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Who were the Philistines, and where were they from?
The Philistines were an ancient people who lived on the southern coast of Canaan from the 12th century BC (arriving at about the same time as the Israelites) until 604 BC, when their polity[1] or confederation, after having already been controlled for centuries by the Neo-Assyrian Empire, was finally destroyed by King Nebuchadnezzar II of the Neo-Babylonian Empire (aka The Second Babylonian Empire. After becoming part of Nebuchadnezzar’s empire and its successor, the Persian Empire, they lost their distinct ethnic identity and disappeared from the historical and archaeological record by the late 5th century BC[2].

Samson Captured by the Philistines, Guercino (Giovanni Francesco Barbieri)
Picture Credit: Samson Captured by the Philistines, Guercino (Giovanni Francesco Barbieri)” by lutefiskintexas is marked with CC PDM 1.0.
Public Domain.

Though the primary source of information about the Philistines is the Hebrew Bible, they are first identified in reliefs at the Temple of Ramses III at Medinet Habu.

The Philistines are best known from the Bible as the Israelites’ enemies, but they were much more than that. Recent archaeological discoveries help understand their culture, economy, and even origins. In the Spring 2022 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, Daniel M. Master of Wheaton College looked at the biblical and archaeological evidence for the Philistines’ roots in an excellent paper: Piece by Piece: Exploring the Origins of the Philistines.[3]

Several theories exist about the origins of the Philistines. The Hebrew Bible mentions in two places[4] that the Philistines originate from Caphtor (possibly Crete/Minoa)[5]. The Septuagint Bible connects the Philistines to other biblical groups such as Caphtorim and the Cherethites and Pelethites, which again have been identified with the island of Crete[6] – leading to the popular theory of Philistines having an Aegean origin[7]. In 2016, a large Philistine cemetery was discovered near Ashkelon (a coastal city in the Southern District of Israel some 30 miles south of Tel Aviv), containing more than 150 bodies buried in oval-shaped graves.

A 2019 genetic study found that, while all three Ashkelon populations derive most of their ancestry from the local Semitic-speaking Levantine gene pool, the early Iron Age population was genetically distinct due to a European-related admixture: a genetic characteristic that is no longer detectable in the later Iron Age population.

According to the authors of the genetic study, the admixture was likely due to a “gene flow from a European-related gene pool” during the Bronze to Iron Age transition, which supports the theory that a migration event occurred.[8]

The origins of the Philistine population have eluded scholars for centuries. The 2019 analysis of DNA extracted from skeletons unearthed at Ashkelon, on Israel’s southern coast, confirms the theory that the earliest Philistines had at least some European ancestry, most likely from the south of the continent. This supports a long-held theory, based on clues from ancient texts and similarities in archaeological finds from the two regions, that the Philistines came from the Aegean[9].

A Negative Portrayal[10]
In addition to their hostility towards the Israelites, the Philistines are remembered as uncircumcised people with advanced technology and a formidable military (Judges 14:3; 1 Samuel 13:19–20; Exodus 13:17). The Philistines frequently encroached on Israelite territory, which led to several battles, including the famous clash between David, the Israelite, and Goliath, the Philistine (1 Samuel 17). They were condemned for being idol worshippers (1 Samuel 5:1–5) and soothsayers (Isaiah 2:6). In short, the Philistines are portrayed negatively in the Bible. Today, the name “Philistine” is sometimes used to describe someone who is warlike or who doesn’t appreciate art or culture.

Picture Credit: IMG_3338 Carl Bloch 1834-1890 Danish Samson and the Philistines 1863 Copenhague Statens Museum for Kunst” by jean louis mazieres is marked with CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

They lived in the cities in the heartland of ancient Philistia on the Mediterranean Sea’s southeastern shore. Ashdod, Ashkelon, Ekron, and Gath have been excavated in recent decades, and findings from these cities show that the Philistines had distinct pottery, weapons, tools, and houses.

They also ate pork and had vast trade networks. Philistine culture flourished during the Iron Age (the 12th to the 6th centuries BC). As with the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, the Philistines lost their autonomy toward the end of the Iron Age.

They became subservient and paid tribute to the Assyrians, Egyptians, and then Babylonians, the great superpowers of the region who punished rebellion with severity.

Battles between the Israelites and the Philistines
The battles described in the Bible as having occurred between the Israelites and the Philistines are[11]:

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Illustration depicting a Philistine victory over the Israelites (1896)
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Attribution: Internet Archive Book Images, No restrictions, via Wikimedia Commons

History of the Philistine People
During the Late Bronze Age collapse[12] (between circa1200 and 1150 BC – preceding the Greek Dark Ages), an apparent confederation of seafarers known as the Sea Peoples is recorded as attacking ancient Egypt and other Eastern Mediterranean civilisations[13].

The Sea Peoples
While their exact origins are a mystery and probably diverse, it is generally agreed that the Sea Peoples had origins in the greater Southern European area, including western Asia Minor, the Aegean, and the islands of the Mediterranean[14]. Egypt, in particular, repelled numerous attempted invasions from the Sea Peoples, most famously at the Battle of the Delta, where the Pharaoh Ramesses III defeated a massive invasion force that had already plundered Hattusa, Carchemish, Cyprus, and the Southern Levant.

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Philistine pottery, Corinne Mamane Museum of Philistine Culture
Attribution: Bukvoed, CC BY 4.0 <;, via Wikimedia Commons

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This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license.

Egyptian sources name one of these implicated Sea Peoples as the pwrꜣsꜣtj, generally transliterated as either Peleset or Pulasti. Following the Sea Peoples’ defeat, Ramesses III allegedly relocated a number of the pwrꜣsꜣtj to southern Canaan, as recorded in an inscription from his funerary temple in Medinet Habu and the Great Harris Papyrus[15]/[16]. Although an archaeological investigation has been unable to correlate any such settlement existing during this time[17]/[18], coupled with the name Peleset/Pulasti and the Sea Peoples’ supposed Aegean origins, many scholars have identified the pwrꜣsꜣtj as being the Philistines[19]. Since 1846, scholars have connected the biblical Philistines with the Egyptian “Peleset” inscriptions, all of which[20] appear from c.1150 BC to c.900 BC, just as archaeological references to Kinaḫḫu, or Ka-na-na (Canaan) came to an end[21] and since 1873 comparisons have been drawn between them and the AegeanPelasgians.” Archaeological research to date has been unable to corroborate a mass settlement of Philistines during the Ramesses III era.

Typically “Philistine” artefacts begin appearing in Canaan by the 12th century BC. Pottery of Philistine origin has been found far outside of what would later become the core of Philistia, including at the majority of Iron Age I sites in the Jezreel Valley; however, because the number of pottery finds is light, it is assumed that the Philistines’ presence in these areas was not as strong as in their main territory and that they probably were a minority which had assimilated into the native Canaanite population by the 10th century BC[22].

The Philistines disappeared from written record following the conquest of the Levant[23] by the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar II towards the end of the 7th century BC – when Ashkelon, Ekron and many other cities from the region were completely destroyed[24].

Picture Credit: Samson Slays a Thousand Men with the Jawbone of a Donkey
Circa 1896-1902, by James Jacques Joseph Tissot, Author (French, 1836-1902) and followers, at the Jewish Museum, New York. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

File URL:

Deuteronomistic History[25]
Rabbinic sources state that the Philistines of Genesis were a different people from the Philistines of the Deuteronomistic history (the series of books from Joshua to 2 Kings).[26] According to the Talmud (Chullin 60b), the Philistines of Genesis intermingled with the Avvites. This differentiation was also held by the authors of the Greek Old Testament or Septuagint.[27]

Judges 13:1 tells that the Philistines dominated the Israelites in the times of Samson, who fought and killed over a thousand[28]. According to 1 Samuel 5–6, they even captured the Ark of the Covenant for a few months. The Bible paints the Philistines as the main enemy of the Israelites (before the rise of the Neo-Assyrian Empire and Neo-Babylonian Empire) with a state of almost perpetual war between the two. The Philistine cities lost their independence to Assyria, and revolts in the following years were all crushed. They were subsequently absorbed into the Neo-Babylonian Empire and the Achaemenid Empire and disappeared as a distinct ethnic group by the late 5th century BC.[29]

Modern archaeologists agree that the Philistines were different from their neighbours: their arrival on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean in the early 12th century BC is marked by pottery with close parallels to the ancient Greek world, the use of an Aegean (instead of a Semitic) script, and the consumption of pork[30]. Nevertheless, Cretans were not too unfamiliar with the Levant, with connections established after the Minoan era, as seen by their influence on Tel Kabri.[31]

The population of the area associated with the Philistines is estimated to have been around 25,000 in the 12th century BC, rising to a peak of 30,000 in the 11th century BC. The Canaanite nature of the material culture and toponyms suggest that much of this population was indigenous, such that the migrant element would likely constitute less than half the total – and perhaps much less.[32]

Nothing is known for certain about the language of the Philistines. Pottery fragments from the period of around 1500–1000 BC have been found bearing inscriptions in non-Semitic languages, including one in a Cypro-Minoan script.[33]

The Bible does not mention any particular language problems between the Israelites and the Philistines, as it does with other groups up to the Assyrian and Babylonian occupations.[34]

Later, Nehemiah 13:23-24 writing under the Achaemenids records that when Judean men intermarried women from Moab, Ammon and Philistine cities, half the offspring of Judean marriages with women from Ashdod could speak only their mother tongue, Ašdōdīṯ, not Judean Hebrew (Yehūdīṯ); although by then this language might have been an Aramaic dialect.[35]

There is some limited evidence in favour of the assumption that the Philistines were originally Indo-European-speakers, either from Greek or Luwian speakers from the coast of Asia Minor, based on some Philistine-related words found in the Bible not appearing to be related to other Semitic languages.[36]

Such theories suggest that the Semitic elements in the language were borrowed from their neighbours in the region. For example, the Philistine word for captain, “seren”, may be related to the Greek word tyrannos (thought by linguists to have been borrowed by the Greeks from an Anatolian language, such as Luwian or Lydian).

Although most Philistine names are Semitic (such as Ahimelech, Mitinti, Hanun, and Dagon)[37], some Philistine names, such as Goliath, Achish, and Phicol, appear to be of non-Semitic origin, and Indo-European etymologies have been suggested. Recent finds of inscriptions written in Hieroglyphic Luwian in Palistin substantiate a connection between the language of the kingdom of Palistin and the Philistines of the southwestern Levant.[38]

The deities worshipped in the area were Baal, Astarte, Asherah, and Dagon, whose names or variations had already appeared in the earlier attested Canaanite pantheon.[39] Another word affirmed on the Ekron Royal Dedicatory Inscription is PT[-]YH, unique to the Philistine sphere and possibly representing a goddess in their pantheon.[40] The Philistines may also have worshipped Qudshu and Anat.[41] at notes:

‘There are no documents in the Philistine language, which was probably replaced by Canaanite, Aramaic, and, later, Greek. Little is known of the Philistine religion; the Philistine gods mentioned in biblical and other sources, such as Dagan, Ashteroth (Astarte), and Beelzebub, have Semitic names and were probably borrowed from the conquered Canaanites. Until their defeat by David, the Philistine cities were ruled by seranim, “lords,” who acted in council for the common good of the nation. After their defeat, the seranim were replaced by kings.’

Although the Bible cites Dagon as the main Philistine god, there is a stark lack of any evidence which indicates the Philistines had any particular predisposition to the worship of Dagon. No evidence of Dagon worship is evident at Philistine sites, with even theophoric[42] names invoking the deity being absent from the already limited corpus of known Philistine names. In a further assessment of discoveries from the Iron Age I, the worship of Dagon in any immediate Canaanite context, let alone one which is indisputably Philistine, was seemingly non-existent.[43]

Still, this does not imply that worship of Dagon was completely unheard of amongst the Philistines, and multiple mentions of a city in Assyrian, Phoenician, and Egyptian sources known as Beth Dagon may imply the god was venerated in at least some parts of Philistia.[44]

The most common material religious artefacts from Philistine sites are goddess figurines/chairs, sometimes called Ashdoda, implying a dominant female figure consistent with Ancient Aegean religion[45]/[46].

Cities excavated in the area attributed to where the Philistines lived provide evidence of careful town planning, including industrial zones. The olive industry of Ekron alone includes about 200 olive oil installations. Engineers estimate that the city’s production may have been more than 1,000 tons, 30 per cent of Israel’s present-day production.[47]

There is considerable evidence for a large industry in fermented drinks. Finds include breweries, wineries, and retail shops marketing beer and wine. Beer mugs and wine kraters are among the most common pottery finds.

The Philistines also seemed to be experienced metalworkers, as complex wares of gold, bronze, and iron have been found at Philistine sites as early as the 12th century BC and artisanal weaponry. Further evidence of the Philistine domination of the metallurgical market lies in the Hebrew Bible, which claims that the Israelites relied heavily on Philistine blacksmiths for iron tools and weapons, despite the near-constant state of war between the two groups.[48]

Sources and Further Reading

David and Goliath by Robert Temple Ayres
Picture Credit: David and Goliath by Robert Temple Ayres” by Fried Dough is marked with CC PDM 1.0.

  1. A polity is an identifiable political entity – a group of people with a collective identity who are organised by some form of institutionalised social relations and able to mobilise resources. A polity can be any other group of people organised for governance (such as a corporate board), the government of a country, country subdivision, or a sovereign state. Source: Ferguson, Yale; Mansbach, Richard W. (1996). “Polities: Authority, Identities, and Change”. Columbia, South Carolina: University of South Carolina Press. More at:
  2. Source: Meyers, Eric M. (1997). The Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Near East: Volume 4. Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-506512-3.
  3. Source:
  4. See: Deuteronomy 2:23 and Jeremiah 47:4.
  5. Source: “Philistine people”. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. According to biblical tradition (Deuteronomy 2:23; Jeremiah 47:4), the Philistines came from Caphtor (possibly Crete, although there is no archaeological evidence of a Philistine occupation of the island.)
  6. Source: Romey, Kristin. 2016. “Discovery of Philistine Cemetery May Solve Biblical Mystery.” National Geographic.
  7. Source: W. Max Müller (1906). “Cherethites”. In Isidore Singer (ed.). Jewish Encyclopedia. Ktav Publishing House.
  8. Sources: (1) Feldman, Michal; Master, Daniel M.; Bianco, Raffaela A.; Burri, Marta; Stockhammer, Philipp W.; Mittnik, Alissa; Aja, Adam J.; Jeong, Choongwon; Krause, Johannes (3 July 2019). “Ancient DNA sheds light on the genetic origins of early Iron Age Philistines”. Science Advances. 5 (7): eaax0061. Bibcode:2019SciA….5…61F. doi:10.1126/sciadv.aax0061. PMC 6609216. PMID 31281897 and (2) Clare Wilson (3 July 2019). “Ancient DNA reveals that Jews’ biblical rivals were from Greece”. New Scientist.
  9. Source:
  10. Source:
  11. Source:
  12. See:
  13. Source: “Sea People”. Encyclopædia Britannica, at
  14. Source: Syria: Early history”. Encyclopædia Britannica,
  15. See:
  16. See: Killebrew, Ann E. (2005). Biblical Peoples and Ethnicity: An Archaeological Study of Egyptians, Canaanites, Philistines, and Early Israel, 1300-1100 B.C.E. Atlanta, Georgia: Society of Biblical Literature. ISBN 1-58983-097-0.
  17. Source: Israel Finkelstein, Is The Philistine Paradigm Still Viable?. See:
  18. See:
  19. Source: Killebrew, Ann E. (2005). Biblical Peoples and Ethnicity: An Archaeological Study of Egyptians, Canaanites, Philistines, and Early Israel, 1300-1100 B.C.E. Atlanta, Georgia: Society of Biblical Literature. ISBN 1-58983-097-0.
  20. See:
  21. Source: Drews, Robert (1998), “Canaanites and Philistines”, Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, 23 (81): 39–61, doi:10.1177/030908929802308104, S2CID 144074940
  22. Source: Avner Raban, “The Philistines in the Western Jezreel Valley”, Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, No. 284 (November 1991), pp. 17–27, The University of Chicago Press on behalf of The American Schools of Oriental Research.
  23. The Levant is an approximate historical geographical term referring to a large area in the Eastern Mediterranean region of Western Asia. In its narrowest sense, which is in use today in archaeology and other cultural contexts, it is equivalent to a stretch of land bordering the Mediterranean in southwestern Asia (the historical region of Syria (“greater Syria”), which includes present-day Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, Palestine and most of Turkey southwest of the middle Euphrates). Its overwhelming characteristic is that it represents the land bridge between Africa and Eurasia. In its widest historical sense, the Levant included all of the Eastern Mediterranean with its islands; that is, it included all of the countries along the Eastern Mediterranean shores, extending from Greece to Cyrenaica in eastern Libya. Source:
  24. Source: Jarus, Owen (16 July 2016). “Who Were the Philistines?”. Live Science.
  25. The Deuteronomist is one of the sources identified through source criticism as underlying much of the Hebrew Bible.
  26. See: Jobling, David; Rose, Catherine (1996), “Reading as a Philistine”, in Mark G. Brett (ed.), Ethnicity and the Bible, Brill, p. 404, ISBN 9780391041264, Rabbinic sources insist that the Philistines of Judges and Samuel were different people altogether from the Philistines of Genesis. (Midrash Tehillim on Psalm 60 (Braude: vol. 1, 513); the issue here is precisely whether Israel should have been obliged, later, to keep the Genesis treaty.) This parallels a shift in the Septuagint’s translation of Hebrew pĕlištim. Before Judges, it uses the neutral transliteration phulistiim, but beginning with Judges it switches to the pejorative allophuloi. [Footnote 26: To be precise, Codex Alexandrinus starts using the new translation at the beginning of Judges and uses it invariably thereafter, Vaticanus likewise switches at the beginning of Judges, but reverts to phulistiim on six occasions later in Judges, the last of which is 14:2.]
  27. Septuagint (from the Latin: septuaginta - ’seventy’; often abbreviated 70 or in Roman numerals, LXX), the earliest extant Greek translation of books from the Hebrew Bible.
  28. See Judges 15 at:
  29. Source: Meyers, Eric M. (1997). The Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Near East: Volume 4. Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-506512-3.
  30. Source: “Ancient DNA may reveal origin of the Philistines”. National Geographic Society. 3rd July 2019.
  31. Source: “Remains of Minoan fresco found at Tel Kabri”; “Remains Of Minoan-Style Painting Discovered During Excavations of Canaanite Palace”, ScienceDaily, 7th December 2009
  32. Source:
  33. Source: Philippe Bohstrom, ‘Archaeologists find first-ever Philistine cemetery in Israel,’ Haaretz 10th July 2016.
  34. Source: Tenney, Merrill (2010), The Zondervan Encyclopedia of the Bible, vol. 4, Zondervan, ISBN 9780310876991, at:
  35. Source: Peter Machinist (2013). “Biblical Traditions: The Philistines and Israelite History”. In Eliezer D. Oren (ed.). The Sea Peoples and Their World: A Reassessment. University of Pennsylvania Press. pp. 53–83., p. 64, at:
  36. Source: Rabin, Chaim (1963). “Hittite Words in Hebrew”. Orientalia. 32: 113–139.
  37. Source: Tenney, Merrill (2010), The Zondervan Encyclopedia of the Bible, vol. 4, Zondervan, ISBN 9780310876991, Little is known of the Philistine language or script. There is never any indication in the Bible of a language problem between the Israelites and Philistines. The Philistines must have adopted the indigenous Semitic language soon after arriving in Canaan, or they might have already known a Semitic language before they came.
  38. Sources: (1) Harrison, Timothy P. (December 2009). “NEO-HITTITES IN THE “LAND OF PALISTIN”: Renewed Investigations at Tell Taʿyinat on the Plain of Antioch”. Near Eastern Archaeology. 72 (4): 174–189. doi:10.1086/NEA25754026. S2CID 166706357. (2) Weeden, Mark (December 2013). “After the Hittites: the kingdoms of Karkamish and Palistin in northern Syria” (PDF). Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies. 56 (2): 1–20. doi:10.1111/j.2041-5370.2013.00055.x. (3) Emanuel, Jeffrey P. (2015). “King Taita and his ‘Palistin’: philistine state or neo-hittite kingdom?”. Antiguo Oriente: Cuadernos del Centro de Estudios de Historia del Antiguo Oriente 13, 2015.
  39. Source: Fahlbusch & Bromiley 2005, “Philistines”, p. 185.
  40. Source: David Ben-Shlomo, Philistine Cult and Religion According to Archaeological Evidence, January 2019 Religions 10(2):74, DOI: 10.3390/rel10020074
  41. Source: Gitin, Seymour, and Mordechai Cogan. “A New Type of Dedicatory Inscription from Ekron.” Israel Exploration Journal, vol. 49, no. 3/4, Israel Exploration Society, 1999, pp. 193–202,
  42. For an explanation, see:
  43. Source: Emanuel, J. P. (2011). Digging for Dagon: A Reassessment of the Archaeological Evidence for a Cult of Philistine Dagon in Iron I Ashdod. In Society of Biblical Literature Annual Meeting . San Francisco, see:
  44. Source: Emanuel, J. P. (2011). Digging for Dagon: A Reassessment of the Archaeological Evidence for a Cult of Philistine Dagon in Iron I Ashdod. In Society of Biblical Literature Annual Meeting . San Francisco, CA.
  45. Source:
  46. Source: David Ben-Shlomo, Philistine Cult and Religion According to Archaeological Evidence, January 2019 Religions 10(2):74, DOI: 10.3390/rel10020074
  47. Source: “Philistines | Follow The Rabbi”.
  48. Source: Gitin, Seymour (November–December 2005). “Excavating Ekron: Major Philistine City Survived by Absorbing Other Cultures”. Biblical Archaeology Society Library.


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