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The Oxford History of the Biblical World An in-depth chaptered work by leading scholars providing a chronological overview of the history of biblical times.

Philistine Economy

The total occupied area of the pentapolis was at least 100 hectares (250 acres), with a total population of about twenty-five thousand. To attain such size so soon after their arrival, boatload after boatload of Philistines, along with their families, livestock, and belongings, must have arrived in southern Canaan during stage 1. By the beginning of stage 2, natural growth had more than doubled the Philistine population, enabling their expansion in all directions. By the second half of the eleventh century BCE, in stage 3, they were a menace even to the Israelites living in the highlands to the east.

Their new home provided the Philistines with the natural and cultural resources to become both a maritime and an agrarian power. The sea offered fishing and shipping, and to its east lay rich agricultural lands suitable for growing grains, olives, and grapes. This region lacked timber and mineral resources, but even early in stage 1 the Philistines were importing both.

Philistia constituted a vital stretch of the coastal road. As the eleventh-century Egyptian tale of Wen-Amun makes clear, the Philistines, along with other Sea Peoples and the Phoenicians, soon controlled the maritime lanes as well. After some stability had returned to the eastern Mediterranean, the Sea Peoples once again became traders rather than raiders. Shortly after landing, the Sikils constructed the harbor at Dor. By the eleventh century, trade with Cyprus was bustling, and Ashkelon was a busy port again, exporting grain, wine, and oil from Philistia to other parts of the Mediterranean.

From Ashdod to Gaza, the coast of Philistia was ideal for the cultivation of grapes. The sandy soil and warm, sunny climate produced many good wines, from Ashkelon's light and palatable varieties to Gaza's heavier ones. At Ashkelon a royal winery, with pressing rooms alternating with storerooms within a large ashlar building, occupied the same central area in the seventh century where a major public building had stood in Iron Age I. Similar Iron II wine production facilities have recently been found near Ashdod.

In modern idiom, the term Philistine means an uncouth person, interested in material comfort rather than art and ideas. Archaeologists may inadvertently have assimilated this notion in their terminology: one of the most common Philistine ceramic forms is a jug with a strainer spout, usually called a “beer-jug.” But the ecology of Philistia is better suited for grape-growing than for cultivating barley, the grain generally used for beer. Moreover, the repertoire of Philistine decorated pottery, both Myc IIIC and bichrome, indicates that wine rather than beer was the beverage of choice. The large bowl, called after its Greek name, krater, was used for mixing water with wine, apparently a Greek rather than a Canaanite custom. Such kraters were popular among the Mycenaeans, and in the Iron I period the relatively large proportion of kraters in Philistia compared with non-Philistine territory suggests that the Philistines continued to mix their wine with water. Large bell-shaped bowls for serving wine and small bell-shaped bowls or cups for drinking it are two popular forms of decorated Philistine pottery. The jug with the strainer spout completes the wine service; it was used as a carafe, and its built-in sieve strained out the lees and other impurities as the wine was poured. All these forms testify to the importance of viticulture and wine production during that era.

The inner coastal zone of Philistia, with its wide, undulating plains and deep, fertile soils, was ideal for growing wheat and olives. Oil produced here supplied not only Philistia but also other parts of the Levant, especially the perennial and enormous Egyptian market. In the seventh century BCE Ekron was the undisputed oil capital of the country: just inside the city's fortifications were more than a hundred olive oil processing facilities.

The Philistines also brought changes to the region's animal husbandry. Like their Canaanite and Israelite neighbors, the Philistines kept flocks of sheep and goats as well as cattle. To these they added a specialization in hogs. In the highland villages of the Iron I period, the bones of pigs are rare or completely absent, but in Philistia they constitute a significant proportion of excavated faunal remains: at Ashkelon 23 percent (but the sample is small), at Ekron 18 percent, and at Timnah (Tel Batash) 8 percent. These differences in pig production and consumption were due more to culture than to ecology. The Mycenaeans and later Greeks valued swine and preferred pork in their diet, a preference brought by the Philistines to Canaan in the twelfth century. It is probably then, the biblical period of “the judges,” that the Israelites developed their taboo against pork consumption, in part to differentiate themselves from their Philistine neighbors; circumcision was another such distinctive cultural marker.

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