Until the days of David and Solomon, "from Dan to Beersheba" was the customary designation for the entire area of the Land of Israel, Beersheba being regarded as the extreme southern point of the country.
According to the Bible, Abraham and Isaac dug wells at Beersheba and also formed alliances there with Abimelech, King of the Philistines. The origin of the name Beersheba is explained by the wells and by the seven ewes which Abraham set aside as a sign of the alliance (in Hebrew, be'er well; sheva, oath or seven).
After the Israelite conquest, Beersheba became a city of the tribe of Simeon and was later incorporated into the tribe of Judah. The biblical town of Beersheba is found at Tell al-Sab (Tell Beersheba), two and a half miles northeast of the new town, where remains from the Iron Age to the Roman period have been found in excavations.
Abandoned in the Arab period, Beersheba was not resettled again until 1900, when the Turkish government set up an administrative district in Southern Palestine and built an urban settlement in this purely nomadic region. In World War I, the town was the scene of many heavy losses to the British army; thus Beersheba has a British War Cemetery of about 1,300 graves. After the war, when its strategic role ended, Beersheba's population dwindled and in 1931 the number of Jews had decreased to 11.
During the War of Independence in 1948, the invading Egyptian army made Beersheba its headquarters for the Negev. When the town was taken by Israel forces in the same year, it was totally abandoned by its inhabitants, but early in 1949 Jewish settlers, mostly new immigrants, began to settle it once more. From 1951 large new suburbs were built, extending mainly to the north and northwest, while to the east a large industrial area sprang up. By 1993 population was 122,000.
Today's Beersheba is the capital of Israel's Southern District, and a hub of communications linking up with the main roads and railroads. A pumping station of the Eilat-Haifa oil pipeline is located there, and its largest industries (ceramics, sanitary ware, chemicals, etc.) exploit Negev minerals. The city has several academic, scientific, and cultural institutions, among them the Negev Hospital, the Municipal Museum, the University of the Negev (now renamed Ben-Gurion University), and the Negev Institute for Arid Zone Research. In addition, Beersheba serves as a market center for the Negev Bedouin, a sight which delights tourists and brings back the flavor of the old nomadic town to a new and bustling city.