by Andrew Collins
In the recent past the tranquility of the
Beqa’a Valley, that runs
north-south between the Lebanon and Ante-Lebanon mountain ranges,
has been regularly shattered by the screeching noise of Israeli jet
fighters. Their targets are usually the Hizbullah training camps,
mostly for reconnaissance purposes, but occasionally to drop bombs
on the local inhabitants. It is a sign of the times in the troubled
Yet the Beqa’a Valley is also famous for quite another reason.
Elevated above the lazy town of Baalbek is one of architecture’s
greatest achievements. I refer to the almighty Temple of Jupiter,
situated besides two smaller temples, one dedicated to Venus, the
goddess of love, and the other dedicated to Bacchus, the god of
fertility and good cheer (although some argue this temple was
dedicated to Mercury, the winged god of communication).
Today these wonders of the classical world remain as impressive
ruins scattered across a wide area, but more remarkable still is the
gigantic stone podiums within which these structures stand. An outer
podium wall, popularly known as the ’Great Platform’, is seen by
scholars as contemporary to the Roman temples. Yet incorporated into
one of its courses are the three largest building blocks ever used
in a man-made structure. Each one weighs an estimated 1000 tonnes a
piece.(1) They sit side-by-side on the fifth level of a truly
cyclopean wall located beyond the western limits of the Temple of
Even more extraordinary is the fact that in a limestone quarry about
one quarter of a mile away from the Baalbek complex is an even
larger building block. Known as Hajar el Gouble, the Stone of the
South, or the Hajar el Hibla, the Stone of the Pregnant Woman, it
weighs an estimated 1200 tonnes.(2) It lays at a raised angle - the
lowest part of its base still attached to the living rock - cut and
ready to be broken free and transported to its presumed destination
next to the Trilithon, the name given to the three great stones in
The enigma is this - although the high-tech, computer programmed jet
fighters that scream through the Beqa’a Valley possess laser-guided
missiles that can precision bomb to within three feet of their
designated target, there is not a crane today that can even think of
lifting a 1000-tonne weight, never mind a 1200-tonne weight like the
stone block left in the quarry. Confounding the mystery even further
is how the builders of the Trilithon managed to position these
stones side by side with such precision that, according to some
commentators not even a needle can be inserted between them.(3)
So who were the supermen behind this breath-taking project? Surely
the world is aware of their origins and history. Who were these
Unfortunately, however, nobody knows their names. Nowhere in extant
Roman records does it mention anything at all about the architects
and engineers involved in the construction of the Great Platform. No
contemporary Roman historian or scholar commentates on how it was
constructed, and there are no tales that preserve the means by which
the Roman builders achieved such marvellous feats of engineering.
Surely someone, somewhere, must know what happened.
And herein the problems begin, for the local inhabitants of the
Beqa’a Valley - who consist in the main of Arab Muslims, Maronite
Christians and Orthodox Christians - do preserve legends about the
origins of the Great Platform, but they do not involve the Romans.
They say that Baalbek’s first city was built before the Great Flood
by Cain, the son of Adam, whom God banished to the ’land of Nod’
that lay ’east of Eden’ for murdering his good brother Abel, and he
called it after his son Enoch.(4) The citadel, they say, fell into
ruins at the time of the deluge and was much later re-built by a
race of giants under the command of Nimrod, the ’mighty hunter’ and
’king of Shinar’ of the Book of Genesis.(5)
So who do we believe - the academics who are of the opinion that
Great Platform was constructed by the Romans, or the local folktales
which ascribe Baalbek’s cyclopean masonry to a much earlier age? And
if we are to accept the latter explanation, then who exactly were
these ’giants’, gigantes or Titans of Greek tradition? Furthermore,
why accredit Cain, Adam’s outcast son, as the builder of Baalbek’s
In an attempt to answer some of these questions it will be necessary
to review the known history of Baalbek and to examine more closely
the stones of the Trilithon in relationship to the rest of the ruins
we see today. It will also be necessary to look at the mythologies,
not only of the earliest peoples of Lebanon, but also the Hellenic
Greeks. Only by doing this will a much clearer picture begin to
Heliopolis of the East
Scholars suggest that Baalbek started its life as a convenient
trading post between the Lebanese coast and Damascus. What seems
equally as likely, however, is that - situated close at the highest
point in the Beqa’a, and set between the headwaters of Lebanon’s two
greatest rivers, the Orontes and Leontes - this elevated site became
an important religious centre at a very early date indeed.
Excavations in the vicinity of the Great Court of the Temple of
Jupiter have revealed the existence of a tell, or occupational mound,
dating back to the Early Bronze age (c.2900-2300 BC).(6)
By the late second millennium BC a raised court, entered through a
gateway with twin towers, had been constructed around a vertical
shaft that dropped down some fifty yards to a natural crevice in
which ’a small rock cut altar’ was used for sacrificial rites.(7)
In the hills around the temple complex are literally hundreds of
rock-cut tombs which, although plundered long ago, are thought to
date to the time of the Phoenicians,(8) the great sea-faring nation
of Semitic origin who inhabited Lebanon from around 2500 BC onwards
and were known in the Bible as the Canaanites, the people of Canaan.
They established major sea-ports in Lebanon, northern Palestine and
Syria, as well as trading posts across the Mediterranean and the
eastern Atlantic seaboard, right through till classical times.
Indeed, it is believed that Phoenicia’s mythical history heavily
influenced the development of Greek myth and legend.
Following the death of Alexander in 323 BC, Phoenicia was ruled
successively by the Ptolemaic kings of Egypt and the Seleucid kings
of Syria until the arrival of the Romans under a general named
Pompey in 63 BC. The first-century AD Jewish historian Josephus
tells of Alexander’s march through the Beqa’a on his way to
Damascus, during which he encountered the cities of ’Heliopolis and Chalcis’.(9) Chalcis, modern Majdel Anjar, was then the political centre of the
Beqa’a, while Baalbek was its principal religious centre.
Heliopolis was the name given to Baalbek under the Ptolemies of
Egypt sometime between 323 and 198 BC. Meaning ’city of the sun’, it
expressed the importance this religious centre held to the Egyptians,
particularly since a place of immense antiquity bearing this same
name already existed in Lower Egypt.
Following a brief period in which Mark Anthony handed Lebanon and
Syria back to Queen Cleopatra, the last Ptolemaic queen of Egypt,
Lebanon became a Roman colony around 27 BC, and it was during this
phase in its history that construction began on the Baalbek temples.(10)
The principal deity they chose to preside over Baalbek was Jupiter,
the sky god. He was arguably the most important deity of the Romans,
taking over the role of Zeus in the Greek pantheon. Jupiter was
probably chosen to replace the much earlier worship of the Canaanite
god Baal (meaning ’lord’) who had many characteristics in common
with the Greek Zeus. It is, of course, from Baal that
derives its name, which means, simply, ’town of Baal’. Yet when, and
how, this god of corn, rain, tempest and thunder, was worshipped
here is not known, even though legend asserts that Baalbek was the
alleged birth-place of Baal.(11)) In the Bible
Baalbek appears under
the name Baalath,(12) a town re-fortified by Israel’s King Solomon,
c. 970 BC (1 Kings 9:18 & 2 Chr. 8:6), confirming both its sanctity
to Baal at this early date and its apparent strategic importance on
the road to Damascus.
Some scholars have suggested that Baal (Assyrian Hadad) was only one
of a triad of Phoenician deities that were once venerated at this
site - the others being his son Aliyan, who presided over well-springs
and fecundity, and his daughter Anat (Assyrian Atargatis), who was
Aliyan’s devoted lover. These three correspond very well with the
Roman triad of Jupiter, Mercury and Venus, whose veneration is
almost certainly preserved in the dedication of the three temples at Baalbek. Many Roman emperors were of Syrian extraction, so it would
not have been unusual for them to have promoted the worship of the
country’s indigenous deities under their adopted Roman names.(13)
Whatever the nature of the pre-Roman worship at Baalbek, its
veneration of Baal created a hybrid form of the god Jupiter,
generally referred to as Jupiter Heliopolitan. One surviving statue
of him in bronze shows the beardless god sporting a huge calathos
head-dress, a symbol of divinity, as well as a bull, a symbol of
Baal, on either side of him.(14)
The Temple of Jupiter
When the Romans began construction of the gigantic Temple of Jupiter
- the largest of its kind in the classical world - during the reign
of Emperor Augustus in the late first century BC, they
existing podium made up of huge walls of enormous stone blocks.(15)
This much is known. Academics suggest that this inner podium, or
rectangular stone platform filled level with earth, was an
unfinished component of an open-air temple constructed by the
Seleucid priesthoods on the existing Bronze Age tell sometime
between 198 and 63 BC.(16)
Baalbek’s great sanctity was well-known
even before the building of the temple, for it is said to have
possessed a renowned oracle which, according to a Latin grammarian
and author named Macrobius (fl. AD 420), expressed itself through
the movement of a great statue located in the courtyard. It was
attended by ’dignitaries’ with shaven heads who had previously
undergone long periods of ritual abstinence.(17)
As the temple complex expanded throughout Roman times, the existing
foundations extended southwards, beyond the inner podium, to where
the Temple of Bacchus (or Mercury) was eventually constructed in the
middle of the second century BC. It also extended north-eastwards to
where a great court, an observation tower, an enclosed hexagonal
court and a raised, open-air altar were incorporated into the
overall design. To the south, outside the Great Court, rose the much
smaller Temple of Venus as well as the lesser known Temple of the
According to Professor H. Kalayan, whose extensive surveying
programme of the Baalbek complex was published in 1969, the Temple
of Jupiter and its east facing courtyard were planned simultaneously
as one overall design.(18) Yet in the age of Augustus this should
have meant that the temple be placed at one end of a courtyard that
surrounded it on all sides; it was the style of the day. This,
however, is not what happened at Baalbek, for its courtyard ceased
in line with the temple facade. This Professor Kalayan saw as a
deliberate change of policy, even though ’foundations’ for an
extension to this courtyard were already in place on the north side
of the temple.(19)
Did the Roman architects of Baalbek chop and change their minds so
easily? Their next move would appear to suggest as much, for they
decided that, instead of extending the courtyard, they would
continue the existing pre-Roman temple podium behind the western end
of the Temple of Jupiter. This mammoth building project apparently
necessitated the cutting, transporting and positioning of the three
1000-tonne limestone blocks making up the Trilithon.
vary between sixty-three and sixty-five feet in length, while each
one shares the same height of fourteen feet six inches and a depth
of twelve feet.(20) Seeing them strikes a sense of awe unimaginable
to the senses, for as a former Curator of Antiquities at Baalbek,
Michel M. Alouf, aptly put it: ’No description will give an exact
idea of the bewildering and stupefying effect of these tremendous
blocks on the spectator’.(21)
The course beneath the Trilithon is almost as bewildering. It
consists of six mammoth stones thirty to thirty three feet in
length, fourteen feet in height and ten feet in depth,(22) each an
estimated 450 tonnes in weight. This lower course continues on both
the northern and southern faces of the podium wall, with nine
similarly sized blocks incorporated into either side. Below these
are at least three further courses of somewhat smaller blocks of
mostly irregular widths which were apparently exposed when the Arabs
attempted to incorporate the outer podium wall into their
fortifications.(23) Indeed, above and around
the Trilithon is the
remains of an Arab wall that contrasts markedly from the much
greater sized cyclopean stones.
There is no good reason why the Roman architects should have needed
to use such huge blocks, totally unprecedented in engineering
projects of the classical age. Further confounding the picture is
that the outer podium wall was left ’incomplete’. Furthermore, the
even larger 1200-tonne cut and dressed Stone of the Pregnant Woman
lying in the nearby quarry - which measures an incredible sixty-nine
feet by sixteen feet by thirteen feet ten inches(24)
- would imply
that something went wrong, forcing the engineers to abandon
completion of the Great Platform.
Scholars can only gloss over the necessity to use such ridiculously
large sized blocks. Baalbek scholar Friedrich Ragette, in his 1980
work entitled, simply, Baalbek, suggests that such huge stones were
used because ’according to Phoenician tradition, (podiums) had to
consist of no more than three layers of stone’ and since this one
was to be twelve metres high, it meant the use of enormous building
blocks.(25) It is a
solution that rings hollow in my ears. He further adds that stones
of this size and proportion were also employed ’in the interest of
In the interest of appearance? But they don’t even look right - the
Trilithon looks alien in comparison to the rest of the wall.
Ragette points out that the sheer awe inspired by the Trilithon
ensured that Baalbek was remembered by later generations, not for
the grandeur of its magnificent temples, but for its three great
stones which ignorant folk began to believe were built by superhuman
giants of some bygone age.(27)
Was this the real explanation why giants were accredited with the
construction of Baalbek - because naive inhabitants and travellers
could not accept that the Romans had the power to achieve such grand
feats of engineering?
There is no answer to this question until all the evidence has been
presented in respect to the construction of the Great Platform, and
it is in this area that we find some very contradictory evidence
indeed. For example, when the unfinished upper course of the Great
Platform was cleared of loose blocks and rubble, excavators found
carved into its horizontal surface a drawing of the pediment (a
triangular, gable-like piece of architecture present in the Temple
of Jupiter). So exact was this design that it seemed certain the
architects and masons had positioned their blocks using this scale
plan.(28) This meant that
the Great Platform must have existed
before the construction of the temple.
On the other hand, a stone column drum originally intended for the
Temple of Jupiter was apparently found among the foundation rubble
placed beneath the podium wall.(29) This is convincing evidence to
show that the Great Platform was constructed at the same time,
perhaps even later, than the temple.
So the Great Platform turns out to be Roman after all, or does it?
It could be argued that the column drum was used as ballast to
strengthen the foundations of the much earlier podium wall, and
until further knowledge of exactly where this cylindrical block was
found then the matter cannot be resolved either way.
The Big Debate
The next problem is whether or not the Romans possessed the
engineering capability to cut, transport and position 1000-tonne
blocks of this nature. Since the Stone of the Pregnant Woman was
presumably intended to extend the Trilithon, it must be assumed that
the main three stones came from the same quarry, which lies about
one quarter of a mile from the site. Another similar stone quarry
lies some two miles away, but there is no obvious evidence that the
Trilithon stones came from there.
Having established these facts, we must decide on how the Roman
engineers managed to cut and free 1000-tonne stones from the
bed-rock and then move them on a steady incline for a distance of
several hundred yards.
Ragette suggests that the Trilithon stones were first cut from the
bed-rock, using ’metal picks’ and ’some sort of quarrying machine’
that left concentric circular blows up to four metres in radius on
some blocks (surely an enigma in itself).(30) They were then
transported to the site by placing them on sleighs that rested on
cylindrical wooden rollers. As he points out, similar methods of
transportation were successfully employed in Egypt and Mesopotamia,
as is witnessed by various stone reliefs.(31) This is correct, for
there do exist carved images showing the movement of either statues
or stone blocks by means of large pulley crews. These are aided by
groups of helpers who either mark-time or pick up wooden rollers
from the rear end of the train and then place them in the path of
the slow-moving procession.
Two major observations can be made in respect to this solution.
Firstly, this process requires a flat even surface, which if not
present would necessitate the construction of a stone causeway or
ramp from the quarry to the point of final destination (as is
evidenced at Giza in Egypt). Certainly, there is a road that passes
the quarry on the way to the village, but there is still much rugged
terrain between here and the final position of the blocks.
the reliefs depicting the movement of large weights in Egypt and
Assyria show individual pieces that are an estimated 100 tonnes in
weight - one tenth the size of the Trilithon stones. I feel sure
that the movement of 1000-tonne blocks would create insurmountable
difficulties for the suggested pulley and roller system. One French
scholar calculated that to move a 1000-tonne block, no less than
40,000 men would have been required, making logistics virtually
inconceivable on the tiny track up to the village.(32)
The next problem is how the Romans might have manoeuvred the giant
blocks into position. Ragette suggests the ’bury and re-exacavate’
method,(33) where ramps of compacted earth would be constructed on a
slight incline up to the top of the wall - which before the Trilithon was added stood at an estimated twenty-five feet high. The
blocks would then be pulled upwards by pulley gangs on the other
side until they reached the required height; a similar method is
thought to have been employed to erect the horizontal trilithon
stones at Stonehenge, for instance.
Playing devil’s advocate here, I
would ask: how did the pulley gangs manage to bring together these
stones so exactly and how were they able to achieve such precision
movement when the land beyond the podium slopes gently downwards?
Only by creating a raised ramp on the hill-slope itself, and then
placing the pulley gangs on the other side of the wall could an
operation of this kind even be attempted.
And how were the stone blocks lifted from the rollers to allow final
positioning? Ragette proposes the use of scaffoldings, ramps and
windlasses (ie. capstans) like those employed by the Renaissance
architect Domenico Fontana to erect a 327-tonne Egyptian obelisk in
front of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. To achieve this amount of
lift, Fontana used an incredible 40 windlasses, which necessitated a
combined force of 800 men and 140 horses.
Based on an estimated weight of 800 tonnes per stone(34) (even
though he cites each one as 1000-tonnes a piece earlier in the same
book(35)), Ragette proposes that, with a five-tonne
lifting capacity per drilled Lewis hole, each block would have
required 160 attachments to the upper surface. He goes on:
each could be hooked to a pulley of 20 tons capacity which in the
case of six rolls needed an operating power of about 3« tons. The
task therefore consisted of the simultaneous handling of forty
windlasses of 3« tons each. The pulleys were most likely attached to
timber frames bridging across the stone.’(36)
Such ideas are pure speculation. No evidence of any such
transportation has ever come to light at Baalbek, and the surface of
the Trilithon has not revealed any tell-tale signs of drilled Lewis
holes. Admittedly, the Stone of the Pregnant Woman remaining in the
quarry does contain a seemingly random series of round holes in its
upper surface, yet their precise purpose remains a mystery.
As evidence that the Romans possessed the knowledge to lift and
transport extremely heavy weights, Ragette cites the fact that
between AD 60 and 70, ie. the proposed time-frame of construction of
the Jupiter temple, a man named Heron of Alexandria compiled an
important work outlining this very practice, including the use of
levers to raise up and position large stone blocks.(37)
the only surviving example of this treatise is an Arabic translation
made by a native of Baalbek named Costa ibn Luka in around 860
AD.(38) Did it suggest that knowledge of this engineering manual had
been preserved in the town since Roman times, being passed on from
generation to generation until it finally reached the hands of Costa ibn Luka? Of course it is possible, but whether or not it was of any
practical use when it came to the construction of the Trilithon is
quite another matter.
The Archaeologists’ View
No one can rightly say whether or not the Romans really did have the
knowledge and expertise to construct the Great Platform; certainly
some of the Temple of Jupiter’s tall columns of Aswan granite, at
sixty-five feet in height, are among the largest in the world. And
even if we presume that they did have the ability, then this cannot
definitively date the various building phases at Baalbek. For the
moment, it seemed more important to establish whether there existed
any independent evidence to suggest that the Great Platform might
not have been built by the Romans.
Over the past thirty or so years a number of ancient mysteries
writers have seen fit to associate the Great Platform with a much
earlier era of mankind, simply because of the sheer uniqueness of
the Trilithon. They have suggested that the Romans built upon an
existing structure of immense antiquity. Unfortunately, however,
their personal observations cannot be taken as independent evidence
of the Great Platform’s pre-Roman origin.
There is, however, tantalizing evidence to show that some of the
earliest archaeologists and European travellers to visit Baalbek
came away believing that the Great Platform was much older than the
nearby Roman temples. For instance, the French scholar, Louis Flicien de Saulcy, stayed at
Baalbek from 16 to 18 March 1851 and
became convinced that the podium walls were the ’remains of a
Far more significant, however, were the observations of respected
French archaeologist Ernest Renan, who was allowed archaeological
exploration of the site by the French army during the mid nineteenth
century.(40) It is said that when he arrived there it was to satisfy
his own conviction that no pre-Roman remains existed on the
site.(41) Yet following an
in-depth study of the ruins, Renan came to
the conclusion that the stones of the Trilithon were very possibly
’of Phoenician origin’,(42) in other words they were a great deal
older that the Roman temple complex. His reasoning for this
assertion was that, in the words of Ragette, he saw ’no inherent
relation between the Roman temple and this work’.(43)
Archaeologists who have followed in Renan’s footsteps have closed up
this gap of uncertainty, firmly asserting that the outer podium wall
was constructed at the same time as the Temple of Jupiter, despite
the fact that inner podium wall is seen as a pre-Roman construction.
Yet the openness of individuals such as de Saulcy and Renan gives us
reason to doubt the assertions of their modern-day equivalents.
A similar situation prevails in Egyptology, where in the late
nineteenth, early twentieth centuries megalithic structures such the
Valley Temple at Giza and the Osireion at Abydos were initially
ascribed very early dates of construction by archaeologists before
later being cited as contemporary to more modern structures placed
in their general proximity. As has now become clear from recent
the age of the Great Sphinx, there was every reason to
have ascribed these cyclopean structures much earlier dates of
So what was it that so convinced early archaeologists and travellers
that the Trilithon was much older than the rest of the temple
The evidence is self apparent and runs as follows:
a) One has only to look at the positioning of the Trilithon and the
various courses of large stone blocks immediately beneath it to
realize that they bear very little relationship to the rest of the
Temple of Jupiter. Moreover, the visible courses of smaller blocks
above and to the right of the Trilithon are markedly different in
shape and appearance to the smaller, more regular sized courses in
the rest of the obviously Roman structure.
b) The limestone courses that make up the outer podium base - which,
of course, includes the Trilithon - are heavily pitted by wind and
sand erosion, while the rest of the Temple of Jupiter still
possesses comparatively smooth surfaces. The same type of wind and
sand erosion can be seen on the huge limestone blocks used in many
of the megalithic temple complexes around the northern Mediterranean
coast, as well as the cyclopean walls of Mycenean Greece. Since all
these structures are between 3000 and 6000 years of age, it could be
argued that the lower courses of the outer podium wall at Baalbek
antedate the Roman temple complex by at least a thousand years.
c) Other classical temple complexes have been built upon much
earlier megalithic structures. This includes the Acropolis in Athens
(erected 447-406 BC), where archaeologists have unearthed cyclopean
walls dating to the Mycenean or Late Bronze Age period (1600-1100
BC). Similar huge stone walls appear at Delphi, Tiryns and
d) The Phoenicians are known to have employed the use of cyclopean
masonry in the construction of their citadels. For instance, an
early twentieth-century drawing of the last-remaining prehistoric
wall at Aradus, an ancient city on the Syrian coast, shows the use
of cyclopean blocks estimated to have been between thirty and forty
tonnes a piece.
These are important points in favour of the
Great Platform, as in
the case of the inner podium, being of much greater antiquity than
the Roman, or even the Ptolemaic, temple complex. Yet if we were to
accept this possibility, then we must also ask ourselves: who
constructed it, and why?
The First Phoenicians
Only one account of Lebanon’s mythical origins has been left to
posterity, and this is the work of Sanchoniatho, a Phoenician
historian born either in Berytus (Beirut) or Tyre on the Lebanese
coast just before the Trojan war, c. 1200 BC. He wrote in his native
language, taking his information mostly from city archives and
temple records. In all he compiled nine books, which were translated
into Greek by Philo, a native of Byblos on the Levant coast, who
lived during the reign of the emperor Hadrian (reigned AD 117-138).
Fragments of his translation were fortunately preserved by an early
Christian writer named Eusebius (AD 264-340).(44) Some scholars look
upon Sanchoniatho’s writings as spurious, but others see them as
preserving archaic myths of the earliest Phoenicians.
In his long discourse on the cosmogony of the world and the history
of the earliest inhabitants of Lebanon, Sanchoniatho cites Byblos as
Lebanon’s first city.(45) It was founded, he says, by the
(or Saturn), the son of Ouranus (Uranus or Coelus, who gave his name
to Coele-Syria, ie. Syria), and grandson of Elioun (Canaanite
and his wife Beruth (who gave her name to the city-port of Berytus
Sanchoniatho goes on to say that the demi-gods of Byblos possessed
’light and other more complete ships’, implying they were a
sea-faring nation. He also states that chief among these people was
’who invented the writing of the first letters: him the
Egyptians called Thoor, the Alexandrians Thoyth, and the Greeks
Hermes.’(46) He was Cronus’
’secretary’, from whom the god gained
advice and assistance on all matters.
A confusing sequence of events are described for this period, during
which time Cronus is constantly at war with his father Ouranus.
There are also marriages, inter-marriages and incestuous
relationships which produce a multitude of characters, many of whom
act as symbols for the expansion of this mythical culture around the
Levant and into Asia Minor (modern Turkey). For instance, there is
Sidon, the daughter of Pontus, who ’by the excellence of her singing
first invented the hymns of odes or praises’.(47) Like Byblos, Sidon
was a Phoenician city-port on the Lebanese coast, while Pontus was
an ancient kingdom situated on the Black Sea in what is today
Finally, it is said that having visited ’the country of the south’
’gave all Egypt to the god Taautus, that it might be his
kingdom’,(48) implying that he was its founder.
Sanchoniatho tells us that knowledge of the age of the demi-gods of
Byblos was handed down for generation after generation until it was
given into the safe-keeping of ’the son of Thabion ... the first
Hierophant of all among the Phoenicians’.(49) He in turn delivered
them up to the priests and prophets until they came into the
possession of one Isiris, ’the inventor of the three letters, the
brother of Chna who is called the first Phoenician.’(50)
There is much more in Sanchoniatho’s mythical history, but the basic
message is that a high culture with sea-faring capabilities
established itself at Byblos before gradually expanding into other
parts of the eastern Mediterranean. More curious is his assertion
that the god Taautus, the Phoenician form of the Egyptian Thoth or
Tehuti and the Greek Hermes, was some kind of founder of the
Egyptian Pharaonic culture which began c. 3100 BC.
Was Sanchoniatho’s work simply fable, based on the Phoenicians’ own
maritime achievements, or might it contain clues concerning an
actual high culture that existed in the Levant during prehistoric
Journey to Byblos
Certainly, the implied link between Egypt and Byblos is real enough.
In the legend of Osiris and Isis, as recorded by the Greek
biographer Plutarch (AD 50-120), the evil god Set tricks Osiris into
a wooden coffin which is sealed before being set adrift on the sea.
It is carried by the waves until it finally reaches Byblos, where it
comes to rest in the midst of a tamarisk bush, which immediately
grows to become a magnificent tree of great size. Inside it the
coffin containing the body of Osiris remains encased.
The king of
that country, on seeing the great tree, has it cut down and made
into ’a pillar for the roof of his house’.(51)
Isis learns of what
has happened to her husband and is able to attain entry into the
palace as a handmaiden to one of the king’s sons. Each night she
takes on the form of a swallow to fly around the pillar. After a
fashion she convinces the queen to give her the pillar, which is
then opened to reveal the body of Osiris.(52)
Byblos is the clear name used in
Plutarch’s account, but for some
reason noted Egyptologists such as Sir E. A. Wallis-Budge have seen
fit to identify this place-name with a location named Byblos in the
Nile Delta, even though Plutarch himself adds that wood from the
pillar, which was afterwards restored by Isis and given to the
queen, ’is, to this day, preserved in the temple of Isis, and
worshipped by the people of Byblos’.(53) In my opinion, setting this
story in the Nile Delta makes no sense whatever, especially as the
coffin was said to have been ’carried (to Byblos) by the sea’.(54)
Lucian, the celebrated Greek writer (AD 120-200), spoke of the
Isis-Osiris legend and connected it specifically with Byblos in
Lebanon, adding that ’I will tell you why this story seems credible.
Every year a human head floats from Egypt to Byblos’. This ’head’
apparently took seven days to reach its destination. It never went
off course and came via a ’direct route’ to Byblos. Lucian claimed
that this once yearly event actually happened when he himself was in Byblos, for as he records ’I myself saw the head in this city’.(55)
What exactly Lucian witnessed, and what was really behind this head
tradition is utterly unfathomable, particularly as Lucian states
that the head he saw was made of ’Egyptian papyrus’.(56) In
Christian times a St Kyrillos also apparently witnessed the event,
but said that ’what was borne towards him by the wind looked like a
small boat’.(57) All that can be said with any certainty is that
this peculiar tradition appeared to preserve some kind age-old
twinning between Egypt and Byblos, perhaps during the mythical age
of the gods, the Zep Tepi, or First Time. As has been ably
demonstrated by recent works from Hancock, Bauval et al, this
believed mythical age, when gods ruled the earth, appears to have
been an actual stage of human development pre-dating Pharaonic Egypt
by many thousands of years.(58)
Yet how might this new-found knowledge of the relationship between
Egypt and Byblos relate to Baalbek?
Firstly there appears to have been a strong link between Isis-Osiris
legend and the mountains north-west of Baalbek. It was said that
Isis took ’refuge’ (presumably at the point in the story when the
king and queen of Byblos discover she is daily incinerating their
child on a blazing fire!) in the lake of Apheca, the ancient name
for Lake Yammouneh some 32km distance from Baalbek, ’and thus lived
in Lebanon’, or so recorded the Baalbek archaeologist and historian
Michel M. Alouf.(59))
The more obvious answer, however, appears to be an apparent twinning
that existed between Heliopolis in Egypt and Heliopolis in Lebanon.
The fifth-century Latin grammarian Macrobius wrote specifically on
this subject in his curious work entitled Saturnalia. He stated that
a ’statue’ was carried ritually from Heliopolis in Egypt to its
Lebanese name-sake by Egyptian priests. He adds that after its
arrival it was worshipped with Assyrian rather than Egyptian rites.(60)
Some authors have suggested that this statue was that of the
Egyptian sun-god, presumably Re, while others say it was a
representation of Osiris.(61) In addition to this statue story,
there was also a strong tradition, recounted by Macrobius and
others, that the Egyptian priests actually erected a temple at
Baalbek dedicated to the worship of the sun.(62) If so, then what
special place did this ancient location, sacred to Baal, hold to the Heliopolitan priesthood in Egypt? Might this transmission of
religious ideals from Egypt to Baalbek have been connected in some
way to the once yearly arrival of an Egyptian ’head’ at Byblos, and
to Osiris’ fateful journey inside a sealed coffin?
Titans and Elohim
Aside from the suggested link with the Egyptian culture, the
writings of Sanchoniatho throw further light on this apparent
pre-Phoenician culture existing in the Levant during prehistoric
times. He says that the ’auxiliaries’ or ’allies’ of Cronus,
presumably in battle, were the ’Eloeim’ a misspelling of the term
Elohim, the sons of whom (the bene ha-elohim) were said to have been
a divine race that came unto the Daughters of Man who subsequently
gave birth to giant offspring known as
the Nephilim, or so records
to the Book of Genesis and various uncanonical works of Judaic
Elsewhere I have put forward the hypothesis that the Sons of the Elohim - who are equated with the
angelic race known as
in the apocryphal
Book of Enoch, as well as in recently translated
Dead Sea literature - were a race of human beings. Evidence
indicates they established a colony in the mountains of Kurdistan in
south-east Turkey sometime after the cessation of the last Ice Age,
before going on to influence the rise of western civilization. Their
progeny, the Nephilim, were half-mortal, half-Watcher, and there is
tentative evidence in the writings of Sumer and Akkad to suggest
that the accounts of great battles being fought between mythical
kings and demons dressed as bird-men might well preserve the
distorted memories of actual conflicts between mortal armies and
Might Cronus - who or whatever he represents - have employed the
services of the bene ha-elohim in the wars against his father,
Ouranus? In Greek mythology the Nephilim are equated directly with
the Titans and gigantes, or ’giants’, who waged war on the gods of
Olympus and, like Cronus, were the offspring of Ouranus. In many
ancient writings preserved during the early Christian era, stories
concerning the Nephilim, or gibborim, ’mighty men’, of biblical
tradition are confused with the legends surrounding the Titans and gigantes.
All blend together as one, and not perhaps without reason. The
giants and Titans are said to have helped Nimrod, the ’mighty
hunter’ construct the fabled Tower of Babel which reached towards
heaven. On its destruction by God, legends speak of how the giant
races were dispersed across the bible lands.(65)
According to an Arabic manuscript found at Baalbek and quoted by
Alouf in his informative History of Baalbek,
’after the flood, when
Nimrod reigned over Lebanon, he sent giants to rebuild the fortress
of Baalbek, which was so named in honour of Baal, the god of the
Moabites and worshippers of the Sun.’(66)
Local tradition even
asserts that the Tower of Babel was actually located at Baalbek.(67)
The involvement of Nimrod in this legend is almost certainly a
misnomer, born out of the belief that only super-humans of myth and
fable could ever have built such gigantic stature, in the same way
that either named giants or mythical figures, such as Arthur, Merlin
or the devil are accredited with the construction or presence of
prehistoric monuments in Britain. Moreover, stories of giants exist
right across Asia Minor and the Middle East, and these are often
cited to explain the presence of either cyclopean ruins (such as the
Greek city of Mycenae, the cyclopean walls of which were said to
have been built by the one-eyed cyclops - hence the term ’cyclopean’
masonry) or gigantic natural and man-made features.
On the other hand, the alleged connection between giants, Titans and Baalbek is quite another matter. It is feasible that, if
Watchers and Nephilim (and therefore the
Titans and gigantes) are to
be seen as a lost race of human beings, any presumed pre-Phoenician
culture in Lebanon could not have failed to have encountered their
presence in the Near East. If so, were alliances forged with them,
wars fought alongside them?
Might the ancient skills and brute strength of these human races of
great stature have been employed in grand engineering projects such
as the construction of the Great Platform? Remember, the Titans were
said to have been born of the same loins as Cronus, and in alliance
with their half-brother, they waged war against their father
Ouranus. Yet family alliances of this type can go wrong, for
according to the various ancient writers on this subject,(68) after
the fall of the Tower of Babel and the dispersion of the tribes, a
war broke out between Cronus and his brother Titan.
Christian writer named Lactantius (AD 250-325) records that
with the help of the rest of the Titans, imprisoned Cronus and held
him safe until his son Jupiter (or Zeus) was old enough to take the
throne. Does this imply that the Titans deposed Cronus and took
control of the Byblos culture until the coming of Zeus, or Jupiter?
What influence might this forgotten race have brought to bear on the
development of Lebanon’s pre-Phoenician culture? More importantly,
when might any of this have taken place?
Far off in Hell
According to classical mythology, the Titans were eventually
defeated by Jupiter and his fellow Olympian gods and goddesses. As
punishment, they were banished to Tartarus, a mythical region of
hell enclosed by a brazen wall and shrouded perpetually by a cloud
The gigantes, too, were linked with this terrible
place, for they are cited by the first-century Roman writer Caius
Julius Hyginus (fl. c. 40 BC) as having been the ’sons of Tartarus
and Terra (ie the earth)’.(69)
Although Tartarus has always been seen as a purely mythical
location, there is reason to link it with a Phoenician city-port and
kingdom known as Tartessus (Tarshish in the Bible) that thrived in
the Spanish province of Andalucia during ancient times.
The evidence is this - Gyges, or Gyes, was a son or Coelus (ie.
Ouranus) and a brother of Cronus; he was also seen both as a gigante
and a Titan (demonstrating how they were originally one and the same
race).(70) He seems to have been one of the main figures in the
later wars between his titanic brothers and the Olympian gods under
the command of Zeus, and may simply have been Titan under another
Classical writers such as Ovid (43 BC - AD 18) wrote that Gyges was
punished by being banished to the prison of Tartarus. Yet an account
of this same story given by a Chaldean writer named Thallus, states
that instead of being banished to Tartarus, Gyges was ’smitten, and
fled to Tartessus’.(71) If this is a genuinely separate rendition of
the same story then it means that Tartarus was another name for
As a sea-port Tartessus it is believed to have been situated on a
delta of the Guadalquivir River, even though no trace of it remains
today. It is also synonymous with another ancient sea-port known as
Gades, modern Cadiz. E. M. Whishaw in her important 1930 work
Atlantis in Andalucia uses excavated evidence of neolithic and
possibly even palaeolithic sea-ports, sea-walls, cyclopean ruins and
hydraulic works around the towns of Niebla and Huelva on the
Andalucian coast to demonstrate the reality not only of Tartessus’s
lost kingdom, but also of its links to Plato’s story of Atlantis.
A Sea-faring Nation
Knowledge of the apparent links between Tartessus, the
gigantes/Titans and the mythical Byblos culture is compelling
evidence of an as yet unknown sea-faring nation in the Mediterranean
area sometime between 7000-3000 BC, the latter half of this period
being the time-frame when many of the megalithic complexes began
appearing in places such as Malta and Sardinia. Charles Hapgood in
his 1979 book
Maps of the Ancient Sea Kings concluded that the
various composite portolans, such as the
Piri Reis map of 1513, show
areas of the globe, including the Mediterranean Sea, as they
appeared at least 6000 years ago.
He therefore concluded that those
who had originally drawn these maps must have belonged to ’one
culture’, who possessed maritime connections all over the globe and
flourished during this distant age.(72) Was he referring here to the
mythical Byblos culture? Might it have been responsible for passing
on these ancient maps to civilizations such as Egypt, c.3100 BC, and
Phoenicia, c. 2500 BC?
The early dynastic boat burials uncovered at Giza and Abydos have
revealed sea-going vessels with high prows that were never intended
to be sailed on the Nile; this is despite the fact that Egypt had no
obvious maritime tradition during this early stage in its
development. Where did this knowledge come from? Was it from the
remnants of an earlier culture, such as the one spoken of by
Sanchoniatho as having existed on the Levant coast in mythical
times? Might this sea-faring connection help explain why the wooden
coffin containing the body of Osiris was carried by the sea to
Byblos, and why the priests of Heliopolis in Egypt took such an
interest in Baalbek during Ptolemaic times?
It is a subject that requires much further research before any
definite conclusions can be drawn, but the apparent advanced
capabilities of the proposed Byblos culture allows us to perceive
the antiquity of Baalbek’s Great Platform in a new light. Did the
legends suggesting that it was constructed by super-human giants
during the age of Nimrod preserve some kind of bastardized memory of
its foundation by the Byblos culture under Ouranus, Cronus or his
brothers, the Titans? If so, then who were these mythical
individuals and what ancient engineering skills might their culture
have employed in the construction of cyclopean structures such as
the Great Platform?
Stones that Moved
In surviving folklore from both Egypt and Palestine there are
tantalizing accounts of how sound, used in association with ’magic
words’, was able to lift and move large stone blocks and statues, or
open huge stone doors. I was therefore excited to discover that,
according to Sanchoniatho, Ouranus was supposed to have ’devised Baetulia, contriving stones that moved as having life’.(73)
’contriving’ the nineteenth-century English translator of Philo’s
original Greek text seems to have meant ’designing’, ’devising’ or ’inventing’, implying that
Ouranus had made stones to move as if
they had life of their own.
Was this a veiled reference to some kind
of sonic technology utilized by the proposed Byblos culture? Could
this knowledge help explain the methods behind the cutting,
transportation and positioning of the 1000-tonne blocks used in Baalbek’s Great Platform? It is certainly a very real possibility.
If we accept for a moment that Baalbek’s Great Platform, and perhaps
even the inner podium that supports the Temple of Jupiter, might
well possess a much greater antiquity than has previously been
imagined, then what purpose might the Baalbek structure have served?
Zecharia Sitchin in his 1980 book
The Stairway to Heaven proposes
that the Great Platform was a landing site and launch pad for
extra-terrestrial vehicles. Perhaps he is right, but in my opinion
its high elevation hints at the fact that it once served as some
kind of platform for the observation of celestial and stellar
events. It is a subject I am currently investigating for a future
And just how old is Baalbek?
The French archaeologist Michel Alouf apparently learnt from the
Maronite Patriarch of the Baalbek region, a man named Estfan
’... the fortress of Baalbek on Mt. Lebanon is the
most ancient building in the world. Cain, the son of Adam, built it
in the year 133 of the creation, during a fit of raving
Unfortunately this tells us very little about the
site’s real age. Yet if we can accept the existence of a
pre-Phoenician culture that not only employed the use of cyclopean
masonry in its building construction, but also possessed sea-going
vessels and flourished in the Mediterranean somewhere between 7000
BC and 3000 BC, then it opens the door to the possibility that Baalbek’s
’fortress’ may also date to this early phase of human
Yet the question remains as to why this pre-Phoenician, sea-going
nation should have wished to construct an almighty edifice on an
elevated plain between two enormous mountain ranges. What was the
reasoning behind this decision? The site undoubtedly possessed a
very ancient sanctity; however, the architects may well have had
more pressing reasons for placing it where they did. All the
indications are that Sanchoniatho’s Byblos culture eventually
experienced a period of fierce wars that waged between Cronus, or
Saturn, and his titanic brothers under the leadership of Titan or Gyges, and then finally between Cronus’ son Jupiter and the rest of
the Olympian deities. In a strange way the fraternal conflict
between Cronus and his brothers parallels the biblical struggle
between Cain and Abel, suggesting that the link between Cain and
Baalbek might well have some symbolic significance to the site’s
Is it possible that Baalbek’s first ’city’ was constructed, not just
as a religious centre, but also as an impenetrable fortress against
attacks by whatever we see as constituting the gigantes and Titans
of mythology? If the Great Platform, and perhaps even the inner
podium, really does date to this early period, then might the
fortress theory explain why its architects used such gigantic stones
in its construction? Were they incorporated into the design through
a combination of technological capability and sheer necessity, not
through ’the interest of appearance’ or some ancient wall-building
tradition upheld by the neo-Phoenicians of the Roman era?
may even provide some kind of explanation as to why the mother of
all stone blocks, the Stone of the Pregnant Woman, was left cut and
ready for transportation in a nearby quarry. Did the whole building
project have to be abandoned because the site was over-run, or at
least seriously threatened, by invading forces? Scholars have always
accredited the Romans with having built the Great Platform, with its
stupendous Trilithon stones, simply because they could not conceive
of an earlier culture possessing the technological skills needed to
have transported and positioned such enormous weights.
Sphinx-building culture of Egypt is evidence that such technological
skills may well have been available as early as 10,500 BC, while our
current knowledge of the Baalbek platform gives us firm grounds to
push back its accepted construction date by at least a thousand
Even if the dates suggested for Sanchoniatho’s Byblos
open to question, I believe the sacred fortress hypothesis brings us
a lot closer to unlocking the mysteries of Baalbek. Both visually
and in legend its ruins bear the mark of the Titans, and
understanding the site’s true place in history can only help us to
discover the reality of this lost cyclopean age of mankind.
Ragette, Baalbek, p. 33.
2. Ibid., p. 114.
3. Alouf, M. M., History of Baalbek, p. 98.
4. Ibid., p. 39, quoting a story told by Estfan Doweihi, a Maronite
5. Ibid., p. 41, quoting an Arab manuscript actually found at
6. Ragette, p. 16.
7. Ibid., p. 27, cf. Kalayan, 1969.
8. Ibid., p. 16.
9. Ibid., p. 16, quoting Josephus.
10. Ibid., p. 17.
11. Alouf, p. 50.
12. Ibid. pp. 42-4.
13. Ragette, p. 19.
14. See Ibid., p. 20 & accompanying pl. on f/p.
15. Ibid., p. 30.
16. Ibid., p. 27.
17. Ibid., p. 30.
18. Ibid., p. 31, cf. Kalayan, 1969.
19. Ibid., pp. 31-2.
20. Alouf, p. 98. The sizes of the blocks from right to left are
given as 65 feet, 64 feet 10 inches and 63 feet 2 inches.
21. Ibid., p. 98
22. Ibid., p. 99
24. Ibid., p. 106.
25. Ragette, p. 33.
28. Ibid., pp. 33-4.
29. Ibid., pp. 34.
30. Ibid., p. 115
31. Ibid., p. 115.
32. Alouf, p. 106, quoting Louis Flicien de Saulcy.
33. Ibid., p. 115.
34. Ibid., p. 115.
35. Ibid., p. 33.
36. Ibid., p. 119.
37. Ibid., p. 116.
39. Ibid., p. 94.
40. See Renan, 1864.
41. Ragette, p. 94.
42. Ibid., p. 94.
44. Cory, p. viii.
45. Sanchoniatho, quoted by Cory., p. 9.
46. Ibid., p. 7.
47. Ibid., p. 11.
48. Ibid., p. 14.
49. Ibid., p. 14.
51. Budge, The Egyptian Book of the Dead, p. l.
53. Ibid., p. l, n 3.
54. Ibid., p. l.
55. Herm, The Phoenicians, p. 114
58. See Hancock,
Fingerprints of the Gods, 1995; Bauval & Hancock,
Keeper of Genesis, 1996; Collins, From the Ashes of Angels, 1996.
59. Alouf, p. 32
60. Ibid., p. 47-8, cf. Macrobius, Saturnalia, L.I.C. 23.
61. Ibid., p. 47, cf. Volney, Voyage en Syrie, p. 228.
62. Ibid., cf. De De ’ Syriae & Macrobius, L.I.C. 23.
63. See, for instance, Gen. 6:1-2,4.
64. See the author’s From the Ashes of Angels, Ch. 16.
65. See, for instance, the works of Berossus, Eupolemus, Alexander
Polyhistor and the Sibylline Oracles, as quoted by Cory.
66. Alouf, p. 41.
67. Ibid., quoting a traveller named d’Arvieux’ from his M moires,
Part IIe, Ch. 26, c. 1660.
68. See, for instance, Berossus, Alexander Polyhistor and the
Sibylline Oracles quoted by Cory.
69. Lempriere, Classical
Dictionary, c.v. ’Gigantes’, p. 249.
70. Ibid. & Eupolemus, quoted in Cory, p. 53.
71. Thallus, quoted by Cory, p. 53
72. Hapgood, Maps of the Ancient Sea Kings, p. 221.
73. Sanchoniatho, quoted in Cory, p. 10.
74. Alouf, p. 39.
75. Indeed, local tradition asserts that the region around
was the stamping ground of Genesis characters such as Adam and his
sons Abel, Cain and Seth. See Ibid., p. 39. The reality of such
myths is quite another matter, especially as equally strong
traditions associate the pre-Flood events of the Book of Genesis
with Turkish and Iraqi Kurdistan.
Alouf, Michel M., History of Baalbek, 1890, American Press, Beirut,
Bauval, R, & G. Hancock, Keeper of Genesis, Wm Heinemann, London,
Budge, E. A. Wallis,
The Egyptian Book of the Dead, 1895, Dover
Publications, NY, 1967
Collins, A., From the Ashes of Angels, Michael Joseph, London, 1996
Cory, I. C., Ancient Fragments, 1832, Wizards Bookshelf,
Fingerprints of the Gods, Wm Heinemann, London, 1995
Herm, Gerhard, The Phoenicians, 1973, Futura, London, 1975
Kalayan, H., ’Notes on the Heritage of Baalbek and the Beqa’a’ in
Cultural Resources in Lebanon, Beirut, 1969
Lempriere, J., A Classical Dictionary, Geo. Routledge, London, 1919
Ragette. F., Baalbek, Chatto & Windus, London, 1980
Renan, E., Mission de Phonicie, Paris, 1864
Whishaw, E. M., Atlantis in Andalucia, Rider, London, 1930