Mysterious messages from Bahrein.
What has that to do with
Perhaps nothing. Perhaps everything. I will try to explain. We have to start
with the Phoenicia , which was located in a remote
past in and around Bahrein. This has to be done in three steps. land of Dilmun
2.the view of Classical authors
3.the view of scholars today
1.Dilmun and the Phoenicians?
It was in 1879 that the captain Durand visited Bahrein and he wrote a message about that. Henry Greswicke Rawlinson indentified Bahrein based on that message as the legendary
land of Dilmun, that is already mentioned in the
Gilgamesj-epos from the Sumerians as a land far away from the mouth of the
Euphrates in the . Now, Bahrein is
famous for its diving activities on pearls. In the Gilgamesj-epos it is said,
that Gilgamesj is seeking for the flower of immortality and that appears to be
the pearl of Dilmun. Lower
The Sumerians were aware of the existence of the
On a tablet of Ur-nanshe, king of land of Dilmun
around 2500 BC, he says that the ships of Dilmun are bringing him wood as a
tribute. Sargon, the Sumerian king of Akkad boasts that he has conquered Dilmun
in the Lagash . Nevertheless Dilmun stays a land of
mystery, which is described as the land of the crossing place or the land, that
is somewhere at a far distance. Lower Sea
The archaeological work of Bibby has proved in his book “looking for Dilmun”, that Dilmun has very much existed. He found on the mainland an enormous amount of graves (100.000) and a sanctuary at Barbar. Nowhere in the ancient world we find a necropolis of that size! The Portugese fort Kalaat el-Bahrein is located on the relics of the old city of Bahrein. The patron god of Dilmun appears to be the god Inzak, who is also known by Sumerians. Bibby may have noticed also that there are fresh water wells in the sea around Bahrein. He must have read the old Sumerian myths, which tells us from gods who made fresh water wells in Dilmun. In fact this is the meaning of Arabic Bahrein: the meeting place of waters, one is fresh and sweet and agreeable to drink and the other one is salt and bitter. Here we see very perhaps a first link with Arwad, which is also familiar with fresh water wells in the sea. There is more to come!
The history of Dilmun can be traced in three main periods:
- c.3000-1750 BC : the beginning (building up)
- c.1750-1250 BC : the middle period (highest unfolding)
- c.1250-500BC : the late period (the slow descent)
In the article “The Stamp Seals of Dilmun” Harriet Crawford points out that in the first quarter of the second millennium BC stamp seals were a very important attribute for the trade along the route from the islands of Failaka and Bahrein towards the
Indus valley. In this period
Bahrein forms the trade link between Mesopotamia and the Indus
valley. On the stamp seals the deities of Dilmun are shown. They are Inzak and
his wife Meskilak. There are also figures of monkey-like characters that have
close parallels in North-Syria; some bulls resemble those from the Indus valley. One stamp seal is particularly interesting.
It shows a master of the animals. From we know a picture with a
great resemblance. It is called the mistress of the animals. Recent excavations
at a small town as Saar in the northwest of the main island of Bahrein demonstrated
that those delightful seals were not the elite items, which we might expected,
but were owned by many members of the population. Syria
In the last period of Dilmun the Assyrians take notice of the
Sargon II (705 BC) named it as an island, that lies as a fish in the middle of
the sea. He mentions, that it is 30 double hours away in the sea of the rising
sun. Sennacherib (c.700) advances to Bit Iakin on the land of Dilmun .
Assurbanipal (ARA 970) comes with a remarkable message in the 7th
century BC: “Assurbanipal, the great
king, the mighty king, king of the universe, king of Assyria, king of the four
regions (of the world), king of kings, unrivalled prince, who from the Upper
sea to the Lower sea has brought under his sway all princes and has made them
to submit at his feet; who established the yoke of his rule over Tyre, which is
in the midst of the Upper Sea, and Dilmun, which is in the midst of the Lower
Sea…..”. Lower Sea
Assurbanipal marks the farthest boundaries of his empire by mentioning two islands, one in the
and one in the . Is this a
coincidence or does it have a special meaning? Involuntary perhaps he compares Lower
Sea with Dilmun. You
could wonder if there as a further connection between the two islands? Later
classical writers try to confirm this. Tyre
The latest mention of Dilmun we find in 544 BC in a message of the governor of Dilmun to the Babylonian king Nabonid. Is Dilmun now vanishing in oblivion? No, because later classical writers will mention Bahrein again under different and surprising names. Do they just refer to a memory of the past or must we take those messages seriously?
Dilmun and the Phoenicians?
2. the view of Classical authors.
Most of the classical authors thought the Phoenicians came from a region somewhere in the south. There is one important exception: Philo of Byblos (1/2nd century AD), who claims, that the Phoenicians were autochthonous. He based however his sayings on a much older source from the 14th century BC and that is in the same time as Dilmun was flourishing. According to Philo there seems to be no connection between the Phoenicians and Dilmun!
On the contrary Herodotos (I,1) starts his history in the 5th century BC with the statement: “The Persian investigators assert, that the Phoenicians gave rise to the dispute (between Greeks and non-Greeks). They came namely from the so-called Eritrean Sea (Indian Ocean) to this one (Mediterranean) and settled down in the area, in which they are still living and they immediately began to undertake long journeys at sea in which they shipped cargo from Egypt and Assyria……”
Arrianos of Nikomedia (c.95-173 AD) lived in the same time as Philo, but he based his writings on Aristobulus, who accompanied Alexander the Great on his journeys (333-323 BC) to the east. Arrianos in his book Anabasis – Alexander – Indica connects the Phoenicians with the more eastern world. In book VI (105) he mentions Phoenicians in the fleet of admiral Nearchos. He mentions Phoenician pedlars in Gedrosia. Book VII (269) tells us of the Phoenician ships that go to
is mentioned in the Babylon Persian Gulf (273+275).
Finally he tells the story of a Phoenician sailor who dives up a lost diadem of
Alexander out of the water in southern Babylonia.
Is by Tylus meant Tyrus?
Strabo (64 BC – 19 AD) talks about an Arados in the
(XVI 3,1). He even specifies that the temples and cities are similar to the
Phoenician ones. Plinius (23-79 AD) mentions again Tylos with gossypinum-trees
(cotton trees?) as trees that are carrying wool. Justin (XVIII 3,2-4) has the
story that the Phoenicians were startled by an earthquake in Arabia and went
first of all to the Syrian Lake (=Dead Sea?). After that they got to the Mediterranean Sea. Solinus (3rd century AD)
describes the name of Cadiz in Collectanea rerum
memorabilium (XXIII 12): “The Tyrians,
who came from the Red Sea, called it Erithrea,
the Punic in their language: Gadir, that means ‘enclosure’”. Isidorus of Sevilla repeats this statement in
the 7th century AD almost in the same words. Ptolemeus (IV 7,47) and
Stephanus of Byzantium are finally mentioning the existence of Bahrein in other
The classical authors have different opinions. Some name Bahrein as Tylos and/or Arados. Some only name indirectly an area in the south. It is however not convincing. Alone Strabo specifies his statement briefly. It is however significant, that Bahrein as Tylos/Arados comes forward since Alexander appears in the region.
Dilmun and the Phoenicians?
3.The view of scholars today.
There are a lot of different opinions.
a.Richard Pietschmann. Die Phönizier 1889.
The Phoenicians named their coast
Canaan = the
lowland. A coin from Laodikeia proves that with the text: Mother of Canaan. In
short that is Kenâ, because originally the name of the land was Chna (gr). A
resident of Chna was named Chnaos. In Phoenician that is: Kenâ‘î. Chna would be
Agenoor. No conclusion about a relation with Bahrein.
Phoenicia and the
Between 3500 and 2100 BC the following people came in the
Semites, Armenoids, Amorites, Canaanites and together with the peoples of the
Sea they formed the Phoenicians. No conclusion about a relation with Bahrein.
c.Donald Harden. The Phoenicians,
He regards the Canaanites is the most important predecessor of the Phoenicians. They are in fact the same. No conclusion about a relation with Bahrein.
d.W.Culican. The First Merchant Ventures,
He describes as predecessors the Canaanites,
peoples of the Sea. No
conclusion about a relation with Bahrein. Hyksos,
e.Jean Mazel. Avec les Phéniciens à la poursuite dus soleil sur la route de l’or et de l’étain.
1971. He inserts the Himyarites of
southwest-Arabia on the basis of the word HMR = red. It is doubtful, because
the Himyarites lived in the 2nd century BC. No conclusion about a
relation with Bahrein. Paris
f.Gerhard Herm. Die Phönizier, Düsseldorf/Wien 1974.
The Canaanites are the predecessors of the Phoenicians. No conclusion about a relation with Bahrein.
g.Maitland A.Edey. De zeevaarders TIME 1974.
Semites and Canaanites are the predecessors of the Phoenicians. No conclusion about a relation with Bahrein.
. The Phoenicians,
Genève 1977. Massa
He investigates seriously the possibilities of the Phoenicians coming from Punt of from Dilmun, but he comes finally to the following conclusion: “It is possible that some of these resemblances and patterns of similarity between the Phoenicia of the Indian Ocean and that of the Mediterranean are attributable to the island-dwellers of the Persian Gulf, who, at some quite late stage, saw this as a means of attracting visitors anxious to see the cradle of a people which had played such a prominent role in the ancient world.”
i.Recent scholars don’t even dare to go in debate on the descent of the Phoenicians and just say in despair: “We don’t know”. For instance Glenn E.Markoe. Phoenicians, Berkeley 2000.
His remarks are: “Their ethnic identity remains a mystery. Canaanite represents the most likely possibility. Their origin remains also a mystery. It is a lost civilization.”
j.The last conclusion seems to be a bridge to far. I feel more at ease with a rather old view of Sabatino Moscati. I Fenici/The Phoenicians, Rome/London 1968-1973. His conclusion:
“This combination of traditions and studies attempting to identify the origins of the Phoenician nation is based on the indemonstrable assumption that the nation existed as such before its historical appearance on the Mediterranean coast; but since no historical and cultural coherence of the Phoenician cities must be ascribed to pre- or even historic times, the problem of the origins deeply changes. The formation of the Phoenician nation, within fairly loose limits, seems to result from an historical evolution in the Syro-Palestinian area and not a migration of people from outside. It could even be said that it was a migration of other peoples (Philistines, Hebrews, Aramaeans), which compressed the Phoenician towns into a certain coherence.
It is obviously difficult, therefore, to claim a large-scale immigration of new peoples as the genesis of the Phoenician nation, and to search for distinctive racial characteristics. In the anthropological complex of the Syro-Palestinian area, which witnesses the encounter between Arab and Armenian types, the Phoenicians have no special characteristics. The language, like that of their neighbours, is Semitic. Finally the independence of the Phoenicians as a people is determined as a result of particular geographical and historical-political conditions, but can be based on neither home nor race.”
My first conclusion: Bahrein comes only in Hellenistic time in the Phoenician sphere. Probably Arados and Tyros try to establish a stronghold there in the time after Alexander the Great. In the time of Antiochus III (241-187 BC) we see a Hellenistic temple on the isle of Failaka, where Ikaros is worshipped as the old god Inzak. From there it is only a few days sailing to Bahrein. The much earlier history of Dilmun has nothing to do with the Phoenicians.
My second conclusion is an elaboration of the view of Moscati: When you feel as a Phoenician, then you are a Phoenician! It has nothing, or at the most only indirectly, to do with race, language or descent.