The city of Jerusalem was the capital of a small city-state called Judah which, for more than a century prior to its destruction, was a client kingdom of Mesopotamia-based empires: first the Neo-Assyrian Empire, followed by the Neo-Babylonian Empire. Being a client kingdom, or a vassal, meant that Judah sent tribute payments to the Assyrian king, promised not to fight against him or against his allies, and sometimes to fight with him against his enemies. In exchange, the Assyrian king would protect Judah from its own enemies.
The capital was dominated by the palace, home of the Davidic kings and their court, and by the temple, centre of the State Religion. This public sphere formed the backbone of life in ancient Jerusalem and Judah. Its activities brought people together and unified them as a people. While private lives would have differed from family to family, the people of Jerusalem and Judah would have shared common ground in their identity as a people ruled by a specific king, with a particular attachment the god associated with the royal family, Yhwh.
The monarchy was the foremost of Judah's public institutions, and the kings’ fortunes in trade and warfare played a significant part in the livelihood of the people. When the kings were strong, winning battles, brokering treaties and securing useful trade routes, the people prospered and the kingdom could grow economically. When the monarchy was weak, the people suffered with their king. The royal household was also directly responsible for the administration of the kingdom. One of major royal activity was the levying of taxes to support the army, the temple, and the governmental system; evidence of this kind of administrative activity may be seen in the seals, stamps, and ostraca (inscribed pot sherds) from Iron Age Judah.
Our knowledge of life in the city and its environs comes in part from the biblical texts and in part from archaeological excavations at sites in and around the city. This collection highlights various aspects of public life in ancient Judah, and in its close neighbour to the north, Israel. First among these is the institution of monarchy and its relationship to the Assyrian and Babylonian empires: in the Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III we see the Israelite king Jehu paying tribute to the Assyrian king, while the reliefs of the capture of Lachish mark the terrible price of Hezekiah's rebellion against Sennacherib. Second, the collection highlights public aspects of cultic practice: we see the temple at Arad as an important focus of the city's religious activity, while other cultic items from Judah and beyond also illustrate religious activities in the public realm. The collection also illustrates the particular hallmarks of a developed state: an organised bureaucracy and economy.