Meṣad Hashavyahu is an ancient fortress on the border of ancient Judea facing the Philistine city of Ashdod near the Mediterranean Sea. It lies 1.7 km south of Yavne-Yam (the seaport) and 7 km northwest of Yavne (the main city). The original name of the fort is unknown, but was given the name found on several inscribed pottery shards (ostraca) recovered at the site. The site covers an area of approximately 1.5 acres (6,100 m2).
The Yavne-Yam ostracon was found in the excavations.
It dates from approximately 630 BCE to 609 BCE, within the reigning years of Josiah, king of Judah. William Foxwell Albright wrote, "The life of the fortress could be dated within narrow limits by the typical late pre-exilic and early Ionian pottery found on the site, as well as by historical considerations, which suggest a date about 630 BCE. This would be just after the death of the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal and before the occupation of the Philistine Plain by Psammetichus of Egypt."
Both Greek pottery and Judahite ostraca were found (see below). Some scholars believe the site had been used by Greek mercenaries. They might have been serving under Judean command in Josiah's battles against the Egyptian army, as Yohanan Aharoni supposed. But both Greek and Judahite mercenaries served in the Egyptian army at the time of the late monarchic period. According to Israel Finkelstein, "it is therefore quite reasonable that the unit stationed in the Egyptian fort of Messad Hashavyahu included Judahite mercenaries", and Egyptian control was more likely than Judean: "there can be little doubt that Egypt, which expanded in the late 7th century [BCE] along the coast of the Levant, was strong enough to prevent Josiah from building an isolated fort in the middle of an area in which Egypt had strong strategic interests". One of the significant issues dependent on this debate is whether or not the Kingdom of Judah under Josiah had access to a sea port. The fact that the fort was south-facing may imply that it was built for the protection of Yavne and the surrounding agricultural lands including the seaport area of Yavne-Yam, against aggressors from the south, either Philistine or Egyptian.
- Albright, W.F., "Palestinian Inscriptions: A Letter from the Time of Josiah", in Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969), 568.
- Israel Finkelstein; Neil Asher Silberman (2002). The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology's New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Sacred Texts. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 978-0-7432-2338-6.: p.350–351
- The Philistines from Hezekiah to Josiah
- Naveh, J. "A Hebrew Letter from the Seventh Century B.C.," in Israel Exploration Journal, Vol 10, Nr 3, 1960, 129-139
- K.C. Hanson, The Yavneh-Yam Ostracon