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Kings and Bureaucrats
1200 - 586 BCE

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In Iron Age II, nation-states arose in the southern Levant. Territory and nationality joined family and town as sources of identity.

We are determined to have a king over us, so that we also be like other nations, and our king may govern us and go out before us and fight our battles.

1 Samuel 8:14

The kingdom of Israel under David and Solomon is the best known example of the "new states" of the Iron II period. According to the Bible, the first king of Israel, Saul, died in a battle with the Philistines and his body was hung from the walls of Beth Shean. The next king, David, defeated the Philistines and united the states of Israel and Judah to rule over all Israelites for the first time. David was able to extend the size of the kingdom due to the great army he commanded. The Canaanite town of Jerusalem was conquered and became David's civil and religious capital. David's son, Solomon, continued to rule over a united and wealthy kingdom. From an archaeological perspective, however, our evidence for state government increases after Solomon (c.930 BCE) -- in the period when Israel was divided into the two kingdoms of Israel in the north and Judah to the south. The two kingdoms co-existed for approximately 200 years, mostly as allies but at times at odds with each other.

Between 900 and 750 BCE, biblical states such as Israel, Judah, Ammon and Moab developed centralized governments with increasingly professional bureaucracies. This is marked by the occurrence of large-scale public works projects, such as elaborate water-tunnels, the spread of standardized systems of weights and measures and an increase in the use of writing. The Iron II period marks the first time that the alphabet was widely used since its invention in Bronze Age Canaan.

After 734 BCE, the Assyrian Empire (based in northern Iraq) began to intervene directly in the politics of the southern Levant, helping to further concentrate power in the person of the king and his officials with whom the Assyrians dealt. Failure of the nation states to pay tribute to the Empire, or any show of resistance, brought about crushing retaliation. The northern kingdom of Israel came to an end about 722 BCE with the capture of its capital, Samaria. The southern kingdom of Judah was also forced to submit to the cruel and oppressive might of the Assyrians. Following a revolt led by the king of Judah, Hezekiah (715-686 BCE), Assyrian armies swept into Judah destroying many cities and deported the ruling class to the far reaches of the Assyrian Empire.

The Babylonians of Mesopotamia succeeded the Assyrians as the region's dominant power and ended the political independence of these Iron Age states -- most notably with the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezar's destruction of Jerusalem and the subsequent exile of the Jews to Babylon in 586 BCE.

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