Byblos

Byblos was a city of Phoenicia in ancient times, famous for its writing and books. The name "Byblos" is the basis of "biblion", the Greek word for book, and appears in English in the words "bible" and "bibliography".

Byblos is located on the Mediterranean coast of present-day Lebanon, and is attractive to archaeologists because of the successive layers of debris resulting from centuries of human habitation. In 1860, the French writer, Ernest Renan carried out an excavation here, but systematic archaeological investigation did not take place until the 1920s.

The site first appears to have been settled during the Neolithic period, approximately 5000 BC. During the 3rd millennium BC, the first signs of a town can be observed, with the remains of well-built houses of uniform size. This was the period when the Phoenician civilisation began to develop, and there is evidence of trade with Egypt. The growing city was evidently a wealthy one.

By about 1200 BC, archeological evidence at Byblos shows clear evidence an alphabetic script which consisted of twenty-two characters. One of the most important monuments of this period is the Temple of Reshef (Reshef being the god of battle), but this had fallen into ruins by the time of Hellenistic rule and the arrival of Alexander the Great in the area in 332 BC. Coinage was already in use, and there is abundant evidence of trade with other Mediterranean countries.

During the Roman period, the temple of Reshef was elaborately rebuilt, and the city, though smaller than its neighbours such as Tyre and Sidon, was a centre for the cult of Adonis. In the 3rd century, a small but impressive theatre was constructed. The coming of the Byzantine empire resulted in the establishment of a bishop's seat in Byblos, and the town grew rapidly. Although a Persian colony is known to have been established in the region following the Moslem conquest of 636, there is little archaeological evidence for it. Trade with the rest of Europe effectively dried up, and it was not until the coming of the Crusaders in 1098 that prosperity returned to Byblos.

Byblos, under the name of Giblet, was an important military base in the 11th century, and the remains of its castle are among the most impressive architectural structures now visible at its centre. The town was taken by Saladin in 1187, re-taken by the Crusaders, and eventually conquered by Beibars in 1266. Its fortifications were subsequently restored. From 1516, the town and the whole region came under Turkish domination and formed part of the Ottoman empire.


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