The discovery In 1855 of an anthropoid sarcophagus near the Phoenician port city of Sidon brought to light an important Phoenician text. The stone coffin belonged to a Sidonian king, Eshmunazar II, who most likely reigned in the first half of the fifth century BCE; on the lid of the sarcophagus was inscribed the twenty-two-line text now known as the Eshmunazar Inscription.
On 19 January 1855, workmen hired to hunt for treasure on behalf of the chancellor of the French consulate general in Beirut discovered the basalt sarcophagus within an ancient necropolis, a rocky knoll and grotto known as Mugharat Ablun, about a kilometer southeast of Sidon's port. The large sarcophagus (110 × 225 cm) had been buried 2 m deep in an open rock-cut grave and, in antiquity, apparently had a small stone-built entrance chamber to protect it. Disinterred, the sarcophagus was shipped to France, where it resides in the Louvre Museum.
The style of the features carved on the lid of the stone coffin—an almond-eyed face, chest-length striated wig, chin beard, and falcon-headed usech, or broad collar—is typically Egyptian. Most likely fashioned in Egypt, the coffin may have been brought to Sidon as booty or as a purchased order, where it was inscribed following Eshmunazar's death.
The text is inscribed below the funerary mask. In the first four lines we read that King Eshmunazar, son of King Tabnit, reigned for fourteen years and lived a short life. Eshmunazar describes himself as an “orphan, the son of a widow”; Tabnit apparently died before or shortly after his son's birth, making Eshmunazar a child-king and his mother, the regent. After imprecations directed toward would-be grave plunderers (ll. 4–13), the text recounts the cultic shrines Eshmunazar and the queen-mother (re)built (ll. 13–18), a notable one being the Temple of Eshmun. It further declares that the “lord of kings,” most probably the king of Persia, ceded Levantine territory, particularly the cities of Dor and Jaffa, to Sidon in return for services rendered (ll. 18–20). The nature and date of these rendered services remain unknown: perhaps Persia ceded the territory to Sidon for assisting Cambyses' invasion of Egypt In 525 BCE or for naval support during the battle of Salamis In 480 BCE or because of changes in Persian satrapy boundaries in the generation after 480 BCE. Additional imprecations complete the inscription (ll. 20–22).
The first thirteen and a half lines also appear in seven lines on the head end of the base. The reason for the duplication may be that the inscriber could not fit the full text there or wanted to start anew after committing several writing errors.
The text, because of its length and degree of preservation, provides significant insight into the characteristics of the Phoenician language in general and the Tyro-Sidonian dialect in particular. The inscription also reveals meaningful affinities with other Semitic languages, seen, for example, in its idioms, word pairs, and use of repetition.
- Gibson, John C. L. Textbook of Syrian Semitic Inscriptions, vol. 3, Phoenician Inscriptions Including Inscriptions in the Mixed Dialect of Arslan Tash. Oxford, 1982. Discusses historical circumstances and dating (pp. 101–102), and includes Hebrew transliteration, English translation, philological analysis of the text, and bibliography (pp. 105–114, Text 28).
- Jidejian, Nina. Sidon through the Ages. Beirut, 1971. Discussion of the discovery of the sarcophagus and the excavations at the Temple of Eshmun, with bibliography in the side margins. See figures 5–9 for photos and drawings of the sarcophagus.
- Peckham, J. Brian. “Tyre, Sidon, and Vicinity.” Chapter 3 of The Development of the Late Phoenician Scripts. Harvard Semitic Studies, no. 20. Cambridge, Mass., 1968. Discussion and bibliography about the issues involved in dating Eshmunazar's reign (pp. 77–87).
Gary Alan Long