The city-states of the Phoenicians were mainly situated in the region of what is today Lebanon. Their central city-states, that were founded in the period between about 3000 B.C. and 2750 B.C. included Byblos, Tyre and Sidon. All these where situated close to the coast and became centers of the Mediterranean overseas trade. The inland of the Lebanon is mountainous. Other regions are dry and bare. Although the Phoenician kingdom on land was small the Phoenicians founded a great sea empire that influenced the entire Mediterranean world.


The Phoenician Civilization

The Phoenicians were an advanced civilization. They were sophisticated in ship building and remarkable sailors. They were the first people from the Mediterranean world to venture beyond the Strait of Gibraltar, a narrow strip of water between the continents of Europe and Africa. Evidence further exists that the Phoenicians were the first people to sail around the African continent. Herodotus tells about the great feat of the Phoenicians in the fourth book of his histories:

The Phoenicians took their departure from Egypt by way of the Erythraean sea [the Red Sea], and so sailed into the southern ocean [the Indian Ocean]. When autumn came, they went ashore, wherever they might happen to be, and having sown a tract of land with corn, waited until the grain was fit to cut. Having reaped it, they again set sail; and thus it came to pass that two whole years went by, and it was not till the third year that they doubled the Pillars of Hercules, and made good their voyage home. On their return, they declared- I for my part do not believe them, but perhaps others may- that in sailing round Libya they had the sun upon their right hand. In this way was the extent of Libya first discovered.

Their trading ships were designed to be able to house a large amount of trading goods. These ships were called round ships, or are also known as galleys.


The Phoenicians founded numerous colony city-states along the coast of North Africa, Spain, Sardinia and Sicily. The greatest colony that the Phoenicians founded was Carthage in the north of Africa. It was founded by Tyrian settlers in about 814 B.C.


The Phoenicians traded numerous goods that were found in Phoenicia these included handcrafts, papyrus, cedar wood and red-purple dye. The Phoenicians where advanced crafts people. They produced fine works from wood, glass and metal, among others. Papyrus was also a important trading good of the Phoenicians. Byblos on the coast of Phoenicia became a center of the papyrus trade network. Cedar wood that grew in a large amount in Phoenicia became a good that was greatly called for. Foreigners sought cedar wood because it was aromatic and had an attractive color. The Phoenicians most valuable trading good was one of the most expensive goods, red-purple dye produced from the murex snails. These snails when left to rot produced one or two drops of dye. In total 60,000 snails were needed to produce one pound of dye. At such a price royalty were the only individuals that could afford to purchase this precious good. Purple became a color of prestige and royalty after the murex dye had been introduced. For example, the Roman Emperor in the Classical era of the Roman Empire wore a purple toga on public occasions the togae purpurae.

The Phoenicians further traded goods that were found in the regions were their colonies were situated. Goods from other lands included wine, ivory, precious metals, weapons and slaves.

The Phoenician Alphabet

The legacy of the Phoenicians was their alphabet. As traders the Phoenicians needed an effective way to record dealings clearly and quickly. To sustain their needs the Phoenicians developed a writing system that used various symbols to represent oral sounds, that is one symbol stood for one sound. As the Phoenicians ventured and traded throughout the Mediterranean they spread their Alphabet (from the Phoenician letters of Aleph-A and Beth-B). The Phoenician alphabet became the foundation for a collection of alphabets, including the Latin Script Alphabet.


The Decline of the Phoenician Trade

The Phoenician trade network collapsed when the Assyrians took over the eastern city-states by 842 B.C. Yet, these defeats caused exiles to found new city-states like Carthage further to the West.


There are five further parts to The Quest for the Phoenicians



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