Geography of Phoenicia Canaan

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The Motherland, Phoenicia Proper -- Canaan
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The Motherland, Phoenicia Proper

By the 2nd millennium BC the Phoenicians had already extended their influence along the coast of the Levant by a series of settlements, some well known, some virtually nothing but names. Well known throughout history are Joppa (Tel Aviv-Yafo) and Dor (later Tantura, modern Nasholim) in the south.

The geographic boundaries of the territory were Phoenicians lived are vague, and the name Phoenicia may be applied to all those places on the shores of the eastern Mediterranean where the Phoenicians established colonies in Cyprus, North Africa, Sicily, Sardinia, and Iberia. More often it refers to the heart of the territory where the great Phoenician cities, notably Tyre, Sidon, and Byblos stood (corresponding roughly to the coast of present-day Lebanon with adjoining parts of modern Syria, Turkey and Israel -- probably somewhere around the lower right edge of Turkey on the Mediterranean in the North and the upper cost of Sinia in the South through the coastal area from Arvad in the north to Acco in the south is a more realistic identification of what constituted Phoenicia). Further, important Phoenician centers existed c.2800 B.C. at Jerusalem, Jericho, Ai, and Megiddo. These territories expanded and contracted depending the political climate and military influences that came into play. Hence, Phoenicia meant different territorities in different times but always include the Phoenician heartland around the aforesaid great Phoenician cities.

During the Roman Empire territories and provinces changed hands and form depending on the political climat in Rome and arbitrary partitions which were applied to various parts of the empire. The province of Syria was partitioned into two parts: Syria Coele ("Hollow Syria"), comprising a large region loosely defined as north and east Syria; and Syria Phoenice in the southwestern region, which included not only coastal Phoenicia but also the territory beyond the mountains and into the Syrian desert. Under the provincial reorganization of the Eastern Roman emperor Theodosius II in the early 5th century AD, Syria Phoenice was expanded into two provinces: Phoenice Prima (Maritima), basically ancient Phoenicia; and Phoenice Secunda (Libanesia), an area extending to Mt. Lebanon on the west and deep into the Syrian desert on the east. Phoenice Secunda included the cities of Emesa (its capital), Heliopolis, Damascus, and Palmyra. In many respects, the two most important cities of Lebanon during the time of the Roman Empire were Heliopolis and Berytus. At Heliopolis the Roman emperors, particularly the Severans, constructed a monumental temple complex, the most spectacular elements of which were the Temple of Jupiter Heliopolitanus and the Temple of Bacchus. Berytus, on the other hand, became the seat of the most famous provincial school of Roman law. The school, which probably was founded by Septimius Severus, lasted until the destruction of Berytus itself by a sequence of earthquakes, tidal wave, and fire in the mid-6th century. Two of Rome's most famous jurists, Papinian and Ulpian, both natives of Lebanon, taught as professors at the law school under the Severans. Their judicial opinions constitute well over a third of the Pandects (Digest) contained in the great compilation of Roman law commissioned by the emperor Justinian I in the 6th century AD. In 608-609 the Persian king Khosrow II pillaged Syria and Lebanon and reorganized the area into a new satrapy, excluding only Phoenicia Maritima. Between 622 and 629 the Byzantine emperor Heraclius mounted an offensive and restored Syria-Lebanon to his empire. This success was short-lived; in the 630s Muslim Arabs conquered Palestine and Lebanon, and the old Phoenician cities offered only token resistance to the invader.


Coastal town and a major Phoenician seaport from about 2000 BC onwards through the Roman period. It is frequently mentioned in the works of the Hirodotus when he made visits to the city and its temples.

It was built on an island and the neighbouring mainland, and 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 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. Pop. (1982 est.) 23,000.


One of the ancient Phoenician cities on the Mediterranean coast, was founded in the 3rd millennium BC and became prosperous in the 2nd. It is frequently mentioned in the works of the Greek poet Homer and in the Old Testament; and it was ruled in turn by Assyria, Babylonia, Persia, Alexander the Great, the Seleucids of Syria, the Ptolemaic dynasty of Egypt, and the Romans. At that time Sidon was famous for its purple dyes and glassware. Herod I the Great embellished the city, and Jesus visited it. During the Crusades, Sidon changed hands several times and was destroyed and rebuilt.

A large necropolis has yielded numerous sarcophagi (stone coffins), including those of two Sidonian kings of the Phoenician period, Eshmunazar and Tennes, and the famous Alexander sarcophagus, depicting battle and hunting scenes, now at Istanbul. Other ruins include two crusader castles and the Phoenician Temple of Eshmun (Eachmoun).

Berytus (Beritus/Beritos) -- Modern Beirut

The antiquity of Berytus is indicated by its name, derived from the Canaanite name of Be`erot (Wells), referring to the underground water table that is still tapped by the local inhabitants for general use. Although the city is mentioned in Egyptian records of the 2nd millennium BC, it did not gain prominence until it was granted the status of a Roman colony, the Colonia Julia Augusta Felix Berytus, in 14 BC. The original town was located in the valley between the hills of Al-Ashrafiyah and Al-Musaytibah. Its suburbs were also fashionable residential areas under the Romans. Between the 3rd and 6th centuries AD, Berytus was famous for its School of Law. The Roman city was destroyed by a succession of earthquakes, culminating in the quake and tidal wave of AD 551. When the Muslim conquerors occupied Berytus in 635, it was still mostly in ruins.

Berytus was conquered by the military forces of the First Crusade and was organized, along with its coastal suburbs, as a fief of the Latin kingdom of Jerusalem.

As a crusader outpost, Berytus conducted a flourishing trade with Genoa and other Italian cities and became the chief port of call in area for the spice merchants from Venice.


Biblical GEBAL, ancient seaport, the site of which is located on the Mediterranean coast about 20 miles (32 km) north of the Berytus; it is one of the oldest continuously inhabited towns in the world. The name Byblos is Greek; papyrus received its early Greek name (byblos, byblinos) from its being exported to the Aegean through Byblos. Hence the English word Bible is derived from byblos as "the (papyrus) book."

Systematic excavations were begun at Byblos by Pierre Montet in 1921; in 1926 Maurice Dunand resumed the work and continued it for many years. The excavations revealed that Byblos was occupied at least by the Neolithic period (c. 8000-c. 4000 BC) and that during the 4th millennium BC an extensive settlement developed.

Because Byblos was the chief harbour for the export of cedar and other valuable wood to Egypt, it soon became a great trading centre; it was called Kubna in ancient Egyptian and Gubla in Akkadian, the language of Assyria. Egyptian monuments and inscriptions found on the site attest to close relations with the Nile valley throughout the second half of the 2nd millennium. During Egypt's 12th dynasty (1938-1756 BC), Byblos again became an Egyptian dependency, and the chief goddess of the city, Baalat ("The Mistress"), with her well-known temple at Byblos, was worshiped in Egypt. After the collapse of the Egyptian New Kingdom in the 11th century BC, Byblos became the foremost city of Phoenicia.

Byblos has yielded almost all of the known early Phoenician inscriptions, most of them dating from the 10th century BC. By that time, however, the Sidonian kingdom, with its capital at Tyre, had become dominant in Phoenicia, and Byblos, though it flourished into Roman times, never recovered its former supremacy. The crusaders captured the town in 1103 and called it Gibelet, but they later lost it to the Ayyubid sultan Saladin in 1189.

The ruins today consist of the crusader ramparts and gate; a Roman colonnade and small theatre; Phoenician ramparts, three major temples, and a necropolis.


The site was first occupied in the neolithic period, that is, the 4th millenium BC. Like so many other sites, it went through periods of habitation and destruction. It was destroyed by fire sometime between the 24th and 22nd centuries BC. It was allied with Egypt during the 19th and 18th centuries, which proved to be its most prosperous time. In the 18th century it was conquered by the Hurrians and ruled by them until the 16th century. It suffered a terrible earthquake in the 1300's but was rebuilt only to be destroyed about 1200 BC by the Sea Peoples.

A more detailed history will follow.


In many respects, the two most important cities of Phoenicia during the time of the Roman Empire were Heliopolis and Berytus. At Heliopolis the Roman emperors, particularly the Severans, constructed a monumental temple complex, the most spectacular elements of which were the Temple of Jupiter Heliopolitanus and the Temple of Bacchus.

Phoenician Settlements Outside the Motherland (Phoenician Colonies)

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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)

Phoenicia, A Bequest Unearthed -- Phoenician Encyclopedia

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