While fortifications and defense systems basically were much the same throughout Bible history, the competition between methods of defense and offense continually brought about changes and developments.
Since fortification of a town was costly and difficult and required an adequate defense force, not all towns were fortified. The larger cities were usually walled cities, with the smaller towns in that area, known as dependent towns, being unwalled. (Josh. 15:45, 47; 17:11) Inhabitants of these towns could flee to the walled city in the event of an invasion by the enemy. Fortified cities thus served as a refuge for the people in the area. Cities were also fortified when they were strategically located so as to protect highways, water sources, routes to supply bases and communication lines. Cities in Bible lands generally covered an area of but a few acres. Some, however, were much larger. The capital cities of Egypt, Assyria, Babylonia, Persia and Rome were exceptionally large.
The strength and height of the fortifications of many cities in Palestine were such that the unfaithful spies sent by Moses to spy out Canaan reported that “the fortified cities are very great” and “fortified to the heavens.” From their faithless viewpoint the cities looked impregnable.—Num. 13:28; Deut. 1:28.
Babylon was one of the most strongly defended cities in Bible times. Not only did it have unusually strong walls, but it was situated on a river that provided a fine moat for defense as well as a water supply. Babylon felt she could hold her captives forever. (Isa. 14:16, 17) But the city was taken in one night by the strategy of Cyrus the Persian, who diverted the Euphrates and entered the city through gates in the walls along the quays.—Dan. 5:30.
Three essentials were required for a fortified city: (1) walls to act as a barrier to the enemy, (2) weapons so that the defending forces could retaliate to repel the attackers and (3) an adequate water supply. Foodstuffs could be stored during times of peace; but a constant, accessible source of water was essential for a city to withstand a siege of any length.
It is obvious that a city located on an elevation was more easily defensible. But, since the terrain did not always provide such desirable locations, cities built on level ground had to give more attention to their defensive walls. As time went on and cities fell into ruin and decay, new cities would be built on top of the rubble of old ones, giving them greater elevation. This resulted in great mounds or tells being built up over the centuries. Archaeologists digging in these tells have uncovered layer after layer of building. In the case of Jericho, twenty-six strata of building were found during what has been classified as the “Pre-Pottery B” period.
METHODS OF ATTACK
The fortification of cities had to take into consideration the various methods of attack. There was the method of (a) ruse or surprise, such as Joshua’s strategy at Ai in drawing the defenders out of the city, and also David’s capture of Jerusalem (Josh. 8:3-8, 14-19; 2 Sam. 5:8, 9); (b) psychological warfare as used by the Assyrians, as when they tried to break down the morale of Jerusalem’s defenders and cause them to revolt against Hezekiah’s orders (2 Ki. 18:19-35); and (c) the protracted siege that starved out a city’s inhabitants, as in the case of Samaria when besieged by the king of Syria (2 Ki. 6:24-29), and of Jerusalem in 607 B.C.E. at the hands of the Babylonians (Lam. 4:8-10), and in 70 C.E. during the Roman siege.
Besides these there were the more immediate and tactical methods of attack. These were: (1) storming the walls, going over them by means of scaling ladders, a method that caused defenders to build high walls with defenses on top, (2) penetration by breaching the walls or breaking through the gates, a danger calling for strength through extra thickness or by buttresses, and (3) penetration by tunneling under the walls, for which reason the ramparts were usually very deep or wide in cross section. In Assyrian reliefs all three of these tactics are shown as being in operation at one time. This, of course, had the effect of spreading thinner the defense forces and leaving certain sections of the walls more vulnerable. With these forms of attack in mind, cities were fortified as follows.
MOATS AND RAMPARTS
Some cities were surrounded by a moat filled with water, especially if a river or lake was nearby. Babylon on the Euphrates was a notable example, as was also No-amon (Thebes) on the Nile canals. (Nah. 3:8) Where there were no nearby bodies of water, a dry moat was often constructed. Jerusalem was rebuilt with a moat.—Dan. 9:25.
Rising from the side of the moat was a rampart built from the earth dug up when the moat was excavated. This rampart sometimes was covered with a stone facing and formed a “glacis” sloping up to the wall built on top of the rampart. The moat discovered by archaeologists on the western defenses of the city of Hazor was 262 feet (80 meters) wide at the top and 131 feet (40 meters) across the bottom. The moat was about fifty feet (more than 15 meters) deep. The rampart rising from the moat at Hazor was equally high (about 50 feet [15 meters]). This made the top of the rampart nearly a hundred feet (30 meters) high, measuring from the bottom of the moat. On top of this stood the city wall.
This rampart or sloping glacis, was, of course, very difficult to ascend, especially with battering rams, for which reason the attackers built ramps, up which the battering rams were moved. The moat was so wide that it greatly weakened the archery fire of the attacking army, and shooting from the bottom of the moat accomplished little. On the other hand, the builders of the ramps for their battering rams were under constant fire from the city walls, being subjected to a rain of arrows, stones and sometimes firebrands. Not all cities had moats or sloping ramparts, some basing their defense entirely on vertical walls made of earth and stone with, in some cases, a brick upper part.
After the moat and rampart, the wall was the next feature of the defenses. In earlier times the walls were lighter. Some walls and towers were casemate type, that is, having rooms inside for soldiers and for storage and usually having stairways or ladders to the top of the towers. The wall was made up of large stones, brick and earth. Some of the stones were of prodigious size. Earlier walls were mostly made of stones without mortar. Later on, mortar was often used between the stones. Mortar was made by treading clay with the feet and mixing it with water, as in making bricks. Otherwise it would crack and weaken the defensive wall. Compare Ezekiel 13:9-16; Nahum 3:14.
The wall system often consisted of a high, heavy inner wall and a lower outer wall. A dry moat was sometimes constructed between these walls. Along the outer wall were bastions, round or square in shape. They were crenelated (indented with battlements) so that the archers could shoot through the embrasures and at the same time receive some protection against enemy arrows and rock slingers. Bastions extended out from the wall so that the archers not only could command the area in front of them, but could also shoot to the right or to the left at the flanks of the enemy forces that might be trying to scale or breach the wall.
The inner wall was heavier and thicker. After the invention of the heavy battering rams, especially as used by the Assyrians, much stronger, thicker walls were built to withstand the devastations of this instrument. A stone wall at Tell en-Nasbeh (Mizpah?) was found to average thirteen feet (4 meters) in thickness, and it is estimated to have been thirty-nine feet (12 meters) high. The top of the wall was crenelated, as were nearly all city walls. Babylon’s walls were of extraordinary height and tremendously massive.
Towers were built into the inner walls (in addition to bastions or towers in the outer walls). They were higher than the wall, protruding from the wall sometimes as much as ten feet (c. 3 meters). They were equipped with crenelations on top and sometimes with openings below the crenelations, for the convenience of archers and stone throwers. The fact that the towers protruded from the wall enabled the defenders to cover the area along the wall between the towers, which were never placed farther than two bowshots apart and were usually much closer, enabling the defenders to command all the area along the wall. Also, a balcony at the tower’s top had openings in the floor so that archery fire and stones and firebrands could be directed straight down at the invaders below. These towers are mentioned many times in the Scriptures. (Neh. 3:1; Jer. 31:38; Zech. 14:10) The ruins at Tell en-Nasbeh (Mizpah?) indicate that the city had ten towers. Towers served also as posts for watchmen, who could see the enemy approaching from a distance.—Isa. 21:8, 9.
Besides these city towers, other towers (Heb., migh·dalʹ; plural, migh·da·limʹ) were built in isolated places. These were constructed as “police stations” to protect wells or water sources, highways, frontiers, communication lines or supply lines. King Uzziah of Judah is noted for building towers in Jerusalem, also in the wilderness, these apparently being erected to protect the cisterns that he built to water his livestock. (2 Chron. 26:9, 10) Several of such migdols have been found in the Negeb.
The weakest part of the defenses of a city were its gates; therefore nothing was overlooked in making the gates the most hotly defended points in the walls. Only as many gates were constructed as necessary for the traffic of the inhabitants in and out of the city during peacetime. Before the use of the chariot, the gateways were narrow, with sharp turns at the entrance so as to make maneuvering through them as difficult as possible for the enemy. Later the chariot demanded a wider roadway. Approaches to the gates were situated so that the attacking soldiers were forced to expose their right-hand or unprotected side toward the fire of the city’s defenders.
Often there was a narrow slope at the side of the rampart up toward the gate. Towers were situated on each side of the gate so that defense efforts could be concentrated there. Besides the main gate, the secondary gates were sometimes small, about large enough for a loaded donkey to pass through, and served as gates through which the defenders could make sorties against the enemy. Gates were made of wood or of wood and metal, sometimes being metal covered to resist fire. In archaeological diggings the gateways are often found to be charred, indicating that fire was used to burn the gates down. The doors of the gates often swung on pivots inserted into holes in the pavement and in the lintels above. When closed, the doors were bolted by a heavy beam of wood or metal that usually fastened into the gateposts. Babylon is spoken of as having copper doors and iron bars.—Isa. 45:2.
Usually at the highest elevation in the city the citadel was built. It had a tower fortress and its own walls, less massive than the walls surrounding the city. Here were situated the king’s or governor’s palace and the homes of the ministers of the government. The citadel was the last stronghold of refuge and resistance. When the soldiers of the enemy breached the city walls they would have to fight through the streets of the city to reach the tower. Such a tower was the one at Thebez, which Abimelech attacked after capturing the city and where a woman broke his skull by pitching an upper millstone upon his head.—Judg. 9:50-54.
Many times, as a city expanded in size, the walls of the older city were left standing and new walls were built around the enlarged city. This located the citadel in a city within a city, so that the attackers would first have to penetrate the city’s lower outer wall, next get inside the enlarged city through its high inner wall, then overcome the walls of the old city and, finally, the tower itself.
This was no difficult problem if the city was located on the bank of a river. But, generally, if the city was built on a hill or a mound, the water source was below it in the form of a spring or well. Getting water inside the city could be accomplished by digging a tunnel on a gradient from the water source to a cistern at a lower point inside the city and letting gravity bring the water down. Or an excavation could be made with a stairway down to a tunnel that would run through to the water source outside so that the city’s inhabitants could reach it with their water jars. The spring or well would then be covered over, and the location hidden as thoroughly as possible from the enemy. It was through a water tunnel that Joab entered Jerusalem to capture it for David.—2 Sam. 5:8; 1 Chron. 11:6.
FORTIFICATIONS OF THE BESIEGING ARMY
At times the besieging army built fortifications of its own around its camp. This protected the camp from sorties on the part of those besieged or from attacks by outside allies of the city. These fortified camps might be round or oval-shaped and surrounded by a wall, often crenelated and with crenelated towers. For these fortifications, they would cut down the trees, sometimes for miles around the city. Jehovah’s law directed the Israelites not to cut down fruit trees for this purpose.—Deut. 20:19, 20.
FORTIFICATIONS WITH POINTED STAKES
In foretelling the destruction of Jerusalem, Jesus Christ indicated that her enemies would build around her a fortification with pointed stakes. (Luke 19:43) The historian Josephus confirms the accurate fulfillment of this prophecy. Titus argued in favor of building a fortification to keep the Jews from leaving the city so as to bring about their surrender or, if this did not materialize, to make it easier to take the city due to the resultant famine. His arguments having won out, the army was organized to undertake the project. The legions and lesser divisions of the army competed with one another to finish the task; individually the men were spurred on by a desire to please their superiors. To provide materials for the construction of this fortification the countryside about Jerusalem within a distance of about ten miles (16 kilometers) was denuded of its trees. Amazingly, according to Josephus, the over four-and-a-half-mile-long (7-kilometer-long) fortification was completed in just three days, an undertaking which ordinarily would have required a number of months. Outside the wall of this fortification thirteen places for garrisons were constructed, and their combined circumference amounted to one and one-seventh miles (c. 2 kilometers).
ARCHAEOLOGICAL DISCOVERIES OF NOTABLE FORTIFICATIONS
Following up the building operations of his father David, King Solomon was outstanding for his construction works. Besides building the magnificent temple of Jehovah at Jerusalem, he strengthened Jerusalem’s walls and built extensive fortifications at Hazor, Megiddo and Gezer. Archaeologists were guided in their excavation of these fortifications by the Bible’s statement at 1 Kings 9:15: “Now this is the account of those conscripted for forced labor that King Solomon levied to build the house of Jehovah and his own house and the Mound and the wall of Jerusalem and Hazor and Megiddo and Gezer.” They found that the gates of these three last-named cities were all built to a single unique plan, each being fifty-six feet (17 meters) wide, with an entrance flanked on both sides by square towers and leading into a vestibule sixty-six feet (20 meters) long, with three chambers on each side. They were somewhat similar to the description of the gates of Ezekiel’s visionary temple. (Ezek. 40:5-16) Solomon’s son Rehoboam is also credited with much building. This included, besides reinforcing the fortified places, the storage of food supplies in them.—2 Chron. 11:5-10.
Immediately above casemate walls built by Solomon at Megiddo and Hazor massive walls had been constructed, possibly built by Ahab. These were more thickly and strongly built, doubtless because of the heavy Assyrian battering rams in use during that later period. Other kings of Israel and Judah noted for their construction works are Jeroboam, who rebuilt Shechem and Penuel; Baasha, who began to build Ramah “to allow no one to go out or come in to Asa the king of Judah” (1 Ki. 15:17); Asa, who used stones and timbers from Ramah in building operations in Geba and Mizpah; Omri the builder of Samaria, the capital of the northern kingdom; Uzziah (Azariah) the rebuilder of Elath (Eloth) and builder of towers in the wilderness; and Jotham, who built fortified places and towers.—1 Ki. 12:25; 15:22, 23; 16:23, 24; 2 Ki. 14:21, 22; 2 Chron. 26:1, 2, 9, 10; 27:1, 4.
Of Uzziah it is said: “He made in Jerusalem engines of war, the invention of engineers, that they might come to be upon the towers and upon the corners, to shoot arrows and great stones.” (2 Chron. 26:15) Just what these engines of war were is not understood. Archaeologists have discovered sculptured reliefs of Sennacherib’s assault on the city of Lachish depicting a defensive innovation that some would attribute to Uzziah. These reliefs show that upon the towers and on the corners of the walls of Lachish wooden structures holding round shields were built above the crenelated parapets. This was a great advantage for the defenders of a city in that they now could stand to full height, with both hands free to shoot arrows and to sling and throw stones at the besiegers, their bodies being much better protected than previously, when they had to expose themselves to shoot, and then dodge behind the merlons of the crenelated walls.
ARCHAEOLOGICAL DISCOVERIES OF AQUEDUCTS
The builders of the Megiddo fortifications used simple, yet ingenious way to get water into the city. The source of water for the city was a well in a natural cave at the western foot of the mound on which Megiddo was built. To get water into the city they sent a vertical shaft ninety-eight feet (30 meters) deep, seventy-two feet (22 meters) of this distance through solid rock, which brought them to the level of the well. From this level they cut a horizontal tunnel with a slight gradient for a distance of 220 feet (67 meters) to the well. The slight slope from the well to the bottom of the shaft allowed the water to flow into the city by gravity. The well was sealed from the outside by a thick wall.
An amazing construction requiring superb engineering skill was accomplished by Hezekiah when he sealed up the course of the water flowing from Gihon and cut a channel or conduit about 1,750 feet (1,200 cubits or 533 meters) to bring water into Jerusalem, thereby enabling it to withstand a long siege.—2 Chron. 32:30.
Often cisterns, both public and individual, were built inside the city so as to have a water supply during times of siege. On the monument (now located in the Louvre of Paris) erected at Dibon, in Moab, by Mesha the king of Moab, we find the inscription “I also built its gates and I built its towers and I built the king’s house, and I made both of its reservoirs for water inside the town. And there was no cistern inside the town even at the acropolis, so I said to all the people, ‘Let each of you make a cistern for himself in his house.’”
Since the tower or citadel of the fortified city was its last stronghold and the towers in the wilderness were the safest places of refuge for miles around, we can see the appropriateness of Proverbs 18:10: “The name of Jehovah is a strong tower. Into it the righteous runs and is given protection.” Also significant are the expressions of David: “Jehovah is my crag and my stronghold and the Provider of escape for me.” (2 Sam. 22:2) “Become to me a rock fortress into which to enter constantly. You must command to save me, for you are my crag and my stronghold.” (Ps. 71:3) This would be especially meaningful to Jews who would look up at the great stronghold of Jerusalem situated on an elevation higher than nearly any other major capital city in human history, with its mighty walls of defense. It also gives meaning to God’s words through the prophet Zechariah, when Jehovah speaks of himself as “a wall of fire all around” Jerusalem. It gives his people encouraging assurance that, while walls of stone can be broken down, Jehovah himself is really the defense of his servants.—Ps. 48:11-13; Zech. 2:4, 5; see GATE, GATEWAY.
[Picture on page 603]
Fortified city of Ashteroth-karnaim is believed to be represented on this eighth century B.C.E. Assyrian relief. It is at top of mound; there is low outer wall with crenelations; main wall with battlements, bastions and balconies and gate; inner citadel with its gate.