Maronite Society at the End of the XVI Century

By Abbot Paul Naaman 
Vice President for International Relations, professor of history at the Holy Spirit University-Kaslik, Lebanon, and Former Superior General of the Lebanese Maronite Order.


This study is aimed at analyzing the history of the Maronites relative to one of their most critical periods, between the Mamluk domination (1252 A.D.) and the Ottoman rule (1516 A.D.).

Under Mamluk domination, which extended from the second half of the XIII century until the beginning of the XVI century, the Maronites became the target of all kinds of adversity. Maronite regions were completely devastated and a good number of them migrated to Cyprus where the Crusaders were still in control. 

Before the advent of Ottoman reign, however, and after a period of retreat, recuperation and reflection, the Maronites succeeded in regenerating their energies. This led them into an epoch of spiritual and cultural development, in which they quickly advanced on all levels: in demographic growth, in scientific and technical evolution and in economic and social progress. 

Consequently, having attained a high degree of maturity, the Maronites were able to contribute greatly, not only to the formation of their own community, but also to the identity of Lebanon and its consolidation as a state. Thus was born what was called the "Maronite Nation," a nation founded on the principles of knowledge and action, on liberty and justice, on authenticity and openness, on spiritual life and respect for others. 

In fact, by the time of the Ottoman occupation of Lebanon in 1516, the Maronites were ready for a new era of renewal. The difference between this period and the preceding centuries was great. It can be considered the age of renaissance of the Maronite Nation and ushered in its rapid development.

From then on, the Maronites were able to move about more freely and became more open in their relations. They effectively began to acquire the true characteristics of the Maronite Nation in the XVI and XVIII centuries and were functioning as a well-organized society headed toward realizing its aims of excellence and prosperity.

Evidence of this evolution can be found in a number of historical documents. For our study, we focus on only two writings which contain particularly important information. Both date to the XVI century and were written by two separate emissaries sent by the Apostolic See to inquire about the state of the Maronites during that period. 

The first document, which is one of the earliest reports on the Maronites and was written in Italian, was presented to Pope Gregory XIII in 1579 by Father Jean-Baptiste Eliano of the Society of Jesus. This document is a firsthand account describing the situation of the Maronites, as perceived by an actual eye-witness. (Anaissi: 1921: 56-61 and Kuri: 1989: 180-187)

The Maronites, however, reacted negatively to this report, noting that to a certain extent, it did not faithfully express the complete truth about their spiritual status. Their subsequent complaints before the Holy See provoked the dispatching of a second delegation, headed by Father Jérôme Dandini.

Like the first document, the second one was written in Italian and was presented by Dandini to Pope Clément VIII in 1596. The Maronites of that time judged that this second report more faithfully reflected the reality of their spiritual situation. 

The reservation of the Maronites over the first report, as Dandini later stated, is justified by the fact that its author, Eliano, attributed to Patriarch Michel Rizzi (1567-1581) words that he did not utter. (Feghali 1962: 51) Moreover, Eliano's report included liturgical and theological errors he pretended to have taken out of books he found in certain parishes, although the Maronites had long before taken these books out of circulation. 

Our study is based principally on the first report, which is divided into three parts. Part One is an introduction, in which the author tries to define the Maronite community of the XVI century, while Part Two and Three deal with the Maronite community's spiritual and civil organizations. These three parts serve as a plan for our discourse.

Meanwhile, our comparison with the second report, as well as with other documents and writings, will serve to give a more exact and precise image of the organization of Maronite society at the end of the XVI and the beginning of the XVII centuries.


Eliano wrote: "These people the Maronites … almost all of them live in the towns of Mount Lebanon above Tripoli and Beirut in an area facing the Occident…. Some of their families reside in Damascus, Aleppo, Tripoli and the Island of Cyprus. All together they do not exceed approximately forty thousand strong". (Anaissi, 1921: 56)

Three elements in this definition prompt our comment: the people or the community, the country or the place of their habitation , and their demographic number.

The People

Eliano wrote that the Maronites form a people. This means that, even in the harsh and difficult circumstances of their most oppressive period, almost to their quasi-extinction, the Maronites were considered a people, united and interdependent as an organized society and not simply dispersed individuals. They had their own areas, their towns and villages, their liturgy, their prayers, their behavior and traditions, their own costumes, their way of life, their scholars and books, their army and their internal and external relations. 

Dandini talks only of the Maronite Nation. In his address to the Pope for example, he begins "I, whom you have honored by sending him last year (1595) as a delegate to Mount Lebanon, to examine the situation of the Maronite Nation…." Later, he implores the Holy Father to take the

Maronite Nation under his protection and calls his attention to the importance and necessity of the Apostolic See's relations with the East through these Catholic people as intermediaries.

In a positive response to his proposition, the Pope confirmed Dandini in his mission as ambassador to the Maronites and expressed his satisfaction and happiness toward the Maronite Nation by nominating his nephew as their protector in Rome. (Dandini 1921: 231, 234)

The Country

This People-Nation was an organized entity even in its most detailed geographic moves and extensions. It had its permanent places of residence, most of the time fortified by nature, where it could savor its religious and national life, in full freedom and tranquility and without constraints or humiliation .

This People had its mobile emissaries, who moved everywhere in search of subsistence and work, but who always remembered the villages of their origin, where the large number of their brothers resided and where they could return during times of challenge or misery.

According to Dandini's report, as well as the writings of Ibn Al-Kela'i and other contemporary historians, the majority of the Maronite people inhabited towns and villages in Mount Lebanon, dominating Tripoli and Beirut and facing the West. Specifically, this means the regions of Ehden-Al-Zawiya, Jubbat Bsharri-Bilad Al-Batroun, and Jubbat Al-Mnaïtra-Bilad Jbeil to Nahr Ibrahim. These contiguous or neighboring regions formed a strategic triangle, which guaranteed the security of the Maronites and constituted the principal center of their religious and national lives. It was within this triangle that the Maronites joined their brothers in faith. With the Islamic conquest of the VII century, there began an influx of Maronites arriving in successive waves to live in Lebanon. This influx subsided after the destruction of their principal center -- Saint Maron's convent on the Orontes River in the region of Apamea in Syria Seconda -- in the middle of the X century. 

Beyond this strategic residential triangle, many other Maronite families settled in diverse neighboring areas:

  • On the Island of Cyprus, since the VIII century but increasingly after the retreat of the Crusaders in 1291.  
  • South of Nahr Ibrahim, after the dispersion of the Shiites by the Mamluks in 1305.  
  • In the region of the Shouf, after Prince Fakhreddin inherited the Emirate (princedom) of his father Korkomaz in 1584.  
  • In the Metn, the Gharb and the Jurd, once these regions were entrusted to Fakhreddin in 1591 and the 'Assaf Emirate was abolished in Kesrouan and replaced by the Banou-Saïfa. Like their predecessors, the Banou-Saïfa favored the Shiites at the expense of the Maronites, especially the Hamadeh tribe in Jubbat Al-Mnaïtra, Kesrouan and Jubbat Bsherri.  
  • With Fakhreddin in Sidon in 1592, in the Bekaa and Beirut in 1594.  
  • In the Kesrouan again, when Fakhreddin reigned anew in 1605.  
  • In Safa, Damascus and other regions, everywhere were Fakhreddin reigned, his friends the Maronites resided for reasons which we will analyze in the body of this study. 

It is difficult to determine with precision the number of Maronites during this epoch, even if Eliano pretended they did not surpass forty thousand. Without doubt, Eliano faced major difficulties in arriving at this figure, especially keeping in mind the impossibility of making a population census

At that time and particularly in view of the continued dispersion of the Christians. It may be that Eliano was inspired by a source that was available to him -- the book of the Crusader historian Guillaume of Tyre (+1183), in which the same figure was given without conducting a census or checking with reliable sources.

However, in a letter addressed to the Emperor Charles Quint in 1528, the Patriarch Moussa Al-'Akkari wrote "The Maronites possess 40,000 archers, well trained and all disposed to be put in your service". (Daou 1981: 180) Obviously, it is not possible that the total number of Maronites could be 40,000 in 1578, while in 1527 the number of the archers alone was 40,000. 

On the other hand, in his letter to Pope Gregoire XIII, the Patriarch Michel Rizzi (1567-1581) recorded that "the Maronites of Lebanon inhabit approximately 200 villages and towns." It is evident that the Maronites avoided establishing small villages and preferred to live in dense concentrations to escape the raids and be able to more easily defend themselves. We have actual evidence of these compact and adjoining clusters as in Zghorta, Bsharri, Hadcheet, Beka'-Kafra, Tannourine, 'Akoura and others. (Feghali 1962: 36)

Moreover, we can cite the testimony of Katchiamari, who wrote in 1605 to Ferdinand I the Prince of Tuscany, that Emir Fakhreddin when "organizing a crusade to the Holy Land, he can count on 20,000 Christian from the mountain," i.e. the Maronites. (Karali 1935: 70) 

The traveler Domingo Magri relates that, in 1624, the Emir had increased his principality due to his cooperation with the Maronites. In fact, there were 20,000 Maronites in his ranks and the majority of the Emir's chieftains were recruited from among them. (Karali, 1935: 38 and Daou 1981: 220)

Let us assume that the 40,000 number of archers claimed by Patriarch Moussa Al-'Akkari is exaggerated, and if we take the number to be 20,000 men as stated by other historians, we could conclude the total number of Maronites as 150,000. We arrive at this number by a simple deductive operation. If the normal proportion of mobilizing citizens was 13 percent during that era, the number necessary to mobilize 20,000 would be 150,000 persons.

It should be noted that the number 20,000 only concerns the Maronite villages and towns of the strategic triangle, i.e., the region of Ehden-Al-Zawiya, Jubbat Bsharri-Bilad Al-Batroun, Jubbat Al-Mnaïtra-Bilad Jbeil to Nahr Ibrahim. Outside this region, the mobilization of Christians would have been difficult and dangerous, since those who lived in Muslim areas were often obliged to live in disguise. Often, they would wear the white turban of the Muslims. They would sometimes deny belonging to the Christian religion. This was done to such an extent that they were called "The White Maronites" or even "The Maronites of cotton and linen," to signify that they were Christians and Muslims at the same time, as noted by Eliano himself at the end of his report. (Daou 1981: 166)


Under this title, Eliano insists on three points that he considered important: the religious hierarchical organization, the relations with the Holy See, and faith and liturgy.

The Religious Hierarchical Organization 

Eliano wrote: "These people, have a chief 'in spiritualibus', he has the title of Patriarch of Antioch. He has under his order six archbishops and a few bishops, although without titles, poor and ignorant, they are called by hierarchy to the prelature. Knowing that in Syria all the ecclesiastic dignities are in the hands of the monks of Saint Anthony, like they are in Greece in the hands of the monks of Saint Basile…, the Patriarch, who is chosen from among these monks, governs his people through the intermediary of secular priests who are allied by the bond of marriage like the Greeks." (Anaissi 1921: 65)

As attested later by Dandini in his report and by Patriarch Estephane Ad-Douaihy in his history of the Maronites, Eliano confirms in his text that the religious organization of the Maronites is monastic and hermetic in character, which perfectly matches their origins. 

It is certain that, since its appearance , Maronite society was distinguished from other Christian societies by its organization as a community, which was formed around Saint Maron's Monastery on the Orontes River. This group of Syriac people committed itself to live the faith of the monastery, which following the Council of Chalcedon was founded in 452 with the objective of defending the Council's positions. It was thus natural that the Maronite society would derive from the monastery its spirituality, organization and discipline. 

Living under monastic influence and organization, the Maronite community formed "One Grand Monastery," where the Patriarch was the superior. Like Dandini said, "to him [the Patriarch] alone is given the right to organize the spiritual life of the community…. He is the summit of the pyramid and from him proceeds all authority in the Maronite Church." (Dandini 1665: 53-54)

During that period, the Patriarch was elected by the synod of bishops and notables, and the clergy and the people ratified his election according to ancient tradition. As soon as he was elected, he became the Superior General of this "One Grand Monastery." 

The archbishops and bishops who aided the Patriarch in the administration of the parishes, were chosen from among the monks, because they take the vow chastity and are not married. However, according to Dandini, "there was found among them a married bishop, he was imprisoned in a convent to live with the monks and was prohibited from eating meat and from drinking wine." (Dandini 1656: 53)

As for the difference between the archbishops and the bishops, it had to do only with their jurisdictions. Dandini wrote that the word bishop was applied in the Maronite Church to two categories of persons. The first category included those charged with the administration of the monasteries without having pastoral duties. They did not have the right to wear the bishop's garb and distinctive emblems. They wore simple religious habits but were distinguished by wearing the miter and the cross during official celebrations. Toward the end of the XVI century, these bishops numbered six. As for the second category, it was formed of bishops who effectively assumed pastoral duties and managed the affairs the church. These bishops wore under their ordinary robes purple cassocks that reached the floor. They also wore a grand blue turban over their monastic cowl. (Dandini 1656: 54)

Since it was impossible for the Patriarch to visit distant parishes, he chose three bishops to assist him who also resided with him. One of the three was in charge of the temporal administration of the Patriarchal See of Qannoubine, whose duties essentially consisted of collecting the dues, the license fees and the harvest. The other two assistant bishops were charged with pastoral visits to the dioceses. In addition to these three bishops, three others were appointed for similar duties overseas and enjoyed full authority. The first resided in Damascus, the second in Aleppo and the third on the Island of Cyprus.

As for the other priests, the servants of the people, the Patriarch directly controlled their nomination. They had the right to marry before being ordained as priests. It was even more than a right; it was an obligation, for the people held single priests in suspicion. As for the deacons and sub-deacons, they didn't differ from the people except by their little white turbans.

The people closely followed this pyramidal organization. All the believers, without distinction of condition or social statue, enjoyed the right to confirm and ratify the ordination of the Patriarch and the bishops and to supervise the monks and the priests. All, young and old, met in the church at least two times a day, morning and evening, to pray, read the Bible, the Old Testament and the lives of Saints or to hear the sermon or participate in the liturgy. The multiplication of churches in villages and towns can only be explained by the extensive participation of people in religious life. We count, for example, more than thirty churches in the towns of 'Akoura, Tannourine, Bsharri and Ehden. There are even more than five churches in certain farms and hamlets. (Daou 1981: 188)

This hierarchical organization was not limited to the spiritual and liturgical domains, but extended also to the different important and decisive spheres of Maronite life. The Patriarch formed the summit of the pyramid. From him emanated all the authority necessary for the direction of spiritual and temporal affairs. To comprehend this cumulative authority, one must be reminded of the fundamental Maronite truth: the Maronites can not live and blossom but in light of one Kingdom – that of Heaven. 

During the Ottoman Empire, the Sublime Porte appointed local governors known as the Moqaddam (and charged them with collecting taxes imposed by the Empire. In 1377, the Mamlukes captured Patriarch Jibrail Hjoula and burned him in Tripoli. This incident weakened the authority of the Patriarch and consequently that of the Maronite community. Ergo, in 1382 the new Maronite Moqaddam Ya'qub requested that the Patriarch recognizes his authority. (Salibi 1973: 20) What in fact took place is that the Patriarch ordained him Deacon of the Church and asked him to manage the temporal affairs of the community.

However, when one of the temporal leaders become disobedient, the Maronite people stayed on the lookout for him, like the time when Moqaddam 'Abdel-Men'em in 1488 called to his aid the Muslims of the Danniyeh. Once they arrived near Ehden, in the Hmeina Pass, the village inhabitants charged against them and exterminated them. This is how the power of the Moqaddams was counterbalanced and the Patriarch's ancient authority and sovereignty were maintained. 

Relations with the Holy See

The organization of the Maronites would neither have been sustained nor have survived during the Mamluk and Ottoman centuries had it not been supported by allied forces which prevented its suffocation and asphyxiation and eliminated some of the obstacles in the way of its expansion and development. 

The force that maintained the Maronite vigor is without doubt the Apostolic See. The Maronite Church has had the historic opportunity to stay in union with the Church of Rome since the Council of Chalcedon (451 A.D.) To this day, the relationship between the Maronites and the Holy See has never been broken. Whenever circumstances required, the Maronite Church did not hesitate to resort to the Church of Rome. It did so through all its difficulties and pains, its mistakes and wounds, its greatness and misery.

Eliano stated: "All [the Maronites] recognize that the Roman Pontiff is the Chief of the Christian Church, to whom they have vowed obedience for the past 370 years since 1215, and adhere to all the Brevets and Bulls sent by the various Popes to the various Patriarchs. Thanks to the occasional dispatch of ambassadors, they have preserved this union… All [The Maronites] without exception hold affection for the Holy Apostolic See and the College of Cardinals and do not speak of them but with great reverence…. Due to the passage of time and their interaction with other nations and sects incompatible to their own faith, some errors have crept into their books, rituals and offices due mostly to the lack of educational guidance and not to their lack of readiness to accept the teachings of the Roman Church. A citation of these claimed abuses and errors will be presented to the Apostolic Holy See…. However, these errors and others which we have found in their books do not indict their true faith. These books were being copied without any concern." (Cheikho 1923: 29)

According to Father Louis Cheikho, Eliano sought in another place to excuse the Maronites by explaining that these abuses and errors infiltrated their books and manuscripts through the effect of time and copyists and to their continued proximity to infidels and heretics. Cheikho quotes Eliano as saying "however if you ask them about their faith, they answer that their faith is that of Rome." (Cheikho 1923: 29). 

The Maronites of today accept without any complication this reasoning, because they consider that the will of unity with Rome overcomes any ritual or even doctrinal differences. Since the Council of Chalcedon in 451 – that is, since the Maronite appearance in history as a community and until the time of the Crusaders and the Mamluks, with all the injustice and cruelty of the latter, Maronite relations with the West have never been broken. Even under the Ottoman Empire, their relations were consolidated, confirmed and fortified. 

The Lebanese in general and the Maronites in particular enjoyed the care of the Apostolic See and the protection of Western Christian countries, which reduced the influence of the Ottoman Empire and elevated the morale of the Lebanese and their governors. Emir Fakhreddin had become a danger to the Empire because of his Western friendships, notably with the Popes of Rome, the Princes of Tuscany and Venice and the kings of France, which friendship was due partly to the Maronites.

It is noteworthy to name some of the great achievements, which because of these interactions between Rome, the West and the East, changed the face of our history. First and above all was the exchange of delegations; and second, the spiritual and cultural missions which established a bridge between East and West, with Lebanon as its cradle. These two factors aided our passage from the Middle Ages to a modern and contemporary age – from decadence to prosperity and from an era of hand copying and a scarcity and monopoly of others over books and science, to that of publishing and the dissemination of books and knowledge. This occurred with the installation of a printing press at the Monastery of Saint Anthony of Qozhaya, which was brought to Lebanon toward the end of the XVI century, 212 years before Napoleon brought his to Egypt in 1798. 

This passage from an era of ignorance and improvisation to that of serious and planned science, was founded on the critique of texts and on a profound knowledge of languages, which enabled the translation of writings from different civilizations, such as Syriac, Hebrew, Latin and Greek. The alumni of the Maronite College of Rome, created in 1584, radiated their presence in both the East and the West. Some even directly contributed to the progress of science in the West; others greatly influenced the renaissance of the East by creating schools, building churches and monasteries, teaching languages and collecting manuscripts for printing and distribution.   This two-way current, going from East to West and from West to East, has confirmed the ties, reduced distances and mingled cultures and civilizations.

In short, these relations have opened doors for the West -- in the progress of its civilization, sciences and technology, in the development and enrichment of its languages and literatures. Mutually, it permitted the East to awaken and to engage itself in the scientific and technological renaissance. Without doubt, the alumni of the Maronite College of Rome played a significant role in the renewal of the Maronite Nation, in the awakening of the East and in the consolidation of ties between the Eastern Churches and Rome.

Doctrine and Rites

This title merits a fully detailed study. Eliano himself who, in his document presented no more than a very succinct outline on the subject, devoted three separate notebooks to it. These notebooks were published by the Discalced Carmelite Diego Sanchyez d'Avilla, better known under his religious name Thomas of Jesus (1568-1626), in his work De Propaganda Salute Omnium Gentium, published in Anvers in 1613. (Feghali 1962: 50)

However, it is necessary to note that the Patriarch Michel Rizzi (1581-1597), as soon as he knew about the private notebooks that Eliano had presented to the Pope, refuted them and insisted that the same Pope send a second delegation. His wish was granted in 1596 with the dispatching of Father Jérôme Dandini.

In his report written in 1596, Dandini enumerated the reasons why the Patriarch refuted Eliano's claims. He stated that "the Patriarch began by criticizing the Council (gathered by Eliano in 1580), where the envoys of the Pope requested from the Maronite Patriarch and bishops a blank sealed paper [blanc-seing], which they promised to fill with all the good and useful things about the nation. Confident that this promise would be kept, all the bishops hastened to comply by appending their signatures to the paper. But after leaving the country and returning to Tripoli, the delegates utilized the signed but blank sealed paper to inscribe a number of errors and grave heresies. Without talking to any of the bishops and without leaving them a copy, the two envoys returned to Rome and slandered the Maronites before the Pope and the Cardinals, by attributing to them errors they never committed. I was astonished at first, [continued Dandini] and I suspected the truth. Since this account has been confirmed, in all sincerity and innocence, by a Reverend Patriarch and also supported by his assistants, I dare not doubt it." (Dandini 1656: 58) 

In any case, this abuse of confidence and these remarks merit a separate study. However, in reading it carefully, we can say that the majority of the claims made were of a ritual nature and prove how jealous the Maronites were of their Eastern traditions. (Feghali 1962: 50-71)


From reading the two documents, and from referring to the study of Dr. Kamal S. Salibi about this period, we can conclude that the Maronites always aimed at realizing two objectives: to escape the dhimmi status in the Islamic world and to establish autonomy inside their country and enjoy free and reciprocal cooperation with their neighbors and allies, whether inside or outside their country.

The Maronites, in fact, succeeded at achieving these two objectives, especially with the two princedoms -- the 'Assafs and the Maanis. With the 'Assafs, they concluded their first alliance, which consisted of two Lebanese communities -- Christian and Muslim – participating in one power. This was realized thanks to including under one local unique authority, that of Emir Mansour 'Assaf Al-Turkomani and, for the first time, the Maronite, Sunni and Shiite regions.  With the defeat of the 'Assafs, the Maronites concluded a second alliance with the Druze Maanis in the person of Emir Fakhreddin. Aided by the Maronites, Fakhreddin was able to overcome his adversaries in the war that lasted from 1584 to 1591. 

A. The First Alliance: Christian-Muslim

Emir Mansour Al-'Assaf

Eliano wrote in his report: "The Maronite people are today under the rule of the Turks (Sultan Mourad II, 1574-1595) but not in an direct way; they are governed by a lord from the Arab Princes, one of those remaining from the Mamluk era, his name is Mansour. The Turkish State has entrusted him with all the Maronite villages [from which] to collect taxes imposed by the Sultan." (Anaissi 1921: 57)

Mansour was Prince Mansour 'Assaf Al-Turkomani, to whom the Turks entrusted the administration of the regions of Kesrouan and Jbeil to 'Akkar in the north and to Hama in Syria in the east. He governed from 1523 to 1580. The 'Assafs were not descendants of the Mamluks, as incorrectly affirmed by Eliano. They were Turkomans who were brought to Lebanon by the Mamluks to guard the coasts and to prevent contact between the Maronites and the Crusaders. They were successful in imposing their traditional leadership in the country. When the Ottoman conquest was established, Sultan Selim I accorded them the privileges of first-class citizens. 

The 'Assafs reduced their own tariffs which were added to the taxes they collected for the Sublime Porte. This allowed the Maronite regions that were under their authority to prosper. Kesrouan became the most prosperous region, which led the Maronites to leave the north to settle in Kesrouan. The 'Assafs encouraged the implantation of the Maronites in their regions, because the Maronites were loyal, humble peasants who worked for the development of the country without creating problems for the regime.  This was the reason the 'Assafs abandoned the Shiites and surrounded themselves with Maronite assistants and managers. (Salibi 1973: 23)

Sheikh Youssef Hobaïch

Eliano wrote: "To this Arab lord was associated a Maronite Prince named Youssef, who served him as his majordomo and principal advisor and was, to a certain extent, the protector of his people. Also, he wanted to have his share in the taxes and the imposts. To this end, all the people, including the Patriarch and the bishops, were placed under extortion and duty of the two." (Kuri 1989: 180-187; Anaissi 1921: 56-61)

Eliano continued by saying that he personally witnessed that portion of the funds sent by His Holiness the Pope to the Patriarch as alms being carried off by someone, the-above mentioned Youssef. (Kuri 1989: 180-187; Anaissi 1921: 56-61) 

This Youssef in question was Youssef Hobaïch, a Maronite from Yanouh, in the District of Mnaïtra. He had already been installed since the Ottoman occupation as a local chief of the Assaf government in Ghazir. His sons and nephews also put themselves under the service of the Emirs, and Prince Mansour resorted to them in liquidating his enemies and his opponents. 

This is how the Hobaïch [family] became one of the most powerful families in the region. Thanks to the Hobaïch family, the 'Assafs secured very strong relations with the Maronites. Aided by the Hobaïch, Emir Mansour succeeded in dominating the region entrusted to his governance. His power extended to the region of Tripoli, except its city [the town of Tripoli] and the city of Beirut. On their part, the Maronites saw the Emir as their friend and protector. This was when the Maronites recognized the leadership of the Hobaïch, because they practiced a new genre of government, which was not religious and priestly like that of the Patriarch, nor narrow and local like that of the Moqaddams. There was no emulation or competition between them and the Patriarch, but rather a complementarity [a complementary relationship] : they were proud of their church and jealous in protecting its rights and interests. They protected it [the Church] against injustices of the governments of Tripoli and supported it against the Moqaddams of Bsharri, who did not cease bothering it. Their influence with the Maronites was due to their closeness to the government of the 'Assafs and to their devotion in the service of the Church and the community. 

"This mutual confidence between the 'Assafs and the Hobaïch on the powers that they had in their regions permitted the Hobaïch to become great experts in the affairs of the country, both foreign and domestic affairs. They created and developed close ties with other powers and representatives from all the regions relevant to the authority of the 'Assafs, as well as with leaders of neighboring regions. They put all their expertise and potential in the service of the Church and their co-religionists with no other consideration." (Salibi 1973: 25)

The Reasons for the Success of the First Christian-Islamic Pact

The explanation of this obscure point in history is due to the diligence of Dr. Kamal Salibi, who attributed the success of the concluded pact between the Maronite Christians and the Muslim 'Assafs to the 'Assafs conception of power and its agreement with the aspirations of the Maronites. 

Salibi states that the Assafs government style did not resemble that which the Maronites had known under the governors of Tripoli and, after them, the Walis (Governors) and their representatives of the Ottoman authorities who governed according to the Islamic Law, which in turn was based on the interests of Islam and the Muslims. However, the "Assafs, who were Sunni Muslims, governed according to feudal usage, customs and local traditions, which were very different from Islamic Law. Their interests as Emirs were regional and had nothing in common with religious fanaticism. This permitted the Maronites to become an effective factor in the 'Assaf Emirate. This is when the interests of the Maronites converged with those of the 'Assafs, which have through time favored the creation of solid ties and a shared vision between the two parties. This fact pleased neither the Muslims nor the Ottoman representatives in Tripoli and Damascus. They suspected the 'Assafs and tried to create competitors for them in the region, even in Tripoli. Their choice landed on Youssef Saïfa Al-Turkomani, the great leader of 'Akkar, who they relied on and backed. (Salibi 1973: 25)

Even before Emir Fakhreddin took over power and unified the Druze Emirate in the Shouf, the 'Assafs were defeated and exterminated to the last descendant with the death on the Batroun road of Emir Mohammed, son of Emir Mansour. Their allies from the Hobaïch family were dispersed and those not killed fled to the Druze regions.

B. The Second Christian-Druze Pact: The Maronites and the Emir Fakhreddin

In his report Eliano wrote: "Due to the tariffs and to escape forced labor, many of them [the Maronites] left their own villages and settled among certain neighboring people called the Druze, who were men of war, belligerent and enemies of the Turks, however allied with the Arab Lord [Emir Mansour 'Assaf]. These Druze are known for their secret religion, but if we believe the Maronites, those who live among them [the Druze] end up taking quite a bit of their natural goodness…. Among the villages inhabited by these people there are five or six in which a group of the inhabitants are baptized Christians and who partake of all the sacraments and pay all rights to the Patriarch on one hand and on the other hand, like the Muslims, wear the white turban, go to their mosques, and if they are discovered, profess that they are Muslims." (Anaissi 1921: 58)

This small paragraph in Eliano's report, written without doubt in 1579, is but a reflection of the significant exodus of the Maronites toward the southern region, which began after the dispersion of the Shiites by the Mamluk in 1305 and was consolidated by the accession of the Maans, especially Emir Qorqomaz in 1544 and his son Fakhreddin II Senior in 1584.

As soon as Fakhreddin annexed the Gharb, the Metn and the Jurd districts, in addition to the Shouf, the exodus of the Maronites intensified, encouraged by the Emir in order to reinforce his partisans. He therefore profited from the presence, courage and openness of the Maronites toward all his economic, political and social plans to realize his great project -- independence from the Ottoman Empire. 

A profound understanding and total allegiance was born and developed between the Maronites and Emir Fakhreddin, based on common interests and reciprocal respect. Kamal Salibi describes this relationship as follows: "The allegiance of the Maronites and Emir Fakhreddin and the care which he gave them were based on the most sure of all foundations and the most durable of all forms of union and allegiance -- common interest." (Salibi 1973: 26-27)


With Emir Fakhreddin, as with the 'Assafs, the Maronites tried again to contribute to the foundation of a country which could guarantee them, as to all its citizens, dignity and freedom. With Emir Fakhreddin, thanks to their sacrifices and their tenacious perseverance, they succeeded in sealing the triangle of interests between the West, the Lebanese Emirate and the Maronite Nation -- a triangle whose efficacy gave birth to modern Lebanon.

Since Fakhreddin and to this moment in history, the Maronites multiply their efforts and endeavors, anxious to build the country which can guarantee all its citizens full freedom and openness to new and modern human horizons.

In his appeal addressed to the Christians of Lebanon, testifying to a great respect for differences and soliciting them to surmount all forms of hatred, Pope John Paul II reminded them that the Maronites, loyal to their profound nature, will always forgive in order to build a Lebanon equal to the level of its spirituality, humanity and mission.


Rabbath, A. Documents Inédits pour Servir à l’Histoire du Christianisme en Orient, 2 Vols., Paris, Leipzig, London, 1905-1910.

Daou, B. History of the Maronites (in Arabic), Beirut, 1981.

Dandini, J. Missione Apostolica al Patriarca e Maroniti del Monte Libano, Cesene, 1656.

Feghali, J. Histoire du Droit de l’Eglise Maronite,Tome I:Les Conciles du XVI et XVII Siècle, Letouzey et Ané: Paris, 1962.

Salibi, K. Maronite Historians of Mediaeval Lebanon, American University of Beirut, Beirut, 1959.

Salibi, K. The Maronites , Historic Insight, Al-Nahar Dossier, No 40, January 9, 1973.

Cheikho, L. The Maronite Nation and the Jesuit Order from the XVI-XVII, (in Arabic), Catholic Press: Beirut, 1923.

Karali, P. Fakhr Ad-Din II, Prince du Liban 1590-1635, La Revue Patriarcale, No 610 February-May, 1935.

Kuri, S. Monumenta Proximi-Orientis, I, Palesine, Liban, Syrie, Mésopotamie 1523-1583, Col, Monumenta Historica Societatis Jesu, Vol. 136, Institutum Historicum Societatis Jesu, Roma, Edition Critique, 1989.

Theodoret of Cyr, A History of the Monks of Syria. Translated by R. M. Price, Michigan, 1985.

Anaissi, T. Collectio Documentorum Maronitarum, Liburni, 1921.

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