Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Horse trading at Maggido

This morning I attended another lecture in the English Archaeology Lecture Series at Tel Aviv University. The lecturer was Norma Franklin, who is just completing a doctorate at TAU. Her subject is Iron-Age chronology at Maggido and the city of Sumaria, capital of the country of ancient Sumaria. I found one area of her discussion the most interesting: the function of a large enclosure and pillared building in Maggido.

Franklin agrees with the interpretation (proposed by original excavators in the early twentieth century, but sometimes disputed) that the building was a stable. She has recently worked with the Israel National Park authority to reposition some of the horse troughs to a realistic position. Thus site visitors will be pursuaded of this interpretation. Once the area was called "Solomon's stables" but a variety of evidence now strongly suggests that it dates from somewhat later in the Iron Age.

Several features of the site support the claim that the building was a stables. The stalls appear to be roofed, but the aisles were open, allowing protection from the sun but adequate ventillation for horses kept in a hot climate. The stables are situated near the postern gate, which is the easiest route in or out of the city -- this would provide a reasonable way for horses to enter and for waste products to be removed from the stables. A gate from the enclosure leads into the city, and thus separates it from the city.

The lecture provided a detailed view of the horse in the Iron Age. Egyptian horses were large, and suitable for pulling a war or hunting chariot. Breeding, raising, training, and selling such horses were all important functions. While the Egyptians tried to keep a monopoly on horse breeding, Israel was the site of some breeding and training. Maggido was on the trade route from Egypt, producer of military horses, to Assyria, a major power in the ancient world.

We saw photos of several Assyrian carvings showing a two-horse team pulling a chariot with a driver and an archer, as it would have been used in battle. The endeavor was labor intensive, requiring a groom, trainers, the driver, and three horses so that one would always be resting or in reserve. Iron-age military preparedness required substantial investment in such outfits.

This is Franklin’s conclusion: that the combined enclosure and stables served as the site of a seasonal trade fair. From various parts of the ancient world, people came to trade horses (and also, at other times, sheep and maybe wine and oil). Military buyers would come to procure horses for the troops, while horse dealers and breeders would bring their horses to market. A fair lasted for a set number of days, and then the participants gathered all their goods and returned to their homes.

As I did last week, I met Janet and some others at the lecture, after taking the interurban train from Rehovot to Tel Aviv. After the lecture, Janet, her daughter Abigail, and I went to her favorite shop to buy jewelry. The shop owner is a world traveler as well as a jeweler. She buys beads, silver work, stones, amulets, and other objects old and new, which she refashions into beautiful earrings, necklaces, bracelets, and rings. She also offers beautiful fabrics, scarves, clothing, ceramics, toys, and other objects from the Middle East, southeast Asia, and Africa. Her Roman trade beads from Africa are among the interesting items.

We had lunch in a developing area of Tel Aviv. Up until recently, derelict warehouses and businesses like auto repair occupied the space near the Mediterranean in North Tel Aviv. A beautiful boardwalk now connects a single line of seaside restaurants. Semi-industrial workplaces still stand in the area behind this single line. Parking areas meander about the old areas, easy to use on a weekday, but overwhelmed on weekends.

We ate a very delicious lunch outdoors while enjoying the view of rolling waves and deep blue sea and sky. The coast here is rocky, not sandy, but the board walk is only a few feet above sea level. The air temperature was cool with only a slight breeze, making it a perfect moment for sitting in the sun.

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