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HELIO´POLIS SYRIAE

HELIO´POLIS SYRIAE (Ἡλιούπολις, Strab. xvi. p.753; Ptol. 5.15.22; Steph. B. sub voce Malala, Chronic. xi. p. 119; Chron. Paschale, i. p. 513; Solis Oppidum, Plin. Nat. 5.18), the modern Baalbec, was a city of Coele-Syria, situated about lat. 34° 1′ 30″ N. and long. 36° 11′ E. (Rennell, Compar. Geogr. of Western Asia, vol. i. p. 75.) Baalbec, which in the Syrian language means City of the Sun, was probably the original appellation of this celebrated place. Its Hellenic equivalent--Heliopolis--was imposed by the Seleucid sovereigns of Syria, and continued by the Romans. After the conquest of Syria by the Arabs in the seventh century A.D. the city regained its Semitic, or at least its Aramean name. (See Ammian. Marcell. 14.8.) Heliopolis was seated upon a gentle elevation at the NE. extremity of the plain of Bokah or Bekah, which stretches from the western slope of Anti-Libanus nearly to the shores of the Mediterranean. Three rivers--the Litanè, the Bardouni, and the Asè (Orontes?)--flow through this plain, which in the spring season is also watered by numerous rills formed by the melting of the snows of Antilibanus. Heliopolis itself is supplied with water from a fountain close to the NE. angle of its walls,--Ras-el-Ain, or the Spring Head. The whole region of Bokah was in ancient times one of singular fertility, and: even now, under Mohammedan oppression, is remarkable for the number and beauty of its orchards.

At what epoch or by whom Heliopolis was founded is unknown. According to Macrobius (Saturn. 1.23), it was a priest-colony from Egypt, or rather from Assyria. The sun, the Osiris of the Egyptians, was in all ages the principal object of worship there: the Greeks, however, indifferently attributed its temple to Zeus and Apollo. As a sacerdotal city Heliopolis may have found room for a plurality of deities. Atergaté or Astarté, the Syrian Aphrodite, had certainly a temple there.

The city, however, was probably indebted for its greatness to the advantages it afforded as an emporium of the trade between Tyre, Palmyra, and Western India. It was 18 1/2 1 geographical miles from Palmyra, and 11 1/2 from Tyre. (Rennell, l.c.) It was made a Roman colonia by Julius Caesar, and veterans from the. 5th and 8th Legions, were established [p. 1.1037]there by Augustus, on the coins of whose reign it is entitled “COL. JULIA AUGUSTA FELIX HELIOPOLIS.” In the second century A.D. its oracle was in such repute that it was consulted by the emperor Trajan previous to his second campaign with Parthia. The emperor at first tested the science of the oracle by sending a blank sheet of paper inclosed in a, sealed envelope (diploma); and on receiving a similar blank reply, he conceived a high opinion of the prescience of the god, and again consulted him in earnest. The second time the response was symbolically conveyed by the dead twigs of an ancient vine wrapped in a cloth. The interpretation was found in the decease of Trajan, and in the transmission of his bones or remains to Rome in a coffin. From John Malala (Chronicon, l.c.) we learn that Antoninus Pius built, or more probably repaired and enlarged, the great temple of Zeus, which became a wonder of the world then, and of many generations of travellers afterwards (e. g. Maundrell, Pococke, Volney, Duke of. Ragusa, &c.). From Septimius Severus Heliopolis received the Jus Italicum (Ulpian, de Censibus, 9), and its temple appears for the first time upon the reverse of the coins of that reign (Akerman, Rom. Coins, vol. i. p. 339). The moneyers of Julia Domna and Caracalla inscribe the legend Heliopolis upon their coins, and vows in honour of that emperor and his mother are still partially legible on the pedestals of the portico of the great temple. Its name occurs also on the money of Philip the Arabian, and of his wife Otacilia. The great temple contained, according to Macrobius, a golden statue of Apollo or Zeus, represented as a beardless youth, in the garb of a charioteer, holding in his right hand a scourge, and in his left thunderbolts and ears of corn. On certain annual festivals this statue was borne on the shoulders of the principal citizens of Heliopolis, who prepared themselves for such solemnities by a species of Nazarene discipline, by shaving the head, and by vows of abstinence and chastity. Macrobius compares these ceremonies with the rites practised in the worship of Diva Fortuna at Antium. At Heliopolis also were reverenced the Baetylia, or black conical stones sacred to the sun, one of which was brought to Rome by the emperor Elagabalus, and placed in a temple erected upon the Palatine Mount. (Comp. Damascius, ap. Phot. Biblioth. p. 342, B., ed. Bekker; and Gibbon, vol. i. ch. 6.)

Heliopolis is mentioned by the church historians Sozomen (Hist. Eccles. 10) and Theodoret (Hist. Eccles. 3.7, 4.22), but little is known of its fortunes under the Byzantine emperors, beyond the names of some Heliopolitan martyrs and bishops. Abulpharagius indeed (Hist. Compend. Dynast. p. 75) says that Constantine I. erected a church at Heliopolis, and abolished a custom which had obtained there of plurality of wives. According to the Chronicon Pasehale (cclxxxix. p. 303, ed. Bonn), the emperor Theodosius converted the Temple of the Sun into a Christian church, at the same time that he proscribed Paganism, and destroyed the inferior chapels and shrines of the city. Under the Caliphs of the Ommiad House, Baalbec gradually declined, although its natural and commercial advantages long retained their influence. (D'Herbelot, Bibliothèque Orient. s. v. Baalbec.) Whatever may have been its origin, or the circumstances which favoured its growth, there is no doubt that Heliopolis was for many centuries the most conspicuous city in the region. of Libanus, and second to Damascus and Antioch alone in the whole kingdom or province of Syria, whether under Greek or Roman sovereigns.

The walls of Heliopolis, so far as they have been traced, occupy a space of somewhat less than four miles in compass. But this circuit will hardly afford an accurate measure of the population or greatness Heliopolis. For it is probable that the greater portion of it was occupied by public edifices and gardens alone, and that the private dwellings of the city were either extemporary, or made of very light and perishable materials. Such at least was the case with many of the great Eastern emporia. At certain seasons of the year, when the caravans passed through on their route to the East, or on their return, the cities resembled a great fair, and were filled with streets and squares of booths, which were taken down as soon as the caravans moved onward. The religious structures alone were permanent, and around them were grouped the Fora, the Basilicae, and the corridors, in which, under the sultry sun of Syria, the business of the fair was carried on. The population of Heliopolis, therefore, may have varied much at different seasons of the year. In the autumn it would be filled with merchants making up their cargoes for the Eastern markets: in the spring it would again overflow with purchasers of Indian wares; in the winter and summer seasons this city was probably little more than a colony of priests with their numerous assistants in the temple-worship.

The ruins of Heliopolis favour this supposition. They consist of the great Temple; of a smaller temple, or perhaps a Basilica; and of a circular temple of singular form and style. On the highest elevation within the walls, and in the SW. portion of the city, stood a column which may possibly have served for a clepsydra or water-dial.

The great Temple consisted, so far as we can ascertain, of the Propylaea or portico; of an Hexagonal court or Forum; of an inner quadrangular court; and finally of the Shrine of the Sun itself. The courts were probably the exchange of Heliopolis: the Propylaea was its custom-house, and so to speak its wharf, where the caravans received their ladings.

No ruins of antiquity have attracted more attention than those of Heliopolis, or been more frequently or accurately measured and described. They were visited by Thevet in 1550; by Pococke in 1739--40; by Maundrell in 1745; by Wood and Dawkins in 1751; by Volney in 1785; and by many subsequent travellers, including the Duke of Ragusa, in 1834. That more recently they have attracted less notice is owing to the more important discoveries of much higher antiquity on the banks of the Nile and the Tigris. Heliopolis, indeed, so far as it has been known to modern travellers, is a Roman city, of the second century A.D. The Corinthian order of architecture--the favourite order with the Romans--prevails, with few exceptions, in its edifices. A Doric column, the supposed clepsydra, is, indeed, mentioned by Wood and Dawkins; and the Ionic style is found in the interior of the circular temple. For the particular descriptions, measurement, and plans of the structures of Heliopolis, we must refer to the works already cited, as without diagrams they would be unintelligible. The walls of Heliopolis, however, require and deserve a short notice.

As they at present exist they cannot have been the original walls of the city; and would seem to have been constructed in haste under the pressure of some danger, and, like the long-walls between Athens and its havens, to have been built of the [p. 1.1038]first materials that came to hand. They are from ten to twelve feet in height, with large square towers at certain intervals. The gate on the north side alone exhibits any beauty or magnificence, or indeed any remote antiquity. The other entrances to the city are as rude as the general texture of the walls. The latter are, indeed, a rough congeries of shapeless stones, mingled with broken columns, capitals, and reversed Greek inscriptions. One feature in Heliopolitan masonry is remarkable--the enormous bulk of some of the stones employed in the construction of the temples. Twenty of these stones have especially attracted the wonder of travellers. (See Pococke, Wood and Dawkins, &c.) They are from 24 to 37 feet in length and 9 feet thick, and these form the second layer of the basement of the great Temple. At the NW. angle of this building, and about 20 feet from the ground, there are three stones which alone occupy 182 feet 9 inches in length, and these are about 12 feet thick: two are 60 feet, and a third 62 feet 9 inches, in length. The Arabs, with some pretext for their belief, point to them as the work of the Jin.

The materials from which the structures of Heliopolis were built were obtained from the hills close at hand. They consist principally of white granite. The more ornamental portions of the buildings were carved out of a coarse white marble obtained from more distant quarries westward of the city. The buildings of Heliopolis have suffered greatly from violence. They have served as a stone-quarry to the Turks; and as the columns of the temples were cramped together with iron, the Pashas of Damascus have overthrown many of these pillars merely for the sake of the metallic axles contained in them. The progress of this devastation may in some measure be traced in the accounts of the travellers who at different periods have visited Heliopolis. Thus, in 1550, Thevet (Cosmrogratphie Universelle, 54.6. ch. 14) saw 27 columns in the great Temple. Pococke, Wood, &c. mention only nine; and, in 1785, Volney says that only six were standing. The Turks have also contributed to the work of ruin by converting the temples of Heliopolis into Mohammedan buildings. In 1745, they had turned the Propylaea into a fortress called, according to Maundrell, “The Castle;” and on the road to Damascus there is a Mohammedan sepulchre of octagonal form, supported by granite columns, brought apparently from the great Temple. The circular temple, mentioned above, is now a Greek church called St. Barbe.

Volney (Voyage en Syrie, vol. ii. p. 215) describes the fine groves of walnut trees which screen the approaches to Heliopolis from the west. But although the soil of the plain of Bokah would undoubtedly well repay cultivation, a little cotton and maize, with a few leguminous plants, are all its produce under its Mohammedan governors. The population also has rapidly declined within a century. In 1751 the number of inhabitants amounted to about 5000; in 1785 Volney estimates them at about 1200; and in 1834 they had been still further reduced. An earthquake in 1759, an oppressive government, the absence of all trade and manufactures, and frequent wars between the Turks and the mountain tribes of the region of Libanus, have each in turn contributed to the decay of the City of the Sun. (Volney, Voyage en Syrie et Egypte, tom. ii. pp. 215--230; Maundrell, Journey from Aleppo to Jerusalem, pp. 134, 139; Pococke, Description of the East, vol. ii. pp. 106--113.)

[W.B.D]

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    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 5.18
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