TRABLUS / AL MINA
The next two place names mentioned in Esarhaddon’s list of the
in the year 676 BC are Da-la-im-me and I-si-hi-im-me. They must lay at the sea
or close to it, as shown by the element “im-me” = sea. Both have to be looked
for near Al-Mina, the present-day kingdom of Sidon . harbour
Old names for
Phoenician:’tr(pl), Greek: Tripolis (Scylax), Aramaic: Tarp‘laye, Arabic:
The ancient city occupied the site of the present-day harbour of Al-Mina, built on a promontory which runs out towards the northwest for a distance of 2 km and is about 1 km wide. The site is well adapted for a haven, as a chain of seven small islands, running out to the northwest, affords shelter in the direction from which the most violent winds blow. The peninsula is backed by a small plain, limited by the Nahr Abu ‘Ali in the north, the Nahr al-Baḥsas in the south and the first Lebanon Lebanon slopes, called al-Baal, in the east, next to the modern city of
Originally the town had two ports. The one in the north survived. The one in
the south is abandoned after earthquakes in the 6th century AD. Tripoli
The town is for the first time probably mentioned in the period of the Amarna correspondence as Wahlia (EA 104,11 + 114,12). The etymology of this city name, derived from the same root as Arabic “waḥl”, “morass”, suggests however that Wahlia was located at Abu Samra, not at Al-Mina. This strategically situated hill controls the crossing of the marshy valley of the Nahr Abu ‘Ali and it has shown traces of occupation in the Late Bronze Age. It was no harbour town. This is why a passage in the Amarna letter EA 114 referring to Wahliya should be translated as follows: “It was the men whom I sent to Sumur that he had seized in Wahliya. (Concerning) the ships of the rulers of
and Sidon, everyone in the
is at peace with them.” Wahliya seem to have no ships! land of Amurru
In EA 104 the town seems to be mentioned alongside with Ullaza, Ardata, Ambi and šigata.
Eusebius (Chron.II 80) date the foundation however much later in the 4th year of the Olympiade (=761 BC). That is c.115 years before Esarhaddon came in this area (676 BC).
In het 4th century BC Ps.Scylax describes the situation of the town Tripolis in a correct way, but does not mention any of the harbours located on the coastline between the Arwadian Tripoli (Arados, Antarados, Marathos) and this second “triple town” (the quarters of Arwad, Sidon and Tyre). The reason may simple, since the distance from the island of ar Ruad to the harbour of Al-Mina amounts to 40 km in a straight line. Now, this distance corresponds to a one-day coasting of Phoenician vessels, probably of the Hellenistic as well. There is no indication, therefore, that a part of the original Periplus was omitted in this section, as the crow flies. So we are dealing here really with Trablus.
In Phoenician this is called *dl-hym (=Sea-Gate) and that name seem to be still preserved by the name “ṭalum” of the main islet closing the harbour of Al-Mina from the north. That is why Sea-Gate would mean Harbour-entry. However, this is not certain, because such a name does not occur in the oldest known mention of the islets facing Al Mina in Mediaeval Tripoli in the Opus geographicum of Al-Idrisi (1100-1165 AD). He enumerates four islets, probably the ones seen from the harbour: “In front of
there are four islands that lay as follows: Tripoli
- the first one as from the coast is called is called Gazirat al-Nargis (Isle of Daffodils), it is small and unihabited;
- the next one is Gazirat al-Umud (Isle of the columns),
- followed by Gazirat ar-Rahib (the Monk’s Isle)
- and finally Gazirat al-’Ardaqun.”
The partly pronounced name of the second island may have begotten ṭalum < Gazirat el-‘Umud, which he also called Gazirat al-Baqar (Cattle Isle). It is distant from the Borg by only 250 metres. The name “Isle of Columns” indicates that some ancient monuments stood on that island, and the
Thomas church of Crusaders’
may have been built there as well. Tripoli
After the conquest of
Tripoli by the Mameluk sultan
Qala‘un, in 1289 AD, Abu l-Fida (1273-1331 AD) visited the island where this
church was erected: “Close to the city,
he writes, there a small island where stood a .
This island was separated from the city by the harbour. When Tripoli was taken,
a huge number of Franks, both men and women, took refuge on the island and in
the church that stood there, but the Moslems rushed into the sea on horseback
or reached the island by swimming. All the men being there had their throat
cut, while the women and the children were taken into captivity. Their riches
became the victor’s spoil. After the town was sacked I went on boat to the
island and found it full of putrefying corpses. It was impossible to stay there
because of the stench.” church of Saint Thomas
The second place, which Esarhaddon mentions, is in Phoenician: *Yš‘-ym (Safety-on-Sea) and that must refer to the harbour on the peninsula of Al-Mina, probably close to the place where the lighthouse stood, called Borg nowadays. We do not know how large the city was at that time and whether it kept the same name in later times.
Beside the two toponyms in Esarhaddon’s list, the town is further on known only by its Greek name (Tripolis), recording the city’s triple (re)foundation by
and Arwad. This tradition is alluded to by Ps.Scylax (4th century
BC), followed by Diodorus of Sicily (1th century BC) and by Arab historians,
like al Baladury (9th century AD) and Ibn al-Atir (around 1200 AD).
Tripolis served as the headquarters of a Pan-Phoenician council. Tyre
We are told by Ps.Scylax that the settlers from Arwad,
(re)founded Tripolis in the 4th century BC did not intermix, but had
their separate quarters of the town assigned to them, each surrounded by its
own wall. Sidon
Diodorus of Sicily adds that the three city quarters lie at the distance of a stadium (185 metres) one from the other. Such an arrangement seems indicative of distrust, but no traces of the walls in question have been found so far. If there really was a space of about two hundred metres between the three parts of the city, one or two of them must have been built on the small off-shore islands, some of which were inhabited in the past. We can assume that one of them was the island called Gazirat al ‘Umud (Isle of Columns) by al-Idrisi. It must correspond to the Gazirat al-Baqar (Cattle Isle) of more recent maps.
It is distant precisely by 250 metres from the Borg aš-šayh ‘Affan, close to the ancient lighthouse. The latter was probably the site of another city quarter. The third city quarter might tentatively be located about 250 meters to the east, on the promontory where a stockade of the harbour is indicated on 19th century maps.
The Maqsabi island (Place of Reeds), west of al-Baqar, does not seem to be appropriate for harbour facilities, while the other islets are too small or located further away. In any case, any attempt at localizing the original “triple town” must distinguish the Arwadian, Tyrian, and Sidonian settlements, obviously each with its own anchorage, from the later city. This stood likewise on the Al-Mina peninsula, but the Seleucids and Romans have extended it and embellished.
G.Markoe thinks in Phoenicians,
2000, that the three quarters are in the harbour and the hills of Abu Samra and
Al-Qubba, which occupy defensible positions on either side of the Abu ‘Ali
river. H.Salamé-Sarkis has been researching here (Mélanges de l’Université
Saint-Joseph 47, 1972). It made clear, that there is discontinuous occupation
from the Late Bronze Age and Persian era. Los Angeles
Tripolis struck its own money in the Hellenistic period. One of these coins issued in the year 189/188 BC is believed to conceal the Phoenician name of the city. On the obverse is a veiled female head and on the reverse, in addition to the helmets of the Dioscuri (Heavenly Twins), the patron gods of Tripolis, are three Phoenician letters = “ ‘tr ” = Atar. The question which remains to be answered is whether the Phoenician letters on the Tripolis coin represent the original Phoenician name, which could be Athar, or an attempt by the engraver to reproduce in Phoenician the Greek name of the city “Tripolis”.
Demetrius I Soter landed there in 161 BC and the city took an active part in the struggle between Antiochus IX and Antiochus VII. It sided with Antiochus IX who granted freedom to the city after his victory in 104 BC and the city coinage bore thus until 95 BC the legend “holy and autonomous city”.
Tripolis fell under the tyrant Dionysius, who was executed by Pompey in 64/3 BC; its autonomy was then restored. The city was very prosperous in Roman times, especially under the reign of the Severi (193-235 AD), when it was embellished with prestigious temples devoted to the imperial cult, to Astarte, and the Holy Zeus, as is witnessed by the city’s coinage.
The Moslems took possession of the city in 638 AD. In 1109 AD it surrendered to Raymond of St.Gilles. Sultan Qala‘un of
retook the town in 1289 AD. It was then destroyed and a new city arose on the
present site, about 3 km inland from Al-Mina. Egypt
The sole serious candidates stay the major islands and the areas of the lighthouse and of the stockade, where antiques were offered in the 19th century on sale to travellers.
As for Mahallata, first identified with ancient Tripolis by Fr.Delitzsch, it was most likely a town of the
area, just like Maiza and Kaisa. Byblos
At any rate, Tripolis as “triple city” did not have any particular Semitic name, since Greek Tripolis was used in Ezra 4,8 to form the Aramaic ethnic designation Tarp‘laye, “Tripolitans”, and is probably abbreviated into ’tr(pl), with a prosthetic vowel ’ in the Phoenician legend of a local coin from the Hellenistic period.
This seems to indicate that the agglomeration with a common council was created only in the Persian period and that this local institution may have facilitated occasional pan-Phoenician contacts without awaking suspicion among the Achaemenian authorities.
Three km north of Trablus ash-Sham is the last surviving pool of fish sacred to Astarte. It adjoins a much more recent dervish monastery (qubbat) on the site of a priory dedicated to St.Anthony of Padua. The semi-circular pool is of great antiquity, for hundreds of generations of these carp-like fish have been worshipped since Phoenician times. They were associated with the mystic egg from which the goddess Tanit hatched, and it was believed that from their eggs new gods could emerge: to kill them was clearly sacrilege. Nowadays the Lebanese laugh at themselves for throwing chickpeas to the two thousand or so great silver-grey fish weaving up to the surface for due homage. One laughs, but is at peace for respecting the rites of Astarte in the land that gave her birth.
Ward, 1971 . London