A town in the coastal plain of Israel, 10 miles southeast of Tel Aviv-Jaffa, is first recorded in Thutmose III’s list of towns of Canaan (1465 BCE).
According to the Bible it was founded by Shemed, a Benjaminite (1 Chronicles 8:12). It appears with Ono and Hadid in the list of places resettled after the return from the Babylonian Exile (Ezra 2:33; Nehemia 7:37). In the Hellenistic period Lydda was outside the boundaries of Judea. In 145 BCE it was detached from Samaria and given by Demetrius II to Jonathan the Hasmonean.
In Maccabean times it was a purely Jewish town, and later Julius Caesar is reported to have restored the privileges of its Jews, taken away by the Greeks. In 43 CE Cassius, the governor of Syria, sold its inhabitants into slavery. The Roman proconsul of Syria, Cestius Gallus, burned Lydda on his way to Jerusalem in 66 CE. Captured by John the Essene at the beginning of the first Jewish war (66-70), it was occupied by Vespasian in 68 CE.
Between the First and Second Jewish Wars the town flourished. It had a large market, raised cattle and ran textile, dyeing and pottery industries. It was a seat of the Sanhedrin, and its scholars included Akiva and Eliezer ben Hyrcanus. It also had a Christian community at the time of Peter (Acts 9:32-35). In the year 200 Septimus Severus, the Roman emperor, established a Roman city there, calling it Colonia Lucia Septima Severa Diospolis. Still partly Jewish, it took part in the revolt against the emperor Gallus in 351 and was punished when this failed.
By the Byzantine era, the town was predominantly Christian. It was the legendary birthplace of St. George, patron saint of England, and was called Georgiopolis.
The Madaba mosaic, laid out in the sixth century on the basis of old itineraries, clearly shows what Lydda was like in the Byzantine period: a city without wall, with a colonnaded street flanked by two churches: a large one to the right a smaller one to the left, both with a basilica plan and no dome. The church on the right has a semicircular colonnaded plaza in front. The inscription above the vignette reads: “Lod, or Lydea, also (called) Diospolis”. One church must be identified with St. George’s and it is presumably the one later rebuilt by the Crusaders and which has come down to us; the other possibly commemorated the miracle worked by St. Peter on Aeneas, or could simply be the cathedral.
Captured by the Muslims in 636, it served as the headquarters of the province of Filastin. An important city after the Arab conquest of Palestine in the 7th century AD,
Lod was occupied by the crusaders in 1099, who named it St. Jorge de Lidde and destroyed by Saladin in 1191.
There was only one Jewish family there in 1170, according to Benjamin of Tudela. But more Jews settled there again after the conquest by Saladin; it was afterwards rebuilt by Richard Lionheart.
In 1669 Father Mariano Morone describing the parishes held by the Greeks, lists also Lydda together with Ramle. Statistics for these years are unfortunately lacking. The list made by the Greek Patriarchate in 1838 numbers 100 souls at Lydda, with two priests. According to the 1904 list the souls would have risen to 1000, but Karalevrsky, who re-edited it, suggested to correct the figure to 200. The official 1922 statistics have the following data: 921 Greek Orthodox, 1 Greek Catholic and 4 Latin Catholics; and the list made by the Latin Patriarchate in 1946 has 1100 Greeks and 250 Latins.
The latter opened a mission in 1846, but it did not develop much and it was not necessary to build a new church. The Latin church was located on the Ramle-Lydda road near the tomb of the prophet Simeon (Nebi Sim’an).
During the early Ottoman period there seem to have been no Jews living there, though a small Jewish community was founded in the 19th century. The Jews were forced out by the 1921 Arab riots; by 1944 Lydda had a population of 17.000 Arabs, one-fifth of them Christian. During the War of Independence, Israel forces occupied Lydda in July 1948. The majority of Arabs abandoned the town. At the end of 1990 the population numbered 43.000 including over 4.000 Muslims and Christian Arabs.
Israel’s international airport, renamed in honor of David Ben-Gurion, was originally built on the outskirts of Lydda by the British Mandatory government in 1936. It is the home base for Israel’s El Al airlines. Both the airport and Israel Aircraft Industries are important sources of employment for the local population. Other industries include papermaking, food preserves, electrical appliances, cigarettes and oil refining.