An Ancient Persian Military Base Discovered in Northern Israel

December 28, 2018 | Philippe Bohstrom
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The book of Esther describes the Persian king Ahasuerus as having reigned over an empire that stretched “from India to Ethiopia”—and thus, as a matter of simple geography, must have included Egypt. It was Cambyses II, the son and successor of Cyrus the Great, who added Egypt to the vast empire he inherited in the late 6th century BCE. Recently, archaeologists have discovered the ruins of a Persian military base near the Israeli city of Acre that Cambyses likely used in preparing for his campaign against the pharaoh, writes Philippe Bohstrom. (Free registration required.)

Among the findings at Tel Keisan, a hill rising 28 meters from the coastal plain . . . in northern Israel, were ruins dated to the Persian period by ceramic jars and cooking pots in the Greek and Phoenician styles typical of that time. The Phoenicians . . . and their fleet had been subjugated by the Assyrians and then by the Persians; and the ancient Greek historian Herodotus said that Greek mercenaries fought in the Persian emperor Cambyses’ army. The Greek and Phoenician ceramic finds in the Persian layer of Tel Keisan [thus] suggest that this area was part of the base camp of the great Achaemenid campaign.

It was on the Acre plain that Cambyses assembled his army that would sweep down to Egypt, in the 520s BCE. Why were the Persians so adamant about conquering Egypt, aside from the usual human weakness for building empires? One reason is because the various empires in the Levant and Middle East considered Egypt to be a major threat. That is just one more reason for their desire to control the land of Israel—a fertile land with a long coast, and a convenient [place from which to launch] attacks on Egypt. Or, at least, to contain Egypt’s influence over the Levant. . . .

The forces Cambyses massed on the coast would have needed a huge apparatus and an incredible amount of resources. Tel Keisan would have been only one of a series of supply points along the Acre plain, Indeed the archaeologists found remnants of storage jars and cooking pots in large quantities that may have been used by Cambyses’ armies. A key bit of evidence was a large pit with organic debris and substantial quantities of pottery, some of which was Phoenician pottery and some imports from Greece, mainly from Athens.

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