From Around the Eastern Mediterranean

A port of call for ancient Mediterranean mariners, Ashkelon was the destination of wares from Phoenicia, Ionia, the Greek islands, Greece and Egypt, which were traded for wine, olive oil and other goods from the surrounding regions and the interior.

Imported pottery provides evidence of trade with the Greek island of Chios (next photo) and with Cyprus (second photo below). The collection of sherds above contains a number of distinctive styles, such as Wild Goat Style pottery (which includes depictions not only of goats but also of geese and stags), thought by some to be manufactured in Ionia, but more likely produced at many different centers in East Greece. The sherd with the human-headed sphinx is also from Chios, while the sherd with scallops (top photo, bottom row, second from left) is from Corinth.

Numerous cultic artifacts from Egypt, among them a faience figurine of the half human, half lion dwarf-god Bes (second photo below), protector of the home and family, and an abalone jewelry box with nine small amulets (next photo), suggest that Ashkelon was home to a permanent Egyptian enclave with its own sanctuary. In the seventh century B.C.E., Philistia had strong cultural and political ties with Egypt; like Judah to the east, Philistia sided with Egypt against Babylonia in the struggle for Near Eastern hegemony. Both suffered for that choice of allegiance: Philistine Ashkelon was sacked and burned in 604 B.C.E.; and Judahite Jerusalem, after a long siege by the Babylonians, was destroyed in 586 B.C.E.

In the ashes of Ashkelon’s winery lay a cache of seven bronze bottles, called situlae (shown below and on this issue’s cover). Each bottle contained depictions in relief of Egyptian deities. In the midst of the situlae, the excavators found a bronze offering table engraved with bread and libation flasks; around the table are two baboons, a falcon, a jackal and a frog.

Situlae are votive offerings, perhaps for the revivification of the dead. The most prominent deity represented is Min, on the bottle at upper right: Min is depicted erect, masturbating himself with his left hand while throwing his right hand up in a gesture of deepest pleasure. Lawrence Stager suggests that for the Egyptians Min’s act of masturbation mirrored the original life-giving force from which all generative power derives. These phallic-shaped bronze bottles may have contained semen or other liquids, such as milk, to symbolize the power of giving life.