The historic Philistines were a people that inhabited the southern coast of Canaan around the time of the arrival of the Israelites, their territory being named Philistia in later contexts. They are spoken of by Amos (9:7) and Jeremiah (47:4) as related to Caphtor. The occupation took place during the reign of Rameses III of the Twentieth Dynasty.

The Philistines are identified with the people called Pulsata or Pulista on the Egyptian monuments; the land of the Philistines (Philistia) being termed Palastu and Pilista in the Assyrian inscriptions. They occupied the five cities of Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ekron, and Gath, along the coastal strip of southwestern Palestine, which belonged to Egypt up to the closing days of the Nineteenth Dynasty (ended 1185 BCE).

This powerful tribe made frequent incursions against the Hebrews. There was almost perpetual war between them. They sometimes held the tribes, especially the southern tribes, in servitude; at other times they were defeated with great slaughter. The Philistine cities were ruled by seranim, "lords", who acted together for the common good of the nation. After their defeat by the Israelite King David, kings replaced the seranim, and their history is of individual cities, and not of a people. Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon eventually conquered all of Syria and Palestine, and the Philistine cities became part of the Neo-Babylonian empire. Subsequently the cities were under the control of Persians, Greeks, and Romans.

The Philistines long held a monopoly on iron smithing, a skill they probably acquired during their conquests in Anatolia.

They are called Allophyli, "foreigners," in the Septuagint. In the Books of Samuel they are spoken of as uncircumcised. It would therefore appear that they were not of the Semitic culture, though after their establishment in Palestine they adopted the Semitic language of the country.

From Philistia the name of the land of the Philistines came to be extended to the whole of "Palestine."

Table of contents
1 Origin of the Philistines
2 Reference
3 External links

Origin of the Philistines

It has been suggested that the Philistines formed part of the great naval confederacy, the 'Sea Peoples', who had wandered, at the beginning of the 12th century BCE, from their homeland in southern Greece and the Aegean islands to the shores of the Mediterranean and repeatedly attacked Egypt from the late 19th Dynasty. Though eventually repulsed by Ramesses III, he was, according to the theory, apparently unable to dislodge them from their settlements in Palestine.

The connection between Mycenean culture and Philistine culture was made clearer by finds, especially pottery styles, at the excavation of Ekron (q.v.) one of the five Philistine cities in Canaan, undertaken in 1981 - 1996. At Ekron, of particular interest is a large, well constructed building which covers 240 square meters. Its walls are broad, designed to support a second story and its wide, elaborate entrance leads to a large hall, partly covered with a roof supported on a row of columns. In the floor of the hall is a circular hearth paved with pebbles, as is typical in Mycenean buildings; other unusual architectural features are paved benches and podiums. Among the finds are three small bronze wheels with eight spokes. Such wheels are known to have served as wheels for portable cultic stands in the Aegean region during this period and it is therefore assumed that this building served cultic functions.

The Harris Papyrus details the achievements of the reign of Ramesses III. In the brief description of the outcome of the battles in year 8 is the description of the fate of the Sea Peoples. Ramesses tells us that, having brought the imprisoned Sea Peoples to Egypt, he "settled them in strongholds, bound in my name. Numerous were their classes like hundred-thousands. I taxed them all, in clothing and grain from the storehouses and granaries each year" Some scholars suggest that it is likely that these "strongholds" were actually fortified towns in southern Canaan, the cities that would eventually become the five cities of the Philistines(Redford 1992, p. 289). Hebrew tradition, recorded in Genesis 10:14, included the Philistines among the sons of Egypt. The theory that the Sea Peoples included Greek-speaking tribes has been developed even further to postulate that the Philistines originated in either western Anatolia or the Greek penisula, though the biblical sources are unanimous that they were descended from Egypt (Mizraim).

The Philistines settled along the eastern Mediterranean coast at about the time when the Israelites settled in the Judean highlands. Politically independent, they preserved their traditions, which were clearly related to those of the Mycenaean culture. Architectural features and many finds indicate this relationship, especially the early Philistine pottery decorated in shades of brown and black, which later developed into the distinctive black and red decorations on white slip.


D. B. Redford, Egypt, Canaan and Israel in Ancient Times, Princeton University Press, 1992 Trude Dothan, Dothan Moshe, Moshe Dothan, People of the Sea: The Search for the Philistines, 1992 An introduction by the archaeologists of Ashdod. "Ancient Ashkelon," National Geographic, January 2001, pp. 66-90.

External links


British writers of the 19th century and very early 20th century sometimes referred to the Arabs of Palestine as "Philistines". This was apparently not due to a belief in a strong connection with the ancient Philistines, but merely reflects the convention that "Philistine" is the correct word for "native of "Palestine".

The word philistine (q.v.), in non-historical usage, refers to people exhibiting cultural intolerance or a restrictive moral code, unappreciative of wider ideas.