Dr. Farid Karam’s love of antiquities began when he was a child. As a Cub Scout in Lebanon, he often had occasion to camp among historic ruins (not yet protected, back then). Later, he camped on his family’s land in the mountains of El-Koura, which included the site of an old Roman forest ranger guard house and a Roman tomb of a couple and young child, carved into a rock formation.
At the age of 12, Karam became a full-fledged Boy Scout and began going on camping trips. He began exploring in the areas. He spent time along the coast, including Tripoli, Byblos, and Tyre, where many rulers throughout history left their mark. “Every one of the conquerors left an imprint on this area, and it’s full of historical things,” Dr. Karam says. His favorite item from the Byblos area was a leather physician’s bag from the Roman period, barely intact, containing 57 medical implements: knives, abdominal probes for draining abscesses, and a cranial burr for relieving hematomas and abscesses.
In an exploration of the Ancient Roman ruins of Baalbek in Bekaa – another area traversed by various conquerors over the years – Dr. Karam saw jars, terra cotta objects, plates, and figurines in the area around the ruins of Roman baths, where six columns remain standing to this day.
The third area that Dr. Karam explored as a boy was the mountainous area overlooking Beirut and the Mediterranean – Beit Meri where, according to Karam, “the Roman elite had many plush homes where they would spend the summer. It was cool because it was more than 3,000 feet above sea level.” This was an especially interesting site to explore, as he discovered a network of lead pipes for irrigation and drainage among the residences — lead pipes which historians say contributed to infertility among the Roman ruling class and the downfall of the empire. In this area Dr. Karam also spotted coins and Roman sculptures of heads used as downspouts for the aqueducts.
As a child he was curious, but as an adult, Dr. Karam developed the means to purchase certified antiquities from licensed dealers in Lebanon. Amidst the civil war in Lebanon, he moved to the United States for good in the 1970s, having completed his medical residency and served in the US Air Force in the US in the 1950s. Dr. Karam went on to become chief of otolaryngology (ear, nose, and throat medicine) at Bay Pines Medical Center and associate professor of surgery at the USF College of Medicine.
The Farid Karam, M.D. Lebanon Antiquities Collection consists of 149 objects, including jars, goblets, bottles, oil lamps, unguentariums, and busts/figures. Most of the items came from Roman Syria, a wealthy province on the Eastern Mediterranean, and date from the 1st through the 4th centuries AD. Dr. and Mrs. Karam donated the collection to the USF Libraries, for conservation in the Special Collections department, in the late 1990s.
USF Special and Digital Collections graduate students and staff members painstakingly organized and photographed these objects from 360 degrees of view, and stitched them together using software that would allow them to be spun and viewed from every side. You can view the remarkable result on the collection’s page, experiencing the objects as though you were holding them in your hands.
The USF Libraries are proud to have been included in Dr. and Mrs. Karam’s philanthropy. Your contribution to the USF Libraries will support student success and research efforts throughout the USF system. To find out more, contact The USF Libraries Development Office.