After the pharaoh expelled the Israelites from Egypt, in Exodus 14 he had ‘seller’s remorse’ and he led his chariot army to recapture the Israelites. “He took six hundred of the best chariots, along with all the other chariots of Egypt, with officers over all of them.”
The Egyptians followed the Israelites into the split sea, but “Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at daybreak the sea went back to its place. The Egyptians were fleeing toward it, and the Lord swept them into the sea. The water flowed back and covered the chariots and horsemen, the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed the Israelites into the sea. Not one of them survived.”
In the Bible, horses appear as an important element of kingly power. Deuteronomy 17 specifically calls out horses in restricting a king’s behavior: “The king, moreover, must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself or make the people return to Egypt to get more of them, for the Lord has told you, You are not to go back that way again.”
1 Kings 5 and 2 Chronicles 9 differ on the number of horses in King Solomon’s arsenal. In the former, “Solomon had 40,000 stalls of horses for his chariotry and 12,000 horsemen,” while in the latter “4,000 stalls for horses and chariots, and 12,000 horsemen” which he stationed in the chariot towns and with the king in Jerusalem. In 1 Kings 10, “Solomon accumulated chariots and horses; he had fourteen hundred chariots and twelve thousand horses…Solomon’s horses were imported from Egypt and from Kue, the royal merchants purchased them from Kue at the current price. They imported a chariot from Egypt for six hundred shekels of silver, and a horse for a hundred and fifty.” Irrespective of which number was correct, a large number of horses can be representative of a king’s power and wealth.
The prized horses of the 9th century BCE in the Near East would have been large chariot horses from Egypt. The northern Kingdom of Israel was along the trade route that connected Egypt to the north and to Mesopotamia, and it would have been an important conduit in getting horses to their final destinations. The Kurkh Monolith Stele of Shalmaneser III shows that Israel was the largest contributor of chariots to the alliance that fought at the Battle of Karkar, an indication of the importance of horses in the Kingdom of Israel.
Megiddo sat along the coastal route between Egypt and the Near East, and became an important equestrian center. On the Megiddo plateau, archaeologists unearthed stables in the northwest and southeast corners. In the northwest corner once stood a number of buildings with multiple stable units, while the southeastern area contained courtyard which could have been used for training the horses. Some dispute this reading of the material as stables, but horse bite marks on troughs and holes in stone, that could have been used to tether the animals, point the buildings indeed housing stables.
The dating of these facilities is disputed. It was once thought that these were 10th century BCE buildings that housed King Solomon’s horses. That view fell out of favor for either 9th BCE stables belonging to Ahab or early 8th BCE stables of Jeroboam II. If these were indeed of the 9th BCE, these stalls, along with the horse stalls at Jezreel, could have been the ones that housed the horses that led the “2,000 chariots…of Ahab, the Israelite” mentioned on the Kurkh Stele of Shalmaneser III.
The image above is an aerial view of the site of the southern stables at Megiddo.