Lebanon is popularly known for the presence of a unique and legendary tree popularly known as Cedrus libani. When you look at their national flag, you’ll be amazed to find it there owing to its deep and rich history. It’s one of the main features that defines the culture of Lebanon.
If you’ve done your research on this country, you’ll find out that it’s among the top densely wooded countries in the Middle East. The mountain regions have a variety of trees which include oaks, pines, cypresses, firs, and junipers to name a few. During the early civilization, these trees were the main source timber not only in the East but also the Nile.
Wood was a highly precious commodity during the early civilization. People used cedars to write their scripts. The tale of the visit of the popular Gilgamesh and his friend Enkidu to a dense forest to eliminate the monster and cut down trees has been traced by researchers to the third millennium.
In this captivating Sumerian tale, which was written from 2150 to 1400 BC, the Uruk King raids the forest of Humbaba which was a forbidden thing. Keep in mind that this forest was made up of cedar.
The cedar was a symbol of economic prosperity to the Phoenicians who lived around the Lebanese shores. They used wood to build their ships, palaces, and homes. In short, wood revolved around every important activity in their lives.
Phoenicians were skilled shipbuilders and they had a unique ability to navigate the waters of the Mediterranean Sea during turbulent times. They also exchanged timber with other goods and exported it across the world.
Egyptians are known for using resin to build their magnificent temples and embalm pharaohs. Back in 1075 BC an Egyptian envoy known as Wen-Amon from the temple of Amon in Karnak came to Phoenicia and went away with seven long cedar logs in exchange for a huge cargo that included gold, linen, silver, papyrus rolls, fish and fresh lentils. The logs were later transported by ship to Egypt from Byblos.
Another memorable account of the Phoenician forests originates from a series of reliefs from Sargon’s palace between 722 and 705 BC in Khorsabad which showed trees being cut down, dragged and loaded on ships at a port in Phoenicia.
Lebanese cedar has also been reported to have been used during the construction of the temple of King Solomon in Jerusalem. According to accounts in the Bible, King Hiram I of Tyre used cider timber to furnish the temple of his friend, King Solomon of Israel.
After two hundred years since the construction of the temple was completed, Alexander the Great used cider from the mountainous regions in Lebanon to build towers that ended the siege of Tyre.
During the Roman era, a lot of damage was done to the forest and this led to the expansion of the Empire geographically. Due to the increase in population, agriculture was practiced in large-scale and this led to a well-performing economy. Timber was one of the main commodities used in the building of houses, forts and public baths. It was also used to provide fuel in homes and most industries.
Shipbuilding was an important economic activity for a strong empire like Rome that controlled politics across the Mediterranean. However, it was one of the major contributors of deforestation since it required tons of wood.
The expansion of Rome into Syria and Phoenicia had more disastrous effects on the forests because it put a lot of pressure on the supply of timber that was usable. During Hadrian’s time, the rate of deforestation in the mountainous regions in Lebanon was quite frightening. Shipbuilders were threatened and this led to an attempt to preserve forests for Hadrian’s fleets. Hadrian erected boundary markers around the forest areas and declared the area as the property of the Emperor.
There is evidence showing how the emperor managed to control the environment and economy. There are two hundred engraved inscriptions on the rocks found across the northern area of Mount Lebanon. These inscriptions were found at an altitude that ranges from 270m to 2311m. This allows researchers and explorers to create a reconstruction of the boundaries of the ancient forest.
The inscriptions were written in Latin alphabetical letters which are currently designated by the number 5001-5187 of the Latin Syria Catalogue. There are no other inscriptions like these anywhere in the Roman empire and this makes it a unique and valuable heritage.
Hadrian’s inscriptions have been subjected to several intense studies, for instance, Renan of 1864, Abdul-Nour of 2006 and Breton of 1980 to name a few. You must be wondering which scholar discovered these valuable inscriptions. Earnest Renan was the first person to discover and identify these letters on the rock. He is an expert in Semitic languages and early civilization. In the early 2000s, Abdul-Nour discovered twenty more inscriptions and published other articles in the journal, History of Lebanon.
The inscriptions were written with the intention of it to be read and remembered by the general public. The inscriptions included several warnings to thieves in several Latin abbreviations. The most recognized formula is “Boundary of the forest of Emperor Hadrian Augustus: Four Species of wood reserved under the privilege of imperial” which was written Latin.
We do not know which species of trees Hadrian wanted to protect however, the most likely species would be the cypress, cedar, oak, juniper, and fir. Why? These are the species that were widely used in the shipbuilding process. The remaining species could be cut down and used by the public without the official permit from the emperor.
Eight additional inscriptions were also found with the letters VIG which would likely stand for Vigilarium according to Breton, 1980. This was a common title for forest rangers back then. All of them are located in strategic areas such as the mountain tops where guards could easily observe activities happening in the forest. The other three inscriptions bear the names of the procurators who managed the demarcation of the Lebanon forest. They were Gaius Umbrius and Quintus Rufus.
On our trip to Lebanon, we had the opportunity to travel north of Beirut and visit the famous Jabal Moussa Reserve to collect five inscriptions found in the forest that are visible in the entire reserve. This reserve has fifteen hiking trails that vary in length and time including Hadrian’s incline which has inscriptions written on rocks. Five inscriptions found here are marked with clear information for the sake of learners.
Also found on the western slopes of Mount Lebanon across the Mediterranean Sea fifteen kilometers from Babylon is the reserve which covers around 6500 hectares and an altitude that ranges between 350 and 1700 meters. With the rich biodiversity and culture in the area, the reserve and its adjacent areas have become a part of UNESCO Network under the Biosphere program in 2009. In L
The reserve is home to several historical and religious sites which date back from the Roman and Phoenician civilization periods. It is located near the Adonis Valley which has been a popular spot since the prehistoric times. Today, it is widely recognized as the birth site for the popular Phoenician myths namely Astarte and Adonis.
Road networks were built in the area between 64 BC and 249 AD which linked the Lebanon coast to hinterland. The roads were used by business people and the military. Not to forget the religious pilgrimages which resulted in the construction of religious symbols on the road.
Centuries later after Hadrian, the trees in Lebanon have been widely used as fuel for burning kilns. During the Middle Age, mountain villagers cut down trees to do agriculture. They used the wood to construct their houses and fuel for cooking food and lighting at night. During the 19th century, the Ottomans used most of the trees to construct a rail network in Levan. At the onset of World War II, military troops used the forest wood to build Tripoli Railway.
The destruction of the Lebanese forest has never stopped. Researchers report that it has worsened every time a new civilization emerged. Trees have to be planted not only for our sake but that of future generations.
Importance of planting trees
As you’ve seen, trees have always played a crucial role in the life of human beings for a very long time. Today, we need trees like never before to satisfy our needs and improve our lifestyles. Trees have been used to forge tools, manufacture medicine and create homes.
It’s easier to think about using trees than planting them. However, cutting down trees has been one of the major sources of drought, flood and unpredictable weather conditions. With the majority of people relying on agriculture, planting trees should be a priority. Here are some of the reasons why you should plant trees.
Cleans the air
Trees act as environmental vacuums. Their leaves absorb carbon dioxide and other harmful pollutants in the air and release oxygen which is used by our bodies to perform a variety of biological functions. They also sweep smoke and dust particles away and this boosts our health. Cutting down trees increases carbon dioxide levels which traps heat in the air and results in climate change.
Source of water
Trees play an important role in capturing water and reducing the risk of landslides and floods caused by water. Trees also prevent soil erosion which is something every farmer should consider. According to a research conducted by the United Nations, a mature green tree can capture up to 15000 liters of water annually.
One mature tree can be home to hundreds of species of birds, plants, mammals, and fungi. Depending on the food these organisms consume, every animal has its preferred habitat. When people cut down trees, such creatures lose their homes. And this leads to invasions at home.
Improves your health
Research shows that hospital patients in rooms overlooking trees tend to recover quicker than those without. You cannot ignore the amazing feeling of breathing clean air in a quiet tropical forest. Trees have proven to reduce stress and anxiety and this allows you to not only connect with nature but other human beings too. Plus, trees protect our skin from the harsh sun.
As you’ve seen, we rely on trees for timber to build our homes, cook food, light up our homes and provide heat during cold seasons. Plus, we consume fruits and nuts which boost our health.
We can only change our future by learning from our past. The great emperor Hadrian did his best to preserve the most valuable tree species through his inscriptions. We should go a step ahead and protect all species of trees because they have their natural and economic value. The earlier you start, the better your world will be!