The Late Bronze Age, beginning in about 1550 B.C.E., brings us to another kind of archaeological, as well as historical, problem. From an extraordinarily detailed Egyptian account-a hieroglyphic inscription incised on the walls of the Temple of Amun at Karnak, on the Nile in Upper Egypt-we know of the conquest of Megiddo by Pharaoh Thutmose III in 1479 B.C.E. This account fits perfectly with the geography and topography of the site, lending a dramatic reality to one of history’s great battles. But the archaeology of the site presents problems-and not only for Megiddo.

According to the Egyptian account, Thutmose III marched north with his army to reestablish Egyptian domination in Canaan. A confederation of Canaanite cities, led by the king of Kadesh (on the Orontes River in Syria) prepared to meet him at Megiddo—strategically, the most advantageous place from their Canaanite viewpoint. Thutmose and his commanders considered which of three alternative routes to take to cross the chain of hills separating Megiddo from the coastal plain-the main road going directly to Megiddo or one of two alternate routes to the north and to the south. The main road ends in the narrow Qina pass (the northeastern end of modern Nahal Iron, Wadi ‘Ara in Arabic) that opens into the Jezreel Valley near Megiddo. The Egyptian commanders, fearful that the Canaanite army would ambush them on the direct but narrow road, urged the pharaoh to take either the northern or the southern route. Thutmose rejected their advice, however, and made a daring tactical decision. Assuming that the Canaanite leaders would think like his generals and await him near Taanach on the southern alternate or Yoqneam on the northern alternate (and probably both), he decided to take his army through the perilous Nahal Iron. He was right. The Egyptian army passed through unmolested and routed the Canaanite chariotry in open battle near Megiddo.

The deliberations of Thutmose and his generals, preserved in the Egyptian annals, vividly capture the intensity of this debate 3,500 years ago.

The victorious Egyptians seized rich booty, including hundreds of chariots. But instead of immediately proceeding to capture the city, the Egyptians simply enjoyed looting the equipment the Canaanites left on the field of battle. Meanwhile, the Canaanites managed to reach the city and reorganize. Thutmose had to lay siege to the city and only after seven months was he able to capture it. Again, according to the Egyptian records, the Egyptian army looted the conquered Canaanites (the list of booty is long and detailed) and Canaan became a province in the Egyptian empire. The Egyptian governor of Canaan may have resided at Megiddo.

His majesty speaks to his generals:
"That wretched enemy [the Canaanites] ... has come and has entered into Megiddo. He is there at this moment. He has gathered to him the princes of every foreign country which had been loyal to Egypt, as well as those as far as Naharin and Mitanni. .
Then the generals speak:
"What is it like to go on this road which becomes so narrow? It is reported that the foe is there, waiting on the outside, while they are becoming more numerous. Will not horse have to go after horse, and the army and the people similarly? Will the vanguard of us be fighting while the rear guard is waiting here in ‘Aruna [a small town in Nahal Iron], unable to fight? Now two other roads are here. One of the roads-behold, it is to the east of us, so that it comes out at Taanach. The other-behold, . . . will come out to the north of Megiddo. Let our victorious lord proceed on the one of them which is satisfactory to his heart, but do not make us go on the difficult road! "
But Thutmose replied: "I ... shall proceed upon this ‘Aruna road!"
And the results:
"Then his majesty issued forth at the head of his army ... He had not met a single enemy. Their southern wing was in Taanach, while their northern wing was on the south side of the Qina Valley... Thereupon his majesty [Thutmose prevailed over them [the Canaanites] at the head of his army. Then they saw his majesty prevailing over them, and they fled headlong to Megiddo with faces of fear. They abandoned their horses and their chariots of gold and silver . . ."

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Oddly enough, no remains of a destruction of Megiddo at this time have been uncovered in any of the excavations. Perhaps the city finally surrendered, thereby avoiding destruction.

But this is not the only archaeological mystery. No evidence of a Late Bronze Age city wall has been discovered. This is true not only at Megiddo, but at other important sites like Hazor, Shechem and Lachish. Huge fortifications, characterized by a massive city wall and a huge rampart or glacis, are typical of Middle Bronze Age urban centers. But, at least from the archaeological evidence, these same Late Bronze Age cities were unfortified.

How could Thutmose lay siege to an unfortified city for seven months?

Three possible solutions have been suggested:

(1) The earlier, massive Middle Bronze Age fortifications continued to function in the Late Bronze Age. (2) The Late Bronze Age city was protected by a belt of houses built along the upper periphery of the site; such houses, adjoining one another, could have formed a kind of a defense system around the city. (3) Megiddo was indeed unfortified, as recently suggested by Rivka Gonen, who interprets the story of Thutmose’s siege on that basis. According to this interpretation, the Egyptian army did not storm the walls or break through them, but instead laid a prolonged siege, surrounding the city with a girdle wall, and patiently waited for the city to surrender.

The only way to try to solve the problem of the Late Bronze Age fortifications at Megiddo is to renew excavations with up-to-date methodology. We will open new excavation fields and study afresh the stratigraphy of the old excavations. What we learn at Megiddo will help illuminate the other Late Bronze Age Canaanite sites as well.

In any event, after Thutmose’s victory the palace in the northern part of the site was extended, perhaps to accommodate the Egyptian governor. Its walls are approximately six feet thick and enclose a large courtyard in the center of the palace. The palace even contained a sizable bathroom with a toilet-seat-like basin in its center and a floor covered with seashells set in lime plaster.

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