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THE DOG BURIALS AT ACHAEMENID ASHKELON

REVISITED
Meir Edrey

Johannes Gutenberg University

Abstract
The article discusses the over one thousand individual dog burials discovered in
Persian period Ashkelon. It reviews various theories regarding the burials, deals
with possible origins of the phenomenon, cites recent relevant material discovered
in the southern Levant and suggests two new theories concerning the dog burials at
Ashkelon.
In 1985 the Leon Levi Expedition, under the direction of L.E. Stager, unearthed
numerous canine skeletons and skeletal remains, mostly of puppies, in Grids 50
and 57 at Tel Ashkelon. The burials dated to the last half of the 5th century BCE.
Other dog burials were discovered somewhat farther north in Grid 38, where dogs
continued to be buried as late as the beginning of the 4th century BCE. All in all,
1400 dog burials were found at Ashkelon, spanning a period of about 80 years
(Stager 1991: 2730).
The dogs were buried in shallow and apparently unmarked pits. They were laid
on their sides, tails tucked between their hind limbs. In Grid 38, most of the dogs
were buried under streets and in narrow alleys and were thus cramped in smaller pits.
In some cases the legs were drawn together tightly, as though they had been trussed
prior to burial. No burial offerings were found, and the dogs had not been placed in
any specific orientation. No butcher marks were noticeable on the skeletal remains
and there were almost no signs of violence.1 The stratigraphy of the burials, as well
as the sex and age of the dogs at the time of death, which do not match those of a
normal urban dog population, lead to the conclusion that the dogs did not die in a
single cataclysmic event, but rather that they died and were buried over a long period
of time (Wapnish and Hesse 1993: 5561).
Stager (1991: 3031) had previously estimated the original number of dog-burials
to be much higher than 1400, but due to the erosion of the site by the sea the original
number cannot be established. Nowhere in the ancient Near East, with the exception
of Egypt, had so many dog burials been found at a single siteand with no apparent

Roughly 5% of the adult and sub-adult specimens showed signs of pathologies such as
damaged paws, knitted breaks and dislocationsnone of which would cause trauma
sufficiently extensive to kill the animal. Wapnish and Hesse (1993: 60) admit, however, they
could not rule out the possibility of poisoning, drowning or strangulation, which would have
left no marks on the bones).

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reason for the burials. It is no wonder, then, that this oddity has piqued the curiosity
of many scholars, who have attempted to explain the reasons for the dog burials at
Ashkelon.
In what follows, I wish to review past theories concerning the Ashkelon dog
burials, discuss more recent material on the subject, and present two new theories to
explain this phenomenon.

PAST INTERPRETATIONS
Stager (1991: 3942) maintained that the Ashkelon dogs had neither been eaten nor
sacrificed and that the reason for burial could not have been emotional since some of
the skeletons belonged to puppies only a few days old. He argued that their presence
was linked to a Phoenician healing cult that was worshipped in a sea-side temple
located near the burial site (though no remains of a temple or other architectural
evidence for a large public structure have as yet been discovered). Stager cited
Kition, a Phoenician settlement in Cyprus, where according to him, dogs were part
of the workforce of a temple dedicated to Astarte and Mukol (Mekel/Mukal/Mikal),
and where the 5th century BCE alabaster Kition plaque was discovered. There
the god Mukol appears as rpmkl (Reshef-Mukol), who was identified with ApolloAmuklos, the god of pestilence and also a god of healing.2 In Stagers opinion the
dogs of Ashkelon were temple dogs, much like those in Mesopotamia, Egypt or
Kition, involved in the healing rituals of Astarte and Reshef-Mokul. As such, they
were considered sacred and were given respectable burials when they died.
Heltzer (1998: 149152) introduced numismatic evidence from the Elymian
cities Erix and Segesta in Sicily. During the 4th and 3rd centuries BCE, both cities
minted coins with one side portraying the image of Aphrodite, who was identified
with Astarte, and the other side portraying the image of a dog. This, in Heltzers
opinion, was additional proof of the existence of an Astarte cult involving dogs.
The connection between a temple to Astarte in Ashkelon and a temple to Aphrodite
in Cyprus is further strengthened by Herodotus (I, 105, 23) who in his Histories
wrote that the city of Ashkelon housed a temple to Aphrodite Ourania, and that to his
knowledge it was the oldest temple to that deity. He also mentions that the temple to
Aphrodite in Paphos, Cyprus, was modelled on the temple in Ashkelon, and that it was
the Phoenicians from Ashkelon who founded it. Thus, according to Herodotus the cult
of Astarte/Aphrodite was introduced to Cyprus by Phoenicians from Ashkelon (Elayi
1982: 103). It should be noted, however, that the reliability of Herodotus account of
the temple to Aphrodite in Ashkelon has been questioned by several scholars (Fehling
1989: 143145).

In the ancient Near East there were many gods with such a duality, e.g., a god that sent a plague
could also send a cure.

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Halpern (2000) agreed with Stagers theory concerning the dogs role in a healing
worship but turned to Mesopotamia for the origins of this cult. He argued that it was
unlikely that any cultic practice concerning dog burial was rooted in the Levant
of the pre-Persian era (ibid.: 136), and maintained (2000: 134135) that the cult
was that of Gula/Ninisina, the Mesopotamian goddess of healing. Halpern based his
hypothesis on the fact that the only other known dog burial site in the ancient Near
East at that time was that of Gulas temple at Isin (Clark 2001: 5455). Halpern
(2000: 135138) theorized that the cult of Gula either spread westward during the
Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian periods and only then returned East to Ashkelon
during the 5th century BCE, in the form of the cult of Asklepios,3 or simply that
the cult of Gula was brought back to the southern Levant by the Assyrian period
deportees who returned home in the Persian period.
Wapnish and Hesse (1993) disagreed with the theories proposed by Stager,
Heltzer and Halpern, claiming that there was insufficient evidence for a dog cult
theory, that the burials at Ashkelon did not constitute a dog cemetery and that the
burials could not be attributed to a particular culture simply because no similar
burials, either in pattern or in quantity, had been found elsewhere in the ancient Near
East. They also claimed that no location had been especially prepared and set aside
for a dog cemetery but rather that the dogs had simply been buried wherever space
was available. Furthermore, Wapnish and Hesse argued that the mortality profile of
the dogs of Ashkelon was that of a normal urban dog population over a period of
time. Based on the bone analysis and the mortality profile, they argued that the dogs
had not been especially chosen for burial, had not been bred for a specific purpose,
had not been cared for by humans and, as mentioned above, had not been put to
death but rather had died of natural causes. In their opinion burying the dogs was
a local custom which had evolved from an amalgam of attitudes toward dogs and
had no clear connection to the Near East or the Eastern Mediterranean. In fact they
proposed that the act of burial might have been all that truly mattered to the people
of Ashkelon, and that the corpses and graves had no significance whatsoever.

PERISHED OR KILLED?
Wapnish and Hesse disregarded some basic facts related to cults and rituals. A ritual
by definition is a sequence of actions performed in exactly the same manner and
repeated whenever called for or on a predetermined date over a period of time.
The fact that in Ashkelon so many dogs were buried by exactly the same method
over a long period of time was surely part of a complex ritual that could not have
commenced and concluded with the act of the burial. It is difficult to accept Wapnish

Asklepios was the formal Greek god of healing and dogs played a key role in cultic rituals in
his temple in Epidaurus (Avalos 1995: 3846, 6061).

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and Hesses claim that the burials are a result of a blend of Ashkelonian attitudes
toward dogs and yet deny that these attitudes were a result of the association of dogs
with a deity and/or a cult in numerous cultures. Thus, even if the situation had been
a local amalgam of attitudes toward dogs (ibid.: 76) it would have embodied itself
as a cult fitting to the local system of beliefs, i.e., syncretistic to the Canaanite deities
and cult practices.
Stager (1991: 32) pointed to a biblical passage that mentions that dogs were in
fact ritualistically killed. In Isaiah 66:3 the prophet speaks out against the Israelites
who strayed from the Lords ways and turned to foreign cults:
-



-
He who slaughtered an ox [would now] slay a man, who
sacrificed a lamb [would now] break a dogs neck, who presented
cereal [would now present] the blood, of a swine, who burnt
commemorative incense [would now] worship an idol for,
although they had chosen their [own] way they [now] delight in
their abomination.4
While the exact syntax of the passage is open to debate, most scholars agree
that the meaning of the word klb (keleb) here refers to a dog.5 The root arp (araph)
originates from the word orp (oreph), which means neck or the back of the neck, and
could be translated as breaking of the neck, decapitating, slaughtering or strangling.
Sasson (1976: 199201) argued that the specific use of words such as ohet and orep
indicates the ritualistic killing of animals as part of a cultin this case a forbidden
cult involving dogs, which was practiced by Canaanites and adopted by Judeans
in Persian period Canaan, the time of Second/Third Isaiah (e.g., Van Ruiten and
Vervenne 1997). In recent excavations conducted in Jerusalem two dog burials dated
to the Persian period were uncovered, providing tangible evidence of the existence
of this cult in Achaemenid Yehud (see below).

CULTIC DOGS
Dogs, and in many cases especially puppies, were associated with many different
cults and rituals in ancient Near Eastern cultures. Since dogs were a vital part of
everyday life in human society from prehistoric times, they naturally also found
their way into the spiritual world (Olsen 2000: 7172). In Mesopotamia dogs were

The translation brought here is that of Sasson (1976) which I find most fitting. For other
possible translations and understandings of the passage see the same work.

The word klb was translated by some scholars in other contexts as a male prostitute, as is the
case in the Kition plaque or in Deuteronomy 23:18. Here, however, it seems that scholars are
in agreement with the interpretation of klb as dog.

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associated primarily with Gula, but they were also mentioned in various cultic
texts in both positive and negative roles (Clark 2001: 6365; Ornan 2004: 18). In
Ancient Egypt dogs (and other animals) were associated with several deities such as
Dwamutef, Wepwawet, Khentimentiu and most important Anubis, and were revered
in special temple precincts (Flores 2003: 6465; Stager 1991: 39). In Achaemenid
Iran dogs were especially revered and were considered by the Zoroastrians as the
second most important beings, after humans, to the chief deity Ahura-Mazda. An
entire chapter in the Zoroastrian sacred scriptures, the Zend Avesta, was dedicated to
the positive role of dogs, to their proper treatment and to the punishments awaiting
those who mistreat them. In ancient Greece dogs were primarily associated with
Asklepios, who according to one mythical tradition was watched over by a dog
as a child. Dogs were involved in healing rites in Asklepios temple in Epidaurus.
They were also associated with the goddess Hecate and were frequently sacrificed
to her during funerary rites. Dogs were also associated with Eilioneia/Elieithyia, a
childbirth goddess. In Sparta and Macedonia they were sacrificed to Ares-Enyalios
and in Athens dogs were occasionally sacrificed to Kore and Demeter (Avalos 1995:
3846, 6061; Day 1984: 2728, Pedley 1974: 9899).
In some regions of the ancient Near East dogs were used ritualistically more often
and over a longer period of time. Among these regions, Asia Minor stands out.

AN ANATOLIAN CONNECTION?
Evidences for the cultic use of dogs in this region are well attested both in texts
and in the archaeological record. Hurrian, Mesopotamian and Hittite cultic texts
tell of various rituals in which dogs and especially puppies were used to absorb
impurity from people and places (Collins 1990; 2002; Beal 1995; Sasson 1976:
202204; Wright 1987: 3045). The cultic pit structure, known as the Abi, in
Tell Mozan, Hurrian Urkesh, that was in use between 23002100 BCE containss
evidence of the existence of pit rituals. At the bottom of the pit the bones of
20 puppies and of one adult dog were discovered together with bones of piglets,
donkeys, sheep and goats. All of the animal bones found in the pit had butchering
marks on them save for the canid bones (Buccellati, G. 2005: 1011; Buccellati,
M.K. 2005; Collins 2004).
Closer to the time of the Ashkelon dogs we find dog burials in Iron Age Sardis.
During excavations, 27 buried pot clusters each consisting of a chytra, an oinochoe,
a skyphos and a plate (and often an iron knife) were unearthed in a small area.
Skeletons of puppies were found inside many of the skyphoi. All of the pot clusters
were dated to the 6th century BCE, ca. 575525. None of the puppies had been older
than three months at the time of death. Some cut marks were found on the bones,
which may indicate skinning or another form of preparation. The other vessels might
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have held wine and bread which accompanied the puppies as a sort of ritual dinner
conducted in honour of a local deity (Pedley 1974: 9798; Robertson 1982: 122;
Greenewalt 1978: 2739).
Greenewalt (ibid.) argued that the Sardis burials could be traced to the Lydian
cult of Kandaulas6 (who was given the titles Dog throttler and Friend of thieves
by the 6th century Byzantine poet Hipponax7) which had practiced dog burials of
puppies that had been ritually choked or suffocated to death. Pedley (1974: 9798),
on the other hand, argued that they should be attributed to a Carian ritual or at least
to Carian influence on a Lydian cult. In that age both Lydians and Carians lived in
Sardis side by side and both populations worshiped deities to whom puppies were
regularly sacrificed. In Caria dogs were considered the preferred animal for ritual
sacrifice and were sacrificed to Enyalios, identified with Greek Ares. Enyalios
was also worshiped in several poleis in Greece. Pausanias (3.14.9) wrote that the
Spartans used to sacrifice dogs to Ares-Enyalios in bloody healing rituals. The
Goddess Hecate, identified with the Greek goddess of the same name, was another
major deity in Caria. In classical Greece Hecate was considered an insignificant
chthonic goddess, patroness of witchcraft and ghosts, associated with the moon
and dog sacrifices (Boedeker 1983: 79). Dogs were sacrificed to her in nocturnal
rituals, often conducted at crossroads, in Colophon (Pausanias 3.14.9), Samothrace
and Ephesus, where a dog-headed statute of her stood (Bury 1889: 417; Robertson
1982: 124131). Although dog sacrifice is not mentioned in the case of the Anatolian
Hecate, it might have been one of the ritual activities which led to identifying her
with the Greek goddess. Since the ritual of sacrificing dogs to major deities was
popular in Caria this hypothesis seems probable.
Chronologically, the Ashkelon dogs are as remote from the Hurrians and Hittites
as from the Mesopotamian goddess Gula. The gods of Lydia and Caria, however,
are not. In fact, western Asia Minor is the only known area in the ancient Near East,
apart from Egypt, that during the 6th century BCE so enthusiastically involved dogs
in its rituals and religious cults as the ancient people of Ashkelon.8 Therefore one

Identified with the Greek gods Heracles or Hermes. Identification with Heracles was due to the
myth of Heracles capture of Cerberus by holding him in a choke hold until submission. The
identification with Hermes was due to the myth of Hermes stealing Apollos herd. According
to one version of the myth Hermes fed Apollos guardian dogs a certain plant which choked
them, causing them to fall asleep (Greenewalt 1978: 46-48).

According to a Byzantine text, the name Kandaulas means dog throttler/choker. The name is
reminiscent of the Hindu-European words for dog and choke (Greenewalt 1978: 4446).

It seems that dogs were still buried in this region during the Hellenistic period. At the
northern Syrian site of Abu-Dane, eight articulated dog burials (two of them of puppies)
were found. These burials were dated to some time between 250100 BCE (Wapnish and
Hesse 1993: 69).

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must consider the possibility that the origin of the Ashkelon phenomenon should
in some way be sought in Asia Minor. Although the dog burials found in Sardis
do not match those in Ashkelon in the actual practice, Kandaulas may still have
been the source of inspiration. As previously mentioned, Wapnish and Hesse could
not rule out the possibilities of drowning, suffocation or poisoning. Considering the
bone material from Sardis and the textual evidence on Kandalaus, suffocation and
poisoning could have been the methods for killing the dogs of both Ashkelon and
Sardis. It is possible, therefore, that while the corpses were disposed of in different
ways, the method of ritualistic killing was similar.
The above notwithstanding, it seems that the Carian gods Hecate and Enyalios are
more suitable as initial influences for the Ashkelon dog burials. If we assume that the
dog cult of Ashkelon was imported from Asia Minor, then it would naturally mean
a Canaanite guise in the form of a local deity or deities. As stated above, Herodotus
(I:105, 23) mentions Ashkelons temple to Aphrodite Ourania, also known as
heavenly Aphrodite or the heavenly one.9 Aphrodite Ourania was identified with the
Canaanite Astarte (Ashtoreth), who was also known as the queen of heaven. Although
Herodotus is a problematic source in this matter, the fact that he mentions a temple
of Aphrodite in regard to Ashkelon is interesting and could indicate that it actually
existed, perhaps even in the 5th century BCE. As Stager (1991: 4042) suggested,
this lost temple of Ashkelon could, like the temple at Kition, have accommodated
cults of more than one deity. Astartes customary partner was Reshef, the Canaanite
god of war and pestilence. The Carian god Enyalios, a god of war identified with the
Greek Ares, could easily have been identified with Reshef. Like Hecate, Enyalios
had cults in both Anatolia and Greece where dogs were sacrificed to him on a regular
basis. Hence it would seem that the Carian deities Hecate and Enyalios fit the scheme
of the Canaanite pair Astarte and Reshef/Reshef-Mukol.10
There is additional evidence for the possible connection of Reshef-Mukol and
Astarte with dogs. In Beth Shean, a series of temples was discovered in the south
sector of the mound. The earliest of these temple complexes, dated to the Late Bronze
Age (Mazar 1997: 67, Thompson 1967: 115117; 1970: 110116) was named by the
excavators The Temple of Mekal due to a large stele dedicated to the god Mekal

It seems that Aphrodite, at least in later times, was somehow connected with dogs. Classical
sources from the 2nd century onward mention that the luckiest of all throws in dice games is
the Aphrodite dog bones (Halpern 2000: 139).

Some scholars have identified the Greek Hecate as a sort of feminine form of the god Apollo
who, as we saw previously, was identified with the Canaanite Reshef. One of Apollos epithets
is very similar to the name Hecate and also connected to the moon, an epitaph that fits Hecate
(Roscher 1965: 1899). Hecate was often confused with other deities such as Artemis, Apollos
sister, or Persephone, due to their physical resemblance and overlapping divine responsibilities
(Boedeker 1983: 85).

10

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found in it (Thompson 1967: 121, Fig. 5). Not far from the Mekal stele a unique
basalt panel was found that portrays a dog and a lion in two registers. In the upper
register the lion and dog are in combat; in the lower register the dog seems to have
prevailed (ibid.: 118, Fig. 4). Thompson suggested that the lion was a personification
of the Mesopotamian god Nergal, a sun god and god of the underworld and disease,
and later also a war god, and that the dog was the embodiment of the goddess
Gula. He interpreted the scene as the dog/Gula warding off the lion/Nergal/plague/
disease (ibid.: 118121). Stager (1991: 4042) suggested that the dog might be
the personification of Reshef-Mukol.11 However, we can also identify the lion as
Reshef-Mukol (Mekal) and the dog as Astarte. In fact, Rowe (1930: 914) suggested
that the temples Northern Room was used for the worship of Mekals concubine,
Antit-Ashtoreth/Astarte.
Connections between Asia-Minor and the Syro-Palestinian coast are well
attested through long periods of time. Herodotus (2.152) wrote of Carian and
Ionian mercenaries serving in the Egyptian army in the 7th century BCE. These
were probably deployed, among other places, in Philistia during the reign of
Psammetichus I (Finkelstein 2002: 137). According to the annals of Ashurbanipal
these mercenaries were sent to Egypt by Gyges, king of Lydia (Spalinger 1978:
402). These records are also backed by extensive archaeological evidence found in
Egypt and costal sites of the southern Levant. Other classical and early Christian
sources also tied Philistine Ashkelon to western and southern Anatolia (Finkelstein
2002: 144145, 151).12 The prophet Ezekiel (27:1225), in the 6th century BCE, in
his lament on Tyre, tells us of the citys extensive trade connections with cities in
Asia-Minor such as Tarshish (perhaps Tarsus), Yavan, Tubal and Meshech (Phrygia).
These are also attested in the archaeological record (Kuhrt 1995: 401417). During
the late 6th and 5th centuries, under the hegemony of Tyre, Ashkelon became a
thriving metropolis inhabited by traders, mercenaries and people of diverse ethnic
backgrounds (Stager 1991). Therefore we can speculate that many ideas and traditions
migrated from Asia-Minor to the Syro-Palestinian territory and vice versa, ergo the
dog burial phenomenon could have originated in Asia-Minor.

For further interpretations of the panel see Thompson 1970: 78116.

11

Curiously, several dogs are depicted in the coinage of Philistia of the 5th4th centuries BCE
(Gitler and Tal 2006: Coin-types XIII.25, XIV.22 and XXVI.1). There are also similarities
between coins of 5th4th century BCE Philistia and those of 6th4th century BCE Asia-Minor.
However Gitler and Tal rule out direct cultural connections based on the numismatic material
alone (Gitler and Tal 2006: 4346).

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Edrey:The Dog Burials at Achaemenid Ashkelon Revisited

AN AUTOCHTHONIC CULT?
But perhaps we should not seek an outer source for a dog burial related cult, for
contrary to accepted scholarly opinion, Asia-Minor is not the only region with a
long tradition of dog burials. In the past few decades more and more dog burials
and with them evidence of the cultic use of dogs have been found at sites in the
Levant, mostly in Israel.
The earliest cultic dog burial was excavated at Gilat, dated to the Chalcolithic
era. Inside the cultic site six dog burials were found, one accompanied by a burial
offering13 (Levy 1991: 1418; Levy, et al. 1993: 9293; 2006: 126127, 134135;
Grigson 2006: 237239). At Tel Haror numerous animal bones, mostly of puppies
and crows, were found buried in pits inside a temple dated to the Middle Bronze
Age. These burials were accompanied by offering vessels (Oren et al. 1991: 27).
Analysis of the earlier bone material indicated that the dogs necks had been
broken, while the later material showed cut marks on the bones, meaning perhaps
the method of sacrifice was altered (Klenck 2002: 6873). Another dog burial was
found near a Middle Bronze Age cult place at Lachish (Ussishkin 1996: 2629).
At Tel Miqne the articulated remains of a puppy with a disarticulated skull placed
between its legs were found near a cultic installation. An iron knife was also found
in proximity. Remains of other dog bones bearing cut marks were found elsewhere
at the site, all dated to the Iron Age I (Dothan 2002: 17). The remains of two puppies,
also bearing cut marks, were found buried in pots in Philistine Ashkelon. At Kahlde,
located on the coast of Lebanon, eight dog burials were unearthed next to several
large stones, perhaps stelae. Ashes of both human and animal bone fragments
were found nearby. These burials could be associated with the Phoenician Iron
Age I cemetery or the Persian-Hellenistic settlement found nearby (Saidah
1966; 1967: 165166). At Tel Yavne a large favissa pit was found containing an
enormous amount of ceramic bowls, cult stands and fragments of animal bones,
including those of a single dog, all dated to the Iron Age II. This pit was probably
connected to the neighbouring Philistine temple (Kolska Horwitz, in preparation).
At Tel Dor many dog burials were found, mostly dated to the Persian period,
some found next to favissa pits containing cultic vessels (Wapnish and Hesse
1993: 6869; Stern et al. 1993: 39; 1995: 65; 1998: 39). At Tell el-Hesi bones of
a decapitated puppy were found in a pit dated to the Persian period. Canid bones
were also found in other pits of the same stratum (Bennett and Schwartz 1989:
262). Another articulated headless dog was unearthed in a silo dated to the late
Persian-early Hellenistic period. Next to it a broken amphora was found (Bennett
and Blakely 1989: 6465). Dog burials accompanied by possible burial offerings
Some 30 human burials were found at Gilat, only one of which was accompanied by a burial
offering, indicating that the dog was awarded a special honour (Wolff 1993: 140).

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were also found in Hajar Eyid (Golani 1995: 122), dated to the Early Bronze
Age Ia, and in Beirut, dated to the Persian period (Sader. 1996: 24; Finkbeiner and
Sader. 1997: 130132).
In addition to these, dog burials were also found in Ashdod (Dothan and Porath
1982: 4244; Haas 1971: 212), Shoham (Nadelman 1994: 80), Tel Qasile (Stager
1991: 39; n), Tell el-Hesi (Bennett and Schwartz 1989: 262; Bennett and Blakely
1989: 6465), Apollonia-Arsuf (Sade 1999), Gezer (Gitin 1990: 20, Pl. 73), Tel
Hesban (Driesch and Boessneck 1995: 7374; Mitchel: 1992: 717), Jerusalem14
and Gan Soreq.15 All of these dated to the Persian or Hellenistic periods. Apparently
several dog burials dated roughly to the first millennium levels but others not properly
recorded were also found in Akko (Heltzer 1998: 149, n 5).
As seen from the above, many of the dog burials unearthed in the southern
Levant were discovered in cultic context, some inside or near temples or cultic
precincts, others accompanied by cultic vessels. As dogs were not normally eaten
in the southern Levant, the appearance of cut marks on canid bones most probably
indicates sacrifice. The remains of some of the canid bones from Tel Haror as well
as the burials from Tel Miqne and Tell el-Hesi all point to ritualistic killing such as
the orp keleb mentioned in Isaiah 66. All this evidence points to the existence of a
dog related cult that interred dog remains. This long tradition of dog burials might
indicate that the dog burial phenomenon during the Achaemenid era was actually
a Canaanite tradition adopted by the different cultures that inhabited the southern
Levant through the ages. Even more so, the antiquity of some burials such as those at
Gilat or Hajar Eyid might indicate that southern Canaan was the source of a dog cult
and that it influenced other regions. But if it was in fact a local phenomenon already
practiced in the southern Levant, what caused a seemingly scanty cult to burgeon
during the Persian period?

FROM SCANTY BURIALS TO DOG CEMETERIES


One explanation might be found with the Achaemenid rulers of the ancient Near East
during the Persian period. As mentioned above, dogs were of special importance in
Zoroastrianism, the official religion of the Achaemenid dynasty. It is well known that
the Achaemenid sovereigns were religiously tolerant and did not normally enforce
their views on their subjects. This can also be seen in the archaeological record that
shows continuance of cultic traditions from earlier times in the Persian period (Stern
2001: 478513). However, it is possible that the Achaemenian rulers, who held dogs
in high esteem, encouraged the dog-related cult.
Personal correspondence, E. Mazar.

14

Personal correspondence, U. Ad and M. Sade.

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The Achaemenids had a soft spot for dogs. The Roman author Pompeius TorgusJustin wrote in his Epitoma Historiarum Philippicarum (19, 110), that after the
war against Carthage, the Achaemenid king Darius issued a royal decree ordering
the Carthaginians to desist from child sacrifice and consumption of dog meat.
Such interference in local customs was quite rare (Mosca 1975: 1113; Hayward
19931994: 180181). Yet in this decree there is no mention of prohibiting the
killing or sacrificing of dogs. It might be that only the consumption of dog meat was
considered unacceptable by the Achaemenids. Although Zoroastrianism forbade the
killing or wounding of dogs, the Persian army did not refrain from putting them in
harms way and even using dogs in warfare (Cook 1950; Forster 1941: 114115).16
Furthermore it seems that in Caria and Lydia ritualistic dog killing continued to
thrive under Achaemenid rule well into the Hellenistic period, and that might have
also been the case in ancient Ashkelon. Hence it is possible that a cult utilizing dogs
was even supported and encouraged by the local Persian rule and that could have led
to the flourishing of this cult during the Persian period in the Levant.

CONCLUSIONS
The tradition of dog burials, either in actual graves or as ritualistic deposits, as part of
a cult, was practiced in the southern Levant for thousands of years. This phenomenon
evolved through the ages until it peaked during the Persian period all over the
southern Levant, particularly in Ashkelon. Perhaps during earlier periods canines
were in fact revered and kept as temple dogs, as proposed by Stager and others,
which would explain the burials found at Gilat or Hajar Eyid. However, it seems that
at least from the Middle Bronze Age onward, dogs were sacrificed or ritualistically
killed. The lack of physical evidence on the bones does not rule out ritualistic killing,
for there were many methods of killing practiced in the ancient Near East which left
no marks on the bones of victims, as was the case at Tell Mozan. It is possible that
some dogs were kept for breeding, for it seems that, like other sacrificed animals,
the younger dogs were preferred. These dogs would likely have been given special
treatment, which would explain Stagers view of the Kition plaque, burials of older
dogs and grave goods such as those found in Beirut. However, it is unlikely that even
these dogs were considered sacred animals, for it does not fit the general southern
Levantine attitude towards dogs during the periods in question (Sumakai Fink 2003:
4856).
As was common in many ancient Near Eastern cultures, the dogs of Ashkelon,
Polyaenus wrote in his Strategica (vii .9) about the Achaemenid king Cambyses who, during
his campaign to conquer Egypt, used in his front lines dogs, cats and other animals considered
sacred by the Egyptians so that the Egyptian defenders would cease using their battle engines
against the Persian army (Forster 1941: 114115).

16

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Tel Aviv 35 (2008)

were probably used in healing/purifying rituals. It might have been the dogs being,
blood or even its hair17 that was used during these rites. The corpses were later
disposed of and buried in a designated area that became a dog cemetery. This area
can also be interpreted as a ritualistic deposit precinct much like the Tophet found in
Carthage and other Punic-Phoenician sites. As for related deities, Reshef and Astarte
are the educated guesses; however this remains speculative as no concrete evidence
is as yet available. The archaeological evidence does not permit denying dogs from
sharing ritualistic connotations; the remainder stays in the realm of speculation.

Acknowledgments
I would like to thank M. Fischer and W. Zwickel for their support and assistance,
E. Mazar, M. Sade, U. Ad, R. Kletter, L. Kolska Horwitz and A. Sumakai Fink for
the unpublished information they provided and especially O. Tal who guided me
through the entire working process.

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