(a Semitic name) was the god of the Phoenician
city of Tyre
. He was Tyre's specific Baal
('Lord'), literally 'Lord of the City.' Melkart is mentioned in Herodotus
and later Greek writers, though later Greeks tended to associate him with Hercules
. The veneration of Melkart was 'exported' westward by the Tyreans as they built their colonies, like Carthage
. 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
. 'Baal' as a name-element occurs in famous Carthaginians, such as Hasdrubal
. Punic culture spread the cult of Baal Melkart far and wide in the western Mediterranean: a tablet found at Marseilles
records the charges made by priests for offerings to Baal; Baal Melkart protected Punic areas of Sicily such as the "Cape of Melkart", and the Tyrian/Carthaginian god's protection extended to the sacred promontory (Cape Saint Vincent) of the Iberian peninsula, the westernmost point of the known world, where it was forbidden even to spend the night.
He probably was the one known as Baal in the Bible (although Baal seems to have been a more general name for Canaanite deities). The priests of Melkart had much political power in Tyre.
Melkart probably arrived in Tyre from its mother-city, Sidon, but he got renewed importance as the most important city deity during the reign of Hiram I, who built a large new temple for Melkart in the island section of Tyre, described by Herodotus and other Greeks. It contained the pair of symbolic pillars one 'of gold' the other of 'smaragdus'— often translated as 'emerald.' Hiram also installed the yearly celebration of the egersis, as the Greeks called it. It took place when the rains of Winter ended (in February-March), in which the god was burned, buried and resurrected, as a solar life-death-rebirth deity. Melkart was the Bull of the Sun, associated with the annual renewal of fertility. 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.