The Phoenicians thought these Lebanese trees were a great all-purpose resource, using them to build everything from houses, palaces, and temples, to their famous Phoenician ships!
The size and strength of the cedars were what made these trees valued above any other tree wood in antiquity—it smelled great, grew straight (perfect for building things with!) and its strength was unmatched. If you think West coast redwoods are tall and strong, they have nothing on the cedars of Lebanon.
It’s thought by many historians that access to this critical resource is what helped put the Phoenicians “on the map”, so to speak, of ancient history. Demand for this particular cedar wood grew very rapidly once others learned about it, especially from Egypt and Mesopotamia where—let’s face it—there were very few trees at all.
Think about it—palm trees are pretty flimsy, and acacia trees aren’t big enough to make a board much larger than a few feet in length.
The Mesopotamians had a solution to their no-tree situation that worked for them… and while it meant not using these super-trees from Lebanon, they were able to float stronger trees down the Euphrates and Tigris from the north. But the Egyptians? Well, they were at a significant disadvantage.
Ancient Egypt is well known for its battle-hungry Pharaohs, which made Egypt almost full dependent on the Phoenicians for the wood needed to build ships, wagons, and other machines of war—and daily life, too! Resin from these trees was used in the mummification process, and Lebanese cedar dust has been found inside some ancient tombs.
As a result, the cedars of Lebanon quickly became one of the biggest centerpieces of society for people like the Phoenicians—and the trees’ importance and legacy even made their way into literature of the Ancient Near East, with references to the cedars of Lebanon used as a symbols of enduring strength and uprightness.
Because of their importance, the cedars have been under threat of deforestation for centuries. One of the earliest conservation efforts was actually begun by the Roman Emperor Hadrian in 118 BC.
Today, there are sadly very few groves of Lebanese cedars left in the world, though re-forestation efforts are slowly ongoing.