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Phoenicia on Wikipedia

Coordinates: 34°07′25″N 35°39′04″E / 34.12361°N 35.65111°E / 34.12361; 35.65111

𐤐𐤕 / Pūt  (Phoenician)
Phoiníkē  (Greek)
2500 BC[1]–539 BC
Map of Phoenicia and its Mediterranean trade routes
Map of Phoenicia and its Mediterranean trade routes
CapitalByblos (2500–1000 BC)
Tyre (900–550 BC)[2]
Common languagesPhoenician, Punic
Canaanite religion
GovernmentCity-states ruled by kings, with varying levels of oligarchy or plutocracy
Carthage: republic after c. 480 BCE[3]
Well-known kings of Phoenician cities 
• c. 1000 BC
• 969 – 936 BC
Hiram I
• 820 – 774 BC
Pygmalion of Tyre
Historical eraClassical antiquity
• Established
2500 BC[1]
• Tyre becomes dominant city-state under the reign of Hiram I
969 BC
• Dido founds Carthage (legendary)
814 BC
• Cyrus the Great conquers Phoenicia
539 BC
1000 BC20,000 km2 (7,700 sq mi)
Preceded by
Succeeded by
22px Canaanites
22px Hittite Empire
22px Egyptian Empire
Achaemenid Phoenicia 20px
Ancient Carthage

Phoenicia (/fəˈnɪʃə/;[4] from Ancient Greek: Φοινίκη, Phoiníkē) was an ancient Semitic-speaking thalassocratic civilization that originated in the Levant region of the eastern Mediterranean, specifically Lebanon, west of the Fertile Crescent.[5][6] It was concentrated along the coastal areas of modern Lebanon and included parts of what are now northern Israel and western Syria, reaching as far north as Arwad, and possibly as far south as Acre or Gaza.[7][8][9] The civilization spread across the Mediterranean between 1500 and 300 BCE, establishing colonies in North Africa, Sicily, Sardinia, Corsica, the Balearic Islands and the Iberian Peninsula.

The Phoenicians came to prominence following the Late Bronze Age collapse, which had severely weakened or destroyed virtually every major culture in the region. They became renowned in antiquity and the classical era as adept merchants, seafarers, and explorers, developing an expansive and influential maritime trade network that lasted over a millennium. The term Phoenicia originated from ancient Greek and most likely described their most famous export, cloth dyed Tyrian purple; it was used to refer to the major Canaanite port towns that produced this commodity, and did not correspond precisely to Phoenician culture or society as it would have been understood natively.[10]

Phoenician civilization was organized in city-states, similar to those of ancient Greece, of which the most notable were Tyre, Sidon, Arwad, Berytus, Byblos, and Carthage.[11][12] Each city-state was politically independent, and there is no evidence that the Phoenicians viewed themselves as a single nationality.[13] In terms of culture, language, lifestyle, and religion, scholars differ on whether the Phoenicians were a distinct civilization or were no different from other residents of the Levant.[14][15] The Carthaginian Empire, one of the great powers of the classical period that was rivaled only by Rome, originated from Phoenician settlers.

The Phoenicians are best known for developing the oldest known alphabet,[16] which they transmitted across the Mediterranean world.[17] The Phoenician alphabet formed the basis of the Greek alphabet, which in turn was adopted for the Latin script, the world's dominant writing system. Long considered a lost civilization due to a dearth of written records,[18] academic and archaeological developments since the mid-20th century have revealed the Phoenicians to be a complex and sophisticated civilization, credited with facilitating the exchange of knowledge, ideas, and culture across the Mediterranean and the Near East.


The name Phoenicians, like Latin Poenī (adj. poenicus, later pūnicus), comes from Greek Φοίνικες (Phoínikes). The word φοῖνιξ phoînix meant variably "Phoenician person", "Tyrian purple, crimson" or "date palm" and is attested with all three meanings already in Homer.[19] (The mythical bird phoenix also carries the same name, but this meaning is not attested until centuries later.) The word may be derived from φοινός phoinós "blood-red",[20] itself possibly related to φόνος phónos "murder".

It is difficult to ascertain which meaning came first, but it is understandable how Greeks may have associated the crimson or purple color of dates and dye with the merchants who traded both products. Robert S. P. Beekes has suggested a pre-Greek origin of the ethnonym.[21] The oldest attested form of the word in Greek may be the Mycenaean po-ni-ki-jo, po-ni-ki, possibly borrowed from Ancient Egyptian: fnḫw [22] (literally "carpenters", "woodcutters"; likely in reference to the famed Lebanon cedars for which the Phoenicians were well-known), although this derivation is disputed.[23] The folk etymological association of Φοινίκη with φοῖνιξ mirrors that in Akkadian, which tied kinaḫni, kinaḫḫi "Canaan" to kinaḫḫu "red-dyed wool".[24][25]

The land was natively known as 𐤐𐤕 (Pūt) and its people as the 𐤐𐤍𐤉𐤌 (Pōnnim).[26] In the Amarna letters of the 14th century BCE, people from the region called themselves Kenaani or Kinaani, equivalent to Canaanite. The common Canaanite identity was gradually differentiated into regional subgroups, of which the Phoenicians were one, so they continued to use Canaanite as one of their self-designations.[26] Thus, much later, in the sixth century BCE, Hecataeus of Miletus writes that Phoenicia was formerly called χνα khna, a name that Philo of Byblos later adopted into his mythology as his eponym for the Phoenicians: "Khna who was afterwards called Phoinix".[27] The ethnonym survived in North Africa until the fourth century CE (see Punic language). As late as the third century, as mentioned by Augustine of Hippo, an African identified himself as Chanani.[26] Conversely, the names of the inhabitants of most prominent Phoenician cities Tyre and Sidon could sometimes also be used to refer to Phoenicians in general, so that for instance the self-designation Sorim, Tyrians, was used in Tripolitania.[26]


French philologist Ernest Renan observed the irony that Phoenician, "to which all antiquity attributes the invention of writing ... has scarcely left us any literature". Since little has survived of Phoenician records or literature, most of what is known about their origins and history comes from the texts of other civilizations and inferences from their material culture excavated throughout the Mediterranean.


Herodotus believed that the Phoenicians originated from Bahrain,[28][29] a view shared centuries later by the historian Strabo.[30] This theory was accepted by the 19th-century German classicst Arnold Heeren, who noted that Greek geographers described "two islands, named Tyrus or Tylos, and Aradus, which boasted that they were the mother country of the Phoenicians, and exhibited relics of Phoenician temples."[31] The people of modern Tyre in Lebanon, have particularly long maintained Persian Gulf origins, and the similarity in the words "Tylos" and "Tyre" has been commented upon.[32] The Dilmun civilization thrived in Bahrain during the period 2200–1600 BCE, as shown by excavations of settlements and the Dilmun burial mounds. However, some scholars note that there is little evidence Bahrain was occupied during the time when such migration had supposedly taken place.[33]

Cover of a Phoenician anthropoid sarcophagus of a woman, made of marble, 350–325 BC, from Sidon, now in the Louvre.

The Phoenician's Semitic language, along with evidence of an invasion at the site of Byblos, suggest they emerged from Semitic migrations to the Fertile Crescent between 2300 and 2100 BCE By contrast, some scholars, such as Sabatino Moscati, believe the Phoenicians originated from an admixture of previous non-Semitic inhabitants with the Semitic arrivals. The Canaanite culture that gave rise to the Phoenicians apparently developed in situ from the earlier Ghassulian chalcolithic culture. Ghassulian itself developed from the Circum-Arabian Nomadic Pastoral Complex, which in turn developed from a fusion of their ancestral Natufian and Harifian cultures with Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (PPNB) farming cultures, practicing the domestication of animals during the 6200 BC climatic crisis, which led to the Neolithic Revolution in the Levant.[34] Byblos is attested as an archaeological site from the Early Bronze Age. The Late Bronze Age state of Ugarit is considered quintessentially Canaanite archaeologically,[35] even though the Ugaritic language does not belong to the Canaanite languages proper.[36][37]

Emergence during the Late Bronze Age (1550–1200 BCE)

In the early 16th century BCE, Egypt successfully ejected foreign rulers known as the Hykos, a diverse group of peoples from the Near East whose fall marked the start of the of native dynastic rule under the New Kingdom. This in turn precipiated Egypt's incursion into the Levant, with a particular focus on Phoenicia; the first known account of the Phoenicians relates to the conquests of Thutmose III (1479–1425 BCE). Coastal cities such as Byblos, Arwad, and Ullasa were targeted for their crucial geographic and commercial links with the interior (via the Nahr al-Kabir and the Orontes rivers). Egypt benefited from access to Mesopotamian trade as well as abundant stocks of the region's native cedar wood, of which there was no equivalent in the Egyptian homeland. Thutmose III reports stocking Phoenicians harbors with timber for annual shipments, as well as constructing ships for inland trade through the Euphrates River.[38]

Map of Phoenicia.

According to the Amarna Letters, a series of correspondences between Egypt and Phoenicia from 1411 to 1358 BCE, by the mid 14th century, most of Phoenicia, along with parts of the Levant, came under a "loosely defined" Egyptian administrative framework. The Phoenician city states were considered "favored cities" to the Egyptians, helping anchor Egypt's access to resources and trade. Tyre, Sidon, Beirut, and Byblos were regarded as the most important. Though nominally under Egyptian rule, the Phoenicians had considerable autonomy and their cities were fairly well developed and prosperous. They are described as having their own established dynasties, political assemblies, and merchant fleets, even engaging in political and commercial competition amongst themselves. Byblos was evidently the leading city outside Egypt proper, accounting for most of the Amarna communications. It was a major center of bronze-making, and the primary terminus of precious goods such as tin and lapis lazuli from as far east as Afghanistan. Sidon and Tyre also commanded interest among Egyptian officials, beginning a pattern of rivalry that would span the next millennium.

The economic dynamism of Egypt's Eighteenth Dynasty, particularly under its ninth pharaoh, Amenhotep III (1391–1353 BCE), brought further prosperity and prominence to the Phoenician cities. There was growing demand for a wide array of goods, though timber remained the principal commodity: Egypt's expanding shipbuilding industry and rapid construction of temples and estates were a driving force of the economy; cedar was the wood of choice for the coffins of the priestly and upper class. Initially dominated by Byblos, virtually every city had access to a variety of hardwood, with the notable exception of Tyre. Every city saw an influx of wealth and a more diversified economy that included loggers, artisans, traders, and sailors.

Hittite intervention and Late Bronze Age collapse

The Amarna letters report that from 1350 to 1300 BCE, neighboring Amorites and Hittites were capturing Phoenician cities, especially in the north. Egypt subsequently lost its coastal holdings from Ugarit in northern Syria to Byblos near central Lebanon. The southern Phoenician cities appeared to have remained autonomous, though under Seti I (1306–1290 BCE) Egypt reaffirmed its control.

Some time between 1200 and 1150 BCE, the Late Bronze Age collapse severely weakened or destroyed most civilizations in the region, including the Egyptians and Hittites.

Ascendance and high point (1200–800 BCE)

The Phoenicians, now free from foreign domination and interference, appeared to have weathered the crisis relatively well, emerging as a distinct and organized civilization in 1230 BCE, shortly after the approximate transition to the Iron Age (c. 1200–500 BCE). For most of tthis era, Phoenicia was a prosperous civilization, and the period is sometimes described as a "Phoenician renaissance."[39] They filled the power vacuum caused by the Late Bronze Age collapse by becoming the sole mercantile and maritime power in the region, a status they would maintain for the next several centuries.[40]

Sarcophagus of Eshmunazor II, Phoenician king of Sidon (fifth century BCE), bearing notable Egyptian influence.

Byblos and Sidon were the earliest powers, though the relative prominence of Phoenician city states would ebb and flow throughout the millennium. Other major cities were Tyre, Simyra, Arwad, and Berytus, all of which appeared in the Amarna tablets of the mid-second millennium BCE. Byblos was initially the main point from which the Phoenicians dominated the Mediterranean and Red Sea routes. It was here that the first inscription in the Phoenician alphabet was found, on the sarcophagus of King Ahiram (c. 1200 BCE).[41] Phoenicia's independent coastal cities were ideally suited for trade between the Levant area, which was rich in natural resources, and the rest of the ancient world.

Early into the Iron Age, the Phoenicians established ports, warehouses, markets, and settlement all across the Mediterranean and up to the southern Black Sea. Initially led by Tyre, colonies were established on Cyprus, Sardinia, the Balearic Islands, Sicily, and Malta, as well as the agriculturally-rich mainland of North Africa and the Iberian Peninsula. Though disputed, some scholars believe Carthage, which would later emerge as a major power in the western Mediterranean, was founded during the reign of Pygmalion of Tyre (831–735 BCE).[42] The Phoenician's complex mercantile network supported what Fernand Braudel calls an early example of a "world-economy", described as "an economically autonomous section of the planet able to provide for most of its own needs" due to links and exchanges provided by the Phoenicians.[43]

A unique concentration in Phoenicia of silver hoards dated some time during its high point contains hacksilver (used for currency) that bears lead isotope ratios matching ores in Sardinia and Spain.[44] This metallic evidence indicates the extent of Phoenician trade networks. It also seems to confirm the Biblical attestation of a western Mediterranean port city,Tarshish, supplying King Solomon of Israel with silver via Phoenicia.[45]

The first textual account of the Phoenicians during the Iron Age comes from Assyrian King Tiglath-Pileser I, who recorded his campaign against the Phoenicians between 1114 and 1076 BCE.[40] Seeking access to the Phoenician's high quality cedar wood, he describes exacting tribute from the leading cities at the time, Byblos and Sidon. Roughly a year later, the Egyptian priest, Wenamun describes his efforts to procure cedar wood for a religious temple from 1075 to 1060 BCE.[46][Note 1] Contradicting the account of Tiglath-Pileser I, Wenamun describes Byblos and Sidon as impressive and powerful coastal cities, which suggests that the Assyrian siege was ineffectual.[47] Although once vassals of the Egyptians during the Bronze Age, the city states were now able to reject Wenamun's demand for tribute, instead forcing the Egyptians to agree to a commercial arrangement.[47] This indicates the extent to which the Phoenicians had become a more influential and independent people.

The collection of city states constituting Phoenicia came to be characterized by outsiders, and even the Phoenicians themselves, by one of the dominant states at a given time. For many centuries, Phoenicians and Canaanites alike were alternatively called Sidonians or Tyrians. Throughout much of the 11th century BCE, the biblical books of Joshua, Judges, and Samuel use the term Sidonian to describe all Phoenicians; by the tenth century BCE, Tyre rose to become the richest and most powerful Phoenician city state, particularly during the reign of Hiram I (c. 969–936 BCE). Described in the Jewish Bible as a contemporary of kings David and Solomon of Israel, he is best known for being commissioned to build Solomon's Temple, where the skill and wealth of his city state is noted.[48] Overall, the Old Testament references Phoenician city states—namely Sidon, Tyre, Arvad (Awad) and Byblos—over 100 times, indicating the extent to which Tyrian and Phoenician culture was recognized.[49]

Indeed, the Phoenicians stood out from their contemporaries in that their rise was relatively peaceful. As archaeologist James B. Pritchard notes, "They became the first to provide a link between the culture of the ancient Near East and that of the uncharted world of the West…They went not for conquest as the Babylonians and Assyrians did, but for trade. Profit rather than plunder was their policy."[50] Pritchard observes that even the Israelites, who were in conflict with virtually every neighboring culture, seemed to regard the Phoenicians as "respected neighbors with whom Israel was able to maintain amicable diplomatic and commercial relations throughout a span of a half millennium … Yet despite the ideological differences between Israel and her northern neighbors, detente prevailed."[49]

The Nora Stone, found in Sardinia, Italy in the 18th century, is the most ancient Phoenician inscription ever found outside the Phoenician heartland (c. eighth-ninth century BCE). It is indicative of the expansive trade network the Phoenicians established in ancient times. National Archaeological Museum, Cagliari, Italy.

During the rule of the priest Ithobaal (887–856 BCE), Tyre expanded its territory as far north as Beirut (incorporating its erstwhile rival Sidon) and into part of Cyprus; this unusual act of aggression was the closest the Phoenicians ever came to forming a unitary territorial state.[47] Tellingly, once his realm reached its greatest territorial extent, Ithobaal declared himself "King of the Sidonians", a title that would be used by his successors and mentioned in both Greek and Jewish accounts.[47]

Phoenician alphabet

The Phoenicians were among the first state-level societies to make extensive use of alphabets. The family of Canaanite languages, spoken by Israelites, Phoenicians, Amorites, Ammonites, Moabites and Edomites, was the first historically attested group of languages to use an alphabet, derived from the Proto-Canaanite script, to record their writings. The Proto-Canaanite script uses around 30 symbols but was not widely used until the rise of new Semitic kingdoms in the 13th and 12th centuries BCE.[51] The Proto-Canaanite script is derived from Egyptian hieroglyphs.[52]

During their high point, specifically around 1050 BCE,[37] the Phoenicians developed a script for writing Phoenician, a Northern Semitic language. The Canaanite-Phoenician alphabet consists of 22 letters, all consonants.[17] It is believed to be one of the ancestors of modern alphabets.[53][54] Through their maritime trade, the Phoenicians spread the use of the alphabet to Anatolia, North Africa, and Europe, where it likely served the purpose of communication and commercial relations.[40] The alphabet was adopted by the Greeks, who developed it to have distinct letters for vowels as well as consonants.[55][56]

The name Phoenician is by convention given to inscriptions beginning around 1050 BCE, because Phoenician, Hebrew, and other Canaanite dialects were largely indistinguishable before that time.[37][16] The so-called Ahiram epitaph, engraved on the sarcophagus of King Ahiram from about 1000 BCE, shows a fully developed Phoenician script.[57][58][59]

Peak and gradual decline (900–586 BCE)

The Late Iron Age saw the height of Phoenician shipping, mercantile, and cultural activity, particularly between 750 and 650 BCE, during the early Greek Archaic period.[40] At this stage, Phoenician influence was visible in the "Orientalization" of Greek cultural and artistic conventions from Egyptian and Near Eastern cultures transmitted by the Phoenician. The infusion of various technologies, scientific principles, and ideas from all over the region laid the foundations for the emergence of classical Greece in the fifth century BCE.[40]

The Phoenicians, already well known as peerless seafarers and traders, had now developed into a distinct and sophisticated culture in their own right. They learned to manufacture both common and luxury goods, becoming "renowned in antiquity for clever trinkets mass produced for wholesale consumption."[60] They were proficient in glass-making, engraved and chased metalwork (including bronze, iron, and gold), ivory carving, and woodwork. Among their most sought after goods were fine textiles, typically dyed with the famed Tyrian purple. Homer's Iliad, which was composed during this period, references the quality of Phoenician clothing and metal goods.[40] Phoenicians also became the leading producers of glass in the region, with thousands of flasks, beads, and other glassware being shipped across the Mediterranean.[61] Colonies in Spain appeared to have utilized the potter's wheel,[62] while Carthage, now a nascent city state, utilized serial production to produce large numbers of ships quickly and at moderate cost.[63] The skill and quality of Phoenician goods was reputable enough that they established "enclaves of craftsmen in communities where native technical skills were less developed", including in Greece.

Two bronze fragments from an Assyrian palace gate depicting the collection of tribute from the Phoenician cities of Tyre and Sidon (859–824 B.C.E.) British Museum.

Vassalage under the Assyrians (858-608 BCE)

As a mercantile power concentrated along a narrow coastal strip of land, the Phoenicians lacked the size and population to support a large military. Thus, as neighboring empires began to rise, the Phoenicians increasingly fell under the sway of foreign rulers, who to varying degrees circumscribed their autonomy.[47]

The Assyrian conquest of Phoenicia began with King Shalmaneser III, who rose to power in 858 BCE and began a series of campaigns against neighboring states. The Phoenician city states fell under his rule over a period of three years, forced to pay heavy tribute in money, goods, and natural resources.[47] However, the Phoenicians were not annexed outright—they remained in a state of vassalage, subordinate to the Assyrians but allowed a certain degree of freedom. Relative to other conquered peoples in the empire, the Phoenicians were treated well, due to a history of otherwise amicable relations with the Assyrians, and to their importance as a source of income and even diplomacy for the expanding empire.[47]

After the death of Shalmaneser III in 824 BCE, the Phoenicians maintained their quasi-independence, as subsequent rulers did not wish to meddle in their internal affairs, lest they deprive their empire of a key source of capital. This changed in 744 BCE. with the ascension of Tiglath-Pileser III, who sought to forcefully incorporate surrounding territories rather than keep them subordinate. By 738 BCE., most of the Levant, including northern Phoenicia, were annexed and fell directly under Assyrian administration; only Tyre and Byblos, the most powerful of the city states, remained as tributary states outside of direct control.

Within years Tyre and Byblos rebelled. Tiglath-Pileser III quickly subdued both cities and imposed heavier tribute. After several years, Tyre rebelled again, this time allying with its erstwhile rival Sidon. After two to three years, Sargon II (722-705 BCE) successfully besieged Tyre in 721 BCE and crushed the alliance. In 701 BCE, his son and successor Sennacherib suppressed further rebellions across the region, reportedly deporting most of Tyre's population to the Assyrian capital of Nineveh. During the seventh century BCE, Sidon rebelled and was completely destroyed by Esarhaddon (681-668 BCE), who enslaved its inhabitants and built a new city on its ruins.

While the Phoenicians endured unprecedented repression and conflict, by the end of the seventh century BCE., the Assyrians had been weakened by successive revolts throughout their empire, which made led to their destruction by the Iranian Median Empire.

Babylonian rule (605–538 BCE)

The Babylonians, formerly vassals of the Assyrians, took advantage of the empire's collapse and rebelled, quickly establishing the Neo-Babylonian Empire in its place. The decisive battle of Carchemish in northern Syria ended the historic hegemony of the Assyrians and their Egyptian allies over the Near East. While Babylonian rule over Phoenicia was brief, it hastened the precipitous decline that began under the Assyrians. Phoenician cities revolted several times throughout the reigns of the first Babylonian king, Nabopolassar (626–605 BCE), and his son Nebuchadnezzar II (c. 605–c. 562 BCE). The latter's tenure witnessed several regional rebellions, especially in the Levant. After suppressing a revolt in Jerusalem, Nebuchadnezzar besieged the rebellious Tyre, which resisted for thirteen years from 587 to 574 BCE. The city ultimately capitulated under "favorable terms".[64]

During the Babylonian period, Tyre briefly became "a republic headed by elective magistrates",[65] adopting a system of government consisting of a pair of judges, known as sufetes, who were chosen from the most powerful noble families and served short terms.[66]

Persian period (539–332 BCE)

Following over three centuries vassalage and domination by their Mesopotamian neighbors, the Phoenician city states had generally managed to remain relatively independent and prosperous.[47] Nevertheless, the conquests of the late Iron Age took their toll and left the Phoenicians politically and economically weakened. Phoenicia did not collapse so much as gradually lose its influence and autonomy in the face of growing foreign powers. Even when conquered, many of the city states continued to flourish, leveraging their role as intermediaries, skilled shipbuilders, and adroit traders for one foreign suzerain or another.[47]

Phoenicians constructing Pontoon Bridges for Xerxes I of Persia during the second Persian invasion of Greece in 480 B.C.E.

In 539 BCE, Cyrus the Great, king and founder of the Persian Achaemenid Empire, had exploited the unraveling Neo-Babylonian Empire and took the capital of Babylon.[67] As Cyrus began consolidating territories across the Near East, the Phoenicians apparently made the pragmatic calculation of "[yielding] themselves to the Persians."[68] Most of the Levant was consolidated with Cyprus into a single satrapy (province), which was made to pay a yearly tribute of 350 talents; by comparison, Egypt and Libya paid 700 talents, continuing the pattern begun with the Assyrians of Phoenicians being treated with a relatively lighter hand by most rulers.[69]

In fact, the area of Phoenicia was later divided into four vassal kingdoms—Sidon, Tyre, Arwad, and Byblos—which were allowed fairly significant autonomy. Unlike in other areas of the empire (including adjacent Jerusalem and Samaria) there is no record of Persian administrators governing the Phoenician city-states. Local Phoenician kings were allowed to remain in power and even given the same rights as Persian satraps (governors), such as passing their office to a son and mining their own coins.[67] The otherwise decentralized nature of Persian administration meant the Phoenicians, though no longer an independent and influential power, could at least continue to conduct their political and mercantile affairs with relative freedom.[70]

Coin of Abdashtart I of Sidon during the Achaemenid period. He is depicted behind the Persian king on the chariot.

Nevertheless, during the Persian era, many Phoenicians left to settle elsewhere in the Mediterranean, particularly father west; many went to Carthage, which by this point was already an established and prosperous empire spanning northwest Africa, Iberia, and parts of Italy. Indeed, the Phoenicians continued to show solidarity to their former colony-turned-empire, with Tyre going so far as to defy King Cambyses II's order to sail against them, which Herodotus claims prevented the Persians from capturing Carthage.[68] The Tyrians and Phoenicians escaped punishment because they had peacefully acceded to Persian rule years earlier and were relied upon for sustaining Persian naval power.[68] Nonetheless, the unreliability of Tyre led to better treatment and privileges for its principal rival, Sidon.[67] The Phoenicians remained a core asset to the Achaemenid Empire, particularly for their prowess in shipbuilding, navigation, and maritime technology and skill—all of which the Persians lacked as a predominately land based power.[67] Archaeologist H. Jacob Katzenstein describes the Persian empire as a "blessing" to the Phoenicians, whose cities flourished due to their strategic and economic importance. He continues:

The Phoenician towns became a strong factor in the development of Persian policy because of their fleets and their great maritime knowledge and experience, on which the Persian navy depended. The Persian king recognized this influential position, and the Persians regarded the Phoenicians more as allies than subjects. Arvad, Sidon, and Tyre were given large tracts of land and allowed to trade both on the Phoenician and Palestinian coast.[67]

Consequently, the Phoenicians appeared to have been consenting members of the Persian imperial project. For example, they willingly furnished the bulk of the Persian fleet during the Greco-Persian Wars of the late fifth century BCE.[71] Herodotus considers them "the best sailors" among Persian forces.[72] Phoenicians under Xerxes I were equally commended for their ingenuity in building the Xerxes Canal and the pontoon bridges that allowed his forces to cross into mainland Greece.[73] Nevertheless, they were reportedly harshly punished by the Persian king following his ultimate defeat at the Battle of Salamis, which he blamed on Phoenician cowardice and incompetence.[74]

In the mid fourth century BCE, King Tennes of Sidon led a failed rebellion against Artaxerxes III, enlisting the help of the Egyptians, who were subsequently drawn into a war with the Persians. A detailed account of the rebellion and subsequent conflict was described by Diodorus Siculus.[75] The resulting destruction of the city led once more to the resurgence of its rival Tyre, which remained the principal Phoenician city for two decades until the arrival of Alexander the Great.

Hellenistic period (332–63 BCE)

Located on the western periphery of the Persian Empire, Phoenicia was one of the first areas to be conquered by Alexander the Great during his military campaigns across western Asia. Alexander's main target in the Persian Levant was Tyre, now its largest and most important city. It capitulated after a roughly seven month siege, during which many of its citizens fled to Carthage.[76] Tyre's refusal to allow Alexander to visit its temple to Melqart, culminating in the killing of his envoys, led to a brutal reprisal: 2,000 of its leading citizens were crucified and a puppet ruler was installed.[77] The rest of Phoenicia easily came under his control, with Sidon, the second most powerful city, surrendering peacefully.[66]

A naval action during Alexander the Great's siege of Tyre (350 B.C.). Drawing by André Castaigne, 1888–89.

Unlike the Phoenicians—and for that matter their former Persian overlords—the Greeks were notably indifferent, if not hostile, to foreign cultures.[76] Alexander's empire had a policy of Hellenization, whereby Greek culture, religion, and sometimes language were spread or imposed across conquered territories. This process was typically implemented through the founding of new cities (most notably Alexandria in Egypt), the settlement of a Greek urban elite, and the alteration of native place names to Greek.[76]

However, the Phoenicians were once again an outlier within an empire: there was evidently no "organised, deliberate effort of Hellenisation in Phoenicia", and with one or two minor exceptions, all Phoenician city states retained their native names, while Greek settlement and administration appears to have been limited.[76] This is despite the fact that adjacent areas had been Hellenized, as had peripheral territories like the Caucasus and Bactria.

Phoenicians continued to maintain cultural and commercial links with their western counterparts after Alexander's conquest. Polybius recounts how the Seleucid king Demetrius I escaped from Rome by boarding a Carthaginian ship in route to deliver goods to Tyre.[78] An inscription in Malta, made between the second and third centuries BCE, was dedicated to Herakles/Melqart in both Phoenician and Greek. Absent any records of daily life under Macedonian rule, to the extent the Phoenicians were subject to some degree of Hellenization, "there was much continuity with their Phoenician past—in language and perhaps in institutions; certainly in their cults; probably in some sort of literary tradition; perhaps in the preservation of archives; and certainly in a continuous historical consciousness."[79] There is even evidence that a Hellenistic-Phoenician culture spread inland to Syria.[80] The adaptation to Macedonian rule was likely aided by the Phoenician's historical ties with the Greeks, with whom they shared some mythologies; the two peoples were even sometimes considered "relatives".[81]

Alexander's empire collapsed soon after his death in 323 BCE, dissolving into several rival kingdoms ruled by his generals, relatives, or friends (diadochi). The Phoenicians came under the control of the largest and most powerful of these successors, the Seleucids. The Phoenician homeland was repeatedly contested by the Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt during the forty year Syrian Wars, coming under Ptolemaic rule in the third century BCE.[82] The Seleucids reclaimed the area the following century, holding it until the mid-first century BCE. The Phoenicians were evidently allowed a considerable degree of autonomy.[83]

During the Seleucid Dynastic Wars (157-63 BCE), the Phoenician cities were fought over by the warring factions of the royal family. The empire, which once stretched from the Aegean Sea to Pakistan, was reduced to a rump state comprising portions of the Levant and southeast Anatolia. Little is known of the state of Phoenicia during this time, but the Seleucid Kingdom was severely weakened and existed solely as a useful buffer between the Romans and their eastern rivals. The rise of Rome as a Mediterranean power, after centuries Phoenician decline, led to the first major challenge to Phoenician supremacy over the see in a millennium.

The Punic Wars and Roman Rule

While the Phoenician motherland was enduring a succession of foreign invasions, its settlement of Carthage was flourishing in northwest Africa, eventually becoming the only major continuation of Phoenician civilization and culture. Founded in the ninth century BCE as a colony of Tyre, Carthage became an independent city state around 650 BCE and soon rose to become a major power, exercising political hegemony over other Phoenician settlements throughout the western Mediterranean.

The state of the western Mediterranean prior to the First Punic War in 264 B.C.

Beginning in the fifth century BCE, while Phoenicia was under Babylonian rule, Carthage became the principal commercial center of the western Mediterranean and one of two hegemonic powers in the whole Mediterranean, rivaled only by Rome. Although it developed a distinct identity and culture, sometimes described as Punic (from the Latin poenus and punicus), the Carthaginians still acknowledged their Phoenician heritage and maintained many of the same customs, practices, and religious traditions, albeit with some localized changes; their Punic language was a dialect of Phoenician. Indeed, the term Punic was used by the Romans, and now by modern scholars, to refer to Phoenicians of the western Mediterranean.

Carthage oversaw the mining of iron and precious metals from Iberia, and used its considerable naval power and mercenary armies to protect commercial interests, until Rome finally destroyed it in 146 BC at the end of the Punic Wars.

The Seleucid Kingdom, including Phoenicia, was seized by Tigranes the Great of Armenia in 82 BCE, prompting Roman general Lucullus to intervene and conquer the territory in 62 BCE. In 65 BCE, Pompey finally incorporated the territory as part of the Roman province of Syria. Phoenicia became a separate province around the third century C.E., with the Phoenicians lacking the autonomy and cultural continuity that had been accorded by previous powers.

While the annihilation of Carthage and absorption of the Levant put an end to Phoenician civilization, vestiges of the Phoenicians still remained, particularly their language. In the former motherland, it appeared to have persisted until roughly the ninth century.[84] In the western Mediterranean, Punic culture survived in Sardinia at least 400 years after the Roman conquest, with the language still spoken and written.[76] In the former Carthaginian heartland of Africa, Punic could be written until the second or third centuries (albeit in Roman and Greek script) and remained spoken among commoners at least until the end of the fourth century.[76]


The Phoenicians were a Semitc people,[40] specifically an offshoot of the Canaanites, an ancient group of Semitic-speaking peoples that emerged at least in the second millennium BCE. Though they would often remain known by outsides as Canaanites, and continued to self-identify as such, the Phoenicians became a distinct people some time in the Late Bronze Age, between the 14th and 13th centuries.[85] Phoenician identity was not mutually exclusively with Canaanite identity, since the former was a subgroup of the latter.

Centuries of largely peaceful relations between Phoenicians and various groups across the ancient world suggest their demographic makeup may have been cosmopolitan and variable, especially when compared to their mostly homogenous Greek and Egyptian neighbors. A 2018 study of mitochondrial lineages in Sardinia concluded that the Phoenicians were "inclusive, multicultural and featured significant female mobility", with evidence of indigenous Sardinians integrating "peacefully and permanently" with Phoenicians settlers.[86] The study also found evidence suggesting that Europeans may have settled in the Phoenician city states.

The Phoenician settlement of Carthage, located in modern day Tunisia, grew into a multi-ethnic empire that spanned North Africa, Sardinia, Sicily, Malta, the Baleric Islands, and southern Iberia. The extent to which non-Phoenicians were integrated into Carthaginian society, including through inter-marriage, is unknown. However, the Carthaginian military was documented to contain a wide variety of ethnic groups, including Berbers, Celts, and indigenous Iberians.

Genetic studies

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A study led by Pierre Zalloua claimed that six subclades of Haplogroup J-M172 (J2)—thought to have originated between the Caucasus Mountains, Mesopotamia and the Levant—were of a "Phoenician signature" and present amongst the male populations of the "coastal Lebanese Phoenician Heartland" and wider Levant (the "Phoenician Periphery"), followed by other areas of historic Phoenician settlement, spanning Cyprus through to Morocco.[Note 2] This deliberate sequential sampling was an attempt to develop a methodology to link the documented historical expansion of a population with a particular geographic genetic pattern or patterns. The researchers suggested that the proposed genetic signature stemmed from "a common source of related lineages rooted in Lebanon".[87]

A follow up study by Zalloua in 2013 revealed that none of the religious communities tested in Lebanon carried significantly higher levels of the proposed "Phoenician signature" than the others. This suggested that genetic variation preceded religious variation and divisions and, by the time it became Phoenicia, "Lebanon already had well-differentiated communities with their own genetic peculiarities, but not significant differences, and religions came as layers of paint on top."[88] Another study in 2006 found evidence for the genetic persistence of Phoenicians in the Spanish island of Ibiza.[89]

In 2016, the skeleton of 2,500 year old Carthaginian man was excavated from a Punic tomb in Tunisia, and was found bearing the rare U5b2c1 maternal haplogroup, which appeared between 42,000–58,000 years ago. The lineage of this "Young Man of Byrsa" is believed to represent early gene flow from Iberia to the Maghreb,[90] and is the oldest European lineage discovered in Africa.[91] As the first example of an ancient Phoenician genome, it indicates the extent of Phoenician trade and seafaring, which occurred far earlier than previously believed.[92] Thus far, the genome has not been found in modern Lebanon.[93]

A series of studies of different populations in the Levant have generally concluded that Levantine Semites—such as Lebanese, Mizrahi Jews, Palestinians, and Syrians—are possibly the closest surviving relatives of ancient Phoenicians. One study found that the Lebanese share 93% of their DNA with Bronze Age Sidonians.[94][95][96][97]


Concentrated along a narrow strip of land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Lebanon Mountains, the Phoenician economy relied heavily upon the sea for both nourishment and as an avenue for trade. Lacking the arable land for agriculture and the numbers to support military conquests and demands for tribute, the Phoenician city states virtually always pursued mercantilism.

Major Phoenician trade networks (c. 1200-800 B.C.)


Pliny the Elder remarked in the first century CE that the Phoenicians "invented trade". They were indeed the greatest traders of their time and owed much of their prosperity to commercial ties across the Mediterranean and possibly byond. At first, they traded mainly with the Greeks, particularly wood, slaves, glass and powdered Tyrian purple, a violet-purple dye used by the Greek elite to color garments. As the Greeks began trading and colonizing across the Mediterranean—possibly with the help of Phoenician knowledge and technology[98]—the two peoples appeared to have divided the sea among themselves: The Phoenicians settled and dominated the southern and western shores, while the Greeks were active along the northern shores. There was rarely conflict, except mainly in the Sicilian Wars of the sixth century BCE, and they otherwise maintained their respective spheres of influence.

To Egypt, where grapevines would not grow, the eighth century Phoenicians sold wine; the wine trade with Egypt is vividly documented by the shipwrecks located in 1997 in the open sea 50 kilometres (30 mi) west of Ascalon.[99] Pottery kilns at Tyre and Sarepta produced the large terracotta jars used for transporting wine. From Egypt, the Phoenicians bought Nubian gold. Additionally, great cedar logs were traded with lumber-poor Egypt for significant sums. Sometime between 1075 and 1060 BC an Egyptian envoy by the name of Wen-Amon visited Phoenicia and secured seven great cedar logs in exchange for a mixed cargo including "4 crocks and 1 kak-men of gold; 5 silver jugs; 10 garments of royal linen; 10 kherd of good linen from Upper Egypt; 500 rolls of finished papyrus; 500 cows' hides; 500 ropes; 20 bags of lentils and 30 baskets of fish." Those logs were then moved by ship from Phoenicia to Egypt.[100]

Phoenician sarcophagi found in Cádiz, Spain, thought to have been imported from the Phoenician homeland around Sidon.[101] Archaeological Museum of Cádiz.

From elsewhere, they obtained other materials, perhaps the most important being silver from (at least) Sardinia and the Iberian Peninsula. Tin was required which, when smelted with copper from Cyprus, created the durable metal alloy bronze. The archaeologist Glenn Markoe suggests that tin "may have been acquired from Galicia by way of the Atlantic coast or southern Spain; alternatively, it may have come from northern Europe (Cornwall or Brittany) via the Rhone valley and coastal Massalia".[102] Strabo states that there was a highly lucrative Phoenician trade with Britain for tin via the Cassiterides, whose location is unknown but may have been off the northwest coast of the Iberian Peninsula.[103] Professor Timothy Champion, discussing Diodorus Siculus's comments on the tin trade, states that "Diodorus never actually says that the Phoenicians sailed to Cornwall. In fact, he says quite the opposite: the production of Cornish tin was in the hands of the natives of Cornwall, and its transport to the Mediterranean was organised by local merchants, by sea and then over land through France, well outside Phoenician control."[104]

The Phoenicians established commercial outposts throughout the Mediterranean, with Tyre leading the way in setting up colonies in Cyprus, Sardinia, Iberia, the Balearic Islands, Sicily, Malta, and North Africa. Colonization eventually passed the difficult Strait of Gibraltar, particularly the Atlantic coast of Iberia, and the Phoenicians may have explored the Canary Islands and the British Isles.[40]

Over the centuries, the most strategically important city state was Carthage, located in present day Tunisia. Ancient Gaelic mythologies attribute a Phoenician/Scythian influx to Ireland by a leader called Fenius Farsa. Some Phoenicians sailed south along the coast of Africa: a Carthaginian expedition led by Hanno the Navigator explored and colonized the Atlantic coast of Africa as far as the Gulf of Guinea; Herodotus described a Phoenician expedition sent down the Red Sea by Egyptian pharaoh Necho II (c. 600 BC) that circumnavigated Africa and returned through the Pillars of Hercules (at the western mouth of the Mediterranean) three years later.

In the second millennium BCE, the Phoenicians had a flourishing trade as far south as the Horn of Africa, particularly with the Somali city-states of Mosylon, Opone, Malao, Sarapion, Mundus and Tabae.


Phoenician bowl with hunting scene (eighth century BCE). The clothing and hairstyle of the figures is Egyptian, while the subject matter of the central scene conforms with the Mesopotamian theme of combat between man and beast. Phoenician artisans frequently adapted the styles of neighboring cultures.

Phoenicia lacked natural resources of appreciable quantity or value, with the exception of its prized cedar wood. Timber was probably the earliest and most lucrative source of wealth, since it was vital for making ships and constructing larger houses and temples. Neither Egypt nor Mesopotamia had adequate sources of wood, and the earliest accounts from both civilizations concern obtaining Phoenician timber. An Assyrian relief dated to 700 BCE, depicts ships transporting what is most likely cedar wood from Lebanon to King Sargon II.[105] In the 11th century, an Egyptian priest recorded his mission to obtain cedar wood from Byblos. In exchange, the city received papyrus, a highly prized writing material invented by the Egyptians, which was then exported to the rest of the Mediterranean, including to the Greeks; hence the city's name byblos, which is Greek for papyrus (the native name was Jbail).[106]

Unable to rely solely on this relatively finite resource, which was difficult to obtain from the mountainous hinterlands, the Phoenicians developed a sophisticated industrial base that manufactured a variety of goods for both common and luxury use.[40] The Phoenicians developed or mastered techniques such as glass-making, engraved and chased metalwork (including bronze, iron, and gold), ivory carving, and woodwork. This is confirmed by accounts from the Israelites, Greeks, and Assyrians that describe Phoenician merchandise consisting of "decorated clothing and textiles, engraved and repoussé metalwork, and carved ivory and woodwork."[107]

Considered early pioneers in mass production, the Phoenicians were able to produce and sell a variety of items in bulk, from pendants to ceramics.[60] Pendants, beads, amulets, and trinkets, made of either multi-colored glass or faience shaped into different forms, have been found in tombs throughout the Mediterranean. Phoenicians became the leading source of glassware in antiquity, shipping thousands of flasks, beads, and other glass objects across the Mediterranean.[61] Excavations of colonies in Spain suggest they also developed or utilized the potter's wheel.[62] Carthage became a major center of shipbuilding, based on the discovery of ship parts bearing Punic script, which suggests the use of serial production to produce large numbers of ships quickly and cost-effectively.[63]

The Phoenician's exposure to a wide variety of cultures allowed them to manufacture goods for specific markets.[108] Charms and amulets have been found in the form of scarabs and other Egyptian symbols and deities. Homer's Iliad suggests Phoenician clothing and metal goods being were highly prized by the Greeks.[40] Specialized goods were designed specifically for wealthier clientele, including ivory reliefs and plaques, carved clam shells, sculpted amber, and finely detailed and painted ostrich eggs. As needed, the Phoenicians could substitute expensive materials with cheaper and more accessible kinds, such as carved bone instead of ivory or colored glass instead of precious stones.

The Book of Ezekiel, written in the late sixth century BCE, details how Phoenician wares were exchanged for a variety of goods, including "wheat, oil, and livestock and precious commodities, such as silver, iron, tin, lead, ivory, and ebony..."[107]

An Etruscan tomb (c. 350 B.C.) depicting a man wearing in an all-purple toga picta.

Tyrian purple

The most famed and coveted of Phoenician goods were fabrics and textiles dyed with Tyrian purple (named after the major Phoenician city state of Tyre), which formed a major part of Phoenician wealth. The name Phoenicia may have derived from the Greek root word for "purple," indicating the extent to which it was the Phoenician's most sought after trading good. The violet-purple dye derived from the hypobranchial gland of the Murex sea-snail, once profusely available in coastal waters of the eastern Mediterranean Sea but exploited to local extinction. Phoenicians may have discovered the dye as early as 1750 BCE.[109] James B. Pritchard's excavations at Sarepta in present-day Lebanon revealed crushed Murex shells and pottery containers stained with the dye that was being produced at the site. The Phoenicians established a second production center for the dye in Mogador, in present-day Morocco.

According to contemporaneous accounts by neighboring civilizations, Tyrian purple was highly prized because of its resistance to weathering and sunlight, which only made it brighter. The Phoenician's exclusive command over the production and trade of the dye, combined with the labor intensive extraction process, made it very expensive. Tyrian purple subsequently became associated with the upper classes and soon became a status symbol in several civilizations, most notably among the Romans. Assyrian records of tribute from the Phoenicians include "garments of brightly colored stuff" that most likely included Tyrian purple.[107] While the designs, ornamentation, and embroidery used in Phoenician textiles were apparently well regarded, the techniques and specific descriptions are unknown.[107]


The Phoenicians most likely learned mining techniques from the Egyptians.[110] Mining operations in the Phoenician homeland were limited, since iron was the only metal of any worth. Rawlinson believed that a major motivation for their initial expeditions was to find sources of mineral wealth.[110] The first large scale mining operations probably occurred in Cyprus, which was the Phoenician's earliest and closest overseas territory to have mineral wealth, principally copper. Egyptian suzerainty over Phoenicia was motivated partly to access to copper. Sardinia may have been colonized almost exclusively for its mineral resources; Phoenician settlements were concentrated in the southern and southwestern parts of the island, which were rich in copper and lead, and their cities were positioned relatively close to these sources. Piles of scorae and copper ingots, which appear to predate the subsequent Roman occupation, suggest the Phoenicians both mined and processed metals on the island.[110] The Iberian Peninsula, which saw significant Phoenician settlement, was known for being the richest source of numerous metals in antiquity, including gold, silver, copper, iron, tin, and lead.[110] The output of these metals during the Phoenicians and Carthaginian occupation strongly implied large scale mining operations.[111] There is documentation that the Carthaginians relied on slave labor for mining, though it is unknown if the Phoenicians as a whole did so.[110]


The Phoenician homeland lacked sufficient arable land to support large scale agriculture. The most notable agricultural product was wine (known as cherem), which the Phoenicians helped propagate across the Mediterranean. The common grape vine may have been domesticated by the Phoenicians or Canaanites, although it most likely arrived from Transcaucasia (modern Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan) via Mesopotamia or Black Sea trade routes. Vines grew readily in the coastal Levant, and the wines of Byblos were exported to Egypt as early as the Old Kingdom period (2686–2134 BCE). The wines of Tyre and Sidon were popular in the ancient Mediterranean, as evidenced by the discovery of shipwrecks still full of wine.[112] As the first great traders of wine, the Phoenicians apparently developed techniques to preserve it; to prevent oxidation, vessels were sealed with a layer of olive oil, pinewood, and resin, which may have inspired the Greek taste for retsina.

Wine played an important part in Phoenician religion, and the Greek god Dionysus (and by extension the Roman god Bacchus) may have originated in the wine rituals of Canaan. The great temple at Baalbek has many depictions of vines and wine drinking,[113][114] which could have influenced Jewish Passover Seder and the Christian Eucharist. Wine also featured heavily in Ugaritic poetry, such as the Rapiuma:

Day long they pour the wine, ... must-wine, fit for rulers. Wine, sweet and abundant, Select wine... The choice wine of Lebanon, Most nurtured by El ...[115]

The Phoenicians may also have taught winemaking to some of their trading partners. The ancient Iberians began producing wine from local grape varieties following their encounter with the Phoenicians. Iberian cultivars subsequently formed the basis of most western European wine.[116]

Carthage, which had more abundant and fertile land than other Phoenician settlements, practiced highly advanced and productive agriculture. The Carthaginians appeared to have made good use of their land, inventing hand-driven rotary mills in the sixth century BCE and horse mills in the fourth century BCE, while also adopting or improving upon iron ploughs, irrigation, crop rotation, and threshing machines. Carthage was subsequently an agricultural powerhouse of the Mediterranean, exporting olives, nuts, honey, wheat, and various fruits and vegetables, especially figs, pears, pomegranates, grates, and dates. Livestock were also raised, particularly mules, oxen, goats, and horses. Circumstantial evidence suggests Carthage also developed viticulture and wine production before the fourth century BCE, with raisin wine (passum) being especially popular, even among the otherwise hostile Romans.

Carthage produced one of history's earliest agronmists, known only as Mago of Carthage. Considered the "Father of Farming" by the Greeks and Romans, he produced a 28-book treatise on a wide variety of agricultural topics, ranging from beekeeping to how to determine the heath of cattle. His work was so well regarded that when Rome conquered and destroyed Carthage in 146 BCE, the Roman Senate decreed that his famous treatise on agriculture be translated into Latin. Unfortunately, Mago's original work is lost, and only fragments remain of its translations.

Phoenician ships

As a predominately maritime people, the Phoenicians were among the earliest and most influential pioneers in shipbuilding and design. Naval historian Richard Woodman described them as "the first true seafarers, founding the art of pilotage, cabotage, and navigation" and the inventors of "the first true ship, built of planks, capable of carrying a deadweight cargo and being sailed and steered."[117]

Phoenician ship carved on the face of a sarcophagus (second century A.D.)

As early as 1200 BCE, the Phoenicians were building large merchant ships. During the Bronze Age, they developed the keel, the bottom-most longitudinal structural element on a ship, which was a significant advancement over the more common dugout vessels, which were limited in size, durability, maneuverability. Pegged mortise-and-tenon joints were developed to make Phoenician ships sturdier, and proved effective enough to serve as a standard template across the Mediterranean until late into the Roman Empire.

Other key ship components, such as the brailed rig sail, which allowed for greater maneuverability, and the crow's nest, which provided a vital lookout point, most likely originated in the Levant. Around 700 BCE, the Phoenicians were possibly the first to introduce the bireme, a large galley that had two tiers of oars staggered on either side of the vessel, which allowed for significantly greater propulsion.[118] An Assyrian account describes Phoenicians quickly evading capture with these ships.[119] The Carthaginians, who descended from the Phoenicians, had become a major power in the western Mediterranean largely because of their ability to quickly mass produce ships; parts were labeled with the Punic alphabet, indicating an industrial method of serial production.[120]

Assyrian warship, probably built by Phoenicians, with two rows of oars, in a relief from Nineveh (c. 700 B.C.)

In addition to ships, the Phoenicians developed or contributed several other maritime inventions. The amphora, a type of container used for both dry and liquid gods, was an ancient Phoenician invention that became a standardized measurement of volume for close to two thousand years. The remnants of self-cleaning artificial harbors have been discovered in Sidon, Tyre, Atlit, and Acre.[121] The Phoenicians relied on celestial navigation, and most likely discovered Polaris (the North Star), which enabled nighttime sailing and shorter open-sea routes; the Greeks subsequently called Polaris the "Phoenician Star." The wind rose, a precursor to the compass rose, was apparently of Phoenician, or at least Levantine, origin. The first example of admiralty law also appears in the Levant.[122] The Phoenicians continued to contribute to cartography into the Iron Age.[123] The Greeks had two names for Phoenician ships: Galloi (tubs) and hippoi (horses). The names are readily explained by depictions of Phoenician ships in the palaces of Assyrian kings from the seventh and eighth centuries BCE, which were tub shaped (galloi) and had horse heads on both ends. (hippoi). It is possible that the hippoi come from Phoenician connections with the Greek god Poseidon, equated with the Semitic-Levantine god Yam. In Oeconomicus, Greek historian and philosopher Xenophon, through the Greek character Ischomachus, describes in great detail the sophistication and craftsmanship of Phoenician ships:

I think that the best and most perfect arrangement of things that I ever saw was when I went to look at the great Phoenician sailing-vessel; for I saw the largest amount of naval tackling separately disposed in the smallest stowage possible. For a ship, as you well know, is brought to anchor, and again got under way, by a vast number of wooden implements and of ropes and sails the sea by means of a quantity of rigging, and is armed with a number of contrivances against hostile vessels, and carries about with it a large supply of weapons for the crew, and, besides, has all the utensils that a man keeps in his dwelling-house, for each of the messes. In addition, it is laden with a quantity of merchandise which the owner carries with him for his own profit. Now all the things which I have mentioned lay in a space not much bigger than a room which would conveniently hold ten beds. And I remarked that they severally lay in a way that they did not obstruct one another, and did not require anyone to search for them; and yet they were neither placed at random, nor entangled one with another, so as to consume time when they were suddenly wanted for use. Also, I found the captain's assistant, who is called 'the look-out man,' so well acquainted with the position of all the articles, and with the number of them, that even when at a distance he could tell where everything lay, and how many there were of each sort, just as anyone who has learnt to read can tell the number of letters in the name of Socrates and the proper place for each of them. Moreover, I saw this man, in his leisure moments, examining and testing everything that a vessel needs when at sea; so, as I was surprised, I asked him what he was about, whereupon he replied--'Stranger, I am looking to see, in case anything should happen, how everything is arranged in the ship, and whether anything is wanting, or is inconveniently situated; for when a storm arises at sea, it is not possible either to look for what is wanting, or to put to right what is arranged awkwardly.[124]

In 2014, a Phoenician trading ship was found near Gozo island in Malta. Dated 700 BC, it is one of the oldest wrecks in the Mediterranean and the oldest in the central Mediterranean.[125] The vessel was about 50 feet long and contained 50 amphorae full of wine and oil.[126]

The Tel Balawat gates (ninth century BCE), located at an Assyrian palace near Nimrud, portrays what are likely Phoenician ships coming to honor Shalmaneser III.[127][128]

Important cities and colonies

The Phoenicians were not a nation in the political sense, but were organized into independent city states that shared a common language and culture. The leading city states were Sur (Tyre), Sydon (Sidon), and Jbail (modern Byblos, one of the oldest sites of civilization). Throughout Phoenician history, at least one of these cities was politically and economically dominant at any given time. Rivalries were common, but open warfare less so. Although they never appeared to have joined in a formal confederation, as seen among the Greek city states, informal cooperation seemed common.

Numerous others cities existed in the Levant alone, many probably unknown, including Berut (modern Beirut) Ampi, Amia, Arqa, Baalbek, Botrys, Sarepta and Tripoli. From the late tenth century BCE, the Phoenician's expansive culture led them to establish cities and colonies beyond Lebanon and throughout the Mediterranean. Phoenician settlement was especially concentrated in Cyprus, Sicily, Sardinia, Malta, northwest Africa, the Balearic Islands, and southern Iberia. Canaanite deities like Baal and Astarte were being worshiped from Cyprus and Sicily to Spain and Portugal, most notably at Carthage (Qart Hadašt) in modern Tunisia.

Left, map of Phoenician (in yellow) and Greek colonies around 8th to 6th century BC (with German legend). Right, extent of Carthaginian influence prior to 264 BC.

Modern Lebanon (the center of Phoenicia)

  • Tyre (one of Phoenicia's two leading-city states)
  • Sydon Sidon (one of Phoenicia's two leading-city states)
  • Berut (modern Beirut, Lebanon's capital today)
  • Ampi
  • Amia
  • Arqa
  • Baalbek
  • Botrys
  • Jbail (modern Byblos and one of the oldest sites of civilization)
  • Sarepta
  • Tripoli

Modern Algeria


Modern Italy

Modern Libya

The islands of Malta

Modern Portugal

  • Baal Saphon or Baal Shamen, later romanized as Balsa (modern Tavira, Algarve)[135]
  • Lisbon was probably a Phoenician trading post, rather than a settlement.

Modern Spain

Modern Tunisia

Modern Turkey

Modern Morocco

Modern Mauritania

Other colonies

  • Callista (on modern Santorini)
  • Calpe (modern Gibraltar)
  • Gunugu
  • Thenae
  • Tipassa
  • Sundar
  • Surya
  • Shobina
  • Tara

Additionally, the semi-mythical region of Tartessos, said to have spanned the whole southern part of the Iberian Peninsula, may have been a Phoenician colony.[138]

Society and Culture

Since very little of the Phoenician's own writings have survived, much of what is known comes from accounts by contemporary civilizations or inferences from archaeological discoveries. The first century CE geographer Pomponius Mela once described the Phoenicians as "a clever race, who prospered in war and peace" and "excelled in writing and literature, and in other arts, in seamanship, and in ruling an empire."[47] By contrast, their reputation as primarily traders and merchants meant they were sometimes regarded as overly materialistic, unprincipled, and rapacious.[47]

Phoenicians had much in common with other Canaanites, including language, religion, social customs, and a monarchical political system centered around city-states. However, by the early Iron Age (roughly 1300 BCE) the Phoenicians had emerged as a distinct people, with their culture, economy, and daily life being heavily centered on commerce and maritime trade. Their propensity for seafaring brought them into contact with numerous other civilizations, possibly more so than any other contemporary people, leading to a uniquely cosmopolitan society that incorporated different customs, artistic styles, and faith traditions.

Politics and government

Tomb of King Hiram I of Tyre, located in the village of Hanawai (Hanawiya or Hanawey) in southern Lebanon.

Despite a shared language, culture, and religion, the Phoenicians never constituted a single, cohesive political unit, and it is unknown whether they viewed themselves as a nation in the modern sense. The Phoenicians organized into city states that were fiercely independent in both domestic and foreign affairs. Formal alliances between city states were rare, and cooperation was generally informal, loosely aligned, and ad hoc. Unlike their Greek counterparts, warfare between Phoenician city states was rarer still, although rivalries did exist and coercion was sometimes employed. The relative power and influence of city states varied over time. Sidon was dominant between the 12th and 11th centuries BCE, and exercised some influence over its neighbors, but by the tenth century BCE, Tyre rose to become the most powerful city.

Phoenician society was highly stratified and predominantly monarchical, at least in its earlier stages. Hereditary kings usually governed with absolute power and had responsibilities over civic, commercial, and religious affairs. They often relied upon senior officials from the noble and merchant classes. The priesthood was a distinct class, though usually of royal lineage or from leading merchant families. The king was considered a representative of the gods and carried many obligations and duties with respect to religious processions and rituals. Priests were thus highly influential and often became intertwined with the royal family.

Unlike their Greek and Egyptian counterparts, Phoenician kings did not commemorate their reign through sculptures or monuments. Their wealth, power, and accomplishments were usually conveyed through ornate sarcophaguses, like that of Ahiram of Byblos. The Phoenicians kept fairly meticulous records of their rulers in the form of tomb inscriptions, which are among the few primary sources still available. Historians have been able to determine a clear line of succession over centuries for some city-states, notably Byblos and Tyre.

Semi-democratic government

Not all Phoenician city states were absolute monarchies, and their political systems appeared to have changed and evolved with time and circumstances. British classicist Simon Hornblower notes that the Phoenicians "had something comparable to the self-regulating city-state or polis (and) the Greek political arrangements we most admire."[139] As early as the 14th century BCE, Egyptian envoys reported that Phoenician assemblies "might act on their own behalf"; when the city state of Irqata declared its allegiance to the pharaoh, it did so as "Irqata and its elders", without reference to a king.[140] Similarly, the pharaoh is addressed by "the citizens of Tunip," the "people from Gubla (Byblos)," and "the men of Arwad."[140] An 11th century Egyptian report found that while the king of Byblos managed trade and religious life, state affairs were handled with advice by an "assembly".

In the sixth century BCE, during the period of Babylonian rule, Tyre briefly adopted a system of government consisting of a pair of judges, known as sufetes, who were chosen from the most powerful noble families and served short terms.[66] One scholar characterized Tyre during this period as "a republic headed by elective magistrates".[65]

Depiction of Phoenician sailors and merchants (19th century). The importance of trade to the Phoenician economy evidently led to a gradual sharing of power between the king and assemblies of merchant families.

By the seventh century BCE, many city states had circumscribed the power of their kings, who now shared some degree of power with the merchant families and sailors who were key to the state's prosperity. Kings increasingly required the support of different stakeholders, and there is evidence that the councils and assemblies that had previously played an advisory role had accumulated some power over the state. The Greek historian Arrian reported that senior officials were sometimes called upon to govern when the king was predisposed, and accounts from other outsiders claimed that councils were the true rulers, such that they could impose their decisions on the king during emergencies. In effect, many Phoenician city states appeared to be plutocracies ruled by the wealthiest families.[141]

In the fourth century BCE, when the armies of Alexander the Great approached Tyre, they were met not by its king but by "representatives" of the "commonwealth" or the "community." In a diplomatic exchange, it was "the people" of Tyre who passed a decree in response. Similarly, historians at the time describe the "inhabitants" or "the people" of Sidon making peace with Alexander, with the king surrendering after being "prompted by his citizens; wishes rather than his own."[66] When the Macedonians sought to appoint a new king over Sidon, the citizens nominated their own candidate.[66]

According to Stephen Stockwell, it is clear that while the Phoenicians initially had strong monarchies, from the 15th to the fourth century BCE, their "leaders were advised by councils or assemblies which gradually took greater power" and led to weaker kings being the norm. Stockwell concludes that "the active role that the assembly took on the few occasions we see it in operation suggests that the Phoenicians had something more than an autocracy or even oligarchy and that it earns categorization as a proto-democracy, at least, if not full recognition as a democracy."[142]

In light of these accounts, some scholars have argued that the Phoenicians had at least experimented with semi-democratic forms of government, and possibly even influenced the development of democracy in Athens.[143]

Carthaginian republic

Far more is known about the government of Carthage than of any other Phoenician city state, perhaps owing to its proximity to Rome and its prominence as an empire (since most information comes from Greco-Roman accounts). Established by settlers from Tyre in the early ninth century BCE, Carthage became a powerful, independent city state around 650 BCE. Like its founder, it appeared to have been ruled by two sufetes.[144][Note 3] In the late fifth century BCE, Carthage developed into a sophisticated oligarchic republic, characterized by a system of checks and balances and a degree of representation and public accountability.[145]

There was a supreme council of aristocratic families, akin to a Roman "Senate" or a Spartan gerousia (council of elders), which had a wide range of powers, including over the treasury and foreign affairs.[146] The office of suffete was now more similar to a modern day executive presidency; while still drawn from the wealthiest and most powerful families, each would now be elected, either by the supreme council or a popular assembly.[147][148][Note 4] The suffetes no longer had absolute power but ruled through collegiality, similar to Roman consuls. They exercised judicial and executive authority, while military affairs were left to generals they appointed. A number of junior officials and special commissioners oversaw various aspects of governance, such as public works, tax collection, and the administration of the state treasury.[147][149]

There was a judicial body known as the Tribunal of the Hundred and Four, which Aristotle compared to the ephors of Sparta. They acted as a kind of higher constitutional court and oversaw the actions of generals and other officials.[144] Panels of special commissioners, called pentarchies, were appointed from the Tribunal to handle various state affairs.[147]

The firm control of the oligarchs was balanced by democratic elements, including elected legislators, trade unions, and popular assemblies.[150] According to Aristotle, if the Suffets and the supreme council failed to reach a unanimous decision on a matter of state, the Carthaginian popular assembly had the decisive vote. Even Greek states with similar constitutions, such as Sparta and Crete, did not have that level of popular representation. Polybius seems to confirm this, claiming that during the Punic Wars, the Carthaginian public held more sway over the government than the people of Rome held over theirs.[151]

Eratosthenes, head of the Library of Alexandria, noted that the Greeks had been wrong to describe all non-Greeks as barbarians, since the Carthaginians as well as the Romans had constitutions. Aristotle also knew and discussed the constitution of Carthage, drawing many similarities with that of Sparta.[152] Several historians have claimed that the Spartans may have been inspired by the Carthaginians.[153]

Law and administration

After the king and council, the two most important political positions in virtually every Phoenician city state were that of governor and commander of the army. Details regarding the duties of these offices are sparse, but it is known that the governor was responsible for collecting taxes, implementing decrees, supervising judges, and ensuring the administration of law and justice.[47] As warfare was rare among the mostly mercantile Phoenicians, the commander of the army was generally responsible for ensuring the defense and security of the city-state and its hinterlands.

Stela from Tyre with Phoenician inscriptions (c. fourth century BCE). National Museum of Beirut.

The Phoenicians had a system of courts and judges that resolved disputes and punished crimes based on a semi-codified body of law and traditional. Laws were implemented by the state and were the responsibility of the ruler and certain designated officials. Like other Levantine societies, laws were harsh and biased, reflecting the social stratification of society. The murder of a commoner was treated as less serious than of a nobleman, and the upper classes had the most rights; the wealthy often escaped punishment by paying a fine. Free men of any class could represent themselves in court and had more rights than women and children, while slaves had no rights at all. Men could often deflect punishment to their wives, children, or slaves, even having them serve his sentence in his place. Lawyers eventually emerged as a profession for those who could not plead their own case.

As in neighboring societies at the time, penalties for crimes were often severe, usually reflecting the principle of reciprocity; for example, the killing of a slave would be punished by having the offender's slave killed. Imprisonment was rare, with fines, exile, punishment, and execution were main remedies.


As with most aspects of Phoenician civilization, there are few records of their military or approach to warfare. Compared to most of their neighbors, the Phoenicians generally had little interest in conquest and were a relatively peaceful people.[154] The wealth and prosperity of all their city states rested on foreign trade, which required good relations and a certain degree of mutual trust. They also lacked the territory and agricultural base to support a population large enough for anything other than city defense; each city had an army commander in charge of a defensive garrison, but the specifics of the role, or of city defense, are unknown.

More is known about the military of Carthage, though it is uncertain whether the Carthaginian military was reflective of general Phoenician practice, since they were the only Phoenician polity to establish a sprawling, multi-ethnic empire.[155] Carthage's military traditions generally reflected Phoenician roots combined with native North African and Greek influences. Like other Phoenicians, the Carthaginians were largely a maritime and trading power, and did not maintain a large, permanent, standing army. Polybius wrote that they were naturally "superior at sea both in efficiency and equipment, because seamanship has long been their national craft" and they were "more exercised in maritime affairs than any other people"[156] By contrast, he claims the Carthaginian infantry was "neglected" and its cavalry given "slight attention".[156]

At its peak, Carthage's navy comprised 300 to 350 warships. In the First Punic War, the Romans, who previously lacked experience in naval warfare, persevered partly by reverse-engineering captured Carthaginian ships. In the Third Punic War, Polybius describes a tactical innovation of the Carthaginians, who now faced a larger Roman force: They augmented their few triremes with small vessels that carried hooks (to attack the oars) and fire (to attack the hulls). This allowed them to resist far longer despite being outnumbered.

As far as land warfare, Livy claims that Carthage had at least 40,000 professional soldiers prior to the Third Punic War. Otherwise, it relied heavily on a multinational force of foreign mercenaries and subjects, including ethnic Libyans and Numidians from its surrounding territory, and Celts, Balearics, Iberians from its overseas territories. Its cavalry force was formidable, composed of light Numidian cavalry and mounted North African elephants. Slingers, armed with straps of cloth to toss small stones at high speeds, were also fielded.

Unlike its army, the Carthaginian navy was drawn mostly from Phoenician citizenry. Perhaps reflecting historic Phoenician affinity for the sea, the navy was considered a stable and prestigious profession that offered financial security. This helped to contribute to the city's political stability, as poor and unemployed citizens could find an outlet for upward mobility. The reputation and quality of the Carthaginian navy, conceded even by their Roman rivals, implies that their sailors were well trained even during peacetime.


The Phoenician language is classified in the Canaanite subgroup of Northwest Semitic. Its later descendant in northwest Africa is termed Punic, which evolved in Phoenician colonies around the western Mediterranean, beginning in the ninth century BCE. Punic Phoenician was still spoken in the fifth century CE; St. Augustine, who grew up in Northwest Africa, was familiar with the language.

Sarcophagus of Ahiram, which bears the oldest inscription of the Phoenician alphabet. National Museum of Beirut

The Phoenician alphabet was one of the first (consonantal) alphabets with a strict and consistent form. It is assumed that it adopted its simplified linear characters from an as-yet unattested early pictorial Semitic alphabet developed some centuries earlier in the southern Levant.[157][158] It is likely that the precursor to the Phoenician alphabet was of Egyptian origin, since Middle Bronze Age alphabets from the southern Levant resemble Egyptian hieroglyphs or an early alphabetic writing system found at Wadi-el-Hol in central Egypt.[159][160] In addition to being preceded by proto-Canaanite, the Phoenician alphabet was also preceded by an alphabetic script of Mesopotamian origin called Ugaritic. The development of the Phoenician alphabet from the Proto-Canaanite coincided with the arrival the Iron Age in the 11th century BCE.[161] This alphabet has been termed an abjad — that is, a script that contains no vowels — from the first four letters aleph, beth, gimel, and daleth.

The oldest known representation of the Phoenician alphabet is inscribed on the sarcophagus of King Ahiram of Byblos, dating to the 11th century BCE at the latest. Phoenician inscriptions are found in Lebanon, Syria, Israel, Cyprus and other locations, as late as the early centuries of the Christian Era. The Phoenicians are credited with spreading the Phoenician alphabet throughout the Mediterranean world.[162] Phoenician traders disseminated this writing system along Aegean trade routes, to Crete and Greece. The Greeks adopted the majority of these letters but changed some of them to vowels which were significant in their language, giving rise to the first true alphabet.


Phoenician art was largely centered on ornamental objects, particularly jewelry, pottery, glassware, and reliefs.[163] Large sculptures were rare, although figurines were more common, and while typically crude, depicted individualized features. Phoenician art generally lacked unique characteristics that might distinguish it from its contemporaries; it was highly influenced by the many cultures the Phoenicians traded and interacted with, primarily Egypt, Greece and Assyria. These influences were sometimes reflected in specific categories of art; Greek inspiration was particularly pronounced in pottery, while Egyptian styles were most reflected in ivory work.[163] Phoenicians who were taught on the banks of the Nile and the Euphrates gained a wide artistic experience and finally came to create their own art, which was an amalgam of foreign models and perspectives.[164] An 1879 article from The New York Times described Phoenician approach to art as follows:

He entered into other men's labors and made most of his heritage. The Sphinx of Egypt became Asiatic, and its new form was transplanted to Nineveh on the one side and to Greece on the other. The rosettes and other patterns of the Babylonian cylinders were introduced into the handiwork of Phoenicia, and so passed on to the West, while the hero of the ancient Chaldean epic became first the Tyrian Melkarth, and then the Herakles of Hellas.

The Byblos figurines, Phoenician statuettes from Byblos (19-18th century BCE). National Museum of Beirut.

Over time, Egyptian artistic influence became especially prominent, often reflecting the evolving political and economic relations between the two civilization.[165] For example, the famed Ahiram sarcophagus shows little influence from the concurrent 20th and 21st dynasties of Egypt—instead bearing artistic conventions from northern Syria[166]—while subsequent art had Egyptian motifs that reflected the resumption of Phoenician ties with the 22nd Dynasty of Egypt.[167]

Phoenician art also differed from its contemporaries in its continuance of Bronze Age conventions well into the Iron Age, such as terracotta masks.[168] Based on contemporary accounts, Phoenician artisans were known for their skill with wood, ivory, bronze, and textiles.[165] In the Old Testament, a craftsman from Tyre was commissioned to build and decorate the legendary Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem, which "presupposes a well-developed and highly respected craft industry in Phoenicia by the mid-tenth century BC".[166][169] The Iliad mentions the embroidered robes of Priam’s wife, Hecabe, as "the work of Sidonian women"[170] and describes a mixing bowl of chased silver as "a masterpiece of Sidonian craftsmanship."[171] The Assyrians appeared to have valued Phoenician ivory work in particular, collecting vast quantities in their palaces.[172]

The Phoenician artistic tradition appears to have been indelibly tied to its people's commercial interests.[107] The second century historian Philo of Byblos noted that the Phoenician god of craftsmanship, Chousor, was also the inventor of the raft and the first sailor. There are Greek accounts describing the arrival of Phoenician traders bearing "trinkets and baubles."[107] The Phoenicians appeared to have used their knowledge of foreign artistic styles to craft goods that would specifically appeal to certain trading partners, distinguishing not only different cultures but even socioeconomic classes.[107] This is also evidenced in the broad distribution of Phoenician goods, which have been found as west as Spain and Morocco, as north as Russia and as east as Iraq. In fact, much of what is known about Phoenician art is based from excavations outside of Phoenicia proper.


Female figurines from Tyre. (c.1000-550 B.C.) National Museum of Beirut.

As was common in antiquity, Phoenician women had few rights and were considered the property of their fathers or husbands. Nonetheless, compared to their counterparts in most of the Mediterranean and western Asia, they appeared to have enjoyed some freedoms.[173] They took part in public events and religious processions; depictions of banquets show them casually sitting or reclining with men, dancing, and playing music. Ceremonies to Baal, the god of fertility, included drunken revelry and promiscuity, which would by taboo in more gender stratified societies.[174] In most contexts, however, women were expected to dress and behave more modestly than men; female figures are almost always portrayed as draped from head to feet, with the arms sometimes covered as well.

Women could engage in trade and other business activities, often working as laborers, construction workers, farmers, weavers, and even minors. However, they could never be in a formal position of authority over men. As in most civilizations at the time, the woman's primary role was to raise children and manage the household.

Although they rarely had political power, women took part in community affairs and had some voice in the popular assembles that began to emerge in some city states.[175] At least one woman, Unmiashtart, is recorded to have ruled Sidon in the fifth century BCE.[47] The two most famous Phoenician women are political figures: Jezebel, portrayed in the Bible as the assertive princess of Sidon, and Dido, the semi-legendary founder and first queen of Carthage.


The religious practices and beliefs of Phoenicia were cognate generally to their neighbours in Canaan, which in turn shared characteristics common throughout the ancient Semitic world.[176][177][178] "Canaanite religion was more of a public institution than of an individual experience." Its rites were primarily for city-state purposes; payment of taxes by citizens was considered in the category of religious sacrifices.[179] Unfortunately, many of the Phoenician sacred writings known to the ancients have been lost.[180][181]

Figure of Ba'al with raised arm, 14th–12th century BC, found at ancient Ugarit (Ras Shamra site), a city at the far north of the Phoenician coast.
Musée du Louvre

Phoenician society was devoted to the state Canaanite religion.[182][183][184] Several of its reported practices have been mentioned by scholars, such as temple prostitution,[185] and child sacrifice.[186] "Tophets", built "to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire", are condemned by Yahweh in the Hebrew bible, particularly in Jeremiah 7:30–32, and in 2nd Kings 23:10 (also 17:17). Notwithstanding these and other important differences, cultural religious similarities between the ancient Hebrews and the Phoenicians persisted.[182][187]

Canaanite religious mythology does not appear as elaborated compared with existent literature of their Semitic cousins in Mesopotamia. In Canaan the supreme god was called El (𐤀𐤋, "god").[188][189] The son of El was Baal (𐤁𐤏𐤋, "master", "lord"), a powerful dying-and-rising storm god.[190] Other gods were called by royal titles, as in Melqart meaning "king of the city",[191] or Adonis for "lord".[192] (Such epithets may often have been merely local titles for the same deities.) On the other hand, the Phoenicians, notorious for being secretive in business, might use these nondescript words as cover for the secluded name of the god,[193] known only to a select few initiated into the inmost circle, or not even used by them, much as their neighbors and close relatives the ancient Israelites/Judeans sometimes used the honorific Adonai (Heb: "My Lord") in place of the tetragrammaton—a practice which became standard (if not mandatory) in the Second Temple period onward.[194]

The Semitic pantheon was well-populated; which god became primary evidently depended on the exigencies of a particular city-state or tribal locale.[195][196] Due perhaps to the leading role of the city-state of Tyre, its reigning god Melqart was prominent throughout Phoenicia and overseas. Also of great general interest was Astarte (𐤀𐤔𐤕𐤓𐤕)—a form of the Babylonian Ishtar—a fertility goddess who also enjoyed regal and matronly aspects. The prominent deity Eshmun of Sidon was a healing god, seemingly cognate with deities such as Adonis (possibly a local variant of the same) and Attis. Associated with the fertility and harvest myth widespread in the region, in this regard Eshmun was linked with Astarte; other like pairings included Ishtar and Tammuz in Babylon, and Isis and Osiris in Egypt.[197]

Religious institutions of great antiquity in Tyre, called marzeh (𐤌𐤓𐤆𐤄, "place of reunion"), did much to foster social bonding and "kin" loyalty.[198] These institutions held banquets for their membership on festival days. Various marzeh societies developed into elite fraternities, becoming very influential in the commercial trade and governance of Tyre. As now understood, each marzeh originated in the congeniality inspired and then nurtured by a series of ritual meals, shared together as trusted "kin", all held in honor of the deified ancestors.[199] Later, at the Punic city-state of Carthage, the "citizen body was divided into groups which met at times for common feasts." Such festival groups may also have composed the voting cohort for selecting members of the city-state's Assembly.[200][201]

Religion in Carthage was based on inherited Phoenician ways of devotion. In fact, until its fall embassies from Carthage would regularly make the journey to Tyre to worship Melqart, bringing material offerings.[202][203] Transplanted to distant Carthage, these Phoenician ways persisted, but naturally acquired distinctive traits: perhaps influenced by a spiritual and cultural evolution, or synthesizing Berber tribal practices, or transforming under the stress of political and economic forces encountered by the city-state. Over time the original Phoenician exemplar developed distinctly, becoming the Punic religion at Carthage.[204] "The Carthaginians were notorious in antiquity for the intensity of their religious beliefs."[205] "Besides their reputation as merchants, the Carthaginians were known in the ancient world for their superstition and intense religiosity. They imagined themselves living in a world inhabited by supernatural powers which were mostly malevolent. For protection they carried amulets of various origins and had them buried with them when they died."[206]


In Carthage, as in Tyre, religion was integral to the city's life. A committee of ten elders selected by the civil authorities regulated worship and built the temples with public funds. Some priesthoods were hereditary to certain families. Punic inscriptions list a hierarchy of cohen (priest) and rab cohenim (lord priests). Each temple was under the supervision of its chief priest or priestess. To enter the Temple of Eshmun one had to abstain from sexual intercourse for three days, and from eating beans and pork.[207] Private citizens also nurtured their own destiny, as evidenced by the common use of theophoric personal names, e.g., Hasdrubal, "he who has Baal's help" and Hamilcar [Abdelmelqart], "pledged to the service of Melqart".[208]

The city's legendary founder, Elissa or Dido, was the widow of Acharbas the high priest of Tyre in service to its principal deity Melqart.[209] Dido was also attached to the fertility goddess Astarte. With her Dido brought not only ritual implements for the worship of Astarte, but also her priests and sacred prostitutes (taken from Cyprus).[210] The agricultural turned healing god Eshmun was worshipped at Carthage, as were other deities. Melqart became supplanted at the Punic city-state by the emergent god Baal Hammon, which perhaps means "lord of the altars of incense" (thought to be an epithet to cloak the god's real name).[204][211] Later, another newly arisen deity arose eventually to reign supreme at Carthage, a goddess of agriculture and generation who manifested a regal majesty, Tanit.[212]

An incense burner depicting Ba'al-Hamon, 2nd century BC

The name Baal Hammon (𐤁𐤏𐤋 𐤇𐤌𐤍) has attracted scholarly interest, with most scholars viewing it as a probable derivation from the Northwest Semitic ḥammān ("brazier"), suggesting the meaning "Lord of the Brazier". This may be supported by incense burners and braziers found depicting the god. Frank Moore Cross argued for a connection to Hamōn, the Ugaritic name for Mt. Amanus, an ancient name for the Nur Mountain range.[213] Modern scholars at first associated Baal Hammon with the Egyptian god Ammon of Thebes, both the Punic and the Egyptian being gods of the sun. Both also had the ram as a symbol. The Egyptian Ammon was known to have spread by trade routes to Libyans in the vicinity of modern Tunisia, well before arrival of the Phoenicians. Yet Baal Hammon's derivation from Ammon is no longer considered the most likely, as Baal Hammon has since been traced to Syrio-Phoenician origins, confirmed by recent finds at Tyre.[214] Baal Hammon is also presented as a god of agriculture: "Baal Hammon's power over the land and its fertility rendered him of great appeal to the inhabitants of Tunisia, a land of fertile wheat- and fruit-bearing plains."[215][216]

"In Semitic religion El, the father of the gods, had gradually been shorn of his power by his sons and relegated to a remote part of his heavenly home; in Carthage, on the other hand, he became, once more, the head of the pantheon, under the enigmatic title of Ba'al Hammon."

Prayers of individual Carthaginians were often addressed to Baal Hammon. Offerings to Hammon also evidently included child sacrifice.[217][218][219] Diodorus (late 1st century BC) wrote that when Agathocles had attacked Carthage in 310 BCE, several hundred children of leading families were sacrificed to regain the god's favour.[220] In modern times, the French novelist Gustave Flaubert's 1862 work Salammbô graphically featured this god as accepting such sacrifice.[221]

Sign of Tanit, one of several variations.[222]

During the fifth and fourth centuries, the goddess Tanit ecame queen goddess, supreme over the city-state of Carthage, thus outshining the former chief god and her associate, Baal-Hammon.[223][224] Tanit was represented by "palm trees weighed down with dates, ripe pomegranates ready to burst, lotus or lilies coming into flower, fish, doves, frogs... ." She gave to mankind a flow of vital energies.[225][226] Tanit may be Berbero-Libyan in origin, or at least assimilated to a local deity.[227][228]

Another view, supported by recent finds, holds that Tanit originated in Phoenicia, being closely linked there to the goddess Astarte.[229][230] Tanit and Astarte: each one was both a funerary and a fertility goddess. Each was a sea goddess. As Tanit was associated with Ba'al Hammon the principal god in Punic Carthage, so Astarte was with El in Phoenicia. Yet Tanit was clearly distinguished from Astarte. Astarte's heavenly emblem was the planet Venus, Tanit's the crescent moon. Tanit was portrayed as chaste; at Carthage religious prostitution was apparently not practiced.[231][232] Yet temple prostitution played an important role in Astarte's cult at Phoenicia. Also, the Greeks and Romans did not compare Tanit to the Greek Aphrodite nor to the Roman Venus as they would Astarte. Rather the comparison of Tanit would be to Hera and to Juno, regal goddesses of marriage, or to the goddess Artemis of child-birth and the hunt.[233] Tertullian (c. 160 – c.220), the Christian theologian and native of Carthage, compared Tanit to Ceres, the Roman mother goddess of agriculture.[234]

Tanit has also been identified with three different Canaanite goddesses (all being sisters/wives of El): the above 'Astarte; the virgin war goddess 'Anat; and the mother goddess 'Elat or Asherah.[235][236][237] With her being a goddess, or symbolizing a psychic archetype, accordingly it is difficult to assign a single nature to Tanit, or clearly to represent her to consciousness.[238]

A problematic theory derived from sociology of religion proposes that as Carthage passed from being a Phoenician trading station into a wealthy and sovereign city-state, and from a monarchy anchored to Tyre into a native-born Libyphoenician oligarchy, Carthaginians began to turn away from deities associated with Phoenicia, and slowly to discover or synthesize a Punic deity, the goddess Tanit.[239] A parallel theory posits that when Carthage acquired as a source of wealth substantial agricultural lands in Africa, a local fertility goddess, Tanit, developed or evolved eventually to become supreme.[206] A basis for such theories may well be the religious reform movement that emerged and prevailed at Carthage during the years 397-360. The catalyst for such dramatic change in Punic religious practice was their recent defeat in war when led by their king Himilco (d. 396) against the Greeks of Sicily.[240]

Tophet funerary stele, showing (below moon and sun) a symbol of Tanit, queen goddess of Carthage

Such transformation of religion would have been instigated by a faction of wealthy land owners at Carthage, including these reforms: overthrow of the monarchy; elevation of Tanit as queen goddess and decline of Baal Hammon; allowance of foreign cults of Greek origin into the city (Demeter and Kore); decline in child sacrifice, with most votive victims changed to small animals, and with the sacrifice not directed for state purposes but, when infrequently done, performed to solicit the deity for private, family favors. This bold historical interpretation understands the reformer's motivation as "the reaction of a wealthy and cultured upper class against the primitive and antiquated aspects of the Canaanite religion, and also a political move intended to break the power of a monarchy which ruled by divine authority." The reform's popularity was precarious at first. Later, when the city was in danger of imminent attack in 310, there would be a marked regression to child sacrifice. Yet eventually the cosmopolitan religious reform and the popular worship of Tanit together contributed to "breaking through the wall of isolation which had surrounded Carthage."[241][242][243]

"When the Romans conquered Africa, Carthaginian religion was deeply entrenched even in Libyan areas, and it retained a great deal of its character under different forms." Tanit became Juno Caelestis, "and Caelestis was supreme at Carthage itself until the triumph of Christianity, just as Tanit had been in pre-Roman times." [227] Regarding Berber (Libyan) religious beliefs, it has also been said:

"[Berber] belief in the powers of the spirits of the ancestors was not eclipsed by the introduction of new gods—Hammon, or Tanit—but existed in parallel with them. It is this same duality, or readiness to adopt new cultural forms while retaining the old on a more intimate level, which characterizes the [Roman era]."[244]

Such Berber ambivalence, the ability to entertain multiple mysteries concurrently, apparently characterized their religion during the Punic era as well. After the passing of Punic power, the great Berber king Masinissa (r. 202–148), who long fought and challenged Carthage, was widely venerated by later generations of Berbers as divine.[245]


Attested first millennium BCE

Attested second millennium BCE

Foreign relations

Phoenicia's location in the Levant meant it was uniquely positioned between the three early cradles of civilization: Greece, Egypt, and Mesopotamia.[40] Their mastery of seafaring brought them into contact with far more peoples than their contemporaries, while their peaceful pursuit of trade meant they generally maintained good relations with those they encountered. Foreign affairs were nearly always driven by commercial interests, though this did not preclude the exchange of ideas, culture, science, and technology. To facilitate trade, Phoenician merchants established long-lasting relationships with their trading partners, which furthered diplomatic and cultural relations.[47] The Phoenicians are known to have established enclaves in Greece and Egypt, likely for the same purpose.[246]

Rawlinson observed that "adaptability and pliability of the Phoenicians was especially shown in their power of obtaining the favourable regard of almost all the peoples and nations with which they came into contact, whether civilised or uncivilised." Even when the Phoenicians came under foreign rule, they generally fared better than other subjugated peoples, and were often permitted a certain degree of autonomy by their conquerors.

Influence in the Mediterranean region

Cadmus fighting the dragon. Side A of a black-figured amphora from Eubœa (c. 560 – 550 BC.)Louvre.

Phoenician culture had a major effect on the cultures of the Mediterranean basin in the early Iron Age, and had been affected by them in turn. In the Phoenician religion, the tripartite division between Baal, Mot and Yam seems to have influenced the Greek division between Zeus, Hades and Poseidon.[247] Various Mediterranean ports during the classical period hosted Phoenician temples sacred to Melkart, which were recognized as sacred to the Greek Herakles. Stories like the Rape of Europa and the coming of Cadmus also draw upon Phoenician influence.

The recovery of the Mediterranean economy after the late Bronze Age collapse seems to have been largely due to the work of Phoenician traders and merchants, who re-established long distance trade between Egypt and Mesopotamia in the 10th century BCE. The Phoenicians served as intermediaries between the disparate civilizations that spanned the Mediterranean and Near East, facilitating the exchange of not only goods, but knowledge, art, and religious traditions. Their expansive, centuries-long network across the Mediterranean is credited with laying the foundations of an economically and culturally cohesive Mediterranean, which would be continued by the Greeks and especially the Romans.[248]

As the first known explorers of the Mediterranean, countries and cities around the Mediterranean region that derive their names from the Phoenician language.

  • Altiburus, Algeria (southwest of Carthage) From Phoenician: Iltabrush
  • Bosa, Sardinia: From Phoenician Bis'en
  • Cádiz, Spain: From Phoenician Gadir
  • Dhali (Idalion), Cyprus: From Phoenician Idyal
  • Erice, Sicily: From Phoenician Eryx
  • Malta: From Phoenician Malat ("refuge")
  • Marion,Cyprus: From Phoenician Aymar
  • Oued Dekri, Algeria: From Phoenician: Idiqra
  • Spain: From Phoenician: I-Shaphan, meaning "Land of Hyraxes". Later Latinized as Hispania
  • Carthage, Tunisia: From Phoenician Qart Hadašt meaning "New City"
  • Cartagena, Spain ((Greek: Νέα Καρχηδόνα; Latin: Carthago Nova; Spanish: Cartagena)): A colony of Carthage, which also gave rise to Cartagena, Colombia

Relations with the Egyptians

The oldest record of the Phoenicians comes from Egyptian sources. Though initially vassals of Egypt during the Bronze Age, in the centuries following the Late Bronze Age collapse, the Phoenicians usually maintained relatively amicable relations with the Egyptians, though this varied by dynasty. This is best illustrated by the existence of a Phoenician settlement and temple in the capital city of Memphis, which included a temple, as the Egyptians were generally intolerant of foreigners.[249] The Phoenicians were also heavily influenced by Egyptian culture, particularly with respect to artistic conventions and motifs.[40]

Relations with the Greeks

Phoenicia's ties with the Greece appeared to have began with the Minoan civilization on Crete (1950-1450 BCE), which together with the Mycenaean civilization (1600–1100 BCE) is considered the progenitor of classical Greece. Fernand Braudel identified Minoan Crete as a bridge between East and West, isolated from the "[barbaric] Aegean world" and thus forced to "[look] towards Cyprus, Ugarit, and Byblos."[250] Archaeological research suggests that the Minoans gradually imported Near Eastern goods, artistic styles, and customs through the Phoenicians, who by the third millennium BCE had become major sea traders and the principal bearers of Egyptian, Mesopotamian, and other Eastern cultures.


Between the 20th and 15th centuries BCE, the Phoenicians traded with the Minoans until the latter's collapse.[251] At the turn of the 13th century BCE, towards the end of the Bronze Age, there was trade between the Canaanites (early Phoenicians), Egypt, Cyprus, and Greece. The Ulu Bulurun shipwreck discovered off the coast of Turkey contained Canaanite storage pottery along with pottery from Cyprus and Greece. There were also Greek accounts of Phoenician traders arriving to port with "trinkets and baubles."[107] The Greeks regarded the Phoenicians as skilled metal workers, and in the eighth century BCE sent envoys to the Levant for metal goods.[252]

Bowl with mythological scenes, a sphinx frieze and the representation of a king vanquishing his enemies; Electrum, Cypro-Archaic I, 8th–7th centuries BC, from Idalion, Cyprus.

The height of Phoenician trade was roughly between the seventh and eighth centuries BCE. There is a dispersal of imports (ceramic, stone, and faience) from the Levant that traces a Phoenician commercial channel to the Greek mainland via the central Aegean.[252] Athens shows little evidence of this trade with few eastern imports, but other Greek coastal cities are rich with eastern imports that evidence this trade.[253]

Al Mina, located in Syria, is emblematic of the trade that took place between the Greeks and the Phoenicians.[254] It is theorized that by the eighth century BCE, Euboean traders established a commercial enterprise with the Levantine coast, using Al Mina as a base for this enterprise; however, the veracity of these claims remains disputed.[253] The Phoenicians even got their name from the Greeks due to their trade: Their most famous trading product was purple dye, the Greek word for which is phoenos.[255]


The Phoenician phonetic alphabet was adopted and modified by the Greeks probably in the 8th century BC (around the time of the hippoi depictions). This most likely did not come from a single instance but from a culmination of commercial exchange.[255] This suggests a prior a relationship between the Greeks and the Phoenicians. Though there is no evidence to support the suggestion, it is probable that during this period there was also a passing of religious ideas.[256] The legendary Phoenician hero Cadmus is credited with bringing the alphabet to Greece, but it is more plausible that it was brought by Phoenician emigrants to Crete,[257] whence it gradually diffused northwards.

Connections with Greek mythology

Several prominent figures in Greek myths and legends are Phoenician. In both Phoenician and Greek mythologies, Cadmus is a Phoenician prince, the son of king Agenor of Tyre. Herodotus credits Cadmus for bringing the Phoenician alphabet to Greece[258] approximately sixteen hundred years before Herodotus' time, or around 2000 BCE,[259] as he attested:

These Phoenicians who came with Cadmus and of whom the Gephyraeans were a part brought with them to Hellas, among many other kinds of learning, the alphabet, which had been unknown before this, I think, to the Greeks. As time went on the sound and the form of the letters were changed.

In addition to introducing the Greeks to the alphabet, Cadmus was the first of the Greek heroes—and along with Perseus and Bellerophon, the greatest hero before the days of Heracles—as well as the legendary founder of Thebes, one of the most powerful and influential classical Greek city-states. Heracles was inspired by the Phoenician god Melqart, sometimes called the Tyrian Heracles,[260] who was equally revered by both peoples. An inscription in Malta, made by Tyrians between the second and third centuries BCE, was dedicated to Herakles/Melqart in both Phoenician and Greek.

Stela from Amrit with Melqart on his lion (c. 550 BCE). The patron god of Tyre, and a major deity in the Phoenician and Punic religions, he was typically identified by the Greeks as Heracles and was even called the "Tyrian Heracles""

Another prominent Phoenician is Europa, one of the most famous consorts of Zeus and the mother of King Minos of Crete, sometimes described as the sister of Cadmus. They have several other siblings that played prominent roles in Greek mythology, and in some incarnations are related to Poseidon. The integration of Phoenician figures into Greek mythology, often in a heroic or privileged position, suggests some degree of Greek affinity towards Phoenicians.

Due to the number of deities similar to the "Lord of the Sea" in classical mythology, there have been many difficulties attributing one specific name to the sea deity or the "Poseidon–Neptune" figure of Phoenician religion. While such a figure is attested by authorities and inscriptions as being revered by merchants and sailors, a singular name has yet to be found.[261] However, there are names for sea gods from individual city states. Yamm is the god of the sea of Ugarit, an ancient city state north to Phoenicia. Some scholars have identified Yamm with Poseidon, although he has also been identified with Pontus.[262] Yamm is in cosmic conflict with Baal, the storm god of Ugaritic myth who is often associated with Zeus. While Yamm is nominally the god of the sea, he truly represents vast chaos,[263] in direct opposition to the order represented by Baal. In Ugaritic myth, Baal overcomes Yamm's power, in some versions killing him, while in others, the goddess Athtart intervenes to save Yamm but advise that he remain in his own province for being defeated. Yamm is the brother of the god of death, Mot, whose Greek equivalent, Hades, is the brother of Poseidon.[264]

Greek accounts and attitudes

The Greeks had varying dispositions to the Phoenicians, generally expressing an ambivalence for their merchantlistic culture. In his Republic, Greek philosopher Plato contends that the love of money is a tendency of the soul found amongst Phoenicians and Egyptians, which distinguishes them from the Greeks who tend towards the love of knowledge.[265] In his Laws, he asserts that this love of money has led the Phoenicians and Egyptians to develop skills in cunning and trickery (πανουργία) rather than wisdom (σοφία).[266]

Such a view is expressed in Homer's Odyssey, where the Phoenicians are described as skilled sailors and artisans, but also "greedy knaves".[267] By contrast, the Iliad conveys apparent Greek affinity for Phoenician craftsmanship. Hecuba, in seeking her best gown as a sacrifice to the goddess Athena, chooses one embroidered by "Sidonian" women; Achilles offers the fastest man in a race a Sidonian bowl as a prize.[142] Xenophon speaks favorably about the sophistication and orderliness of Phoenician ships, while Aristotle regards Carthage as a model for a merit based society: "Carthage, as is clear, supplied the principal criterion by which to measure success."[268]

In his Histories, Herodotus gives the Persian and Greek accounts of a series of kidnappings that led to the Trojan War. While docked at a trading port in Argos, the Phoenicians kidnapped a group of Greek women including King Idacus's daughter, Io. The Greeks then retaliated by kidnapping Europa, a Phoenician, and later Medea. The Greeks refused to compensate the Phoenicians for the additional abduction, a fact which Paris used a generation later to justify the abduction of Helen from Argos. The Greeks then retaliated by waging war against Troy. After Troy's fall, the Persians considered the Greeks to be their enemy.[269]

Notwithstanding these mixed views, centuries of otherwise amicable cultural and commercial ties between the Phoenicians and Greeks—with commonalities such as a maritime tradition, self governing city states, and mythological figures—meant the two peoples were sometimes regarded as "relatives".[270]

Relations with the Israelites

Despite being notoriously belligerent towards their neighbors, the Israelites apparently took exception to the Phoenicians, especially those of Tyre. King Hiram of Tyre is credited with helping build Solomon's Temple, providing materials and skilled craftsmen; in exchange, Solomon paid tribute and even ceded some territory.[271] As Rawlinson notes, good relations the Jewish Bible describes many more examples of cordial if not warm relations between the peoples:

Hiram’s friendly dealings with David and Solomon are well known; but the continued alliance between the Phoenicians and the Israelites has attracted less attention. Solomon took wives from Phoenicia; Ahab married the daughter of Ithobalus, king of Sidon; Phoenicia furnished timber for the second Temple; Isaiah wound up his prophecy against Tyre with a consolation; our Lord found faith in the Syro-Phoenician woman; in the days of Herod Agrippa, Tyre and Sidon still desired peace with Judæa, "because their country was nourished by the king’s country."

Such amiable relations were also remarkable given that the Phoenicians were pagan and the Israelites were staunch monotheists.

Ancient sources

In the Bible

Hiram I, King of Tyre, shows the plans for the First Temple of the Israelites to King Solomon. The Phoenicians are referenced over 100 times in the Hebrew Bible (J.J. Scheuchzer).

Hiram (also spelled Huran), the king of Tyre, is associated with the building of Solomon's temple. 1 Kings 5:1 says: "Hiram king of Tyre sent his servants to Solomon; for he had heard that they had anointed him king in the place of his father: for Hiram was ever a lover of David." 2 Chronicles 2:14 says: "The son of a woman of the daughters of Dan, and his father [was] a man of Tyre, skillful to work in gold, silver, brass, iron, stone, timber, royal purple (from the Murex), blue, and in crimson, and fine linens; also to grave any manner of graving, and to find out every device which shall be put to him ..."

In Masonic lore, Hiram Abiff is the architect of Solomon's temple and a central figure Masonic rituals and mythology.

Later, reforming prophets railed against the practice of drawing royal wives from among foreigners: Elijah execrated Jezebel, the princess from Tyre in South Lebanon who became a consort of King Ahab and introduced the worship of her god Baal.

Long after Phoenician culture flourished, or Phoenicia existed as a political entity, Hellenized natives of the region where Canaanites still lived were referred to as "Syro-Phoenicians", as in the Gospel of Mark: "The woman was a Greek, a Syro-phoenician by birth".[272]

The word Bible itself derives from Greek biblion, which means "book" and either derives from, or is the (perhaps ultimately Egyptian) origin of Byblos, the Greek name of the Phoenician city Gebal.[273]

Tarshish (Hebrew: תַּרְשִׁישׁ‎) occurs in the Hebrew Bible with several uncertain meanings, though the most common interpretation is that it was a place, probably a city or country, that is far from the Land of Israel by sea where trade occurs with Israel and Phoenicia. It is where the Phoenicians reportedly obtained different metals, particularly silver, during the reign of Solomon. The Septuagint, the Vulgate and the Targum of Jonathan render Tarshish as Carthage, but other biblical commentators read it as Tartessos, perhaps in Iberia.[274][275] The discovery of the Nora Stone and Nora Fragment on Sardinia suggests this might be the loation, as the former mentions Tarshish in its Phoenician inscription. The 2003 discovery of the Cisjordan Corpus in the Levant, the largest collection of hacksilver in the contemporary Mediterranean, lends further support to this theory. Dated between 1200 and 800 BCE,[276] the objects in these Phoenician hoards display lead isotope ratios that match ores in Sardinia and Spain.[45] This metallic evidence agrees with the biblical account of Tarshish supplying Solomon with silver via Phoenicia. Assyrian records indicate Tarshish was an island, while a poetic construction of Psalm 72 points to its identity as a large island in the west, likely the island of Sardinia.[45]


Due to the paucity of written records from the Phoenicians themselves, their civilization was long overshadowed by those of neighboring Greece, Egypt, and Mesopotamia. Beginning in the early 1960s, new and reexamined discoveries by scholars and archaeologists have shed more light on the Phoenicians and their contributions and achievements.[277][277]

The most widely known legacy was their development and transmission of an alphabet throughout the Mediterranean, which formed the basis of the Greek alphabet, from which the widely used Latin script derives. The Phoenician alphabet was innovative in its "egalitarian" nature, providing a simple writing system that did not require a small caste of professional scribes, priests, and officials, as in Egypt or Mesopotamia.[40] It could be written on a variety of media and was easy to learn due to its fixed nature, allowing for easier communication across classes and cultures.[40] In addition to facilitating commercial relations—and thus leading to the exchange of goods and ideas that brought prosperity to the region—it has been argued that the Phoenician alphabet proved pivotal to the progress of civilization as a whole:

The alphabetical (like the numerical) system is how societies organize information. Beyond literacy and systematization, the alphabet stimulates both abstract and rational thought through the phonetic coding and decoding process. As a result, the adoption of Phoenician letters—especially in Ionia and Athens—created an intellectual environment for the development of Greek, and, subsequently, Western science.[40]

Anthropologist Ralph Linton argues that the Phoenician's "main role in the development of the Greek and other Mediterranean cultures was as intermediaries between Asia and Europe."[278] This was aided by Phoenicia's location at the crossroads of the major civilizations of the eastern Mediterranean and western Asia. As one of the few civilizations to emerge from the Late Bronze Age collapse relatively unscathed, the Phoenicians led the way in reopening trade routes that connected the Egyptian, Greek, and Mesopotamian civilizations. As the dominant seafarers and traders well into the Iron Age, the Phoenicians maintained an unparalleled commercial network that revitalized the region and contributed to the "civilizational development of the Mediterranean basin."[40] Historian Jerry H. Bentley argues that this Phoenician-led flourishing of maritime commerce also furthered the economic, social, and cultural integration of the Mediterranean, leading to unprecedented ties and exchanges between otherwise distinct civilizations.[279]

Phoenician ship depicted on a relief of the National Bank of Hungary. The Phoenicians remain well known for their mercantilism.

The Greeks and Romans eventually emulated this Phoenician model, laying the foundation of the "Mediterranean as a single economic, political, and cultural unit." Hans G. Niemeyer, an expert in Iron Age Phoenicia, claims the Phoenicians "sparked Western civilization" through their "transfusion of Eastern goods, technologies, and ideas that, in turn, became the foundations of Greco-Roman civilization."[280] He also credits Phoenicia for the "dissemination of urban civilization, in the propagation of technical innovations, in the distribution of new [aristocratic] lifestyle paradigms and ‘modern’ economics." The Phoenician mercantile system encouraged the division of labor and accumulation of wealth that allowed for state-building; the adoption of this model is credited for the development of states from Greece to Spain.[281] The Phoenician's contributions were known and acknowledged by these societies.[40]

In addition to various manufactured goods and resources, Phoenicians traders imparted the West with Mesopotamian astronomical and mathematical ideas and Egyptian architectural and artistic styles. The "Orientalising" trend later seen in Greek art is attributed to the Phoenicians, whose own artistic tradition was an amalgamation of different cultures in the Mediterranean and Near East. The forerunner of Ionic order and ashlar masonry, which remain staples of classical architecture throughout the West, was the Proto-Aeolic capital developed by Phoenicians. Similarly, Bronze Age Phoenicians developed lime mortar from which the Greeks created true cement and Romans produced concrete.[282]

Historian of science Leonid Zhmud observes "Semitic borrowings" and "Oriental influence" with respect to the weights, measures, and mathematical calculations utilized by the Greeks.[283] The abacus, which emerged in the fifth century B.C. and remained in widespread use until the late 18th century, likely reached Greece from Phoenicia.[284]

It is possible that some Phoenician city states developed some of the earliest "proto-democratic" political structures in history, such as councils of elders and popular assemblies, which possibly inspired Greek city states like Athens.[40] The classical Greek philosopher Aristotle found similarities between Spartan and Carthaginian constitutions, and several scholars have claimed Phoenician influence in Sparta's political development.[143]

Ancient Phoenician wall built to protect against tidal waves in Batroun, Lebanon, originally founded by the Phoenicians in 14th century BCE. Many Lebanese continue to identify as Phoenicians.

As the earliest known people to engage in expansive maritime trade and seafaring, the Phoenicians developed numerous naval and navigational innovations that were adopted by neighboring societies. The bireme, a multi-tiered oared vessel, was created some time in the eighth century B.C. and became common throughout the Mediterranean region, eventually being evolved by the Romans. As the first people to have explored beyond the Straits of Gibraltar, and first to colonise the Western Mediterranean in any significant way, the Phoenicians inspired similar maritime ventures by the Greeks and Romans. Beginning the eighth century B.C., the Greek city-states of Euboea and Corinth led the movement towards colonization by learning shipbuilding, navigational techniques, and the east-west trade routes of the Phoenicians.[285] Following contact by the Phoenicians with mainland Italy in the tenth century BCE, the Etruscans and other Italic peoples learned the Phoenician methods of celestial navigation, weights and measures, and even finance, which centuries later were used and developed by the Romans.[40]

Long after the Phoenicians ceased to be an independent civilization, their descendants remained influential figures in various disciplines, and were often aware of their Phoenician roots. Zeno of Citium, the founder of Stoicism, was possibly of Phoenician heritage.[286] Roman Carthage, an early epicenter of Christianity, produced some of the earliest and most influential Christian theologians, such as Tertullian and St. Augustine, who were of Punic / Phoenician heritage.

See also


  1. Sometimes rendered "Wen-Amon"
  2. The full list includes "Cyprus and South Turkey; then Crete; then Malta and East Sicily; then South Sardinia, Ibiza, and Southern Spain; and, finally, Coastal Tunisia and cities like Tingris [sic] in Morocco." Samples from other areas with significant Phoenician settlements, such as Libya and southern France, could not be included.
  3. Thus rendered in Latin by Livy 30.7.5, attested in Punic inscriptions as SPΘM /ʃuftˤim/, meaning "judges" and obviously related to the Biblical Hebrew ruler title Shophet "Judge"
  4. Greek and Roman authors more commonly referred to them as "kings". SPΘ /ʃufitˤ/ might originally have been the title of the city's governor, installed by the mother city of Tyre.



  1. Jerry H. Bentley; Herbert F. Ziegler (2000). Traditions & Encounters: From the Beginnings to 1500. McGraw Hill. ISBN 978-0-07-004949-9. By about 2500 b.c.e. Phoenician merchants and ships already dominated trade in the Mediterranean basin.
  2. María Eugenia Aubet (6 September 2001). The Phoenicians and the West: Politics, Colonies and Trade. Cambridge University Press. pp. 18, 44. ISBN 978-0-521-79543-2.
  3. Carthage and the Carthaginians, R Bosworth Smithp16
  4. "Phoenicia". Collins English Dictionary.
  5. KITTO, John (1851). A Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature. Adan and Charles Black.
  6. Malaspina, Ann (2009). Lebanon. Infobase Publishing. ISBN 978-1-4381-0579-6.
  7. Paolo Xella, 2017, Phoenician Inscriptions in Palestine, in U. Hübner and H. Niehr (eds.), Sprachen in Palästina im 2. und 1. Jahrtausend v. Chr., ADPV 43, Wiesbaden 2017, 153-169; “First of all, it is necessary to state that, instead of speaking of “Phoenicians in Palestine”, it is much more correct to speak of “Southern Phoenicians”. In other words, we must simply invert our modern and unfounded perspective, which is conditioned by current politics. Particularly as far as regions like Upper Galilee or the Plain of Sharon are concerned, it is not a question of “strangers” who settle abroad and decide to live beyond the borders of their country. Instead, it is about people who are and feel themselves at home there. As Manfred Weippert remarked some years ago, it concerns the fact that “Phönizier in dem Bereich, den wir heute ‘Palästina’ nennen, und gerade auch in Galiläa, dem natürlichen Hinterland von Tyrus, ein wichtiges Bevölkerungselement waren”. [Translation: Phoenicians in what we now call 'Palestine', and especially in Galilee, the natural hinterland of Tyre, were an important element of the population]”
  8. Jigoulov, Vadim S. (2016-04-08). The Social History of Achaemenid Phoenicia: Being a Phoenician, Negotiating Empires. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-134-93809-4.
  9. Hornblower, Simon; Spawforth, Antony; Eidinow, Esther (2014-09-11). The Oxford Companion to Classical Civilization. OUP Oxford. ISBN 978-0-19-101676-9.
  10. "Who Were The Phoenicians? | History Today". Retrieved 2020-04-20.
  11. Aubet (2001), p. 17.
  12. "Phoenicia". Ancient History Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2017-08-09.
  13. Josephine Quinn (11 December 2017). In Search of the Phoenicians. Princeton University Press. pp. 201, 203. ISBN 978-1-4008-8911-2. My starting point was that we have no good evidence for the ancient people that we call Phoenician identifying themselves as a single people or acting as a stable collective. I do not conclude from this absence of evidence that the Phoenicians did not exist, nor that nobody ever called her- or himself a Phoenician under any circumstances: Phoenician-speakers undoubtedly had a larger repertoire of self-classifications than survives in our fragmentary evidence, and it would be surprising if, for instance, they never described themselves as Phoenicians to the Greeks who invented that term; indeed, I have drawn attention to several cases where something very close to that is going on... A distaste even for self-government could also explain a phenomenon I have drawn attention to throughout the book: our “Phoenicians” not only fail to visibly identify as Phoenician, they often omit to identify at all. It is striking in this light that the first surviving visible expression of an explicitly “Phoenician” identity was imposed by the Carthaginians on their subjects as they extended state power to a degree unprecedented among Phoenician-speakers, that it was then adopted by Tyre as a symbol of colonial success, and that it was subsequently exploited by Roman rulers in support of their imperial activities.
  14. Scott, John C. (2018) "The Phoenicians and the Formation of the Western World,"Comparative Civilizations Review: Vol. 78 : No. 78 , Article 4,; The Phoenicians, who were Semites, emerged as a distinct Canaanite group around 3200 B.C.  Hemmed in by the Lebanon Mountains, their first cities were Byblos, Sidon, Tyre, and Aradus
  15. Josephine Quinn (11 December 2017). In Search of the Phoenicians. Princeton University Press. pp. 24, 204. ISBN 978-1-4008-8911-2. My answer to the question Moscati posed in 1963 is that nothing did in fact unite the Phoenicians in their own eyes or those of their neighbors, and that his Phoenician people, or civilization, or nation, is not actually a real historical object, but rather a product of the scholarly and political ideologies I have discussed in this chapter. Such modern ideas about the ancient Phoenicians are thoroughly interwoven with ideas about the modern nation-state. That does not in itself, of course, mean that they cannot also be true. But the picture presented by our ancient sources is very different... In the end, it is modern nationalism that has created the Phoenicians, along with much else of our modern idea of the ancient Mediterranean.
  16. 16.0 16.1 Markoe (2000) p. 111
  17. 17.0 17.1 Fischer, Steven Roger (2004). A history of writing. Reaktion Books. p. 90.
  18. Glenn Markoe, Phoenicians, University of California Press (Jan 1, 2000), pp. 10-12.
  19. "Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, φοῖνιξ". Retrieved 2017-02-03.
  20. Gove, Philip Babcock, ed. Webster's Third New International Dictionary of the English Language Unabridged. Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, 1993.
  21. Robert S. P. Beekes, Etymological Dictionary of Greek, Brill, 2009, p. 1583.
  22. Françoise Briquel-Chatonnet and Éric Gubel, Les Phéniciens : Aux origines du Liban, collection « Découvertes Gallimard » (nº 358). Paris: Gallimard, 1999, p. 18.
  23. Aubet Semmler, María Eugenia (2001). The Phoenicians and the West: Politics, Colonies and Trade. Cambridge University Press. p. 9. ISBN 978-0-521-79543-2.
  24. Mireille Hadas-Lebel, Entre la Bible et l'Histoire : Le Peuple hébreu, collection « Découvertes Gallimard » (nº 313). Paris: Gallimard, 1997, p. 14.
  25. B. Landesberger has shown that kinaḫḫu should be read as qinaḫḫu and was borrowed from Sumerian qìn (compare Akk uqnû, Ugaritic iqnu, Syrian qʿnâʿ(a)/qunʿ(a), and Gk kýanos 'dark blue').
  26. 26.0 26.1 26.2 26.3 Krahmalkov, Charles R. (2000-11-28). A Phoenician-Punic Grammar. BRILL. p. 1. ISBN 9789004294202.
  27. Eusebius, Praeparatio evangelica, Book 1 chapter 10 section 10, Egypt's Place in Universal History: An Historical Investigation in Five Books. Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans. 1860. p. 268.
  28. R. A. Donkin (1998). Beyond Price: Pearls and Pearl-fishing : Origins to the Age of Discoveries, Volume 224. p. 48. ISBN 0-87169-224-4.
  29. Bowersock, G.W. (1986). "Tylos and Tyre. Bahrain in the Graeco-Roman World". In Khalifa, Haya Ali; Rice, Michael (eds.). Bahrain Through The Ages – the Archaeology. Routledge. pp. 401–2. ISBN 0-7103-0112-X.
  30. Ju. B. Tsirkin. "Canaan. Phoenicia. Sidon" (PDF). p. 274.
  31. Arnold Heeren, p441
  32. Rice, Michael (1994). The Archaeology of the Arabian Gulf. Routledge. p. 20. ISBN 0-415-03268-7.
  33. Rice (1994), p. 21.
  34. Zarins, Juris (1992). "Pastoral Nomadism in Arabia: Ethnoarchaeology and the Archaeological Record—A Case Study". In Bar-Yosef, O.; Khazanov, A. (eds.). Pastoralism in the Levant. Madison: Prehistory Press. ISBN 0-9629110-8-9.
  35. Tubb, Jonathan N. (1998), "Canaanites" (British Museum People of the Past)
  36. Woodard, Roger (2008). The Ancient Languages of Syria-Palestine and Arabia. New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-68498-9.
  37. 37.0 37.1 37.2 Naveh, Joseph (1987). "Proto-Canaanite, Archaic Greek, and the Script of the Aramaic Text on the Tell Fakhariyah Statue". In Miller; et al. (eds.). Ancient Israelite Religion. ISBN 0-8006-0831-3.. Coulmas (1996).
  38. Glenn Markoe, Phoenicians, University of California Press (2000),pp. 1-19.
  39. Robert Stieglitz, “The Geopolitics of the Phoenician Littoral in the Early Iron Age,” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 129 (1990): 9.
  40. 40.00 40.01 40.02 40.03 40.04 40.05 40.06 40.07 40.08 40.09 40.10 40.11 40.12 40.13 40.14 40.15 40.16 40.17 40.18 Scott, John C. (2018) "The Phoenicians and the Formation of the Western World," Comparative Civilizations Review: Vol. 78 : No. 78 , Article 4,
  41. Coulmas, Florian, Writing Systems of the World, Blackwell Publishers Ltd, Oxford, 1989.
  42. William H. Barnes, Studies in the Chronology of the Divided Monarchy of Israel (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1991) 29-55.
  43. Ricardo Duchesne, The Uniqueness of Western Civilization (2011), p. 77,
  44. Chamorro, Javier G. (1987). "Survey of Archaeological Research on Tartessos". American Journal of Archaeology. 91 (2): 197–232. doi:10.2307/505217. JSTOR 505217.
  45. 45.0 45.1 45.2 Thompson, C.; Skaggs, S. (2013). "King Solomon's Silver? Southern Phoenician Hacksilber Hoards and the Location of Tarshish". Internet Archaeology. 35 (35). doi:10.11141/ia.35.6.
  46. The Phoenicians: A Captivating Guide to the History of Phoenicia and the Impact Made by One of the Greatest Trading Civilizations of the Ancient World, Captivating History (Dec.16, 2019), ISBN 9781647482053.
  47. 47.00 47.01 47.02 47.03 47.04 47.05 47.06 47.07 47.08 47.09 47.10 47.11 47.12 47.13 The Phoenicians: A Captivating Guide to the History of Phoenicia and the Impact Made by One of the Greatest Trading Civilizations of the Ancient World, Captivating History (Dec.16, 2019), ISBN 9781647482053.
  48. 2 Samuel 5:11, 1 Kings 5:1, and 1 Chronicles 14:1. See also Book of Isaiah (Isaiah 23), Book of Jeremiah (25:22, 47:4), Book of Ezekiel (Ezekiel 26–28), Book of Joel (Joel 3:4–8), and Book of Amos (Amos 1:9–10)
  49. 49.0 49.1 James B. Pritchard, The Phoenicians: Sources for Their History, Princeton University Press (1978), p. 25,
  50. James B. Pritchard, introduction to The Sea Traders, by Maitland A. Edey (New York: Time-Life Books, 1974), p. 7.
  51. Hoffman, Joel M. (2004). In the beginning : a short history of the Hebrew language. New York, NY [u.a.]: New York Univ. Press. p. 23. ISBN 978-0-8147-3654-8. Retrieved 23 May 2017.
  52. Michael C. Howard (2012). Transnationalism in Ancient and Medieval Societies. P. 23.
  53. Markoe (2000), p. 108.
  54. Zellig Sabbettai Harris. A grammar of the Phoenician language. p6. 1990
  55. Edward Clodd, Story of the Alphabet (Kessinger) 2003:192ff
  56. The Development of the Greek Alphabet within the Chronology of the ANE (2009), Quote: "Naveh gives four major reasons why it is universally agreed that the Greek alphabet was developed from an early Phoenician alphabet.
    1 According to Herodutous "the Phoenicians who came with Cadmus... brought into Hellas the alphabet, which had hitherto been unknown, as I think, to the Greeks."
    2 The Greek Letters, alpha, beta, gimmel have no meaning in Greek but the meaning of most of their Semitic equivalents is known. For example, 'aleph' means 'ox', 'bet' means 'house' and 'gimmel' means 'throw stick'.
    3 Early Greek letters are very similar and sometimes identical to the West Semitic letters.
    4 The letter sequence between the Semitic and Greek alphabets is identical. (Naveh 1982)"
  57. Coulmas (1989) p. 141.
  58. The date remains the subject of controversy, according to Glenn E. Markoe, "The Emergence of Phoenician Art" Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research No. 279 (August 1990):13–26) p. 13. "Most scholars have taken the Ahiram inscription to date from around 1000 B.C.E.", notes Edward M. Cook, "On the Linguistic Dating of the Phoenician Ahiram Inscription (KAI 1)", Journal of Near Eastern Studies 53.1 (January 1994:33–36) p. 33 JSTOR. Cook analyses and dismisses the date in the thirteenth century adopted by C. Garbini, "Sulla datazione della'inscrizione di Ahiram", Annali (Istituto Universitario Orientale, Naples) 37 (1977:81–89), which was the prime source for early dating urged in Bernal, Martin (1990). Cadmean Letters: The Transmission of the Alphabet to the Aegean and further West before 1400 BC. Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns. ISBN 978-0-931464-47-8. Arguments for a mid 9th -8th century B.C.E. date for the sarcophagus reliefs themselves—and hence the inscription, too— were made on the basis of comparative art history and archaeology by Edith Porada, "Notes on the Sarcophagus of Ahiram," Journal of the Ancient Near East Society 5 (1973:354-72); and on the basis of paleography among other points by Ronald Wallenfels, "Redating the Byblian Inscriptions," Journal of the Ancient Near East Society 15 (1983:79–118).
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  80. Millar, p. 34: "Phoenician culture seems in some sense to have spread inland as well as overseas in the Hellenistic period, as Punic culture did also in North Africa after This fact brings Phoenician culture into connection with the familiar phenomenon of the fusion of Greek and non-Greek deities in Syria, or alternatively the survival of non-Greek cults in a Hellenised environment. There is nowhere where it appears more vividly before us than in Herodian’s description of the cult of Elagabal at Emesa; what is significant is that Herodian thought that ‘‘Elagabal’’ was a Phoenician name and that Julia Maesa was ‘"by origin a Phoinissa""
  81. Millar, p. 50: Secondly, and more important, when the Phoenicians began to explore the storehouse of Greek culture, they could find, among other things, themselves, already credited with creative roles—not all of which, as it happens, were purely legendary. If some aspects were just legend, like the story of Kadmos, what is clear is that the Phoenicians adopted it (perhaps, like the legend of Aeneas in Italy, very early) and made it their own. In doing so they acquired both an extra past and a reinforcement of their historical identity; and they also simultaneously gained acceptance as being in some sense Greeks
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  137. Hogan, C. Michael (Nov 2, 2007). "Mogador: promontory fort". In Burnham, A. (ed.). The Megalithic Portal.
  138. Straub, 3.2.11 (1976). TARTESSOS, SW Spain. The Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites. Retrieved 21 July 2015.CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  139. Stephen Stockwell, “Before Athens: Early Popular Government in Phoenician and Greek City States,” Geopolitics, History, and International Relations 2 (2010): 123.
  140. 140.0 140.1 Stephen Stockwell, Geopolitics, History, and International Relations , Vol. 2, No. 2 (2010), pp. 123- 135
  141. Aristotle (5 November 2012). Politics: A Treatise on Government. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. pp. 97–99. ISBN 978-1-4802-6588-2. Retrieved 11 February 2013.
  142. 142.0 142.1 Stephen Stockwell, “Before Athens: Early Popular Government in Phoenician and Greek City States,” Geopolitics, History, and International Relations 2 (2010): 129.
  143. 143.0 143.1 Stephen Stockwell, “Before Athens: Early Popular Government in Phoenician and Greek City States,” Geopolitics, History, and International Relations 2 (2010): 123-133.
  144. 144.0 144.1 Aristotle (5 November 2012). Politics: A Treatise on Government. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. p. 97. ISBN 978-1-4802-6588-2. Retrieved 11 February 2013.
  145. Richard Miles (21 July 2011). Carthage Must Be Destroyed: The Rise and Fall of an Ancient Civilization. Penguin. pp. 115–116. ISBN 978-1-101-51703-1. Retrieved 12 February 2013.
  146. Richard Miles (21 July 2011). Carthage Must Be Destroyed: The Rise and Fall of an Ancient Civilization. Penguin. p. 130. ISBN 978-1-101-51703-1. Retrieved 12 February 2013.
  147. 147.0 147.1 147.2 Richard Miles (21 July 2011). Carthage Must Be Destroyed: The Rise and Fall of an Ancient Civilization. Penguin. p. 130. ISBN 978-1-101-51703-1. Retrieved 12 February 2013.
  148. Moises Silva (11 May 2010). Biblical Words and Their Meaning: An Introduction to Lexical Semantics. Zondervan. ISBN 978-0-310-87151-4. Retrieved 12 February 2013.
  149. Aristotle. p. 2.11.3–70.
  150. Aristotle (5 November 2012). Politics: A Treatise on Government. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. pp. 98–100. ISBN 978-1-4802-6588-2. Retrieved 11 February 2013.
  151. Craige B. Champion (2004). Cultural Politics in Polybius's Histories. University of California Press. p. 118. ISBN 978-0-520-92989-0. Retrieved 6 April 2013.
  152. Aristotle (5 November 2012). Politics: A Treatise on Government. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. pp. 97–99. ISBN 978-1-4802-6588-2. Retrieved 11 February 2013.
  153. Stephen Stockwell, “Before Athens: Early Popular Government in Phoenician and Greek City States,” Geopolitics, History, and International Relations 2 (2010): 123-133.
  154. “They became the first to provide a link between the culture of the ancient Near East and that of the uncharted world of the West…They went not for conquest as the Babylonians and Assyrians did, but for trade. Profit rather than plunder was their policy.” James B. Pritchard, introduction to The Sea Traders, by Maitland A. Edey (New York: Time-Life Books, 1974), 7.
  155. P. D. A. Garnsey; C. R. Whittaker (15 February 2007). Imperialism in the Ancient World: The Cambridge University Research Seminar in Ancient History. Cambridge University Press. p. 80. ISBN 978-0-521-03390-9. Retrieved 22 February 2013.
  156. 156.0 156.1 "Polybius • Histories — Book 6". Retrieved 2020-04-22. no-break space character in |title= at position 28 (help)
  157. Coulmas (1996).
  158. Millard, A. R. (1986). "The Infancy of the Alphabet". World Archaeology. 17 (3): 390–398. doi:10.1080/00438243.1986.9979978.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  159. "Ancient Scripts: Proto-Sinaitic". Archived from the original on 2009-02-27.
  160. "Discovery of Egyptian Inscriptions Indicates an Earlier Date for Origin of the Alphabet". The New York Times. 1999-11-13. Retrieved 2010-05-22.
  161. "Phoenician alphabet and language".
  162. Beck, Roger B.; Black, Linda; Krieger, Larry S.; Naylor, Phillip C.; Shabaka, Dahia Ibo (1999). World History: Patterns of Interaction. Evanston, IL: McDougal Littell. ISBN 978-0-395-87274-1.
  163. 163.0 163.1 "Phoenician Art". Ancient History Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2020-04-19.
  164. "Phoenician Art" (PDF). The New York Times. 1879-01-05. Retrieved 2008-06-20.
  165. 165.0 165.1 "The Phoenicians (1500–300 B.C.)". Retrieved 2020-04-19.
  166. 166.0 166.1 Glenn E. Markoe, The Emergence of Phoenician Art, Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, No. 279 (Aug., 1990), pp. 13-26,
  167. Ellen Rehm: Der Ahiram-Sarkophag, Mainz 2004 (Forschungen zur phönizisch-punischen und zyprischen Plastik, hg. von Renate Bol, II.1. Dynastensarkophage mit szenischen Reliefs aus Byblos und Zypern Teil 1.1)
  168. Glenn E. Markoe, The Emergence of Phoenician Art, Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, No. 279 (Aug., 1990), pp. 13-26,
  169. 2 Chronicles.
  170. Book 6.
  171. Book 13.
  172. "Furniture plaque carved in high relief with two Egyptianizing figures flanking a volute tree, ca. 9th–8th century B.C." Retrieved 2020-04-19.
  173. "Phoenicia, Phoenician Dress, Ornaments and Social Habits". Retrieved 2020-04-19.
  174. Sanford Holst. Phoenician Secrets: Exploring the Ancient Mediterranean (2011), p. 31.
  175. Sanford Holst, Phoenician Secrets, Santorini Books (2011), p. 44.
  176. Moscati (1957), e.g., p. 40 & 113.
  177. W. Robertson Smith, Lectures on the Religion of the Semites (Edinburgh: A. & C. Black 1889; 2d ed. 1894; 3d ed. 1927); reprint by Meridian Library, New York, 1956, at 1–15.
  178. Cf. Julian Baldick, who posits an even greater and more ancient sweep of a common religious culture in his Black God. Afroasiatic roots of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim religions (London: Tauris 1998).
  179. Gaster (1965), pp. 113–143, 114–5.
  180. Harden (1962), pp. 83–4.
  181. Much of what is now known about Canaanite religion comes from one source: cuneiform tablets found in 1928 at temple ruins of Ras Shamra (ancient Ugarit). Gaster (1965), pp. 113–143, 114–5.
  182. 182.0 182.1 Brandon (1970), p. 173 ("Canaanite Religion").
  183. Dmitri Baramki, Phoenicia and the Phoenicians (Beirut: Khayats 1961) at 55–58.
  184. Markoe (2000), pp. 115–142.
  185. Brandon (1970), pp. 512–513 ("Sacred Prostitution").
  186. Brandon (1970), p. 448 ("Molech").
  187. E.g., like the early Hebrews, in Carthage little importance was attached to the idea of life after death. Warmington (1964), p. 162.
  188. Brandon (1970), p. 258 ("El").
  189. Cf. Cross (1973), pp. 10–75, i.e., "'El and the God of the Fathers" (13–43), "Yahweh and 'El" (44–75); and pp. 177–186, i.e., "'El's modes of revelation" in "Yahweh and Ba'l" (147–194)
  190. Here, Baal was used instead of the storm god's name Hadad. Brandon (1970), p. 315 ("Hadad"), p. 28 ("Adad – Mesopotamia"), p. 124 ("Baal").
  191. Moscati (1957), pp. 113–4.
  192. Brandon (1970), pp. 29–30 ("Adonis").
  193. Warmington (1964), p. 156 (as an epithet to hide a god's real name).
  194. Brandon (1970), p. 655 ("YHVH"), p. 173 ("Canaanite Religion").
  195. In Phoenicia and Canaan: the rejuvenating Melqart was the chief god of Tyre, Eshmun the god of healing at Sidon, Dagon (his son was Baal) at Ashdod, Terah the moon god of the Zebulun. In Mesopotamia: the moon god at Ur was called Sin (Sum: Nanna), the sun god Shamash at Larsa, the fertility goddess of Uruk being Ishtar, and the great god of Babylon being Marduk. Brandon (1970), p. 173 ("Canaanite Religion"), p. 501 ("Phoenician Religion")
  196. Carlyon, Richard. A Guide to the Gods (New York 1981) pp. 311, 315, 320, 324, 326, 329, 332–3.
  197. Harden (1962), pp. 85–8.
  198. Kinship status was not infrequently granted to genetically unrelated persons. Cf., Meyer Fortes, Kinship and the Social Order. The Legacy of Lewis Henry Morgan (Chicago: Aldine 1969) at 256.
  199. Markoe (2000), p. 120, (MRZH, marzeh).
  200. Warmington (1964), p. 148.
  201. Cf., William Robertson Smith, Lectures on The Religion of the Semites. Second and Third Series. {1890–1891} (Sheffield Academic Press 1995), "Feasts" at 33–43.
  202. Lancel (1995), p. 193.
  203. Similarly, diaspora Jews also sent material support for the second Temple in Jerusalem until its fall in 70 CE. Cf., Allen C. Myers, editor, The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans 1987), "Temple" at 989–992, 991.
  204. 204.0 204.1 Charles-Picard & Picard (1968), p. 45.
  205. Warmington (1964), p. 155.
  206. 206.0 206.1 Abun-Nasr, A History of the Maghrib (1971) at 22.
  207. Warmington (1964), p. 161 (ten elders, priesthood, Temple of Eshmun).
  208. Lancel (1995), pp. 193–4.
  209. Markoe (2000), pp. 129–130.
  210. Warmington (1964), p. 157.
  211. Warmington (1964), pp. 155–8. Warmington associates Melqart with the pan-Semitic father god El. Regarding Baal Hammon, "the epithet [was] being used to avoid naming the name of the god" (p. 156).
  212. Lancel (1995), pp. 199–204.
  213. Cross, Frank Moore (1973). Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic. Harvard University Press. pp. 26–28. ISBN 9780674091764. Retrieved 19 January 2017.
  214. Lancel (1995), pp. 195–6, entertains other etymologies for BL HMN. If instead of HMN, one reads HM-N it would signify "protector". One author finds his origin in the name of a mountain to the north of Phoenicia, Amanus. Or the name may signify a small chapel, related to continuity, hence safety. Cf. Lancel (1995), pp. 194–9.
  215. Markoe (2000), p. 130. Markoe understands Baal Hammon as similar to Dagon, i.e., an agricultural god.
  216. Cf., Harden (1962), Plate 41, "Stele of Baal enthroned from Hadrumetum" (Sousse, Tunisia). Said by Markoe (2000) to represent Baal Hammon.
  217. Soren, Khader & Slim (1990) in their chapter "The Precinct of Death" (123–46), discuss rather thoroughly child sacrifice at Carthage. They present archaeological findings (125–6, 131–9), and cite the works of a dozen ancient authors (126–30), to substantiate its macabre reality. The authors also try to understand it from the perspective of its ancient practitioners (130–1, 142–5). They review (139–41) the few modern critics who question whether in fact the evidence is being misconstrued (e.g., the children died of other causes) although the authors appear to find these counter-arguments not convincing enough to refute all the ancient charges and modern archaeology.
  218. Lancel (1995), pp. 251–6, also reviews such counter-arguments that, regarding the bones of small children found in the ashes of funerary furnaces, they were already dead when placed in the flames.
  219. Child sacrifice was offered to Tanit as well as Baal Hammon. Soren, Khader & Slim (1990), pp. 63, 123.
  220. Diodorus Siculus, Bibliothecae Historicae at XX, 14, 4, as cited in Lancel (1995), pp. 197, 249.
  221. Lancel (1995), p. 197. The novel inspired several operas.
  222. On the symbol of Tanit, cf. Lancel (1995), pp. 201–4. Her symbol may be related to the Egyptian symbol of life, the ankh. Lancel (pp. 201–2), citing Bisi, Anna Maria (1982). "Simboli animati nella religione fenicio-punica". In Lanternari, Vittorio (ed.). Religioni e Civiltà (in italiano). 3. Bari: Dedalo. pp. 62–65. ISBN 978-882202203-5.
  223. In early inscriptions her name followed that of Baal Hammon. Then her title became TNT PN B'L or Tanit Pene Baal ("Tanit face of Baal"), and she was named before Baal Hammon on ex-votos found in the Tophet of Carthage. Lastly, she alone is indicated. Lancel (1995), pp. 199–200.
  224. "Tanit face of Baal" signifies Tanit as the presence of the god Baal. A similar epithet occurs in Hebrew religion, e.g., where ML'K PNYW signifies the "angel of the presence" in Exodus 33: 14, and in Isaiah 63: 9. Cross (1973), p. 30 n102.
  225. Charles-Picard & Picard (1968), p. 153.
  226. Neumann, Erich, Die Gross Mutter: Eine phänomenologie der weiblichen gestaltungen des unbewussten (Zürich: Rhein Verlag 1956), translated by Ralph Mannheim as The Great Mother. An Analysis of the Archetype (Princeton University: Bollingen 1955, 2d ed. 1963) at 311, describes a relief of Tanith carved on a stone stelae (Plate 157b):

    "Thus the winged figure of Tanith, the Carthaginian goddess of heaven, standing beneath the vault of heaven and the zodiac, holds the sun and moon in her hands, and is [flanked] by pillars, the symbols of the Great Mother Goddess. But on the lower plane of the stele, we find the same goddess stylized with upraised arms, possibly as a tree assimilated to the Egyptian life symbol. Her head is the sun, an illusion to the tree birth of the sun, and she is accompanied by two doves, the typical bird of the Great Goddess." The "Egyptian life symbol" refers to the ankh.

  227. 227.0 227.1 Warmington (1964), pp. 156–7.
  228. Barton (1934), pp. 304–6:

    "It seems probable, therefore, that Tanith was a pre-Phoenician goddess of fertility of the Hamites, ...that she was so popular that after the coming of the Phoenicians they too worshipped her to such a degree that she largely displaced their native goddess Astart."Barton (1934), p. 305

    Here the ancient Berbers were the local Hamitic people.
  229. Markoe (2000), pp. 118, 130.
  230. Lancel (1995), p. 200: seventh century inscription at Sarepta mentions TNT-'STRT, i.e., Tanit-Astarte.
  231. There is some evidence contra: late Punic sacerdotal officials were called MTRH ("bridegroom"), indicating the male role in a "sacred marriage" to promote fertility, the "brides" of this seasonal rite being females of the temple; the Hebrew prophet Hosea condemned such rites as "prostitution". Gaster (1965), pp. 113–143, 132.
  232. Warmington doubts that temple prostitution was "a feature of Carthaginian religion." Warmington (1964), p. 157.
  233. Charles-Picard & Picard (1968), p. 152, regarding the comparison of Astarte and Tanit.
  234. Barton (1934), pp. 306, 306n5. Ceres is often identified with the Greek goddess Demeter (whose name signifies "earth mother").
  235. Cross (1973), pp. 28–35, 'Astarte (29–30), 'Anat (31), and 'Elat (31–35).
  236. Patai (1990) describes the goddess 'Anat, and the goddess 'Elat or Asherah:

    "In Ugaritic mythology, Anath is by far the most important female figure, the goddess of love and war, virginal yet wanton, amorous yet given to uncontrollable outbursts of rage and appalling acts of cruelty. She is the daughter of El, the god of heaven, and of his wife the Lady Asherah of the Sea. ... Her foremost lover was her brother Baal. ... She was easily provoked to violence and, once she began to fight, would go berserk, smiting and killing left and right." (60–2), who adds that the Phoenician Philo of Byblos (64–141) compared Anath to the Greek virgin war goddess Athena. Also, Patai at 63–6 identifies Anath with the biblical "Queen of Heaven". At 61 Patai, referring to Anath in her rôle as goddess of love, mentions the Babylonian goddess Ishtar, and remarks that both Astarte and Anath as "typical goddesses of love, both chaste and promiscuous... [were] perennially fruitful without ever losing their virginity."

    "Asherah was the chief goddess of the Canaanite pantheon... at Ugarit... . ...Asherah figured prominently as the wife of El the chief god. Her full name was 'Lady Asherah of the Sea'--apparently her domain proper was the sea, just as that of her husband El was heaven. She was, however, also referred to simply as Elath or Goddess. She was the 'Progenitress of the Gods': all other gods... were her children... . Asherah was a motherly goddess... ." Patai (1990), pp. 36–7. In his chapter "The Goddess Asherah" (34–53), Patai discusses widespread Hebrew worship of Asherah until the 6th century B.C.E. Patai (52–3) notes ancient inscriptions (one found near Hebron) evidencing an early Jewish association of Asherah with Yahweh, a view repugnant to later orthodox Judaism.

  237. Brandon (1970), p. 76 ("Anat"), p. 107 ("Asherah" and "Ashtart").
  238. Jung (1969), pp. 3–41, 23: modern psychology understands "the gods as psychic factors, that is, as archetypes"; pp. 151–81, 160–1, (The Psychology of the Child Archetype – 1940):

    It is an "illusion that an archetype can be finally explained and disposed of. Even the best attempts at explanation are only more or less successful translations into another metaphorical language. ... The most we can do is dream the myth onwards and give it a modern dress. And whatever [our] explanation or interpretation does to it, we do to our souls as well, with corresponding results for our own well being. ... Hence the "explanation" should always be such that the functional significance of the archetype remains unimpaired, so that an adequate and meaningful connection between the conscious mind and the archetype is assured. ... It represents or personifies certain instinctive data of the dark, primitive psyche, the real but invisible roots of consciousness." ... "The archetype... is a psychic organ present in all of us. ... There is no 'rational' substitute for the archetype any more than there is for the cerebellum or the kidneys."

  239. Compare Lancel (1995), pp. 202–3.
  240. Lancel (1995), p. 114: Himilco's acts of sacrilege and his subsequent military defeat in Sicily, later his penance and suicide at Carthage; thereafter, introduction to Carthage of Greek goddesses Demeter and Kore.
  241. Charles-Picard & Picard (1968), pp. 146–54.
  242. Lancel (1995), pp. 202–3, shows his criticism of the theory that Tanit was adopted in Carthage when it passed from monarchy to oligarchy.
  243. Giovanni Garbini, "Continuità ed innovazioni nella religione fenicia" in Atti del colloquio in Roma: la religione fenicia (Roma 1981) pp 34–6. Cited by Lancel (1995), p. 203, as advancing the theory of religious change re Tanit.
  244. Brett, Michael; Fentress, Elizabeth (1997). The Berbers. Wiley-Blackwell. p. 49.
  245. Theodor Mommsen, Römische Geschichte, band 5 (Leipzig 1885, 5th ed. 1904), translated as The Provinces of the Roman Empire (London 1886, 1909; reprint Barnes & Noble 1996) at 305, citing the ancient Christian authors Cyprian and Tertullian.
  246. "History of Phoenicia by George Rawlinson". Retrieved 2020-04-23.
  247. Mark S. Smith (1994). The Ugaritic Baal Cycle: Volume I, Introduction with text, translation and commentary of KTU 1.1–1.2. BRILL. p. 94. ISBN 978-90-04-09995-1.
  248. Jerry H. Bentley, “Sea and Ocean Basins as Frameworks for Historical Analysis,” Geographical Review 89 (1999): 215-219.
  249. Rawlinson, "It is most remarkable that the Egyptians, intolerant as they usually were of strangers, should have allowed the Phoenicians to settle in their southern capital, Memphis, and to build a temple and inhabit a quarter there." History of the Phoenicians,
  250. Fernand Braudel, Memory and Mediterranean, trans. Sian Reynolds (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, (2001), 112-113.
  251. Sanford Holst, “Minoans and Phoenicians: Indigenous Development versus Eastern Influence,” presented at California State University, Long Beach, on June 24, 2006,
  252. 252.0 252.1 "Canaan and Ancient Palestine". University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. 1999. See also Gallery.
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  257. L.H.Jeffery. (1976).The archaic Greece.The Greek city states 700–500 BC.Ernest Benn Ltd&Tonnbridge.
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  259. Herodotus, The Histories, II.145.4.
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  263. Habel, N.C. 1964. Yahweh Versus Baal: A Conflict of Religious Cultures. New York: Bookman Associates
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  265. Plato, Republic, IV (435e–436a)
  266. Plato Laws V (747c)
  267. Benjamin Isaac, The Invention of Racism in Classical Antiquity, p. 325.
  268. Eric S. Gruen, Rethinking the Other in Antiquity (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011), 199-120.
  269. Herodotus, The History, I.1.1–5.
  270. Millar, p. 50: Secondly, and more important, when the Phoenicians began to explore the storehouse of Greek culture, they could find, among other things, themselves, already credited with creative roles—not all of which, as it happens, were purely legendary. If some aspects were just legend, like the story of Kadmos, what is clear is that the Phoenicians adopted it (perhaps, like the legend of Aeneas in Italy, very early) and made it their own. In doing so they acquired both an extra past and a reinforcement of their historical identity; and they also simultaneously gained acceptance as being in some sense Greeks
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  286. Diogenes Laërtius, vii. 3


Further reading

  • Carayon, Nicolas, Les ports phéniciens et puniques, PhD Thesis, 2008, Strasbourg, France.
  • Cerqueiro, Daniel, Las Naves de Tarshis o quiénes fueron los Fenicios, Buenos Aires, Ed. Peq. Venecia, 2002, ISBN 987-9239-13-X.
  • Cioffi, Robert L., "A Palm Tree, a Colour and a Mythical Bird" (review of Josephine Quinn, In Search of the Phoenicians, Princeton, 2017, 360 pp., ISBN 978 0 691 17527 0), London Review of Books, vol. 41, no. 1 (3 January 2019), pp. 15–16.
  • Rawlinson, George, The History of Phoenicia, 1889, available online under Project Gutenberg. Rawlinson's 19th-century text needs updating for modern improvements in historical understanding.
  • Thiollet, Jean-Pierre, Je m'appelle Byblos, foreword by Guy Gay-Para, H & D, Paris, 2005, ISBN 2-914266-04-9.
  • Todd, Malcolm; Andrew Fleming (1987). The South West to AD 1,000 (Regional history of England series No.:8). Harlow, Essex: Longman. ISBN 978-0-582-49274-5., for a critical examination of the evidence of Phoenician trade with the South West of the U.K.
  • Silva, Diógenes. "La literatura sobre fenicios en el territorio brasileño: orígenes y razones", PhD Thesis, Madrid - 2016. Available in

External links