About Us Collection Official Opening Permanent Exhibitions Temporary Exhibitions Donations Membership Notices Contact Us

Greater Phoenicia

10. Archaeology

Since it is such an important region of the Middle East which has been occupied for thousands of years, Lebanon has a very large number of archaeological sites and remains.  These include the remains of the major Phoenician cites, such as Tyre, Sidon and Byblos, as well as the smaller settlements.  Museums in Lebanon are full of artefacts made by the Phoenicians.  Indeed, Phoenician settlements have been excavated throughout the region of the Mediterranean Sea, and artefacts from them are in many museums, not only in the countries where they were found, but in many other countries, including the United Kingdom, France, the United States of America and Australia.  Source: Nicholas Hardwick

Carthage, which was the most significant colony of the Phoenicians, has been extensively excavated through all periods.  Source: Miles, 17.

The evidence of inscriptions is supplemented by uninscribed materials from excavations throughout the eastern Mediterranean region.   Finds include extensive evidence of religious activity, such as the images of gods and their symbols, figurines, the foundations of temples, temple furnishings, and scenes of gods, myths, and religious activities shown on seals and reliefs.  However, the reasons for the identification of religious objects have not always been given full consideration, nor has particular attention been given to the question of the reflection of religious life in material remains in general. It is often hard to correlate written and unwritten material evidence with confidence.

Source: Markoe, 143-69; Phoenicia.org, section on History: Sources of Modern Knowledge about Phoenicia

 

Despite of these new and increasing sources of knowledge, there is still a very irregular image which comes as a result. On the one hand, in the case of the large cosmopolitan city of Ugarit, there is a very large variety of sources, covering a century and a half, but there are limitations in the conclusions which we can draw from other written materials.   No written evidence exists for many aspects of history, regions and periods.   With the exception of Ugarit, descriptions of the religion of any one region or period are extremely superficial and limited.   It is not possible to make any generalisation about the religions of the eastern Mediterranean, since new discoveries may show that there are significant exceptions.

Source: Phoenicia.org, section on History: Sources of Modern Knowledge about Phoenicia

Among one of the most important pieces of material evidence is coinage.  As it has already been noted, the Phoenicians adopted coinage from the Greeks in the middle of the 5th century BC.  Before this, raw copper ingots had been a form of Phoenician currency and barter of goods in kind was used both before the introduction of coinage and alongside it.  Because Phoenicia and its colonies had a city-state system, it is understandable that each of the cities minted coins, and the cities of Sidon, Tyre, Arados, Byblos and others at different times produced their own issues of coinage.  The designs very often reflect the cult of the most important gods of the cities and the king or ruler.   As would be expected, war galleys often featured on Phoenician coinage, such as on the coinage of Sidon, which reflects the significance of seafaring in Phoenician culture.  Source: Moscati, 525, fig. Turreted busts of the various city goddesses also appear as designs, which reveal the nature and the importance of the walled coastal cities of Phoenicia.  Source: Phoenicia.org, section on History: Phoenician Money; Nicholas Hardwick; Moscati, 524-35.

 

Carthage minted an important series of electrum (that is, an alloy of gold and silver), silver and bronze coinage, and the designs of the 4th century BC are inspired by those of the coinage of the major Greek cities of Sicily, with whom Carthage was in constant conflict and by whom it was culturally influenced.  Important designs show a horse and a palm tree, which illustrate important aspects of the culture of the Phoenician colony in north Africa.

Source: Phoenicia.org, section on History: Phoenician Money; Nicholas Hardwick; Miles, 290; Moscati, 527-32.

 

Phoenician and Carthaginian coinage was also minted by colonies in Sardina, Spain and other locations in the western Mediterranean region. Source: Moscati, 532-4.

 

Important archaeological monuments are found in Phoenicia from the periods of Greek and Roman influence.   The famous temple complex in the Bekaa Valley at Baalbek, whose ancient name was Heliopolis, which means ín Greek ‘the city of the sun god’, was built in the Roman period in the 1st-3rd centuries AD, using the classical style of architecture at a time when the classical orders had been in existence for many centuries after their development by the Greeks.  The best preserved temples include the Temple of Jupiter-Hadad, the king of the gods in the Greco-Roman pantheon, and the Temple of Mercury-Bacchus, the latter being the Roman god of wine, built in the Corinthian order with its leafed capitals.   These temples are constructed of marble and are famous for their ornate decoration.   The buildings are products of the classical tradition, what we call its receipt, that is, its development in later cultures.   The Heliopolitan triad, Jupiter, Venus and Mercury, was a cult widely worshipped in the Roman world.   The importance of the city is marked by the fact that under the Severan dynasty (AD 193-235), colonial status was probably granted to Heliopolis.  Baalbek is presently used for musical performances and son et lumière (sound and light) displays on account of the spectacular setting of the temples.   Source: Hornblower, sv. Heliopolis; Nicholas Hardwick