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Berytus (Beyrut)


The Tyche of Berytus. National Museum, Beyrut (Lebanon). Photo Jona Lendering.
The Tyche of Berytus (National Museum, Beyrut)
Berytus (Βηρυτóς): town in Phoenicia, modern Beyrut.

This is the second part of an article; the first part can be found here.

Roman Berytus

Traders from Berytus are known from Delos, and it is certain that the town allied itself to Rome. Pompey the Great used it as a naval base in his war against the Cilician pirates. The alliance would pay off: Berytus would become the first colonia in the Near East, which means that all citizens had the Roman citizenship. The official name was Colonia Julia Augusta Felix Berytus. Among the settlers were veterans from the Fifth Legion Alaudae, who were given land in Berytus by Marc Antony; during the reign of the emperor Augustus, former soldiers of V Macedonica and VIII Augusta were settled in Berytus.
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Inscription from Beirut, mentioning the Legio VIII Gallica. Archaeological Museum of the American University at Beirut (Lebanon). Photo Marco Prins.
Inscription from Beirut (CIL 3.14165/6), mentioning the Legio VIII Gallica (Archaeological Museum of the American University)

An interesting inscription refers to the last-named unit under its oldest name, VIII Gallica. Another interesting inscription is the tombstone of Quintus Aemilius Secundus, which mentions the census of Quirinius that is well-known from the Nativity story.

The city's importance can be deduced from the size of its territory: it included a substantial part of the coastal area, a road across the Lebanon Mountains, the sanctuaries of Faqra and Nihata, and parts of the Bekaa valley up to Baalbek. The city must have been splendid. To the west of the city was a hippodrome, while archaeologists have also identified the Roman baths, an aqueduct, and a colonnaded street (sometimes called cardo). Halls, porticoes, temples, and market-places were sponsored by the Judaean king Herod the Great, and his descendant Herod Agrippa I continued the family tradition by organizing a gladiatorial spectacles in which 1,400 men were killed.

Roman Baths, Beyrut (Lebanon). Photo Jona Lendering.
Roman Baths

The city really wanted to show it Roman nature: for a city that had been part of the Greek world since the age of Alexander, there are surprisingly many Latin inscriptions.

After the death of the emperor Commodus, the Roman Empire fell victim to a civil war, in which the main cities in the Near East (Antioch and Berytus for example) supported Pescennius Niger (Herodian, Roman History, 3.3). However, he lost the civil war, and Berytus was passed over when Septimius Severus reorganized Syria and created a new province, called Phoenicia. Its capital was to be Tyre.

Roman lady. National Museum, Beyrut (Lebanon). Photo Jona Lendering. Torso. National Museum, Beyrut (Lebanon). Photo Jona Lendering. Tombstone of Q. Aemilius Secundus (Museo archeologico nazionale di Venezia (Italy).  Photo Jona Lendering. Mercury. National Museum, Beyrut (Lebanon). Photo Jona Lendering.
Roman lady (National Museum, Beyrut) Torso (National Museum, Beyrut)
Tombstone of Q. Aemilius Secundus (Museo archeologico di Venezia)
Mercury (National Museum, Beyrut)
Cardo Maximus, Beyrut (Lebanon). Photo Jona Lendering.
Cardo Maximus

Nevertheless, Berytus remained an important city, visited by the emperor Caracalla (who left an inscription at the Nahr al-Kalb). Since the third century, the city had an important law college. It was here that the great codification of Roman Law, which was to be propagated by emperors like Theodosius II and Justinian, was prepared.

Christian Berytus

The city was important for Christianity too. At the end of the fourth century, it was the main episcopal seat. Several archaeological finds illustrate this, and show that not everyone was as orthodox as the bishop would have liked them to be. There's a curious magical text in which many celestial beings are invoked to protect one Alexandra: they include "the One God and His Christ", but also seven beings who are the lords of the seven heavens (Marmarioth, Uriel, Ael, Gabriel, Chael, Moriath, Chachth), the beings responsible for the weather (Riopha, Zonchar, Tebriel, Tobriel), the protectors of the sea and mountains (Suriel and Nuchael), the celestial dragon keeper Iathennuian, and a protector of the firmament named Chrara.

Roman columns, Beyrut (Lebanon). Photo Jona Lendering. Roman columns at the "tell". Photo Jona Lendering. Roman mills at the "tell". Photo Jona Lendering. Roman tombs at the "tell". Photo Jona Lendering.
Roman columns (near the National Museum, originally near the Place d'Etoile)
Roman columns at the "tell"
Roman columns at the "tell" Roman tombs at the "tell"
Saint Catharine on a medal. National Museum, Beyrut (Lebanon). Photo Jona Lendering. Phylacterium. Louvre, Paris (France). Photo Jona Lendering. Church floor from the Archaeological Museum of the American University, Beyrut (Lebanon). Photo Jona Lendering. Small piece of marble with the sacrifice of Isaac. National Museum, Beyrut (Lebanon). Photo Jona Lendering.
Saint Catharine on a medal (National Museum, Beyrut)
Christian phylacterium, invoking the protection of several celestial beings to protect one Alexandra (Louvre)
Church floor (Archaeological Museum of the American University)
Small piece of marble with the sacrifice of Isaac (National Museum, Beyrut)
The "envy mosaic". National Museum, Beyrut (Lebanon). Photo Jona Lendering.
The "envy mosaic" in the National Museum.

"Envy is a great evil.
However, it has some beauty,
for it consumes the eyes
and the heart of the jealous."
In 551, a mighty earthquake destroyed large parts of the city. Reportedly, thirty thousand people perished. Although Justinian ordered repairs, the city declined. New life was given to the city when the Umayyad Caliphs settled Iranians in Berytus, who were responsible for the trade between the new capital Damascus and Egypt.

Sights

The tell of Beyrut, north of Martyrs Square, is accessible, but it looks like a rubbish dump and there are no explanatory signs, which make it very complex to understand. A satellite photo can be seen here.

West of the Place de l'Étoile are the bath (here), while the so-called cardo is to the south (here). All in all, it is a bit disappointing, but in Beyrut, you can also visit two of the most beautiful museums of the Middle East:
© Jona Lendering for
Livius.Org, 2012
Revision: 3 Aug. 2012
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