A team of archaeologists working at Lachish has reconstructed how the Assyrian army may have built a huge siege ramp used to conquer the city in 701BC.1 Led by Professor Yosef Garfinkel and Dr Madeleine Mumcuoglu of the Institute of Archaeology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and Professors Jon W. Carroll and Michael Pytlik of Oakland University, USA, the team drew on the rich number of sources about this historical event to provide a complete picture. Their detailed findings have been published in the Oxford Journal of Archaeology.2

Intent on expanding their empire and containing the power of Egypt, the Assyrians swept through Judah laying it waste (2 Kings 8:13). In the course of the invasion, the Assyrian King Sennacherib laid siege to Lachish, which at the time was the second-most important city in the Kingdom of Judah after Jerusalem.

Huge relief sculptures of the siege of Lachish discovered at Nineveh by Austen Henry Layard in the nineteenth century are in the British Museum collection.These large wall panels provide a complete scene of the siege and capture of the city.4 The fall of Lachish is inferred in the Bible record in 2 Kings 19:8,

“So Rab-shakeh returned, and found the king of Assyria warring against Libnah: for he had heard that he was departed from Lachish.”

Sennacherib’s departure from Lachish suggests its overthrow was complete and the siege had led to the capture of the city.

While the remnants of the siege ramp at Lachish are clearly visible, archaeologists have not known how the ramp was constructed. Timber and soil seemed unlikely, as the supply of trees was limited and moving large amounts of earth would be very slow. Moreover, the ramp would have to support the heavy siege engines used to batter the city’s walls.

Garfinkel and his team concluded that the most likely solution was the construction of a siege ramp comprised of hundreds of thousands, possibly as many as three million stones. Limestone is plentiful in this part of Israel, can be quite easily cut and is good for building. The archaeologists suggest that if teams of labourers working in shifts quarried stones 24 hours a day, moving them using human chains, even if they were not working at maximum efficiency, theoretically they could move at least 100,000 stones per day, and possibly up to 160,000.

Garfinkel said that time would be the main concern of the Assyrian army. Employing hundreds of labourers who worked day and night carrying stones, possibly in two shifts of 12 hours each, would speed the work. Prisoners of war and forced labour of the local population would probably supply the manpower. Huge shields which were advanced towards the city by a few meters each day would protect the labourers from darts and missiles.

Two factors dictated the length of the ramp: the height of the mound above the local surroundings and the angle of the ramp. The weight of the siege engine that is to be pushed up to the city wall determines whether the angle of the ramp is steep or requires a more moderate slope and consequently a longer ramp.

Once in position at the city wall, the ram, a large, heavy wooden beam with a metal tip, battered the walls by being swung backward and forward. The battering ram was suspended within the siege engine on metal chains, as ropes would quickly wear out, suggests Garfinkel. This seems to be confirmed by an iron chain that was found on the top of the ramp at Lachish.

As part of the investigation of the site, an aerial survey using a SenseFly Ebee small Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) (a fixed-wing drone) was carried out to better understand the topography, the precise shape of the ramp and the location of the quarries which were the source of the stones.

During the attack on Lachish, Rab-shakeh was sent to Jerusalem by Sennacherib with a great army to demand the surrender of the city (2 Kings 18:17-20). While King Hezekiah had made good preparations for the defence of Jerusalem (2 Chron 32:2-9), and defied the demands of the Assyrians, his trust was in Yahweh and he earnestly prayed that God would deliver the city (2 Kings 19:14-19). His prayer was heard, and the mighty army of the Assyrians was overthrown that night (2 Kings 19:35).

Unlike Lachish, a siege ramp would not be raised against Jerusalem for Yahweh declared that the king of Assyria would not “cast a bank against it” (2 Kings 19:32). God would defend Jerusalem and save it (2 Kings 19:34). Yahweh will also defend and save Jerusalem from the latter day Assyrian: Russia and her allies (Mic 5:6). Such is the faithfulness of the God of Israel toward His people.

References:

  1. Chief sources for this article: Michael Bachner, ‘How Lachish fell: Study reconstructs Assyrian onslaught almost 3,000 years ago’, The Times of Israel, 9 November 2021, online at: https://www.timesofisrael.com/how-lachish-fell-study-reconstructs-assyrian-onslaught-almost-3000-years-ago/
    ‘Reconstructing The Past: Archeologists Piece Together Siege Ramp Of Lachish’, NoCamels Team, NoCamels, November 11, 2021, online at: https://nocamels.com/2021/11/archeologists-siege-ramp-lachish/
  2. Yosef Garfinkel, Jon W. Carroll, Michael Pytlik and Madeleine Mumcuoglu, ‘Constructing the Assyrian siege ramp at Lachish: texts, iconography, archaeology and photogrammetry,’ Oxford Journal of Archaeology, v. 40, issue 4 (November 2021), p. 417-439, online at: https://doi.org/10.1111/ojoa.12231
  3. British Museum, Gypsum wall panel relief: showing an assault on Lachish. Siege engines lead way up artificial ramps: online at: https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/object/W_1856-0909-14_2
  4. Gordon G. Garner, Royal Cities of Assyria, Melbourne: The Australian Institute of Archaeology, 1981, p. 107-108.