Ancient Gaza: The History and Legacy of the Crucial Territory during Antiquity

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The Gaza Strip is one of the most controversial hotbeds of conflict in the 21st century, but wars are nothing new to this area of the world. Like other places across the Middle East, it has exchanged hands for three millennia and seen empires rise and fall. In the same vein, the current borders of the area known as Gaza have ebbed and flowed, to the extent that the Gaza Strip didn't have its present borders until the 20th century. Before then, Gaza City and the land around it were linked strongly to the rest of Canaan, the Sinai Peninsula, and Egypt.

Although borders changed, there has historically been a significant difference between the Mediterranean coast of Canaan and its hilly interior. Gaza has played a role as an integral part of the coastal system and was usually under the control of the political and cultural entity dominant there and in the nearby plains. This remains important in the modern world, because for many complex political, religious, and social reasons, the ancient history of the region plays a role in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Today, the Arabs living in Gaza City and the Gaza Strip (and many other parts of the Middle East and the world) are named Palestinians, but while they are indirectly named after the Philistines, they are not their descendants in any direct manner. The Philistines disappeared from the region around the 6th century BCE, but after putting down a Jewish rebellion in Judea, the Romans renamed the province Palaestina. The name was meant to snub the Jews and attempt to wipe their memory away after a particularly devastating revolt against the Roman Empire. At the same time, while no one living in Palestine or Israel today is directly descended from the Philistines, there are extremely close genetic ties between the Jews and Arabs in the area, a reminder of just how far back history stretches around Gaza.