History and Archaeology of Lebanon



By the Editors of the Madain Project

  • The "Brief History" section is too long, it should be rewritten to reflect a summarized version on this page, and the detailed information should be moved to a separate dedicated article.

Although the modern borders of Lebanon were established through the Treaty of Sèvres in 1920 CE, the region's land was historically an integral part of the city-states of the Bronze Age Canaanites (Phoenicians). Situated in the Levant, Lebanon witnessed the influence of various ancient empires over the course of history, such as the Egyptian, Assyrian, Babylonian, Achaemenid, Hellenistic, Sasanian, and Roman empires.

The following article deals with the archaeology of modern day country of Lebanon (defined through the Treaty of Sèvres 1920 CE), but it may refer to other sites and historic regions outside the current borders. This definition should be further refined to reflect accuracy.

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Brief History of Lebanon

Lebanon's earliest settlements date back over 5000 BC, with Byblos being the oldest continuously inhabited city. Archaeologists discovered prehistoric huts, weapons, and burial jars from Neolithic and Chalcolithic fishing communities.

Approximately around 4000 BCE, the Canaanites, a Semitic people, were documented in the region as a cluster of coastal cities surrounded by a densely wooded hinterland. These Canaanites were settlers in city-states, founding colonies across the Mediterranean and creating a maritime power rather than a centralized empire with a designated capital. Each coastal city-state functioned independently, known for its distinct activities. Tyre and Sidon stood out as crucial hubs for maritime activities and trade, while Gubla and Berytus served as significant centers for trade and religion. Gubla, in particular, holds the distinction of being the first Canaanite city to actively engage in trade with Egypt during the Old Kingdom.

Prior to the 17th century BCE, the interaction between the Canaanites and Egyptians faced disruption due to the Hyksos, a nomadic Semitic group. Following three decades of Hyksos rule, the Egyptian Empire experienced a decline, allowing city-states to regain a degree of autonomy by the 12th century BC. During this period, the Canaanites demonstrated proficiency in various crafts, including textile production, ivory carving, metalworking, and glassmaking. They also expanded their influence by establishing colonies in the Mediterranean and creating trade routes connecting Europe and western Asia.

During the Middle Bronze IIA period, the Beqa Valley played a crucial role as a trade pathway connecting the Kingdom of Qatna and the Kingdom of Hazor. Positioned in the northern region of the valley, Kadesh served as a central hub for trade routes extending to various destinations, including Beirut, Sidon, Hazor, Damascus, Tell Hizzin, and Baalbek. It is probable that Hazor was subject to the influence of Qatna during this time.

In Late Bronze II, the Beqa Valley, controlled by Kamid el-Loz, became an Egyptian governor's seat. The northern part bordered Kadesh, a Hittite stronghold, and literary evidence from this period can be found in the Amarna Archive.

Between 875 and 608 BCE, the dominion of the Assyrians resulted in frequent uprisings within Canaanite city-states. Notably, Tyre and Byblos engaged in rebellions that were, however, quelled by Tiglath-Pileser III. The city of Tyre faced a siege led by Sargon II, while Sidon met destruction at the hands of Esarhaddon during the 7th century BCE. The ultimate demise of the Assyrian Empire occurred with its defeat by the Median Empire.

Following their victory over the Assyrians at Carchemish, the Babylonians took control of Canaan, marking the reigns of Nabopolassar and Nebuchadnezzar II. Their primary objective was to eliminate Assyrian influence, resulting in various regional uprisings, notably in Jerusalem. During this period, Tyre engaged in rebellion and eventually surrendered, resulting in the dethroning and enslavement of its king.

In 539/8 BC, Cyrus the Great conquered the Babylonian province of Phoenicia, ushering in Persian rule over the Syro-Canaan coastal cities. During the Greco-Persian War, the Canaanite navy aligned with Persia, yet revolts ensued due to the imposition of substantial tributes. The Persian Empire, encompassing Canaan, eventually succumbed to Alexander the Great in the 4th century BC.

In 333 BCE, Alexander the Great, the Macedonian ruler, toppled the Persian Empire and advanced toward the eastern Mediterranean coast. Initially met with resistance from the Canaanite cities, Alexander faced a significant challenge. However, in 332 BC, he successfully besieged Tyre after making a sacrifice to his deity. The siege lasted six months, culminating in Tyre's fall and the enslavement of its inhabitants. Alexander's triumph introduced Greek influence to the Phoenicians, who willingly embraced and assimilated Greek culture.

Following Alexander the Great's death, his vast empire was divided among his Macedonian generals. Seleucus I took charge of the eastern territories, Ptolemy assumed control of the southern regions, and Antigonus I governed the Balkan areas. Unfortunately, the division proved unsustainable as frequent conflicts arose among the successors. The Seleucids eventually emerged victorious, putting an end to the forty-year conflict and solidifying their dominance.

The final century of Seleucid rule was characterized by turmoil and internal power struggles, ultimately resulting in the annexation of Seleucid Syria and Canaan by the Roman Empire in 64 BC. Under the Pax Romana, Canaan experienced a period of economic and intellectual flourishing. Byblos, Sidon, and Tyre, the principal Canaanite city-states, were granted Roman citizenship. These cities thrived as centers for pottery, glass, and purple dye industries, utilizing their harbors as storage facilities for imported goods. The economic prosperity witnessed during this time fueled a resurgence in construction and urban development, leading to the construction of temples and palaces throughout the region.

The Romans erected an extensive temple complex in Heliopolis, incorporating temples dedicated to Jupiter, Bacchus, Venus, and a fourth one dedicated to Mercury. Berytus, a city associated with the Roman legions, experienced enrichment under the rule of Herod the Great and was granted the status of a colonia in 14 BCE. The city's school of law gained widespread recognition, and two of Rome's renowned jurists, Papinian and Ulpian, hailed from Canaan.

During the Byzantine Empire, intellectual and economic endeavors persisted in Beirut, Tyre, and Sidon for more than a century. However, a combination of natural disasters, abuses, corruption, substantial tributes, and religious discord contributed to disorder and confusion. These internal challenges weakened the Byzantine Empire, rendering it vulnerable to foreign powers and paving the way for external conquests.

History of Lebanon

Archaeology in Lebanon

Featured Article Tomb of Hiram I of Tyre

Located five miles east of the City of Tyre is an ancient structure known to locals as Kabr Hairan, or the Comb of Hiram. The belief that this monument serves as the burial site of the King of Tyre is based solely on native accounts. However, the monument exhibits clear signs of considerable age, and its features do not contradict the notion that it might be the final resting place of Solomon's confidant.

The foundation comprises two layers of substantial stones, each measuring three feet in thickness, thirteen feet in length, and eight feet eight inches in width. Above this rests a massive stone slightly exceeding fifteen feet in length, ten feet in width, and three feet four inches in thickness. Another stone, measuring twelve feet three inches in length, eight feet in width, and six feet in height, is positioned atop the former. The uppermost stone, slightly smaller in all dimensions, is five feet thick. The entire height of the monument reaches twenty-one feet. Such a structure is unparalleled in this region and may have endured since the days of Solomon. The broken sarcophagi strewn around it are traditionally linked to Hiram's mother, wife, and family.

Explore Hiram's Tomb

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