Imagine a 2 metre swell. Then imagine the foam falling off the tops of the waves. We looked at each other. The locals were catching the small wooden vessels out to the island, and if it was working for them, well, let’s give it a go. I still to this day don’t know how the boat left the harbour at Tartus, the southern port for Syria on the Mediterranean. The tortured engine squealed as we plunged into the crashing swells at the entrance of the harbour, and our vision then alternated between dark green water and then patches of grey sky as we broached the crests.
Arvad is a rocky island around 800 x 500 metres, around 1.5km in a direct line from the coast, and today is cluttered with tall houses with winding narrow alley-ways. The crusader walls are still present on the northern and western margins of the island. A mosque is also seen on the western side. The trade of boatbuilding continues its legends today, with a cacophony of bright colours interspersed with wandering ropes and tackle. It is around a 10-15 minute run from the mainland, and the once important port is now dwarfed by the mammoth Russian renovated port at Tartus, south of the terminal from where the ferry leaves. This Russian port is of some interest to the bible student, as the northern host will invade the middle east with many ships Dan 11: 40.
The island of Arwad was noted as the centre for the Canaanite family the Arvadites. Notice the inclusion between the Sinites (Around Mount Hermon) and the Hamathites (mod Hama or biblical Hamath) clues to the northern origins of this family, Gen 10:18 ; 1Chron 1:16, It’s early history saw control under several Pharaohs, including Thutmos III and Rameses II, who saw the importance of controlling trade from this port, and the Amarna letters indicate association with the Amorites. The city was the administrative centre for a number of mainland cities including Amrit (greek Marathos) where one of the most complete Canaanite temples can be seen. The Canaanite gods of the mariner would have been called on frequently at this place. It’s early history is attested in tablets at Ebla and Alalkah (2) The city was divided into four quarters, and two of these are considered to known as “the sea gate” and “salvation on sea”!
The island is famous for it’s support of Tiglath Pileser I, with his soldiers sailing in the boats of Arvad. ca1020 BC Ashurbanipal II ca 876 attempted to make this island a tributary, but having rebelled it joined the alliance with King Ahab of Israel and Hazael king of Syria against Shamaneser II at the battle of Qarqar ca854BC, a location only around 25km from here as the crow flies. It’s revolt was held against it, and both Tiglath Pileser III and Sennacherib held the island under tribute, receiving tribute from Matanbaal II and Abdilele’ti respectively. Matanbaal III gave provisions for the building of the Ninevite capital under Esarhaddon 680-669BC and later under Ashurbanipal, the king of Arvad was to give daughters into his harem. (1)
An unamed king of Arvad with his builders were involved in the building of parts of Babylon under Nebuchadnezzar (2) It was a haven for a maritime power and contributed soldiers to the defence of Tyre Ezekiel 27:8,11.
Under Persian rule, the island was allowed to co-operate in various degrees with the centres of Tyre and Sidon. Straton the son of the last known king of Arvad, Gerashtart who was then serving in the Persian fleet was the representative of the king to surrender to Alexander 332 BC in his rapid march southward. The island is not listed between Hamath, Gebal and Tyre in Zech 9:1,2 because it was already considered a part of Grecian territory.
In crusade times the island was a strongpoint controlling the coast and providing a secure harbour for both troop and victual supplies. Following the surrender of Krak des Chevaliers, this was the to be last point on which crusader control was held before returning to Rhodes.
The island and it’s co-operation with Tyre is representative of men, nations and organisations that support the apostate church. At the destruction of Rome at the hand of Christ, those who carry out trade with the church (men who were sailors, shipmasters, and company in ships) will stand in amazement at the degree of destruction, with the method of its destruction as a millstone cast into the very arena in which it operated. Rev 18:17 The language is based on the desolation of Tyre where pilots of the sea and sailors with oars stand of the land to say of Tyre: “who is like Tyre, like her that is silent in the midst of the sea” Ezek 27:28,29,32.
- Rawlinson, Phoenicia pg 456-57
Edward Lipiński, Itineraria Phoenicia pg 279-287