Azdud (Ashdod-Yam): An Early Islamic Fortress on the Mediterranean Coast

Sarah Kate Raphael


Few sources mention the fortress located on the coast of the modern city of Ashdod, Israel. The reasons for its construction can best be understood by examining the political and military changes in the Eastern Mediterranean in the seventh and early eighth centuries. The Muslim conquest of Syria, Palestine and Egypt from the Byzantine Empire changed the regional balance of power. The Arab-Byzantine frontier that stretched along the coast and the strong Byzantine navy led the Muslim governors to fortify the coast against a possible Byzantine invasion. The fortress served as a lookout post to alert the Muslim forces. The fort hardly changed during the Fatimid period; however, its military role changed significantly. The coast was threatened from the east,by the Carmathians, Bedouin and Turcomans. Its orientation changed; it protected and strengthened the Fatimid hold on the coast from the above inland forces. The coastal settlements were supplied and partially secured by a modest Fatimid fleet. An intriguing aspect of this fortress is its plan, which follows the Roman and Byzantine traditions. The castrum simply suited the needs of the Umayyad rulers. The lack of architectural innovation up until the Fatimid period suggests a long period of stagnation in the fields of military architecture and siege warfare. In the Crusader period it became a private estate. In comparison to the complex Crusader fortresses, Ashdod-Yam is small, and somewhat