Syrian and Phoenician diasporas: Inscriptional and archeological evidence

Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Syrian and Phoenician diasporas: Inscriptional and archeological evidence,' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified November 28, 2022,

Comments: People migrated from Syria and Phoenicia (on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean sea, just north of Israel) to a variety of places, sometimes for military purposes but mainly for engaging in shipping and trade, it seems. Excavated tombs at Marissa in Idumea (south of Judea) show that there was a substantial Sidonian colony founded there (perhaps by the Ptolemies) in the latter part of the third century BCE, for instance (see Peters et. al. 1905). Among the more substantial Greek inscriptions on a family tomb is this one referring to the leader of the colony: “Apollophanes son of Sesmaios, who led the Sidonians at Marissa for thirty three years and was considered the best and most family-loving of all those of his time, died, having lived seventy-four years” (Peters et. al 1905, 37-38 [no. 1]). The names of those occupying the graves include Semitic (Phoenician), Judean (Sariah, Babas), and Idumean names (incorporating the god “Qos”, e.g. Kosnatanos, Kosbanos).

Much of our inscriptional evidence (linked below) pertains to Phoenicians or Syrians forming associations in their land of settlement. The inscriptions and monuments  from Delos, an important trading centre, are most impressive. Quite often we find signs that such immigrants continued to honour the ancestral deities of their homelands while also finding a place for themselves in their society of settlement in other ways. The photo in the banner of this site is an example of this.  It is a bilingual (Greek and Palmyrene) dedication from Rome to the Palmyrene “ancestral deities” Aglibol (Moon) and Malakbel (Sun) by Iahari (Heliodoros in the Greek) son of Haliphi from Palmyra in Syria (IGUR I 119-120; 236 CE).

Syrians was a term used as a self-designation, but “Phoenicians” was most often a Greek-outsider term for a variety of different peoples who would self-identify (by city of origin) as Tyrians, Sidonians, Byblians, and Berytians, as some of the inscriptions here show.

You can read more about Syrian diasporas, including many of the inscriptions linked below, in Harland’s article  “Other Diasporas: Immigrants, Ethnic Identities, and Acculturation” (link).

Works consulted: J.P. Peters, H. Thiersch, and S.A. Cook, Painted Tombs in the Necropolis of Marissa (London: Committee of the Palestine Exploration Fund, 1905) (link).


Athens and the Piraeus

Delos Island

Other Greek Islands


Leave a comment or correction

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *