The area now known as Lebanon first appeared in recorded history around 3000 B.C. as a group of coastal cities and a heavily forested hinterland. It was inhabited by the Canaanites, a Semitic people, whom the Greeks called "Phoenicians" because of the purple (phoinikies) dye they sold. These early inhabitants referred to themselves as "men of Sidon" or the like, according to their city of origin, and called the country "Lebanon." Because of the nature of the country and its location, the Phoenicians turned to the sea, where they engaged in trade and navigation.
Each of the coastal cities was an independent kingdom noted for the special activities of its inhabitants. Tyre and Sidon were important maritime and trade centers; Gubla (later known as Byblos and now as Jubayl) and Berytus (present-day Beirut) were trade and religious centers. Gubla was the first Phoenician city to trade actively with Egypt and the pharaohs of the Old Kingdom (2686-2181 B.C.), exporting cedar, olive oil, and wine, while importing gold and other products from the Nile Valley.
Before the end of the seventeenth century B.C., LebaneseEgyptian relations were interrupted when the Hyksos, a nomadic Semitic people, conquered Egypt. After about three decades of Hyksos rule (1600-1570 B.C.), Ahmose I (1570-45 B.C.), a Theban prince, launched the Egyptian liberation war. Opposition to the Hyksos increased, reaching a peak during the reign of the pharaoh Thutmose III (1490-36 B.C.), who invaded Syria, put an end to Hyksos domination, and incorporated Lebanon into the Egyptian Empire.
Toward the end of the fourteenth century B.C., the Egyptian Empire weakened, and Lebanon was able to regain its independence by the beginning of the twelfth century B.C. The subsequent three centuries were a period of prosperity and freedom from foreign control during which the earlier Phoenician invention of the alphabet facilitated communications and trade. The Phoenicians also excelled not only in producing textiles but also in carving ivory, in working with metal, and above all in making glass. Masters of the art of navigation, they founded colonies wherever they went in the Mediterranean Sea (specifically in Cyprus, Rhodes, Crete, and Carthage) and established trade routes to Europe and western Asia. Furthermore, their ships circumnavigated Africa a thousand years before those of the Portuguese. These colonies and trade routes flourished until the invasion of the coastal areas by the Assyrians.
|Country Studies main page | Lebanon Country Studies main page|