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King Solomon’s Stables—Still at Megiddo? Graham I. Davies, BAR 20:01, Jan-Feb 1994.

Stables_at_MegiddoWhen Israel Finkelstein and David Ussishkin return to excavate Megiddo [see “Back to Megiddo,” in this issue], I hope they will look for King Solomon’s Stables. In the last few years, although I haven’t actually dug at Megiddo, I think I may have glimpsed them. Maybe Finkelstein and Ussishkin will be able to tell me if I’m right.

The Oriental Institute excavators thought they had found Solomon’s Stables in two areas of the mound- northeastern (the northern stables) and southern (the southern stables). These stables consisted of rows of long narrow rooms grouped in threes, with each group of three rooms separated by a solid wall. Each group of three rooms was divided within only by monolithic pillars, with stone containers, identified as mangers, between the pillars. The two side rooms were paved with stones; the center room was paved with lime plaster. The horses, it was supposed, stood in the side aisles; holes in the pillars were for tethering the horses, and the central room allowed access to them. Interesting calculations were made about the organization of Solomon’s chariot force- The Megiddo stables apparently provided accommodation for three squadrons of chariot horses, each consisting of 50 chariot-teams of three horses each, making a total of 450 horses.1

As early as 1970, the University of Pennsylvania’s James B. Pritchard questioned whether these buildings were in fact stables.2 Weren’t they instead simply storehouses? he asked. This debate still rages and has been aired by leading proponents and opponents on at least two occasions in BAR, most recently in 1992.a Finkelstein and Ussishkin accept the original interpretation of the buildings at Megiddo as stables, and I agree.

It is not that they were lost as stables. It was that they were lost as Solomon’s Stables. In the 1960s and 1970s the Israeli archaeologist Yigael Yadin undertook some modest excavations at Megiddo and corrected several stratigraphical errors in the work of the Oriental Institute archaeologists.3 The result- The stables (Yadin too argued that they were stables) belonged not to the tenth century B.C. (Solomon’s era), but to the ninth-century city of Kings Omri and Ahab. That revised dating has now been accepted by almost all archaeologists who have studied the matter. As a result, Solomon’s Stables were effectively “lost.” They became Omri’s or Ahab’s Stables instead. Unfortunately, Omri’s Stables doesn’t have quite the same ring as Solomon’s Stables.

The question that tantalized me was what lay below Omri’s or Ahab’s Stables. Was it possible—or even likely—that below some of the ninth-century stables lay earlier, tenth-century, that is, Solomonic stables?

I confess my suspicions were aroused without any hard evidence. In the most comprehensive article arguing that the ninth-century B.C. structures are in fact stables,4 University of Toronto archaeologist John Holladay calls our attention to the fact that stables were a feature of nearly all ancient Near Eastern royal cities. If Holladay is right, we would expect stables somewhere in Solomon’s Megiddo. (Half the summit of the mound has not yet been excavated down to the tenth-century levels.)

Another factor- At ancient Beer-Sheva,b the excavators found a series of buildings quite similar to the buildings identified as stables at Megiddo; but at Beer-Sheva, the excavators contend they were storehouses. Other scholars argue they were originally built as stables but may have been used as storehouses before they were destroyed. In any event, at Beer-Sheva, the archaeologists found two successive sets of these pillared buildings, one constructed on top of the other- the first in the tenth century and the second in the ninth century, according to the excavators. Did the same thing happen at Megiddo?

This led me back to the Megiddo reports published by the Oriental Institute’s excavators and then to the archives of the Megiddo expedition at Chicago’s Oriental Institute Museum. First I wanted to look at the materials on the southern stables. Visitors to the site today see the ninth-century structures from Stratum IVA. I learned that they dug below this level, presumably to the tenth-century remains, but left no plan of any earlier level. They did publish a picture,5 however, in which it is possible to pick out the Stratum IVA walls, and, presumably below them, earlier walls. I have peered long and carefully at this picture in hope of finding enough walls to indicate a “stable” plan, but trying my hardest, I cannot see one here.

I then went to the reports on the ninth-century stables in the northeastern part of the mound (the northern stables) in hope of finding King Solomon’s Stables under these buildings. Near the city wall it seems the Oriental Institute archaeologists did not dig deeper, but Yadin did. Unfortunately, the materials available from this excavation do not allow the kind of detailed study our question demands. But, based on the materials published so far, there is no sign of earlier stables here.

Finally, I looked at the stable units in the southern range of the northern stables (Squares N12 and N13 in the original report). These are no longer at the site; they were removed when the Oriental Institute excavators dug much deeper here, finally reaching a group of little Canaanite temples that were built at the end of the third millennium B.C.

The text volume of their report does not contain a plan for Squares N12 and N13 immediately below Stratum IVA. But among the photographs accompanying the text, there is a plan that shows these squares in Stratum IVA and the levels below it. This plan appears below as carefully redrawn for me by Andrew Brown, a former student of the Archaeology Department at Cambridge. In white are two ninth-century stables. In yellow we see the walls the excavators attributed to Stratum VIIB, which were destroyed in about 1200 B.C.

In tan are walls that were later than 1200 B.C. (Stratum VIIB) but earlier than the ninth century B.C. (Stratum IV). The excavators could not decide whether these walls belonged to Stratum VA–IVB, VA, VI or VIIA. The stones shown within the wall lines were stones actually found and drawn by the excavators; the walls consisting of hatched lines were reconstructed. It is immediately obvious that a very similar building existed underneath the Stratum IVA stables of the ninth century B.C. The rectangular walls of these earlier buildings extend a little further to the north than the walls of the ninth-century structures, and the earlier buildings are oriented a few degrees in a clockwise direction away from the plan of the ninth-century stables. This is especially clear in the rooms marked 365 and 366 (see also room 351).6

Note also the patch of stone paving in the northern part of room 364. In Stratum IVA we would expect this room to be paved with lime plaster, rather than stones (because it is a center room, not a side room). But in the plan of the lower building, this area was a side room, where presumably horses were kept, so we would expect it to be paved with stones.

I even found, in the original Oriental Institute publication of the excavation, a picture that reveals the skew in the underlying wall. In the photograph we are looking south, and the center room there is room 351. In Stratum IV, this center room should be paved with lime plaster, and probably was. But just left of the line of pillars, you can see a line of stones leading out of the building. This line of stones appears to be pavement, but is actually a lower wall. Notice that the line of stones is oriented slightly clockwise to the line of pillars. Outside and in front of the Stratum IV room, a close examination reveals the Stratum V stones drawn outside of room 351 in the plan above.

I believe the underlying structures, although theoretically dating any time between the 12th and tenth century B.C., were built immediately prior to the ninth-century stables, that is, during the time of King Solomon’s Megiddo. There are several reasons for this. The proximity of the walls suggests this; the later building clearly replaced the earlier. Moreover, elsewhere on the mound, remains of Stratum IVA (ninth century B.C.) lie immediately on top of tenth-century remains (Stratum VA–IVB). Without pottery evidence, we cannot be sure this lower building under the ninth-century stables is from the tenth century, but it surely seems a likely possibility.

That the underlying buildings were stables is suggested not only by the similar plan to the ninth-century stables, but also by the fact that—in an area where the Oriental Institute’s excavation diary says that the builders of the Stratum IVA stables had cut away the walls of an earlier building in order to construct the Stratum IVA stables—the excavators found part of a clay model of a chariot.

I also found supporting comments in the unpublished expedition archive. In April 1938, the expedition began removing the Stratum IVA stable floors to reveal underlying walls. At the end of the year, Gordon Loud noted, “Under the stables was apparently a large structure, most of which was wrecked for material with which to build the stables.” That entry is dated December 31, 1938. Five days later, Loud penned this notation- “There seems definitely to be two periods of the stables, at least there are two floor levels apparently utilizing the same walls.”

On January 29, 1939, Loud sent his regular letter to the director of the Oriental Institute, J. A. Wilson, informing him of the excavation’s progress. He wrote that the clearance of the Stratum IVA stables “was not entirely without interest, however, for it disclosed the fact that an earlier building, probably very similar to the stables and orientated similarly, was largly [sic] destroyed for building material for the final stables. And that, in turn, partly utilized a massive third structure, obliquely orientated …”

Finally, I even found a photograph of one of the tenth-century stable rooms (Solomon’s stables?)—indeed, one of the best preserved rooms—in the Oriental Institute’s final publication. It was taken after the Stratum IVA rooms had been removed. This picture shows one of the pre-ninth-century stable rooms intertwined with still earlier remains from about 1200 B.C. The earlier room is on the left and the pre-ninth-century stable room is on the right. In this photograph, the two walls meet at center left—at the same point where the two walls meet in Room 366, in the plan at top. The pre-ninth-century walls are in tan and the c. 1200 B.C. walls are in yellow. (Unfortunately, this picture is misleadingly captioned as published, as I realized by looking at the preceding numbered photograph in the archive.)

Admittedly, the evidence for my argument that Solomon’s Stables lie under Omri’s or Ahab’s ninth-century stables is fragmentary. As Loud recognized, the tenth-century structures here were robbed of much of their masonry to provide building material for the structures that replaced them. But I believe the evidence shows a high degree of probability that Solomon indeed had stables at Megiddo. They were on a much smaller scale than stables constructed there a century later by the north Israelite kings. Only two, possibly three units, providing accommodation for 48 or 72 horses, have been identified, as compared with the 17 units of the later layout of the city. Indeed, the need for a much larger chariot-force may have been a key factor in the ninth-century reorganization of the city.

Archaeology makes progress by destroying evidence, and the remains of Solomon’s Stables (if that is what they are) discussed here are no longer in situ. But in the extensive areas of the site where the Solomonic city has not been exposed, new evidence may be found. One of these areas includes parts of the eastern range of the ninth-century northern stables (Square M14 on the Chicago plan). Under them would be a good place for the new excavators to look for further traces of Solomon’s Stables. Let us hope that the renewed excavations at Megiddo will shed new light on this perplexing but fascinating problem.

(For further details, see Graham I. Davies, “Solomonic Stables at Megiddo After All?” Palestine Exploration Quarterly, vol. 120, July–December 1988, pp. 130–141.)

a. John D. Currid, “Puzzling Public Buildings,” BAR 18-01, and “Megiddo—Stables or Storehouses?” BAR 02-03.

b. As to whether this is really ancient Beer-Sheva or Ziklag instead, see Volkmar Fritz, “Where is David’s Ziklag?” BAR 19-03. See also the letter from Anson F. Rainey and reply from Fritz, BAR, Queries & Comments, BAR 19-06.

1. R.S. Lamon and G.M. Shipton, Megiddo 1 (Chicago- Oriental Institute Publications, 1939), pp. 38, 43–44.

2. James B. Pritchard, “The Megiddo Stables- A Reassessment,” in Near Eastern Archaeology in the Twentieth Century, Nelson Glueck Volume, J.A. Sanders, ed., (Garden City, NY- Doubleday, 1970), pp. 268–276.

3. Even before Yadin’s excavations, J.W. Crowfoot and Kathleen Kenyon questioned the dating of the Oriental Institute’s archaeologists. J.W. Crowfoot, “Megiddo—A Review,” Palestine Exploration Quarterly 72 (1940), pp. 132–147 (see pp. 142–147); K.M. Kenyon, “The Evidence of the Samaria Pottery and its Bearing on Finds at Other Sites,” in J.W. Crowfoot, G.M. Crowfoot and K.M. Kenyon, Samaria-Sebaste III (London, 1957), pp. 198–209 (see pp. 199–203).

4. John S. Holladay, “The Stables of Ancient Israel,” in The Archaeology of Jordan and Other Studies, ed. L.T. Geraty and L.G. Herr (Berrien Springs, MI- Andrews Univ. Press, 1986).

5. Megiddo 1, figure 123.

6. Early in the century, the German archaeologist Gotlieb Schumacher excavated a trench to the west of these buildings, wherein he found additional walls oriented slightly clockwise to other walls. These walls may also be part of the pre-ninth-century structure. Schumacher published a plan of these walls where the difference in orientation, in the area he called the jungeres Gemauer, can easily be seen. The plan is reprinted in the technical version of this paper, cited at the end of this article.

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