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Monograph Series of the Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv University

No. 13

Archaeology of the City: Urban Planning in Ancient Israel and Its Social Implications

Ze'ev Herzog

Tel Aviv 1997

Archaeological research should attempt to interpret the social context of material culture remains, beyond their typological and chronological affinities. Re-examination of key architectural features and the lay-out of excavated sites in Israel casts an entirely new light on the structure of the societies that occupied them. Careful analysis and reinterpretation of city plans, some compiled here for the first time from excavators' descriptions, reveal that urbanism was a cyclic phenomenon that waxed and waned over a period of three millennia from the Early Bronze Age to the Babylonian conquest.

Table of Contents


Chapter 1:
The Study of the Urban Experience
Approaches to the Study of Ancient Cities
Origins and Evolution of Urban Society
The Study of Urban Archaeology of Ancient Israel

Chapter 2:
Natufian and Pre-pottery Neolithic A
Pre-pottery Neolithic B
Pottery Neolithic
Chalcolithic Settlements

Chapter 3:
Early Bronze Age I (3500–3100 B.C.E.)
Early Bronze Age II (3100–2650 B.C.E.)
Early Bronze Age III
Early Bronze Age IV/Middle Bronze Age I

Chapter 4:
Middle Bronze Age IIA (2000–1750 B.C.E.)
Middle Bronze Age IIA–IIB
Middle Bronze Age IIB
The Late Bronze Age: Decline of the City
Late Bronze Age I
Late Bronze Age IIA
Late Bronze Age IIB

Chapter 5:
Iron Age IA (12th Century B.C.E.)
Iron Age IB (1150–1000 B.C.E.)
Iron Age IIA (10th Century B.C.E.)
Iron Age IIB (9th–8th Centuries B.C.E.)
Iron Age IIC (7th–6th Centuries B.C.E.)

Chapter 6:
The Emergence of Urbanism
The First Urban Phase
The Decline of Urban Life
The Second Urban Phase
Decline of Cities in the Late Bronze Age
Transitional Phase: Iron Age I
The Third Urban Phase


The urban community is the dominant form of social organization in modern western cultures. Today, in developed countries, approximately 65% of the population lives in cities (Bairoch 1988:513). Yet from the historical perspective, the city is seen to be not only a young social product of the last six or seven thousand years, but also one that, until recently, involved only a small minority of the population. Ninety percent of mankind never lived in cities and probably did not even see a city during their entire lifetime. The actual data for recent periods, when demographic estimates are more accurate, are illuminating. Between 1000 and 1800 C.E. only about 10-12% of the people of Europe lived in cities with a population larger than 20,000, and in the United States by 1820 only 6% of the people lived in cities (Bairoch 1988:219, 297). The numbers of city dwellers were still smaller in other parts of the world.

It is clear, however, that despite the low level of urban population in the city, its impact on society was much stronger than its proportional size. This dominant role is surely the reason that the study of cities and the phenomenon of urbanism attract so many scholarly disciplines. City life is of interest to such widely divergent research fields as sociology (Weber 1958; Sjoberg 1960); anthropology (Fox 1977); geography (Carter 1983); architecture (Rapoport 1982); history (Mumford 1961; Hammond 1972; Bairoch 1988); art history (Frankfort 1954); bible (Frick 1977) and archaeology (Childe 1950; Adams 1966; Fritz 1990a). The shared interest and common question that unite all these research disciplines of urbanism is: what is the unique feature of the city that justifies and supports its specific role within society?

The subject becomes even more complicated when the duality in the perception of urban life is considered. On the one hand identification of city life as the locale of the existence and development of the highest achievements of culture, such as art and architecture, is quite obvious. Cities are equivalent, in common belief, with the progress and prosperity of civilization. On the other hand city life in many societies represents entirely negative values for the inhabitants. For many, a city is synonymous with poverty, disease, crime and corruption. Evidently, how one looks at the city, as at any other social entity, depends to a great degree on the position, location and orientation of the viewer himself.

Two main issues are central in attempting to answer this question. The first is concerned with the delineation of the city and its definition. What is a city? What does a city need in order to be considered as such? The second aspect of the explanation of the urban phenomenon, not entirely unrelated to the first, is the attempt to illuminate the origins of the city; how and why did cities evolve and what are the processes that promoted the rise (and fall) of urban cultures?

A review of the different approaches that challenge these basic problems of urbanism is of crucial importance for establishing the theoretical foundations for the archaeology of the city. Beyond their purely theoretical value, they should be considered as highly instructive in the social perspective of archaeology applied in this study. One cannot try to explain the social significance of a specific type of urban community without bearing in mind the general concepts that dominate our understanding of the role of the city in society. Any attempt to provide a comprehensive and agreed upon definition of a city is soon confronted with serious obstacles. The divergence of forms, types and aspects of the urban phenomenon clearly prevent a sharp and clear definition of the city (Wheatley 1972:601-602; Carter 1983:3). Are metropolitan communities in the western hemisphere comparable to cities in the developing countries? Are modern cities similar to ancient ones?

Furthermore, when a general definition has been sought, it paradoxically excluded the ancient Near Eastern cities from the urban category. Weber, who studied medieval cities in Europe as a background for understanding Western culture, excluded oriental cities from the definition. In his opinion, an urban community, in the full meaning of the word, appears as a general phenomenon only in the Occident (Weber 1958). Another example of exclusion comes from the Russian scholar Andreev (1989:169) who suggested that the city could be defined only within a fully developed class society, leaving all ancient cities outside this category. The ancient city may be considered only as a 'quasi-city' or 'proto-city', as stages in the process of development that led to the emergence of what he calls a 'full city'.

Most studies of cities and urbanism expressed awareness of the limitations of the holistic attempt and suggested definitions that were openly regarded as relative and partial, related only to a particular context and viewed through a specific scientific perspective or philosophy. The diverse approaches to the problem of defining a city are summarized in several works (Wheatley 1972:601; Clarke 1979:436; Carter 1983:1-17; Eisenstadt and Shachar 1987:21-60). In this chapter they are presented under four categories: the ideal-type dichotomic approach; evolutionary perspective; regional integrative approach; a power relation perspective. While the problem of definition is integrally related to theories on the origin of cities, the two topics will be discussed separately.

ISBN 965-440-006-5, 298 + 13 pages, 114 figures, maps and photographic plates.
Hard Cover. Price $60.00


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