Batroun: The Phoenician wall and the Roman
It is difficult for us in only a few pages to retrace
the history of a city thousands of years old, because
of the many obstacles standing in our way. For one
thing, there has never been any general scientific
archaeological excavation carried out; because of
the lack of any early written documents, this city
has always been largely neglected although it is one
of the most ancient prehistoric sites in Lebanon.
The site and name of Batroun
Batroun is a coastal town of North Lebanon lying 50
km. north of Beirut and 30 km. south of Tripoli. The
Old City extends round a circular bay with its characteristic
port of classic form; there is a sheltered roadstead
to the north of the town and another to the south,
close to which is the “Pool of the King’s
Daughter” (Birket Bint el-Malak), the shipbuilding
yard and the “Throne of the Prince” (Maqaad
el-Mir). It is thought that it is this Maqaad el-Mir
that gave its name to the town (J.T. Merchak), as
bet trouna signifies “the place of the chief”
or “locality of the prince” (P.P. Hobeika
and Armalé). Also, Batroun may have taken its
name from the structure of its relief: bitron, from
the Semitic root b-t-r, means to divide, to sunder,
to cut. From the same root there is also a term derived
which designates a rock or high cliff, giving the
Phoenician name b-t-r = batara (Dr. Anis Freyha).
After the conquest of Alexander the Great, the Greeks
called it Botrys, signifying bunch of grapes, seemingly
because of the vineyards which covered its own soil
and that of the surrounding region.
It kept this name under the Seleucid kings and under
the Romans and Byzantines who came after. Batroun
remained famous for its wines till the time of the
Ottoman conquest. The Arabs called the town Bathroun.
The Crusaders gave it the status of a seignory (feudal
fief) under the Count of Tripoli and called it Le
Batroun’s times of prosperity
Prehistory (500,000 years ago to 3,300 B.C.)
Prehistoric man in and around Batroun has left us
a rich store of artifacts made occasionally in bone
but more often in flint, basalt or obsidian. He lived
as a hunter-gatherer nomad during Paleolithic times
but became sedentary during the Neolithic period.
He left us various kinds of tools such as chipped
pebbles, bifaces, hand axes, scrapers and chisels.
a- The Phoenician Period (3,300 B.C. to 64 B.C.)
It was during this time that the name Batroun first
appeared in history, for example in the letters of
Tal el Amarna, dating from the first half of the 14th
century before Christ. A votive statuette of about
2,000 B.C. gives us an idea of the antiquity of the
city. From the sea bottom around Batroun, fishermen
sometimes bring up pieces of the pottery in which
the Phoenicians used to carry their food products.
Several sarcophagi have been exhumed from the Phoenician
cemetery situated south of the town. The two docks
of Batroun Port are separated by the Phoenician wall
225 m. long. The 9th century B.C. Phoenician citadel
built by Ittobaal king of Tyre (approx. 887-856 B.C.)
as a fortification to impede the advance of the Assyrian
armies is the oldest surviving vestige of a building
in the town.
b- The Roman-Byzantine Period (64 B.C. to
approx. 636 A.D.)
About the year 47 B.C. Julius Caesar gave the people
of Batroun the right of Roman citizenship and then
after 31 B.C. Augustus gave the town the right to
strike its own coinage. The town enjoyed this privilege
up to the middle of the third century A.D.. The Roman
theatre situated to the east of the Phoenician town
was the local artistic and cultural centre. In 1977
a marble statue of a boy mounted on a dolphin and
a simple mosaic were discovered.
c- The Crusader Period (1104-1289 A.D.)
After being made a seignory fief of the Count of Tripoli,
Batroun was governed by the Agout family from Provence
in Southern France and after their extinction by Plebanus,
a merchant from Pisa. This fief was called the Seignory
of the Holy Mountain. The Crusaders used the citadel
(largely destroyed by an earthquake on 9th July, 551
A.D.) as the seat of government for the dependency.
At Koubba they built St. Saviour’s Church (middle
of the 12th century) and also St. James’s Church,
of which only a part of the wall and traces of the
d- The Mutassarrifiate (1861-1918)
This is the best-known period in the history of Batroun.
Batroun was a small port and centre of government
for the caza (sub-prefecture) of the same name. Although
the coast line of this district did not extend far,
only from Selaata to Madfoun, the hinterland was extensive,
covering the localities of Douma, Besheyaleh, Tannourine,
Qnet, Hadath el-Joubbeh, Hasroun, Bsharry, Ehden,
Zgharta and Hermel and its surroundings. The prosperity
of Batroun at this time had various reasons, religious,
cultural, artistic, architectural and economic. As
local capital with its mills, olive-presses, shops,
hostelries and schools, it attracted a mixed population.
The prosperity of the town was reflected in the wealth
of its population, as shown by the rich villas decorated
with painted murals, the Greek Orthodox church of
Saint George and also the church of Our Lady of the
Square and St. Stephen’s Cathedral, both Maronite.
During this time Batroun and its surroundings prospered
from the culture of mulberry trees, whose leaves provided
the staple food of silkworms (19,200kg. of cocoons
in 1906), olive trees (7,500 kg. of olive oil in 1906),
vines, almond trees, fig trees, wheat, barley, maize
and tobacco. The sea made a considerable contribution
to the diet of the people of Batroun. Industry was
generally on the artisan level as in the case of the
treating of tobacco, the production of salt, the cleaning
of sponges and the unravelling of the silkworm cocoons.
Batroun also played an important cultural role, being
the birthplace of a certain number of poets and writers
and having a printing-press which produced newspapers,
reviews and books.
Its archaeological remains are enough to provide a
hundred years’ work for specialists in research,
archaeological excavation, restoration, urbanism and
other branches of study.
Joseph T. MERCHAK - CAPES, Geography Archéologie et Patrimoine –
publication of the General Directorate of Antiquities
in cooperation with UNESCO, n° 7, May, 1997.
(Text translated from the French by K.J. Mortimer)
- The Phoenician wall: >> View
Movie << (2002-09-01)
- The Roman Theatre: >> View
Movie << (2002-09-01)
- The City by night, Christmas decoration: >>