Several new pages

30 June 2013

One of the new Behistun photos

The Livius website was founded, in a different form and on another URL, in 1995: almost twenty years ago. It desperately needs to be rebuilt, using new software. Methodological points need to be explained as well, and I want to use the upgrade to add references to the sources that have in the meantime become available on reliable sites, such as LacusCurtius. I also want to undo the fatal error I described here: obliging to a request by several universities not to add references to secondary literature.

Unfortunately, I do not have the time to upgrade it, and I hesitate to add new pages, because I suspect that work I do now, will have to be done again after the conversion. So, that brings the website to some kind of standstill.

This does not mean that nothing happens. Mr Michel Gybels, who has already contributed to the website before, has sent me pages on several archaeological sites in Asia Minor: Euromos, Alexandria in Troas, Phocaea, Clarus, Labranda, and Magnesia on the Meander. I also added a page on Jupiter Heliopolitanus (the god of Baalbek) and Majdel Anjar, plus new photos of the Behistun relief.

Lebanon, again

31 December 2012
Beirut (in the distance) seen from Byblos

Beirut (in the distance) seen from Byblos

For the second time in less than a year, I had the privilege to visit Lebanon. Starting in Beirut, where we visited the splendid National Museum again, we embarked upon a very, very leisurely trip around. At the Nahr al-Kalb, we managed to reach the inscription of Nebuchadnezzar, which is covered by all kinds of vegetation, and will soon have disappeared.

Byblos, which I could not really appreciate during my earlier visit because I did not understand its stratigraphy, turned out to be a lot more accessible now that I knew what to expect. It was interesting to think where Wen Amun must have built his tent and where the king must have had his throne.

We proceeded to the Kadisha valley, which is the heartland of Maronite Christianity. Before entering it, we visited Amioun, Bziza, and Aïn Akrine, three sites with Roman temples. In Bsharre (the town of Kahlil Gibran), we climbed to a Phoenician tomb, and had lunch with a view of the snow-covered cedar trees.

Cedar tree

After this, we visited the Bekaa valley and Baalbek. Because we had started early and had slept in a hotel in the valley, we could arrive very early in the morning, and were almost the only people at the site, except for the guards. Returning to our hotel, we passed along Qsarnaba, Niha, and Nabi Ayla.

We also saw the Palestinian refugees who had been bombed away from Damascus – but this is not the place to write about those poor people, who most certainly did not deserve this.


Next day, it was raining cats and dogs, but we were in Sidon, where we greatly enjoyed watching how the storm pushed the surf against the sea castle. Some of the waves must have been fifteen meters high and it was really spectacular. The same can be said of the lovely mosaics in the Beiteddin palace. The last place we visited in Beirut was the museum of the American University.

There was a bonus, though: our airplane was delayed and we were unable to catch the connecting flight in Istanbul. So, our trip lasted an additional day, and we saw a snow-covered Hagia Sophia and, in the archaeological museum, the royal sarcophagi from Sidon.



I cannot wait to go back to the only place in the world where you can listen to “o come let us adore him” and at the same time hear a mu’ezzin’s call for prayer. My Facebook photos are here and here; and today I added photos of the temples of Aïn Akrine, the rock tombs of Amioun, the Phoenician tomb at Bsharre, the sanctuary at Bziza, and the temple at Qsarnaba. Some older stuff from Lebanon is here.

J.D. Grainger, The Syrian Wars

28 October 2012

If you read this review to see whether a book is sufficiently good to buy it, read no further: John Grainger’s The Syrian Wars is a good book. It is even an important book, and if I will appear to be very critical, this is because it is worth criticizing.

The nine Syrian Wars, waged between the Seleucid and Ptolemaic Empires over the possession of Coele Syria, are a neglected subject. There were few battles to attract the historians’ attention, but more importantly: Rome was at the same time uniting the Mediterranean, a process that was to have more lasting consequences than the eastern wars. Grainger, however, succeeds in showing that the Syrian Wars deserve more attention. He stresses that the conflict was central to the growth of the governmental system of two Hellenistic states, which he calls ‘competitive development’.

On which foundation does he build his thesis? On written sources and coins, of course, which he treats with great care. However, this also means that The Syrian Wars is essentially a N=1 study, which might be refuted easily. As Grainger indicates, any part of his reconstruction can be challenged by the discovery of new texts. If this happens several times, it will be fatal to his thesis.

When empirical foundations are weak, students of most disciplines invoke comparisons. When they do not have sufficient evidence to build a firm structure, it is useful to tie it to more solid objects. This is why historians of Antiquity are inevitably forced to compare their reconstructions to reconstructions of comparable processes in other pre-industrial societies.

Fortunately, the necessary parallels exist. Competitive development is hardly unique; historians and sociologists have often shown that state formation is usually a consequence of a prolonged military conflict. Tilly’s Coercion, Capital, and European States (1990) is a modern classic. If Grainger had referred to it, his book would have been more convincing, because its thesis would be based on more than one example. N=10 is better than N=1.

The need for comparisons is even greater, because Grainger appears to be unaware of a lot of recent literature. The new sources that might challenge parts of his reconstruction, have in fact already been published. For instance, Grainger’s dates of the Second Diadoch War are based on Manni’s ‘low chronology’ (1949), not on Tom Boiy’s little gem Between High and Low (2007). The relevant new sources are ostraca and cuneiform texts.

Occasionally, Grainger is unaware of new readings of well-known texts. It is strange to see how he antedates the Antigonid invasions of Babylonia to 311, and presents Ptolemy’s naval expedition to the Aegean in 309 as a trick to lure Antigonus away from the eastern theater of war. This leaves the reader with a sense of confusion, because one would expect the two operations to be more or less simultaneous. Fortunately, the problem is only apparent: the Chronicle of the Diadochs (= Babylonian Chronicle 10) dates the Babylonian War to 310/309. Grainger knows the source, but ignores recent scholarship.

This can also be said of his treatment of the reign of Antiochus IV. Fortunately, his treatment resembles Mittag’s beautiful Antiochos IV (2006). Both authors show that the king pursued a policy that is far more rational than the authors of the ancient sources are willing to admit.

Another omission is the set of twenty texts known as the Babylonian Chronicles of the Hellenistic Period. The evidence was known for some time already (seven of these texts were already included in Grayson’s Assyrian and Babylonian Chronicles, 1975). Several statements of Grainger’s are directly contradicted by BCHP. For example, Grayson says that we do not know where crown prince Antiochus was when his father Seleucus Nicator was assassinated. He settles for Ecbatana, but Chronicles BCHP 5, 6, and 7 suggest that the crown prince often resided in Babylon. (Disclosure: I am involved in the publication, preparing the online editions that scholars use to discuss these chronicles.)

Grainger’s discussion of the Third Syrian War ignores BCHP 11, a chronicle that not only proves that the Egyptians captured Babylon, but also offers interesting details about the fights. After an unsuccessful siege of Seleucia-on-the-Euphrates, Ptolemaic heavy infantry (‘ironclad Macedonians who are not scared of the gods’, according to the chronicler) attacked Babylon, which held out twelve days until it fell on January 20. The citadel remained in the hands of its Seleucid garrison, however, and early in February, the commander of Seleucia tried to lift the blockade. He was defeated and the Seleucid troops who had remained in Seleucia, were massacred. We do not know what happened next, but this is important information. Grainger, unaware of this first-rate source, concludes ‘that Ptolemy crossed the Euphrates but did not reach Babylon’.

The real problem, however, is not that Grainger ignores useful comparisons and recent scholarship. The study of ancient societies is complex, no one can know everything, and scholars cannot even establish what they do not know. Ancient history is the discipline of the unknown unknowns. To fill the lacunas in the knowledge of their writers, publishers have boards of editors. If Grainger is unaware of the existence of BCHP – which is, like so many cuneiform resources, only available online – it is the editors’ task to help. This time, however, the board has been sleeping, which may also explain the unusually great number of typos and the unusually poor maps.

All this should not distract us, however, from the simple fact that Grainger has written an important book that no student of Hellenistic institutions or military history can afford to ignore. With a more energetic board of editors, it might have been a good book, but still, Grainger has achieved his aim: to prove that the continuing conflict forced two Hellenistic states ‘to undertake measures to strengthen themselves internally, financially, militarily, politically, by alliances, and by recruiting manpower, so that they could face yet another war which both sides came to anticipate’.

[Originally published in Ancient Warfare]

Baalbek, Tyre, Belgrade

2 October 2012

Tyre, Al-Bass: Great Arch, probably dedicated to Hadrian.

Over the past months, I have traveled to Lebanon and along the Danube. I have put online quite a lot of stuff.

That’s it for today.


Nahr al-Kalb

30 April 2012

Reliefs of Ramesses II (left) and Esarhaddon (right).

In the thirteenth century BCE, the Egyptian pharaoh Ramesses II left three reliefs on the south bank of the Nahr al-Kalb, north of Beyrut, which commemorated the northern campaigns that culminated in the battle of Kadesh (1274). Several centuries later, the Assyrian king Esarhaddon conquered Egypt, and chose to put a memorial opposite the relief of Ramesses. Ever since, armies have left inscription at the Nahr al-Kalb, a custom known to Herodotus (more).

All in all, there are twenty-two inscriptions and two monuments, with texts in seven languages (Egyptian, Akkadian, Greek, Latin, Arabic, French, and English). Together, they give a nice overview of Lebanese history.

A complete overview is here (and an overview of all Lebanese posts on this blog is here).

Roman Beyrut

30 April 2012

Roman baths

I have now blogged about the new web pages about the Bekaa Valley and the Lebanon, about Niha, about Faqra, and about Machnaqa. There’s a lot more to be written – think of Baalbek, Byblus, Sidon, and Tyre – but for the moment, I will only add Beyrut.

We found it a lovely city, with two beautiful museums (the National Museum and the Archaeological Museum of the American University) and a couple of ancient ruins, which were not very special. Nevertheless, the city’s history is quite interesting, and some objects from the museums are really important.

My favorite is an amulet from the Louvre, in which many celestial beings are invoked to protect one Alexandra. Officially, she was Christian, so she mentions “the One who sits among two cherubs” and “the One God and His Christ”, but after that, we read about the seven 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. So much for orthodoxy.

Two new webpages can be found here. Enjoy!

Faqra (Lebanon)

30 April 2012

The Small Altar at Faqra

One of the most spectacular sites we visited during our trip through Lebanon was Faqra. It is situated along the road from the coast to a ski resort with the same name.

When we visited the place, it was covered with snow.  It was the Easter Weekend (according to the Maronite calendar) and many people had a day off, which meant that they were snowboarding, picnicking, barbecuing, and even dancing at the place where – in the Summer – you would have crossed the mountain pass. To judge from the scarfs, Christians were not the only one enjoying a holiday.

Faqra itself consists of two parts. To the north of the road are four altars, to the south are two temples, dedicated to Adonis and Atargatis, and a church.

Eight small but new pages on the Livius website can be found here. Other recent pages are about the Bekaa Valley and the Lebanon, about Niha, and about Machnaqa.


29 April 2012


As some readers of this little blog will have noticed, I am currently uploading photos from my trip to Lebanon. I already mentioned Niha, the Bekaa Valley, and the Lebanon Mountains, and I still hope to add Beyrut and Faqra.

Today’s addition is Machnaqa, a sanctuary along the road from Byblus to Afqa and Baalbek. There’s tower altar (photo), a number of rock tombs, and some weathered reliefs. It’s not of the greatest historical importance, but quite beautiful.

Lebanon and Bekaa

29 April 2012

Natural bridge at Kfardebian

I have been privileged that I have been able to travel through Turkey, Syria, and Israel before I visited Lebanon. Everywhere, you will see the line of mountains that runs parallel to the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea. In southern Turkey, the mountains are called the Amanus Mountains, which are separated by the river Orontes from the Bargylus Mountains in Syria. In Israel, you will see the Mountains of Judah.

None of these is comparable to the Lebanon, which is much higher. The name, “the white peaks”, ought to have been a warning to us: we optimistically believed we could drive from Byblus to Baalbek, but had to make a long detour because the passes were still covered with snow.

East of the Lebanon is the Bekaa valley, where you will find Baalbek and the four temples of Niha, about which I already wrote something. I now added webpages on the Lebanon and on the Bekaa.


28 April 2012

The high priest Narkisos

Our visit to the temples of ancient Nihata (modern Niha) was one of the highlights of our visit to Lebanon. There are two sanctuaries, an oracle dedicated to the Syrian goddess Atargatis and a smaller shrine for Hadanares, who was comparable to the Baal-Zeus-Jupiter of Baalbek. There are two other temples, never finished, at nearby Hosn Niha.

The site must have been well-known, as it was situated along the main road from Antioch to the south: along the Orontes to Aleppo and Baalbek, and down to Tyre through the Bekaa valley. Many travelers must have seen the shrines of Nihata, and must have stayed there, as it is exactly one day from Baalbek.

My new webpages are here.

Lebanese Antiquities

12 April 2012
Photo Jona Lendering

The Great Temple of Niha

When we announced that we wanted to visit Lebanon, many people thought that we had gone mad. After all, when we in Holland read about the country of the ancient Phoenicians, it is usually because of some eruption of violence. And indeed, the last chapter of the Footprint Handbook for Lebanon is a depressing catalog of disasters.

Nevertheless, the country appears to have come to rest, and I think it is useful to write briefly about our too short holiday. We were not disappointed and have already decided to return. Lebanon has much to offer to tourists, and tourists – for example, the lovers of ancient history that read this little blog – may help the country overcome some of its traumas. I promise you: you will like it.

And related:

Lebanese Antiquities: A Nation Divided

12 April 2012

The Lebanese flag

[Back to overview]

It’s a cliché, but Lebanon is indeed a country of minorities. There have been no censuses since 1932, but it is estimated that about ninety percent of the four million inhabitants are Lebanese Arabs. The remainder consists mainly of Palestinians, who settled in camps like Sabra and Shatila (southern Beirut) after 1948, and Armenians, who fled from the Ottoman Empire during the First World War and live mainly in eastern Beirut.

Tomb of the assassinated prime minister Hariri

Other divisions are religious. Generally speaking, the people of the coast and center are Christians, with the northern part of the country following the Sunnite Islam, and the eastern part (the Bekaa Valley) and the south being Shi’ite. This division is, however, misleading on three points.

In the first place, because these religious groups are divided into smaller groups: the Shi’ites in the deep south are ‘twelvers’ who are waiting for the return of the twelfth imam (among these Shi’ites, Hezbollah finds its supporters), while the Druzes in the central south are an unusual type of ‘seveners’. The Alawis are another offshoot of the sevener Shia. Christians can be subdivided into Maronites and Greek Orthodox, although we also saw a Melkite church.

Tyre; memorial for the Unifil soldiers who gave the last full measure of devotion

In the second place, the geographical division is not as smooth as it seems. For example, although the Bekaa Valley is mainly Shi’ite, the cities of Zahle and Chtaura are Christian. In the third place, some people are pious and orthodox and really define themselves in religious terms, while others are more secular.

So, there’s no denying that Lebanon is a divided country. And it still matters. A man we met in Beirut, presumably Christian, was surprised we had gone to Tyre (Shi’ite), where he had never been. He believed tourists could go there without fear, but he was clearly not interested in going there personally.

[Back to overview]

Lebanese Antiquities: Travel

12 April 2012

Roadblock near Tyre

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As I said, the violence that so often attracts western attention, has come to an end. There are probably more people killed in Lebanese traffic, which is a nightmare indeed. It seems to be perfectly acceptable to have lunch while driving or to park your car on the right lane of the coastal highway. Incidental roadblocks do not add to easy travel. Of the places I have visited, only Tehran and Lahore resemble Lebanese chaos. On the other hand, if you make a mistake, no one is angry. The insulting gestures you will see over here in Amsterdam, are mercifully absent.

If you are not very confident of your skills as a driver, it is probably best to use a taxi. We rented a car, and the man who had to drive it, was also the man who was, every afternoon, most exhausted. Our agency was Avis, which has its Beirut office on the first floor of the Phoenicia Hotel; we very happy with the way they dealt with everything (more).

The beauty of the Lebanon Mountains: natural bridge near Kfardebian

We severely underestimated the Lebanon Mountain Range. The slopes are pretty steep, and in the first days of April, the passes are still closed. This made our visit to Faqra unforgettable – snow-covered Roman ruins! – but it was quite surprising that even good roads like those from Tripoli or Jounieh to Baalbek became inaccessible. High up the mountains, people were skiing, snowboarding, picnicking, and enjoying ourselves; nice for them, and an unexpected surprise for us.

A problem we were not able to solve was finding a really good map. Sometimes, towns were not indicated where they actually were, and the rendering of Arab words is not always identical to the transcription on the road signs. And speaking about road signs: they are never there when you need them most, which gives a certain urgency to finding a decent map. We found this the only real problem, and had to abandon our trip to Sfiré because we simply could not find our way through Tripoli.

[Back to overview]

Lebanese Antiquities: Hotels and Restaurants

12 April 2012

A hotel we forgot to visit

[Back to overview]

Maybe we were just very lucky every time we selected our hotels, but the four places where we stayed were every time more or less perfect. Breakfast was always good, the staff was always well-qualified and spoke English fluently, there was always a possibility to use the internet (although it was sometimes frustratingly slow), electricity was at 220 volt, and you can drink the water from the tap without fear for what is euphemistically called “the curse of the pharaoh” in Egypt and “Saladin’s Revenge” in Syria.

In Beirut, we slept at the Lavender Home****: a friendly place close to the Rue Hamra and the Rue Jeanne d’Arc, which are – to use two ancient words – the cardo and decumanus of the western part of the city. There were many restaurants in the neighborhood (I can recommend Laziz), and if you walk down the Rue Jeanne d’Arc, you are at the American University, with a fine archaeological museum.

In Byblus, we stayed at the Monoberge Hotel*** – we think the name is a pun on Mon Auberge – which offers good rooms and is at walking distance from the city center. Situated along the coastal highway, modestly prized, and recently built, it would be called a motel in Europe.

Although the Lebanese speak their languages well, this shop for woman's fashion has a rather unfelicitous name

Our hotel in Tyre was called Rest House****, which is very easy to find because there are many signposts, and you will immediately recognize the Unifil cars on its parking place. It is situated halfway between the Al-Bass and the Al-Mina excavations, and has a large private beach.

The nicest place was the Park Hotel***** in Chtaura. I must confess that the town itself is not very inspiring, but the hotel, close to the main road into the Bekaa Valley, is quiet and has some chique rooms. There was some kind of celebration when we were there, and it was easy to understand why the people had selected this place. Two friendly staff members offered us much advice about planning both the present trip and the next one. Because we were extremely tired on the day of our arrival, we had dinner at the nearby McDonald’s.

Which is a shame, because it is well-known that Lebanon offers one of the world’s best cuisines. Besides, they produce some fine wines in the area of Chtaura and Zahle. It is usually possible to smoke a good water pipe, the local beer (Almaza) is fine, and the Lebanese know how to make a good coffee. This country is a gourmet’s paradise.

[Back to overview]

Lebanese Antiquities: Books

12 April 2012

A nice archaeological travel guide

[Back to overview]

A good preparation is always useful, for every country, and Lebanon is no exception. In advance, we read Jessica Lee’s Footprint Handbook Lebanon. For someone interested in ancient history, it is quite unpleasant to see that the author confuses Antoninus and Antonius or Alexander Severus and Septimius Severus (to name but two mistakes) but it is a good book.

I also liked Le Liban. De la Préhistoire à l’Antiquité by Guillaume Gernez and Ingrid Périssé-Valéro, which is an archaeological account of the country, with many photos. Had it contained more maps, it would have been perfect, but it was still an extremely useful book. It was recommended to us by the friendly lady of the Librarie El Bourj, a very nice bookshop in the An-Nahar building west of the Place des Martyrs. It has many books on archaeology in stock.

[Back to overview]

Lebanese Antiquities: What to see

12 April 2012
Photo Jona Lendering

The cella of the Temple of Bacchus, Baalbek

[Back to overview]

The main ancient monument in Lebanon is, of course, Baalbek. The temple of Bacchus is bigger and better preserved than the Parthenon in Athens; the temple of Baal-Zeus-Jupiter next to it must have been one of the largest shrines of the ancient world (after the Egyptian temples, of course).

National Museum

Beirut is a very modern city, which is currently being rebuilt, so don’t expect too much of the ancient ruins. This is the place to be if you like modern architecture. Still, it has two of the best museums in the Middle East: the National Museum and the Archaeological Museum of the American University.

We loved the Roman ruins of Faqra and Machnaqa, but were unable to visit Yanouh, Afqa, and Sfiré. The Roman temples at Niha were splendid – do not forget to go into the cellar of the great temple.

Photo Jona Lendering

The Crusader Castle of Byblus

To the north, there is Byblus, which has been inhabited for thousands of years. You can see Neolithic and Chalcolithic buildings, temples from the Bronze Age, Phoenician royal tombs, a Persian terrace, Greek and Roman structures, a mosque, a perfectly preserved Crusader castle and ditto church, and so on. If you go up north from Beirut, do not forget to visit the reliefs at the Nahr al-Kalb, where about every army has left an inscription – from Ramesses II to the Lebanese army that forced out the Israeli troops in 2000.

Photo Jona Lendering

Remains Tyre’s Crusader church, with pillars from the Temple of Melqart

I really loved Tyre, which offers two big excavations. At Al-Bass, there’s a hippodrome and a large necropolis, while at Al-Mina, you will see the remains of the city itself. Here are also the remains of a Crusader church, which is more or less on the place of the ancient temple of Melqart.

This was only a selection. If you want to see all sights mentioned by Guillaume Gernez and Ingrid Périssé-Valéro, you will need about two weeks.

[Back to overview]

Lebanese Antiquities: Other

12 April 2012

A modestly dressed woman in Beirut's modern Al-Amine Mosque

[Back to overview]

We encountered some problems with ATMs, but could not establish the cause. It never became a real obstacle, but I think it is useful to take some cash with you as well. Dollars are accepted everywhere. Western Union appears to have offices in even the remotest villages.

I do not want to say something unkind about the people of Syria, Jordan, or Egypt, but there is no denying that over there, western women attract a lot of unpleasant attention. Nothing of that kind will happen in Lebanon, although a scarf is required in a mosque.

Beirut's Pigeon Rocks

To sum up: travel is not always easy in Lebanon, but it has a great potential for tourism, and there is very much to be seen. However, the most important thing we learned is that the Lebanese are, easily, the friendliest people in the Near East. I have already decided to return next year, with a group, and can recommend a visit to everyone.

(If you understand Dutch, you can read my travel notes here.)

[Back to overview]


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