Mount Aqraa (also called Jabal al-Aqraa, Zaphon in the Bible, and Mount Casius to the Greeks) is a mountain located near the mouth of the Orontes River on the Syrian-Turkish border around 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) north of Ugarit.

Rising directly from a narrow coastal plain, Jebel Aqra is a mariners' landmark with a long history as a sacred mountain.[1]

According to Ugaritic texts it was the sacred mountain of the storm god Baal (Baal-Hadad in ancient Canaanite mythology), where his palace was erected of blue lapis and silver and where his lightning overcame the nearby sea (Yam) and Death (Mot) himself. The thunderstorm-gathering mountain was an object of cult itself, and on it dwelt also the goddess Anat.[2] On its bare limestone peak the cult-site is represented by a huge mound of ashes and debris, 180 feet wide and 26 feet deep, of which only the first 6 feet have been excavated, in which the excavators reached only as far as Hellenistic strata before closing down.[3]

The mountain, Robin Lane Fox observes, had an earlier sacred history among the Hurrians, who had known the mountain as Hazzi and placed their own storm god Teshub on its summit.[4] Hittite rulers took up the name of its storm king and his victory over the sea by which he established his "kingship in heaven", according to texts found at the Hittite capital Hattusa.[5]


According to Isaiah in The Message Bible translation the mountain Zaphon is the location where the gods assembled [6] The old Semitic name Ṣapānu was used by the conquering Assyrians in the 8th century BCE and by the Phoenicians.[7] As a prominent peak in the northern part of the Canaanite world, its name was used, for example in Psalm 48, as a synonym for the direction north.[8]

The "Lord of the north", confusingly, could be attested far to the south. Through individuals travelling on errands of diplomacy and trade, the "Lord of Zephon", Ba`al Zephon protected his adherents far and wide: the temple of Baal at Ugarit had a sandstone relief, dedicated by a royal scribe to Ba`al Ṣapān, that had been sent from Egypt. The king of Tyre in 677 called to witness Baal Saphon in his treaty with the king of Assyria[9] Ṣapān is also mentioned as the abode of Ba`al in the Ugaritic Ba`al cycle.

The earliest Hellenic foothold in the Levant, at Al Mina, lies at the beach on its northern flank. Here Euboeans and Cypriotes experienced some of their earliest on-site experience of northwest Semitic cultures, from the early eighth century BCE onwards. "The Hittite name persisted in neo-Hittite culture into the ninth century BC and so when Greeks settled on the north side of Mount Hazzi they continued to call its main peak 'Mount Kasios'", Robin Lane Fox points out, observing that it was the Mount Olympus of the Near East.[10]

The cult of the god of the mountain was transferred, by interpretatio graeca, to Zeus Kasios, the "Zeus of Mount Kasios". Tiles from the Greco-Roman sanctuary, stamped with the god's name, were reused in the Christian monastery that came to occupy the eastern, landward slopes of Kazios.[11]

When kings and emperors climbed Mount Kasios to sacrifice at its peak sanctuary, it was a notable cultural occasion. Seleucus sought there the advice of Zeus in locating his foundation, a Seleuceia (one of many) on the coast. Coins struck there as late as the first century BCE still show the city's emble, the thunderbolt, sometimes placed upon the cushion of a throne. In the winter of 114/15 CE Trajan was spared in a major earthquake that struck Antioch; commemorative coins were struck featuring the shrine of Zeus Kasios, with its pointed roof on pillars, and a representation of its rounded sacred stone, or betyl.[12] Trajan's adoptive son Hadrian accompanied him; he returned in 130 CE to scale the mountain at night, no doubt, Fox remarks, to witness the rising of the sun, visible for several minuted from the peak, while the land below lay still in darkness; it was said later that a thunderbolt at the peak struck the animal he was about to sacrifice. In spring 363 the last pagan emperor, Juliuan, scaled the mountain, where he had an epiphaneic vision of Zuus Kasios, according to his friend and correspondent Libanius.

Greek theophoric names Kassiodora and Kassiodorus,[13] equally a "gift of Kasios", recall a vow of one or both parents made to ensure fertile conception.[14]

Christian hermits were drawn to the mountain; Barlaam challenged its demons by founding a monastery near the treeline on its eastern slopes, and the Simeon Stylites the Younger stood for forty years on a pillar near its northern flanks until his death in 592.

"Mount Kasion" in Egypt

A second coastal mountain, also known as "Mount Kasion" to Greek geographers such as Herodotus, who considered it to mark the boundary between Egypt and Syria, has been identified with the modern Ras Kouroun near the marshy Lake Bardawil, the "Serbonian Bog" of Herodotus, where Zeus' ancient opponent Typhon was "said to be hidden".[15] Here, Greeks knew, Baal Sephon was worshipped. The sandy mount stands out about the flat landscape, though it is a mere 100 metres above the sea.


Some or all of this article is forked from Wikipedia. The original article was at Mount Aqraa. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.

  1. Robin Lane Fox, Travelling Heroes in the Epic Age of Homer (New York:Knopf) 2009, ch. 15:"A Travelling Mountain" pp 243-58, assembles a well-referenced cultural history of the mountain, followed in this article.
  2. Fox 2009:244.
  3. The site, Robin Lane Fox observes (2009:245), is closed as a Turkish military zone on its border with Syria.
  4. Fox 2009:245.
  5. Fox 2009:245, quoting I. Rutherford, "The song of the sea" Studien zu den Boghaz-Köy-Texten 45 2001:598-609.
  6. Isaiah 14:13.
  7. Fox 2009:241f.
  8. "Zaphon"
  9. Both noted by Fox 2009:252.
  10. Fox 2009:246; these cultural connections are the them of Fox's book.
  11. Fox 2009:246, noting H. Seyrig in W. Djobadze, Archaeological Investigations in the Region West of Antioch and the Orontes, 1986.
  12. Fox 2009:248f.
  13. See Cassiodorus, born in Magna Graecia, who bears the name in its Romanized form.
  14. Fox 2009:248, notes also Kassi-opeia, whose daughter Andromeda was exposed to a sea-monster further along the coast, at Joppa.
  15. Fox 2009:253-56.

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