Lebanon's History

Greek and Roman Periods

| Rule of Alexander the Great |
| The Seleucid Dynasty |
| Summary |

Rule of Alexander the Great

The Persian Empire eventually fell to Alexander the Great, king of Macedonia. He attacked Asia Minor, defeated the Persian troops in 333 B.C., and advanced toward the Lebanese coast. Initially the Phoenician cities made no attempt to resist, and they recognized his suzerainty. However, when Alexander tried to offer a sacrifice to Melkurt, Tyre's god, the city resisted. Alexander besieged Tyre in retaliation in early 332 B.C. After six months of resistance, the city fell, and its people were sold into slavery. Despite his early death in 323 B.C., Alexander's conquest of the eastern Mediterranean Basin left a Greek imprint on the area. The Phoenicians, being a cosmopolitan people amenable to outside influences, adopted aspects of Greek civilization with ease.

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The Seleucid Dynasty

After Alexander's death, his empire was divided among his Macedonian generals. The eastern part--Phoenicia, Asia Minor, northern Syria, and Mesopotamia--fell to Seleucus I, founder of the Seleucid dynasty. The southern part of Syria and Egypt fell to Ptolemy, and the European part, including Macedonia, to Antigonus I. This settlement, however, failed to bring peace because Seleucus I and Ptolemy clashed repeatedly in the course of their ambitious efforts to share in Phoenician prosperity. A final victory of the Seleucids ended a forty-year period of conflict.

The last century of Seleucid rule was marked by disorder and dynastic struggles. These ended in 64 B.C., when the Roman general Pompey added Syria and Lebanon to the Roman Empire. Economic and intellectual activities flourished in Lebanon during the Pax Romana. The inhabitants of the principal Phoenician cities of Byblos, Sidon, and Tyre were granted Roman citizenship. These cities were centers of the pottery, glass, and purple dye industries; their harbors also served as warehouses for products imported from Syria, Persia, and India. They exported cedar, perfume, jewelry, wine, and fruit to Rome. Economic prosperity led to a revival in construction and urban development; temples and palaces were built throughout the country, as well as paved roads that linked the cities.

Upon the death of Theodosius I in A.D. 395, the empire was divided in two: the eastern or Byzantine part with its capital at Constantinople, and the western part with its capital at Rome. Under the Byzantine Empire, intellectual and economic activities in Beirut, Tyre, and Sidon continued to flourish for more than a century. However, in the sixth century a series of earthquakes demolished the temples of Baalbek and destroyed the city of Beirut, leveling its famous law school and killing nearly 30,000 inhabitants. To these natural disasters were added the abuses and corruptions prevailing at that time in the empire. Heavy tributes and religious dissension produced disorder and confusion. Furthermore, the ecumenical councils of the fifth and sixth centuries A.D. were unsuccessful in settling religious disagreements. This turbulent period weakened the empire and made it easy prey to the newly converted Muslim Arabs of the Arabian Peninsula.

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Alexander the Great captured the city of Tyre in 332 B.C. after an eight-month siege. When the city fell, almost all its inhabitants were sold as slaves and Tyre lost its importance on the world stage.

After Alexander's death, his empire - the entire ancient civilized world - was split among his generals. These generals launched competing Macedonian dynasties such as the Ptolemies of Egypt, of whom Cleopatra was a descendant, and the Seleucids of Syria. Phoenicia became a prize over which these competing dynasties fought.

Phoenicia came first under Ptolemaic control, then under Seleucid control. When the Seleucid dynasty fell to the Armenians, the rising empire of Rome stepped in and restored Seluecid control.

When the Seleucids fell into anarchy, Rome assumed direct control. Rome incorporated Phoenicia as part of Syria. The obscure city of Berytus (Beirut) began rising to prominence after the Roman emperor Augustus granted it Roman colonial status and Herod the Great financed lavish building projects there.

During Roman rule, the Phoenician language died out and was replaced by Aramaic as the vernacular tongue. Greek became the language of literature. Important Lebanese writers included Philo of Byblos, Porphyry of Tyre and Iamblichus of Chalcis. Porphyry played a key role in spreading Neo-platonic philosophy, which later influenced pagan and Christian thought.

Under Roman rule, Berytus became the most famous provincial school of Roman law. Two of Rome's most famous jurists, Papinian and Ulpian, were natives of Lebanon and taught as professors of law in the school. Their opinions took up more than a third of the compilation of Roman law commissioned by the emperor Justinian I in the 6th century A.D.

Berytus' importance in Rome lasted until a series of earthquakes, a tidal wave, and fire in the mid-6th century destroyed it.

In 608-609, Persian King Khosrow II pillaged Syria and Lebanon. Between 622 and 629, the Byzantine emperor Heraclius won back the territory. But then in the 630s, Arabs who were members of the new religion of Islam conquered Palestine and Lebanon. The old Phoenician cities offered only token resistance to this new conqueror.

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Federal Research Division - Library of Congress (Edited by Thomas Collelo, December 1987)
Encyclopedia Britannica

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1997-2001 by Ayman Ghazi
Last changes: September 30, 1997