Animal Economy in a Temple City and Its Countryside: Iron Age Jerusalem as a Case Study

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By: Lidar Sapir-Hen, Yuval Gadot, and Israel Finkelstein

Iron Age Jerusalem is the subject of perennial interest, but archaeological understanding of how the city functioned economically has grown more slowly. Our paper is an effort to understand aspects of life in Jerusalem and its hinterland in the first millennium BCE. In it we compared the animal economies of two sites that are part of one system: elite building at the capital city of Jerusalem, and an administrative center located several kilometers to its west. The results enabled us to gain insights into rural-urban relationships and socio-political mechanisms in the Iron Age Levant. These include understanding regional economic connections, the centralized temple economy and the class system.

Rural–urban relationships are a central theme in the study of early states and their economic and sociopolitical mechanisms. The Neo-Assyrian Empire of the first millennium BCE clearly featured an unprecedented degree of specialization and government-organized exploitation of the landscape, including the expansion of city life and the establishment of specialized production sites in the countryside. An immense network of territorial kingdoms and estates assured the flow of surplus goods and labor to the imperial capital cities. The influence of imperial rule is also evident in the animal economy of the Levant, where Assyrians of the late seventh century BCE promoted the production of secondary sheep products, which were transported outside of the country as trade goods or paid as taxes.

Jerusalem, the capital city of the Assyrian-dominated vassal kingdom of Judah, went through dramatic urban growth during the late eighth and seventh centuries BCE. (Iron Age IIB–C). This growth was accompanied by economic centralization. Previous research on the economy of Jerusalem in the Iron Age IIB–C noted the wealth the city had accumulated and the nature of its relationship with neighboring rural towns and villages, but a study of these relationships in regard to animal economy was essentially lacking.

In the paper, we present results from zooarchaeological investigation of two sites: the Western Wall Plaza in Jerusalem and Tel Moza, located a few kilometers to the west of the capital. In the Iron IIB-C the latter is characterized by a large number of grain storage facilities, meaning that it administered agricultural output. We also compare our finds to previous results from several locations within Jerusalem.

Location of the Western Wall Plaza and Tel Moza, with additional sites mentioned in the text. (Map by I. Ben-Ezra)

Location of the Western Wall Plaza and Tel Moza, with additional sites mentioned in the text. (Map by I. Ben-Ezra)

The study of animal economy is related to the intensity of agricultural activity, prevalence of redistribution systems, and settlement hierarchy. These, in turn, are linked to socioeconomic and sociopolitical conditions. Economic centralization should be evident in different patterns of meat distribution within various sectors of urban dwellers and between them and rural producers. Thus, we focused on patterns of livestock exploitation.

The reported assemblages differ in the prominence of various livestock animals and in patterns of their exploitation. We found that while the Western Wall Plaza’s inhabitants focused on meat consumption and did not engage in actual herding, the inhabitants of Tel Moza focused on agriculture and producing caprines’ secondary products, probably supplying sheep and cattle to Jerusalem.

Previous results from Ramat Rahel, an elite residence and a tax collecting center outside of Jerusalem, but which lacked the grain economy aspect, shows that it had a different animal economy than Tel Moza, which served as a hub for collection of grain. Thus, our study sheds light on the capital’s connections with its periphery. Following the disastrous campaign by the Assyrian king Sennacherib in 701 BCE, isolated farmhouses were built in the richer agricultural lands around the city. Certain areas were designated for specialized production: the Repha’im Valley for vines and the Soreq Valley for cereal cultivation. A similar pattern of intensification in land use was observed in other parts of the Assyrian Empire.

Finally, our study reveals a class system within Jerusalem. When comparing our results to previous results from several locations, our study also demonstrates socio-economic stratification. People living in locations close to the Temple Mount show a higher economic standing of their inhabitants compared to those in a neighborhood on the southeastern slope of the “City of David” ridge. The higher-status neighborhoods seem to have received meat through a redistribution mechanism, possibly also through the sacrificial refuse from the Temple. While those residing next to the Temple enjoyed prime meat-cuts and were not engaged in actual herding or agriculture, lower-status groups showed some level of agriculture and working of secondary products. The “City of David” ridge is the only area within the city suitable for conducting small-scale agriculture. That Temple and palace’ elite of Jerusalem had specialized herders of caprines is well attested in other studies, showing herding of “royal” herds in the Judean Desert.

Lidar Sapir-Hen, Yuval Gadot, and Israel Finkelstein are faculty members of the Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Cultures at Tel Aviv University.

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