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Below are articles from the following dictionary:
International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia


sit'-i (`ir, qiryah; polis):


1. Origin

2. Extent

3. Villages

4. Sites

5. External Appearance

6. General


1. Tower or Stronghold

2. High Place

3. Broad Place

4. Streets

5. General Characteristics




I. The Canaanite City.

1. Origin:

The development of the Canaanite city has been traced by Macalister in his report on the excavation at Gezer (Palestine Exploration Fund Statement, 1904, 108 ff). It originated on the slopes of a bare rocky spur, in which the Neolithic Troglodytes quarried their habitations out of the solid rock, the stones therefrom being used to form a casing to the earthen ramparts, with which the site was afterwards surrounded and which served as a protection against the intrusion of enemies. Later Semitic intruders occupied the site, stone houses were built, and high stone defense walls were substituted for the earthen stone-cased ramparts. These later walls were much higher and stronger than those of the Neilithic occupation and were the walls seen by the Israelites when they viewed the country of their promise.

2. Extent:

"The people that dwell in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified, and very great" (Nu 13:28) was the report of the spies sent by Moses to spy out the land of Canaan, to see "what cities they are that they dwell in, whether in camps, or in strongholds" (Nu 13:19-20). The difficulties of the task set before the advancing Israelites and their appreciation of the strength of the cities, is here recorded, and also in De 1:28: "The people are greater and taller than we; the cities are great and fortified up to heaven; and moreover we have seen the sons of the Anakim there." This assessment of greatness was based upon comparative ignorance of such fortifications and the want of war experience and the necessary implements of assault. It need not, therefore, be supposed that the cities were "great" except by comparison in the eyes of a tent-dwelling and pastoral people. On the contrary, most recent exploration has proved that they were small (see Pere Vincent, Canaan, 27, note 3, and Pl. I, where comparative measurements of the areas of ancient cities show that, in nine cities compared, Tell Sandahannah (barely 6 acres) is the smallest). Gezer measures approximately 22 1/4 acres and Tell el-Hesy somewhat greater. By way of illustration, it is interesting to note that the Acropolis at Athens, roughly computed, measures 7:1/4 acres, while the Castle Rock at Edinburgh is about 6 acres, or the same as the whole Seleucidan city of Tell Sandahannah. The Acropolis at Tell Zakariya measures about 2 acres or nearly one-fourth of the area of the whole city (about 8 1/2 acres). It is unlikely that Jebus (Jerusalem) itself was an exception, although in Solomonic and later times it extended to a far greater area.

3. Villages:

Besides the walled cities there were "unwalled (country) towns a great many" (De 3:5), "villages," unfortified suburbs, lying near to and under the protection of the walled cities and occupied by the surplus population. The almost incredible number of cities and their villages mentioned in the Old Testament, while proving the clannishness of their occupants, proves, at the same time, their comparatively small scale.

4. Sites:

Traces of similar populations that rise and fall are seen in China and Japan today. As a little poem says of Karakura:

"Where were palaces and merchants and the blades of warriors,

Now are only the cicadas and waving blades of grass."

"Cities that stood on their mounds" (Jos 11:13; Jer 30:18) as at Lachish and Taanach are distinguished from those built on natural hills or spurs of hills, such as Jebus, Gezer, Tell es Sail (Gath?), Bethshemesh (see Vincent, Canaan, 26 ff). The Arabic name "Tell" is applied to all mounds of ancient cities, whether situated on a natural eminence or on a plain, and the word is common in the geographical nomenclature of Palestine Sites were chosen near a water supply, which was ever the most essential qualification. For purposes of defense, the nearest knoll or spur was selected. Sometimes these knolls were of no great height and their subsequent elevation is accounted for by the gradual accumulation of debris from town refuse and from frequent demolitions; restoration being effected after a levelng up of the ruins of the razed city (see Fig. 2: Tell el-Hesy, Palestine Exploration Fund, which shows a section of the Tell from which the levels of the successive cities in distinct stratification were recovered). Closely packed houses, in narrow alleys, with low, rude mud, brick, or stone and mud walls, with timber and mud roofs, burned readily and were easily razed to the ground (Jos 8:1 ff; Jos 11:11).

It would seem that, viewed from the outside, these cities had the appearance of isolated forts, the surrounding walls being strengthened at frequent intervals, with towers. The gates were approached by narrow roads, which mounted the slopes of the mound at the meeting-point of the meandering paths on the plain below.

5. External Appearance:

The walls of Tell ej-Judeideh were strengthened by towers in the inside, and presented an unbroken circuit of wall to the outside view (see Fig. 4, PEF). Houses on the wall (Jos 2:15; 2Co 11:33) may have been seen from the outside; but it is unlikely that any building within the walls was visible, except possibly the inner tower or stronghold. The whole of the interior of the early Jerusalem (Jebus) was visible from the hills to the East, but this peculiarity of position is uncommon. Strong and high walls, garrisoned by men-at-arms seen only through the battlements, showed no weakness, and the gates, with their narrow and steep approaches and projecting defense towers, looked uninviting traps. The mystery of these unseen interiors could therefore be easily conjured into an exaggeration of strength.

6. General:

The inhabitants of the villages (banoth, "daughters," Nu 32:42 margin) held feudal occupation and gave service to their lord of the city ('em, "mother," 2Sa 20:19), in defense of their own or in attacks on their neighbor's property. Such were the cities of the truculent, marauding kings of Canaan, whose broken territories lent themselves to the upkeep of a condition, of the weakness of which, the Israelites, in their solid advance, took ready advantage.

II. The City of the Jewish Occupation.

After the conquest, and the abandonment of the pastoral life for that of agriculture and general trade, the condition of the cities varied but little, except that they were, from time to time, enlarged and strengthened. Solomon's work at Jerusalem was a step forward, but there is little evidence that, in the other cities which he is credited with having put his hands to, there was any embellishment. Megiddo and Gezer at least show nothing worthy of the name. Greek influence brought with it the first real improvements in city building; and the later work of Herod raised cities to a grandeur which was previously undreamed of among the Jews. Within the walls, the main points considered in the "layout" were, the Tower or Stronghold, the High Place, the Broad Place by the Gate, and the Market-Place.

1. Tower or Stronghold:

The Tower or Stronghold was an inner fort which held a garrison and commander, and was provisioned with "victuals, and oil and wine" (2Ch 11:11), to which the defenders of the city when hard pressed betook themselves, as a last resource. The men of the tower of Shechem held out against Abimelech (Jg 9:49) who was afterward killed by a stone thrown by a woman from the Tower of Thebez "within the city" (Jg 9:51,53). David took the stronghold of Zion, "the same is the city of David" (2Sa 5:7), which name (Zion) was afterward applied to the whole city. It is not unlikely that the king's house was included in the stronghold. Macalister (Palestine Exploration Fund Statement, 1907, 192 ff) reports the discovery of a Canaanite castle with enormously thick walls abutting against the inside of the city wall. The strongholds at Taanach and Tell el-Hesy are similarly placed; and the Acropolis at Tell Zakariya lies close to, but independent of, the city wall.

2. High Place:

The High Place was an important feature in all Canaanite cities and retained its importance long after the conquest (1Sa 9:12 ff; 1Ki 3:2; Am 7:9). It was a sanctuary, where sacrifices were offered and feasts were held, and men did "eat before Yahweh" (De 14:26). The priests, as was their custom, received their portion of the flesh (1Sa 2:12 ff). The High Place discovered at Gezer (Bible Sidelights, chapter iii) is at a lower level than the city surrounding it, and lies North and South. It is about 100 ft. in length, and when complete consisted of a row of ten rude undressed standing stones, of which eight are still remaining, the largest being 10 ft. 6 inches high, and the others varying to much smaller sizes.


3. Broad Place:

The Broad Place (Ne 8:1,3,16; Jer 5:1) seems to have been, usually, immediately inside the city gate. It was not, in early Jewish cities, an extensive open area, but simply a widening of the street, and was designated "broad" by comparison with the neighboring alleys, dignified by the name of street. It took the place of a general exchange. Justice was dispensed (Ru 4:2) and punishment was administered. Jeremiah was put in "the stocks that were in the upper gate of Benjamin" (Jer 20:2), proclamations were read, business was transacted, and the news and gossip of the day were exchanged. It was a place for all classes to congregate (Job 29:7 m; Pr 31:23), and was also a market-place (2Ki 7:1). In later times, the market-place became more typically a market square of the Greek agora plan, with an open area surrounded by covered shelters. The present market-place at Haifa resembles this. Probably it was this type of market-place referred to in Mt 11:16; 20:3 and Lu 7:32; 11:43. The street inside the Damascus gate of Jerusalem today is, in many ways, similar to the Broad Place, and retains many of its ancient uses. Here, Bedouin and Fellahin meet from the outlying districts to barter, to arbitrate, to find debtors and to learn the news of the day. Lying as it did immediately inside the gate, the Broad Place had a defensive value, in that it admitted of concentration against the forcing of the gate. There does not seem to have been any plan of either a Canaanite or early Jewish city, in which this question of defense did not predominate. Open areas within the city were "waste places" (Isa 58:12) and were not an integral part of the plan.

4. Streets:

The streets serving these quarters were not laid out on any fixed plan. They were, in fact, narrow, unpaved alleys, all seeming of equal importance, gathering themselves crookedly to the various centers. Having fixed the positions of the City Gates, the Stronghold and the High Place, the inhabitants appear to have been allowed to situate themselves the best way they could, without restriction of line or frontage. Houses were of modest proportions and were poorly built; planned, most often, in utter disregard of the square, and presenting to the street more or less dead walls, which were either topped by parapets or covered with projecting wood and mud roofs (see ARCHITECTURE, fig. 1; HOUSE).

The streets, as in the present day in Palestine,were allocated to separate trades: "bakers' street" (Jer 37:21), place "of the merchants" (Ne 3:31-32 the King James Version), "goldsmiths," etc. The Valley of the Cheesemakers was a street in the Tyropceon Valley at Jerusalem.

For a discussion of the subject of "cisterns", see the separate article under the word

5. General Characteristics:

The people pursued the industries consequent upon their own self-establishment. Agriculture claimed first place, and was their most highly esteemed occupation. The king's lands were farmed by his subjects for his own benefit, and considerable tracts of lands belonged to the aristocracy. The most of the lands, however, belonged to the cities and villages, and were allotted among the free husbandmen. Various cereals were raised, wheat and barley being most commonly cultivated. The soil was tilled and the crops reaped and threshed in much the same manner and with much the same implements as are now used in Syria. Cities lying in main trade routes developed various industries more quickly than those whose positions were out of touch with foreign traffic. Crafts and trades, unknown to the early Jews, were at first monopolized by foreigners who, as a matter of course, were elbowed out as time progressed. Cities on the seaboard of Phoenicia depended chiefly on maritime trade. Money, in the form of ingots and bars of precious metals, "weighed out" (2Ki 12:11), was current in preexilic times, and continued in use after foreign coinage had been introduced. The first native coinage dates from the Maccabean period (see Madden, Jewish Coinage, chapter iv). Slavery was freely trafficked in, and a certain number of slaves were attached to the households of the more wealthy. Although they were the absolute property of their masters, they enjoyed certain religious privileges not extended to the "sojourners" or "strangers" who sought the protection of the cities, often in considerable numbers.

The king's private property, from which he drew full revenue, lay partly within the city, but to a greater extent beyond it (1Sa 8:15-16). In addition to his private property, he received tithes of fields and flocks, "the tenth part of your seed." He also drew a tax in the shape of certain "king's mowings" (Am 7:1). Vassal kings, paid tribute; Mesha, king of Moab, rendered wool unto the king of Israel" (2Ki 3:4).

See G. A. Smith, Jerusalem, I, chapters v-x, for detailed account of the conditions of Jewish city life. For details of government, see ELDER; JUDGES; SANHEDRIN.

III. Store Cities.

These were selected by Solomon and set aside for stores of victuals, chariots, horsemen, etc. (1Ki 9:19). Jehoshaphat "built in Judah castles and cities of store" (2Ch 17:12). Twelve officers were appointed by Solomon to provision his household, each officer being responsible for the supply in one month in the year (1Ki 4:7). There were also "storehouses in the fields, in the cities, and in the villages" (1Ch 27:25 the King James Version).

IV. Levitical Cities.

These were apportioned 13 to the children of Aaron, 10 to Kohath, 13 to Gershon, 12 to Merari, 48 cities in all (Jos 21:13 ff), 6 of which were cities of Refuge (Nu 35:6); see REFUGE, CITIES OF. For further details see ARCHITECTURE; HOUSE.


PEFS; Bliss and Dickie, Excavations at Jerusalem; Macalister, Excavation at Gezer; Bliss and Macalister, Excavations in Palestine; Sellin, Excavation at Taanach; Schumacher, Excavation at Tell Mutesellim; Macalister, Bible Sidelights; G. A. Smith, Jerusalem; Historical Geography of the Holy Land; Bliss, Mounds of Many Cities; Vincent, Canaan.

Written by Arch. C. Dickie


The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.


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