Sidon (2)

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Sidon (Hebrew: צִידוֹן, Ṣîdôn; Greek: Σιδών): port in Phoenicia, modern Ṣaydā.

Babylonian Age

Bustan esh-Sheikh, Remains of the Babylonian sanctuary

After the fall of the Assyrian capital Nineveh in 612 BCE, the Babylonians were the new superpower in the Near East, but they still had rivals. The king of Egypt, Apries, intervened against Babylonia in Phoenicianote and Judah. He occupied Sidon for a brief time (608-605) and it took the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar (r.605-562) quite some time to obtain full control of the former western provinces of the former Assyrian Empire. Sidon withstood a siege but eventually became part of the Babylonian Empire - it may have been commemorated in one of the inscriptions at the Nahr al-Kalb - and was the main center of Babylonian rule in Phoenicia.

In these years, the temple of the healing god Eshmun at Bustan esh-Sheikh, just north of the city, was expanded. The oldest parts date back to the years of independence after the fall of Assyria, but in the Babylonian period, the sanctuary became more monumental.

Persian Age

A quay in the Persian port

The Babylonian Empire was taken over by the Achaemenid Persians in 539 BCE, when Cyrus the Great captured Babylon. The Persians quickly took over the western provinces of the Babylonian Empire: the Phoenician towns surrendered voluntarilynote and Sidon remained the administrative center. The Sidonian monarchy, abandoned by the Assyrians (above), was restored. We read about kings with names like Eshmunazzar I, Tabnit, Eshmumazzar II, Bodastart.

More importantly, it became one of the two ports of the Persian navy, which Cyrus' son and successor Cambyses created to attack Egypt (525). The other port was Byblos. It is possible that the triere was in Sidon;note in the fourth century, this type of ship was shown on Sidonian coins.

Capital of a Persian column

The Phoenician navy took part in the suppression of the Ionian Revolt (in 494 BCE) and the Greek expedition of king successor Xerxes (in 480). The king of Sidon, called Tetramnestus, was an important man in the Achaemenid Empire.note

Base of a Persian column

After Xerxes' expedition to Greece, Phoenician naval forces fighting for Persia are also mentioned during the reigns of the kings Artaxerxes I Makrocheirnote and Darius II Nothus.note The Persian king Artaxerxes III Ochus could threaten to intervene in the Social War between Athens and it allies (357-355).

However, things had changed. By the end of the fifth century, the Persians lost control of Egypt, where new independent kings started to rule. Even worse, they embarked on an assertive foreign policy, targeting the Phoenician cities. In the mid-fourth century, Sidon revolted and received support from pharaoh Nectanebo II, who sent the Greek mercenary leader Mentor of Rhodes with 4,000 soldiers to support king Tennes of Sidon (Phoenician Tabnit).

Seal of Artaxerxes III, with POWs from Sidon and Egypt

Tennes and Mentor defeated the satraps Belysis of Syria and Mazaeus of Cilicia, but knew that they did not stand a chance against the army of Artaxerxes III himself. When it appeared in 346 - earlier dates are less likely - Tennes and Mentor betrayed the city. Nonetheless, Tennes was killed by the Persians and the desperate Sidonians set fire to their own city.

Artaxerxes would proceed to reconquer Egypt. It seemed as if Persian power was fully restored, but this would soon turn out to be a mirage.