You may wish to see an introductory page to this section first.
Reconstructed section of a Roman colonnade which leads to the town from the coastal road
In three hours more we came to Gibyle, call'd by the
Greeks Byblus. (..) It is pleasantly situated by the Sea side.
At present it contains but a little extent of ground, but
yet more than enough for the small number of it's Inhabitants. (..) Anciently it was a place of no mean extent, as well
as beauty, as may appear from the many heaps of Ruins,
and the fine Pillars that are scatter'd up and down in the
Gardens near the Town.
Henry Maundrell - A Journey from Aleppo to Jerusalem at Easter - 1697
A little beyond the Ibrim, we came to Gibele (..); it is the antient Byblus. (..) Here, it is said, Cinyras, the father of Adonis, had a palace (some ancient writers refer to Cinyras as a king of Cyprus); and the city became famous for the temples and worship of Adonis.
Richard Pococke - A Description of the East and Some Other Countries - 1745
I passed on the outside of Djebail, the ancient Byblus, without stopping. (..) Many fragments of fine granite columns are lying about in the neighbourhood of Djebail.
Johann Ludwig Burckhardt - Travels in Syria and the Holy Land - 1822
The fragments mentioned by Burckhardt are most likely among those which archaeologists have used to reconstruct a colonnaded street outside the medieval walls of the town. It is believed to be the Decumanus Maximus, the main east-west street of Roman Byblos which therefore had a rather large urban area.
Walls of the Phoenician town and in the background its harbour (the image used as background for this page shows a Phoenician stone anchor in the local museum)
Gibyle is probably the Country of the Giblites, mentioned Josh. 13.5. King Hiram made use of the people of
this place in preparing Materials for Solomon's Temple, as
may be collected from the first of Kings 5. 18. where the
word which our Translator hath rendered stone-squarers
in the Hebrew is Giblim, or Giblites, and in the
LXXII Interpreters is the men of Byblus:
the former using the Hebrew, the latter the Greek name
of this place. The same difference may be observed likewise Ezek. 27. 9. where this place is again mention'd. Maundrell
Maundrell was the Anglican Chaplain to the Levant Company in Syria and the account of his travels is full of references to the Bible. He was well aware of the importance of Phoenician Byblos, but at his time nothing of that town could be detected and this until 1921 when the first archaeological excavations began.
The town is enclosed by a wall some parts of which appear to be of the time of the crusades. Burckhardt
The walls of the town remain, which are about a mile in circumference. (..) When we came to Gibele I stopped at a tree a little without the gates. Having heard a bad character of the inhabitants I had procured a letter to the sheik which I sent to him. He came out to me with his brother and relations and ordered his Christian steward to shew me every thing about the town. The sheik happened to cast his eyes on a pair of my pistols which he liked and immediately ordered his man to propose an exchange for his which I refused. When I returned from viewing the town the sheik and the elders were sitting in the gate of the city after the antient manner and I sat a while with them, but when I came to my place I was informed that the sheik intended to take my pistols by force if I would not agree to his proposal. The sheik himself came soon afterwards took my pistols out of the holsters and would have put his own in their place which I would not permit; he then put his pistols into the hands of one of my men whom I ordered to lay them down on the ground; they offered to give me some money also in exchange but I intimated that if they did not return them I would complain to the pasha of Tripoli. I departed and they sent a man after me to offer ten dollars, two or three messages passed, and when we were about a mile from the town they sent the pistols to me for as they knew the character of the pasha it is probable that they apprehended he would be glad of such a pretence to come and raise money on them. Pococke
(left) Entrance to the castle (in the foreground the flag of Lebanon showing a cedar tree); (right) Roman granite columns in its lower section; this device to strengthen the walls of a fortification can be seen at many places in Lebanon (e.g. at Beirut and at El-Mina); see also the second page
(The town) is compassed with a dry Ditch (..) on it's South side it has an old Castle. Maundrell
At the south east corner there is a very strong castle of rusticated work, built of hard stone that has pebbles in it. Towards the foundation are some stones twenty feet in length. Pococke
The castle was built in the XIIth century when the town was part of the County of Tripoli, one of the Crusader States in the Levant.
The ruins of many successive civilizations are found at Byblos, one of the oldest Phoenician cities. Inhabited since Neolithic times, it has been closely linked to the legends and history of the Mediterranean region for thousands of years. (..) The evolution of the town is evident in the structures that are scattered around the site, dating from the different periods, including the medieval town intra-muros, and antique dwellings.
From the UNESCO World Heritage List website. Byblos was included in the list in 1984.
French archaeologist Pierre Montet undertook the first excavations at Byblos in 1921-1924. He was followed by Maurice Dunand who was in charge of them until 1970; they focused their attention on the farmed area around the medieval castle which was situated on the ancient acropolis. A number of remains of the Roman town were easily identified and partly reconstructed. These findings however did not raise much interest, because Lebanon had already spectacular Roman monuments at Baalbek. Dunand was aware of the fame of Byblos as a very ancient settlement and he decided to look for always earlier remains. His decision led to foregoing opportunities for preserving monuments of the Hellenistic and Roman periods, similar to what occurred at Troy.
Othman al Housami House and in the foreground the Temple of Baalat Gebal (Gebal being the Phoenician name of the town) (ca 2700 BC)
The buildings that once existed around the castle were all demolished, exception made for an Ottoman house that Dunand kept in order to use it as an office. It now shows the deepness of the excavations. Dunand endeavoured to methodically dig the ground in small horizontal layers in order to identify all the historical periods of the site and document the related findings. He soon reached the level of the Phoenician town and unearthed the foundations of some of its monuments.
Temple of the Obelisks, thus named after many votive offerings in the form of small obelisks
Dunand was determined to find evidence of the Neolithic settlement, the existence of which had partially come to light when excavating the Phoenician town (see some of his findings in the introductory page) and which make of Byblos a site that has been continuously inhabited for an extremely long period of time, perhaps The Oldest City on Earth. He therefore removed the Temple of the Obelisks, a most interesting Phoenician monument, to excavate beneath it. The temple was reconstructed in another position and the same occurred to a Roman theatre and to other ancient buildings. As a matter of fact the view one enjoys from the castle is not so much over an ancient town as over a man-made archaeological park.
National Museum of Beirut: votive offerings from the Temple of the Obelisks (ca 2,000 BC): (left/centre) bronze and gold leaf figurines; (right) scabbard; (inset) grip of the related dagger
At first sight these figurines which apparently portray warriors lead to believe that they were part of the army of a great commander and accompanied him in his final journey, similar to those found at Xian. They were instead found in holes of the obelisks or in small jars and some of them depict women and priests. Their shape shows Egyptian influence, but bronze figurines are more typical of Mesopotamia and Byblos was in contact with both lands and civilizations.
The scabbard has a finely incised relief which, contrary to expectations, does not depict a scene of fight, but animals and men in a row. The relief on the grip of the dagger portrays a king or a high priest. The use of the weapon was clearly a ceremonial one.
Necropolis: (left) one of the tombs; (right) two sarcophagi
A necropolis consisting of nine underground rooms (or rather holes similar to wells) forming a sort of semicircle was discovered in 1923 by Montet. The tombs are dated ca 1,800 BC because of objects with the names of known Egyptian pharaohs which were found inside them. It was a royal necropolis which was not used for a long period of time, because the tombs appear to have been made for one sarcophagus only. While digging one of them Montet came across the evidence of a wooden floor and beneath it he found the sarcophagus of Ahiram (see it in the introductory page), a mythical king of Byblos referred to also by Maundrell. The tomb was used a second time for this sarcophagus which is dated Xth century BC.
Byblos is also directly associated with the history and diffusion of the Phoenician alphabet. The origin of our contemporary alphabet was discovered in Byblos with the most ancient Phoenician inscription carved on the sarcophagus of Ahiram. Byblos is directly and tangibly associated with the history of the diffusion of the Phoenician alphabet (on which humanity is still largely dependent today). UNESCO
The relief on the box which is shown above most likely depicts a funerary ceremony; in many ways it resembles an Egyptian painting, however the sphinx brings to mind Hittite reliefs at Ain Dara in Syria and Karatepe in Turkey.
Egypt did not have any great forests nor many tall trees. When the Pharaohs needed to develop a fleet to support their trade and military operations they had to import cedar wood from Phoenicia and Byblos was the port from which it was shipped to Egypt. The town therefore had close relationships with Egypt and it appears that the Pharaohs sent their soldiers to fell the trees. Ithobaal, son of Ahiram, founded a dynasty in Tyre and this city became the most important one of Phoenicia, to the detriment of Byblos. During the Persian domination of the region Byblos was a semi-independent kingdom which actively traded with Greece (the town owes its name to the Egyptian papyrus, byblos in Greek, which was exported from its harbour).
Evidence of a Roman "cardo" with a nymphaeum and the entrance to a temple
The Romans chose to found a colony at Berytus (Beirut) and to make it the key centre for their political and cultural presence in the region, but all Phoenician ports including Byblos benefitted from the periods of peace and security which characterized the Roman Empire, especially in the first two centuries AD. The focus of the excavations being on the very past of Byblos it is difficult to figure out the layout of the Roman town which, notwithstanding the unevenness of the ground, had the traditional grid of cardo (north-south) and decumanus streets. A monumental nymphaeum is still in situ at the foot of the castle.
Roman theatre; (inset): one of the small temple fronts which decorate the low wall of the stage
An ancient theatre is always a very evocative monument. Even though only a part of its structures are still standing one can try to visualize its past aspect. At Byblos the ima cavea, the lowest of the three tiers of the seating section of a Roman theatre, was found almost in its entirety, but it was removed to carry out other excavations. It was eventually reconstructed at the side of the necropolis, thus separating it from whatever else was left of the building.
Ancient columns in the square in front of the castle
It is not clear whether the columns were re-erected in the original location of a Roman monument or were gathered in this spot to provide visitors with a first sample of the ruins inside the archaeological area. The very large number of granite columns which have been found at Byblos is explained by the fact that they were quarried in Egypt and thus their transportation was relatively short and easy.
A number of mosaic floors were found in the archaeological area and in the environs of the town. The finest ones were moved to Beirut, the others were left to rot. Beautiful floor mosaics have been found in all the provinces of the Roman Empire; two areas however achieved a particular level of excellence in this field: one centred around Carthage and including Tunisia, Algeria and Sicily and the other centred around Antioch and including Syria, Lebanon and parts of Turkey.
National Museum of Beirut: IIIrd century AD mosaic from Byblos portraying Silenus, a tutor and companion of Dionysus on a panther and holding a "thyrsus" (a long staff) and a "kantharos" (a drinking cup), all symbols of the god; the name is written in Greek which was more spoken than Latin by the local upper classes
Floor mosaics portraying the god of wine and his followers were a very appropriate subject for the decoration of a triclinium, the dining room of a wealthy Roman house. Dionysus however was not just the father of winemaking. The many statues which were erected to him show that he was more than the Noah of the pagan world. His drunkenness had also transcendental aspects, so that thiasos, processions of his followers, often decorated sarcophagi.
The pictor imaginarius (craftsman in charge of the images) of this mosaic did an excellent work, although he did not get the size of the head of the bull right. He portrayed Zeus, disguised as a bull, carrying Europa, a Phoenician girl, across the sea to the shores of Crete. The subject of the mosaic was obviously very popular in Europa's native land, but it is often found in many other parts of the Roman Empire, e.g. in Algeria, Northern Italy and even at Lullingstone, south of London.
National Museum of Beirut: exhibits from Byblos: (left) IInd century AD statue of Hygeia, goddess of health which stood in the nymphaeum; (right) IIIrd century AD mosaic portraying Acme (or rather Acte), the hour of afternoon eating and pleasure between Eros and Charis, goddess of charm and fertility (notice her shadow on the column); in essence the mosaic depicts three aspects of love
Move to Medieval Byblos and Harissa.