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Melkart

Melkart or Melqart was the god of the Phoenician city of Tyre, and was also venerated in its colonies, like Carthage. He probably was the one known as Baal in the Bible (although Baal seems to have been a more general name for Canaanite deities), while the Greeks identified him with Heracles. Melkart was the god of fertility and of the sea. The priests of Melkart had much political power in Tyre.

Melkart probably got his popularity as the most important deity during the reign of Hiram I, who built a large new temple for Melkart. Hiram also installed the yearly celebration of the egersis. It took place when the rains of Winter ended (in February-March), in which the god was burned, buried and resurrected. The fire was supposed to bring new life, an old theme in Phoenician mythology. The king himself had important ceremonial functions during this festival, and would hold a ritual marriage with a priestess of the queen, symbolizing the marriage of Melkart and Astarte. Sometimes Melkart was actually identified with the king, a habit that earned Tyre the wrath of the biblical prophets.

The veneration of Melkart was 'exported' westward by the Tyreans as they built their colonies. For example, Carthage sent a yearly tribute of 10% of the public treasury to the god in Tyre, an offering which appears to have been continued until the Hellenistic period.



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