and professor of sport, Dr. Labib Boutros, born in 1935 in Beirut
(Lebanon), was doctor in pedagogy of sports sciences of the Martin
Luther University of Halle (GDR). After pursuing competition sport
with success, he was swimming champion and recordman several times.
He was selected to take part in the 1969 Universiad. He devoted
himself to training, journalism and was the sports anchor of a major
Lebanese television station. He was a second prize winner at the
Mexico Olympic Games in 1968 competition open to all world journalists.
Polyglot, Labib Boutros spoke Arabic, French, German and English.
Dr. Boutros passed away in 1997.
Phoenician sport the foundation of the Olympic Games?
I In the light
of archaeological Excavations
- In Amrit,
on the coast of northern Phnicia, we have uncovered a Pheoenician
STADIUM, dating at least from the XVth century BC. The towns temple,
a typical example of Phoenician temples, is found 200 m. from the stadium.
stadium measures 225 m. long and 30 m. wide. Its topography is identical
to that of the stadium at Olympia. The area of Amrit has been cited
under the name of "Mrt" and "Amrat" in Egyptian
texts (XVth century BC) and of "Marathus" in classical scripts.
It is certain that there are only very old Phoenician remains in Amrit
and no Greek or Roman monuments.
- In Tyre,
the first archaeological excavations showed sports grounds of the Hellenic
and Roman periods as well as traces of Phoenician sports grounds.
and Gymnasium (Hellenic These two monuments coincide with the topography
and the measurements of the palaestra and gymnasium of Olympia, dating
from the III-IIth centuries BC. It can very easily be established
that the Hellenic palaestra of Tyre was built on the remains of a much
older palaestra, which appears to be Phoenician.
- The gymnasium
is found about ten metres away. This monument with a double porch
about 200 m. long and 11 metres wide, was originally a covered hall,
as in Olympia, and was used by the stadium runners (192,27m.) for
training when it rained or was very hot.
- The Roman
baths, built later, are found in this gymnasium.
- In the
period of the Greeks, the palaestra was the exercise place for wrestling,
boxing and the jump, while the gymnasium was used for running and
discus and javelin throwing.
- The games
of the gymnasium and palaestra were not common in Roman times, said
Vitruve (1st century BC).1
replaced them with the amphitheatre ceremonies from which the gladiators
and animal fighters evolved. The amphitheatre, together with the circus,
was the high-place of popular and sports festivals during the Roman
(Roman period) The circus is found some 1500 metres from the gymnasium
with an "Arc de Triomphe" and Roman tombs at its entrance.
If Tyre had been affected by the Roman period, we have not found evidence
of an amphitheatre up till now, which should not be far from this
circus. The sport complexes of Roman games usually centred on the
circus and amphitheatre.
II. In the
light of texts and inscriptions
writings, as well as the results of archaeological excavations, show
that the Phoenicians, exiled in Greece, introduced their gods, customs
and traditions there.2 In Olympia, the Phoenicians had (in
the XVIth century BC) a sanctuary for Melkart, to whom offerings were
the high place of Olympus, was the "Land of El", ground of
the Phoenicians supreme god established in Greece.4
of Byblos and Josephus Flavius revealed that the Greeks later adopted
in Olympia the custom of the god of Tyre "Baal-Shamen" and
called him "Zeus Olympia".5 These historical offerings
are testified by the exploration of Phoenician deities and works of
art in Olympia. These are representations of Baal and statues of horsemen
from the VIIIth century BC.6 All the writings of Greek historians
show that Melkart of Tyre, known in Corinth as Melikertis, in whose
honour the Isthmic Games were celebrated from the VIth century BC, was
known in Olympia as Herakles, founder of the Olympic Games in honour
of Baal (=Zeus).7 Melkart-Herakles came to Olympia from the
town of Thebes founded by Cadmus and his successors (according to Pindare)
or from Crete where the Phoenician deities were worshipped (according
to Pausanias). The fight of Herakles- Melkart with the gods, at the
beginning of the Olympic Games, was only an echo of the custom practised
by the Phoenicians many centuries beforehand. According to Ugarits
inscriptions,8 Baal fought against the other gods at fixed
times of the year. This made Melkart, deified hero of Tyre, follow the
custom of the fight in honour of Baal.
keeping this ancient custom in the Hellenic period, celebrated great
sports festivals in honour of Melkart, champion of champions.9
In the year 175 BC, King Antiochus Epiphane IV presided over these Games.
An inscription has been found in Tyre that mentions the name of a certain
Evitchus of Ephese, who won the pentathlon event.10 These
games called "Actia Héraclia" or more accurately "Actia
Melkartia" were also held at Tyre during the Roman period.11
received its sanctity and culture from Tyre. The intermediary of Baal,
known in Greece as Zeus brought about the spiritual closeness of the
two towns. Most important points
arrived in Olympia, bringing the traditions and culture of Baal, from
places where Phoenician worship was deep-rooted and established the
Games of Olympia in honour of Baal (=Zeus), with sport as their basis.
ceremonial games established in Olympia already existed
in Phoenicia (Amrit stadium, Tyre temple with traces of Phoenician
sports grounds under the Hellenic monuments). These
games, originally, were therefore introduced in Olympia by the Phoenicians.
Ancient Stadium of Amrit
of the existence of Phoenician sports prior to Greek sports is to be found
in the stadium of Amrit. This stadium provides the most certain proof
of our time that the Phoenicians celebrated religious games near the temples
before they carried this tradition outside their own territory.
on the north Phoenician coast, facing the island of Arwad, a neglected
Phoenician stadium2 was brought to my attention. Archeologists
had not properly investigated its nature until then. They had believed
it to be a hippodrome, referring to it as a "circus" which
would imply the use of the stadium as a chariot racetrack in Roman times.3
this stadium in 1745, the British geographer Richard Pococke said:4
place might serve for some sports to divert the people of Aradus and
Antaradus, or of the ancient Marathus, if that was near, and probably
it was a circus."
French archaeologist, Ernest Renan, undertook the study of the ruins
of Phoenicia in 1860, he mentioned the stadium, describing it in a way
that confirmed Pocockes view. However, Renan declared at the end
of his study that this athletic field must certainly have been Phoenician
when he said:5
distribution et la coupe générale du monument qui nous
occupe nont absolument rien de romain. Cest, à nen
pas douter, un stade phénicien."
that Renan was sure that this athletic field belonged to the Phoenician
epoch, but he believed it to be a hippodrome.
Pococke and Renan did not know the exact form of the sports stadium
of Olympia when they visited Phoenicia, because the excavations in Olympia
did not begin until 1875,6 and the specifications of the
Olympic stadium in Greece were not discovered entirely until the excavations
Phoenician stadium at Amrit remained in obscurity, occupying only a
few lines in two books, waiting for someone to define its identity and
to uncover its importance in the history of the development of sport.
that the importance of this stadium has not been recognized is shown
by its namethe Quarry8, because blocks were cut to
build the steps from the rocks surrounding the place. The farmers of
the area, when asked about the nature of the stadium, answered: "Here
was the Quarry!"
history of the city
to investigate the history of the city9 and to
explore its important stadium, we consulted classical historical documents.
But unfortunately the texts narrating the history of the city and its
athletic stadium are lost, as are most of the texts describing the Phoenician
cities. However, we found that Amrit was mentioned in Egyptian texts
among 14 other Phoenician cities.10 The story of the campaign
of Thutmose III (1504-1450 B.C.) speaks of a place in North Phoenicia
called "krt mrt", i.e. the city of "Mrt" or "Amrat".11 Scholars see a significant similarity in the etymology of "Mrt",
Amrit and Amurru, especially since this district of Phoenicia was known
as the land of Amurru in the period of the Egyptian Twelfth Dynasty
(circa 1991-1786 B.C.)12
present inhabitants of this region have several words for the name of
this ancient city. Some tell you that it is called "Mrit"
or "Amrit"; others say "Amrid". However, the official
name now posted at the ruins is "Amrit".
time of Alexander the Great, Amrit was known by a Greek name: Marathus.
It was famous as a large, rich and beautiful Phoenician city within
the Kingdom of Arwad.13 The buildings and markets for which
there was no place on the island were constructed in the city. The issue
of copper money.14 verifies the flourishing of the city in
the third and second centuries B.C.
to Diodorus (1st century B.C.), the Arwadians destroyed the city of
Amrit during the reign of Alexander Bala I in 150 or 148 B.C.15
When Strabo (58 B.C. - 25 A.D.) visited the city of Amrit, he found
it "an ancient city of the Phoenicians, now in ruins".16
that Amrit retained its primitive Phoenician character. Renan noticed
during his excavations that the city was devoid of any Greek or Roman
inscriptions or texts. He mentioned:17
dinscriptions grecques et latines prouve, dun autre côté,
que la ville dAmrit ne fut pas reconstruite sous lempire;
dans toutes les localités, en effet, qui refleurirent à
lépoque romaine, on arrive à une proportion dinscriptions
grecques et latines en quelque sorte fixe."
Amrit is devoid of habitations with only the remains of the temple,
stadium and tombs that have been excavated by Maurice Dunand and his
assistants. Near the temple, pottery fragments and funeral articles,
which were buried with the corpse, were uncovered. The date of these
discoveries goes back to the First Middle Bronze Age (2100 - 1900 B.C.)
and the Second Middle Bronze Age (1900 - 1750 B.C.).18 These
facts prove that Amrit was inhabited by the Phoenicians from the third
see a great resemblance in nomenclature between Marathus (in Phoenicia)
and Marathon (in Greece), since there is no difference between the words
other than the last two letters, which is a grammatical suffix. They
have found that Amrit gave its name to Marathon. In this respect, Brown
agrees with Dunkers view in his statement. He said:19
bears the same name as Marathus (Amrit) in Crete and on the Phoenician
coast near Aradus; a fountain springing at Marathon is called Macaria,
in honour of Heracles: i.e., it bears the name of Melkart which the
Greeks modified into Melicertes and Makar."
the "Heraclean Games" were held in honour of Heracles-Melkart.
The ceremonies were held in the month of Metageitnion (August-September)
and silver cups were awarded to the winners.20 These games
were being held in the time of Pindar (fifth century B.C.).
and specifications of the stadium
of the Amrit stadium is concealed in its antiquity and in its conformity
to the specifications of the ancient Greek stadia.21
It falls in a natural hollow between two hills and the form of its steps
indicates that it was the beginning of the U-shaped curve such as appeared
in the Delphi stadium (VI B.C.).
of the stadium is 220 metres, and its width is 30 metres (in Olympia
213.75 m x 29.60 m). Ten steps surround it, each having a height of
60 metres. These steps were dug out of limestone along the north side,
while half of the distance was dug in the stone to the south. The other
section was completed with stone constructions whose traces are still
visible today. On the east side, the steps turn from the two sides in
the shape of a bow at whose end there is a rock cut out on both sides
to form the two entrances to the arena, each of which is 3.50 metres
wide. Another entrance designated for the athletes was dug under the
steps of the south side. As for the west, or seaside, there are no steps.
We estimate the capacity of the stadium stairs at 11,200 spectators
(40 cm per person).
condition of the stadium, as it appears now, gives cause for concern
due to lack of maintenance and the collapse of a part of the rocks and
earth on the upper north side of the steps due to rain and floods. But
the forms of the stairs are still clear and can be revealed completely
if we remove the grass which covers a part of them. We were unable to
reveal the stadium floor since trees and weeds cover two thirds of it
and raise it up about two metres. The remaining one third is planted
with vegetables. The traces of adjoining ancient constructions22 near the stadium are visible on the southeast side. They were undoubtedly
administrative rooms for the judges and athletes, and practice area
later called "gymnasium" and "palaestra" by the
Greeks. It is unreasonable to assume that this stadium would not have
been supplied with a training ground.
this stadium was for great sporting events, like running, jumping, throwing,
wrestling... such as were famous in the Iliad (song XXIII). It was not
at all a hippodrome as some scholars have contended. Hippodromes are
much larger and wider and their dimensions are well known.
the length of the hippodrome equals four stadia,23 and in
Tyre the dimensions are 480 m x 160 m, while in Amrit the dimensions
of the stadium are much less (220 x 30 m); chariots could not have raced
in it because of its narrowness. This fact has been confirmed by the
investigations of Dunand in 1954. While searching for the axis of the
arena24 (spina) which was usually built in the centre of
the hippodrome for the chariots to encircle, the investigator found
no trace of the spina. In my discussions with Mr. Dunand (June 1971)
he revised his belief and confirmed our stand, that the Amrit athletic
field was in truth a stadium and not a hippodrome.
with Dunand who, in his investigation of 1954, put the date of the first
usage of the Amrit stadium back to the third century A.D.,25
without any justification. He wanted to tell us that this stadium was
built in the Roman era. However, we know that in this epoch large well-built
amphitheaters and hippodromes were actively used. This has been made
clear in the excavations at Leptis Magna in Libya26
and also in Tyre.
that the Amrit Games also included water sports. Renan observed (1860)
a place prepared for other sports connected with water activities (swimming,
rowing, diving...) on the seashore, at the mouth of the Amrit River,
700 metres away from the stadium. The floor of this area that the French
scholar also called "the circus" was nearly at sea level and
it was surrounded by sand and hills piled over ancient constructions.27 When we went to this "circus" (in May 1971) we saw transporters
removing great amounts of sand from it. Its characteristics unfortunately
had changed and we could investigate nothing in it.
stadium is adjacent to the city temple, with only a field, in which
a streamAmrit Riverflows, separating them. The distance
between the stadium and the temple is approximately 200 metres; such
is the tradition followed in Greece.28 This temple
is a model of the Semitic temples; archaeologists deny any Greek influence
upon it.29 Some of its parts, especially its "cella",
show an Egyptian influence known in the region since 1500 B.C.30
It is in conformity architecture-wise to the Phoenician temples in Byblos
which date from the third millennium B.C.31
consists of a court 55 metres long and 48 metre wide. Its entrance is
in the direction of the stadium. It was dug into rocky ground to a depth
of 5.5 metres. Its walls were cut into rock. In the middle of the court
a stone cube was left measuring 5.5 x 5.5 metres with a height of 3
metres. This cube was used as a base for building the "cella" which was built out of large stone blocks.32
traces the construction of the temple to the eighth century B.C.33
and Dunand traces it to the seventh century B.C.34 If this
temple, in its final form, dates from the epoch suggested by these two
scholars, then, in principle, it has existed since the construction
of the city, before the fifteenth century B.C. at least. The founder
of the city is its god, since tradition was and still is that people
would be concerned whenever erecting a city with building a place for
worshipping and sanctifying the god35 wh o was
the cause of their existence.
the image of Baal of Amrit,36 to whom the temple was dedicated,
was discovered in the region of Amrit. The Baals costume was that
of the northern Phoenicians, and his position is known from before 1700
B.C.37 An inscription of two or three lines in
Phoenician letters was found on this image, but the name of the god
cannot be read.38 It is observed that it resembles
the famous position of Melkart, when the god carries a club in his right
hand and a lion cub in the left hand.39 Dunand
believed that this image dated back to the fourth century B.C.40
However, if we compare it with the image of the Baal of Ugarit discovered
by Schaeffer in Ras Shamra (Ugarit), we find a great similarity between
the images of the two Baals.
says that the archaeological level from which this image was taken dates
back to the thirteenth or twelfth century B.C.41 It is our
belief that the great resemblance between the two images does not favour
separating them by eight or nine centuries. Ugarit is no farther than
100 kilometres from Amrit, and in the light of the great progress that
has been made in unearthing archeological discoveries in Ugarit (which
are bringing us closer to the truth), we can place the date of the image
of Amrit farther back than either Contenau or Dunand have done. The
Italian scholar Moscati, who found that the image of Amrit must be from
the ninth century B.C., is one of the contemporary scholars who support
we can say that the Amrit that flourished in ancient times witnessed
great religious celebrations in which the temple played a major role
in the ritual celebrations headed by sports in honour of Baal. We may
consider the construction of the city near the temple as being necessary
for worship. Thus, the relation of sports to worship, proven by Greek
records in the Olympic, Isthman, Pythian and Nemean Games, existed in
Phoenicia first. Here, too, the concept and purpose of the Greek Games
appear to have been derived from the Phoenician Games.
of the stadium
relied upon historical data, archaeological and architectural evidence
in order to define the era of the construction and first use of the
there was a tradition which indicated that temples were built along
with the establishment of cities, like the temple of Melkart in Tyre
(2750 B.C.). This43 consideration enables us to ascertain
the existence of the Amrit temple from the building of the city, i.e.
around the fifteenth century B.C.
go back to the religious relationship that always connected the athletic
field and the temple, due to worship rites intermingling with athletic
contests in honour of Baal, we find that the building of the stadium
was concurrent with the building of the temple. If this were not true,
how can one explain the existence of this stadium next to the temple?
The fact that the same method was used to quarry the stones of the temple
wall and the stadium steps reinforces our view regarding the connection
of the time of the construction of the stadium to the time of the construction
of the temple. Therefore, we can date the construction of the Amrit
stadium contemporaneously with the construction of the temple and the
city, i.e. around the fifteenth century B.C.
if the Amrit stadium dates from the Hellenistic or Roman epoch, a hippodrome
and great halls with decorated pillars would have been built next to
it in accordance with the advanced architecture of the times. Yet the
primitiveness of the construction in all of the ruins of Amrit does
not point to a Hellenic or Roman influence. The athletes entrance
to the stadium (under the south steps) was dug in the rock in a primitive
fashion. It was not constructed from stones in the shape of a dome or
in any definite architectural form such as the entrance to the stadium
of Olympia, as dated by Kunze to the second century B.C.44
Upon comparing the form of the two entrances, it is altogether clear
to us that the entrance to the Amrit stadium is older by many centuries.
of the Amrit stadium devoted to sports in Phoenicia several centuries
before the Olympic Games is not strange. The events of the Trojan War
in the thirteenth century B.C.45 allude to the
stadium contests in the funeral rites connected with the burial of Patroclus.46
mentioned in Egyptian texts of the fifteenth century B.C. It is known
that Amrit was in its time a rich and beautiful city, subject to the
Kingdom of Arwad. Some investigators have found that Amrit, known in
Greek times as "Marathus", gave its name to "Marathon"
(in Greece) where the "Heraclean Games" were held in honour
of Melkart-Heracles in the fifth century B.C. It appears that a dispute
arose in the second century B.C. between the inhabitants of Amrit and
those of the adjacent island of Arwad that caused the Arwadians to destroy
the city and divide its territory. From that time Amrit was neglected
and passed into oblivion.
we have explored a Phoenician stadium, standing near the city temple,
which scholars thought to be a hippodrome. The athletic festivals of
Amrit were tied to worship rite in honour of Baal and took place in
this stadium. Great effort and expense went to uncover the steps in
the rocks. These contests held at Amrit were running, jumping, throwing,
evidence has shown that this stadium was used before the coming of Hellenic
civilization to the Phoenician coast.47 It has been used
since the construction of the temple, which was a part of the city from
its beginning. These facts have encouraged us to trace the construction
of the stadium back to around the fifteenth century B.C.
and its connection to the temple complete the clarification of the relation
between sports and worship rites of Melkart-Heracles which began in
Phoenicia and then moved by way of the Phoenicians to Greece.
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