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Beirut was settled more than 5000 years ago. Its name derives from the Canaanite-Phoenician be 'rot ("wells", paralleled by Hebrew: בְּאֵרוֹת), referring to the underground water table that is still tapped by the local inhabitants for general use.
Excavations in the downtown area have unearthed layers of Phoenician, Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, Arab, Crusader and Ottoman remains. The first historical reference to Beirut dates from the 15th century BC, when it is mentioned in the cuneiform tablets of the Amarna letters, three letters that Ammunira of Biruta (Beirut) sent to the pharaoh of Egypt. Biruta is also referenced in the letters from Rib-Hadda, king of Byblos (now known in Levantine Arabic as Jbeyl).
The oldest settlement was on an island in the river that progressively silted up. The city was known in antiquity as Berytus.
In 140 BC, the city was destroyed by Diodotus Tryphon in his contest with Antiochus VII Sidetes for the throne of the Seleucid monarchy. Beirut was soon rebuilt on a more conventional Hellenistic plan and renamed Laodicea in Phoenicia (Greek: Λαοδίκεια ἡ ἐν Φοινίκῃ) or Laodicea in Canaan in honor of a Seleucid, Laodice of Macedonia. Some Seleucid coins struck at Beirut carry the Phoenician inscription: (of Laodicea, mother).
Beirut was conquered by Pompey in 64 B.C. The city (named by the Romans Berytus) was assimilated into the Roman Empire, veteran soldiers were sent there, and large building projects were undertaken.
Beirut was considered the most Roman city in the eastern provinces of the Roman Empire. Furthermore, the veterans of two Roman legions were established in the city of Berytus by emperor Augustus: the fifth Macedonian and the third Gallic. Consequently, the city quickly became fully Romanized: it was one of four Roman colonies in the Syria-Phoenicia region and the only one with full Ius Italicum (meaning: exemption from imperial taxation).
Its territory under Claudius reached the Bekaa valley and included Heliopolis (Baalbeck): it was the only area mostly Latin-speaking in the Syria-Phoenicia region, because settled by Roman colonists who even promoted agriculture in the fertile lands around actual Yammoune. From the 1st century BC the Bekaa valley served as a source of grain for the Roman provinces of the Levant and even for the same Rome
In 14 B.C., during the reign of Herod the Great, Berytus became a colonia and was named Colonia Iulia Augusta Felix Berytus. Its law school was widely known; two of Rome 's most famous jurists, Papinian and Ulpian, both natives of Phoenicia, taught there under the Severan emperors. When Justinian assembled his Pandects in the 6th century, a large part of the corpus of laws was derived from these two jurists, and in 533 AD Justinian recognized the school as one of the three official law schools of the empire. After the 551 Beirut earthquake the students were transferred to Sidon.
The modern city overlies the ancient one, and little archaeology was carried out until after the end of the civil war in 1991. The post-war salvage excavations (1993-to date) have yielded new insights in the layout and history of this Hellenistic period. Public architecture included several areas and buildings.
Berytus Archaeological Studies
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Berytus Phoenicia colonia (Beruti, Bejrut, Beyront, Syria)[Beirut, Lebanon], one of the most ancient cities in Asia, situate on the sea coast. The old geographers speak of Berytus as terra amaena (a pleasant land); and modern travelers confirm all that has been said, in former days, of the good climate and fertile soil; to which the latter add: what seldom employs the pen of either Greek or Roman prose writers, a warm panegyric on the mountain grandeur and picturesque beauties of its favored locality. By whom it was founded, as a Roman colony, has been a matter of controversy, which seems to be thus settled, namely, that Berytus was colonized by Julius Caesar, and thence derived its name of Julia; that Augustus next sent to it part of the veterans taken from two legions, viz. the V Macedonica, and the VIII Augusta, as a reinforcement to the first military settlers; on which account the name Augusta was added. From Augustus also the city received the Jus Italicum; and afterwards, according to Josephus (L xix c 7), it was honored with particular benefits from Agrippa, King of Judea, at whose expense the Berytensian colony was embellished with a fine theater, and a magnificent amphitheater, besides baths, porticoes, and other architectural works, of equal utility and elegance. It is now called Beyrout [Beirut, Lebanon]; and the gallant exploits of the British navy have, in our day, brought it again into European notice.
The coins of this city are numerous. They are classed by Mionnet into Phoenician autonomes in silver; Greek and bilingual in silver and brass; Latin colonial autonomes; and Latin imperial colonial, in small, middle, and large brass.
The Latin imperial colonial commence under Julius Caesar, and extend with scarcely a break, down to the reign of Gallienus. The legends of reverse are:
- COL BER
- COL IVL BER, as in Julius Caesar and Augustus
- COL IVL AVG BER, as in Augustus
- C I P AVG - COL BER - COL IVL ANT - COL IVL AVG FEL BER, as in Julia Domna and Caracalla.
Berytus is called Felix because (says Vaillant) cities were accustomed to proclaim themselves happy or fortunate when they were admitted to the rank and privileges of Roman colonies. Among the types which represent themselves on Latin imperial colonial of Berytensian mintage are the following:
2. Astarte - This object of oriental idolatry was the chief tutelary goddess of Berytus. Accordingly we find her frequently and variously represented on its coinage. In p 91, a Tyrian specimen of her image, clothed in a short dress has been given. The annexed cut shews Astarte with tutulated, or tufted headdress, and in a long robe, by which the entire person is covered with the exception of the left knee, which is bare, whilst the foot is planted on the prow of a vessel.
In her left hand is the aplustrum; and her right hand holds a staff as tall as the figure, and terminating in a cross, her particular symbol. A column close to her left hand is surmounted by a figure of Victory, which offers to her a garland or crown. Her left foot placed on the ship 's prow. On another reverse she appears with turreted head, standing in a temple of four columns, holding a trident in her right hand. The attributes are both allusive to the maritime locality of Berytus, which she was supposed to have under her guardianship. It is thus that this idol of the Berytensians appears, on coins struck under Trajan, Hadrian, Commodus, Septimius Severus, Julia Domna, Caracalla, Macrinus, etc.
- Vaillant (ii 142) has engraved the bust of Astarte, presenting a front face between two legionary eagles, dedicated by this colony to Gordian III; and Eckhel describes the same type under Gallienus.
- There is also a temple of four columns, of which the frontispiece is adorned with statues, and before the steps of which is a lion, on coins of Berytus, struck with the portrait of Gordian II.
- Sestini gives a coin of Hostilian and another of Valerian I on which Astarte, with the modius on her head, stands holding in the right hand her usual attribute of a cross headed hasta, and in her left hand a cornucopia; her right foot is on a prow, and a victoriola on a cippus extends a crown towards her head (as in the type above engraved).
- Pellerin has given a beautiful little coin bearing the portrait of Sabina Tranquillina, and on which Astarte is represented with an infant Silenus dancing at her feet. See Melange, vol i pl xx fig 13.
- Mionnet cites from the cabinet Consinery a Berytensian coin of Trebonianus Gallus which exhibits the Syrian Venus, standing between two small Victories, each on a column. She holds up above her head a scarf filled by the wind.
- On a second brass dedicated by this city to Salonina, as a mode of complimenting her husband Gallienus, Astarte under the figure of a woman, in a long dress, crowned with towers, stands on a acrostolium (or beak of a galley): she holds the cruciform attribute in her right hand, and gathers the skirt of her robe in her left. Behind her s a victoriola, on a column, with garland and palm branch. See Vaillant in Col, ii 245.
3. Bacchus - The image of a god so popularly adored as Liber Pater, in the wine producing district where Berytus flourished, could not fail to make its appearance on her coins. Accordingly, either unclothed, between two shoots of vine, holding in one hand the rhyton, and in the left the thyrsus: sometimes with a faun or satyr by his side, sometimes holding a bunch of grapes over the head of his inseparable friend the panther; or in a long dress, with the cantharus, and a staff entwined with foliage and fruit, as the Indian Bacchus; we see him represented on mintage of this colony, under Hadrian, Gordian III, and other emperors. These types probably indicate that the people of Berytus worshiped him, as the reputed first planter of vineyards in the regions of Phoenicia; and especially on the spurs of the mountain chain of Libanus, in the vicinity of which the more ancient Beroes was built (Vaill., in Col. ii 140).
4. Colonus. - A colonist, or a priest veiled, guiding two oxen, or an ox and a cow, the common numismatic symbol of an established colony, is a very frequent type on the coins of Berytus. It successively appears under Julius Caesar, Augustus, Tiberius, Domitian, Nerva, Trajan, Antoninus Pius, and Marcus Aurelius.
5. Circle of figures. - On a coin of Berytus, struck under Elagabalus, are eight togate figures, seated in a round, forming a kind of circular group, in the center of which is the abbreviated name of the city, BER. Below is a galley.
Appearing as they do, to be all of the male sex, it may be no great piece of conjecture that this circular group was intended to represent a counsel, not of gods but of men.
6. Heracles, naked, standing between two serpents, upright on their tails. Elagabalus.
9. Legionary eagles and Military Ensigns, sometimes within a laurel crown, in other instances with COL BER V VIII (meaning Colonia Berytus, Quinta et Octara, ie Legio). These appear on the coins struck at Berytus under Augustus, Tiberius, Claudius, Nerva, Hadrian, Commodus, Julia Domna, Caracalla, Gordian III.
Such military symbols refer to the original formation of the colony by Julius Caesar, or rather to the transmission of the two legions (fifth and eighth) above metioned, to Berytus by Augustus. The exhibition of legionary eagles on colonial coins of Julia Domna alludes probably (as Vaillant observes) to the Senate having represented her on their own mint at Rome, sacrificing before the Roman standards, in record of the title which they had conferred upon that ambitious princess, of Mater Castorum, in imitation of a similar honour bestowed by Marcus Aurelius, with like impropriety, upon his princess Faustina Junior.
10. Neptune. - Berytus, being maritime, built a temple to Neptune, whom its inhabitants worshiped as one of their tutelary deities. Local traditions named Saturn as the founder of Berytus, and that he gave that city to the god of the sea (Neptune). Therefore, it is not surprising that his image frequently occurs on coins of this colony. These are found to be minted under Augustus, Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius, Commodus, Septimius Severus, Caracalla, Macrinus, Elagabalus, Gordian III.
Vaillant (in Coloniis, ii 75) was the first to give an engraving of this elegant reverse type, which he describes as follows: "Neptune, as distinguished by the trident in his left hand, lays hold, with his right, on a woman who is in kneeling posture, and has a vase, or pitcher, in her right hand." Berytus, if Nonnus is to be credited, took its first name of Beroes from the nymph Beroe, the fabled daughter of Venus and Adonis, whom Neptune demanded in marriage, but who was given to Bacchus. But here the nymph appears unwilling to be dragged away by Neptune; "because the God of Wine was more pleasing to her than the God of the Sea."
16. Temple of Astarte. - The subjoined is engraved from a first brass (in the British Museum), dedicated by this colony to Diadumenian, son of the emperor Macrinus. The legend COL IVL AVG FEL BER identifies the coin with the mint of Berytus. As to the type, it is one of the most remarkable in the colonial series, constituting, as it does, a multum in parvo of allusion to local traditions and ancient idolatries.
A temple of four columns, in which Astarte is represented clothed in a long dress, with face to front, and tutulated head-gear, holding in the right hand the hasta terminated in the form of a cross, and in her left a cornucopia. A Victory placed on a column close to the left side of Astarte offers to crown her. On each side of the goddess a winged cupid, standing on a plinth, lifts its hands with a garland in them towards her. On the summit of the temple Neptune with a trident in one hand, raises up with the other the nymph Beroe. On the entablature, on each side of the pediment, a Victory holds in both its hands a crown above its head. Below the temple to the right and left of the steps, two other cupids are seen, each seated on a dolphin, and holding a trident. Beneath both dolphins is a vase with a foot to it.