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ANCIENT FORTIFICATIONS: THE GATE

 

Drawing of reconstructed gate at Gezer

Drawing of the reconstructed gate at Gezer, a city to the south of Lachish.
It was a design common to the fortifications of many ancient cities.

The usual design of Judean and Israelite fortresses was squarish or rounded, with square protruding towers and crenellated battlements. The walls were strong, but there was one spot that could have proved weak: the city gate.

Since it was the most vulnerable spot in the defense structure, designers used all their ingenuity to make it less so. The gate at Lachish was a work of art, in military and tactical terms.

The road leading up towards the gate complex at Lachish

The ramp that formed the approach to the gates.
It was too dangerous for enemy troops to approach the city by this route.

Firstly, roads leading up to the gates were planned so that the attacker had to wheel round. This made him lose impetus and expose his right side (unprotected by his shield and so doubly vulnerable to the defenders). In situations like this the ambidextrous Benjamites had an advantage: they could use their slings and still guard themselves from the right with a buckler.

Secondly, the entrance to Lachish was guarded by a double set of gate towers. If an attacker penetrated the outer gate, he would find himself channelled into the passage between the gates, which had firing positions all along, exposing him to crossfire from two, three or four directions.

A drawing of the reconstructed city gate at Lachish

A reconstruction of the compartments in the gateway at Lachish

The gateway passage could also be blocked in an additional manner between the partition walls of the chambers flanking it, leaving an attacked trapped in the small space between the gates.

In other cities, where the entrance was defended by a single gate tower, it was usually a very strong and deep structure with internal guard rooms and upper-floor firing apertures so as to harass the enemy inside the gate.

In fortified towns where the walls followed the contours of the elevation they were built on, the gates were usually in the form of a strong tower with a narrow gateway that could be closed by two sets of doors and heavy bolts, and could also be secured in the passage between its internal units. The Bible sums these up: 'and he built ... fenced cities, with double walls, gates and bars'.

 

Reconstructed city gate at Lachish

The ramp leading up to the city has been partly cleared on debris and overgrowth.

 

The double gates at the entrance to Lachish

The excavated gateway to the city

 

 

 

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