Phoenician Cities

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Tyre was a major Phoenician seaport from about 2000 BC onwards through the Roman period.

Tyre, built on an island and the neighbouring mainland, was probably originally founded as a colony of Sidon to the north and was mentioned in Egyptian records of the 14th century BC as being subject to Egypt. It became independent when Egyptian influence in Phoenicia declined and soon surpassed Sidon as a trade centre, developing commercial relations with all parts of the Mediterranean world. In the 9th century BC colonists from Tyre founded in northern Africa the city of Carthage, which later became Rome's principal rival in the West. The town is frequently mentioned in the Bible as having had close ties with Israel. Hiram, King of Tyre, furnished building materials for Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem (10th century), and the notorious Jezebel, wife of King Ahab, was the daughter of Ethbaal "King of Tyre and Sidon." In the 10th and 9th centuries Tyre probably enjoyed some primacy over the other cities of Phoenicia and was ruled by kings whose power was limited by a merchant oligarchy.

For a mosaic of the ethnic groups that form the peoples of the Middle East, click "Present." These ethnic groups are not all Arabs, as most people think.
Photographic galleries of Phoenicia through the lens of Peter Brown, a Lithuanian/ Scottish American. Visit his site by clicking on the image of Tyre below.

For much of the 8th and 7th centuries the town was subject to Assyria, and in 585-573 it successfully withstood a prolonged siege by the Babylonian King Nebuchadrezzar II. Between 538 and 332 it was ruled by the Achaemenian Kings of Persia. In this period it lost its hegemony in Phoenicia but continued to flourish. Probably the most famous episode in the history of Tyre was its resistance to the army of the Macedonian conqueror, Alexander the Great, who took it after a seven-month siege in 332, using floating batteries and building a causeway to gain access to the island. After its capture, 10,000 of the inhabitants were put to death, and 30,000 were sold into slavery. Alexander's causeway, which was never removed, converted the island into a peninsula.

Tyre was subsequently under the influence of Ptolemaic Egypt and in 200 became part of the Hellenistic Seleucid kingdom; it finally came under Roman rule in 68 BC. It was often mentioned in the New Testament and was famous in Roman times for its silk products and for a purple dye extracted from snails of the genus Murex. By the 2nd century AD it had a sizable Christian community, and the Christian scholar Origen was buried there (c. 254). Under Muslim rule from 638 to 1124, Tyre grew prosperous as part of the kingdom of Jerusalem, a crusader state in the 12th and 13th centuries. The Holy Roman emperor Frederick I Barbarossa, who died on the Third Crusade, was buried in its cathedral (1190). Captured and destroyed by the Muslim Mamluks in 1291, the town never recovered its former importance.

The silted up harbour on the south side of the peninsula has been excavated by the French Institute for Archaeology in the Near East, but most of the remains of the Phoenician period still lie beneath the present town.

Tyre was built in ancient times on a small rocky island near the coast. In the 10th century BC, King Kiram of Tyre constructed two ports and a temple on the mainland sector of the city. This was the era when the famous industries of Phoenician glass and purple dye were developed.

Behind the walls of the old city the Tyrians successfully defied Nebuchadnezzar for 13 years. Alexander the Great also laid seige to it for 7 months, finally overwhelming the island city by constructing a great causeway from the shore to the island. Over the centuries, however, the causeway was silted up, turning Tyre into an isthmus. In biblical times it was in Qana (Cana) near Tyre that Jesus turned water into wine at the wedding feast.

In 1980, modern Tyre's impressive Roman and Phoenician remains prompted UNESCO to make the town one of its world heritage sites.


Sidon is said to mean "fishing". It was the third great Phoenician city-state, rivalling Byblos and Tyre as a naval power. In Darius' time, towards the end of the 6th century BC, it was the capital of the fifth Persian satraphy and a showplace of buildings and gardens. The town was conquered by the Crusaders after a famous siege lasting 47 days, then retaken by Saladin 70 years later. The Castle of the Sea, built by Crusaders in 1228, guards the entry to the habour. The Great Mosque, the ruins of the castle of St Louis, the Phoenician temple to the god Eshmoun, and the burial grounds with their catacombs and underground chambers, are all relics of Sidon's impressive past.

Beritus (Berytus)

Beirut was built on the largest rocky promontory of the coast at the near centre of the country. Later it would become capital of the modern nation, but in ancient times its deep harbour and central location were not so apparent and the city was overshadowed by more powerful neighbours. Its earliest name was "Birot", a Semitic word meaning "well", or "source". When the city-states of Sidon and Tyre began to decline in the first millennium BC, Berytus, as it was then called, acquired more influence, but it was not until Roman times that it became an important port and cultural centre with its famed Roman Law School.

After Roman power waned, Greek influence dominated the Byzantine period beginning in the 4th century. Later, the Crusaders held the city for some 200 years. It was only at the end of the 19th century, after 400 years of Ottoman rule, that Beirut began to develop and modernise.


Byblos (Jbail), one of the oldest towns in the world, goes back at least 9000 years. The rise and fall of nearly two dozen successive levels of human culture on this site makes it one of the richest archaeological areas in the Middle East. Millennia ago Byblos was the commercial and religious capital of the Phoenician coast. Byblos also gave its name to the Bible and it was here that the first linear alphabet, ancestor of our alphabet, was invented. In the modern town, 36 kilometres north of Beirut, the Roman-medieval port has been repaired and nearby are the extensive excavated remains of the city's past which stretch from the Stone Age to the Crusader era.


Tripoli (Trablos), some of 85 km north of Beirut and the second largest city in Lebanon, shares the long history of the Levantine coast. It was the centre of a Phoneician confederation with Sidon and Tyre and Arados Island - hence the name "Tripolis", meaning "triple city". The first parliament ever to convene in the Middle East met in the Phoenician confederate city of Tripoli.

Arvad, Island-city with Amrit/Marathus

The oldest form of government in the Phoenician cities seems to have been kingship--limited by the power of the wealthy merchant families. Federation of the cities on a large scale never seems to have occurred. Joppa (Jaffa, modern Yafo), Dor, Ashkalon, Acre, and Ugarit. Colonization of areas in North Africa (e.g., Carthage), Anatolia, and Cyprus also occurred at an early date. Carthage became the chief maritime and commercial power in the western Mediterranean. Several smaller Phoenician settlements were planted as stepping stones along the route to Spain and its mineral wealth.

This rarity of indigenous documents is in contrast to the numbers of Phoenician inscriptions found elsewhere--on Cyprus,


The Acropolis of Baalbeck, in the Beqaa valley 85 Kilometres from Berytus, is the largest and best preserved corpus of Roman architecture left to us. Its temples, dedicated to Jupiter, Benus and Bacchus, were built in the second and third centuries AD. The ruins present a majestic ensemble: two temples, two courtyards preceded by propylaea (ceremonial entrances) and a boundary wall upon which Arab architecture has left its traces. Six immense columns still soar upwards from the holy place where the Temple of Jupiter once stood.

The Beqaa valley is the old "Coele Syria" of the Latins, the granary of ancient Rome. This great fertile plateau, 176 km long and 15 km wide, was in times past a route for caravans from the east and north. Traces have been found of the many peoples who have passed here. Some merely came through - Egyptians, Hittites, Persians, crusading Franks. Others lingered and settled -- the Greeks, Romans and Byzantines Caesarea


Caesarea Maritima (Qisarya), 55 km (34 mi) north of Tel Aviv, Israel, was an ancient city of Palestine. Originally a small Phoenician port, it was rebuilt between 22 and 10 BC by Herod the Great, who renamed the site for the emperor and made it a major port. Caesarea is best called quasi-Phoenician

Caesarea became the seat of the Roman governor of JUDEA in AD 6 and played an important part in early church history. Pontius Pilate resided here, and in the Book of Acts the work of Philip, Peter, and Paul at Caesarea is described. Both EUSEBIUS and ORIGEN worked at Caesarea. After the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, Caesarea became the most important city in Palestine; by the 6th century its population may have reached 100,000. The city's subsequent decline was hastened when the Persians and the Arabs sacked it early in the 7th century. Last occupied during the period of the Crusades, it was abandoned after its destruction by the Mamelukes in 1265. An aqueduct and a theater from Herod's time are still standing today.

Archaeological excavations between 1950 and 1961 revealed the main features of the city as described by the 1st-century historian Josephus, restored the extensive fortifications built by the Crusaders, and unearthed an inscription of Pontius Pilate. Investigations by underwater archaeologists in the 1980s confirmed Josephus's description of the harbor with its two massive breakwaters.

Phoenician Cities in Malta, Sicily, Sardinia, Greece, North Africa, France (Marseille), Spain, and other places

Phoenicians trade was instrumental in the establishment of Phoenician colonies or cities around the Mediterranean. This subject is covered in some detail under the subtitle "Phoenician Colonies.

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