Byblos, cite sacree ([8.sup.e]-[4.sup.e] s. av. J.-C.).
The author of the work under review, J. Elayi, will be known to anyone who has studied the Phoenicians even cursorily. She is the author of numerous books on the Phoenicians, which books sometimes deal in depth with a single city (like Sidon or Beirut) and sometimes with the economy and numismatics of the Phoenician cities collectively. More recently, she has written a monograph on Abd'astart I (or Straton) of Sidon that claims the distinction of being the only book that focuses exclusively on a single Phoenician monarch. The present work, as the title aptly describes, concerns the city of Byblos, specifically its history during the period of time when its political powers had waned and when it was occupied successively by the Assyrians, Babylonians, and the Persians. The book takes as its basic goal the exploration of why Byblos, so powerful during the second millennium B.C.E., became so much weaker, especially in comparison to the neighboring cities Sidon and Tyre, during the middle of the first millennium.
The book is organized in the following manner. The first chapter investigates the sources available for writing such a history as this, which the author admits are few and of diverse types. The second addresses the territorial limits of the city. The third and fourth chapters treat the political history of Byblos from the time of Tiglath-pileser III to the advent of Alexander the Great, while the fifth and sixth chapters address, respectively, the city's slow decline and its strategic evolution from the second haft of the 400S B.C.E. until 333.
What makes writing a history of the Phoenicians, and even more a history of a particular Phoenician city or individual, so difficult is the limited amount of information that derives unambiguously from the Phoenicians themselves. In Elayi's book the extant Byblian inscriptions dating to the time period examined are presented in transliteration and translated in the appendix; they number twenty-seven, over half of which contain little more than one or two names. In her brief analysis of these varied inscriptions, she sometimes presents suggestions for better interpretations or readings. For example, in addressing lines 9-11 of the Yehawmilk [KAI 10] inscription (the pertinent portions of which read: wttn / [1w hrbt b] 'It gbl hn l'n '1nm wl'n 'rs z whn 'm 'rls z). she builds on Sznycer's proposal to read the word 'in as having two meanings (first 'population' and then, in its second occurrence, '(assembly of the) people') by suggesting that the word word 'rs is also used in two different senses: first with the sense 'country' and then with the meaning 'civic territory' (p. 15). For the briefer inscriptions she offers some possible explanations for the enigmatic letters on coins, and offers some improved readings and interpretations of fragmentary texts on various other materials.
Not only are there few Byblian inscriptions from this time period, but there are few mentions of the city in Assyrian and other sources. Compounding the problem of writing a history of the city is the fact that the archaeologist responsible for digging the city in the 1960s (M. Dunand) did not publish many of his findings (p. 27). Nor have the regions around Byblos been sufficiently explored (p. 28). Furthermore, as the author describes in the second chapter, there is little evidence of where Byblian territory ended and where Sidonian or other cities' territories began; even the location of Byblos's port is not unambiguous. Although Elayi believes it is clear that the bay of El Skhiny is where lumber was collected for shipment to places like Egypt (p. 47), it remains less clear if other bays and ports were used as well (pp. 41).
Nevertheless, Elayi is able to present an argument for Byblos's relationship with its imperial neighbors/overlords during the first millennium based on this rather limited amount of data. For example, the city of Byblos seems not to have lost local autonomy initially under the Assyrians. specifically under Tiglath-pileser III (p. 68). It seems not to have suffered the calamities of its more powerful neighbors, especially Tyre, during the Assyrian and Babylonian empires, such that, for example, it was not besieged and its inhabitants were not forcibly relocated to Mesopotamia or Syria. All of this good fortune is due most likely to the fact that it never rebelled against the respective empires that dominated the region (p. 121). This lack of confrontation would also have meant that the succession of local rulers was not interrupted and, furthermore, that in periods where the imperial powers were weaker, the city of Byblos, unlike Tyre or Sidon, did not need to spend time and money re-building its infrastructure.
Elayi's knowledge of Phoenician numismatics becomes helpful in elucidating the history of the city during the Persian era. Why is it, she asks, that Byblos was the first among the Phoenician cities to coin money (p. 140)? The logical explanation, she asserts, is that it had a long period of peace and prosperity. also evidenced in the apparent peaceful succession of its kings (pp. 140-41). Elayi goes on to illustrate the kind of information that can be drawn from the images of the coins themselves. Thus, the Byblian coins often feature a ship with three helmets and shields floating above the ship. Although the helmets are of the "Corinthian" style, a feature of many Greek coins, Elayi suggests that the Byblians were also wearing this very style of helmet, based on the fact that Herodotus mentions that the Phoenicians wore helmets similar to those of the Greeks (p. 144).
Elayi's attempt at explaining the reasons for Byblos's waning importance in the first millennium B.C.E. begins by recalling what Byblos lacked. It lacked a strong defensive position, like that offered by the islands on which Tyre and Arwad were based. It lacked a good port, like the other cities. It was closed off from the interior by mountains. Byblos was isolated from the rest of the world and, consequently, its inhabitants are not mentioned frequently among those of other Phoenician cities who interacted frequently with the Persians and Greeks. Elayi suggests that the geographic isolation was paired with a cultural isolation; Byblos did not have great affinities with northern Syria, as Arwad did, nor with the region of Palestine, as Tyre and Sidon did. Perhaps, Elayi offers, this is one reason that it did not join with the other Phoenician cities in their various rebellions.
Nor does it seem that Byblian kings ever expressed an expansionist agenda, either for more land on the Levantine coast or colonies further to the west. By contrast, Byblos does seem to have had a reputation as a sacred city, as attested clearly in the various references to it in Greek as byblos Vera. A further glimpse of the sacredness of the city is had through the Yehawmilk inscription, where the king states that the goddess b `lt gbl has made him king and that he has made various objects for her. The express reason for the king's devotion is the goddess's attention; the king claims that when he cried to her, she heard his voice. It is implied in this inscription that this goddess has the power to extend the king's reign and life.
One difficulty that readers of this book will experience is the frequent reference to places that are only described briefly in the text, without an accompanying map. The book does contain two maps in its appendix, but these do not list the plethora of names with which Elayi seems to be intimately familiar. It is, therefore, sometimes hard to follow her arguments (e.g., on pp. 56-59).
Another aspect of Elayi's presentation of the material and data that I found distracting is that the topics do not seem always to be entirely relevant to Byblos. For example, the author addresses (pp. 71-82) the Assyrian siege of Tyre, the possible time frame for this (the last years of Sargon II's reign, ca. 709-705 [p. 78]), the flight of the Sidonian king Luli, and the continued pressure put on Tyre by Sennacherib, though all of this has only a tangential relationship to the political history of Byblos, namely that when Sennacherib comes to Tyre in 701 B.C.E., he does not seem to encounter resistance from Byblos, and after Luli's flight from Sidon the Assyrian king receives tribute from Byblos (p. 82). And, in the pages that follow Elayi continues to describe the political history of the more famous and better-attested cities Tyre and Sidon, though the information presented sheds only minimal light on the city of Byblos.
ERIC D. REYMOND YALE DIVINITY SCHOOL
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|Author:||Reymond, Eric D.|
|Publication:||The Journal of the American Oriental Society|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jul 1, 2011|
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