The Northeast Extension

The city walls of the mid-LH III B period reached as far as wall O (Fig. 1) to the northeast. When the Mycenaeans realized that the citadel lacked an adequate supply of water to withstand a prolonged siege, they remedied the problem by extending the fortifications to the northeast (Fig. 1, P, Q, R), and transported water via a subterranean conduit from a natural spring to a cistern which they secretly excavated just outside the new walls, and to which they carved out an elaborate descending stepped passage with a hidden entrance just inside the wall (Fig. 1, S). The exact date of the undertaking is uncertain, because the original excavation, was not fully published, but it was sometime shortly after the extension of the walls into the cemetery to the south and west, and before the end of LH III B, i.e., very late in the thirteenth century B.C.1 Mylonas called the system “the most striking construction in the citadel, a truly Cyclopean undertaking”2 and “another wonder of the ancient world.”3 Probably spurred by Mycenae’s example, both Tiryns and Athens constructed analogous underground reservoirs approached from inside the fortifications, also toward the end of LH III B (i.e., ca. 1200 B.C.).4 Vermeule termed all three “marvellous feats of design,” which inspire “admiration for the palace engineers . . . tempered by awed respect.”5

The concept of securing fresh water for a siege by such a clever device that early in human history impressed Tsountas as “astonishing.”6 Still, Karo felt that the system at Mycenae had a significance far greater than its mere construction, and that one could not view it in a historical vacuum. He noted comparable Greek water projects of the Archaic and Classical Periods and declared that, despite the huge gap in time, the similarities were not accidental, but that the Mycenaean system was the archetype for the much later undertakings.7 In fact, one can think of the famous engineering marvel of Polycrates of Samos who, in the late sixth century, had spring water conducted into his city via a large tunnel.

When assessing the LH III B defensive architecture and water systems of Tiryns, Athens and especially of Mycenae, an example from beyond the Greek cultural sphere comes to mind. King Hezekiah of Judah, confronted by the Assyrian host, rebuilt the old walls of Jerusalem and erected new fortifications, hid natural springs and excavated a gigantic sinuous tunnel to carry spring water from Gihon to a reservoir at Siloam, most probably an underground cistern approached by a secret passage from inside the city. The Old Testament heralds that feat as one of his greatest secular accomplishments8 and modern archaeologists have confirmed the Biblical account, in fact, K. Kenyon called the undertaking “an event in the history of Jerusalem which is of vital historical importance.”9 The Biblical description and the actual remains are very reminiscent of what took place at the northeastern extension of Mycenae. Hezekiah’s defenses and water project belong ca. 700 B.C., while the standard chronology places the ones at Mycenae, Tiryns and Athens ca, 500 years earlier.

Although it is certainly possible for the same idea to occur to different people indifferent locations at different times, under the revised chronology, the water systems of Mycenae, Tiryns and Athens are roughly contemporary with that of Jerusalem. It is therefore of interest to note that the three Greek tunnels seem so “astonishing,” precisely because they appeared suddenly and fully developed, and constitute such a novelty for the region. Hezekiah’s tunnel, on the other hand, was not only the successor to the earlier, less ambitious (and militarily disastrous) attempts by the Jebusites to channel spring water into Jerusalem, but also followed upon centuries of Istaelite improvements which produced completely concealed water tunnels, making spring water accessible to besieged cities throughout Palestine at places such as Gibeon, Gezer, Megiddo and Hazor.10

Of far greater importance in determining the date of the three contemporaneous Greek water systems is the fact that in the two excavations where the archaeologists did record their findings, the results correspond to Wace’s trench by the Lion Gate. The Tirynthian and Athenian cisterns both contained pottery of the late eighth-seventh century immediately above, and mixed together with pottery from the transition of LH III B-C; they contained no ware from the “intervening” centuries and no layer of sediment to mark the passage of the five centuries which the standard chronology places between LH III B/C and the eighth/seventh century.11



  1. Wace, (1949), pp. 99, 104; Mylonas, (1957), pp. 32, 38-39; idem, (1966), pp. 31-33.

  2. Mylonas, ibid., (n. 6), p. 31.

  3. Idem, (1957), p. 32.

  4. Idem, (1966), pp. 14-15, 31-33, 41-43; Vermeule, (1972), pp. 161, 268-270.

  5. Vermeule, ibid., p. 161.

  6. Tsountas-Manatt, (1897), p. 40.

  7. G. Karo, “Archäologische Funde u.s.w.,” Arch. Anz., (1933), pp. 227-228; idem, “Die Perseia von Mykenai,” AJA, 38 (1934), pp. 126-127. 

  8. II Kings 20:20; II Chron. 32: 3-5, 30; Isa. 22:9-11. 

  9. K. Kenyon, Jerusalem (London, 1967), p. 38, and cf. pp. 68-71, 77, 96-99 (pls. 37-44); cf. D.R. Ap-Thomas, “Jerusalem” in Archaeology and Old Testament Study (ed. D.W. Thomas) (New York, 1967), pp. 283-285. 

  10. In accordance with the standard chronology, J.B. Pritchard (Gibeon [Princeton, 1962], p. 64), noting close similarities between the tenth (or ninth)-century water system at Gibeon and the late thirteenth-century examples from Greece, postulated that the idea might have traveled from Mycenae to Israel. That notion gained credence from the fact that scholars then dated the very similar, second, improved system at Megiddo to the twelfth century (e.g., J. N. Schofield, “Megiddo” in Thomas, (1967), p. 320). Even without Mycenae, however, Palestine showed its own evolutionary process. Some archaeologists dated Megiddo’s first water system, a covered gallery, to the fifteenth century B.C., which would explain how the city withstood a seven-month siege by Pharaoh Thutmose III; that project was, nevertheless, far from ideal, since it left the spring exposed and at the mercy of attackers, who apparently killed the guard and cut off the city’s water supply (loc. cit.), which presumably led to Megiddo’s surrender (cf. J. Wilson in J.B. Pritchard [ed.]. Ancient Near Eastern Texts, etc. 2 [Princeton, 1955], pp. 234-238). There is also the problem of why the Jebusites of ca. 1000 B.C. felt so secure in the face of David’s siege that they taunted his army, when they had also left their spring susceptible to poison or to blockage by the enemy, and even left their septem undefended. For those failings they lost Jerusalem when Joab’s forces stormed their shaft and thereby took the city by surprise (II Sam 5:6-9; I Chron. 11:5-6; cf. Kenyon, Royal Cities of the Old Testament [London, 1971], pp. 25-26. Those elliptical passages are controversial, leaving it uncertain whether Joab’s men entered Jerusalem via the shaft or merely cut off access to the water). The Jebusites’ failure to safeguard the spring and the shaft is difficult to explain if their system followed the inadequate first system at Megiddo, and especially if it followed the completely protected second system, and the Greek examples which supposedly inspired it.
    Today, after further excavation, the scenario for Israel is as follows: the unprotected Jebusite system was the earliest, followed by the first water project at Megiddo which, despite its guard, also proved vulnerable. Archaeologists have redated that project by 500 years from Thutmose III’s reign to Solomon’s (Y. Yadin, Hazor [New York, 1975], pp. 226-231)—two rulers who, under the revised chronology, were contemporaries (Velikovsky, (1952), pp. 143-177). Then followed the completely concealed and protected second tunnel at Megiddo, and the systems at Gezer, Gibeon and Hazor, and finally the tunnel of Hezekiah. There is at present a 200-year gap between the Greek tunnels which were completely concealed and the first, exposed, Palestinian ones, which came into existence in an imperfect form long after the complete abandonment of the three Greek systems—which hardly points to direct influence from that quarter; the Greek tunnels, without any known Greek antecedents, most resemble the latest Israelite tunnels after their centuries of development and improvement from inadequate local prototypes. (See Ap-Thomas, (1967), pp. 280-285; Kenyon [1971], pp. 25-26, 67-68, 102, 140; A. Negev, Archaeological Encyclopaedia of the Holy Land [New York, 1972], pp. 126, 129, 141, 204, 333; Yadin, pp. 226-231, 244, 247 for the Palestinian systems—to some of which material Rabbi J. Segal kindly referred me), (in an as yet unpublished essay, J.J. Bimson questions the Solomonic and Omrid dates for Palestinian material, reassigning it to ca. 700 B.C. which, if correct, would even more tightly cluster all the completely concealed water systems of Israel). 

  11. Athens: Broneer, (1939), pp. 402-403, 427-428; Tiryns:For the late eighth-century date of the earliest post-LH III C material among the debris which the Tirynthians dumped into their twin tunnels at a later date (N. Verdelis, “Anaskaphe Tirynthos,” Archalocrikon Deltion 18 [1963], p. 72 and 19 [1964], p. 110), see Rudolph, (1971), p. 93. Of greater significance, note the stratigraphy of the chamber adjoining the southern tunnel, filled by sediment washed down from higher up in the city, wherein one stratum contained both LH III C and late eighth/early seventh-century sherds (mostly the former). That layer which, by the standard chronology, should represent 500 years of deposition, is only slightly thicker than the one immediately beneath it, which represents at most, only a few decades, and is significantly thinner than the layer above it which did represent a few centuries (Rudolph, (1975), pp. 98-99, 114).