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Philistines in hieroglyphics
U33 A1 B1

Prst / Pw-rst
Peleset / Pelischti / Philistines
Q3 Z7
D21 Z1
Aa18 Z1
T14 A1 Z3

Prwsṯ / Pw-r-s3-ṯ
Philistines pentapolis.gif
The five cities of the Pentapolis of the Philistines (red)

The Philistines (also Pelishti ; Hebrew פְּלִשְׁתִּים pelištīm ; New Egyptian Peleset ) were a people who from the 12th century BC Inhabitedthe coast of historical Palestine .


The settlement activity in the fertile south of Palestine was initially under the patronage of Egypt. The coastal cities of Gaza , Ashkelon and Ashdod were at the end of the 12th century BC. BC still Egyptian centers. The Philistines founded a five-city federation ( Pentapolis ) of the city-states Ashdod, Ashkelon, Ekron (or Akkaron, today: Kiryat Ekron), Gat (cf. Tell es-Safi ) and Gaza. The cities were ruled by individual princes. The city-states formed a confederation , which was probably not organized statically. The focus changed from city to city over the course of time. With the dwindling of Egyptian power, the Philistines assumed supremacy in the region, which - according to the Bible - they retained until King David's reign.

According to the Bible, the Philistines fought bitter battles with the Israelites and Canaanites over several centuries as they expanded inland , from the time of the judges to the early days of the kings . Relevant biblical reports are not supported by excavation results. The Bible reports that in an hour of distress, the Israelites crowned Saul as their first king. He achieved some success but was ultimately defeated by the Philistines. Only his successor, King David, succeeded in pushing back the Philistines. The story of David's fight against the giant Philistine warrior Goliath in Book 1 of Samuel is legendary . Goliat's equipment is of particular importance:

Greek hoplite

“A pioneer named Goliath from Gath stepped out of the Philistine camp. He was six cubits and a span tall. He had a bronze helmet on his head and he wore a bronze scale armor that weighed 5000  shekels . He had bronze rails on his legs and a bronze sickle sword hung between his shoulders . The shaft of his spear was (as thick) as a weaver's tree and the iron spearhead weighed 600 shekels. His shield bearer walked before him. "

- 1 Saturday 17.4–7  EU

The description of Goliat's equipment fits very well with the appearance of the Greek hoplites . Their offensive weapons were a steel-tipped thrust lance and a steel-bladed sword . There were also pieces of armor such as the helmet , some of which were decorated with an imposing comb, as well as greaves made of bronze and a breastplate that was used up to the 5th century BC. Was made of bronze ( bell armor ) or leather. In contrast, the Old Testament armament description had little in common with the Philistines of earlier times. The heavy armor mentioned was before the 7th century BC. Very rare, but afterwards belonged to the standard of the Greek hoplites. The Old Testament report on Goliath is therefore likely to have entered the biblical tradition anachronistically and from the 7th century BC at the earliest. Come from BC.

According to the Bible, the Philistines achieved supremacy through their technical and military superiority, based on perfect equipment and a trained professional army. They maintained small garrisons in strategically important locations and mobile commandos that undertook forays and punitive expeditions from Philistine bases . They had adopted this system from the Egyptians. For a long time, chariots and archers gave the Philistines supremacy over the region. They forced taxes, stifled any resistance in the bud and maintained their monopoly on iron production ( 1 Sam 13: 19-21  EU ). At times, however, according to the biblical Simson story, there may also have been approaches to good neighborly relations.

According to the Bible, the threat posed by the Philistines and the resulting better military organization contributed significantly to the emergence of kingship in Israel, which was previously mainly organized according to tribes. From the middle of the royal period (around the 9th century BC), the Philistines are mentioned relatively suddenly and without precise explanation in the Bible, while other neighboring peoples come to the fore.

In Amos 1,8  EU they are threatened with final annihilation: “And I want to exterminate the inhabitants of Ashdod and the one who holds the scepter from Ascalon and turn my hand against Ekron that what is left of the Philistines should perish , says the LORD ”. Amos was until 738 BC. Active. 732 BC Was the league of cities from the Assyrians under King Tiglat-Pileser III. subject. Towards the end of the 5th century BC They disappear as an independent ethnic group.

Written sources

  • Ancient Egypt : The Philistines are equated by many researchers with the plst (Peleset, Palaistu), which are derived from texts from the time of Ramses III. known and counted among the sea ​​peoples .
  • Assyria / Babylonia : Accordingly, the region in which the Philistines lived was established in the 8th century BC. In Assyrian inscriptions as Palastu .
  • Persia : The Persian King Darius I calls the inhabitants of the same region Palastai or Palasti .
  • Bible : The Philistines are first mentioned in the Bible in Genesis, chapter 10, verse 14 as descendants of Ham, the youngest son of Noah; then again in Genesis, chapter 21: Abimelech and his general Pichol leave the land that they inhabited together with Abraham and return to the land of the Philistines. According to Genesis 26, Isaac travels to Abimelech, king of the Philistines, in a famine. The prophet Amos (8th century BC) wrote ( Am 9.7  EU ): "Didn't I bring Israel up from the land of Egypt and also the Philistines from Kaftor and Aram from Kir ?" The prophet Amos may have a philistine one Known epic that described the arrival of the Philistines in their new homeland. Kaphtor is usually equated with the Egyptian Keftiu and means Crete . In the Septuagint it is translated as Cappadocia .

History of the designation

The name " Palestine " goes back to the Philistines. The Romans reorganized this part of their empire after the Bar Kochba uprising (132-135) and merged the provinces of Syria and Judaea to form the province of Syria Palestine . In 193/194 this province was divided again, including the province of Palestine . This name has held up for the region through the Byzantine, Arab and Ottoman periods. Today's Palestinians take their name from this region.


The origin of the Philistines has not yet been fully clarified. In 2019, however, scientists from the Max Planck Institute for the History of Man in Jena provided genetic evidence for the theory that the Philistines came to the south as European immigrants across the Mediterranean in the 12th century BC. According to the findings, they settled there and over the centuries they were assimilated by the indigenous local population.

Peleset and Tjeker in the sea battle against Ramses III.

They belonged to the " sea ​​peoples ", a coalition of foreign peoples who are mentioned several times in Egyptian sources. During the reign of Ramses III. (approx. 1187–1156 BC ) the Philistines , known as Peleset ( plst ), were involved in attacks by the sea peoples on Egypt by sea (in the 8th year of reign) and on land. Philistines are mentioned both on the representations of the mortuary temple in Medinet Habu and in the Great Harris Papyrus . In the latter it is reported that Ramses III, after successfully warding off the threat to Egypt, had Philistines settle in the Canaanite region. The origin of most of the other sea peoples is also uncertain and very controversial in research. Only the Luka can be identified with the inhabitants of the Lukka countries in Southwest Asia Minor (the ancient landscape of Lycia ). Greece, Crete and the Aegean Islands as well as the north-west, west and south coast of Asia Minor are mostly assumed to be the home of the other forces involved in the “Sea Peoples Coalition”. For the Scherden as well as the Tjeker and / or Šekeleš an origin from Sardinia or Sicily / Lower Italy is assumed in research.

According to the "Aegean hypothesis", the Philistines came from the Aegean islands and mainland Greece and identified with the Pelasgians . An equation with the Pelasgians, however, already harbors major problems etymologically, whereupon u. a. Lochner-Hüttenbach pointed out.

A pictogram on the Phaistos disc was seen as an indication of a Cretan origin of the Philistines . The pictogram, which appears several times on the disc, represents a head with possibly a headdress, which is supposed to have a resemblance to the headdress of the Peleset, which is on the sea peoples reliefs of the mortuary temple of Ramses III. are depicted in Medinet Habu . The headdress has also been compared by researchers with a Karian headdress or a mohawk .

Hardly any written records of the Philistines have survived. The tablets from Ashkelon found in 2007 by Frank Moore Cross and Lawrence E. Stager bear inscriptions from the Cypriot Minoan type, which confirms the hypothesis of an Aegean origin of the Philistines.

The "Anatolian Hypothesis" regards the west and south coast of Asia Minor as the land of origin of the Philistines. One tries to prove this on the one hand by the Greek legend, according to which Perseus and Mopsos , who are connected with the Danaërn and Asia Minor, waged war with the coastal cities of Palestine. After that Perseus fought a sea monster off Jaffa , and Mopsus conquered Askalon . Furthermore, reference is made to ancient historians, according to whose description the headdress of the Karians resembled that of the Philistines.

The historical value of this tradition is questionable. So far, no concrete geographical delimitation of the Philistine's country of origin has been used. For seafarers like the Philistines, the coasts of Greece, Asia Minor and the Aegean Islands formed a closed, organic world in which they maintained a variety of relationships.

Another possibility of ethnogenesis is that the native inhabitants of the Palestinian coast, under the strong influence of Cypriot merchants, developed a new identity and also united more politically.



Medinet Habu's reliefs show warships, chariots and chariots and give an idea of ​​the external appearance of the Peleset. The men were clean-shaven. The Philistines wielded a small round shield and sword. On the representations on the Egyptian wall reliefs by Medinet Habu, the headgear of the Philistines was a radiant crown, possibly made of horsehair.


Excavations of the remains of the Philistine culture testify to intense relations with other Mediterranean countries. This is clearly evident in the pottery, which derives from the late Mycenaean , as found particularly in Cyprus, also on Rhodes , on the southern Anatolian coast, in the Levant and on the Greek mainland. The pottery of the 12th and early 11th centuries is two-tone (red and black, polychrome ware) and decorated with geometric animal motifs, mainly bird and fish motifs. Seals were found that betray Aegean influence or bear symbols that are similar to the Cypriot-Minoan script .
The Philistines adapted to the cultural influences of other peoples. The quality of the ceramics described above decreased more and more in the 11th century.


Their ships had some innovations: stone anchors with wooden tines, movable sails and a ship's lookout.


The Philistines introduced carved stone blocks into the architecture of the area, as is also documented in Cyprus at this time. They built large cities with spacious houses and palaces. The temples of their highest god Dagān were wide halls, the pillars of which supported half-open roofs. Here there were fire sacrifice sites, mobile altars and prayer platforms.


The Philistines worshiped several gods and goddesses, including Dagān , Derketo and Ba'al Zebul . The Philistines adopted the language and gods of the Canaanites . However, indications of an independent cult have also been found.


The iron production was a special skill of the Philistines. One drank beer and wine . Ekron was known for high quality olive oil . The menu consisted of beef, sheep, poultry, goat and pork.

Descendants of the Philistines

In the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there are opinions on both sides that the Palestinians of today regard as descendants of the Philistines, whereby the conflict, historically exaggerated, is presented as a continuation of the struggle of the Israelites and the Philistines for dominance in the country described in the Bible. Historically, however, this is questionable. The Philistines had been absorbed into the Canaanite population centuries before the Roman conquest. Even before the Jewish War and the destruction of Jerusalem, the population of Palestine consisted of the Jews from various other peoples (e.g. Idumeans ) who gradually lost their character and merged with one another due to the common Aramaic language and membership of the Roman Empire. The Palestinians are descendants of the Byzantine provincial population, who were gradually Islamized after the Arab conquest, and the immigrant Arabs . Other influences, especially those from the Ottoman period, must also be taken into account.

Pseudoscientific historical research

According to the extremely controversial Atlantis hypothesis according to Jürgen Spanuth , the alleged homeland of the Philistines is said to have been an island next to Heligoland (= Atlantis ), which has since disappeared (I- Kaphtor = south beach). The types of ships with a large square sail and “masthead” as well as curved stems would have great similarities with the types of ships of the “Northern peoples”. From today's point of view, this is nonsensical, since there were undoubtedly no sailing ships in Northern Europe at that time, but only rowing boats, while there is earlier evidence of sails from the Mediterranean area. Other arguments of Spanuth were the art of iron production and the use of handle-tongue swords of the Sprockhoff (today: Naue) IIa type by the Philistines. The roofs were supported by ridge-standing wooden pillars, which, according to the biblical story, the strong Simson lifted and so brought the house to collapse. According to Spanuth, this type of house was only common in the northern countries. For the time in question, i.e. the Bronze Age , there is no evidence for this claim. According to Spanuth, another characteristic of the Philistines was to decide wars by duel and not by battles. a. also supposed to have made the fight of David and Goliath possible.


  • Trude Dothan , Moshe Dothan : The Philistines. Civilization and culture of a sea people. Diederichs, Munich 1995, ISBN 3-424-01233-5 (Original title: People of the Sea. Translated by Christiane Landgrebe).
  • Carl Stephan Ehrlich: The Philistines in Transition. A History of the Philistines from approx. 1000-730 BCE (= Studies in the History and Culture of the Ancient Near East. Volume 10). Brill, Leiden / New York 1996, ISBN 90-04-10426-7 (English, also dissertation Harvard University, Cambridge MA 1991).
  • Karl Jaroš : Canaan, Israel, Palestine. A walk through the history of the Holy Land (= cultural history of the ancient world. Volume 51). von Zabern, Mainz 1992, ISBN 3-8053-1345-4 .
  • Ann E. Killebrew: Biblical Peoples and Ethnicity. An Archaeological Study of Egyptians, Canaanites, Philistines, and early Israel, 1300-1100 BCE Society of Biblical Literature, Atlanta 2005, ISBN 1-58983-097-0 .
  • Benjamin Mazar : The Philistines. In: Benjamin Mazar (Ed.): The World History of the Jewish People (= First Series: Ancient Times ). Volume 3: Judges. WH Allen, London / Jerusalem 1971, pp. 164–179 and 324–325.
  • Edward Noort : The Sea Peoples in Palestine (= Palestine antiqua. New series Volume 8). Kok Pharos Publishing House / Peeters Publishers, Kampen NL / Wilsele BE 1994, ISBN 90-390-0012-3 .
  • Israel Finkelstein : Is the Philistine Paradigm Still Viable? In: Manfred Bietak , Ernst Czerny (Ed.): The Synchronization of Civilizations in the Eastern Mediterranean in the Second Millennium BC III , Vienna 2007, pp. 517-524. ( PDF )

Web links

Commons : Philistines  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Philistines  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Rainer Hannig : The language of the pharaohs. Large concise dictionary of Egyptian-German (2800–950 BC) . 4th, revised edition. von Zabern, Mainz 2006, ISBN 3-8053-1771-9 , p. 304-305 .
  2. ^ Frederik Christiaan Woudhuizen : The Ethnicity of the Sea Peoples . Erasmus Universiteit, Rotterdam 2006, A Historiographic Outline, p. 36 ( digitized version [accessed on April 13, 2016]).
  3. Israel Finkelstein , Neil Asher Silberman : David and Solomon: Archaeologists decipher a myth. Beck, Munich 2006, ISBN 3-406-54676-5 , pp. 174-175.
  4. Heike Sternberg-el Hotabi : The struggle of the sea peoples against Pharaoh Ramses III. (= Archeology, inscriptions and monuments of ancient Egypt. Volume 2). Publishing house Marie Leidorf, Rahden, p. 50 f.
  5. Heike Sternberg-el Hotabi : The struggle of the sea peoples against Pharaoh Ramses III. (= Archeology, inscriptions and monuments of ancient Egypt. Volume 2). Publishing house Marie Leidorf, Rahden, p. 51.
  6. ^ Erwin Fahlbusch , Jan Milič Lochman , John Mbiti (eds.): The Encyclopedia of Christianity . tape 4 . Brill, Leiden NL / Boston MA 2005, ISBN 0-8028-2413-7 (English, set volumes 1–5).
  7. Ancient DNA sheds light on the genetic origins of early Iron Age Philistines (original study). July 8, 2019, accessed July 8, 2019 .
  8. Philistines came, settled in and disappeared. Spectrum of Science, July 8, 2019, accessed July 8, 2019 .
  9. The Philistines came from Europe. In: Israelnetz .de. July 5, 2019, accessed July 22, 2019 .
  10. ^ Fritz Lochner-Hüttenbach: The Pelasger. Work from the Institute for Comparative Linguistics in Graz. Vienna 1960, p. 141 ff.
  11. z. B. Eduard Meyer : The Phaestos disc and the Philistines on Crete. Session reports of the Royal Prussian Academy of Sciences, 1909, pp. 1022-1029.
  12. ^ Costis Davaras, Wolfgang Schürmann (translator): Phaistos - Hagia Triada - Gortyn. Short archaeological guide . Hannibal Publishing House, Athens 1990, The Palace of Phaistos, p. 21 .
  13. ^ Philistines, but Less and Less Philistine. In: The New York Times. March 13, 2007, accessed November 6, 2009 .