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Byblos

Byblos

Byblos is the Greek name of the Phoenician city Gebal (earlier Gubla). It is a Mediterranean city in the Mount Lebanon Governorate of present-day Lebanon under the current Arabic name of Jbeil and was also referred to as Gibelet during the Crusades.

It is believed to have been founded around 5000 BC, and according to fragments attributed to the semi-legendary pre-Trojan war Phoenician historian Sanchuniathon, it was the first city ever built, and even today is believed by many to be the oldest continuously-inhabited city in the world.

History

The Greeks apparently called it Byblos because it was through Gebal that bublos ["Egyptian papyrus"] was imported into Greece. Although it is still referred to as Byblos by scholars, the city is now known by the Arabic name Jubayl or Jbeil , a direct descendant of the Canaanite name. Byblos is located on the Mediterranean coast of present-day Lebanon, about 26 miles (42 kilometers) north of Beirut. It 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. Neothlithic remains of some buildings can be observed at the site. According to the writer Philo of Byblos (quoting Sanchuniathon, and quoted in Eusebius), Byblos had the reputation of being the oldest city in the world, founded by Cronus, and was also where Thoth invented writing. 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 civilization began to develop, and archaeologists have recovered Egyptian-made artifacts dated as early as the 4th dynasty of Egypt.

The growing city was evidently a wealthy one, and seems to have been an ally of Egypt for many centuries. Amarna tablets Byblos of 1350 BC has an extensive sub-corpus of letters-(60) from Rib-Hadda and his successor Ili-Rapih, dealing with the overtaking of neighboring city-states, by the Hapiru. Objects naming the 13th dynasty Egyptian king Neferhotep I have been found there while the rulers of Byblos maintained close rationships with the New Kingdom pharaohs of Ancient Egypt.

Archaeological evidence at Byblos, dating back to around 1200 BC, shows existence of a Phoenician alphabetic script which consisted of twenty-two characters; an important example of this script is the sarcophagus of king Ahiram. The use of the alphabet was spread by Phoenician merchants through their maritime trade into parts of North Africa and Europe. One of the most important monuments of this period is the temple of Resheph, a Canaanite war god, but this had fallen into ruins by the time of Alexander. Byblos Port, the oldest port in the world, is more than 5000 years oldIn the Assyrian period, Sibittibaal of Byblos became tributary to Tiglath-pileser III in 738 BC, and in 701 BC, when Sennacherib conquered all Phoenicia, the king of Byblos was Urumilki. Byblos was also subject to Assyrian kings Esarhaddon (r.681-669 BCE) and Ashurbanipal (r.668-627 BCE), under its own kings Milkiasaph and Yehawmelek. In the Persian period (538-332 BC), Byblos was the fourth of four Phoenician vassal kingdoms established by the Persians; the first three being Sidon, Tyre, and Arwad. Hellenistic rule came with the arrival of Alexander the Great in the area in 332 BC. Coinage was in use, and there is abundant evidence of continued trade with other Mediterranean countries.

It is interesting to note that Greek has a second word for papyrus, bublos ( said to derive from the name of the Phoenician city of Byblos). The word bible derives from the city's name.

Byblos was also a main port city for Phoenicia from 3000 BC-1 AD. Terracotta jug from Byblos (now in the Louvre), Late Bronze Age (1600-1200 BC). During the Roman period, the temple of Resheph 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 Muslim 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 Gibelet or Giblet, was an important military base in the 11th century, and the remains of its Crusader 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 until 1918, the town and the whole region came under Turkish domination and formed part of the Ottoman Empire. Byblos and all of Lebanon was placed under French Mandate from 1920 until 1943 when Lebanon achieved Independence.

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