Melqart, properly Phoenician Milk-Qart "King of the City", less accurately Melkart, Melkarth or Melgart , Akkadian Milqartu, was tutelary god of the Phoenician city of Tyre as Eshmun protected Sidon. Melqart was often titled Ba‘l Ṣūr "Lord of Tyre", the ancestral king of the royal line. In Greek, by interpretatio graeca he was identified with Heracles and referred to as the Tyrian Herakles.
Melqart was venerated in Phoenician and Punic cultures from Syria to Spain. The first occurrence of the name is in a ninth-century BCE stela inscription found in 1939 north of Aleppo in northern Syria, the "Ben-Hadad" inscription, erected by the son of the king of Arma, "for his lord Melqart, which he vowed to him and he heard his voice".
Cult: literary testimony
Melqart is likely to have been the particular Ba‘al found in the Tanach, whose worship was prominently introduced into Israel by King Ahab and largely eradicated by King Jehu. In 1 Kings 18.27 it is possible there is a mocking reference to legendary Heraclean journeys made by the god and to the annual egersis ("awakening") of the god:
And it came to pass at noon that Elijah mocked them and said, "Cry out loud: for he is a god; either he is lost in thought, or he has wandered away, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is sleeping and must be awakened."
The Hellenistic novelist Heliodorus of Emesa in his Aethiopica refers to the dancing of Tyrian sailors in honor of the Tyrian Heracles, "Now they leap spiritedly into the air, now they bend their knees to the ground and revolve on them like persons possessed".
The historian Herodotus recorded (2.44):
In the wish to get the best information that I could on these matters, I made a voyage to Tyre in Phoenicia, hearing there was a temple of Heracles at that place, very highly venerated. I visited the temple, and found it richly adorned with a number of offerings, among which were two pillars, one of pure gold, the other of smaragdos, shining with great brilliancy at night. In a conversation which I held with the priests, I inquired how long their temple had been built, and found by their answer that they, too, differed from the Hellenes. They said that the temple was built at the same time that the city was founded, and that the foundation of the city took place 2,300 years ago. In Tyre I remarked another temple where the same god was worshipped as the Thasian Heracles. So I went on to Thasos, where I found a temple of Heracles which had been built by the Phoenicians who colonised that island when they sailed in search of Europa. Even this was five generations earlier than the time when Heracles, son of Amphitryon, was born in Hellas. These researches show plainly that there is an ancient god Heracles; and my own opinion is that those Hellenes act most wisely who build and maintain two temples of Heracles, in the one of which the Heracles worshipped is known by the name of Olympian, and has sacrifice offered to him as an immortal, while in the other the honours paid are such as are due to a hero.
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