` ICE Case Study: Cedars

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Cedars of Lebanon


1. Abstract

2. Description

From 2,600 B.C. to 138 A.D., various cultures populated the Middle East including the Canaanites, Aegeans, Armenians, and Phoenicians. During this time, these peoples gradually finished the destruction of the famed Cedars of Lebanon that Gilgamesh earlier had begun. Most prominent in this role were the Phoenicians. In pursuit of their thallasocracy (maritime empire), the Phoenicians built enormous sea-faring fleets for exploration, conquest, and trade. For nearly three millennia, cedar and other timbers from Lebanon served a variety of needs: fuel, ship material, building material, and household usage. Through cities such as Sidon and Tyre, wood was also exported to Palestine and Egypt, areas with large populations and relatively little forest cover. The result was large-scale deforestation. The scarcity of trees was so noticeable that, over time, the few remaining tall trees even became objects of worship. Cedar was also the most prized wood because of geography. Owing to the diminution of rainfall from north to south, from west to east, and from highland to lowland, these were exactly the directions in which the chief lumber traffic moved [along the Mediterranean in ancient times]. Exceptions occurred mainly where choice woods from a limited area of production gradually acquired wise use as in the case of...the unsurpassed Cedars of Lebanon. The Phoenicians were a great sea-faring people, and their fleet of ships were built primarily with cedar and pine timber from the mountains of Lebanon.8 [Semple, p.270-71] Baramki points out that the Phoenician people, "[E]stablished a thalassocracy over the Mediterranean for over four centuries and over the Aegean for at least three and a half centuries. They were never eclipsed as a maritime nation until the rise of Venice, Genoa and Pisa in the Middle Ages. It is this fusion of [the Aegean and Canaanite] races which heralded the Golden Age of Phoenician greatness." [Baramki, p.26]

Harden adds that the joining of trade in raw materials, such as cedar timber, and imported raw materials helped to establish their maritime dominance. [Harden, p.137] Baramki further maintains that, "It was the unlimited produce of the hinterland from the Lebanon to the Persian Gulf that they carried over the seas to Egypt, Greece, Cyprus, Africa, Spain and the Islands in the basin of the western Mediterranean and brought back the products of the latter countries to Phoenicia whence they were carried...to the hinterlands of Asia." [Baramki, p.62]

From the location of Phoenician settlement, it may be extrapolated that the cedar timber from Lebanon, by virtue of its geographical proximity, provided an integral - perhaps even a necessary - resource with which their thalassocracy was established and on which it thrived. [Baramki, p.63] Additionally, it may be suggested that the cedar forests, which provided the Phoenicians with the timber needed to produce their galleys, helped to export the several products (other than wood) for which Phoenicians are famous: namely the alphabet, knowledge of astronomy, and their renowned purple dyes, as well as, "[P]roducts of Egypt, Babylonia, Assyria and Syria to the Greek world, to North Africa, to Sicily, to Spain, and even to the remote coast of Etruria." [Baramki, pp.58-62] Richer detail of Phoenician trade is added by Ezekiel: "[T]he markets of Tyre...offered linen from Egypt, silver, tin, lead, and iron from Spain, copper from Cyprus, horses, mules, and articles of bronze from Asia Minor, sheep and goats from Arabia, gold precious stones, and spices from Yemen, and a host of other products from near and far." [Ezekiel xxvii.1-25] It was the ship building, however, that served as the primary industry of the Phoenicians during their Golden Age. [Baramki, p.63]

Evidence of cedar timber brought from Phoenicia to nations along the Mediterranean, especially that which was used in the construction of buildings, is extant in texts and historical artifacts. [Semple, p.270] Nevertheless, timber from other regional forests near and around the Mediterranean contributed significantly to the resource supply. "It was especially the northern mountains of the Mediterranean Basin, with their heavier rainfall and denser forests, which yielded the most ample and varied supply of timber, and which therefore, furnished the chief cargoes for the lumber fleets of ancient times."[Semple, p.273]

The cedar lumber from Lebanon, therefore, did not serve as an exclusive resource in antiquity. Nevertheless, the Levantine forests were the object of continual military campaigns. This point serves as a marker of the cedar wood■s relative value in the Mediterranean. "In addition to the Levantine forests, pine was available on Jabal Sinjar, and oak, juniper, hawthorn, and other species could be found in the Zagros range. Thus the importance of the Phoenician forests is probably best explained not merely by a need for timber but, rather, by a desire for timber of exceptional size." [Mikesell, pp.16-17] The consequent campaigns in the Levant when other wood could be had were an indication of the cedar's veneration.

3. Duration:

4. Location

Continnent: Mideast Region: Asia Country: Phoenecia

5. Actors: Phoenecia and Many

II. Environment Aspects

6. Type of Environmental Problem: Deforestation

7. Type of Habitat: Dry

8. Act and Harm Sites: Phoenecia and Phoenecia

III. Conflict Aspects

9. Type of Conflict: Inter-state

10. Level of Conflict: High

11. Fatality Level of Dispute: 1,000s

III. Environment and Conflict Overlap

12. Environment-Conflict Link and Dynamics: Direct

There were several other short-lived attempts throughout history at protecting the forests from clearing and exploitation. Emperor Hadrian provides an excellent example of this effort at delimiting an area of preservation and control. The Mamluk dynasty also looked upon the wood from the Levant with great reverence; consequently, the sultans controlled the forest land and regulated (often from Damascus) the use of its timber. [Mikesell, p.24]

Causal Diagram

13. Level of Strategic Interest: Region

14. Outcome of Dispute: Victory

Because of its richly forested mountains, the Levantine region was
the object of repeated conquest by neighboring peoples, most
notably Babylonia, which had been importing wood for its temples as
early as 3,000 B.C.5 [Semple, p. 271]  Throughout antiquity,
however, there was a demonstrated effort on the part of all
controlling nations to make use of the cedar timber of Lebanon. 
Meiggs explains that, "The most colorful records [of the forest
area vegetation pattern] are the royal inscriptions of Mesopotamian
and Egyptian kings, who thought it natural to include records of
their tree-felling in the accounts of their military campaigns and
to hand down to posterity a description of the palaces they built."
[Meiggs, p.53 and Mikesell, p.12]  The conquest of areas
surrounding the mountains of Lebanon, therefore, provide modernity
with a veritable historical record of the forests, as well as
documentation of the several uses of its timber and efforts at
clearing areas.  "Cedar was thought to be the prize which all the
states of the Near East coveted, and for which the empires of Egypt
and Mesopotamia were prepared to fight." [Meiggs, p.55]  

Accounts abound concerning the diminution of cedar timber in 
the mountains of Lebanon as a result of tribute payments.  Due to
the constant quest for control of the valuable forested lands,
records from various royal peoples detail the spoils of their
successful military campaigns.  Thut-Mose III, Seti I, and Ramses
III are but a few who made a point of mentioning the fine timber
secured from Lebanon as tribute;  the cedars supplied them with
wood for ships, ceremonial barques, beams, masts, temples, etc.
[Mikesell, p.12]  The Phoenicians, often were required to construct
ships as well.  Meiggs contends that this was the case with the
campaign of Thut-Mose III, who demanded ships be built so that his
armies could cross the Euphrates.  "When my majesty crossed over to
the marshes of Asia, I had many ships of cedar built on the
mountains of God's Land near the Lady of Byblos." [Quoted in
Meiggs, pp.65-66]  

Military campaigns consisted of elaborate plans for logging
expeditions (the means of assuring payment of tribute).  Babylonian
King Nebuchadnezzar inscribed the details on-site in stone:  
     "I cut through steep mountains, I split rocks, opened
     passages and [thus] I constructed a straight road for the
     [transport of the] cedars.  I made the Arahtu float
     [down] and carry to Marduk, my lord, mighty cedars, high
     and strong, of precious beauty and of excellent dark
     quality, the abundant yield of Lebanon, as [if they be]
     reed stalks carried by the river." [As quoted by Mikesell,

Egyptians and Mesopotamians used military means to overcome a
domestic shortage of a natural resource which was slow to replenish
itself.6  Leaders of these various nations then, looked at wood as
a justification for military campaigns;  the exaction of tribute
enabled conquerors of the Levant to appropriate, and thence denude,
parts of the Levant's rich supply of forested land.  By doing this,
they easily circumvented shortcomings at home.  Spoils of victory
in the ancient Near East, then, included wood from Lebanon.7 
Cycles of consolidated power in Egypt and Mesopotamia (later Persia
too) reflected the fluctuations in Phoenician commercial history
and forest use.  Relative prosperity by either one of the flanking
kingdoms amounted to effective control of the Levantine timber
(which often manifested in demands for tribute). [Meiggs, pp.72-73] 
Isaiah's terse memorial for the forest-clearing Nebuchadnezzar
(upon his death in 562) reads:

     The whole world has rest and is at peace;
          it breaks into cries of joy.
     The pines themselves and the cedars of Lebanon exult over you.
          Since you have been laid low, they say,
          no man comes up to fell us. 
     [Isaiah, 14:7-8]

Hitti provides the relevant citations.  "[The Lebanese cedars■]
excellences have been sung by poets, prophets and historians. 
References abound to its strength (Ps. 29:5), durability (Jer.
22:14), majesty (2 K. 14:9;  Zech. 11:1-2), suitability for carving
(Is. 44:13-15), stateliness (Is. 2:13;  Ezek. 17:22)."9 [Hitti,
p.37]  The prose in Ezekiel sufficiently attests to the cedar's
     Look at Assyria:  it was a cedar in Lebanon,
          whose fair branches overshadowed the forest,
     towering high with its crown finding a way through the
     Springs nourished it, underground waters gave it height,
     their streams washed the soil all around it
     and sent forth their rills to every tree in the country.
     So it grew taller than every other tree.
     Its boughs were many, its branches spread far;
          for water was abundant in the channels.
     In its boughs all the birds of the air had their nests,
     under its branches all wild creatures bore their young,
     and in its shadow all great nations made their home.
     A splendid great tree it was, with its long spreading boughs,
     for its roots were beside abundant waters.
     [Ezekiel 31:3-7]

Nevertheless, overland commercial trading proved to be problematic
in most instances for Egypt because of the dangers posed by the
nomadic bandits of the Sinai Peninsula and Palestine. [Baramki,
p.19]  As a result, oversea trading with a maritime power such as
Phoenicia was cheaper and more reliable - not to mention safer. 
Thus, a commercial relationship spawned by sea.  At times, however,
the relationship was quite lopsided, as Egypt periodically
maintained control over Byblos and other nations occupying the
Levant. [Baramki, p.21]  Consequently, much of the timber Phoenicia
exported to Egypt was done partly as a form of tribute. [See above
and Baramki, p.21] 

The bandits were not limited to the Sinai and Palestine, however. 
Evidence points to a perennial problem with robbers living in the
Levantine mountains as well.  Reportedly, they were able to hinder
Phoenician commerce and harass woodsmen from the highlands to the
Mediterranean.  This domestic problem was tempered for a short time
during the reign of Hadrian;  nevertheless, it continued unabated
for some time during free Phoenician rule. [Mikesell, p.21]

Evidence of exploitation in times of modernity records that, 
Timber from Mount Lebanon was undoubtedly used in construction of
the first Muslim fleet (c. 645) at Acre and Tyre.  Evidence that
the pine forest near Beirut was exploited for shipbuilding during
the Crusades has already been cited.  That timber continued to be
exported from Mount Lebanon is indicated by the use of cedar in
Umayyad palaces and mosques.  Similarly, when al-Mansur moved the
seat of Abbasid government from Baghdad to Samarra in 836, he
ordered that wood for the new capital should be imported from
"Antioch and all the littoral of Syria." [Mikesell, pp.23-24]

IV. Related Information and Sources

15. Related ICE Cases

Assyria and Water
Rwanda and Deforestation
Ataturk Dam
Litani River

16. Relevant Websites and Literature

1.    Dimitri Baramki.  Phoenicia and the Phoenicians (Khayats: 
Lebanon, 1961).
2.  E. W. Bealsz.  "The Remnant Cedar Forests of Lebanon," Journal
of Ecology.  Volume 53 (1965).
3.  Wallace B. Fleming.  The History of Tyre (Columbia Univ. Press: 
NY, 1966).
4.  John D. Grainger.  Hellenistic Phoenicia (Oxford Univ. Press: 
NY, 1991)
5.  Donald Harden.  The Phoenicians (Frederick A. Praeger, Inc.: 
NY, 1963).
6.  Philip K. Hitti.  Lebanon in History (Macmillan:  London,
7.  Russell Meiggs.  Trees and Timber in the Ancient Mediterranean
(Clarendon Press:  Oxford, 1982).  
8.  Marvin W. Mikesell. "The Deforestation of Mount Lebanon," The
Geographical Review. Volume LIX, Number 1 (January, 1969).
9.  Sabatino Moscati.  The World of the Phoenicians (Frederick A.
Praeger, Inc.:  NY, 1968).
10. M. B. Rowton.  "The Woodlands of Ancient Western Asia," Journal
of Near Eastern Studies.  Volume 26 (1967).
11.  N. K. Sanders.  The Epic of Gilgamesh (Penguin Classics: 
Harmondsworth and Baltimore, 1960).
12. Ellen Churchill Semple.  Geography of the Mediterranean Region
(Henry Holt and Co.:  NY, 1931).
13. D. S. Walker.  The Mediterranean Lands (Methuen & Co.:  London,


1.   Mikesell reports that the earliest Egyptian and Mesopotamian
documents detail the value of the Levantine timber.  The records
continue their documentation through the rule of Emperor Hadrian.
2.   It is believed that Sidon, another Levantine port city, also
sent cedar logs from Lebanon to Jerusalem for Solomon. [Semple,
3.   Semple notes that, "Scarcity of timber made tall trees
conspicuous landmarks and even objects of worship." [Semple,
pp.265, 268-69]
4.   The Bible cites a figure that is most probably exaggerated
(30,000 men).  The likely figure is quite less according to Meiggs,
5.   Although not in dispute with Semple, Mikesell dates the first
direct evidence of the Phoenician timber trade at c. 2600 B.C. from
indications on the Palermo stone.  The records of Pharaoh Snefru,
■[A]cknowledge the arrival of forty ships filled with cedar wood
and then boast of the construction of a ship of this wood a hundred
cubits (about 170 feet) long and the use of cedar in making doors
of a palace.■ [Mikesell, p.12.  Also see Meiggs, p.63]  Although
the evidence is not entirely clear, documentation points to the
fact that the cedar wood came from Byblos of Phoenicia.  For
evidentiary details, see Meiggs, pp.64-65. 
6.   Mikesell indicates that although Egypt was not devoid of
trees, its supply paled in comparison to that of the Levant, both
qualitatively and quantitatively.  "Cultivated trees, such as the
fig and the date palm, could not be felled while they were
productive, and wild species, such as the acacia, were of limited
use in construction.  The tall conifers of Mount Lebanon provided
suitable lumber for shipbuilding and were indispensable in the
construction of palaces and other large buildings." [Mikesell,
7.   As an example, annual tribute to the Assyrian ruler
Shalmeneser III (858-821) amounted to one talent of silver, two
talents of purple wool, and two hundred cedar logs. [Meiggs, p.74] 
For further references to Assyrian exaction of tribute and a
description of the timber■s uses, see Mikesell, p.13.
8.   Baramki maintains that the Phoenicians, a race which joined
Canaanites and Aegeans, "[S]tepped into the gap left by the
disruption of the Aegean world, and inherited the thalassocracy... 
[T]he new race of mariners were not entirely ignorant of the waters
through which they plied, partly from the Aegean side of their
ancestry and partly from the fact that they were seamen from time
immemorial." [Baramki, p.58] 
9.   Also see Psalms xxxvii.35, lxxx.10, xcii.12;  Amos ii.9. 
These citations further describe the beauty, fragrance, and
durability of the Lebanese cedars.
10.   Contradictory accounts are provided by Procopius, who
detailed Emperor Justinian's quest for timber on the northern side
of Mount Lebanon.  There he described a dense forest cover with
notably tall cedar trees.  There is no reason to believe, however,
that this swathe of forested land remained for long. [Mikesell,
11.  Thick, scrubby underbrush prominent along the Mediterranean
12.  Mikesell refers those interested in the actual forest
inscriptions of Hadrian (and can read French) to Ernest Renan's
"Mission de Phenicie." (Paris, 1864).

November, 1997

Some materials drawn from a draft case study by Ben Kasoff