Ancient Phoenician City of Byblos, Lebabon

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The Crusades-era Church of St. John-Mark in Byblos

Byblos, an ancient Phoenician city located on Lebanon’s Mediterranean coast has been settled since Neolithic times. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

UNESCO’s 1984 Advisory Body Evaluation document says the site has been occupied for circa 7,000 years making Byblos (Jbeil in Arabic) one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world. Evidence of this early civilisation has been found in the shape of a number of “monocellular” huts, almost certainly the homes of the earliest fishing community.

The city was originally known as Gebal from which the modern Arabic name is derived. The name Byblos came from the Greek Bublos meaning papyrus, one of the main trading commodities transported from this Mediterranean port. It is from this ancient Greek word that the name of the Bible is derived.

Around 2,800 BCE there were significant changes to Gebal, which by this time had developed into the most important port in the eastern Mediterranean with particularly close ties with Egypt.

Byblos Defensive Wall Attrubted to God EL

Gone were the simple dwellings now replaced with stone buildings. It had also become fortified with a main street and a network of smaller streets surrounded by a large wall which legend attributes to the god EL.

According to writer and historian Philo of Byblos who lived during the late first century and early second century CE, the god EL built a wall around the city before bestowing it to the goddess Baaltis.

The city was burned and completely destroyed by the invading Amorites, a Semitic people from Arabia, around 2,150 BCE. Over the following centuries a pattern of invasion, destruction and then rebuilding turned the city into a melting pot as each new arrival sought to leave their mark. Thankfully archaeology has allowed the modern student of history to understand the influence that Assyrian, Babylonian and Persian culture, to name only a few, had on the city. UNESCO argue that Byblos, “ Was able to accommodate successive domination”, but noted that during the Roman period the city’s commercial role declined.

Byzantine Period in Byblos

During the Byzantine period (396-637 CE) Christianity gradually replaced pagan worship and Byblos became a bishopric. However following the Arab conquest in the 7th century the city became less important. Under Mameluke and Ottoman rule Byblos returned to relative obscurity.

A visitor to Byblos today will find an amazing historical legacy, for example: fourth millennium Egyptian temples, Phoenician royal necropolis, Roman amphitheatre and the ubiquitous Crusader castle.

Phoenician Script, a Precursor to Modern Roman Alphabet

Added to that physical inheritance is the gift from the early Phoenician scribes (around 1,200 BCE) who developed an early alphabetic phonetic script, the precursor of the modern Roman alphabet.

Sources:

  1. UNESCO World Heritage Site, Advisory Body Evaluation 1984
  2. Mannheim I, Winter D, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon Handbook, Footprint Handbooks 1998, pp 541-549
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