Megiddo began to dominate the surrounding countryside in the 4th millennium B.C.E. (ca. 3500) – at the dawn of urbanization in the Levant. Today its monumental architecture provides the most impressive evidence of the rise of the first cities in the region.
Megiddo was the site of epic battles that decided the fate of western Asia. When the Canaanite city-states revolted against 15th century B.C.E Pharaonic attempts at hegemony, it was at Megiddo that they assembled to do battle. The Egyptian army, led by Pharaoh Thutmose III, surprised the rebels by choosing the most dangerous route of attack – through the narrow ‘Aruna Pass. After routing the Canaanite forces and capturing rich booty, Thutmose III laid siege to the city for seven months. His decisive victory enabled him to incorporate Canaan as a province in the Empire of the New Kingdom. The description of the battle of Megiddo is the earliest account of a major war in antiquity.
Six letters sent by Biridiya, King of Megiddo, to the Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaten in the 14th century B.C.E. were discovered in the archive of el-Amarna in Egypt. The letters indicate that Megiddo was one of the mightiest city-states in Canaan.
The Bible lists the king of Megiddo among the Canaanite rulers defeated by Joshua in his conquest of the land (Josh. 12:21). According to I Kings (9:15), King Solomon built Megiddo together with Hazor and Gezer. At that time the city had become the center of a royal province of the United Monarchy. The Egyptian Pharaoh Shishak took Megiddo in the second half of the 10th century. His conquest of the city is affirmed both in his inscriptions at the Temple at Karnak and in a stele erected at the site. In the 9th and 8th centuries B.C.E., the rulers of the Northern Kingdom refitted the fortress even more elaborately than before. The palaces, water systems and fortifications of Israelite Megiddo are among the most elaborate Iron Age architectural remains unearthed in the Levant.
In 732 B.C.E., the Assyrian King Tiglath-pileser III took the region from the Northern Kingdom. In the following years Megiddo served as the capital of an Assyrian province. With the fall of the Assyrian empire the great religious reformer, King Josiah of Judah, was called to Megiddo to report to Pharaoh Necho of Egypt, who was on his way to assist the crumbling Assyrian army in its last-ditch efforts against the Babylonians. Josiah was slaughtered by Necho (II Kings 23:29). Recollection of this event, along with the memories of the great battles fought here, were probably the bases for the idea in the Book of Revelations (16:16) that Armageddon (the mound of Megiddo) would at the end of days be the site of the last battle between the forces of good and the forces of evil.
In World War I Megiddo has also played a decisive role in battles for the control over the Jezreel Valley in particular and Palestine in general. The historical significance of the site prompted Fieldmarshal Edmund Allenby – the commander of the British forces – to include the name of Megiddo in his family’s hereditary title.
Because of Megiddo’s great significance for both Christians and Jews, the site was chosen as the historic meeting place for the 1964 visit of Pope Paul VI with Israel’s president, Zalman Shazar, and prime minister, Levi Eshkol. It was the first visit ever of a pope to the Holy Land.