Settlements > Tyre

Tyre

Background

After Sidon one comes to Tyre, the largest and oldest city of the Phoenicians, which rivals Sidon, not only in size, but also in its fame and antiquity, as handed down to us in numerous myths. Now although the poets have referred more repeatedly to Sidon than to Tyre (Homer does not even mention Tyre), yet the colonies sent into Libya and Iberia, as far even as outside the Pillars, hymn rather the praises of Tyre. At any rate, both cities have been famous and illustrious, both in early times and at the present time; and no matter which of the two one might call the metropolis of the Phoenicians, there is a dispute in both cities. Now Sidon is situated on the mainland near a harbour that is by nature a good one.

But Tyre is wholly an island, being built up nearly in the same way as Aradus; and it is connected with the mainland by a mole, which was constructed by Alexander when he was besieging it;c and it has two harbours, one that can be closed and the other, called "Aegyptian" harbour, open. The houses here, it is said, have many stories, even more than the houses at Rome, and on this account, when an earthquake took place, it lacked but little of utterly wiping out the city.

The city was also unfortunate when it was taken by siege by Alexander; but it overcame such misfortunes and restored itself both by means of the seamanship of its people, in which the Phoenicians in general have been superior to all peoples of all times, and by means of their dye-houses for purple; for the Tyrian purple has proved itself by far the most beautiful of all; and the shell-fish are caught near the coast; and the other things requisite for dyeing are easily got; and although the great number of dye-works makes the city unpleasant to live in, yet it makes the city rich through the superior skill of its inhabitants.

The Tyrians were adjudged autonomous, not only by the kings, but also, at small expense to them, by the Romans, when the Romans confirmed the decree of the kings. Heracles71 is paid extravagant honours by them. The number and the size of their colonial cities is an evidence of their power in maritime affairs. Such, then, are the Tyrians.

The Sidonians, according to tradition, are skilled in many beautiful arts, as the poet also points out; and besides this they are philosophers in the sciences of astronomy and arithmetic, having begun their studies with practical calculations and with night-sailings; for each of these branches of knowledge concerns the merchant and the ship-owner; as, for example, geometry was invented, it is said, from the measurement of lands which is made necessary by the Nile when it confounds the boundaries at the time of its overflows.

This science, then, is believed to have come to the Greeks from the Aegyptians; astronomy and arithmetic from the Phoenicians; and at present by far the greatest store of knowledge in every other branch of philosophy is to be had from these cities. And if one must believe Poseidonius, the ancient dogma about atoms originated with Mochus, a Sidonian, born before the Trojan times.

However, let us dismiss things ancient. In my time there have been famous philosophers from Sidon; Boethus, with whom I studied the Aristotelian philosophy, and his brother Diodotus; and from Tyre, Antipater, and, a little before my time, Apollonius, who published a tabulated account of the philosophers of the school of Zeno and of their books. Tyre is distant from Sidon not more than two hundred stadia; and between them lies a town called City of Ornithes; and then one comes to a river which empties near Tyre, and after Tyre, to Palae-Tyre, at a distance of thirty stadia.

Then one comes to Ptolemaïs, a large city, in earlier times named Acê; this city was used by the Persians as a base of operations against Aegypt. Between Acê and Tyre is a sandy beach, which produces the sand used in making glass. Now the sand, it is said, is not fused here, but is carried to Sidon and there melted and cast. Some say that the Sidonians, among others, have the glass-sand that is adapted to fusing, though others say that any sand anywhere can be used.

I heard at Alexandria from the glass-workers that there was in Aegypt a kind of vitreous earth without which many-coloured and costly designs could not be executed, just as elsewhere different countries require different mixtures; and at Rome, also, it is said that many discoveries are made both for producing the colours and for facility in manufacture, as, for example, in the case of glass-ware, where one can buy a glass beaker or drinking-cup for a copper.

A marvellous occurrence of a very rare kind is reported as having taken place on this shore between Tyre and Ptolemaïs: at the time when the Ptolemaeans, after joining battle the Sarpedon the general, were left in this place, after a brilliant rout had taken place, a wave from the sea, like a flood-tide, submerged the fugitives; and some were carried off into the sea and destroyed, whereas others were left dead in the hollow places; and then, succeeding this wave, the ebb uncovered the shore again and disclosed the bodies of men lying promiscuously among dead fish.

Like occurrences take place in the neighbourhood of the Mt. Casius situated near Aegypt, where the land undergoes a single quick convulsion, and makes a sudden change to a higher or lower level, the result being that, whereas the elevated part repels the sea and the sunken part receives it, yet, the land makes a reverse change and the site resumes its old position again, a complete interchange of levels sometimes having taken place and sometimes not.78 Perhaps such disturbances are subject to periodic principles unknown to us, as is also should be the case of the overflows of the Nile, which prove to be variant but follow some unknown order.

Sources

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