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   Chapter 2 CLIMATE AND PRODUCTIONS

History of Phoenicia By George Rawlinson Characters: 25600

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07


Climate of Phoenicia-Varieties-Climate of the coast, in

the south, in the north-Climate of the more elevated

regions-Vegetable productions-Principal trees-Most

remarkable shrubs and fruit-trees-Herbs, flowers, and

garden vegetables-Zoology-Land animals-Birds-Marine and

fresh-water fish-Principal shell-fish-Minerals.

The long extent of the Phoenician coast, and the great difference in the elevation of its various parts, give it a great diversity of climate. Northern Phoenicia is many degrees colder than southern; and the difference is still more considerable between the coast tracts and the more elevated portions of the mountain regions. The greatest heat is experienced in the plain of Sharon,21 which is at once the most southern portion of the country, and the part most remote from any hills of sufficient elevation to exert an important influence on the temperature. Neither Carmel on the north, nor the hills of Samaria on the east, produce any sensible effect on the climate of the Sharon lowland. The heat in summer is intense, and except along the river courses the tract is burnt up, and becomes little more than an expanse of sand. As a compensation, the cold in winter is very moderate. Snow scarcely ever falls, and if there is frost it is short-lived, and does not penetrate into the ground.22

Above Carmel the coast tract is decidedly less hot than the region south of it, and becomes cooler and cooler as we proceed northwards. Northern Phoenicia enjoys a climate that is delightful, and in which it would be difficult to suggest much improvement. The summer heat is scarcely ever too great, the thermometer rarely exceeding 90o of Fahrenheit,23 and often sinking below 70o. Refreshing showers of rain frequently fall, and the breezes from the north, the east, and the south-east, coming from high mountain tracts which are in part snow-clad, temper the heat of the sun's rays and prevent it from being oppressive. The winter temperature seldom descends much below 50o; and thus the orange, the lemon and the date-palm flourish in the open air, and the gardens are bright with flowers even in December and January. Snow falls occasionally, but it rarely lies on the ground for more than a few days, and is scarcely ever so much as a foot deep. On the other hand, rain is expected during the winter-time, and the entire line of coast is visited for some months with severe storms and gales, accompanied often by thunder and violent rain,24 which strew the shore with wrecks and turn even insignificant mountain streams into raging torrents. The storms come chiefly from the west and north-west, quarters to which the harbours on the coast are unfortunately open.25 Navigation consequently suffers interruption; but when once the winter is past, a season of tranquillity sets in, and for many months of the year-at any rate from May to October26-the barometer scarcely varies, the sky is unclouded, and rain all but unknown.

As the traveller mounts from the coast tract into the more elevated regions, the climate sensibly changes. An hour's ride from the plains, when they are most sultry, will bring him into a comparatively cool region, where the dashing spray of the glacier streams is borne on the air, and from time to time a breeze that is actually cold comes down from the mountain-tops.27 Shade is abundant, for the rocks are often perpendicular, and overhand the road in places, while the dense foliage of cedars, or pines, or walnut-trees, forms an equally effectual screen against the sun's noonday rays. In winter the uplands are, of course, cold. Severe weather prevails in them from November to March;28 snow falls on all the high ground, while it rains on the coast and in the lowlands; the passes are blocked; and Lebanon and Bargylus replenish the icy stories which the summer's heat has diminished.

The vegetable productions of Phoenicia may be best considered under the several heads of trees, shrubs, herbs, flowers, fruit-trees, and garden vegetables. The chief trees were the palm-tree, the sycamore, the maritime pine, and the plane in the lowlands; in the highlands the cedar, Aleppo pine, oak, walnut, poplar, acacia, shumac, and carob. We have spoken of the former abundance of the palm. At present it is found in comparatively few places, and seldom in any considerable numbers. It grows singly, or in groups of two or three, at various points of the coast from Tripolis to Acre, but is only abundant in a few spots more towards the south, as at Haifa, under Carmel, where "fine date-palms" are numerous in the gardens,29 and at Jaffa, where travellers remark "a broad belt of two or three miles of date-palms and orange-groves laden with fruit."210 The wood was probably not much used as timber except in the earliest times, since Lebanon afforded so many kinds of trees much superior for building purposes. The date-palm was also valued for its fruit, though the produce of the Phoenician groves can never have been of a high quality.

The sycamore, or sycamine-fig, is a dark-foliaged tree, with a gnarled stem when it is old;211 it grows either singly or in clumps, and much more resembles in appearance the English oak than the terebinth does, which has been so often compared to it. The stem is short, and sends forth wide lateral branches forking out in all directions, which renders the tree very easy to climb. It bears a small fig in great abundance, and probably at all seasons, which, however, is "tasteless and woody,"212 though eaten by the inhabitants. The sycamore is common along the Phoenician lowland, but is a very tender tree and will not grow in the mountains.

The plane-tree, common in Asia Minor, is not very frequent either in Phoenicia or Palestine. It occurs, however, on the middle course of the Litany, where it breaks through the roots of Lebanon,213 and also in many of the valleys214 on the western flank of the mountain. The maritime pine (Pinus maritama) extends in forests here and there along the shore,215 and is found of service in checking the advance of the sand dunes, which have a tendency to encroach seriously on the cultivable soil.

Of the upland trees the most common is the oak. There are three species of oak in the country. The most prevalent is an evergreen oak (Quercus pseudococcifera), sometimes mistaken by travellers for a holly, sometimes for an ibex, which covers in a low dense bush many miles of the hilly country everywhere, and occasionally becomes a large tree in the Lebanon valleys,216 and on the flanks of Casius and Bargylus. Another common oak is Quercus ?gilops, a much smaller and deciduous tree, very stout-trunked, which grows in scattered groups on Carmel and elsewhere, "giving a park-like appearance to the landscape."217 The third kind is Quercus infectoria, a gall-oak, also deciduous, and very conspicuous from the large number of bright, chestnut-coloured, viscid galls which it bears, and which are now sometimes gathered for exportation.218

Next to the oak may be mentioned the walnut, which grows to a great size in sheltered positions in the Lebanon range, both upon the eastern and upon the western flank;219 the poplar, which is found both in the mountains220 and in the low country, as especially about Beyrout;221 the Aleppo pine (Pinus halepensis), of which there are large woods in Carmel, Lebanon, and Bargylus,222 while in Casius there is an enormous forest of them;223 and the carob (Ceratonia siliqua), or locust-tree, a dense-foliaged tree of a bright lucid green hue, which never grows in clumps or forms woods, but appears as an isolated tree, rounded or oblong, and affords the best possible shade.224 In the vicinity of Tyre are found also large tamarisks, maples, sumachs, and acacias.225

But the tree which is the glory of Phoenicia, and which was by far the most valuable of all its vegetable productions, is, of course, the cedar. Growing to an immense height, and attaining an enormous girth, it spreads abroad its huge flat branches hither and thither, covering a vast space of ground with its "shadowing shroud,"226 and presenting a most majestic and magnificent appearance. Its timber may not be of first-rate quality, and there is some question whether it was really used for the masts of their ships by the Phoenicians,227 but as building material it was beyond a doubt most highly prized, answering sufficiently for all the purposes required by architectural art, and at the same time delighting the sense of smell by its aromatic odour. Solomon employed it both for the Temple and for his own house;228 the Assyrian kings cut it and carried it to Nineveh;229 Herod the Great used it for the vast additions that he made to Zerubbabel's temple;230 it was exported to Egypt and Asia Minor; the Ephesian Greeks constructed of cedar, probably of cedar from Lebanon, the roof of their famous temple of Diana.231 At present the wealth of Lebanon in cedars is not great, but the four hundred which form the grove near the source of the Kadisha, and the many scattered cedar woods in other places, are to be viewed as remnants of one great primeval forest, which originally covered all the upper slopes on the western side, and was composed, if not exclusively, at any rate predominantly, of cedars.232 Cultivation, the need of fuel, and the wants of builders, have robbed the mountain of its primitive bright green vest, and left it either bare rock or terraced garden; but in the early times of Phoenicia, the true Lebanon cedar must undoubtedly have been its chief forest tree, and have stood to it as the pine to the Swiss Alps and the chestnut to the mountains of North Italy.

Of shrubs, below the rank of trees, the most important are the lentisk (Pistachia lentiscus), the bay, the arbutus (A. andrachne), the cypress, the oleander, the myrtle, the juniper, the barberry, the styrax (S. officinalis), the rhododendron, the bramble, the caper plant, the small-leaved holly, the prickly pear, the honeysuckle, and the jasmine. Myrtle and rhododendron grow luxuriantly on the flanks of Bargylus, and are more plentiful than any other shrubs in that region.233 Eastern Lebanon has abundant scrub of juniper and barberry;234 while on the western slopes their place is taken by the bramble, the myrtle, and the clematis.235 The lentisk, which rarely exceeds the size of a low bush, is conspicuous by its dark evergreen leaves and numerous small red berries;236 the arbutus-not our species, but a far lighter and more ornamental shrub, the Arbutus andrachne-bears also a bright red fruit, which colours the thickets;237 the styrax, famous for yielding the gum storax of commerce, grows towards the east end of Carmel, and is a very large bush branching from the ground, but never assuming the form of a tree; it has small downy leaves, white flowers like orange blossoms, and round yellow fruit, pendulous from slender stalks, like cherries.238 Travellers in Phoenicia do not often mention the caper plant, but it was seen by Canon Tristram hanging from the fissures of the rock, in the cleft of the Litany,239 amid myrtle and bay and clematis. The small-leaved holly was noticed by Mr. Walpole on the western flank of Bargylus.240 The prickly pear is not a native of Asia, but has been introduced from the New World. It has readily acclimatised itself, and is very generally employed, in Phoenicia, as in the neighbouring countries, for hedges.241

The fruit-trees of Phoenicia are numerous, and grow most luxuriantly, but the majority have no doubt been introduced from other countries, and the time of their introduction is uncertain. Five, however, may be reckoned as either indigenous or as cultivated at any rate from a remote antiquity-the vine, the olive, the date-palm, the walnut, and the fig. The vine is most widely spread. Vineyards cover large tracts in the vicinity of all the towns; they climb up the sides of Carmel, Lebanon, and Bargylus,242 hang upon the edge of precipices, and greet the traveller at every turn in almost every region. The size of individual vines is extraordinary. "Stephen Schultz states that in a village near Ptolema?s (Acre) he supped under a large vine, the stem of which measured a foot and a half in diameter, its height being thirty feet; and that the whole plant, supported on trellis, covered an area of fifty feet either way. The bunches of grapes weighed from ten to twelve pounds and the berries were like small plums."243 The olive in Phoenicia is at least as old as the Exodus, for it was said of Asher, who was assigned the more southern part of that country-"Let him be acceptable to his brethren, and let him dip his foot in oil."244 Olives at the present day clothe the slopes of Lebanon and Bargylus above the vine region,245 and are carried upwar

d almost to the very edge of the bare rock. They yield largely, and produce an oil of an excellent character. Fine olive-groves are also to be seen on Carmel,246 in the neighbourhood of Esfia. The date-palm has already been spoken of as a tree, ornamenting the landscape and furnishing timber of tolerable quality. As a fruit-tree it is not greatly to be prized, since it is only about Haifa and Jaffa that it produces dates,247 and those of no high repute. The walnut has all the appearance of being indigenous in Lebanon, where it grows to a great size,248 and bears abundance of fruit. The fig is also, almost certainly, a native; it grows plentifully, not only in the orchards about towns, but on the flanks of Lebanon, on Bargylus, and in the northern Phoenician plain.249

The other fruit-trees of the present day are the mulberry, the pomegranate, the orange, the lemon, the lime, the peach, the apricot, the plum, the cherry, the quince, the apple, the pear, the almond, the pistachio nut, and the banana. The mulberry is cultivated largely on the Lebanon250 in connection with the growth of silkworms, but is not valued as a fruit-tree. The pomegranate is far less often seen, but it is grown in the gardens about Saida,251 and the fruit has sometimes been an article of exportation.252 The orange and lemon are among the commonest fruits, but are generally regarded as comparatively late introductions. The lime is not often noticed, but obtains mention in the work of Mr. Walpole.253 The peach and apricot are for the most part standard trees, though sometimes trained on trellises.254 They were perhaps derived from Mesopotamia or Persia, but at what date it is quite impossible to conjecture. Apples, pears, plums, cherries, quinces, are not unlikely to have been indigenous, though of course the present species are the result of long and careful cultivation. The same may be said of the almond and the pistachio nut. The banana is a comparatively recent importation. It is grown along the coast from Jaffa as far north as Tripolis, and yields a fruit which is said to be of excellent quality.255

Altogether, Phoenicia may be pronounced a land of fruits. Hasselquist says,256 that in his time Sidon grew pomegranates, apricots, figs, almonds, oranges, lemons, and plums in such abundance as to furnish annually several shiploads for export, while D'Arvieux adds to this list pears, peaches, cherries, and bananas.257 Lebanon alone can furnish grapes, olives, mulberries, figs, apples, apricots, walnuts, cherries, peaches, lemons, and oranges. The coast tract adds pomegranates, limes, and bananas. It has been said that Carmel, a portion of Phoenicia, is "the garden of Eden run wild;"258 but the phrase might be fitly applied to the entire country.

Of herbs possessing some value for man, Phoenicia produces sage, rosemary, lavender, rue, and wormwood.259 Of flowers she has an extraordinary abundance. In early spring (March and April) not only the plains, but the very mountains, except where they consist of bare rock, are covered with a variegated carpet of the loveliest hues260 from the floral wealth scattered over them. Bulbous plants are especially numerous. Travellers mention hyacinths, tulips, ranunculuses, gladioli, anemones, orchises, crocuses of several kinds-blue and yellow and white, arums, amaryllises, cyclamens, &c., besides heaths, jasmine, honeysuckle, clematis, multiflora roses, rhododendrons, oleander, myrtle, astragalus, hollyhocks, convolvuli, valerian, red linum, pheasant's eye, guelder roses, antirrhinums, chrysanthemums, blue campanulas, and mandrakes. The orchises include "Ophrys atrata, with its bee-like lip, another like the spider orchis, and a third like the man orchis;"261 the cyclamens are especially beautiful, "nestling under every stone and lavish of their loveliness with graceful tufts of blossoms varying in hue from purest white to deepest purple pink."262 The multiflora rose is not common, but where it grows "covers the banks of streams with a sheet of blossom;"263 the oleanders fringe their waters with a line of ruby red; the mandrake (Mandragora officinalis) is "one of the most striking plants of the country, with its flat disk of very broad primrose-like leaves, and its central bunch of dark blue bell-shaped blossom."264 Ferns also abound, and among them is the delicate maidenhair.265

The principal garden vegetables grown at the present day are melons, cucumbers, gourds, pumpkins, turnips, carrots, and radishes.266 The kinds of grain most commonly cultivated are wheat, barley, millet, and maize. There is also an extensive cultivation of tobacco, indigo, and cotton, which have been introduced from abroad in comparatively modern times. Oil, silk, and fruits are, however, still among the chief articles of export; and the present wealth of the country is attributable mainly to its groves and orchards, its olives, mulberries, figs, lemons, and oranges.

The zoology of Phoenicia has not until recently attracted very much attention. At present the list of land animals known to inhabit it is short,267 including scarcely more than the bear, the leopard or panther, the wolf, the hy?na, the jackal, the fox, the hare, the wild boar, the ichneumon, the gazelle, the squirrel, the rat, and the mole. The present existence of the bear within the limits of the ancient Phoenicia has been questioned,268 but the animal has been seen in Lebanon by Mr. Porter,269 and in the mountains of Galilee by Canon Tristram.270 The species is the Syrian bear (Ursus syriacus), a large and fierce beast, which, though generally frugivorous, will under the presser of hunger attack both men and animals. Its main habitat is, no doubt, the less accessible parts of Lebanon; but in the winter it will descend to the villages and gardens, where it often does much damage.271 The panther or leopard has, like the bear, been seen by Mr. Porter in the Lebanon range;272 and Canon Tristram, when visiting Carmel, was offered the skin of an adult leopard273 which had probably been killed in that neighbourhood. Anciently it was much more frequent in Phoenicia and Palestine than it is at present, as appears by the numerous notices of it in Scripture.274 Wolves, hy?nas, and jackals are comparatively common. They haunt not only Carmel and Lebanon, but many portions of the coast tract. Canon Tristram obtained from Carmel "the two largest hy?nas that he had ever seen,"275 and fell in with jackals in the vicinity.276 Wolves seem to be more scarce, though anciently very plentiful.

The favourite haunts of the wild boar (Sus scrofa) in Phoenicia are Carmel277 and the deep valleys on the western slope of Lebanon. The valley of the Adonis (Ibrahim) is still noted for them,278 but, except on Carmel, they are not very abundant. Foxes and hares are also somewhat rare, and it is doubtful whether rabbits are to be found in any part of the country;279 ichneumons, which are tolerably common, seem sometimes to be mistaken for them. Gazelles are thought to inhabit Carmel,280 and squirrels, rats, and moles are common. Bats also, if they may be counted among land-animals, are frequent; they belong, it is probable, to several species, one of which is Xantharpyia ?gyptiaca.281

If the fauna of Phoenicia is restricted so far as land-animals are concerned, it is extensive and varied in respect of birds. The list of known birds includes two sorts of eagle (Circa?tos gallicus and Aquila n?vio?des), the osprey, the vulture, the falcon, the kite, the honey-buzzard, the marsh-harrier, the sparrow-hawk, owls of two kinds (Ketupa ceylonensis and Athene meridionalis), the grey shrike (Lanius excubitor), the common cormorant, the pigmy cormorant (Gr?culus pygm?us), numerous seagulls, as the Adriatic gull (Larus melanocephalus), Andonieri's gull, the herring-gull, the Red-Sea-gull (Larus ichthyo-a?tos), and others; the gull-billed tern (Sterna anglica), the Egyptian goose, the wild duck, the woodcock, the Greek partridge (Caccabis saxatilis), the waterhen, the corncrake or landrail, the coot, the water-ouzel, the francolin; plovers of three kinds, green, golden, and Kentish; dotterels of two kinds, red-throated and Asiatic; the Manx shearwater, the flamingo, the heron, the common kingfisher, and the black and white kingfisher of Egypt, the jay, the wood-pigeon, the rock-dove, the blue thrush, the Egyptian fantail (Drymoeca gracilis), the redshank, the wheat-ear (Saxicola libanotica), the common lark, the Persian horned lark, the cisticole, the yellow-billed Alpine chough, the nightingale of the East (Ixos xanthopygius), the robin, the brown linnet, the chaffinch; swallows of two kinds (Hirundo cahirica and Hirundo rufula); the meadow bunting; the Lebanon redstart, the common and yellow water-wagtails, the chiffchaff, the coletit, the Russian tit, the siskin, the nuthatch, and the willow wren. Of these the most valuable for the table are the partridge, the francolin, and the woodcock. The Greek partridge is "a fine red-legged bird, much larger than our red-legged partridge, and very much better eating, with white flesh, and nearly as heavy as a pheasant."282 The francolin or black partridge is also a delicacy; and the woodcock, which is identical with our own, has the same delicate flavour.

The fish of Phoenicia, excepting certain shell-fish, are little known, and have seldom attracted the attention of travellers. The Mediterranean, however, where it washes the Phoenician coast, can furnish excellent mullet,283 while most of the rivers contain freshwater fish of several kinds, as the Blennius lupulus, the Scaphiodon capo?ta, and the Anguilla microptera.284 All of these fish may be eaten, but the quality is inferior.

On the other hand, to certain of the shell-fish of Phoenicia a great celebrity attaches. The purple dye which gave to the textile fabrics of the Phoenicians a world-wide reputation was prepared from certain shell-fish which abounded upon their coast. Four existing species have been regarded as more or less employed in the manufacture, and it seems to be certain, at any rate, that the Phoenicians derived the dye from more shell-fish than one. The four are the Buccinum lapillus of Pliny,285 which is the Purpura lapillus of modern naturalists; the Murex trunculus; the Murex brandaris; and the Helix ianthina. The Buccinum derives its name from the form of the shell, which has a wide mouth, like that of a trumpet, and which after one or two twists terminates in a pointed head.286 The Murex trunculus has the same general form as the Buccinum; but the shell is more rough and spinous, being armed with a number of long thin projections which terminate in a sharp point.287 The Murex brandaris is a closely allied species, and "one of the most plentiful on the Phoenician coast."288 It is unlikely that the ancients regarded it as a different shell from Murex trunculus. The Helix ianthina has a wholly different character. It is a sort of sea-snail, as the name helix implies, is perfectly smooth, "very delicate and fragile, and not more than about three-quarters of an inch in diameter."289 All these shell-fish contain a sac or bag full of colouring matter, which is capable of being used as a dye. It is quite possible that they were all, more or less, made use of by the Phoenician dyers; but the evidence furnished by existing remains on the Tyrian coast is strongly in favour of the Murex brandaris as the species principally employed.290

The mineral treasures of Phoenicia have not, in modern times, been examined with any care. The Jura limestone, which forms the substratum of the entire region, cannot be expected to yield any important mineral products. But the sandstone, which overlies it in places, is "often largely impregnated with iron," and some strata towards the southern end of Lebanon are said to produce "as much as ninety per cent. of pure iron ore."291 An ochrous earth is also found in the hills above Beyrout, which gives from fifty to sixty per cent. of metal.292 Coal, too, has been found in the same locality, but it is of bad quality, and does not exist in sufficient quantity to form an important product. Limestone, both cretaceous and siliceous, is plentiful, as are sandstone, trap and basalt; while porphyry and greenstone are also obtainable.293 Carmel yields crystals of quarts and chalcedony,294 and the fine sand about Tyre and Sidon is still such as would make excellent glass. But the main productions of Phoenicia, in which its natural wealth consisted, must always have been vegetable, rather than animal or mineral, and have consisted in its timber, especially its cedars and pines; its fruits, as olives, figs, grapes, and, in early times, dates; and its garden vegetables, melons, gourds, pumpkins, cucumbers.

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