A group of Aegean origin, the Philistines were one of the Sea Peoples who ravaged the eastern Mediterranean world subsequent to the collapse of Mycenean civilization at the end of the Late Bronze Age. Attempting to land in Egypt, they were repulsed in a great land and sea battle by Ramesses III (ca. 1190 BCE), after which they settled on the southwestern coastal strip of Canaan (Map 3:W5). There they established a confederation of five city‐states, the pentapolis consisting of Ashdod, Ashkelon, and Gaza on the coast, and Ekron and Gath inland (Josh. 13.3; 1 Sam. 7–14). Their expansion inland brought them into conflict with the Israelite tribes (Judg. 3.31; 13–16; 1 Sam. 4–6), who attempted to counter the threat by organizing themselves into a kingdom (1 Sam. 7–14). Although the Philistines were able to prevail against Saul, the first Israelite king (1 Sam. 31), David, Saul's successor and an erstwhile vassal of Achish, the Philistine king of Gath (1 Sam. 27; 29), decisively defeated them and halted their expansion (2 Sam. 5.17–25; 8.1; 21.15–22; 23.9–17; 1 Chron. 11.12–19; 14.8–17; 18.1; 20.4–8). Over the next few centuries their relations with Israel were for the most part in the form of border skirmishes (1 Kings 15.27; 16.15–17; 2 Chron. 26.6–7; 28.18). In the tenth century Philistia came under loose Egyptian hegemony. As a consequence of the imperialistic ambitions of the Neo‐Assyrian empire, the Philistines came under Assyrian rule in 734 BCE. Despite occasional revolts against their overlords, they remained part of the Assyrian imperium, even prospering during the seventh century, until the fall of Assyria (612 BCE). Subsequently caught between Egypt and Babylonia, Philistia was conquered and ravaged by Nebuchadrezzar in 604 BCE. This effectively ended the history of the Philistine people, although their name as handed down through Greek and Latin eventually became a name for the whole of the land they were never able to subdue, namely, Palestine.

Archaeological activity focusing on recovering the material remains of the Philistines has been intense in recent years. Ashdod, Ashkelon, and Ekron (Tel Miqne), as well as smaller sites such as Tel Qasile on the coast and Tel Batash (ancient Timnah) inland, have been or are still being investigated. A picture has emerged of an extremely rich and highly developed civilization, putting a lie to the modern usage of the term “philistine.”

Carl S. Ehrlich