antiques
Best articles about oldest civilizations
15
Nov

History of the Phoenician Civilization - Part III

Posted in Phoenicians  by antiques

history-of-the-phoenician-civilization-part-iiiAlexander the Great
356-323 B.C.

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 that Alexander, 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 old World.

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 of Sinope 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 court officials.

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 been destroyed.

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 Tartous).

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 of him.

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 privation, he 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 to Tyre.

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 them.

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 from necessity 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 several ships.

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. Bridges 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 Apollo back.

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 sea.

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.

The Hellenistic Age
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 elephants.

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 and Syria.

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 ships.

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, Adonis 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 with 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 Arsinoƫ, his sister-wife, one way of eulogizing the family of Ptolemy who patronize the festival.

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 business.

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 Minor.

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. — phoenicia.org

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.