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History of Lebanon

Phoenicians - Greek - Romans (4000 BC - 600 AD)


(4000 BC) The Phoenicians/ Canaanites

The recorded history shows a group of coastal cities and heavily forested mountains inhabited by the Canaanites around 4000 BC. These early inhabitants referred to themselves according to their city of origin, and called their nation Canaan. They lived in the narrow East-Mediterranean coast and the parallel strip mountains of Lebanon. Around 2800 BC Canaanites traded cedar timber, olive oil and wine from Byblos for metals and ivory from Egypt. The Coastal cities fell to Amorites around 2000 BC, and to Egyptians from round 1800 until 1200 BC when they recovered independence.

The Canaanites who inhabited that area were called Phoenicians by the Greeks (from the Greek word phoinos, meaning ‘red’) in a reference to the unique purple dye the Phoenicians produced from murex seashells. The Phoenicians mastered the art of navigation and dominated the Mediterranean Sea trade for over 500 years. They excelled in producing textiles, carving ivory and working with metal and glass. The Phoenicians built several local cities East of the Mediterranean among which are: Byblos, Tyre, Sidon, Berytus (Beirut), Tripoli, Arvad Island-City, Baalbek and Caesarea.

They established trade routes to Europe and Western Asia. Phoenician ships circumnavigated Africa a thousand years before those of the Portuguese. They founded colonies wherever they ventured on the North and South of the Mediterranean in Cyprus, Rhodes, Crete, Malta, Sicily, Sardinia, Marseilles, Cadiz, and Carthage around the first Millennium B.C.

Phoenician colonies around the Mediterranean Sea (first Millennium B.C.)

(above) Phoenician colonies around the Mediterranean Sea (first Millennium B.C.)

Inventing the Alphabet

Around 1600 B.C. the Phoenicians invented the alphabet, and passed them onto the world. The Greeks adopted the 22-letter alphabet from the Phoenicians which has led to the Latin letters of present day.

Constructing Kings David and Solomon Palaces and Temple

The Phoenician king Hiram of Tyre (989-936 BC) built a palace for David and two palaces and a temple for Solomon. The Bible provides a vast amount of information about them. The Phoenicians built David’s Palace and Solomon’s Temple. They also built King Solomon two palaces, of which one was called 'Forest of Lebanon'. Craftsmen of Phoenicia used Lebanon’s cedar and metal to accomplish the work around the mid of the tenth century BC. (for Details)

The Phoenicians adjusted to successive conquerors later and managed to keep their trade business ongoing, and kept a sort of political independence.

(875-608 BC) The power-raising Assyrians invaded Phoenicia in 875 BC and deprived the Phoenicians of their independence. Byblos, Tyre and Sidon rebelled several times and the Assyrians brought total destruction to the cities in response.

(585-538 BC) The Babylonians became the new power and occupied Phoenicia. Phoenician cities rebelled and Tyre was destroyed, again

(538 BC-333 AD) The Persians occupied the region including Phoenicia. The Phoenician navy supported Persia during the Greco-Persian war (490-449 BC). Phoenicians revolted when overburdened with heavy tributes imposed by the Persians in the forth century BC.

(333 - 64 BC) The Greeks defeated the Persian troops when Alexander the Great attacked Asia Minor in 333 BC. The Phoenician cities made no attempt to resist and acknowledged Alexander’s suzerainty. However, when he tried to offer a sacrifice to Melkurt, Tyre’s god, the city resisted and he besieged it.

The city fell after 6 months of resistance. Alexander’s conquest left a Greek imprint on the area. The Phoenicians, being a cosmopolitan civilization amenable to outside influences, adopted aspects of Greek civilization and continued with their trade business.

(64 BC-600 AD) Romans and Christianity

The Romans added Lebanon to its Empire. Economic and intellectual activities flourished in Lebanon during the Pax Roman. The inhabitants of the principal Phoenician cities of Byblos, Sidon and Tyre were granted Roman citizenship.

These cities were centers of the pottery, glass and purple dye industries; their harbors also served as warehouses for products imported from Syria, Persia and India. They exported cedar, perfume, jewelry, wine and fruit to Rome.

Economic prosperity led to a revival in construction and urban development; temples, palaces and the first School of Law in history were built throughout the country, as well as paved roads that linked the cities. Ruins of Roman temples and monuments are found all around Lebanon with the largest in Baalbek.

The Bible states that the first woman who believed in Christianity, became the first convert outside the Jews was a Phoenician woman. From the Northern Phoenician ports Saint Peter left to Rome and built the first church.

After the Roman Empire divided, the economic and intellectual activities continued to flourish in Beirut, Tyre and Sidon for more than a century.

The fifth century witnessed the birth of Maronite Christianity. Saint Maroun (also Maron) found a refuge in the northern mountains of Lebanon. A great portion of the Phoenicians became Christians, and their faith was named for him. Maronite Catholics later made great contributions to the Lebanese history, independence and culture.



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