History of Phoenicia - George Rawlinson

Phoenician Struggles with Babylon and Egypt

(635 to 527 B.C.)

Decline of Assyria—Scythic troubles—Fall of Nineveh—Union of the Phoenician cities under Tyre—Invasion of Syria by Neco—Battle of Megiddo—Submission of Phoenicia to Neco—Tyrian colony at Memphis—Conquest of Phoenicia by Nebuchadnezzar—Reign of Ithobal II. at Tyre—He revolts from Nebuchadnezzar but is reduced to subjection—Decline of Tyre—General weakness of Phoenicia under Babylon.

It is impossible to fix the year in which Phoenicia became independent of Assyria. The last trace of Assyrian interference, in the way of compulsion, with any of the towns belongs to B.C. 645, when she severely punished Hosah and Accho. The latest sign of her continued domination is found in B.C. 636, when the Assyrian governor of a Phoenician town, Zimirra, appears in the list of Eponyms. It must have been very soon after this that the empire became involved in those troubles and difficulties which led on to its dissolution. According to Herodotus, Cyaxares, king of Media, laid siege to Nineveh in B.C. 633, or very soon afterwards. His attack did not at once succeed; but it was almost immediately followed by the irruption into South-western Asia of Scythic hordes from beyond the Caucasus, which overran country after country, destroying and ravaging at their pleasure. The reality of this invasion is now generally admitted.

"It was the earliest recorded," says a modern historian, "of those movements of the northern populations, hid behind the long mountain barrier, which, under the name of Himalaya, Caucasus, Taurus, Haemus, and the Alps, has been reared by nature between the civilised and uncivilised races of the old world. Suddenly, above this boundary, appeared those strange, uncouth, fur-clad forms, hardly to be distinguished from their horses and their waggons, fierce as their own wolves or bears, sweeping towards the southern regions, which seemed to them their natural prey. The successive invasions of Parthians, Turks, Mongols in Asia, of Gauls, Goths, Vandals, Huns in Europe, have, it is well said, 'illustrated the law, and made us familiar with its operations. But there was a time in history before it had come into force, and when its very existence must have been unsuspected. Even since it began to operate, it has so often undergone prolonged suspension that the wisest may be excused if they cease to bear it in mind, and are as much startled when a fresh illustration of it occurs, as if the like had never happened before.' No wonder that now, when the veil was for the first time rent asunder, all the ancient monarchies of the South—Assyria, Babylon, Media, Egypt, even Greece and Asia Minor—stood aghast at the spectacle of these savage hordes rushing down on the seats of luxury and power."

Assyria seems to have suffered from the attack almost as much as any other country. The hordes probably swarmed down from Media through the Zagros passes into the most fruitful portion of the empire—the flat country between the mountains and the Tigris. Many of the old cities, rich with the accumulated stores of ages, were besieged, and perhaps taken, and their palaces wantonly burnt by the barbarous invaders. The tide then swept on. Wandering from district to district, plundering everywhere, settling nowhere, the clouds of horse passed over Mesopotamia, the force of the invasion becoming weaker as it spread itself, until in Syria it reached its term through the policy of the Egyptian king, Psamatik I. That monarch bribed the nomads to advance no further, and from this time their power began to wane. Their numbers must have been greatly thinned in the long course of battles, sieges, and skirmishes wherein they were engaged year after year; they suffered also through their excesses; and perhaps through intestine dissensions. At last they recognised that their power was broken. Many bands probably returned across the Caucasus into the Steppe country. Others submitted and took service under the native rulers of Asia. Great numbers were slain, and, except in a province of Armenia, which thenceforward became known as Sacasené, and perhaps in one Syrian town, which acquired the name of Scythopolis, the invaders left no permanent trace of their brief but terrible inroad.

The shock of the Scythian irruption cannot but have greatly injured and weakened Assyria. The whole country had been ravaged and depopulated; the provinces had been plundered, many of the towns had been taken and sacked, the palaces of the old kings had been burnt, and all the riches that had not been hid away had been lost. Assyria, when the Scythian wave had passed, was but the shadow of her former self. Her prestige was gone, her armed force must have been greatly diminished, her hold upon the provinces, especially the more distant ones, greatly weakened. Phoenicia is likely to have detached herself from Assyria at latest during the time that the Scyths were dominant, which was probably from about B.C. 630 to B.C. 610. When Assyrian protection was withdrawn from Syria, as it must have been during this period, and when every state and town had to look solely to itself for deliverance from a barbarous and cruel enemy, the fiction of a nominal dependence on a distant power could scarcely be maintained. Without any actual revolt, the Phoenician cities became their own masters, and the speedy fall of Assyria before the combined attack of the Medes and Babylonians, after the Scythians had withdrawn, prevented for some time any interference with their recovered independence.

A double danger, however, impended. On the one side Egypt, on the other Babylon, might be confidently expected to lay claim to the debatable land which nature had placed between the seats of the great Asiatic and the great African power, and which in the past had almost always been possessed by the one or the other of them. Egypt was the nearer of the two, and probably seemed the most to be feared. She had recently fallen under the power of an enterprising native monarch, who had already, before the fall of Assyria, shown that he entertained ambitious designs against the Palestinian towns, having begun attacks upon Ashdod soon after he ascended the throne. Babylon was, comparatively speaking, remote and had troublesome neighbours, who might be expected to prevent her from undertaking distant expeditions. It was clearly the true policy for Phoenicia to temporise, to enter into no engagements with either Babylon or Egypt, to strengthen her defences, to bide her time, and, so far as possible, to consolidate herself. Something like a desire for consolidation would seem to have come over the people; and Tyre, the leading city in all but the earliest times, appears to have been recognised as the centre towards which other states must gravitate, and to have risen to the occasion. If there ever was such a thing as a confederation of all the Phoenician cities, it would seem to have been at this period. Sidon forgot her ancient rivalry, and consented to furnish the Tyrian fleet with mariners. Arvad gave not only rowers to man the ships, but also men-at-arms to help in guarding the walls. The "ancients of Gebal" lent their aid in the Tyrian dockyards. The minor cities cannot have ventured to hold aloof. Tyre, as the time approached for the contest which was to decide whether Egypt or Babylon should be the great power of the East, appears to have reached the height of her strength, wealth, and prosperity. It is now that Ezekial says of her—

"O Tyrus, thy heart is lifted up, and thou hast said, I am a God, I sit in the seat of God in the midst of the seas—Behold, thou art wiser than Daniel, there is no secret that they can hide from thee: from thy wisdom and with thine understanding hast thou gotten thee riches, and hast gotten gold and silver into thy treasures: by thy great wisdom and by thy traffick thou hast increased thy riches, and thy heart is lifted up because of thy riches"

"O thou that are situated at the entry of the sea, which art the merchant of the peoples unto many isles, thus saith the Lord God, Thou, O Tyre, hast said, I am perfect in beauty. Thy borders are in the heart of the sea; thy builders have perfected thy beauty. They have made all thy planks of fir-trees from Senir; they have taken from Lebanon cedars to make masts for thee; of the oaks of Bashan have they made thine oars; they have made thy benches of ivory, inlaid in boxwood, from the isles of Kittim . . . The ships of Tarshish were thy caravans for thy merchandise; and thou wast replenished, and made very glorious in the heart of the sea."

The first to strike of the two great antagonists was Egypt. Psamatik I., who was advanced in years at the time of Assyria's downfall, died about B.C. 610, and was succeeded by a son still in the full vigour of life, the brave and enterprising Neco. Neco, in B.C. 608, having made all due preparations, led a great expedition into Palestine, with the object of bringing under his dominion the entire tract between the River of Egypt (Wady el Arish) and the Middle Euphrates. Already possessed of Ashdod and perhaps also of Gaza and Askelon, he held the keys of Syria, and could have no difficulty in penetrating along the coast route, through the rich plain of Sharon, to the first of the mountain barriers which are interposed between the Nile and the Mesopotamian region. His famous fleet would support him along the shore, at any rate as far Carmel; and Dor and Accho would probably be seized, and made into depots for his stores and provisions. The powerful Egyptian monarch marching northward with his numerous and well-disciplined army, partly composed of native troops, partly of mercenaries from Asia Minor, Greeks and Carians, probably did not look to meet with any opposition, till, somewhere in Northern Syria, he should encounter the forces of Babylonia, which would of course be moved westward to meet him.

What then must have been his surprise when he found the ridge connecting Carmel with the highland of Samaria occupied by a strong body of troops, and his further progress barred by a foe who had appeared to him too insignificant to be taken into account? Josiah, the Jewish monarch of the time, grandson of Manasseh and great-grandson of Hezekiah, who, in the unsettled state of Western Asia, had united under his dominion the entire country of the twelve tribes, had quitted Jerusalem, and thrown himself across the would-be conqueror's path in the strong and well-known position of Megiddo. Here, in remote times, had the great Thothmes met and defeated the whole force of Syria and Mesopotamia under the king of Kadesh; here had Deborah and Barak, the son of Abinoam, utterly destroyed the mighty army of Jabin, king of Canaan, under Sisera. Here now the gallant, if rash, Judaean king elected to take his stand, moved either by a sense of duty, because he regarded himself as a Babylonian feudatory, or simply determined to defend the Holy Land against any heathen army that, without permission, trespassed on it. In vain did Neco seek to induce Josiah to retire and leave the way open, by assuring him that he had no hostile intentions against Judaea, but was marching on Carchemish by the Euphrates, there to contend with the Babylonians. The Jewish king persisted in his rash enterprise, and Neco was forced to brush him from his path. His seasoned and disciplined troops easily overcame the hasty levies of Josiah; and Josiah himself fell in the battle.

We have no details with respect to the remainder of the expedition. Neco, no doubt, pressed forward through Galilee and Coele-Syria towards the Euphrates. Whether he had to fight any further battles we are not informed. It is certain that he occupied Carchemish, and made it his headquarters, but whether it submitted to him, or was besieged and taken, is unknown. All Syria, Phoenicia, and Palestine were overrun, and became temporarily Egyptian possessions. But Phoenicia does not appear to have been subdued by force. Tyrian prosperity continued, and the terms on which Phoenicia stood towards Egypt during the remainder of Neco's reign were friendly. Phoenicians at Neco's request accomplished the circumnavigation of Africa; and we may suspect that it was Neco who granted to Tyre the extraordinary favour of settling a colony in the Egyptian capital, Memphis. Probably Phoenicia accepted at the hands of Neco the same sort of position which she had at first occupied under Assyria, a position, as already explained, satisfactory to both parties.

But the glory and prosperity which Egypt had thus acquired were very short-lived. Within three years Babylonia asserted herself. In B.C. 605, the crown prince, Nebuchadnezzar, acting on behalf of his father, Nabopolassar, who was aged and infirm, led the forces of Babylon against the audacious Pharaoh, who had dared to affront the "King of kings," "the Lord of Sumir and Accad," had taken him off his guard, and deprived him of some of his fairest provinces. Babylonia, under Nabopolassar and Nebuchadnezzar, was no unworthy successor of the mighty power which for seven hundred years had held the supremacy of Western Asia. Her citizens were as brave; her armies as well disciplined; her rulers as bold, as sagacious, and as unsparing. Habakkuk's description of a Babylonian army belongs to about this date, and is probably drawn from the life—

"Lo, I raise up the Chaldaeans, that bitter and hasty nation, which shall march through the breadth of the land, to possess the dwelling-places that are not theirs. They are terrible and dreadful; from them shall proceed judgment and captivity; their horses are swifter than leopards, and are more fierce than the evening wolves; and their horsemen shall spread themselves, and their horsemen shall come from far; they shall fly as the eagle that hasteth to eat. They shall come all for violence; their faces shall sup as the east wind, and they shall gather the captivity as the sand. And they shall scoff at kings, and princes shall be a scorn unto them; they shall derive every stronghold; for they shall heap dust, and take it."

Early in the year B.C. 605 the host of Nebuchadnezzar appeared on the right bank of the Euphrates, moving steadily along its reaches, and day by day approaching nearer and nearer to the great fortress in and behind which lay the army of Neco, well ordered with shield and buckler, its horses harnessed, and its horsemen armed with spears that had been just furbished, and protected by helmets and brigandines. One of the "decisive battles of the world" was impending. If Egypt conquered, Oriental civilisation would take the heavy immovable Egyptian type; change, advance, progress would be hindered; sacerdotalism in religion, conventionalism in art, pure unmitigated despotism in government would generally prevail; all the throbbing life of Asia would receive a sudden and violent check; Semitism would be thrust back; Aryanism, just pushing itself to the front, would shrink away; the monotonous Egyptian tone of thought and life would spread, like a lava stream, over the manifold and varied forms of Asiatic culture; crushing them out, concealing them, making them as though they had never been. The victory of Babylon, on the other hand, would mean room for Semitism to develop itself, and for Aryanism to follow in its wake; fresh stirs of population and of thought in Asia; further advances in the arts; variety, freshness, growth; the continuance of the varied lines of Oriental study and investigation until such time as would enable Grecian intellect to take hold of them, sift them, and assimilate whatever in them was true, valuable, and capable of expansion.

We have no historical account of the great battle of Carchemish. Jeremiah, however, beholds it in vision. He sees the Egyptians "dismayed and turned away back—their mighty ones are beaten down, and are fled apace, and look not back, since fear is round about them." He sees the "swift flee away," and the "mighty men" attempting to "escape;" but they "stumble and fall toward the north by the river Euphrates." "For this is the day of the Lord God of hosts, a day of vengeance, that He may avenge Him of His adversaries; and the sword devours, and it is satiate and made drunk with their blood, for the Lord God of hosts hath a sacrifice in the north country by the river Euphrates." The "valiant men" are "swept away"—"many fall—yea, one falls upon another, and they say, Arise and let us go again to our own people, and to the land of our nativity from the oppressing sword." Nor do the mercenaries escape. "Her hired men are in the midst of her, like fatted bullocks; for they also are turned back, and are fled away together; they did not stand because the day of their calamity was come upon them, and the time of their visitation."

The defeat was, beyond a doubt, complete, overwhelming. The shock of it was felt all over the Delta, at Memphis, and even at distant Thebes. The hasty flight of the entire Egyptian host left the whole country open to the invading army. "Like a whirlwind, like a torrent, it swept on. The terrified inhabitants retired into the fortified cities," where for the time they were safe. Nebuchadnezzar did not stop to commence any siege. He pursued Neco up to the very frontier of Egypt, and would have continued his victorious career into the Nile valley, had not important intelligence arrested his steps. His aged father had died at Babylon while he was engaged in his conquests, and his immediate return to the capital was necessary, if he would avoid a disputed succession. Thus matters in Syria had to be left in a confused and unsettled state, until such time as the Great King could revisit the scene of his conquests, and place them upon some definite and satisfactory footing.

On the whole, the campaign had, apparently, the effect of drawing closer the links which united Phoenicia with Egypt. Babylon had shown herself a fierce and formidable enemy, but had disgusted men more than she had terrified them. It was clear enough that she would be a hard mistress, a second and crueller Assyria. There was thus, on Nebuchadnezzar's departure, a general gravitation of the Syrian and Palestinian states towards Egypt, since they saw in her the only possible protector against Babylon, and dreaded her less than they did the "bitter and hasty nation." Neco, no doubt, encouraged the movement which tended at once to strengthen himself and weaken his antagonist; and the result was that, in the course of a few years, both Judaea and Phoenicia revolted from Nebuchadnezzar, and declared themselves independent.

Phoenicia was still under the hegemony of Tyre, and Tyre had at its head an enterprising prince, a second Ithobal, who had developed its resources to the uttermost, and was warmly supported by the other cities. His revolt appears to have taken place in the year B.C. 598, the seventh year of Nebuchadnezzar. Nebuchadnezzar at once marched against him in person. The sieges of Tyre, Sidon, and Jerusalem were formed. Jerusalem submitted almost immediately. Sidon was taken after losing half her defenders by pestilence; but Tyre continued to resist for the long space of thirteen years. The continental city was probably taken first. Against this Nebuchadnezzar could freely employ his whole force—his "horses, his chariots, his companies, and his much people"—he could bring moveable forts close up to the walls, and cast up banks against them, and batter them with his engines, or undermine them with spade and mattock. When a breach was effected, he could pour his horse into the streets, and ride down all opposition. It is the capture of the continental city which Ezekiel describes when he says:

"Thus saith the Lord God: Behold, I will bring upon Tyrus Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, a king of kings, from the north, with horses and with chariots, and with horsemen, and companies, and much people. He shall slay with the sword thy daughters in the field; and he shall make a fort against thee, and cast a mount against thee, and lift up the buckler against thee. And he shall set engines of war against thy walls, and with his axes he shall break down thy towers. By reason of the abundance of his horses, their dust shall cover thee; thy walls shall shake at the noise of the horseman, and of the wheels and of the chariots, when he shall enter into thy gates, as men enter into a city wherein is made a breach. With the hoofs of his horses shall he tread down all thy streets: he shall slay thy people by the sword, and thy strong garrisons shall go down to the ground. And they shall make a spoil of thy riches, and make a prey of thy merchandise; and they shall break down thy walls, and destroy thy pleasant houses: and they shall lay thy stones and thy timber and thy dust in the midst of the water."

But the island city did not escape. When continental Phoenicia was reduced, it was easy to impress a fleet from maritime towns; to man it, in part with Phoenicians, in part with Babylonians, no mean sailors, and then to establish a blockade of the isle. Tyre may more than once have crippled and dispersed the blockading squadron; but by a moderate expenditure fresh fleets could be supplied, while Tyre, cut off from Lebanon, would find it difficult to increase or renew her navy. There has been much question whether the island city was ultimately captured by Nebuchadnezzar or no; but even writers who take the negative view admit that it must have submitted and owned the suzerainty of its assailant. The date of the submission was B.C. 585.

Thus Tyre, in B.C. 585, "fell from her high estate." Ezekiel's prophecies were fulfilled. Ithobal II., the "prince of Tyrus" of those prophecies, whose "head had been lifted up," and who had said in his heart, "I am a God, I sit in the seat of God, in the midst of the waters," who deemed himself "wiser than Daniel," and thought that no secret was hid from him, was "brought down to the pit," "cast to the ground," "brought to ashes upon the earth in the sight of all them that beheld him." Tyre herself was "broken in the midst of the seas." A blight fell upon her. For many years, Sidon, rather than Tyre, became once more the leading city of Phoenicia, was regarded as pre-eminent in naval skill, and is placed before Tyre when the two are mentioned together.

Internal convulsion, moreover, followed upon external decline. Within ten years of the death of Ithobal, the monarchy came to an end by a revolution, which substituted for Kings Suffetes or Shophetim, "judges," officers of an inferior status, whose tenure of office was not very assured. Ecnibal, the son of Baslach, the first judge, held the position for no more than two months; Chelbes, the son of Abdaeus, who followed him, ruled for ten months; Abbarus, a high priest, probably of Melkarth, for three months. Then, apparently to weaken the office, it was shared between two, as at Carthage, and Mytgon (perhaps Mattan), together with Ger-ashtoreth, the son of Abd-elim, judged Tyre for six years. But the partisans of monarchy were now recovering strength; and the reign of a king, Balator, was intruded at some point in the course of the six years' judgeship. Judges were then abolished by a popular movement, and kings of the old stock restored. The Tyrians sent to Babylon for a certain Merbal, who must have been either a refugee or a hostage at the court of Neriglissar. He was allowed to return to Tyre, and, being confirmed in the sovereignty, reigned four years. His brother, Eirom, or Hiram, succeeded him, and was still upon the throne when the Empire of Babylon came to an end by the victory of Cyrus over Nabonidus (B.C. 538).

Phoenicia under the Babylonian rule was exceptionally weak. She had to submit to attacks from Egypt under Apries, which fell probably in the reign of Baal over Tyre, about B.C. 565. She had also to submit to the loss of Cyprus under Amasis, probably about B.C. 540, or a little earlier, when the power of Babylon was rapidly declining. She had been, from first to last, an unwilling tributary of the Great Empire on the Lower Euphrates, and was perhaps not sorry to see that empire go down before the rising power of Persia. Under the circumstances she would view any chance as likely to advance her interests, and times of disturbance and unsettlement gave her the best chance of obtaining a temporary independence. From B.C. 538 to B.C. 528 or 527 she seems to have enjoyed one of these rare intervals of autonomy. Egypt, content with having annexed Cyprus, did not trouble her; Persia, engaged in wars in the far East, made as yet no claim to her allegiance. In peace and tranquillity she pursued her commercial career, covered the seas with her merchant vessels, and the land-routes of trade with her caravans, repaired the damages inflicted by Nebuchadnezzar on her cities; maintained, if she did not even increase, her naval strength, and waited patiently to see what course events would take now that Babylon was destroyed, and a new and hitherto unknown power was about to assume the first position among the nations of the earth.