The Persian period

During the Persian period (539—332 BC) the southern Levant came under the occupation of the Persian empire (known also as the Achaemenid empire). The period holds considerable historical significance, as along its duration the southern Levant became a meeting ground between the cultures of the near-east and the Mediterranean cultures. The Western influence over the region intensified, and a process of cultural change commenced which would define the next 1000 years of Antiquity in the area, until the Middle Ages and the Islamic occupation of the region.

As the Second Temple period, during which the “Return to Zion” occurred, the period constitutes an essential episode in Jewish history: the Persian empire allowed the Jews exiled by the Babylonians to return to their land, rebuild their temple and cultivate their religion. During this period, the Pentateuch was set, and the Jewish religion as it is understood today was developed.

The period is considered a biblical period: some biblical books, like Isaiah, Ezra, and Chronicles, and other Apocryphal books like Judith, allude to the period, and some believe they were written during it. Additional sources about the period exist in Greek historiographies, such as the writings of Herodotus, as well as in contemporary documents which were found in the empire’s regions, like inscriptions, ostraca, papyri, and inscribed stamps.

The period began with the defeat of Babylon and the taking of its lands by the Persian empire in 539 BC. The new governors’ policies, which allowed the return of the Jews from Babylon, the spread of the Phoenician culture, and the establishment of the Edomites, created significant demographic and political changes in the southern Levant. Under their patronage, new political entities were established in the land of Israel: the Jewish state of Judah and the Samaritan state of Samaria in the inner hill country, the kingdom of Edom in the south of the country, and Phoenician hegemony in its coast and northern parts.

After the sparseness of the previous period, the Persian period was characterised by prosperity: the southern Levant’s settlements, including large cities from the Iron Age period, such as Samaria, Jerusalem, and Hazor, as well as villages, forts, and farmsteads, were restored and expanded. Fortifications and buildings were reconstructed, and administrative buildings and forts were built. The international trade led by the Phoenicians and the Greeks thrived, and large amounts of material culture imported from Egypt, Greece, and Cyprus, were found all over the region. In addition, glass and metal objects that were found testify to their increased use at that period (alternatively, increased preservation), and of technological developments in their production.

One of the most important developments of the period was the “Monetary Revolution” – the beginning of the production and use of coins in the southern Levant, and its change into a monetary economy. The first coins arrived from the Greek poleis at the end of the 6th century BC. In the second half of the 5th century BC, they were mostly Athenian, while at the same time, minting began in the Phoenician cities, like Tyre and Sidon, and in the Philistine cities, like Ashkelon and Gaza. In Samaria, Judah, and Edom, local minting began in the 4th century BC.

The coastal plain of Israel controlled by the Phoenicians was an important region during the period as it connected the East and the West, the Persian empire and the cultures of the Mediterranean. Many thriving cities were established along it during the period, including Acre, Dor, Jaffa, and Ashdod. The area served the Persian empire’s army in its war against the Greek poleis headed by Athens, in its occupation of Egypt, and in the handling of the latter’s revolts, which involved the temporary conquering of cities like Acre and Kabri, and the destruction of cities like Tel Abu Hawam and Tel Megadim.

The period ended with the conquering of the southern Levant by the Greco-Macedonian army of Alexander the Great in 332 BC, and the onset of the Hellenistic period.


Edrey, M. (Accessed on 8 November 2023). The Persian Period 586-333 BCE. Israeli Institute of Archaeology.

Tal, O. (2019). The Persian Period. In Faust, A., & Katz H. (Eds.). Archaeology of the land of Israel: From the Neolithic to Alexander the Great (vol. 2) (pp. 323—411). Lamda – The Open University.