Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Symbol of Lebanon in the Ancient World

Lebanese Flag
Lebanon is a country located in the Middle East. It is surrounded by Syria to the north and east; by Israel to the south; and the vast expanse of the Mediterranean Sea to the west. Its flag has three horizontal stripes, two red stripes with a white stripe in the middle. At the center of the flag lies a cedar tree. But why a cedar tree placed in the middle of the flag of this Middle Eastern country?

The answer to this question could be searched in history. The cedar tree was placed in the flag of Lebanon because it gave the country such prestige for centuries. The Lebanese cedar tree was renowned in the ancient world. Cedrus Libani,  the scientific name for the cedar tree of Lebanon, grew abundant on the ranges from the city of Sidon down south to Tripoli. The wood produce from it were characterized as strong, being capable of holding heavy loads. Its strength could also be supported by its versatility. Resins from the cedar trees were used for burial rituals and for medicinal purposes for some people. With these characteristics, many in the ancient world demanded highly of it, and some took advantage of the demand and profited from it. 

Many well-known and established civilizations used the Lebanese cedar in various ways. In Egypt, during the Eighteenth Dynasty, economic prosperity smiled upon the land of the Pharaohs. Trade flourished. Thus demands for ship. used for both trade and war, rose. Therefore, strong and durable hardwoods were needed. Many ship builders look upon the cedar wood of Lebanon as the primary material to use. Wealth also came with luxury. Nothing better way to display wealth than having a good and expensive burial. Resins from the Lebanese cedar tree were equally important and well-known as its wood. Lebanese cedar resins were then used during the mummification of many rich and powerful individuals in Egypt. Afterwards, the body was then placed in a coffin made of, once again, Lebanese cedar wood.

Other than the Egyptians, other people highly look upon Lebanon's wood. the Hittites and Assyrians utilized. It could have been used to make chariots for the war machines of the respective civilizations. The Israelites also used it, which some were recorded in the Bible. Moses, for example, said that its resins could be use to cure leprosy. King Solomon also used the Lebanese hardwood for the construction of his huge and grand temple dedicated to Yaweh. Another empire, the Persians, used also the wood for their magnificent structures. In the great palace of Persepolis, the Lebanese cedar wood was used as pillars to hold the roof and as roof beams to hold the ceiling. Many people took notice of the product and used widely for grand ends.

With high demand, profits from the wood was enormous, and none took advantage of it better than the maritime people of Phoenicia. The Phoenicians were excellent sea men. They occupied the coastal areas of present day Lebanon, thus gaining control of its cedar wood. Its trading ship reached far and wide of the Mediterranean Sea, distributing different goods, including the cedar wood from the forests of Lebanon. They controlled the trade until the demise of its civilization.

The demand and cutting down of the Lebanese cedar wood prospered for many centuries. Sadly, it resulted to its depletion. Today, the symbol in the middle of the Lebanese flag existed in small numbers. 
Markoe, G. Peoples of the Past: Phoenicians. California: University of California Press, 2000. 

Sands, S. (ed.). Forestry in a Global Context. Massachusetts: CABI, 2013.

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