Lebanese History: Roman/Byzantine Empires

Figure 1.--This tourist postcard shows an Arab cameleer boy catering tontourists at Baalbek or Baalbeck (بعلبك‎ ) a modern town in the Beqaa Valley east of the Litani River. It is notable for its Roman temple ruins. Baalbek was in ancient times known as Heliopolis. It was one of the largest sanctuaries in the Roman Empire and often cited as one of the wonders of the ancient world. The temple towering above the Beqaa plain, proclaiming the power and glory of Imperial Rome. There the Romans worshiped the triad of Jupiter, Venus and Bacchus. These Roman Gods became associated with the indigenous deities of Hadad, Atargatis and a young male god of fertility.

Rome incorporated Phoenicia into their Empire (64 AD). As part of the Roman Empire and Pax Romana, a trading people like the Phoenicians prospered. Both commercial economic and intellectual activities flourished in Lebanon during the Pax Roman. Rome granted thed inhabitants of the principal Phoenician cities of Byblos, Sidon and Tyre Roman citizenship. The Phoenicians were not only traders, but had highly develped industries, including pottery, glass and purple dye industries. They also benefitted from trade between Rome and other Mediterranran ports and the inland areas to the west, Syria and Mesopotamia as well as areas beyond, Persia and India. Important goods included cedar, perfume, jewelry, wine and fruit. The economic prospeity expeienced in Phoenicia resulted in expanding urban settlment and helped finance the construction of temples and palaces. A noted first School of Law in history was built. A network of paved roads connected the major cities. As a esult, today in Lebanon there are impressive ruins of temples and monuments from the Roman era. The most important is Baalbek (figure 1). Phoenicia because of its location along side Palestine had Jews among the population. Before the Jewish revolt and Disapora, Phoenicia was one of the few areas with Jewish populations. (There were jews in Mespotamia and Persia, nut they were less connected witn Jews in Palestine,). Thus Lebnon was one of the first areas outside Palestine to be affected by the Jesus movement. The Bible in fact records that the first non-Jewish woman who accepted Christianity was a Phoenician. And of course St. Pul was converted on the road to Damascus. Saint Peter left for Rome from a Phoenician port. When the Roman Empire divided, Phoenicia and the rest of the Levant became part of the Eastern Empire which evolved into Byzantium. Most Phoenicians became Christians. Saint Maroun found a refuge in the northern mountains of Lebanon. Maronite Christianity developed in Lebanon. This caused problems with ther Byzantine authories and established Greek Orthodox Church. Some authors ewport a nationalist sentiments in Mount Lebanon and the Phoenician coast and the beginning of the name Lebanon for the entire sarea. The population of the mountons began to increase, in part because Byzantine authorities found it more difficilt to enforce their authority againstthe Maronites and Marada. They were joined by the Aramaic/ Assyrians and Cheldanites who were also fleeing persecution.


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Created: 9:38 AM 12/17/2012
Last updated: 9:38 AM 12/17/2012