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An ancient city on the coast of Palestine about midway between Azotus and Gaza. Its territory once extended over a large area. Early in the Hellenistic period the city freed itself from Phoenician rule and enjoyed autonomy again. Under the Ptolemies Ascalon began minting coins. At first minting was restricted to copper and bronze coins, but from 111 B.C. it also minted in silver. In 104 B.C. the city became independent, and its new dating era began. The city withstood the assaults of the Hasmonaean kings and, except for Ptolemais, remained the only independent city on the Palestinian coast. Strabo (16.2.29) refers to it as a small town, and Pliny (HN 5.14) calls it an oppidum libera. Although surrounded by Jewish territories, the city retained its independence even under Herod the Great. As a city greatly influenced by Hellenistic culture, Ascalon enjoyed the king's generosity. Herod built a royal palace, a stoa, and baths (Joseph. BJ 1.422). After Herod's death Augustus gave Salome, Herod's daughter, the royal palace as a present (Joseph. AJ 17.321). At the beginning of the revolt against the Romans the insurgents massacred part of the inhabitants of Ascalon (Joseph. BJ 2.460), but these retaliated by killing 2500 of the local Jews (Joseph. BJ 2.477).

According to the ancient sources there were temples dedicated to Apollo, Atargatis, and Isis and from the coins we learn that Derketo and Herakles were also worshiped there. A prominent city also in the Late Roman and Byzantine periods, it is referred to by Eusebius (Onom. 22.15) as to the most famous city of Palestine. It was a seat of a bishop early in the Byzantine period. Eusebius (Onom. 168.3) and other Early Christian writers mention a “Well of Peace” there. A Jewish community and remains of a synagogue were found there. Two miles to the S was its port, named Maiumas Ascalon.

No archaeological investigations have been undertaken save for a limited trial dig on the ancieat mound in 1920-1921. The 64 ha of the Roman city remains unexplored although statues and other stray finds have come to light from time to time.


F. M. Abel, Géographie de la Palestine II (1938) 252-53; M. Avi-Yonah, The Holy Land from the Persian to the Arab Conquests (536 B.C. to A.D. 640). A Historical Geography (1966).


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