3000 B.C. to 634 A.D., Invasions,
Sieges and Plunders
The Phoenicians of the Iron Age (first millennium B.C.) descended from the
original Canaanites who dwelt in the region during the earlier Bronze Age
(3000-1200 H.C.), despite classical tradition to the contrary. There is archaeological
evidence for a continuous cultural tradition from the Bronze to the Iron Age
(1200 -333 s.c.) at the cities of Tyre and Z araphath.
In the Amarna age (fourteenth century B.C.) many letters to Egypt emanated
from King Rib-Addi of Byblos, King Abi-Milki of Tyre, and King Zimrida of
Sidon, and in other New Kingdom Egyptian texts there are references to the
cities of Beirut Sidon, Zaraphath, Ushu, Tyre, and Byblos. Additionally there
is a thirteenth-century B.C. letter from the king of Tyre to Ugarit, and
Ugaritic inscription has turned up at Zaraphath. Despite these facts showing
that the coastal cities were occupied without interruption or change in population,
the term "Phoenician" is now normally applied to them in the Iron
Age (beginning about the twelfth century B.C.) onward when the traits that
characterize Phoenician culture evolved: long-distance seafaring, trade and
colonization, and distinctive elements of their material culture, language,
The Phoenicians, whose lands corresponds to present-day Lebanon
and coastal parts of Israel and Syria, probably arrived in the
region in about 3000 B.C. They established commercial and religious
connections were established with Egypt after about 2613 BC and
continued until the end of the Egyptian Old Kingdom and the invasion
of Phoenicia by the Amorites (c. 2200 BC).
Other groups invading and periodically controlling Phoenicia
included the Hyksos (18th century BC), the Egyptians of the New
Kingdom (16th century BC), and the Hittites (14th century BC).
Seti I (1290-79 BC) of the New Kingdom reconquered most of Phoenicia,
but Ramses III (1187-56 BC) lost it to invaders from Asia Minor
and Europe. The roster of Phoenician cities changed during the
near millennium-long period beginning in 1200 B.C., reflecting
the waxing and waning of their individual fortunes and the impinging
historical events of the Near East. At the beginning of the Iron
Age, as part of the invasion of the Sea Peoples (groups from
the Greek islands, especially Crete), the Philistines occupied
the coastal area south of Mt. Carmel, including Dor, Ashdod,
Ashkelon, and Gaza. By the eighth century B.C., however, the
material culture of the Phoenicians extended southward, and Sidon
controlled Dor and Joppa during the Persian period (539-333 B.C).
The Achaemenians, an Iranian dynasty under the leadership of
Cyrus II, conquered the area in 538 B.C. Sidon became a principal
coastal city of this empire. The history of Tyre and Sidon is
intertwined (indeed they were only twenty-two miles [35 km.]
apart). Classical tradition suggests that Sidon was the more
powerful at first but by the tenth century B.C. Tyre dominated.
Tyre's kings ruled a stretch of the coast that included Sidon
and often they were referred to as kings of the Sidonians (1
Monument at Nahr el Kalb (Dog River) served, across the ages, as the
s visitors' register
or depository of "business" cards of invaders. The
hill that rises directly from the sea contains engravings and
inscriptions of invaders of Phoenicia for thousands of years.
There are ancient inscription such as those made by Pharaohs
or the Allied Forces of the First and Second World Wars.
There were no major Phoenician cities north of Arvad, but
Phoenician influence extended into Cilicia in the ninth and eighth
centuries B.C. Obscurity surrounds the emergence of Phoenician
culture during the twelfth and eleventh centuries B.C. In a foray,
the Assyrian king Tiglathpileser I (1114-1076 B.C.) sojourned
at Arvad and received tribute from Byblos and Sidon, and there
are archaeological data from Tyre and Zaraphath for this period.
The Egyptian Tale of Wenamun, dating to the mid-eleventh century
B.C., graphically portrays the decline of Egyptian prestige and
power in the Levant. This was due in part to the invasions of
the Sea Peoples and the general disruptions of Late Bronze Age
cultures throughout the eastern Mediterranean, with the collapse
of Mycenaean and Hittite cultures and the destruction of city-states
in the Levant. Trade was severely affected. In the aftermath
of the disruptions and the power vacuum a new order emerged in
which flourishing Phoenician settlements replaced such destroyed
centers as Ugarit on the coast of northern Syria. Instead of
the Levant being the recipient of Aegean wares, Phoenician cities
began exporting goods and services.
In the 10th century B.C. the city state of Tyre rose to hegemony among Phoenician
states and founded colonies throughout the Mediterranean region. During the
same time, Tyre strengthened its influence over the northern kingdom of Israel.
Phoenician influence is also to be seen in the region of Cilicia at Zinjirli
where King Kilamuwa, probably Aramaean in origin, chose the Phoenician language
and script for a long inscription at the front of his palace. Other Phoenician
inscriptions come from the same region in the following centuries Azitiwada
marked the rebuilding of his city with bilingual inscriptions in Phoenician
and hieroglyphic Hittite at Karatepe. The strong Phoenician influence in Cilicia
may be due to trading activities in a network including Urartu, the northern
rival of Assyria in the ninth and eighth centuries B.C.
The pace of Assyrian activity in Phoenicia quickened in the
ninth century B.C. when Ashurnasirpal II, Shalmaneser III, and
Adadnirari III exacted tribute and taxes from Sidon, Tyre, and
other Phoenician cities. Assyria was gradually extending its
control over the Levant. As a result of the far-reaching reorganization
of the Assyrian Empire by Tiglathpileser III (744-727 B.C.),
the nature of the impact on Phoenicia changed from one of occasional
demands by raiding armies to incorporation as vassals into the
empire. Many cities lost their autonomy altogether and became
part of Assyrian provinces administered by governors; for example,
an Assyrian province of Simyra was established by Tiglathpileser
During Sennacherib's reign (705-681 B.C.) he crushed a serious
revolt by coastal cities in 701 B.C. and forced Luli (Elulaeus),
king of Tyre, to flee to Cyprus (see
graphic depicting escape to Cyprus), where he died. Later
Sidon revolted against the Assyrian ruler Esarhaddon (681-669
B C.) who in 676 B.C. sacked and destroyed it and in its place
built a governor's residence, called Kar-Esarhaddon, for a new
Assyrian province. He also made a treaty with Baal, king of Tyre.
Ashurbanipal (668-627 B.C.) laid siege to Tyre and Nebuchadnezzar
besieged it for thirteen years (586-573 B.C.; Ezek. 26-28: 19).
Sidon reemerged as the dominant city of Phoenicia in the Persian
period (539-333 B.C.) and led a Phoenician contingent in the
Persian wars of the early fifth century B.C., helping bridge
the Hellespont and fighting at Salamis.
Herodotus and Phoenician history
by Nina Jidejian
Everyone, at some time or another, has read about the Greek
and Persian wars fought during the sixth to fourth centuries
B.C. What he perhaps does not know is that the Phoenicians played
an important role in this great historical drama.
The reason is simple.
Persia is not a sea power and is land locked in Asia Minor
and on the East Mediterranean coast with a formidable array of
soldiers from many nations.
The Phoenicians, on the other
hand, have the fleets, the navigators, the seamen and the "know-how".
Guided by the stars they sail at night over dark, dangerous, uncharted
only by the stars. An arrangement is therefore reached with the
kings of the Phoenician cities to furnish a fleet to the Persians
provided they are not bothered by them at home.
Soon after Greece is invaded by
Xerxes, the Persian "King
of Kings". Bloody battles on land and sea follow. Sporadic
fighting spreads to the Greek islands and Cyprus.
Then in 333 B.C. Alexander the Great at the head of his Macedonian
phalanxes crosses the Hellespont in pursuit of Darius Codamannus,
the Persian king, thus bringing the war into Asia. City after
city go over to him.
Alexander's conquest of the East ushurs in the Hellenistic
Age. With the spread of Greek culture and ideas, a new political
and social order arises and travels to the farther reaches of
his empire contributing to fashion the course of the modern world
in which we live.
The Greek and Persian Wars
550 to 330 B.C.
Herodotus is a Greek born during the fifth century B.C. in
Halicarnassus, southwest Asia Minor. Centuries before his time
the Greeks abandon their homes on the mainland, put their families
and belongings in ships and sail eastwards across the Aegean.
Some settle for good on the islands, others found a number of
Greek cities all along the coast of Asia Minor.
As a young man Herodotus, intelligent and inquisitive, displays
a great gift for story-telling. He wanders freely throughout
a large part of the great Persian empire recording all he sees
and hears. He is the world's authority on the Greek and Persian
wars that shook the ancient world so long ago.
This is his story.
Soon after his conquest of the empire of the Medes, Cyrus,
king of Persia, is attacked by a coalition of the other great
powers of the day: Babylon, Egypt and Lyclia who come to fear
him, joined by Sparta, the greatest military power of Greece.
In the spring of 546 B.C. the richest and most powerful man in
the world, Croesus, king of Lydia, advances into Cappadocia,
Asia Minor while the other kings are still feverishly gathering
their troops for battle. But Cyrus cleverly attacks first, marches
one thousand miles overland, even through the outlying provinces
of Babylon. He defeats Croesus and follows him to his capital
city. In the autumn of 546 Cyrus storms Sardis and orders that
Croesus be taken alive. The Lydian kingdom henceforth becomes
a province of Persia.
The gateway to Greece and the Near East now lies open before
the Persian king. The Ionian Creek cities of Asia Minor, the
Carians, the Lycians and the king of Cilicia humbly acknowledge
War with Babylon is inevitable. In a single swift campaign,
Cyrus destroys the mighty kingdom. The army of King Nabonidus
is defeated and Babylon surrenders without resistance in October
In Sidon at this time Mapen and his sister Myrra live in a
little stone house near the port. Their father, Elibar, is a
carpenter and is greatly respected for his ability and his skill.
Not only does he saw heavy logs of wood with precision for sea-faring
galleys but he can also carve smaller bits of wood into various
objects: luxury boxes to hold jewelry, plain boxes to hold precious
spices, wooden toys with which children can play: a cow, a horse,
a dog and even a small doll for Myrra. Children follow him closely
when he walks through the streets of Sidon, hoping for a toy.
Myrra not only love their father but are very proud of him. They love their
mother too, because she keeps the little stone house spic and span. She also
welcomes her children's friends with warmth at any time.
Life is peaceful in Sidon. At nightfall around the fire their
parents talk about what is happening in Babylon. But all this
is so far away.
Then one day the mighty king of Babylon is no more. The king
of Persia from afar assumes sovereignty over Babylon's possessions
on the east Mediterranean seaboard. Thus Sidon, Tyre, Byblos,
Beirut, Arvad (Ruad) and the other port cities are left to themselves
to enjoy a period of freedom and peace.
Great excitement spreads in Sidon and Tyre when news arrives
that all displaced persons by order of Cyrus can now return to
their homelands. The Jews taken to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar
are allowed to proceed to Jerusalem. Cyrus grants a royal concession
of Phoenician timber to the Jews to rebuild Jerusalem and their
temple. Phoenician artisans make their way to Jerusalem to take
part in the reconstruction of the city. In the Old Testament,
Ezra (3.7) infers that Jews and Phoenicians renew commercial
"So they gave money to the
masons and the carpenters and food, drink and oil to the Sidonians and
Tyrians to bring
cedar trees from Lebanon to the sea to Joppa, according to the
grant that they had from Cyrus, king of Persia."
Cedar trees are cut on the mountains of Lebanon and rolled
down the slopes. Logs are tied one to the other and dragged by
teams of oxen to the port of Byblos. There they are lashed together
with heavy ropes into rafts and floated down the coast.
From afar Mapen and Myrra see the logs arriving. There is
a frightening sound as they collide against each other. In the
port there is a large galley ready to carry the carpenter and
stone masons. Elibar hugs his wife and children tight to his
bosom and embarks for Tyre to pick up more artisans and then
sails further south.
A year goes by . . . The children miss their father. Then
one day from afar, a galley is seen slowly approaching the port.
Mapen and Myrra rush to the shore. They are overjoyed to see
their father once again. He has worked hard, has been well-paid
and has a leather pouch full of gold pieces. But he is glad to
return to the little stone house in the port. There the family
receives relatives and friends who eagerly listen to the stories
Elibar tells them about Jerusalem, the temple and other unfamiliar
Peace reigns in the region. Trade prospers. Herodotus (1.143)
tells us that the Ionian Greeks too and those living on the Greek
islands in the Aegean have nothing to fear from the Persians.
For the Phoenicians alone control the sea routes and are free
to come and go. The Persians are not seamen nor do they have
The situation however soon changes. Egypt alone remains unconquered
by the king of Persia. In 529 B.C. Cyrus dies and is succeeded
by his son, Cambyses. The conquest of Egypt is necessary if Persia
is to dominate the east Mediterranean world. The Mediterranean
seaboard must be taken but first an understanding reached with
the kings of the Phoenician cities to supply Persia with the
necessary ships and crews.
An arrangement is therefore made whereby the kings of the
city-states place their fleets at the disposal of the Persian
monarch. In return the cities are not occupied and are allowed
to retain their native kings. All during the Persian period of
domination (550 to 330 B.C.) the kings of the Phoenician cities
command their naval contingents and are treated as friends and
In 525 B.C. Cambyses captures Pelusium in the Delta. The fall
of Memphis completes the Persian conquest of Egypt.
When Cambyses plans a campaign against Carthage, the Phoenicians
refuse to sail because they consider the city is a colony of
Tyre. Cambyses abandons the expedition. Herodotus (3.19-20) explains:
"Cambyses did not think fit
to bring pressure to bear because the Phoenicians had taken service under
him of their
free will and his whole naval power was dependent on them."
Cambyses dies. The year 521 B.C. marks the accession of Darius
Hystaspis. Darius believes that the greatest danger to the Persian
empire is a rebellion in a distant province. To prevent power
being held by one man, he appoints three officials in each province:
a satrap, a general and a secretary of state. independent of
each other they spy on each other and report to the king direct.
Herodotus (3.91) lists the twenty satrapies of the Persian
empire and the taxes paid by each. Phoenicia is united with Syria,
Cyprus and Palestine in the Fifth Satrapy and is taxed lightly
compared to the others.
Darius is the first Persian king
to coin money. The Maric",
a gold coin weighing 130 grains, soon becomes the gold currency
of the old World. Herodotus (4.168) tells us that silver coinage,
also called Maric% is subsequently minted by a Persian satrap
Darius realizes the importance of good communications to hold
his empire together. He orders that a royal highway with one
hundred and eleven post houses link Sardis in Lydia to Susa in
southern Persia. Herodotus (4.52-56) travels on this royal road.
At the post houses tired horses are exchanged for fresh steeds
for the onward journey. Royal courriers find shelter and the
much needed rest.
But trouble is now brewing in the provinces. The Ionian cities
in Asia Minor revolt against Persia. The revolt spreads to Caria
and the island of Cyprus. Darius orders the Phoenician cities
to assemble a fleet. Ships are sent to Cilicia to transport Persian
troops to Cyprus. The fleet anchors in the bay opposite Salamis,
Cyprus, facing the Ionian fleet already there. This is the very
first encounter at sea between Phoenicians and Greeks. The Phoenicians
lose the battle but Persian land forces gain a victory over the
Cypriotes. Hatred flares up between the Phoenicians and the Greeks
for the Greeks in the Aegean are a serious threat to Phoenician
domination of the commercial sea lanes.
A series of rebellions follow. Sardis is taken and burned
to the ground by Athenian and Ionian forces.
Next the Creek cities in Asia
Minor rebel against Persia. Herodotus (5.106) tells us that in his anger
one of his attendants to repeat to him three times whenever he
sits down to dine: Waster, remember the Athenians".
A great clash is in the offing. The decisive battle between
the Ionian Greeks and Persia occurs at sea In the naval battle
of 494 near the island of Lade opposite Miletus, the Persians
with the Phoenician fleet defeat the Ionian Greeks of Asia Minor.
Darius is pleased with the outcome of the battle and realizes
that the conquest of mainland Greece will not present much difficulty.
He decides to lead his army through Thrace and Macedonia with
the ultimate goal of punishing Athens. Herodotus (3.136) tells
us that he has already sent a spying mission of Persian nobles
in Phoenician ships to the coast of Greece.
The Phoenician cities furnish a large part of the fleet led
by the Persian general Mardonius in the year 492 But heavy losses
occur when the ships are dashed against the rocks of Mount Athos
and most of the fleet sinks.
Then comes the Persian setback at Marathon in 490 B.C. The
Persian archers are cut down by the Greek phalanx of hoplites.
In 485 Darius dies and with the accession to the throne in
481 of his son Xerxes we are about to witness the greatest expedition
of all times.
Forces are drawn from every quarter of the Persian empire.
Two bridges are thrown across the Hellespont, the narrow strait
that divides Europe from Asia (called the Dardanelles today).
At Abydos on the Propontis a lofty seat of white stone is
carved out on the hilltop to enable Xerxes to look down on the
seashore where his army and fleet are assembled. A race of ships
is organized in his honor and the ships of Sidon win, to the
king's great pleasure. Xerxes shows a marked preference for Phoenician
vessels, the Sidonian ones in particular.
Riding in his chariot, the king drives past the men of each
nation, foot soldiers and cavalry, questioning them while his
scribes write down the answers. Then the king alights from his
chariot and, according to Herodotus (7.100) boards a ship of
Sidon, sitting under a golden canopy. He sails past the prows
of all the ships assembled before him, questioning the seamen
and ordering that their answers be written down.
The loss of the fleet in the previous expedition off the rocky
coast of Mount Athos prompts Xerxes to order that a canal be
dug through the isthmus to allow his ships to pass in safety.
No sooner this is done, however, the sides cave in. Phoenician
engineers, Herodotus (7.23) writes, rescue the project.
in the section of the canal allotted to them, the Phoenicians
dig a trench double the width at the top than at the canal level
thus preventing wall collapse. The other engineers follow the
Xerxes, at the head of his army, marches into Thessaly and
quarters his troops at Therma, Macedonia. There he embarks on
a ship of Sidon to reconnoiter by sea. After the Persian victory
at Thermopylae, Xerxes gives orders to proceed to Artemisium,
where the Greeks await him. A fierce battle ensues. The Athenians
and Sidonians fight bravely.
But the decisive battle is yet
to come. Before throwing his troops into battle at Salamis, Greece, Xerxes
holds a council
of war. His high esteem for the king of Sidon is seen by the
place assigned to him at the meeting. Herodotus (8.67) tells
us "First in place is the king of Sidon and next the king
of Tyre." Among the kings and princes of Phoenicia who sail
with Xerxes, Herodotus (7.98) records, are Tetramnestus, son
of Anysus of Sidon, and Matten, son of Sirom (Hiram) of Tyre.
Xerxes has one woman admiral. She is Artemesia, a widow, in
command of the naval contingents of Halicarnassus, Cos, Nisyra
and Calydna in Asia Minor. She is the only one to object to plans
for a battle at sea, claiming that the Greeks are far superior
to the Persians in naval matters.
On Mount Aegaleos Xerxes surveys the naval engagement from
his silver footed throne. The narrowness of the straits at Salamis
and the fact the Greeks are fighting in home waters leads to
the defeat and flight of the Phoenician ships. When some of the
captains appear before him to furnish explanations, Xerxes has
them executed on the spot. Other Phoenician commanders become
so alarmed that they desert the fleet and sail away.
This is perhaps the reason why for the next fifteen years
there is no record of Phoenician contingents in the service of
Persia's kings. In 465, however, the victorious Athenians threaten
Cyprus. The Phoenician fleet appears in support of the Persians
once again as many of the cities of Cyprus are Phoenician colonies.
From 465 to 390 B.C. they protect Cyprus from the Athenians and
more than once fight them off.
During the Persian period Phoenicians
find the time to do a bit of business on the side and exploit mines on
of Thasos. Herodotus (6.47) claims to have seen them: "A
whole mountain has been turned upside down in the search of gold."
In the early fourth century B.C.
a very important political development takes place. Tripolis in north Lebanon
by Aradus, Sidon and Tyre. These cities are united by federal
bonds. A historian living in the first century B.C., Diodorus
Siculus (16.41.1-2) records that they convene a common council
or "parliament" in Tripolis, the first to be held in
the East Mediterranean world.
In the meantime, the pharaohs of the Twenty-ninth and Thirtieth
dynasties stir rebellions in Cyprus against the Persians. Repeated
attempts by the Persian king to regain Egypt, conquered earlier
by Cambyses, fail. The Phoenicians and the kings of Cyprus now
show open contempt of the Persians. In 366 the Phoenician cities
join dissident satraps who wish to break away from the empire.
In 358 Artaxerxes Ill (Ochus) ascends the throne of Persia. He
feels he cannot deal with any rebellion until he conquers Egypt.
His failure to do so brings forth the great Phoenician revolt
led by Tennes, king of Sidon.
The Persian king's satraps and
generals dwell in Sidon. Nearby is a beautiful royal park, where the kings
of Persia hunt called
the paradeisos in Creek (from the old Persian term pardes, meaning "garden"). This Greek word has been passed on from
one generation to another to mean "paradise" in our
days, a place of beauty and delight.
The first hostile act of the Sidonians is to cut down and
destroy the royal park, then they burn the fodder for the horses.
Next they arrest Persian officials.
Ambassadors are sent to Egypt to seek aid from the pharaoh.
In return, King Tennes receives four thousand Creek mercenaries.
Adding these men to his own forces, Tennes defeats the satraps
and drives them out of Phoenicia.
The year is 351 B.C. Artaxerxes 111 is in Babylon and hastily
assembles a large army. News of its great size reaches Tennes.
Fearing that his forces cannot hold them off, the king of Sidon
treacherously decides to come to secret terms with the Persians
in order to save his own life.
Without the knowledge of his people, Tennes sends Thettalion,
a faithful attendant, to the Persians with a promise he will
betray Sidon. Tennes will also assist the Persian king defeat
Egypt, for according to Diodorus (16.43.2), he is familiar with
the topography of Egypt as well as the landing-places along the
Nile. Thettalion returns to Sidon and reports on the success
of his mission.
The conquest of Egypt at this point is of great importance.
Persian envoys are sent to the cities of Greece for reinforcements.
Thebes despatches one thousand men, Argos sends three thousand
and the Ionian Greeks of Asia Minor send six thousand. Artaxerxes
does not wait for them to arrive and, at the head of his troops,
marches on Sidon.
The Sidonians dig triple ditches and raise high fortifications.
They store up food, armor and missiles. In wealth and resources
Sidon by far excels her sister-cities. There is an important
number of Greek mercenaries available ready to fight. More important
still is the fact that Sidon possesses over one hundred triremes
All this feverish activity raises the suspicion of young Straton,
the son of a respected palace official. For some time now his
father has remained at court all the time and has not come home
at night. From an upstairs window Straton can easily see who
enters and leaves through the palace gates. He begins to fear
for his father's life.
In those days it was usual for a king to hire foreign mercenaries
to swell the ranks of his army. These men are paid generously
for their services. Since they love money, adventure and the
dangers of warfare, they are proud of their condition and insolently
swagger through the streets of Sidon. Straton does not trust
them, nor does he like them. After all, a man who is paid for
his services can easily switch to another master if the pay is
Tennes in secret confides to Mentor, the commander of the
Greek mercenaries in Sidon, that he plans to hand over the city
to the Persians. Leaving him in control behind, the king at the
head of five hundred citizens, leaves the city pretending he
is going to meet with the kings of other Phoenician cities to
plan a united strategy. On this pretext he also takes with him
one hundred of the city's most distinguished citizens to serve
as advisors. Among them is the father of Straton.
Upon approaching the Persian camp, Tennes and the one hundred
Sidonians are suddenly seized and handed over to the king. Artaxerxes
welcomes Tennes as a friend but has the dignitaries executed
as the instigators of the plot. Then come the five hundred Sidonian
notables carrying olive branches as suppliants. They too one
by one are shot down and fall to the ground.
Tennes assures the Persian king that he will now deliver Sidon
to him. He leads the way and approaches the part of the fortifications
held by Mentor and the Greek mercenaries. They allow the Persians
inside the city walls. Thus Sidon, by Tennes' betrayal, is secretly
delivered to the Persians. Now that Tennes is of no further use
to him, Artaxerxes at once has him put to death.
Unaware of their king's betrayal, the Sidonians in the meantime
take many precautions to defend their city. They burn all their
ships so that the townspeople will remain to fight off the Persians
and cannot secretly sail away.
Diodorus (16.45.3-6) tells us that when the Sidonians see
the myriads of soldiers entering the city and swarming over the
city walls, they shut themselves, their wives, children and servants
in their houses. Straton and his mother do the same. Once the
doors and windows are bolted securely, they set their homes on
fire. Plumes of dust and smoke rise over the city. About forty
thousand perish in the flames. A vast amount of silver and gold
is melted down by the fire. This treasure is gathered up and
later sold by the Persian king for many talents.
News of the disaster that has destroyed Sidon spreads far
and wide. The remaining Phoenician cities, panicstricken, go
over to the Persians. After the destruction of Sidon and the
arrival of his Greek mercenaries, Artaxerxes marches towards
Egypt. The pharaoh picks up all his possessions and flees to
Ethiopia. Artaxerxes installs a Persian satrap in Egypt and.
starts the long march back to Babylon. The year is 350 B.C.
Alexander the Great
Far away in Macedon Philip 11 (382-336 B.C.) becomes king.
He gathers together a large force of infantry and the phalanx
to support his cavalry and looks eastward, fired by ambition,
to free Asia Minor of the Persian king.
He marries Olympias, the wild, witch-like daughter of the
king of Epirus. According to Plutarch in his Life of Alexander
(2.3-4) when newly wed, Philip comes upon his wife asleep with
a serpent by her side. He is filled with revulsion and fears
her as an enchantress.
Alexander, born of their union, is a fair-skinned handsome
youth, quick to anger. He studies under Aristotle, the most celebrated
philosopher of his time and has Leonidas as a tutor, a man of
stern temperament. Alexander thus becomes a great lover of all
kinds of knowledge and always puts Homer's Iliad with his dagger
under his pillow when he sleeps.
Alexander's faithful companion
in both battle and the hunt is his horse Bucephalus. Plutarch (6.1-4) records
barely fifteen years of age, tames this tempestuous and unruly
steed. Bucephalus is brought before Philip by a Thessalian who
demands an exorbitant sum of thirteen talents in exchange. No
sooner does an attendant attempt to mount him, the horse rears
up and tosses him to the ground. As the horse is being led away,
Alexander exclaims that he is able to mount him. Philip mocks
his son and asks him what sum will he pay in case he is unhorsed.
Alexander replies that he will pay his father the full price
of the horse. The king and his attendants burst out into loud
laughter. Unabashed, Alexander runs to the horse and turns him
directly towards the sun, for the youth had observed that Bucephalus
is afraid of the motion of his own shadow. He then leads the
horse forward, stroking him gently, and with one nimble leap,
mounts him, lets him go at full speed and gallops away. Philip
and his attendants look on in wonder. When Alexander dismounts,
according to Plutarch (6.5), Philip embraces him and says: "0,
my son, look thee out a kingdom equal to and worthy of thyself
for Macedonia is too small for thee."
In the following years Philip's
estrangement from Alexander's mother, Olympias, leads to other marriages.
At his wedding to
the youthful Cleopatra, Attalus, the bride's uncle in a drunken
fit implores the gods to give the couple a lawful heir to the
kingdom. Alexander is outraged by this affront and throws his
drinking cup at Attalus' head. When Philip rises in anger with
his sword drawn to attack his son, his foot slips and he falls
to the ground. Plutarch (9.4-5) records that Alexander says insultingly: "See
there, the man who makes preparations to pass out of Europe into Asia, overturned
in passing from one seat to another."
After this incident Alexander and his mother withdraw from
Philip's court. The sullen and jealous queen travels to Epirus,
Alexander to Illyria. Friends of the family bring about a reconciliation,
although short lived.
After subjugating his neighbors, Philip crosses into central
Greece. In 337 he is in the Peloponnesus where he holds a congress
of the Greek states at the Isthmus. A Hellenic league is organized
that acknowledges Philip in the military command and furnishes
contingents for an expedition against Persia.
In 336 Philip is murdered during the marriage festivities
of his daughter in Aegae, Macedon. He leaves behind him a kingdom
beset by troubles, but at the same time, the Macedonian army
that enables his son within ten years to change the face of the
Alexander is barely twenty years old when Philip is murdered.
The countries surrounding Macedonia want to free themselves of
its rule. The Greek cities are on the verge of rebellion. Alexander
puts down the revolts and at the general assembly at the Isthmus,
the Greek cities agree to join him in the war against Persia
and proclaim him their general.
Public officials and philosophers
come from all parts of the land to congratulate Alexander -- all but Diogenes
who is living at the time in Corinth. According to Plutarch (14.1-2)
he does not even bother to leave Cranium, the suburb where Alexander
finds him lying in the sun. When the philosopher sees so much
company about him, he raises himself a little and glances at
Alexander who asks him kindly whether he wants anything. "Yes",
Diogenes replies, "I would have you stand from between me
and the sun." Alexander is struck by this answer and is
so impressed by the man that, as he goes away, he tells his followers
were he not Alexander, he would choose to be Diogenes.
Alexander's aim is to strike at the heart of the Persian empire
and ultimately conquer the entire East. He crosses the Hellespont
into Asia and at Troy sacrifices to Athena, goddess of wisdom,
and honors the memories of the heroes buried there.
The Persian advance guard is encamped on the further bank
of the Granicus river. Except for a few hand-picked soldiers
and a body of Greek mercenaries, the Persian king depends upon
oriental recruits, large in number but weak in fighting power.
Alexander crosses the river on horseback and is met by a shower
of arrows. He charges, horse against horse with his raised lance.
While the horsemen are thus engaged, the Macedonian phalanx crosses
the river. The Persians take fright and flee leaving the high
roads of Asia Minor open to the young Macedonian conqueror.
News of this military disaster reaches Darius. At the head
of a large force he marches toward Cilicia to engage Alexander
in battle. Their armies meet at Issus (near modern Alexandretta)
in October 333. Alexander fights in the foremost ranks while
his army closes in on the Persians, putting them to flight. Darius
narrowly escapes, leaving behind his queen, his daughters and
Now the gates of the Near East lay open before Alexander.
However he does not pursue Darius. It is of strategic importance
for Alexander to control the naval bases from which the Persian
fleet operates. So he marches instead on to Phoenicia.
Eye witness accounts of the daring exploits of Alexander unfortunately
do not exist. What we know about him comes from secondary sources.
Arrian (first century B.C.) refers to the works of Ptolemy, a
general of Alexander, and Aristobolus, whose writings are lost.
Diodorus Siculus (first century B.C.) and Quintus Curtius (first
century A.D.) no doubt had access to earlier histories that have
Surprisingly enough, very few likenesses of the young Macedonian
conqueror have come down to us. Plutarch (4.1) records that the
finest statues of Alexander were made by Lysippus for he was
the only sculptor tolerated by the young man. Even the inclination
of Alexander's head a little on one side towards his left shoulder
was reproduced in marble and was imitated afterwards by the generals
who succeed him in an effort to emulate him. Coins minted during
Alexander's reign have on the obverse the head of the god Heracles
wearing the lion skin. Portraits of Alexander only appear later
on the third century B.C. coins of Lysimachus, king of Thrace.
Here Alexander appears as a god wearing the sacred horns of Ammon.
As Alexander moves down the coast, the Phoenician cities are
panic-stricken. The Persian fleet is manned by Phoenician crews
and the kings of the Phoenician cities are at the time at sea
with the fleet.
Independent of each other, each city adopts a position that
suits it best. Aradus (Ruad) is the most northern of the Phoenician
city states. The king's son Straton, according to Arrian (2.13.7-8),
hastens to welcome him and lays on his head a golden crown. He
yields to Alexander the island of Aradus and Marathus, a great
and prosperous city which lies opposite on the mainland (modern
Byblos (Gebal) surrenders without resistance. The king ruling
at the time is called Ayinel. He is away sailing with the Persian
fleet. Alexander leaves Byblos behind him and marches on to Sidon.
Sidon was dealt a severe blow in 351 when Artaxerxes took
the city. Many Sidonians perished in the flames and the memory
of this disaster lives on. The city is ruled at the time by a
puppet of the Persians and Alexander is determined to get rid
Hephaestion, the trustworthy companion-in-arms of Alexander,
is given the mission to choose a new king. He finds two Sidonians,
each one is worthy to rule. However it is the custom in Sidon
that the king should come from royal stock, so the choice falls
upon a man, distantly related to the royal family. This man,
modest and poor, lives in the suburbs of Sidon where he cultivates
a small garden.
Hephaestion delegates the two Sidonians to bring him before
Alexander. They find him, Abdalonymous by name, in his garden
plucking weeds. As he stands up to greet them, the two men dismount
from their horses and hail him as king. They give him royal garments
to wear and accompany him to Alexander in his camp.
Gazing at him steadily, Alexander
tells Abdalonymous that after all the years he has lived in poverty and
will now become powerful and rich. Quintus Curtius (4.1.24-28)
records that the new king of Sidon puts out his grimy, work-worn
hands and replies: "These hands having nothing, I lack nothing." Alexander
is impressed by these words and leaving him to rule Sidon, he marches south
The king of Tyre is at sea with the Persian fleet. So a delegation
headed by the king's son and noblemen comes out to meet the invader.
It is of strategic importance for Alexander to take Tyre as the
city is an important base for the Persians.
Alexander uses the pretext that he wishes to enter Tyre in
order to sacrifice to Heracles, for the kings of Macedon hold
they are descended from the god. Once Tyre is his, Alexander
believes, all the Phoenician ships will desert the Persian king
and come over to his side.
Confident in the fortifications of their island city, the
Tyrians object. They realize the danger is great should Alexander
enter their city. So they send envoys to Alexander telling him
that there is a temple of Heracles on the mainland at Palaetyrus
(old Tyre), suggesting that he offer sacrifices to the god there.
Alexander's face reddens with anger at this affront. He threatens
to join the island fortress to the mainland by an artificial
isthmus, turn Tyre into a peninsula and bring his powerful siege
engines up to the city's walls.
That night Alexander falls asleep and has a dream. He sees
Heracles stretching out his right hand to him to lead him into
the city. The seers are summoned by him at once. Tyre would be
taken with great toil and difficulty, they predict, for toil
is the mark of Heracles' achievements.
It takes Alexander seven months before he can enter Tyre.
A strait of four stadia separates the island city from the mainland
and is especially exposed to southwest winds. Alexander orders
that large stones and tree trunks from the mountains of Lebanon
be brought down to the coast and cast into the sea. As long as
the building of the mole is near the mainland, work goes on smoothly
enough but as his men get into deeper water and nearer the city,
a volley of arrows fall around them shot by archers positioned
on the walls. Tyrians sail up on either side, mocking and harassing
Alexander orders that two towers
be built on the mole equiped with siege engines. Hides and skins cover
the towers so they
can not be pelted with fire darts. The Tyrians fill a large horse-transport
ship with dry boughs and other combustible materials. They fix
two masts on the prow, each with a projecting arm from which
is suspended a cauldron filled with bitumen, sulphur and other
highly inflammable materials. The stern of the vessel is loaded
with stone and sand and is thus depressed. In this way the prow
is elevated so it can easily glide over the mole and reach the
towers. The Tyrians wait for a wind blowing towards the mole
and tow the ship astern with triremes. Running the "fire-ship" at
full speed upon the mole, they set torches to the combustible materials. They
dash the ship violently against the mole and
the cauldrons scatter the fiery mass in all directions. The crew
of the burning ship easily swim away to safety.
The kings of Aradus and Byblos hear that their cities are
in Alexander's hands. They promptly desert the Persian fleet
and arrive with their contingents and Sidonian triremes to side
with Alexander. The kings of Cyprus learn that Darius has been
defeated at Issus and sail to Sidon with one hundred and twenty
ships. Triremes arrive from Rhodes, Soli, Mallos, Lycia and a
fifty-oar from Macedon.
Arrian (2.20.3) records: "To
all these Alexander let bygones be bygones supposing that it was rather
than choice that they had joined naval forces with the Persians."
While all the ships are being prepared for battle and his
siege engines fitted for the final assault, Alexander with some
of his archers and cavalry march to the Anti-Lebanon. He conquers
part of the country, others readily surrender.
The Tyrians have no choice but
to go on the offensive before Alexander attacks. The enemy fleet must be
sunk, including the
ships of their sister-cities. This is not an easy task because
ships from Cyprus are blocking the mouth of the "Sidonian" port,
so-called because it faces north towards Sidon. Plans must be made in secret.
So sails are spread before the entrance of
the harbor to hide their preparations. At midday when the Cypriote
sailors are not on their guard, the Tyrians set sail with their
bravest seafighting men and attack the surprised enemy, sinking
Alexander is infuriated by this setback. He orders his ships
at once to sea to blockade the harbor. Those on the walls of
Tyre see this and try with shouts and gestures to beckon their
men to turn back. It is too late. Wheeling their ships about,
the Tyrians attempt to sail back to the harbor. A few manage
to get to safety but Alexander's naval forces put most of them
out of action. Some of the crew jump overboard and swim to land.
This victory allows the Macedonians easier access to Tyre's city
walls. The battery rams are brought up against the walls. The
fortifications on the mole are so high the Macedonians are unable
to scale them.
Alexander is forced to turn south
to the "Egyptian" port -- that facing Egypt -- testing the walls
on his way. There, a part of the city's fortifications have broken down.
are thrown over the walls but the Tyrians repulse the attack.
A great fear now arises in Tyre. Quintus Curtius (4.3.22)
tells us that a rumor spreads like wildfire that the god Apollo
is about to leave the city. The Tyrians bind the statue of Apollo
with a chain of gold to its base and attach the chain to the
altar of Heracles, their patron god, hoping that he will hold
Alexander has another dream. In
it he sees a satyr mocking him at a distance and eluding his grasp when
he tries to catch
him. Finally after much coaxing, the satyr surrenders. Plutarch
(24.5) records that the seers are called in and dividing the
word satyros into two parts, say to Alexander plausibly enough: "Tyre
(Tyros in Greek) is to be thine."
The final assault is frightening.
Triremes are ordered to sail both to the "Sidonian" and "Egyptian" ports
in an effort to force an entrance. Alexander's ships close in on the city
from all sides and bridges are thrown over the
walls from the vessels. Crossing over and advancing through breaches
in the walls, the Macedonians now easily fight off the Tyrians.
Both harbors are forced and the Tyrian ships are captured.
A large number of Tyrians desert the walls and barricade themselves
in the Shrine of Agenor. This monument is particularly revered
by the people of Tyre for, in legendary tradition, Agenor is
their king, the father of Cadmus and Europa. According to Arrian
(2.24.2) it is there that Alexander attacks them with his bodyguards.
There is a bloody massacre. The Macedonians are infuriated, Seeing
themselves at last masters of the city, they fall mercilessly
on the Tyrians. They are also determined to avenge the death
of their companions, who when sailing from Sidon earlier, are
captured by the Tyrians. These men are dragged up on the walls,
executed in full view of Alexander's forces and flung into the
Quintus Curtius (4.2.10-12) tells us that at this time a Carthaginian
delegation is in Tyre to celebrate the annual festival of Melkart-Heracles.
The king of Tyre, Azemilcus, the chief magistrates and the Carthaginian
embassy take refuge in the temple of Heracles. To them Alexander
grants full pardon but he severely punishes the people of Tyre.
Some thirty thousand are sold into slavery. Two thousand Tyrians,
according to Quintus Curtius (4.4.17) are nailed to crosses along
a great stretch of the shore.
Alexander offers a sacrifice to
Heracles and holds a procession of his armed forces in the city. A naval
review is also held
in the god's honor. The siege has lasted seven months. Diodorus
Siculus (17.46.5-6) ends his account of the dramatic siege of
Tyre by telling us that Alexander solemnly removes the golden
chains and fetters from Apollo and orders that henceforth the
god be called Apollo "Philalexander". He rewards his
men who have distinguished themselves and gives a lavish funeral
for his dead.
Alexander leaves Tyre. With the fall of Gaza to the south,
the way lies open to Egypt. Upon his arrival there, Alexander
consults the oracle of Zeus Ammon and is hailed by the high priest
as the son of the god.
He founds the city of Alexandria at the mouth of the Nile
destined to be the new commercial and intellectual center of
the East Mediterranean world.
In the spring of 331 B.C. Alexander leaves the Mediterranean
to strike into the heart of the Persian empire. It is near Nineveh
that Darius awaits him with a large army, hastily assembled.
At the battle of Arbela Darius is defeated and flees into Media.
Alexander follows the Tigris River into Babylonia, the central
seat of the Persian empire and its richest region. From there
he proceeds to Susa, then to the royal city of Persepolis with
its enormous treasure. There he destroys the palace by fire according
to the geographer Strabo (15.6), ostensibly as revenge for the
burning of Greek temples by Xerxes during the Graeco-Persian
wars. Plutarch (38.1-4) gives another version saying that the
fire is started during a drunken revelry but is then extinguished
by order of Alexander who regrets the deed.
What we see next is a king being chased by another king. From
Ecbatana Alexander pursues Darius to the Caspian. The Persian
empire is crumbling, Darius is deserted by his generals one by
one and by his troops. His cousin, Bessus, seizes this opportunity
to rid himself once and for all of the Persian king. At night
he and a few followers burst into Darius' tent, tie him up with
ropes and carry him to his chariot and on to Bactria. He hopes
eventually to offer the Persian king as a hostage in exchange
for Alexander's recognition of him as ruler of the eastern satrapies.
Alexander follows Darius in hot pursuit. Seeing he cannot escape,
Bessus suddenly gallops up to the royal chariot, stabs Darius
to death and gets away. When Alexander finally catches up with
his rival, he comes into possession only of his corpse. Alexander
looks down on his fallen foe with compassion, and covers his
body with his purple cloak.
Eventually Bessus is captured and put in chains. Due to the
nature of the crime, Alexander has him sentenced by Persian judges,
not by himself. Bessus is found guilty of rebellion against his
king. The sentence is cruel. Bessus' nose and ears are cut off
and he is led to Ecbatana where he is crucified on a tree.
Alexander marches through Bactria and Sogdiana putting down
rebellions and founding Greek cities. Then he crosses the Hindu
Kush and proceeds to India. One of the principalities, situated
between the Hydaspes and Ascenines, is ruled by Porus. Alexander
crosses the Hydaspes, Porus holds the opposite bank with a powerful
force and two hundred elephants. During the battle Porus is wounded
and falls into Alexander's hands. However Alexander gains the
fallen king as a friend.
It is at this time, Plutarch (61.1) tells us that Bucephalus
dies, wounded in battle. Others relate that the horse dies of
fatigue and old age. Alexander is overcome with grief. On the
banks of the Hydaspes River he builds a city on the tomb of his
horse which he names Bucephalia in his memory. When he reaches
the Hyphasis River (Beas) the Macedonian army refuses to go farther
although Alexander believes he has not much more to go to reach
the ocean and the eastern limit of the inhabited world. He is
obliged to give way and the return begins.
In the spring of 323 he returns to Babylon. There he makes
plans for the construction of a great fleet and the opening of
a route by sea from Babylon to Egypt around Arabia. In Babylon
he falls ill, consumed by a raging fever that does not leave
him. He dies towards evening on June 13, 323 at the age of thirty-three.
His. son by Roxana, the beautiful
daughter of Oxyartes, king of Bactria, is born a short time later. The
child, named Alexander "Aegus", is accepted by the Macedonian
generals as joint king with Alexander's half-brother, Philip Arrhidaeus,
mentally unfit to rule. Alexander's successors use these two
pathetic figures as a symbol of legitimacy to cover up their
own ambitions. The day is now nearing when they can carve out
a kingdom for themselves on the ruins of Alexander's empire.
The two kings, a child and one feeble of mind, are put under
the guardianship and protection of Perdiccas, Peithon and Antipater,
in succession. Upon the death of Antipater, Roxana flees with
her child to Epirus seeking the protection of Olympias, Alexander's
mother. She is taken there by Polyperchon, an officer close to
Alexander to whom Antipater had delegated his power. From there
Polyperchon accompanies Olympias, Roxana and the boy to Macedonia.
All three fall into the hands of Antipater's son, Cassander,
whose ambition knows no bounds. Olympias is put to death, young
Alexander and his mother are kept under close arrest. They are
murdered in 310-309 by order of Cassander. Thus the dynasty of
Alexander the Great comes to an end with the death of Alexander
IV Aegus, his son, barely twelve years of age.
Hellenistic Age [please
also see below Hellenistic
Phoenicia (Review by Nigel Pollard)]
330 to 64 B.C.
The generals who succeed Alexander are Antigonus Cyclops or
Monophthalmus, so-called because he lost an eye in battle, and
his son Demetrius Poliocertes, Antipater and his son Cassander,
Seleucus, Ptolemy, Eumenes and Lysimachus. They argue bitterly
among themselves for each is determined to build a Hellenistic
or Greek monarchy on the ruins of Alexander's empire.
Ptolemy, son of a Macedonian nobleman and the most trusted
of Alexander's generals, was among the seven bodyguards attached
to his person. In the division of the empire, Ptolemy takes Egypt
as the safest and farthest place to establish a dynasty. He even
manages to carry off the body of Alexander from Babylon to Egypt
in order to bury him in Alexandria and thus enhance his own position.
Later Ptolemy mints a gold coin at Alexandria on which we
see a car drawn by four elephants. Perhaps this is an attempt
made by him to represent Alexander's funeral cortege that included
Antipater establishes himself in Macedon. He dies soon after
and is succeeded by Cassander, his son.
Seleucus Nicator, a youth of twenty-three of age when he accompanies
Alexander to Asia, wins distinction in the Indian campaign. Seleucus
is given the government of the Babylonian satrapy.
Antigonus defeats Eumenes, installed as satrap of Cappadocia,
and has him put to death. He thus gets rid of his most dangerous
rival. Ostensibly Antigonus and his son Demetrius Poliocertes
hope to reunify Alexander's collapsing empire but for their own
purposes. Antigonus also controls parts of Greece, Asia Minor
Lysimachus sets himself up in Thrace.
Military clashes eventually occur as each tries to encroach
on the other's territory. Ptolemy annexes Phoenicia to his possessions
and places garrisons in the Phoenician port cities. Antigonus
too decides to enlarge his territory and set himself up as king
of Asia Minor.
Returning from successful wars in Babylonia, Antigonus easily
takes over the cities of Phoenicia but meets with firm resistance
from Tyre. Seventeen years have passed since Alexander took Tyre
and the city has recovered rapidly. Antigonus has few ships as
Ptolemy is holding all Phoenician vessels and their crews in
Egypt, so he decides to build a fleet of his own. He camps before
Tyre, summons all the kings of the Phoenician cities and the
viceroys of Syria and demands them to assist him in building
Antigonus blockades Tyre by land.
He establishes three shipyards, one at Tripolis, one at Byblos, one at
Sidon. Diodorus Siculus
records that Antigonus collects wood-cutters, sawyers and shipwrights
from all regions and has wood carried from the mountains of Lebanon
to the sea. Eight thousand men are employed to cut and saw the
timber; one thousand pairs of draught animals are used to transport
it. "This mountain range", Diodorus (19.58.3-5) writes,
"extends along the territory of Tripolis, Byblos and Sidon
and is covered with cedar and cypress trees of wonderful beauty
and size." We thus have a description of the extent of the
luxuriant forests covering the mountains of Lebanon about two
thousand three hundred years ago.
After a siege of fifteen months, Tyre is taken by Antigonus.
He allows Ptolemy's garrison to leave and establishes his own
in the city.
In order to enhance their personal prestige, Alexander's successors
strike their own coins. On the obverse of his early silver coinage,
Ptolemy has engraved the head of the newly deified Alexander
with the sacred ram's horns of Ammon and an elephant headdress.
Alexander's name, not his, appears on the reverse of his coins.
On the coins of Seleucus, Alexander is portrayed as the god
Dionysus wearing a helmet covered with panther skin adorned with
a bull's ear and horns.
Lysimachus in his turn presents on his coins the diademed
head of Alexander, deified, wearing the sacred horns of Ammon.
When Alexander conquered Egypt, he was hailed by the high-priest
of Ammon as the son of the god and Alexander's generals are determined
to let no one forget it.
In 305 B.C. Antigonus and his son Demetrius assume the title
of king. Ptolemy, Cassander, Lysimachus and Seleucus react to
the challenge by doing the same. Henceforth the effigies of these
men, wearing the Macedonian diadem, appear on their gold and
silver coins. Their patron gods appear on the reverse. This ushurs
in the age of royal portraiture.
The battle of lpsus in Phrygia
in 301, called the "battle
of the kings", signals the great military clash between
Alexander's generals. The war elephant plays an important role
in the outcome of this battle and is the symbol of military strength.
The armies of Seleucus and Lysimachus with one hundred and fifty
elephants cut off the infantry of Antigonus, left mortally wounded
on the battlefield.
Notwithstanding, his son Demetrius rules Phoenicia until 287
when it once again passes back to Ptolemy. It remains a dependency
of the Ptolemies for nearly seventy years. In the year 285 Alexander's
empire is neatly divided between three of his former generals,
Ptolemy in Egypt, Seleucus in Syria, Lebanon and Palestine, and
Lysimachus in Thrace.
At his death at the age of eight-four Ptolemy leaves behind
him a well organized kingdom and the great library at Alexandria.
He is succeeded by his son, Ptolemy 11 Philadelphus (285-246).
The persistent lug of war between Ptolemies and Seleucids
over Phoenicia, Syria and Palestine also results in great cultural
changes in the region. Phoenician is discarded as a literary
language and is replaced by Greek. Greek religious practices
and beliefs take root but at the same time a Phoenician god travels
south to Egypt and is honored with great pomp in Alexandria.
Byblos is the center for the worship
of Adonis, a youth of great beauty, loved by Aphrodite. In legendary tradition,
is hunting the wild boar one day in the company of Aphrodite
at Afka, the source of a river high up in the mountains of Lebanon.
The boar turns on him and gores his thigh. Adonis dies of the
wound as his blood flows into the river turning the waters red
and the anemones in the river valley scarlet. Aphrodite appeals
to Zeus, king of the gods, to bring her lover back to life. Zeus
pities the youth and allows him to pass part of the year on earth,
the other part underground in Hades. His death is mourned annually
at Byblos. He returns in the spring time to the upper world and
there is great rejoicing. Adonis in Phoenician means "lord" and is
the title given to the young god of vegetation.
Theocritus, a Greek poet born in Syracuse c. 315 B.C., lived
in Alexandria in the time of Ptolemy if Philadelphus. In his
Idyll 15 he describes how the Festival of Adonis is celebrated
in the city. On the first day a great procession forms as women
and children pour out into the crowded streets to watch. Adonis
has come back to life for a brief reunion with Aphrodite and
there is great rejoicing. The second day is one of mourning as
the women bewail the god's departure once again for the underworld.
In Alexandria, Adonis is represented
by a graceful statue reclining on a silver couch in a temporary bower ornamented
birds and cupids. He is portrayed as a beautiful youth and the
women cluster around him as he is carried through the streets
in the procession. The crowd enters the royal palace as part
of the ceremony is performed there. Praises are sung to Queen
Berenice, the mother of Philadelphus and Arsinoë, his sister-wife,
one way of eulogizing the family of Ptolemy who patronize the
On the second day the women lament the departure of the youthful
god. At the end of the festival the statue of Adonis is carried
outside the city and flung into the sea amidst the wailing and
weeping of the women.
The years roll by...
In Egypt descendants of Ptolemy rule at Alexandria, one after
the other. In Syria a line of Seleucid kings, usurpers and imposters
alike, sit on the throne of Antioch.
The Seleucid king Antiochus III the Great (223-187) makes
Phoenicia a battlefield in his wars against the Ptolemies. Antiochus
III drives the forces of Ptolemy IV Philopator out of Syria,
takes Tyre and Acre (Ptolemais) and even threatens Egypt. In
the following years the cities of Phoenicia pass back and forth
between the two powers. In 196 B.C. Phoenicia and Coele Syria
(the Bekaa valley) pass into the possession of the Seleucid kings.
The Phoenician cities welcome the change, for the establishment
and commercial expansion of Alexandria is a threat to their commerce.
The discovery in 1897 of several painted funerary stelae in
a garden south of Sidon point to the presence of Greek mercenaries
in the armies of the Seleucids during the second century B.C.
These soldiers of fortune from the Greek mainland and cities
of Asia Minor died here while on active duty and were laid to
rest forever in foreign land. The stelae today are exposed in
the Archaeological Museum, Istanbul.
The Seleucid monarchy is now in a state of chronic civil war.
In the struggle to seize the throne between the usurper Tryphon
and Antiochus VII Sidetes during the latter part of the second
century B.C., the situation becomes so unbearable that merchants
of Beirut desert the city and open commercial establishments
on the Greek island of Delos where they conduct a flourishing
But in the West the rise of Rome presents a danger. The Italian
wars of 91-83 B.C. keep the Romans at home. The chaotic conditions
in Syria permit Tigranes 11 the Great, king of Armenia, to overrun
Cappadocia and expel one of the last feeble representatives of
the Seleucid monarchy. By 83 B.C. Tigranes sits on the throne
at Antioch and his frontier extends to Mount Lebanon.
In 69 B.C. the Roman general Lucullus arrives in the East,
crosses the Euphrates in pursuit of Tigranes and invades Armenia.
However his army does not support him so he withdraws to Asia
Pompey replaces Lucullus in 66
B.C. Syria is taken out of the hands of the Seleucids once and for all
on the ground that
they have virtually ceased to rule. Pompey turns the districts
of the Seleucid territory, including Phoenicia, Syria and Palestine
into a new province named "Syria". Although this political
move consolidates Roman authority in the East and increases the
annual revenue of the Roman treasury, in return a measure of
security is given to the peoples of the region that they had
not enjoyed since the conquests of Alexander. Anarchy and piracy
is brought under control and the cities of Phoenicia turn to
the sea and trade.
Review by Nigel Pollard
John Grainger's second book, Hellenistic
Phoenicia, follows remarkably closely on the heels of his first,
The Cities of Seleukid Syria (Oxford University Press, 1990),
and deals with the same region and the same period. Both deal
with the impact of Graeco-Macedonian expansion into the Near-East.
While in his earlier volume, G. dealt with the imposition of
an entirely new Graeco-Macedonian urban network on Syria, in
this second book he considers the manner in which the cities
of Phoenicia, which existed and partook of a distinctive culture
before the arrival of Alexander, survived through Macedonian
conquest and Ptolemaic and Seleucid rule.
In his Introduction,
G. refers to three important themes. The first is the Phoenician cities' "methods
of survival, the compromises they made to do so, and their varying
responses to Greek and Macedonian power." The second theme
is the fascinating issue of the cultural relationship between
Phoenician and Graeco-Macedonian. To what degree did Phoenicia
preserve a distinctive cultural identity? Does the concept of
"Hellenistic Phoenicia" have any meaning at all beyond
the purely geographic and chronological definition? The final
theme is the economy of Phoenicia in the Hellenistic period,
a question raised by the reputation of Phoenicians as traders.
The organisation of the book is generally
chronological rather than thematic, and given the extremely limited
nature of the evidence G. is dealing with, this tends to weaken
his ability to tackle these key problems. However, this arrangement
works well enough for a study of the political and military impact
between the Graeco-Macedonians and Phoenicians. 360-287 B.C.was
a period of tremendous upheaval in Phoenicia, with the revolt
of Sidon against Achaemenid rule in 345 B.C. and its subsequent
destruction (though G. suggests, sensibly enough, that the latter
was not as severe as implied by Diodorus' account) and the arrival
of Alexander in 333-2 B.C.G. illustrates the varied responses
of the Phoenician cities to Alexander. The ruler of Aradus submitted,
the king of Sidon was overthrown (perhaps by Alexander or perhaps
by his own people) and replaced by a pro-Macedonian (and perhaps
more popular) appointee. Tyre, of course, resisted and was captured
after a prolonged siege. Alexander is supposed to have executed
2000 leading citizens but maintained the king in power, and G.
suggests (p.36-7) that he showed a preference for monarchs and
popular control, as opposed to some form of oligarchy, which
the 2000 executed men may have represented. After the siege of
Tyre, no Phoenician city seems to have resisted occupation, despite
the shifting control of the area by Ptolemaic and Antigonid/Seleucid
armies in the following decades. G. suggests (p.50-51) that the
sacks of Sidon and Tyre had taught the value of cooperation and
compromise with conquerors.
The years 287-225
B.C.saw the Ptolemies gain and maintain control of the cities (except for
and the disappearance of the Phoenician monarchies. G. suggests
(p.58) that in some cases the depositions were carried out by
Graeco-Macedonian rulers because the kings had failed to change
sides swiftly enough in the period of rapidly changing hegemony
early in the century. They were replaced by nominally republican
constitutions of "the Tyrians" and "the Sidonians,"
with epigraphic formulae (in Greek) suggesting similarities to
the boule and demos combination of contemporary Greek cities
in the area. Little is known about civic magistrates or the franchise,
and the only possible expression of something untypical of Hellenistic
cities in general is the use of the Greek term dikastes for a
Sidonian magistrate in an inscription, a usage which may reflect
the Phoenician title shofet (p.65-6; 81). However, just as in
Seleucid northern Syria, (p.66) "real power, military power
lay in the hands of the king, Ptolemaic or Seleukid." Thus
there is little evidence of any major political distinction between
the "Phoenician" cities and the "Greek" foundations
of the Hellenistic world.
The Seleucids gained control of Phoenicia
early in the second century, but from late in that same century
there is evidence of increased assertion of local independence
in the Phoenician cities as royal control broke down. This phenomenon
occurred in other geographically marginal areas of the Seleucid
kingdom too, notably those controlled by the Palmyrene, Ituraean
and Emesene neighbours of Phoenicia. As before the Macedonian
conquest, in Phoenicia this independence focused on the autonomy
of individual cities, not some wider political and cultural entity
of that name.
Thus G. provides
a good survey and discussion of the limited evidence regarding the political
the cities of Hellenistic Phoenicia in the Hellenistic period.
But what of his second theme, that of cultural identity? Regarding
the violence and shifting control of the period 360-287 B.C.G.
raises the pessimistic possibility (p.51) that the "cultural
heritage (of the Phoenician cities) was also surely mutilated
beyond repair, leaving an impoverishment which Greek culture
could hope to fill." As noted above, there is little to
distinguish the Phoenician cities from "Greek" Hellenistic
cities in terms of political situation and institutions. Likewise
the ruling classes are known to have engaged in Greek philosophy,
Greek athletics and to have set up inscriptions in Greek. In
contrast, Grainger refers us to sites away from the major urban
centres, such as the cult centre of Astarte at Wasta and the
rural community and cult centre of Umm elAmed. The former (p.78)
"remains resolutely local, Phoenician and traditional"
in terms of the names of worshippers, the languages they employed
and the cult symbolism employed. The latter (p.81-82) includes
inscriptions in Phoenician (and only in Phoenician), and, according
to Grainger, the material culture such as pottery shows little
evidence of external influence, except for imported Rhodian amphorae.
"Yet of Hellenization there is no sign" (p.81) he claims
of Umm el-Amed. Examination of the excavation report suggests
that this assertion is an unfortunate over-generalization. Certainly
the inscriptions are Phoenician, and the courtyard plans of the
temples on the site owe much more to Near Eastern antecedents
than to contemporary Greek planning. However, the details of
those temples, such as the architectural mouldings and the forms
of column capitals and bases show very strong Greek influences.
As G. indicates, there are fragments of imported Rhodian amphorae.
But the report indicates that there were significant quantities
of characteristically Hellenistic black slipped wares and some
red-slipped "Hellenistic Pergamene" (Eastern Sigillata).
On a more fundamental level, the bulk of the pottery from the
site, which the excavators suggest was of local production and
which G. dismisses as "the usual local type," displays
strong evidence of the influence of the wider Hellenistic world.
The forms of most of those vessels, incurved rim bowls, everted
rim bowls, fish-plates, fusiform unguentaria and even a lagynos
and an amphoriskos, would be at home at just about any site in
the Hellenistic world. Certainly these are not "Phoenician"
in origin. The inhabitants of the site may not have been importing
much pottery from Greece, but local potters were copying shapes
from Greece and elsewhere in the Hellenistic world. The significance,
nature and chronology of this "Hellenization" of the
material culture of the site are all open to dispute, but it
deserves more careful consideration than G. gives them. This
tends to weaken the dichotomy between the "Hellenized elite
culture" of the urban centres and the supposedly "more
traditional" culture of the rural population.
In addition, one
must take issue with some of G.'s comments regarding what one might describe
cultural sympathies (such as his description, on p.145 of Tyre
and the Jews under John Hyrcanus as "both-self-consciously
Semitic"), which manifested themselves as occasional political
cooperation between Phoenicians, Jews and Ituraeans in the late
Hellenistic period. The evidence of such cooperation is slim
enough, and there is plenty of evidence for conflict between
"Semites" too, as G. himself documents (cf. p.153f.,
between Phoenicians and Ituraeans). What cooperation existed
surely was based on immediate and practical considerations. Even
if those responsible for policy-making in Phoenician cities at
that time (the "hellenized" urban elite discussed above)
had any conception of themselves as "Semitic," surely
it was as Phoenician or Tyrian rather than "Semitic" in any general
sense which included Jews and Ituraeans too.
The third topic considered in the book
is the economy of Hellenistic Phoenicia. Of course, Phoenicians
are, and were, known as traders, but at a more basic level it
might be interesting to consider the contribution of local agricultural
resources to the development of Hellenistic Phoenicia. Unfortunately
there is little evidence. We do not have a clear idea of the
rural hinterland controlled by the individual cities at specific
times, and we lack archaeological survey data. However, G. does
marshal some of the scattered evidence for the rural economy,
including olive oil production at Umm el-Amed and Sarepta (p.67-69)
and the possible Phoenician involvement in the development of
villages in the hinterland (p.114). For the most part G. focuses
on trade and traders, since that was how Phoenicians appeared
to the Greeks and Romans to whom we owe most of our evidence.
Much of what G. says is reasonable. However, when he tries to
make a case for the Phoenicians as the developers of trade routes
eastwards in the Achaemenid and Hellenistic periods, to the Red
Sea, Arabia and India, by way of Syria and the Euphrates, he
does seem to be stretching some very tenuous evidence too far.
If Phoenicians were important in trade east along the Euphrates,
one might expect to find evidence of their presence at Dura Europos,
for example, along with the Palmyrenes who are attested there,
albeit in the later Hellenistic and Roman period.
In 64 BC Phoenicia was incorporated into the Roman province
of Syria though Aradus, Sidon, and Tyre retained self-government.
Berytus (Beirut), relatively obscure to this point, rose to prominence
by virtue of Augustus' grant of Roman colonial status and by
the lavish building program financed by Herod the Great (and
in turn by his grandson and great-grandson). Under the Severan
dynasty (A.D. 193-235) Sidon, Tyre, and probably Heliopolis (Baalbek)
also received colonial status.
Emperors embracing Christianity protected the area during
the later Roman and Byzantine periods (c. AD 300-634). A 6th-century
Christian group fleeing persecution in Syria settled in what
is now northern Lebanon, absorbed the native population, and
founded the Maronite Church.
More to come...
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 the old Phoenician that cities offered only token
resistance to the invader.
The geographical location of Phoenicia at the cross-roads
of the Eastern Mediterranean made it a fertile ground for invading
armies as indicated earlier. Hence, the Phoenicians were influenced
in many ways by the invaders. Also, the Phoenicians as a people
did not remain of one pure blood. With this in mind, references to
individuals as Phoenicians need to be seen in this light.