Biblical societies grew, flourished and fell within an ancient world torn by warfare and defined by power struggles. What do we know of warfare in the ancient world? BAS editors have arranged a special collection of articles on military perspectives in the Bible and Biblical world, ancient siege techniques and individual sites whose varied histories highlight the many sides of warfare.

Scroll down to read a summary of these articles.

Ancient battles were generally waged not on the field of war but beneath a city’s walls. Paul Bentley Kern’s “Under Siege” teaches that ancient victory hinged on the ability to tunnel under, batter through or climb over those walls—or to last out a siege that could go on for year.

One of the most famous sieges in the Biblical world occurred at Masada. In “It’s a Natural: Masada Ramp Was Not a Roman Engineering Miracle,” Dan Gill shows that the ramp used by the Romans to breach the rebel stronghold at Masada did not, in fact, require a huge effort in men and material.

The reviled Phoenician princess Jezebel was thrown from her window at Jezreel. In “Jezreel—Where Jezebel Was Thrown to the Dogs,” David Ussishkin explores the cavalry headquarters at Jezreel and details the Omride fortifications, ancient chariotry and military remains. Danny Syon’s “Gamla: Portrait of a Rebellion” presents a very different archaeological picture of Gamla, another site remembered for its military history. Famous for its destruction in the First Jewish Revolt, Gamla now reveals its floruit before the fall.

One of the great modern horrors—the use of chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction—also terrified the ancient world. Adrienne Mayor’s “Ancient WMDs” shows how soldiers rigged booby traps with plague, created choking gases, tipped arrows in poison and lobbed pots filled with scorpions and snakes at their enemies. And the ancients, too, struggled with the question: Is this kind of warfare justifiable?

Michael M. Homan’s “The Divine Warrior in His Tent” paints ancient military camps in a very different light. The closest known parallel to the desert Tabernacle in the Hebrew Bible is a military camp erected by Pharaoh Ramesses II. Did this Egyptian headquarters serve as the model for the Tabernacle, in which the warrior god Yahweh directed the Israelite forces in battle?

Warfare defined many aspects of life in the ancient world, and these articles present a range strategic, architectural, symbolic and historical evidence of the Biblical past.


Under Siege!
Archaeology Odyssey, January/February 2004 By Paul Bentley Kern

Siege warfare was the most arduous and terrifying form of war in the ancient world. For the attacked, defeat threatened not only their warriors but their women and children. For the attackers, a siege meant long weeks in a filthy camp, short rations and backbreaking labor under extremely hazardous conditions. Massacre, enslavement and rape […]

It’s a Natural: Masada Ramp Was Not a Roman Engineering Miracle
Biblical Archaeology Review, September/October 2001 By Dan Gill

Hollywood could not have scripted it better: A band of 967 Jewish rebels retreats to a desert mountaintop fortress following the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 A.D. Two years later the Roman army sets out to quell this last vestige of the Great Jewish Revolt. Finally, in a massive construction effort, […]

Jezreel—Where Jezebel Was Thrown to the Dogs
Biblical Archaeology Review, July/August 2010 By David Ussishkin

One day in 1989 rumor reached me that monumental Israelite architecture had accidentally been uncovered at Tel Jezreel in the Jezreel Valley in northern Israel. I was then, as now, a professional archaeologist who studies the Biblical period. I have always been inspired by the Bible and the historical events described in it, […]

Gamla: Portrait of a Rebellion
Biblical Archaeology Review, January/February 1992 By Danny Syon

Rarely do literary sources and archaeology supplement one another so beautifully as in the case of Gamla. This is all the more exciting because Gamla is immensely rich both historically and now, after 14 years of excavation, archaeologically.1 Long before the actual site was identified, Gamla was well known from the writings of the […]

Ancient WMDs
Archaeology Odyssey, March/April 2005 By Adrienne Mayor

Most people assume that biological and chemical weapons are recent inventions, that only our advanced knowledge of science and weapons systems has allowed us to make use of toxins, pathogens and incendiary chemicals. Many historians have assumed, moreover, that the rules of engagement in ancient warfare—predicated on honor, valor and skill—would have banned […]

The Divine Warrior in His Tent
Bible Review, December 2000 By Michael M. Homan

022 Yahweh could have asked Moses for just about anything—a temple, a palace, even a pyramid. Instead, Yahweh requests that Moses build him a tent (Exodus 25:8–9). Once the tent has been constructed according to Yahweh’s exacting instructions, the Israelite deity moves in. For the rest of the Israelites’ stay in Sinai, throughout […]