The Cultural Migration

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The Cippi of Melqart are a pair of ornamental pillars with engravings found by the Knights of St. John on the Island of Malta in the village of Marsaxlloc, they are considered to be from the 2nd century BCE. It is in this village that the Phoenicians reputedly landed in the 9th CE BC and set up trading posts. In the temple of Tas-Silg, the Cippi were unearthed, one cippus being gifted to Louis XVI by the grand master of the knights of St. John in 1782. This cippus now sits in the Louvre and the other in the National museum of archaeology in Valetta.

The Cippi have bilingual inscriptions, which allowed the French archaeologist, Father Jean-Jacques Barthlemy to decipher the Phoenician alphabet in 1758. The engravings are in both Phoenician and Greek testifying to the God Melqart and Heracles as being one and the same.  The importance of the cippi to Maltese archaeology is inestimable. On the international level they played a significant role in the deciphering and study of the Phoenician language. As the principle force in the Mediterranean, the sophisticated Phoenician’s reach was tremendous.

The Phoenician script, once translated read:

“To our lord Melqart, Lord of Tyre, dedicated by / your servant Abd’ Osir and his brother ‘Osirshamar / both sons of ‘Osirshamar, son of Abd’ Osir, for he heard / their voice, may he bless them.”

The Cippi inscriptions read as dedications to Melqart/Heracles from two Tyrian brothers. Melqart was the Baal or Lord of Tyre and with him comes the mythological foundations of that monumentally important city state that spawned a colonization of the Mediterranean and some of the most revered mythical and historical characters from Heracles and Europa to Dido. The myth says Heracles, or Melqart, instructed the people of Tyre to build a ship to stop the Islands wandering off, what were two islands were fastened together at the behest of Melqart. The text is rich with olive tree references symbolizing the worship of Iron age Gods and Goddesses combining to form new ones. The Olive tree being associated to Asherah’s many forms and the snake being sacred to Bronze Age Goddesses such as Nidaba and Nabu. There’s a strong case for the imagery symbolizing the Phoenix; as with ressurectionary God’s, Melqart was celebrated at spring.

The worship of Melqart appears to originate in Tyre. Melqart as a resurrectionary god has great similarities to older and newer gods of rebirth and spring. Melqart being the lord or Baal of Tyre; other city-states would also have their protecting gods but would share more regional and cultural ones like El and Astarte. Perhaps, due to the prolific expansion of the Mediterranean,  Melqart’s legacy of worship was secured.

While Malta’s origins are mysterious it seems apparent that the Phoenicians did colonize and integrate with the local culture. The Cippi were reputedly for burning incense with the inscriptions informing bilingually a dedication and statement of cultural exchange between the Greeks and the Phoenicians with regards to their shared Hero and god, Melqart or Heracles. The adoption of Melqart by the Greeks provides a fascination study as to how significantly the Phoenicians managed to export their Gods and culture. It is recognized that cultural migrations were for centuries very much of East to West in the Mediterranean and that in this the Phoenicians played a signal role. The fact that Melqart is widely seen as a conflation of the more ancient Tammuz is indicative of cultural integration over centuries and the harnessing of essential ideas of rebirth and spring manifested into figures of worship. The Hellenized Melqart however stands as a mortal god and also as a land taming hero, serving penance for a terrible crime; a much more sophisticated and modern tale that exhibits deeply human characteristics and actions being performed by a demi God. All tales tell of his epic journey in the pursuit of penance. Driven mad by the jealous Goddess Hera, Heracles kills his family. His road to redemption is in the form of twelve tasks all of which involve the subduing and slaying of beasts. He also manipulates the landscape by diverting a river to clean the Augean stables, all deeds telling of a taming of the wilderness, and propagation of the legend of a world changing demi God and one of the most mortal or human like Gods of the ancient world. In this way perhaps the development of the story of Melqart was necessary for his legacy to survive.

The Cippi of Melqart from two Tyrian brothers can be seen as a true marriage of an older Phoenician culture and a more recent adaptation of it in the form of the Greeks and Romans. A Beautiful migration of cultures that started here from Tyre and influenced the world.

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