General: The Philistines were one of a number of Sea Peoples who reached the eastern Mediterranean region during the final years of the Late Bronze age and the initial stage of the Iron age (ca. 1250-1100 BCE). The Sea Peoples were an amalgamation of various ethnic groups, primarily of Aegean and south-eastern European origin. They arrived in the eastern Mediterranean during the upheavals at the end of the Bronze age, and were responsible, in part, for the major changes that occurred during this transitional period.
The Philistines, who seemed to be of Aegean origin, settled on the southern coastal plain of Canaan/Land of Israel, in the area that later became known as Philistia. Though bringing unique aspects in their material culture (such as Aegean style pottery, cultic objects and architecture, and political organization), they quite rapidly adopted local Canaanite language and culture, and within some 150 years to a large extent were highly assimilated with the surrounding cultures. With their arrival, they did usher in important innovations, introducing for example efficient military and political organization and superior iron weaponry. The Philistine political organization appears to have been based on a loose alliance of the five main cities, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ekron, Gath (apparently Tell es-Safi), and Gaza.
In the early stages of the Iron age, the Philistines extended their rule to areas in the Land of Israel beyond Philistia itself, presenting a substantial antagonist to the then crystallizing Israelite entity. The ongoing tension between the Philistines and the Israelites as portrayed in the Bible in the books of Judges and Samuel mirrors this situation. In fact, many believe that the primary reason for the founding of the Israelite kingdom, at first by Saul, but more successfully by David, was an answer to the Israelite’s tribes inability to efficiently counter the Philistine threat.
Following the founding of the United Israelite (and later divided) kingdom the Philistines lost their
preeminent position in the region. Nevertheless, throughout the Iron age, the Philistines and the Israelites/Judeans were in constant confrontations. It was in the region between the Philistia and the Judean kingdom, the Shephelah foothills that most of these altercations occurred. During the later parts of the Iron age, the Philistines fell under the Assyrian yoke, and Philistia became an important part of the Neo-Assyrian empire, serving as the gateway to Egypt. Though by this time many of the distinct attributes of the Philistine culture are not conspicuous in the material remains, the Philistine still retained a distinct ethnic and cultural identity. Philistine inscriptions from the late Iron Age show the use the use of both Semitic and non-Semitic (Indo-European?) names at the time. At the very end of the Iron Age, Philistia was conquered by the Babylonians (ca. 604 BCE), which brought to the end of the Philistine culture.
In later periods the inhabitants of this region, which continued to be called Philistia, were of a much more mixed ethnic nature. It is this name (and its later development Palestine) which eventually was used from the mid-Roman period and later as the overall name for the Land of Israel.
The Philistine Material Culture: During the initial stages of the Philistine culture, in the Iron age I (ca. 1200-1000 BCE), their material culture is quite distinct. Certain aspects reveal much about the origins of the Philistines, while others can be utilized to understand various aspects of the Philistines after the settled in the Land of Israel. A salient example of the material culture of the Philistines is their pottery. During the first stage of their arrival in the Land, a distinctive type of pottery is found, belonging to the Mycenaean pottery traditions (Myc IIIc:1b). This pottery is known from regions in which the Mycenaeans were found. This pottery indicates the homeland of the Philistines. Though imported examples are known, clear evidence of local production in Philistia. After this stage, the Philistine pottery goes through a unique developmental pattern, combining both Aegean and other cultural facets. After a process of some 150 years, the Philistine pottery looses it’s distinct uniqueness a becomes similar to other pottery in the Land of Israel.
Other aspects of the Philistine culture are unique as well, such as architecture (both civil and cultic), metallurgic traditions & burial customs, all indicative of the unique nature of this people.
The Study of the Philistines: The Philistines have long been a focus of historical and archaeological interest, and have been studied since the very beginnings of the field of biblical archaeology. Over the years, and in particular during the last two decades, several of the major Philistines sites have been excavated, such as Ashdod, Ashkelon and Ekron. In addition, several general studies have appeared, the most noteworthy being the publications of Prof. Trude Dothan. With the renewed excavations at Tell es-Safi/Gath, we are hoping that important new data on this fascinating culture will be revealed.
Dothan, T. 1982. The Philistines and their material culture. Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society.
——. 1995. “Tel Miqne-Ekron: The Aegean affinities of the Sea Peoples’ (Philistines’) settlement in Iron Age I”. In: Gitin, S. (ed.). Recent Excavations in Israel: A view to the west. Reports from Kabri, Nami, Miqne-Ekron, Dor, and Ashkelon. Dubuque: Kendall/Hunt. Pp. 41-59.
Dothan, T. & Dothan, M. 1992. Peoples of the Sea: the search for the Philistines. New York: Macmillan.
Ehrlich, C.S. 1996. The Philistines in transition: a history from ca. 1000-730 BCE. Leiden: Brill.
Gitin, S. 1995. “Tel Miqne-Ekron in the 7th century BCE: the impact of economic innovation and foreign cultural influences on a Neo-Assyrian vassal city-state”. In Gitin, S. (ed.). Recent Excavations in Israel: A view to the west. Reports from Kabri, Nami, Miqne-Ekron, Dor, and Ashkelon. Dubuque: Kendall/Hunt. Pp. 61-79.
Gitin, S. & Dothan, T. 1985. “The rise and fall of Ekron of the Philistines: Recent excavations at an urban border site”.Biblical Archaeologist 50:197-222.
Gitin, S., Mazar, A., & Stern, E. (eds.). 1998. Mediterranean Peoples in Transition: thirteenth to early tenth centuries BCE. Jerusalem: IES.
Katzenstein, H.J. & Dothan, T. 1992. “Philistines”. In The Anchor Bible Dictionary, Vol. V: 326-333.
Sandars, N.K. 1985. The Sea Peoples: warriors of the ancient Mediterranean 1250-1150 BC. London: Thames & Hudson.
Singer, I. 1985. “The beginning of Philistine settlement in Canaan and the northern boundary of Philistia”. Tel Aviv12:109-114.
Tadmor, H. 1966. “Philistia under Assyrian rule”. Biblical Archaeologist 29:86-102.