The Sarcophagus of King Ahiram

The sarcophagus of king Ahiram


In 1923, the French archaeologist, Pierre Montet, discovered nine tombs dug for the Phoenician kings of Jbeil when parts of the hill collapsed due to heavy rains. A stone sarcophagus was discovered in the tomb V considered as one of the most important findings in human history.

The sarcophagus is that of Ahiram, king of Jbeil or Gubla as it was known then, around the year 1000 B.C

An inscription in Phoenician characters was engraved on the sarcophagus and its lid. It proved to be the first phonetic alphabet in the inscription of the world. The inscription includes 19 letters of the 22 that make up the Phoenician alphabet. The writing form as we know it today started in Jbeil, 3000 years ago.

The inscription is a malediction meant to defend the royal tomb from thieves; it states:

The sarcophagus inscription: “coffin with Ittobaal, son of Ahiram, king of Byblos, made for Ahiram his father, when he placed him for eternity”

The lid inscription: “Now, if a king among kings, or a governor among governors, or a commander of an army should come up against Byblos and uncover this coffin, may the scepter of his rule be torn away, may the throne of his kingdom be overturned and may peace flee from Byblos. And as for him, may his inscription be effaced.”

The sarcophagus was sculpted in limestone extracted from a village in the hinterland of Jbeil: Tartij. Studies showed that the sarcophagus was painted in red, black and brown, some painting is still visible on the lid. King Ahiram is represented sitting on his throne, holding a drooping lotus flower, symbolizing death, and receiving offering form his entourage and son.  On the lid was sculpted Itoobaal holding a blossoming lotus, symbolizing life, facing his deceased father, holding the drooping lotus.

As for the women on the sides of the sarcophagus, they were sculpted with their dresses hanging down from the waist, while grief is visible in their gesture. As for the lions sculpted at the base of the sarcophagus, they are meant to have a protective function.