In the middle of the 11th century BCE, the tribes of Israel were in a precarious situation, surrounded by warlike kingdoms and city-states. To better organize their defence, the Prophet Samuel summoned a tribal gathering at which Saul was acclaimed the first Israelite king. Saul swiftly proved his value, by defeating the Ammonites besieging Jabesh-Gilead. Saul enjoyed considerable military success, defeating the Moabites, Edomites, Ammonites and ruthlessly annihilating the nomadic Amalekites. Saul’s most formidable foes were the Philistines, who were expert ironworkers and master charioteers, with territories dangerously close to his capital, Gibeah. Saul’s son, Jonathan, managed to defeat the Philistines at Michmash, but the Philistine retaliation was devastating, forcing the Israelites to hide in ‘caves, holes and cisterns’. A final showdown near Jezreel resulted in the destruction of the Israelite army: Saul was slain in the battle, together with three of his sons.
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