Phoenician Archaeological Engraving of the Lebanese Dabké Dance and History of Dancing

Phoenician Encyclopedia

The engraving in the British Museum that contains
a representation of the origin of the Phoenician
Lebanese dance called Dabké

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Translate and its author are grateful to who inspired the creation, restoration of this archaeological artifact regarding the history of the Lebanese dance called Dabké.


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Dance and music

Dance is very ancient in human culture since evidence of its practice appears on cave-wall painting. The first purpose of dance is probably ritualistic which accompanied the dead on their final journeys to the afterlife. Extended dance time can be intoxicating, especially when performed for a long time with a rhythmic beat, music and chant. Hence, originally dance helped those close to the departed deal with their pain and sorrow, as they bid farewell to their departed. With the same thought, dance can cause some sort of pleasure.

Archaeological engraving of the origin of the Lebanese Dabke
To view a high-resolution version of this graphic, please click the graphic.

Rhythm is a basic element of music. Studies on the impact of rhythm the heart and state of being of a person can no longer be ignored. Simple and loud rhythms enhanced arousal. While the removal of fast and loud rhythms decreased arousal. Suffice it to say that music, regardless of time or medium, always had an impact on the human psyche.

Dance as ritual

In most ancient civilizations, dancing before the god is an important element in temple ritual. In Egypt the priests and priestesses, accompanied by harps and pipes, perform stately movements which mime significant events in the story of a god or imitate cosmic patterns such as the rhythm of night and day.

Sacred occasions in Greek shrines, such as the games at Olympia from the 8th century BC, are inaugurated with dancing by the temple virgins. The chorus is originally just such a dance, performed in a circle in honour of a god. In the 6th century, it became the centerpiece of Greek theatre.

Dance as ecstasy

Any sufficiently uninhibited society knows that frantic dancing, in a mood heightened by pounding rhythm and flowing alcohol, will set the pulse racing and induce a mood of frenzied exhilaration.

This is exemplified in the Dionysiac dances of ancient Greece. Villagers, after harvesting the grapes, celebrate the occasion with a drunken orgy in honour of Dionysus, god of wine. Their stomping makes a favourite scene on Greek vases.

In the Jewish community, dancing was equally a display of rejoicing and celebration.

When the Ark of the Covenant was Brought to Jerusalem, 2 Samuel 2 “5 David and all Israel were celebrating with all their might before the LORD, with castanets, harps, lyres, timbrels, sistrums and cymbals.” 2 Samuel 6:13-15 “13 When those who were carrying the ark of the LORD had taken six steps, he sacrificed a bull and a fattened calf. When those carrying the ark of the LORD had advanced six paces, he sacrificed an ox and a fattened calf. 14 And David, wearing a linen cloth, danced with all his might before the LORD, 15 while he and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the LORD with shouts and the sound of the trumpets.”

Dance as entertainment and display

Phoenician Canaanite engravings, Egyptian paintings, from as early as about 1400 BC, depict another eternal appeal of dancing. Dancers accompanied by musicians, food and drink delighted people and dancers alike. From princely banquet to back-street strip club, they require no explanation.

Dance as art

Human motion, which can be inspiring aesthetics and symbolism that are acknowledged by both performers and observers. Dance can be free-form or can have a predefined choreography that may or may not align with traditions of origin or historical period.

Dance as a political tool

The dance which King Herod II Antipas requested of Salome, daughter of his lover, Herodias (a.k.a. Dance of the Seven Veils) was one of significant political importance. He requested that Salome dance and promised to give her whatever she asked. Hence, Salome's dance performed before Herod II. It is an elaboration on the biblical story of the execution of John the Baptizer (the Baptist), yet the dance was not given a name or mentioned as any specific style of dance. It is reasonable to suggest that it was a solo dance performed to appeal to Harod's animalistic instinct. Oscar Wilde in 1891 called this dance "Dance of the Seven Veils" for a French play about Salome in the stage direction.

John the Baptizer Beheaded

In Matthew 14 the story goes as follows: “At that time Herod the tetrarch heard the reports about Jesus, and he said to his attendants, 'This is John the Baptist; he has risen from the dead! That is why miraculous powers are at work in him.'

“Now Herod had arrested John and bound him and put him in prison because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, for John had been saying to him: “It is not lawful for you to have her. ”Herod wanted to kill John, but he was afraid of the people, because they considered John a prophet.

“On Herod’s birthday the daughter of Herodias danced for the guests and pleased Herod so much that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked. Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist.” The king was distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he ordered that her request be granted and had John beheaded in the prison. His head was brought in on a platter and given to the girl, who carried it to her mother. John’s disciples came and took his body and buried it. Then they went and told Jesus.”

If the story is historically true, then Herodias succeeded in getting rid of John who was a thorn in King Herod Antipas’ side. He rebuked the King and Herodias for their adulterous relationship.

  Modern day Dabke

Dance in Archaeology

After this somewhat lengthy introduction, the question of the history of the Canaanite Phoenician dance called today Dabké (pronounced Dabb ke) is ready to be discussed.

At the British Museum and circular engraving is kept of a group of mostly dancing people with musicians, a person of high rank, food and drink. The engraving appears on this page and I restored it to clarify what is happening among this group of people.

The king or high-ranking man is seated on what seems to be a throne while servers are presenting him or about to present him with food and drink. Behind him, a group of musicians play the pipes, the harp and the hand-held drum. On the other side of the scene are women wearing what seems to be costumes or dresses of similar style and decoration, holding hands and dancing?

What is strikingly outstanding is the similarity of this scene with modern day Lebanese country traditional dance of the Dabké. It is usually danced in celebration of certain events with food, drink and music. Dabké is an ancient dance that predates the Arabs and most other invaders of the Land of the Phoenicians.

In Lebanon and many of the other regions where the Dabké is danced, the roofs were flat and made of tree branches that were topped with mud. Therefore, when the weather started to change the mud would crack and the roofs would have to be fixed. To fix the roof the Lebanese would hold hands, form a line, and start stomping their feet while walking on the roof so that the mud would adjust. In historical folklore, it is said that when the mud started to crack the owner of the house would call to the neighbors to have them help with the roof. He would yell, “Al-Awneh” which translates to “let’s go and help.” Then all of the neighbors and family members would get on the roof and start stomping to adjust the mud.

In today’s Lebanese culture the Dabké is still danced and is one of the Lebanese’s most famous traditions. The Dabké has been passed down from generation to generation and is performed in almost every Lebanese household. The Dabké passed down throughout history has been made livelier and more joyous and is usually performed or danced at weddings, special occasions (specifically on August 15, when the Feast of the Assumption (or Orthodox Dormition) of the Blessed Virgin Mary) and family gatherings. However, when the Dabké was first created the dance was slow and static. The dance progressively began to change after the First World War when many immigrants were coming to Lebanon, and the dance has further changed in minute ways from generation to generation.

Today the Dabké is a line dance where everyone stands in a line holding hands facing outwards or to the audience (if there is an audience). The dance usually starts with a musician playing a solo and then the dancers start to move together creating a synchronized movement and step. This usually consists of stepping with the left foot and right foot and then crossing the left foot and right foot over. Each of these steps has a little hop, kind of like a Greek dance. While dancing the Dabké, there is one main leader, usually a male called the “Lawweeh” who is expected to be the most skilled in the group of dancers. The Lawweeh should be able to improvise and is usually extremely light on his feet. The Lawweeh directs the dancers to slow down or speed up and helps keep the energy of the dance while giving directions. He also may sing out in song, break out of the line to improvise by himself, or try and get more family members or audience members to join the line as well.

The Dabké is a dance that has been passed down over time and still resonates with many people all over the world. Like many other dance forms, Dabké started in a culture that was going through struggles, looked for ways to make things enjoyable and turned to dance. I believe the Dabké dance will continue to be passed down through the generations and will hopefully continue to remind people of how their roots as a culture were established and how they are heavily impacted by their ancestors and historical traditions today.


  1. The Bible


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Additional references, sources and bibliography (Please don't write and ask me for references. You can find them at the end of article or in Bibliography)

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