Ancient Israel: Economy & Trade

Instructor: Tommi Waters

TK Waters has a bachelor's degree in literature and religious studies and a master's degree in religious studies and teaches Hebrew Bible at Western Kentucky University.

Ancient Israel developed major cities over time to support armies as a defense against enemy nations, but they also traded their agricultural products with some of these nations, causing an influence on their culture as well.

Ancient Israelite Cities

Ancient Israel might have started as a small group of people who lived in tents, but it quickly developed into a nation that had complex, fortified cities. The cities were not just built to house common people, but also to house or host royals and provide protection from enemy nations. A great example of these fortified cities is the city of Tel Megiddo, which was a military city under the reign of King Solomon up until the Assyrian exile in 722 BCE.

As a military city, Tel Megiddo contained features to protect it from enemy forces. The barracks in the city provided not only housing for the soldiers in Israel's army, but also a place to store weapons, armor, and other equipment. The cities also had towers within the city's walls for soldiers to be able to keep watch on what was going on outside the city - and to see if any enemy forces were invading. The city itself was surrounded with fortifications, typically stone walls, as well as guarded gates that only let certain people into the city.

While the city had basic safety and military features to protect it from enemies, the city also had features needed for a comfortable everyday life. While the king's main palace was in Jerusalem during Solomon's reign, Tel Megiddo also contained a palace for the king and other royals when they were visiting the city as well as some housing for city residents and lodging for visitors. Probably not built until later in the city's history, Tel Megiddo also had an underground silo, which was used to store grains.

One of the largest features of Tel Megiddo was its stables, which were important to a military city since they housed the horses that would pull chariots and be ridden into battle. The Tel Megiddo stables probably held about 450 horses! The city also had a ''running'' water system. While there were no faucets like we have today, Tel Megiddo had a man-made system where water would run from a spring to underground tunnels throughout the city. The Israelites even made sure to cover up the water supply outside the city so enemies could not sabotage the water.

Tel Megiddo water system excavations
Tel Megiddo water system excavations

Agriculture and Trade

Ancient Israel was a strongly agricultural society and relied on its farmers and laborers to bring in food for the people. Ancient Israel's main agricultural products were grains (usually barley or wheat), grapes, dates, olives, and lentils. They also got some produce from the herdsmen who would raise sheep and goats; the goat's milk was used to make cheese, which was a common staple. Depending on the location and distance from the water, fish also made up an important part of their diets.

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