valleys lead east to passes that ascend the mountain of Judah. The two photos below indicate this access. The first is the eastern portion, showing the routes up the mountain to Hebron. The second, farther west, shows the routes from Lachish to the foot of the mountain. 

From the foot of the mountain to Hebron
From Lachish to foot of mountain
The need to protect their mountain led the Judeans to fortify Lachish. They did so first around 900 BC. This fortress city lasted roughly 200 years, falling to the Assyrians when they put down Hezekiah's revolt in 701. Less than a century later, King Josiah partly refortified the tell, but it fell to the Babylonians - or their allies, the Edomites.

Such are the factors explaining the existence of a city here. We shall now take a closer look at the history, connecting it, where we can, with what can be seen at the site.