Reconstructing The Past: Archeologists Piece Together Siege Ramp Of Lachish

The ancient siege ramp at Tel Lachish in the Judean lowlands is the only remaining example of Assyrian military prowess, which during the 8th century BC. C. helped reinforce the first large-scale empire that controlled large parts of the ancient Near East, from Iran to Egypt. .

Archaeologists have known for decades of the presence of the siege ramp, first officially identified by legendary Israeli archaeologist (and IDF deputy chief of staff) Yigael Yadin in the late 1970s. It is still clearly visible, although subsequent archaeological excavations have shown that it was no longer exactly the same shape as it was more than 2,500 years ago, when the Assyrian military machine was preparing for the destruction of Lachish.

A team of archaeologists has reconstructed how the Assyrian army may have built the ramp and used it to conquer the city of Lachish. The team, led by Professor Yosef Garfinkel and Dr. Madeleine Mumcuoglu from the Institute of Archeology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HU), and Professors Jon W. Carroll and Michael Pytlik from Oakland University, USA, They relied on the large number of sources. about this historical event to provide this complete picture.

In 701 a. C., the Assyrian king Sennacherib besieged the flourishing Canaanite city, the second most important city of the Kingdom of Judah after Jerusalem, while his army tried to sweep the entire country and devastate it.

The Assyrian assault on the kingdoms of Israel and Judah and the battle for Lachish are mentioned in several books of the Bible (2 Kings 18: 9-19: 37; 2 Chronicles 32; Isaiah 36-37). Assyrian siege ramps are mentioned twice (2 Kings 19:32; Isaiah 37:33), though they pay no attention to any technical aspects of the warfare.

The Assyrian reliefs, which the French archaeologist Paul-Emile Botta discovered in Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq) at Khorsabad, showed the Assyrian army in various battles.

Copy of Assyrian relief from the site of Lachish at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem on Mount Scopus. (Credit: David Brummer)

Akkadian inscriptions, which include chronicles and sometimes letters, describe various Assyrian activities in Judah and excavations at various sites in the Near East have uncovered cities destroyed by the Assyrian army. However, the only siege ramp that was identified was at Lachish.

Ramp construction

While archaeologists were able to see the remains of the ramp with their own eyes, what has provided the most mystery is how the ramp was actually built. The surrounding area is not heavily forested, which means that the supply of trees was limited. Fair land use also seemed unlikely for a number of reasons, including the slow workload required by needing baskets or carts to transfer the land. They would have had to be made of branches or straw and would have worn out quickly. Also, pushing the carts over the rough surface of the ramp would have worn the wheels similarly in no time. The Assyrians also used siege machines, and these heavy pieces of machinery would have quickly sunk to the ground.

The most likely solution, therefore, was the construction of a siege ramp made up of hundreds of thousands – and as Garfinkel posits, up to 3 million – stones, made from the nose Limestone that dominates this part of the country – a soft chalk that can be cut quite easily and is good for construction.

The Assyrians were supposed to collect the stones from the surroundings, although it seems that this was one of the points about which archaeologists were least sure. Doing so would require long supply chains, requiring protection from attack, while also providing enough food and water for workers. Both the biblical account and the images presented in the Assyrian reliefs allude to the use of large L-shaped shields to protect those who build the siege ramp. They are tantalizing clues that help unravel a history of two millennia and the juxtaposition between the political aspects of the Assyrian reliefs, which focus on the loot taken and the Jews killed in the siege versus the mention of the prophet Isaiah of the Assyrian army as an eyewitness. of the facts.

The solution to this problem of how to find enough material to build the ramp, was to extract stones 24 hours a day, with teams of day laborers working in shifts. The stones were moved using human chains, and depending on the width of the part of the ramp being built, two, three or more chains could work simultaneously. Archaeologists found that three human chains, even if they weren’t working at maximum efficiency, could theoretically move about 100,000 stones per day, and up to 160,000 if they were.

1636727461 472 Reconstructing The Past Archeologists Piece Together Siege Ramp Of Lachish
Prof. Yosef Garfinkel (Courtesy)

“The weather was the main concern of the Assyrian army. Hundreds of laborers worked day and night carrying stones, possibly in two shifts of 12 hours each. The labor was probably provided by prisoners of war and forced labor from the local population. The workers were protected by huge shields placed at the north end of the ramp. These shields were moving towards the city a few meters every day, ”Garfinkel described.

The resulting ramp has a diagonal profile that rises as it approaches the city, actually starting at a distance to protect workers from attacks from above. At the beginning, the ramp is quite low and therefore the section built every day is longer. As the ramp increases, a shorter segment is built each day.

The length of the ramp is determined by two factors: the height of the mound above the local environment and the angle of the ramp. This angle, in turn, is dictated by the weight of the siege engine being pushed towards the city wall. Lighter engines can be pushed up a steeper and shorter slope, while heavier engines will need a more moderate slope and consequently a longer ramp.

The ramp is basically a road that brings the Assyrian army in direct contact with the city wall. Most of the ramp can be a relatively narrow passageway, but next to the city wall a larger space is needed to accommodate several additional battering rams and soldiers.

Once the main body of the ramp was built, it was necessary to smooth and level the upper surface so that the heavy siege engines, weighing up to a ton, could be pushed up the ramp until they faced the city walls. The ram, a large, heavy wooden beam with a metal tip, struck the walls as it rocked back and forth. Garfinkel suggests that the ram was suspended within the siege engine with metal chains, as the ropes would wear out quickly. In fact, an iron chain was found at the top of the ramp in Lachish.

Earlier archaeologists suggested that a mixture of stones and plaster was used to finish the ramp, although the use of the latter was considered unlikely due to the need to use large amounts of wood to keep the kiln fires burning for its manufacture. Garfinkel’s conclusion was that enough earth was thrown over the stones to stabilize the top, with large planks of wood to produce a uniform enough surface on the ramp to allow siege engines to pass over them.

It is possible to extrapolate both from the sources and from the physical evidence that remains, that the Assyrian army must have possessed several craftsmen, particularly skilled in the complex carpentry work of building siege engines. It is also likely that prisoners of war and slave laborers provided carpenters for the simpler tasks.

Drone footage provides answers

In order for archaeologists today to better understand the topography, the precise shape of the ramp and what was probably left after more than two millennia, the number of stones needed, and the location of the quarries supplying the stones, a small aerial system does not Manned SenseFly Ebee (UAS), a fixed-wing drone, was deployed. It flew line transects and collected overlapping georeferenced images with an average 2.5 cm pixel resolution.

1636727461 55 Reconstructing The Past Archeologists Piece Together Siege Ramp Of Lachish
Reconstruction of the construction of the Lachish siege ramp. (Credit: Prof. Yosef Garfinkel)

The aerial survey carried out by the archaeologists allowed them not only to review the hypotheses of those who had previously evaluated the site, but also to reach their own conclusions. One of the things they found is that the stones were not arranged in a specific pattern, but were thrown at random. The rush of battle that followed meant there was no time to be absolutely exact, highlighting how some parts of the ramp were built as steeply as a 45 degree angle.

For further confirmation, Garfinkel explained that he is “planning excavations at Lachish, at the far end of the ramp in the quarry area; this could give additional evidence of the activity of the Assyrian army and how the ramp was built.”

Leave a Comment