Sunday, August 1, 2021


The Romans conquered Phoenicia in 64 BC with Pompeius. They enlarged their control on all the eastern shores of the Mediterranean sea and started to call this sea with the name "Mare Nostrum" (Our Sea), because from Gibraltar to Phoenicia-Palestine all these areas a few years later were inside of the "Roman Empire" created by Augustus.

Map showing the territory of Roman Berytus (the Phoenicia's area most Latinised) under emperor Claudius. The red points (with latin inscriptions) are the places -very probably- populated by Roman colonists in the Beqaa valley

According to Benjamin Isaac of the Tel Aviv university, the colonies of the Roman Empire in the Middle East were genuine "veteran colonies" (Berytus/Beirut -which presumably at first included Heliopolis and vicinity, Acco/Ptolemais, and Aelia Capitolina/Jerusalem), but there also were "titular colonies", the most important of which are Caesarea-on-the-Sea, Bostra, and Gerasa. Veteran colonies were reorganized at the time of the foundation, and veterans from the Roman legions were settled there and received land. They formed a local elite imposed upon the existing communities. By contrast, the titular colonies were established through political reorganization and a change in status, unaccompanied by the settlement of veterans.

It is noteworhty that under Augustus the Romans started a tentative of "romanization" (mainly cultural) -with roman veterans as colonists- in areas of central Phoenicia.

They imposed -in the first century and half of the Roman Empire- the use of their latin language and pagan religion mainly in Berytus (actual Beirut) with the settlement of two legion's veterans and additionally in the nearby Beqaa valley with farm colonists & also with the creation of the huge pagan temples of Heliopolis (actual Baalbeck).

The Romans used to "consolidate" their conquered territories in the Mediterranean area with settlers (mainly from central Italy during the existence of the Roman Republic, but also from all the Italian peninsula during the Roman Empire) in strategical places and for this reason created "colonies" in what is now central Lebanon.

"At Niha, in the Beqa valley, a series of inscriptions in Latin records the existence of a sanctuary of the Syrian Goddess of Niha’, Hadaranes, or Atargatis. One of those mentions the "Pagus Augustus", presumably an association of Latin-speaking Roman citizens which will have been settled there at the time of the foundation of the Roman colony. At this sanctuary some evidence of social integration has been detected. The sanctuary preserved its indigenous character, and the gods did not receive Graeco-Roman names. In contrast to the sanctuary at Heliopolis itself, the priests and prophetesses were "peregrini", but the inscriptions also mention at least six Roman citizens and their relatives. A sanctuary nearby is identified by a dedication in Latin to the god Mifsenus......For Berytus the epigraphic material confirms the impression derived from the literary sources that this was a substantial Roman veteran colony where the Latin tradition was maintained for centuries after the foundation. The city produced some members of the higher classes and some of its citizens expressed themselves in Latin on public monuments and had proper Roman names". B. Isaac. Cambridge university ed., 2017

Berytus was their initial settlement in this area, but they created also two "pagus" (communities of colonists as farmers) in Ptolemais (actual Acre) & the Niha/Beqaa valley. The one that developed greatly was the one in the fertile Beqaa valley: Pagus Augustus (probably this name was chosen because the emperor Augustus promoted this pagus), that was linked to Heliopolis (actual Baalbeck) by a roman-built road.

The Roman settlers of Heliopolis (the Roman colony "Colonia Julia Augusta Felix Heliopolitana") may have arrived as early as the time of Caesar, but were more probably the descendants of veterans of the 5th and 8th Legions under Augustus, during which time it hosted a Roman garrison: from 15 BC to AD 193, it formed part of the territory of Berytus and was chosen -in order to be romanised and so to promote the romanisation of the region- to have the biggest pagan Roman temples in the eastern Mediterranean.

Indeed the Romans built a huge Temple complex in Heliopolis, consisting of three Temples: Jupiter, Bacchus and Venus. On a nearby hill, they built a fourth Temple dedicated to Mercury. Today one of the best examples of Roman Temple architecture is in Lebanon at the ruins of Roman Heliopolis.

Furthermore, the Roman Temple sites in Lebanon (that show the cultural romanisation in Phoenicia) can be divided into three main groups. First, the Bekaa valley north of the Beirut-Damascus road. Second, the area south of the same road, including the Wadi al-Taym and the western flank of Mount Hermon. Third, the area west of a line drawn along the ridge of Mount Lebanon.

George F. Taylor divided up the Temples of Lebanon into three groups:
First, one covering the Beqaa valley north of the road from Beirut to Damascus. Second, a group to the south, including the Wadi al-Taym known as Temples of Mount Hermon. Third, a group in the area west of a line drawn along the ridge of Mount Lebanon that includes Makam Er-Rab, Sfira, Kasr Naous, Amioun, Bziza, Batroun, Edde, Mashnaqa, Yanouh, Afka, Qalaat Faqra, Kalaa, Sarba Jounieh, Antoura, Deir el-Kalaa, Shheem and the coastal plains of Beirut, Byblos, Sidon, Tripoli and Tyre.

The Temples of the Beqaa Valley in Taylor's first group included El-Lebwe, Yammoune, Qasr Banat, Iaat, Nahle, Baalbek, Hadeth, Kasarnaba, Temnin el-Foka, Nebi Ham, Saraain El Faouqa, Niha, Hosn Niha, Fourzol and Kafr Zebad.

The Temples of Mount Hermon in Taylor's second group -that are near the Beqaa Valley- included Ain Harcha, Aaiha, Deir El Aachayer, Dekweh, Yanta, Hebbariye, Ain Libbaya, Nebi Safa, Aaqbe, Khirbet El-Knese, Mejdal Anjar, Mdoukha and Bakka.

The Great Court of Roman Heliopolis's temple complex

The process of romanization (centered on the latin language and on the Roman pagan religion) in the first half of the second century (under Trajan) was nearly complete in Berytus (Benjamin Isaac:"Berytus, a city rather roman in character") and partially successful in the Pagus Augustus area of the Beqaa valley (while it was minimal in the Heliopolis and Ptolemois areas), but started to disappear in the following third and fourth century.

"Berytus and Heliopolis, are known to have been populated by veteran settlers. Heliopolis in particular has produced a good quantity of inscriptions which show that private citizens used Latin on their public monuments, as did distinguished citizens who served in senior imperial positions and as city magistrates. These types of inscriptions show that Latin was to some extent integrated into civilian life." B. Isaac.Cambridge university ed., 2017

In the fifth century the last roman pagans (descendants of the Roman colonists) in the mount Lebanon area near the Beqaa valley were assimilated to christianity by a maronite monk (Abraham of Cyrrhus): they were the first maronites of actual Lebanon.

Additionally, it is noteworthy to pinpoint that the "Berytus Law School" was widely known in the Roman empire; it was famous the Latin motto Berytus Nutrix Legum ("Beirut, Mother of Laws"). Indeed, two of Rome's most famous jurists, Papinian and Ulpian, both natives of Phoenicia, taught there under the Severan emperors. When Justinian assembled his Pandects (the basic fundaments of the Roman Law still used in our times) in the sixth century, a large part of the "Corpus of Laws" -all in Latin- was derived from these two jurists, and in 533 AD Justinian recognized the school as one of the three official Law Schools of the empire.

The following are excerpts from an essay written by a "Universita' di Genova" 's researcher about the Romans in the Lebanon area, mainly in the Beqaa valley's Pagus Augustus (actual Niha village and surroundings):

Historical background of Pagus Augustus

Romans created only four colonies for veterans in the actual Middle East: one was Berytus. But on the mountains (Mount Lebanon and others) east of this city they also settled in an area relatively depopulated where they created various temples and farm-villages (like the Niha's Roman temples) (read the interesting Benjamin Isaac book: about "Latin in cities of the Roman Near east"; p. 52) ). This area (around actual Nihaa and Qsarnaba villages and along the road between Berytus and Baalbeck) was fully Romanized in the first century of the Roman empire and was the only Latin language speaking in the region. This kind of farm & villages settlement in an extended area was similar to others in the Roman empire, like in Roman Iberia's "Colonia Tuccitana" (read Antonio Luis Bonilla Martos's "Villas Romanas en colonia Tuccitana"

"...Dea Suria Nihathe(na)/pro Aug(usto), Pagus/Augustus fecit/et dedica[vi]t" - Dedication in Latin found at Nihaa about Augustus Pagus. (read Anne-Rose Hošek: Augustus Pagus - "Le noveau paysage de la romanisation"

The Roman settlements of Augustus Pagus were located at the shoulder of the Western Lebanese Mountain Range -just to the East of Mount Sannine specifically Map with location of some temples in the Augustus Pagus area]- and at the border of the central parts of the Beqaa Valley with the famous pagan Heliopolis in Phoenicia. People in this area actually are mostly traditional farmers, famous for growing vineyards and wild rose flowers for rosewater extraction since Roman times.

Remains of a Roman pagan Temple in the "Pagus Augustus", during a morning fog at Niha

Indeed a Latin inscription found in these mountains near the village of Niha, shows a 'Pagus Augustus' (a village, or association of settlers) making a dedication on behalf of the Emperor to the 'Dea Suria Nihathe(na)'(Fergus Millar. "The Roman Near East, 31 B.C.-A.D. 337"; p. 282:

"In Roman times, this town (now called Niha) located in the center of the "Augustus pagus", is inhabited by a community of pilgrims and Roman settlers (among whom are the Vesii). The inhabitants of Nihatha could pay homage to a divine triad similar to that of Baalbek, with the difference that the gods who compose it retain their Semitic denominations: alongside the couple formed of the supreme god Hadaranès and the goddess Atargatis (Dea Syria Nihathena) is perhaps a young minor consort whose name is unknown, but whose appearance would be similar to that of the Heliopolitan Mercury".(Julien Aliquot. "La vie religieuse au Liban sous l'empire roman"; Niha & surroundings, with detailed images:

Historian Kevin Butcher pinpointed that the territory of Roman Berytus under emperor Claudius reached the Bekaa valley and included Heliopolis: it was the only area mostly latin-speaking in the Syria-Phoenicia region, because settled by Roman colonists who even promoted agriculture in the fertile lands around actual Yammoune. He also wrote that from the 1st century BC the Bekaa valley served as a source of grain for the Roman provinces of the Levant and even for the same Rome (today the valley makes up to 40 percent of Lebanon's arable land): Roman colonists created there even the "country district" called ''Pagus Augustus'' where are located the Niha temples with latin inscriptions.

In his opinion the mountain area between Berytus and Baalbeck was chosen by the Roman colonists because of the climate similar to the one of the Italian peninsula mountains (from where they came) and because it was with no presence of huge Phoenician or local [Aramaic language-speaking communities: for a couple of centuries it was the stronghhold of Rome in the Levant (as a fully Romanized area with Roman pagan religion), that only under emperor Constantine the great started to be converted to Christianity and was assimilated by the surrounding majority of Aramaic-speaking population.

Indeed Eusebius records that the Emperor Constantine destroyed a pagan temple of Venus 'on the summit of Mount Lebanon.' (Eusebius 'Life of Constantine' III.54) and, after the 5th century AD, Christian monks who were followers of a hermit named Maron settled in the mountains where lived the remaining descendants of the roman colonists of the Augustus Pagus.

It is noteworthy to pinpoint that the area of Augustus Pagus is the "original homeland" in actual Lebanon of the territories of the Maronites, a Christian group that looks at the Pope leadership. Indeed the Maronite Church is an Eastern Catholic Church ''sui iuris'', in full communion with the Pope and the Catholic Church (Andre Moubarak. "One Friday in Jerusalem"; ed:Twin T & T; Jerusalem, 2017; ISBN=9780999249420) with self-governance under the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches.

The nearly 20 meters high last standing 6 colummns of the Temple of Jupiter in Roman Heliopolis

Some researchers -like D'Ambrosio- think that this link to Rome is the last legacy of the Roman colonists who settled in this Augustus Pagus area

Lebanon, a Roman legacy?

When France obtained the territory of actual Lebanon in 1918, some politicians (like George Clemenceau) at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference argued that it was possible to create a christian nation in the Middle East.

Indeed the french authorities promoted the development of the Maronites (a christian group that since the sixth century populated the Mount Lebanon area) as a leading group of the Lebanon nation with capital Beirut (the former roman Berytus).

Inside the borders of this new nation many christians from Syria and Iraq took refuge after WW1 and Lebanon in the 1920s was a country were christians were half of the population. The region of Mount Lebanon between Beirut and Tripoli was nearly all maronite populated. Lebanon in the 1930s looked a bit like a piece of southern Europe in the Middle East, according to many journalists and writers.

But after WW2 Lebanon has suffered a terrible civil war and now the Christians are a minority (even if huge) in the country. However it is noteworthy to pinpoint that without the Roman colonization probably the Maronites would have not settled in mount Lebanon and now Lebanon would not be the only partially christian country in the Middle East. Because of this, it is possible to think that Lebanon is -at least in a minimal way- a Roman legacy.