Purpose of neolithic city walls

Mar 2018
591
UK
#1
I was talking to a colleague yesterday about early cities and their development. He stated that the purpose of the first city walls were to "keep people in" rather than "keep them out". He didn't have any sources at hand for that, but claimed that this was a widely accepted fact amongst archaeologists. Now this surprised me greatly: firstly that archaeology could even tell us this, and second that you would want to lock people in. What would be the use for a city sized prison in the Neolithic? Even if you had slaves, you'd want them farming outside. Has anyone heard of this theory before?

Some quick research gave me the following apparent uses for ancient city walls:
Military Defense - Rather self explanatory
Flood Defense - Based on silt and sediment deposit outside the walls of Jericho
Power Symbol - Also rather self explanatory, it's a way of claiming land around the city
Community Building - To create a sense of "us" (those who lived inside the city) compared to "them" (those who lived outside the city) and create some sort of group identity. This is also based on ancient walls dividing different sectors of the city apart, suggesting that different subgroups wanted to maintain their own quasi-autonomy.

I guess the last one is the most similar to the "keep people in" theory, but it's still a very different use.
 
Aug 2014
4,013
Australia
#2
The walls were obviously meant for defense - to keep people out. We have clear evidence of battles around these city walls. Many early fortified cites, such as Çatal Höyük, never had walls at all. The outer defense perimeter consisted of all the buildings joined together to form a contiguous barrier. Curtain walls were erected during later periods of habitation.
 
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Mar 2018
591
UK
#3
The walls were obviously meant for defense - to keep people out. We have clear evidence of battles around these city walls.
That's very much what I thought. However, to play devil's advocate, that doesn't mean that was their initial purpose. For example, I was surprised to find there was so much evidence that the walls of jericho were used to prevent flooding rather than prevent raiding.
 
Aug 2014
4,013
Australia
#4
That's very much what I thought. However, to play devil's advocate, that doesn't mean that was their initial purpose. For example, I was surprised to find there was so much evidence that the walls of jericho were used to prevent flooding rather than prevent raiding.
That's certainly a possibility. Jericho is the earliest example of a walled settlement and none of the other settlements in that region at that time had walls. But nobody can explain how the ten meter circular tower in that construction could have contributed to flood protection. The next evidence of walled settlements is in Anatolia a millennium later and these are clearly defensive. Examples include Aşikli Höyük, Çatal Höyük, Hacilar, and Kuruçay Höyük.
 
Likes: Olleus
Mar 2019
278
Kansas
#5
That's certainly a possibility. Jericho is the earliest example of a walled settlement and none of the other settlements in that region at that time had walls. But nobody can explain how the ten meter circular tower in that construction could have contributed to flood protection. The next evidence of walled settlements is in Anatolia a millennium later and these are clearly defensive. Examples include Aşikli Höyük, Çatal Höyük, Hacilar, and Kuruçay Höyük.
I am also a little unsure how mud bricks would assist with flooding :(