Byblos


Byblos (Jebail, Jbail, Jubayl, Giblet) is an old town in the Lebanon dating back around 7,000 years. It has variously been a Phoenician port and fort, Hellenistic Successor port and fort, Roman, Byzantine, Arab, Crusader and Arab port, er, and fort.

Tradition has it that the origin of Byblos dates back to the dawn of time when the god El made his home there. He built a wall around his home and the fort has been there ever since. The oldest settlement in Byblos dates to around 5000 B.C. This was well within the Neolithic Period and pottery and flint daggers from these times have been found in the area.

Of course, the thing that Byblos is most remembered for is its name. Because of the spread of modern forms of writing from this area, we have terms such as Bible, bibliography and such in modern language. All these terms were based on the name of Byblos.

Chalcolithic Period (3800 – 3200 B.C.)
finds have also occurred at Byblos, indicating the continuous settlement of the area. By the Chalcolithic Period, dwellings were a little more substantial than Neolithic times and archeological finds have included tools, pottery and bone idols of the Mother-Goddess.
Proto-Urban (3200 – 3000 B.C.)
A Proto-Urban settlement existed there from 3200 – 3000 B.C. and the change from Chalcolithic to Proto-Urban is indicated by the type of dwellings that existed, with well built rectangular buildings split into two rooms. These houses were built inside large enclosures.
Urban I (3000 – 2800 B.C.)
The little enclosures of the Proto-Urban settlement eventually became more and more densely packed. Narrow streets started to occur in the settlement area and the whole of the site of the old city was covered with buildings. Ducts existed for water drainage and there are temples in the town. A rampart surrounded the town for protection. This was in the period of 3000 – 2800 B.C. Various objects found in this strata indicate contact and trade with Egypt during the First Dynasty as well as with the cultures of Mesopotamia. At this time, the trade routes brought Byblos ebony from the Sudan, lapis-lazuli from Bactria, copper from Cyprus and the Caucasus.
Urban II (2800 – 2500 B.C.)
The Urban settlement of the preceding period then continued to advance over the period 2800 – 2500 B.C. This is around the same time as the Second and Third Dynasties in Egypt. Trade was occurring with Egypt and this is confirmed by an Egyptian document referring to the construction of a boat of fir for king Snofru in the Third Dynasty.
Pre-Amorite Period (2500 – 2150 B.C.)
covers the increase of the size of the town and changes in it before the Amorites invaded. There was an increase in the number and size of temples over this period, as well as an increase in the size of some of the dwellings, indicating an increase in wealth in the area. The Pharaohs of Egypt made a number of gifts to the temple of Hathor during this period. Trade with Egypt is flourishing with the export of timber, pitch, resin and wool to Egypt along with bears and olive oil. In exchange, the Phoenicians were receiving flax, rope, wheat, lentils and gold. Byblos was also a transit point for trade between Egypt, Mesopotamia and Anatolia.
Conquest by Amorites (2150 – 2000 B.C.)
Conquest by the Amorites (2150 – 2000 B.C.). The Amorites commenced serious raiding and eventually conquered Byblos over this period. There was a change in the quality of housing over that time as well with multi-room dwellings being replaced by large single room dwellings.
Amorite Period (2000 – 1725 B.C.)
The Amorite Period (2000 – 1725 B.C.) was a rather turbulent period in the history of Byblos. The Amorites had unsettled the status quo of the Near East areas. Trade continued however and the temples flourished. Some of the rulers of this time bear names that indicate a relationship to the rulers of the first Babylonian dynasty (also Amorite). Politically, however, Egypt reigns over this period.
The Hyksos Period (1725 – 1580 B.C.)
Over this period, the Hyksos, a Khourrite people mingled with the local population of Byblos. At this time, the people of Byblos were falling more and more under the influence of the Egyptians. The Hittites were expanding their empire to the north and would clash with the Egyptians. Firstly, however, the Egyptians had to deal with the Hyksos and this they did by chasing them from Egypt north into Palestine. The Hyksos appear to have introduced chariots into warfare during this era.
Egyptian Domination (1580 – 1200 B.C.)
The Egyptians consolidated control in Syria and surrounding areas by dint of some poor campaigns from their opponents, as well as a need to secure border areas from the Hittites, amongst others. It was during this period that writing in the form of an alphabet appeared in this area. Ugarit consisted of 31 signs of cuneiform and really was limited to being impressed on clay tablets. The more cursive script at Byblos consisted of 22 letters and was more suited to writing on papyrus. It quickly spread throughout the world (with the exception of China). Byblos is where we derive terms for writing and books from (Bible, bibliography and so on).
Sea Peoples (1200 – 1100 B.C.)
arrived throughout the area at the end of the 13th century. They caused problems for the Egyptians and eventually settled areas of Phoenicia and Canaan. The Philistines are perhaps the most famous of the sea peoples and their name evolved to Palestine. At the same time, the Israelites, fleeing Egypt under Moses finally settled in Canaan. The Phoenicians become more skilled at maritime trade, trading as far west as Spain. Troy is sacked around 1190 in the Trojan War by the Greek, led by the Mycenaeans.
Hegemony of Tyre and Aradus (1100 – 725 B.C.)
The cities of Tyre and Aradus were the two great mercantile powers of this time trading across the full Mediterranean. Carthage is established as a trading port by Tyre.
Assyrian-Babylonian Rule (725 – 539 B.C.)
The Assyrians had been controlling the area since about 850 B.C. During this period, whilst Byblos did not develop to any great extent, the alphabet was used to transfer ideas between peoples and develop a cultural hegemony, Aramaic, throughout the area. After the fall of Ninevah in 612 B.C., the Babylonians ruled (carting the Israelites off to Babylon).
Persian Period (539 – 332 B.C.)
The Babylonians were eventually defeated by the Medes and the Persians became the dominant power through the region. Syria, Phoenicia, Palestine and Cyprus form the 5th Satrapy. It was during this period that the Phoenician ports achieved a great level of prosperity.
Hellenistic Period (332 – 63 B.C.)
Hellenistic Period (332 – 63 B.C.) With the coming of Alexander life changed. The Phoenician cities sided with Alexander (except for Tyre which was taken by siegecraft). After Alexander died, his empire fragmented and Byblos was part of the sphere of control of initially the Ptolemies of Egypt but later of the Seleucids. They remained that way until the Romans came.
Roman Period (63 B.C. – 330 A.D.)
The arrival of Pompey caused the Phoenician cities to submit to Rome. It was during this period that Byblos was completely remodeled with a new urban layout, looking more like a Roman town. Byblos was a minor town however when compared to Tyre, Berytus, Sidon and Antioch. Byblos was, however, a centre for the cult of Adonis.
Byzantine Period (330 A.D. – 636 A.D.)
After the split of the Roman Empire into East and West, Byblos came under the rule of Constantinople. The major event in this period was the spread of Christianity from Antioch.
Omayyad and Abbasid Period (636 – 1098 A.D.)
Following the rise of Mohammed, the Arab conquest conquered the areas around Byblos (amongst a lot of other places). The effect of this was to introduce Islam to the area. Trade suffered as the Arabs restricted trade from the coast and the coastal areas become the front line in wars between the Byzantines and the Arabs, and later the Crusaders and Arabs.
Frankish Period (the time of the Crusaders) (1098 – 1291 A.D.)
When the Crusaders came, they fortified the coastal regions and the hinterland and set new principalities and counties. For Byblos, it was a time of prosperity as trade increased throughout the Mediterranean again. Eventually, however, the Crusaders were driven out.
The Mamelukes (1291 – 1516 A.D.)
replaced the Crusaders and rule the area until the end of our brief survey. Byblos suffered again as there was restricted coastal trade. Coupled with that was the increase in inland routes and the discovery of trade routes around the Cape of Good Hope.

That ends the Ancient History period (if I assume 1500 A.D. as a watershed). After 1516 A.D., Byblos came under the rule of the Ottomans.

As you can see, the history of the town of Byblos is varied and long. It is well worth a visit. Sitting in the Roman amphitheatre on the edge of the fortifications looking out to sea and watching the sun set is an experience not to be missed. At the same time, the friendliness of the Lebanese make a trip there well worth while.

Museums. There is a good museum in Beirut containing exhibits from the Byblos area (amongst others). Unfortunately, due to the war here, the museum was damaged in the past and has had to be rebuilt. It was due to reopen in October 1999. Apparently a great many of the original exhibits that the Museum in Beirut held had been plundered and sold off through Turkey, however, there are still a fair number left.

This is the southern side of the entrance to the small harbour in Byblos. The harbour has been in use since ancient times and one can almost picture Phoenician boats pulled up from the water or tied to a dock. The harbour is small (just large enough not to be able to fit into a single shot from camera).
This is the northern side of the harbour entrance, complete with an oldish tower. I think that the tower is most likely from Arab times.
A closer shot of the tower on the northern entrance to the harbour at Byblos.
The fort at Byblos, seen through the Roman columns that are between the Roman amphitheatre and the fort. As you can see from this shot as well, it is very bright in the Lebanon in summer and in fact, on the day we visited Byblos, the temperature was also around 34 degrees Celsius. The fort itself is a mix of styles, bearing some stonework from the Arabs, the Crusaders, the Byzantines and possible some Roman work as well. Most of the stuff earlier than that appears to have been built over in the existing fort, although the foundations of earlier walls can still be seen.
Detail of the fort walls.
The foundations to the old wall for Byblos are clear from within the current fort
And indeed, from the current fort you can see where excavations have revealed the foundations from the old town. As you can make out from this, there was not much in the way of town planning, with narrow streets seemingly wandering anywhere. At the same time, the foundations for the dwellings show small, mostly single room dwellings (although there are a couple of larger two and three roomed dwellings as well).

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