Project team: Prof. PhDr. Jan Bouzek, DrSc. (director), Prof. Radislav Hošek , Assoc. Prof. Petr Charvát, Dr. Jiří Musil, Mgr. Jana Kubková, Alice Hayerová, Pavel Titz and Martin Trefný.
Project overview: In 1996, we were invited by the UNESCO center in Beirut to carry out a rescue excavation in the western part of Martyrs’ Square. The 30 x 10m plot was designated as Bey 069, trench A. The excavation was financed mostly from UNESCO funds with some contribution from private sponsors.
In 2006 we conducted rescue excavations in the western part of the Martyr’s Square in Beirut, Lebanon. Two Hellenistic levels, one Earl Roman, Late Roman and Byzantine was uncovered. In the upper levels we uncovered potter’s kilns, parts of Fakhr ed-Din’s gardens of the 16th c. and Ottoman period (19th c.) sewage systems. Before the Hellenistic period, the area was located underwater, close to the coast. Several finds of the Bronze and Iron Age probably comes from ships mooring in the shallow coastal waters. In the October of 2006, material excavated in 1996 was studied in the repository of the Directorate General of Antiquities in Beirut, it comprises mainly of the unprocessed Roman and Byzantine finds and a collection of Ottoman pottery.
After invitation by the UNESCO and the Directorate General of Antiquities of Lebanon we conducted six-week long excavations in the spring of 1996 in the central Beirut on Martyr’s Square. We were offered a plot of 30 x 10 m in the western part of the square. The sector was known as Bey 069, sondage A. The excavations were made possible thanks to the financial support of the UNESCO and private donors.
The excavations were directed by Prof. Jan Bouzek, Prof. Radislav Hošek served as an epigraphist, Assistant Prof. Petr Charvát analysed the Medieval glazed pottery. Dr. Jiří Musil co-directed the excavations. Among other participants was Mgr. Jana Kubková and three students of the Institute: Alice Hayerová, Pavel Titz and Martin Trefný.
The field work was carried out from 17/5-28/6 1996. The upper layers were mechanically removed. Bey 069 lied between other excavations sectors managed by The French Institute of the Near East (IFPO). To the north lies sector 026, excavated by Christine Aubert, to the south sector 027 excavated by Pascal Arnaud, the eastern neighbour was Bey 048, managed by Pascal Mongue.
The first preliminary report was published in the BAAL Journal (J. Bouzek, ‘Bey 069, Sondage A’, Bulletin d’Archéologie et d’Architecture Libanaises 1 1996, 135-147), another afterwards in Eirene (Bouzek, J. – Musil, J. ‘Preliminary Report on Current Excavations: Institute for Classical Archaeology, Charles University, Prague, 1.Beirut, Martyrs‘ Square, 1996 excavations’, Eirene 32, 1997 (1998), 158-165, 170-176) and in the volume for the anniversary of the Institute of Archaeology at the Jagellonian University in Krakow, Poland (J. Bouzek, ‘Charles University of Prague excavations in Beirut, Martyrs Square, preliminary report’, in: Centennary of Mediterranean Archaeology at the Jagellonian University 1897-1997, Cracow 1999, pp. 48-57 ). Two principal publications were published in Eirene and Studia Hercynia:
Regarding the history of Beirut, our findings align well with findings from other excavations in the centre of the city. Pottery finds suggest involvement in the international maritime trade from the earliest periods. Glass and metal objects, on the other hand, were of local production. The main floruit of the area spans from the Hellenistic period to the Late Antiquity. The area was then abandoned and only in the 16/17th c. it was used for gardens and only in the late 19th c. it was incorporated into the expanding city. It became the centre of the Lebanese metropolis and comes back to life after the civil war.
Unlike at the tell to the north of our sector, we did not find any remains of the Phoenician settlement. Additionaly, there were no signs of damage caused by the Assyrians, Persians or by Alexander the Great. As the ancient sources do not mention destruction of Berytus by Alexander, it is possible that the importance of the city grew only in the Hellenistic period. Before that it was shadowed by Sidon and Byblus.
The first construction activity in our sector appears in the late 3rd c. BCE, probably still during the Ptolemaic period, i.e. around the time of the battle of Raphia in 217 BCE and before 198 BCE when the city came under the Seleucid control, that was confirmed at the Peace of Apamea in 188 BCE.
The archaeological sources suggest that the first destruction occured around 150 BCE, perhaps documenting Strabo’s report about destruction of the city by Trypho in 145 BCE during the war of succession between him and Demetrius II and Antiochus VII Sidetes (145-138 BCE), respectively.
After the Parthian invasions and death of Anticohus X Eusebes, the Phoenician coastal cities were captured around 70 BCE by Tigranes. Arab tribes defeated Antiochus XIII and became masters of the coastal Syria. Pompey’s expedition in 65/4 BCE turned Syria into a Roman province. The excavations showed a series of destruction that might have been connected to those events. The city does not play important part in the following events and wars. However, foundation of a Roman colony of Berytus suggest that the city was damaged and de-populated.
Agrippa settled veterans of two legions here (Leg V Macedonica and VIII Augusta) and the city became a colonia at around 14 BCE. Several destructions and reconstructions from our sector might be dated to this period of renewal in the time of Augustus. Herod the Great, Herod Agrippa I and Herod Agrippa II all financed numerous building projects in Berytus, such as theater (see Josephus Flavius, Bell.Iud I, 21,11, VII,3,1; Ant. Iud XIX 333ff, XX 211). In 57 CE the city was probably visited by St. Paul. Titus celebrated the fall of Jerusalem here (Bell. Iud. VII,3,1).
Later levels are relatively poorer in finds, as elswhere in the Roman world, which can be explained by the quality of the refuse management of the city. Latin was still the main vernacular, used on the public monuments and as well as on graffiti found in our sector.
Beirut was among the favourite cities of Emperor Severus. In the mid-3rd c. CE a famous law school flourished in the city and it continued in operation until the time of Justinian, whose famous codex was compiled here. The 4th-5th c. was a time of new construction surge as can be seen in a monumental house with a mosaic from that period.
Late Antique contexts are common, some of them might be connected with the earthquake of 529 CE. Conquest of the city by Muawiya in 636 CE apparently brought an end to the settlement in this part of the city close to the sea. Between 661-750 the Umayyads ruled the city. Since then until 1100 it was the Abbasids and Fatimids. It was briefly conquered by Byzantines in 981 and then by Seljuk Turks in 1071. Between 1098-1291 it was part of the Crusader states. Afterwards it was ruled by Ayyubids and Mamelukes. In 1517 Beirut became part of the burgeoning Ottoman Empire, where it remained until the First World War.
During the Early Medieval period there were glass and pottery workshops, a Late Medieval pottery kiln was also found in square 1. The area served as a quarry for building material and it was only under Fakhr ed-Din (1595-1634) when the place was re-purposed for gardens. Large flower pots for trees were found by Pascal Mongue in the neighbouring sector. Modern city developments are represented by foundations of an arched structures of a souq and large channel running north-south across the length of the sector. The last destructions are dated to the 1970s and 80s during the Civil War when a green line dividing Christian and Muslim neighborhoods ran through the area. Currently, large underground parking lot already stands at the site.
|Iron Age||1200-550 BCE|
|Persian Period||550-333 BCE|
|Hellenistic Period||333-64 BCE|
|Roman Period||64 BCE – 395 CE|
|Byzantine Period||395 – 632|
|Independence of Lebanon since||1943|