philistines meaning and history

Made widely famous through the Biblical story of the boy David and the giant Goliath, the Philistines have long been depicted as war-loving ruffians who were always itching to get into a fight. They are traditionally looked upon with disdain and relations with them were frowned upon by most ancient communities like the Israelites. 

Philistines are said to arrive in the area which is where modern-day nations of Israel, Gaza, Lebanon, and Syria stand. At this time, there was an upheaval as the Middle Eastern and Greek empires were collapsing.

Philistines Meaning


Philistines were criminals and scoundrels who were insulted as uncircumcised in the Hebrew ancient text. The Hebrews made a big point to underline their differences with the Philistine people and questioned their originality.

They were said to be migrating from the land of modern-day Crete and soon after seizing the rule over present-day Israel and Gaza strip coastlines. Their most epic wars, as recorded in the Bible, were with the Israelites and at one time managed to steal the Ark of The Covenant from the Israeli camp.

Though big and menacing like Goliath, they were struck down in David’s single swoop of his shot slinger. In the case of Delilah who seduced his secrets out of him and used them against him by cutting off his hair to make him defenseless.

Philistines are also guilty of murdering King Saul and his sons while in battle and then proceeded to hang his headless body on the walls.


Philistine’s are said to be refugees fleeing from their war-torn home after engaging in a losing battle with Ramses III. They brought with them pottery of all kinds and specially crafted artifacts that looked like the same that were spotted among the cultures along the region of the Aegean Sea.

Unfortunately, the Philistines were not particularly fond of written texts and they rarely left a trace of their existence once they were done passing through a region. It is through their encounters with other tribes like Egyptians and Assyrians who documented them, that we catch a glimpse of the Philistines’ character which has largely been depicted as negative.

To date, there is much debate about the true philistine artifacts or cultural practices. There have been many discoveries made of cemeteries of regions that were said to be ruled by the Philistines for a time in history.  

In the present terminologies, the term Philistine has been used to describe an unsophisticated, uneducated, inauthentic and uncultured human who is swayed by material goals rather than intellectual ones.

Philistines History 

A mysterious gang of tribes referred to as the Sea Peoples cause massive chaos and insecurity in the Late Bronze Age. They spread their horrors across the Mediterranean eastern coastlines. Many researchers have made a direct correlation between these sea-crazed farers and the Philistines.  

This was around the 13th Century B.C. when the Levant was ruled by the weak armored and led Egyptians and Hittites. Sea Peoples saw an opportunity and took it going on a raiding rampage across the colonies of the former leaders and even further to attack the Egyptians. Their mission failed as Rameses III defeated them effectively and allowed them to settle on the south of Palestine.

They did not stop their war-like tendencies and constantly fought the weak Canaanites and the Israelites. They were prosperous and frim in their self-rule and their military unit thrived. By the end of the 11th century, Israelites decided to unite and they overpowered the Philistine influence.

A cemetery in the ancient city of Ashkelon which is known as a Philistine colony was unearthed in 2016 and investigations into the origin of this tribe were immediately embarked on.

The results revealed that indeed, they were related to the Sea Peoples and that they were intermarrying with other tribes all those 3000 years ago.

Philistine Camp

It comprised of infantry, chariotry, and the non-combatant civilians. The civilians were the women, children, and some men who rode in ox-driven four-wheeled carts that resembled those used in the transportation of goods.

Philistine chariots had six wheels and were driven by two horses. These chariots were a decoy that sought to distract the enemy while the charioteers snuck up behind the chariots and fell on the enemy in a surprise attack.

The infantry was grouped into groups of four men who fought alongside each other. One with a sword and the three with spear and the long sword. They all carried a shield and had plain garments with breastplates being the only detail.

Philistine Ship

Their ship had a mast fitted with a crow’s nest, sails, and rigging. The Philistines didn’t use oars except as rudders. The figureheads on the philistine ship featured birds’ heads.

Philistine Clothes 

You could tell a Philistinian from their short kilt that was paneled with tassels and a wide hem. Over their shirt, they wore a ribbed corselet of metal or leather which joins at the chest in an upward curve.

Biblical reference

In the Bible’s book of Judges, the Philistines are said to have settled in Canaan land for a time. This as in the backdrop of their bad-blood with the Dan tribes of Israel. These descendants of Samson were fighting to keep their allocated land.

The Philistines had bullied the Judah people into settling in a smaller land than that was allocated. This made tensions in Philistia very high. Dan was unfortunately unsuccessful in their attempt to keep their land and they were forced to migrate to the northern part of Galilee in search of new land.

Discord between the people of Judah and the Philistines came to a head at the battle of Ebenezer. Despite the Israelites even carrying the Ark of the Covenant in hopes of a victory, they were sorely disappointed.

After the victory at Ebenezer, the Philistines proceeded on to Shiloh where they burned it down and went on to seize the lands of Megiddo and Beth Shean. Now, most of the west side of the Jordan River was a Philistinian territory and since they had superior metalworking skills, they were able to keep all their colonies dependent on them.

At the rise of King Saul’s reign, the Israelites united into a kingdom to get out of Philistinian rule. With Saul’s son, Jonathan at the forefront, they attacked the Philistines and turned the tables. Sadly, the Israelite’s victory over the Philistines was short-lived and they suffered the loss of their king and his three sons.

They then quickly moved in to capture Canaanite cities.

David, who slew Goliath and fled his nation for fear of King Saul’s envy, worked under a Philistinian King who ruled over Gath. In a decade, David had risen the ranks and established his Monarchy which he used to break the Philistinian’s depressive hold over colonies.

He swiftly moved across all previously raided nations and liberated them.

Important Cities in Philistine

Cities in Philistine were five cities grouped into one and this was referred to as Pentapolis. Some of the Pentapolis in Philistine history are;

  • Gaza where the lords convened for celebrations, festivities, and sacrifices inside the Temple of Dagon.
  • Ashkelon was a famous seaport and its markets served the Philistinian economy well
  • Ashdod was a place close to the Philistinian hearts. This is where they took the Ark of the Covenant and they also created two Dagon temples in there.
  • Gath was the colony under which David served before returning to establish his rule
  • Ekron was the furthest from the other cities and was a supervisory city that managed land grabbed from the Dan tribe of Israel.

Philistinian Government

Their kingdoms were head by a seren which loosely translated will mean tyrant or dictator. Some like King Achish of Gath bore the title of “King”. The king’s power is questioned and not absolute as in Judges, the son of Achish objects to David fighting in a battle against Saul and the king folds despite his strong opinion.

Sarim is who assisted the Seren in matters of war and military action. The tyrant commanded his army and his assistants had high ranking military posts. Seramin led the armies that dealt with crowd control in the event of war.

Philistine Religion

They had a flexible religious set up that allowed them to assimilate the Semitic Canaanite beliefs into their own. They led a Semitic lifestyle and followed their cultural and social practices. This is, however, except for the circumcision which they were widely known not to take part in.

Philistines deity was Dagon in honor of whom they erected temples in Gaza, Ashdod, and Beth Shean. Beelzebub was another of the Philistine gods and his temple was situated in Ekron. There was a female goddess as well Ashtoreth whose temple was in Beth Shean.


While the history of the Philistines is full of twists and turns. What is true is that they did love to battle and exert their rule on weak communities. Despite their extreme rampage, they soon were put to a halt and were absorbed by other communities. With scanty and biased information on their origin and culture, it would be hard to tell if you had Philistinian blood coursing through your veins.


Sterling Silver