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The Phoenicians and the West: Politics, Colonies and Trade


A must-have book for a more complete understanding of the political, commercial, and colonial aspects of Phoenicia, one of the ancient Mediterranean's most influential cultures.

The Phoenicians were one of the most influential ancient Mediterranean cultures, and so it is surprising how few general history books there are on the market which cover this fascinating civilization. In addition, of the few books generally available a good proportion are hopelessly outdated, seminal works though they might have been in the first half of the 20th century. Maria Eugenia Aubet’s The Phoenicians and the West, therefore, makes an important contribution to the literature on the topic.

The book is divided into ten chapters which cover not only the most famous of Phoenicia’s contributions to Mediterranean history - maritime trade and colonization – but also their origins, the evolution of the great cities of the Levant from the Iron Age onwards, their political structures, religious practices and architecture, and international relations with contemporary cultures in Egypt, the Aegean, and the Near East. Aubet is a Professor of Archaeology at the Universidad Pompeu Fabra and her arguments are robustly presented. She discusses prevailing theories, long-held misconceptions, and new evidence to arrive at convincing conclusions based on the knowledge presently available.

The books strongest and most interesting contributions concern the history of Phoenician trade with a discussion of theories of how that may have functioned, who participated in it and controlled it, and how it drove the Phoenicians westwards. The chapter on the maritime skills of the Phoenicians and just how far they might have sailed beyond the Pillars of Hercules is also a highlight. The presentation of the chronology of the colonisation process and how interlinked colonisation and trade were for these ancient commercial seafarers is another important contribution, as is Aubet’s discussion of the latest theories concerning the tophet and child sacrifice for which the Phoenicians gained, unjustly it seems, an infamous reputation throughout history.

Ancient sources on Phoenicia and archaeological evidence is much patchier than with other ancient cultures, nevertheless, Aubet stitches these together to present what remains the most balanced and complete coverage of what we know of the Phoenicians. This is a book clearly destined for a university library or academic’s bookshelf, and there are some sections a general reader might see fit to skim over such as the presentations of mercantile theory and exchange mechanisms, but there is much here of interest to the general reader. Aubet’s consistent presentation of what was once held as true and what is now held as true is also of great use and redresses the biases of ancient sources, the prejudices of earlier historians, and lack of archaeological evidence that most earlier works on this topic suffer from.

In conclusion, with a smattering of black and white photographs and illustrations, maps, tables, extensive bibliography, and index this volume is absolutely essential for a more complete understanding of the Phoenicians from a political, commercial, and colonial perspective. Highly recommended.


The Phoenicians and the West: Politics, Colonies and Trade - History

The Phoenicians, appeared on the scene with an established maritime tradition, and the technology to build ships with a keeled hull. This allowed them to sail the open seas, and as a result, the Phoenicians developed a flourishing sea trade.

In addition to these exports and imports, the Phoenicians also conducted an important transit trade, especially in the manufactured goods of Egypt and Babylonia (Herodotus, i, 1). From the lands of the Euphrates and Tigris regular trade routes led to the Mediterranean. In Egypt the Phoenician merchants soon gained a foothold they alone were able to maintain a profitable trade in the anarchic times of the 22nd and 23rd dynasties (c. 945-c. 730 BC). Though there were never any regular colonies of Phoenicians in Egypt, the Tyrians had a quarter of their own in Memphis (Herodotus, ii, 112). The Arabian caravan trade in perfume, spices, and incense passed through Phoenician hands on its way to Greece and the West (Herodotus, iii, 107).

The role that tradition especially assigns to the Phoenicians as the merchants of the Levant was first developed on a considerable scale at the time of the Egyptian 18th dynasty. The position of Phoenicia, at a junction of both land and sea routes, under the protection of Egypt, favoured this development, and the discovery of the alphabet and its use and adaptation for commercial purposes assisted the rise of a mercantile society. A fresco in an Egyptian tomb of the 18th dynasty depicted seven Phoenician merchant ships that had just put in at an Egyptian port to sell their goods, including the distinctive Canaanite wine jars in which wine, a drink foreign to the Egyptians, was imported. The Story of Wen-Amon recounts the tale of a Phoenician merchant, Werket-el of Tanis in the Nile Delta, who was the owner of "50 ships" that sailed between Tanis and Sidon. The Sidonians are also famous in the poems of Homer as craftsmen, traders, pirates, and slave dealers. The prophet Ezekiel (chapters 27 and 28), in a famous denunciation of the city of Tyre, catalogs the vast extent of its commerce, covering most of the then-known world.

Phoenician Ship, Byblos, Phoenicia Maritima

by the Lebanese master artist Joseph Matar (Visit his site, a must see)

Note: To see a closeup of the front of the ship, please click the head of the hippocampus (sea horse) on the image above. (return to main page)

The exports of Phoenicia as a whole included particularly cedar and pine wood, fine linen from Tyre, Byblos, and Berytos, cloths dyed with the famous Tyrian purple (made from the snail Murex), embroideries from Sidon, metalwork and glass, glazed faience, wine, salt, and dried fish. They received in return raw materials, such as papyrus, ivory, ebony, silk, amber, ostrich eggs, spices, incense, horses, gold, silver, copper, iron, tin, jewels, and precious stones. The name Byblos is Greek papyrus received its early Greek name (byblos, byblinos) from its being exported to the Aegean through Byblos. Hence the English word Bible is derived from byblos as "the (papyrus) book."

Transit Trade

In addition to these exports and imports, the Phoenicians also conducted an important transit trade, especially in the manufactured goods of Egypt and Babylonia (Herodotus, i, 1). From the lands of the Euphrates and Tigris regular trade routes led to the Mediterranean. In Egypt the Phoenician merchants soon gained a foothold they alone were able to maintain a profitable trade in the anarchic times of the 22nd and 23rd dynasties (c. 945-c. 730 BC). Though there were never any regular colonies of Phoenicians in Egypt, the Tyrians had a quarter of their own in Memphis (Herodotus, ii, 112). The Arabian caravan trade in perfume, spices, and incense passed through Phoenician hands on its way to Greece and the West (Herodotus, iii, 107).

Navigation and Seafaring

For the establishment of commercial supremacy, an essential constituent was the Phoenician skill in navigation and seafaring. The Phoenicians are credited with the discovery and use of Polaris (the Pole Star). Fearless and patient navigators, they ventured into regions where no one else dared to go, and always, with an eye to their monopoly, they carefully guarded the secrets of their trade routes and discoveries and their knowledge of winds and currents. Pharaoh Necho II (610-595 BC) organized the Phoenician circumnavigation of Africa (Herodotus, iv, 42). Hanno, a Carthaginian, led another in the mid-5th century. The Carthaginians seem to have reached the island of Corvo in the Azores and Britain. Some archeologists suggest that the Phoenicians may have reached America before the Vikings and/or Columbus? The hypothesis is based on inscriptions found in the Americas (including Brazil) and seemed to represent a Phoenician script. However, others find the hypothesis unfounded.

Ships, Navigation and Commerce, Extended Discussion

Earliest navigation by means of rafts and canoes

The first attempts of the Phoenicians to navigate the sea which washed their coast were probably as clumsy and rude as those of other primitive nations. They are said to have voyaged from island to island by means of rafts. 1 When they reached the shores of the Mediterranean, it can scarcely have been long ere they constructed boats for fishing and coasting purposes, though no doubt such boats were of a very rude construction. Probably, like other races, they began with canoes, roughly hewn out of the trunk of a tree. The torrents which descended from Lebanon would from time to time bring down the stems of fallen trees in their flood-time and these, floating on the Mediterranean waters, would suggest the idea of navigation. They would, at first, be hollowed out with hatchets and adzes, or else with fire and, later on, the canoes thus produced would form the models for the earliest efforts in shipbuilding. The great length, however, would soon be found unnecessary, and the canoe would give place to the boat, in the ordinary acceptation of the term. There are models of boats among the Phoenician remains which have a very archaic character, 2 and may give us some idea of the vessels in which the Phoenicians of the remoter times braved the perils of the deep. They have a keel, not ill shaped, a rounded hull, bulwarks, a beak, and a high seat for the steersman. The oars, apparently, must have been passed through interstices in the bulwark.

Click on image of ship to view a cross-section

Model of a very primitive boat

From this rude shape the transition was not very difficult to the bark represented in the sculptures of Sargon, 3 which is probably a Phoenician one. Here four rowers, standing to their oars, impel a vessel having for prow the head of a horse and for stern the tail of a fish, both of them rising high above the water. The oars are curved, like golf or hockey-sticks, and are worked from the gunwale of the bark, though there is no indication of rowlocks. The vessel is without a rudder but it has a mast, supported by two ropes which are fastened to the head and stern. The mast has neither sail nor yard attached to it, but is crowned by what is called a "crow's nest"--a bell-shaped receptacle, from which a slinger or archer might discharge missiles against an enemy. 4

Phoenician vessel of the time of Sargon

A vessel of considerably greater size than this, but of the same class --impelled, that is, by one bank of oars only--is indicated by certain coins, which have been regarded by some critics as Phoenician, by others as belonging to Cilicia. 5 These have a low bow, but an elevated stern the prow exhibits a beak, while the stern shows signs of a steering apparatus the number of the oars on each side is fifteen or twenty. The Greeks called these vessels triaconters or penteconters. They are represented without any mast on the coins, and thus seem to have been merely row-boats of a superior character.

About the time of Sennacherib (B.C. 700), or a little earlier, some great advances seem to have been made by the Phoenician shipbuilders. In the first place, they introduced the practice of placing the rowers on two different levels, one above the other and thus, for a vessel of the same length, doubling the number of the rowers. Ships of this kind, which the Greeks called "biremes," are represented in Sennacherib's sculptures as employed by the inhabitants of a Phoenician city, who fly in them at the moment when their town is captured, and so escape their enemy. 6 The ships are of two kinds. Both kinds have a double tier of rowers, and both are guided by two steering oars thrust out from the stern but while the one is still without mast or sail, and is rounded off in exactly the same way both at stem and stern, the other has a mast, placed about midship, a yard hung across it, and a sail close reefed to the yard, while the bow is armed with a long projecting beak, like a ploughshare, which must have been capable of doing terrible damage to a hostile vessel. The rowers, in both classes of ships, are represented as only eight or ten upon a side but this may have arisen from artistic necessity, since a greater number of figures could not have been introduced without confusion. It is thought that in the beaked vessel we have a representation of the Phoenician war-galley in the vessel without a beak, one of the Phoenician transport. 7


Click on image of ship to view a cross-section

Phoenician pleasure vessels and merchant ships

A painting on a vase found in Cyprus exhibits what would seem to have been a pleasure-vessel. 8 It is unbeaked, and without any sign of oars, except two paddles for steering with. About midship is a short mast, crossed by a long spar or yard, which carries a sail, closely reefed along its entire length. The yard and sail are managed by means of four ropes, which are, however, somewhat conventionally depicted. Both the head and stern of the vessel rise to a considerable height above the water, and the stern is curved, very much as in the war- galleys. It perhaps terminated in the head of a bird.

According to the Greek writers, Phoenician vessels were mainly of two kinds, merchant ships and war-vessels. 9 The merchant ships were of a broad, round make, what our sailors would call "tubs," resembling probably the Dutch fishing-boats of a century ago. They were impelled both by oars and sails, but depended mainly on the latter. Each of them had a single mast of moderate height, to which a single sail was attached 10 this was what in modern times is called a "square sail," a form which is only well suited for sailing with when the wind is directly astern. It was apparently attached to the yard, and had to be hoisted together with the yard, along which it could be closely reefed, or from which it could be loosely shaken out. It was managed, no doubt, by ropes attached to the two lower corners, which must have been held in the hands of sailors, as it would have been most dangerous to belay them. As long as the wind served, the merchant captain used his sail when it died away, or became adverse, he dropped yard and sail on to his deck, and made use of his oars.

Merchant ships had, commonly, small boats attached to them, which afforded a chance of safety if the ship foundered, and were useful when cargoes had to be landed on a shelving shore. 11 We have no means of knowing whether these boats were hoisted up on deck until they were wanted, or attached to the ships by ropes and towed after them but the latter arrangement is the more probable.


Click on image of ship to view a cross-section

Superiority of the Phoenician war-galleys

The war-galleys of the Phoenicians in the early times were probably of the class which the Greeks called triaconters or penteconters, and which are represented upon the coins. They were long open rowboats, in which the rowers sat, all of them, upon a level, the number of rowers on either side being generally either fifteen or twenty-five. Each galley was armed at its head with a sharp metal spike, or beak, which was its chief weapon of offence, vessels of this class seeking commonly to run down their enemy. After a time these vessels were superseded by biremes, which were decked, had masts and sails, and were impelled by rowers sitting at two different elevations, as already explained. Biremes were ere long superseded by triremes, or vessels with three banks of oars, which are said to have been invented at Corinth, 12 but which came into use among the Phoenicians before the end of the sixth century B.C. 13 In the third century B.C. the Carthaginians employed in war quadriremes, and even quinqueremes but there is no evidence of the employment of either class of vessel by the Phoenicians of Phoenicia Proper.

The superiority of the Phoenician ships to others is generally allowed, and was clearly shown when Xerxes collected his fleet of twelve hundred and seven triremes against Greece. The fleet included contingents from Phoenicia, Cyprus, Egypt, Cilicia, Pamphylia, Lycia, Caria, Ionia, Æolis, and the Greek settlements about the Propontis. 14 When it reached the Hellespont, the great king, anxious to test the quality of his ships and sailors, made proclamation for a grand sailing match, in which all who liked might contend. Each contingent probably--at any rate, all that prided themselves on their nautical skill--selected its best vessel, and entered it for the coming race the king himself, and his grandees and officers, and all the army, stood or sat along the shore to see: the race took place, and was won by the Phoenicians of Sidon. 15 Having thus tested the nautical skill of the various nations under his sway, the great king, when he ventured his person upon the dangerous element, was careful to embark in a Sidonian galley. 16


Click on image of ship to view a cross-section

Excellence of the arrangements

A remarkable testimony to the excellence of the Phoenician ships with respect to internal arrangements is borne by Xenophon, who puts the following words into the mouth of Ischomachus, a Greek: 17 "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.'"

Patæci

Phoenician ships seem to have been placed under the protection of the Cabeiri, and to have had images of them at their stem or stern or both. 18 These images were not exactly "figure-heads," as they are sometimes called. They were small, apparently, and inconspicuous, being little dwarf figures, regarded as amulets that would preserve the vessel in safety. We do not see them on any representations of Phoenician ships, and it is possible that they may have been no larger than the bronze or glazed earthenware images of Phthah that are so common in Egypt. The Phoenicians called them /pittuchim/, "sculptures," 19 whence the Greek and the French /fétiche/.

Early navigation cautious, increasing boldness

The navigation of the Phoenicians, in early times, was no doubt cautious and timid. So far from venturing out of sight of land, they usually hugged the coast, ready at any moment, if the sea or sky threatened, to change their course and steer directly for the shore. On a shelving coast they were not at all afraid to run their ships aground, since, like the Greek vessels, they could be easily pulled up out of reach of the waves, and again pulled down and launched, when the storm was over and the sea calm once more. At first they sailed, we may be sure, only in the daytime, casting anchor at nightfall, or else dragging their ships up upon the beach, and so awaiting the dawn. But after a time they grew more bold. The sea became familiar to them, the positions of coasts and islands relatively one to another better known, the character of the seasons, the signs of unsettled or settled weather, the conduct to pursue in an emergency, better apprehended. They soon began to shape the course of their vessels from headland to headland, instead of always creeping along the shore, and it was not perhaps very long before they would venture out of sight of land, if their knowledge of the weather satisfied them that the wind might be trusted to continue steady, and if they were well assured of the direction of the land that they wished to make. They took courage, moreover, to sail in the night, no less than in the daytime, when the weather was clear, guiding themselves by the stars, and particularly by the Polar star, 20 which they discovered to be the star most nearly marking the true north. A passage of Strabo 21 seems to show that--in the later times at any rate--they had a method of calculating the rate of a ship's sailing, though what the method was is wholly unknown to us. It is probable that they early constructed charts and maps, which however they would keep secret through jealousy of their commercial rivals.

Furthest ventures

The Phoenicians for some centuries confined their navigation within the limits of the Mediterranean, the Propontis, and the Euxine, land- locked seas, which are tideless and far less rough than the open ocean. But before the time of Solomon they had passed the Pillars of Hercules, and affronted the dangers of the Atlantic. 22 Their frail and small vessels, scarcely bigger than modern fishing-smacks, proceeded southwards along the West African coast, as far as the tract watered by the Gambia and Senegal, while northwards they coasted along Spain, braved the heavy seas of the Bay of Biscay, and passing Cape Finisterre, ventured across the mouth of the English Channel to the Cassiterides. Similarly, from the West African shore, they boldly steered for the Fortunate Islands (the Canaries), visible from certain elevated points of the coast, though at 170 miles distance. Whether they proceeded further, in the south to the Azores, Madeira, and the Cape de Verde Islands, in the north to the coast of Holland, and across the German Ocean to the Baltic, we regard as uncertain. It is possible that from time to time some of the more adventurous of their traders may have reached thus far but their regular, settled, and established navigation did not, we believe, extend beyond the Scilly Islands and coast of Cornwall to the north-west, and to the south-west Cape Non and the Canaries. Some theories suggest that the Phoenicians reached the Americas (including Brazil).

Extent of the Phoenician land commerce

The commerce of the Phoenicians was carried on, to a large extent, by land, though principally by sea. It appears from the famous chapter of Ezekiel 23 which describes the riches and greatness of Tyre in the sixth century B.C., that almost the whole of Western Asia was penetrated by the Phoenician caravans, and laid under contribution to increase the wealth of the Phoenician traders.

Witness of Ezekiel

"Thou, son of man, (we read) take up a lamentation for Tyre, and say unto her, O thou that dwellest at the entry of the sea, Which art the merchant of the peoples unto many isles, Thus saith the Lord God, Thou, O Tyre, hast said, I am perfect in beauty. Thy borders are in the heart of the sea Thy builders have perfected thy beauty. They have made all thy planks of fir-trees from Senir They have taken cedars from Lebanon to make a mast for thee Of the oaks of Bashan have they made thine oars They have made thy benches of ivory, Inlaid in box-wood, from the isles of Kittim. Of fine linen with broidered work from Egypt was thy sail, That it might be to thee for an ensign Blue and purple from the isles of Elishah was thy awning. The inhabitants of Zidon and of Arvad were thy rowers Thy wise men, O Tyre, were in thee--they were thy pilots. The ancients of Gebal, and their wise men, were thy calkers All the ships of the sea, with their mariners, were in thee, That they might occupy thy merchandise. Persia, and Lud, and Phut were in thine army, thy men of war They hanged the shield and helmet in thee They set forth thy comeliness. The men of Arvad, with thine army, were upon thy walls round about And the Gammadim were in thy towers They hanged their shields upon thy walls round about They have brought to perfection thy beauty. Tarshish was thy merchant by reason of the multitude of all kinds of riches With silver, iron, tin, and lead, they traded for thy wares. Javan, Tubal, and Meshech, they were thy traffickers They traded the persons of men, and vessels of brass, for thy merchandise. They of the house of Togarmah traded for thy wares, With horses, and with chargers, and with mules. The men of Dedan were thy traffickers many isles were the mart of thy hands They brought thee in exchange horns of ivory, and ebony. Syria was thy merchant by reason of the multitude of thy handiworks They traded for thy wares with emeralds, purple, and broidered work, And with fine linen, and coral, and rubies. Judah, and the land of Israel, they were thy traffickers They traded for thy merchandise wheat of Minnith, And Pannag, and honey, and oil, and balm. Damascus was thy merchant for the multitude of thy handiworks By reason of the multitude of all kinds of riches With the wine of Helbon, and white wool. Dedan and Javan traded with yarn for thy wares Bright iron, and cassia, and calamus were among thy merchandise. Dedan was thy trafficker in precious cloths for riding Arabia, and all the princes of Kedar, they were the merchants of thy hand, In lambs, and rams, and goats, in these were they thy merchants. The traffickers of Sheba and Raamah, they were thy traffickers They traded for thy wares with chief of all spices, And with all manner of precious stones, and gold. Haran, and Canneh, and Eden, the traffickers of Sheba, Asshur and Chilmad, were thy traffickers: They were thy traffickers in choice wares, In wrappings of blue and broidered work, and in chests of rich apparel, Bound with cords, and made of cedar, among thy merchandise. The ships of Tarshish were thy caravans for they merchandise And thou wast replenished, and made very glorious, in the heart of the sea. Thy rowers have brought thee into great waters The east wind hath broken thee in the heart of the sea. Thy reaches, and thy wares, thy merchandise, thy mariners, and thy pilots, Thy calkers, and the occupiers of thy merchandise, With all the men of war, that are in thee, Shall fall into the heart of the seas in the day of thy ruin. At the sound of thy pilot's cry the suburb's shall shake And all that handle the oar, the mariners, and all the pilots of the sea, They shall come down from their ships, they shall stand upon the land, And shall cause their voice to be heard over thee, and shall cry bitterly, And shall cast up dust upon their heads, and wallow in the ashes And they shall make themselves bald for thee, and gird them with sackcloth, And they shall weep for thee in bitterness of soul with bitter mourning. And in their wailing they shall take up a lamentation for thee, And lament over thee saying, Who is there like Tyre, Like her that is brought to silence in the midst of the sea? When thy wares went forth out of the seas, thou filledst many peoples Thou didst enrich the kings of the earth with thy merchandise and thy riches. In the time that thou was broken by the seas in the depths of the waters, Thy merchandise, and all thy company, did fall in the midst of thee, And the inhabitants of the isles are astonished at thee, And their kings are sore afraid, they are troubled in their countenance, The merchants that are among the peoples, hiss at thee Thou art become a terror and thou shalt never be any more."

Wares imported, caravans

Translating this glorious burst of poetry into prose, we find the following countries mentioned as carrying on an active trade with the Phoenician metropolis:--Northern Syria, Syria of Damascus, Judah and the land of Israel, Egypt, Arabia, Babylonia, Assyria, Upper Mesopotamia, 24 Armenia, 25 Central Asia Minor, Ionia, Cyprus, Hellas or Greece, 26 and Spain. 27 Northern Syria furnishes the Phoenician merchants with /butz/, which is translated "fine linen," but is perhaps rather cotton, 28 the "tree-wool" of Herodotus it also supplies embroidery, and certain precious stones, which our translators have considered to be coral, emeralds, and rubies. Syria of Damascus gives the "wine of Helbon"--that exquisite liquor which was the only sort that the Persian kings would condescend to drink 29 --and "white wool," the dainty fleeces of the sheep and lambs that fed on the upland pastures of Hermon and Antilibanus. Judah and the land of Israel supply corn of superior quality, called "corn of Minnith"-- corn, i.e. produced in the rich Ammonite country 30 --together with /pannag/, an unknown substance, and honey, and balm, and oil. Egypt sends fine linen, one of her best known products 31 --sometimes, no doubt, plain, but often embroidered with bright patterns, and employed as such embroidered fabrics were also in Egypt, 32 for the sails of pleasure-boats. Arabia provides her spices, cassia, and calamus (or aromatic reed), and, beyond all doubt, frankincense, 33 and perhaps cinnamon and ladanum. 34 She also supplies wool and goat's hair, and cloths for chariots, and gold, and wrought iron, and precious stones, and ivory, and ebony, of which the last two cannot have been productions of her own, but must have been imported from India or Abyssinia. 35 Babylonia and Assyria furnish "wrappings of blue, embroidered work, and chests of rich apparel." 36 Upper Mesopotamia partakes in this traffic. 37 Armenia gives horses and mules. Central Asia Minor (Tubal and Meshech) supplies slaves and vessels of brass, and the Greeks of Ionia do the like. Cyprus furnishes ivory, which she must first have imported from abroad. 38 Greece Proper sends her shell-fish, to enable the Phoenician cities to increase their manufacture of the purple dye. 39 Finally, Spain yields silver, iron, tin, and lead--the most useful of the metals--all of which she is known to have produced in abundance. 40

Description of the land trade

With the exception of Egypt, Ionia, Cyprus, Hellas, and Spain, the Phoenician intercourse with these places must have been carried on wholly by land. Even with Egypt, wherewith the communication by sea was so facile, there seems to have been also from a very early date a land commerce. The land commerce was in every case carried on by caravans. Western Asia has never yet been in so peaceful and orderly condition as to dispense prudent traders from the necessity of joining together in large bodies, well provisioned and well armed, when they are about to move valuable goods any considerable distance. There have always been robber-tribes in the mountain tracts, and thievish Arabs upon the plains, ready to pounce on the insufficiently protected traveller, and to despoil him of all his belongings. Hence the necessity of the caravan traffic. As early as the time of Joseph-- probably about B.C. 1600--we find a /company/ of the Midianites on their way from Gilead, with their camels bearing spicery, and balm, and myrrh, going to carry it down to Egypt. 41 Elsewhere we hear of the "travelling /companies/ of the Dedanim," 42 of the men of Sheba bringing their gold and frankincense 43 of a multitude of camels coming up to Palestine with wood from Kedar and Nebaioth. 44 Heerenis entirely justified in his conclusion that the land trade of the Phoenicians was conducted by "large companies or caravans, since it could only have been carried on in this way." 45

The nearest neighbours of the Phoenicians on the land side were the Jews and Israelites, the Syrians of Damascus, and the people of Northern Syria, or the Orontes valley and the tract east of it. From the Jews and Israelites the Phoenicians seem to have derived at all times almost the whole of the grain which they were forced to import for their sustenance. In the time of David and Solomon it was chiefly for wheat and barley that they exchanged the commodities which they exported, 46 in that of Ezekiel it was primarily for "wheat of Minnith" 47 and a similar trade is noted on the return of the Jews from the captivity, 48 and in the first century of our era. 49 But besides grain they also imported from Palestine at some periods wine, oil, honey, balm, and oak timber. 50 Western Palestine was notoriously a land not only of corn, but also of wine, of olive oil, and of honey, and could readily impart of its superfluity to its neighbour in time of need. The oaks of Bashan are very abundant, and seem to have been preferred by the Phoenicians to their own oaks as the material of oars. 51 Balm, or basalm, was a product of the land of Gilead, 52 and also of the lower Jordan valley, where it was of superior quality. 53

From the Damascene Syrians we are told that Phoenicia imported "wine of Helbon" and "white wool." 54 The "wine of Helbon" is reasonably identified with that which is said to have been the favourite beverage of the Persian kings. 55 It was perhaps grown in the neighbourhood of Aleppo. 56 The "white wool" may have been furnished by the sheep that cropped the slopes of the Antilibanus, or by those fed on the fine grass which clothes most of the plain at its base. The fleece of these last is, according to Heeren, 57 "the finest known, being improved by the heat of the climate, the continual exposure to the open air, and the care commonly bestowed upon the flocks." From the Syrian wool, mixed perhaps with some other material, seems to have been woven the fabric known, from the city where it was commonly made, 58 as "damask."

According to the existing text of Ezekiel, 59 Syria Proper "occupied in the fairs" of Phoenicia with cotton, with embroidered robes, with purple, and with precious stones. The valley of the Orontes is suitable for the cultivation of cotton and embroidered robes would naturally be produced in the seat of an old civilisation, which Syria certainly was. Purple seems somewhat out of place in the enumeration but the Syrians may have gathered the /murex/ on their seaboard between Mt. Casius and the Gulf of Issus, and have sold what they collected in the Phoenician market. The precious stones which Ezekiel assigns to them are difficult of identification, but may have been furnished by Casius, Bargylus, or Amanus. These mountains, or at any rate Casius and Amanus, are of igneous origin, and, if carefully explored, would certainly yield gems to the investigator. At the same time it must be acknowledged that Syria had not, in antiquity, the name of a gem-producing country and, so far, the reading of "Edom" for "Aram," which is preferred by many, 60 may seem to be the more probable.

The commerce of the Phoenicians with Egypt was ancient, and very extensive. "The wares of Egypt" are mentioned by Herodotus as a portion of the merchandise which they brought to Greece before the time of the Trojan War. 61 The Tyrians had a quarter in the city of Memphis assigned to them, 62 probably from an early date. According to Ezekiel, the principal commodity which Egypt furnished to Phoenicia was "fine linen" 63 --especially the linen sails embroidered with gay patterns, which the Egyptian nobles affected for their pleasure-boats. They probably also imported from Egypt natron for their glass-works, papyrus for their documents, earthenware of various kinds for exportation, scarabs and other seals, statuettes and figures of gods, amulets, and in the later times sarcophagi. 64 Their exports to Egypt consisted of wine on a large scale, 65 tin almost certainly, and probably their peculiar purple fabrics, and other manufactured articles.

The Phoenician trade with Arabia was of especial importance, since not only did the great peninsula itself produce many of the most valuable articles of commerce, but it was also mainly, if not solely, through Arabia that the Indian market was thrown open to the Phoenician traders, and the precious commodities obtained for which Hindustan has always been famous. Arabia is /par excellence/ the land of spices, and was the main source from which the ancient world in general, and Phoenicia in particular, obtained frankincense, cinnamon, cassia, myrrh, calamus or sweet-cane, and ladanum. 66 It has been doubted whether these commodities were, all of them, the actual produce of the country in ancient times, and Herodotus has been in some degree discredited, but perhaps without sufficient reason. He is supported to a considerable extent by Theophrastus, the disciple of Aristotle, who says: 67 "Frankincense, myrrh, and cassia grow in the Arabian districts of Saba and Hadramaut frankincense and myrrh on the sides or at the foot of mountains, and in the neighbouring islands. The trees which produce them grow sometimes wild, though occasionally they are cultivated and the frankincense-tree grows sometimes taller than the tree producing the myrrh." Modern authorities declare the frankincense-tree (/Boswellia thurifera/) to be still a native of Hadramaut 68 and there is no doubt that the myrrh-tree (/Balsamodendron myrrha/) also grows there. If cinnamon and cassia, as the terms are now understood, do not at present grow in Arabia, or nearer to Phoenicia than Hindustan, it may be that they have died out in the former country, or our modern use of the terms may differ from the ancient one. On the other hand, it is no doubt possible that the Phoenicians imagined all the spices which they obtained from Arabia to be the indigenous growth of the country, when in fact some of them were importations.

Next to her spices, Arabia was famous for the production of a superior quality of wool. The Phoenicians imported this wool largely. The flocks of Kedar are especially noted, 69 and are said to have included both sheep and goats. 70 It was perhaps a native woollen manufacture, in which Dedan traded with Tyre, and which Ezekiel notices as a trade in "cloths for chariots." 71 Goat's hair was largely employed in the production of coverings for tents. 72 Arabia also furnished Phoenicia with gold, with precious stones, with ivory, ebony, and wrought iron. 73 The wrought iron was probably from Yemen, which was celebrated for its manufacture of sword blades. The gold may have been native, for there is much reason to believe that anciently the Arabian mountain ranges yielded gold as freely as the Ethiopian, 74 with which they form one system or it may have been imported from Hindustan, with which Arabia had certainly, in ancient times, constant communication. Ivory and ebony must, beyond a doubt, have been Arabian importations. There are two countries from which they may have been derived, India and Abyssinia. It is likely that the commercial Arabs of the south-east coast had dealings with both. 75

Of Phoenician imports into Arabia we have no account but we may conjecture that they consisted principally of manufactured goods, cotton and linen fabrics, pottery, implements and utensils in metal, beads, and other ornaments for the person, and the like. The nomadic Arabs, leading a simple life, required but little beyond what their own country produced there was, however, a town population 76 in the more southern parts of the peninsula, to which the elegancies and luxuries of life, commonly exported by Phoenicia, would have been welcome.

The Phoenician trade with Babylonia and Assyria was carried on probably by caravans, which traversed the Syrian desert by way of Tadmor or Palmyra, and struck the Euphrates about Circesium. Here the route divided, passing to Babylon southwards along the course of the great river, and to Nineveh eastwards by way of the Khabour and the Sinjar mountain-range. Both countries seem to have supplied the Phoenicians with fabrics of extraordinary value, rich in a peculiar embroidery, and deemed so precious that they were packed in chests of cedar-wood, which the Phoenician merchants must have brought with them from Lebanon. 77 The wares furnished by Assyria were in some cases exported to Greece, 78 while no doubt in others they were intended for home consumption. They included cylinders in rock crystal, jasper, hematite, steatite, and other materials, which may sometimes have found purchasers in Phoenicia Proper, but appear to have been specially affected by the Phoenician colonists in Cyprus. 79 On her part Phoenicia must have imported into Assyria and Babylonia the tin which was a necessary element in their bronze and they seem also to have found a market in Assyria for their own most valuable and artistic bronzes, the exquisite embossed pateræ which are among the most precious of the treasures brought by Sir Austen Layard from Nineveh. 80

The nature of the Phoenician trade with Upper Mesopotamia is unknown to us and it is not impossible that their merchants visited Haran, 81 rather because it lay on the route which they had to follow in order to reach Armenia than because it possessed in itself any special attraction for them. Gall-nuts and manna are almost the only products for which the region is celebrated and of these Phoenicia herself produced the one, while she probably did not need the other. But the natural route to Armenia was by way of the Cœlesyrian valley, Aleppo and Carchemish, to Haran, and thence by Amida or Diarbekr to Van, which was the capital of Armenia in the early times.

Armenia supplied the Phoenicians with "horses of common and of noble breeds," 82 and also with mules. 83 Strabo says that it was a country exceedingly well adapted for the breeding of the horse, 84 and even notes the two qualities of the animal that it produced, one of which he calls "Nisæan," though the true "Nisæan plain" was in Media. So large was the number of colts bred each year, and so highly were they valued, that, under the Persian monarchy the Great King exacted from the province, as a regular item of its tribute, no fewer than twenty thousand of them annually. 85 Armenian mules seem not to be mentioned by any writer besides Ezekiel but mules were esteemed throughout the East in antiquity, 86 and no country would have been more likely to breed them than the mountain tract of Armenia, the Switzerland of Western Asia, where such surefooted animals would be especially needed.

Armenia adjoined the country of the Moschi and Tibareni--the Meshech and Tubal of the Bible. These tribes, between the ninth and the seventh centuries B.C., inhabited the central regions of Asia Minor and the country known later as Cappadocia. They traded with Tyre in the "persons of men" and in "vessels of brass" or copper. 87 Copper is found abundantly in the mountain ranges of these parts, and Xenophon remarks on the prevalence of metal vessels in the portion of the region which he passed through--the country of the Carduchians. 88 The traffic in slaves was one in which the Phoenicians engaged from very early times. They were not above kidnapping men, women, and children in one country and selling them into another 89 besides which they seem to have frequented regularly the principal slave marts of the time. They bought such Jews as were taken captive and sold into slavery by the neighbouring nations, 90 and they looked to the Moschi and Tibareni for a constant supply of the commodity from the Black Sea region. 91 The Caucasian tribes have always been in the habit of furnishing slave-girls to the harems of the East, and the Thracians, who were not confined to Europe, but occupied a great part of Asia Minor, regularly trafficked in their children. 92

Such was the extent of the Phoenician land trade, as indicated by the prophet Ezekiel, and such were, so far as is at present known, the commodities interchanged in the course of it. It is quite possible-- nay, probable--that the trade extended much further, and certain that it must have included many other articles of commerce besides those which we have mentioned. The sources of our information on the subject are so few and scanty, and the notices from which we derive our knowledge for the most part so casual, that we may be sure what is preserved is but a most imperfect record of what was--fragments of wreck recovered from the sea of oblivion. It may have been a Phoenician caravan route which Herodotus describes as traversed on one occasion by the Nasamonians, 93 which began in North Africa and terminated with the Niger and the city of Timbuctoo and another, at which he hints as lying between the coast of the Lotus-eaters and Fezzan. 94 Phoenician traders may have accompanied and stimulated the slave hunts of the Garamantians, 95 as Arab traders do those of the Central African nations at the present day. Again, it is quite possible that the Phoenicians of Memphis designed and organised the caravans which, proceeding from Egyptian Thebes, traversed Africa from east to west along the line of the "Salt Hills," by way of Ammon, Augila, Fezzan, and the Tuarik country to Mount Atlas. 96 We can scarcely imagine the Egyptians showing so much enterprise. But these lines of traffic can be ascribed to the Phoenicians only by conjecture, history being silent on the subject.

Sea trade of Phoenicia

1. With her own colonies

The sea trade of the Phoenicians was still more extensive than their land traffic. It is divisible into two branches, their trade with their own colonists, and that with the natives of the various countries to which they penetrated in their voyages. The colonies sent out from Phoenicia were, except in the single instance of Carthage, trading settlements, planted where some commodity or commodities desired by the mother-country abounded, and were intended to secure to the mother-country the monopoly of such commodity or commodities. For instance, Cyprus was colonised for the sake of its copper mines and its timber Cilicia and Lycia for their timber only Thasos for its gold mines Salamis and Cythera for the purple trade Sardinia and Spain for their numerous metals North Africa for its fertility and for the trade with the interior. Phoenicia expected to derive, primarily, from each colony the commodity or commodities which had caused the selection of the site. In return she supplied the colonists with her own manufactured articles with fabrics in linen, wool, cotton, and perhaps to some extent in silk with every variety of pottery, from dishes and jugs of the plainest and most simple kind to the most costly and elaborate vases and amphoræ with metal utensils and arms, with gold and silver ornaments, with embossed shields and pateræ, with faïnce and glass, and also with any foreign products or manufactures that they desired and that the countries within the range of her influence could furnish. Phoenicia must have imported into Cyprus, to suit a peculiar Cyprian taste, the Egyptian statuettes, scarabs, and rings, 97 and the Assyrian and Babylonian cylinders, which have been found there. The tin which she brought from the Cassiterides she distributed generally, for she did not discourage her colonists from manufacturing for themselves to some extent. There was probably no colony which did not make its own bronze vessels of the commoner sort and its own coarser pottery.

2. With foreigners, Mediterranean and Black Sea trade

In her trade with the nations who peopled the coasts of the Mediterranean, the Propontis, and the Black Sea, Phoenicia aimed primarily at disposing to advantage of her own commodities, secondarily at making a profit in commodities which she had obtained from other countries, and thirdly on obtaining commodities which she might dispose of to advantage elsewhere. Where the nations were uncivilised, or in a low condition of civilisation, she looked to making a large profit by furnishing them at a cheap rate with all the simplest conveniences of life, with their pottery, their implements and utensils, their clothes, their arms, the ornaments of their persons and of their houses. Underselling the native producers, she soon obtained a monopoly of this kind of trade, drove the native products out of the market, and imposed her own instead, much as the manufacturers of Manchester, Birmingham, and the Potteries impose their calicoes, their cutlery, and their earthenware on the savages of Africa and Polynesia. Where culture was more advanced, as in Greece and parts of Italy, 98 she looked to introduce, and no doubt succeeded in introducing, the best of her own productions, fabrics of crimson, violet, and purple, painted vases, embossed pateræ, necklaces, bracelets, rings--"cunning work" of all manner of kinds 99 --mirrors, glass vessels, and smelling-bottles. At the same time she also disposed at a profit of many of the wares that she had imported from foreign countries, which were advanced in certain branches of art, as Egypt, Babylonia, Assyria, possibly India. The muslins and ivory of Hindustan, the shawls of Kashmir, the carpets of Babylon, the spices of Araby the Blest, the pearls of the Persian Gulf, the faïence and the papyrus of Egypt, would be readily taken by the more civilised of the Western nations, who would be prepared to pay a high price for them. They would pay for them partly, no doubt, in silver and gold, but to some extent also in their own manufactured commodities, Attica in her ceramic products, Corinth in her "brass," Etruria in her candelabra and engraved mirrors, 100 Argos in her highly elaborated ornaments. 101 Or, in some cases, they might make return out of the store wherewith nature had provided them, Eubœa rendering her copper, the Peloponnese her "purple," Crete her timber, the Cyrenaica its silphium.

North Atlantic trade

Outside the Pillars of Hercules the Phoenicians had only savage nations to deal with, and with these they seem to have traded mainly for the purpose of obtaining certain natural products, either peculiarly valuable or scarcely procurable elsewhere. Their trade with the Scilly Islands and the coast of Cornwall was especially for the procuring of tin. Of all the metals, tin is found in the fewest places, and though Spain seems to have yielded some anciently, 102 yet it can only have been in small quantities, while there was an enormous demand for tin in all parts of the old world, since bronze was the material almost universally employed for arms, tools, implements, and utensils of all kinds, while tin is the most important, though not the largest, element in bronze. From the time that the Phoenicians discovered the Scilly Islands--the "Tin Islands" (Cassiterides), as they called them --it is probable that the tin of the civilised world was almost wholly derived from this quarter. Eastern Asia, no doubt, had always its own mines, and may have exported tin to some extent, in the remoter times, supplying perhaps the needs of Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon. But, after the rich stores of the metal which our own islands possess were laid open, and the Phoenicians with their extensive commercial dealings, both in the West and in the East, became interested in diffusing it, British tin probably drove all other out of use, and obtained the monopoly of the markets wherever Phoenician influence prevailed. Hence the trade with the Cassiterides was constant, and so highly prized that a Phoenician captain, finding his ship followed by a Roman vessel, preferred running it upon the rocks to letting a rival nation learn the secret of how the tin-producing coast might be approached in safety. 103 With the tin it was usual for the merchants to combine a certain amount of lead and a certain quantity of skins or hides while they gave in exchange pottery, salt, and articles in bronze, such as arms, implements, and utensils for cooking and for the table. 104

If the Phoenicians visited, as some maintain that they did, 105 the coasts of the Baltic, it must have been for the purpose of obtaining amber. Amber is thrown up largely by the waters of that land-locked sea, and at present especially abounds on the shore in the vicinity of Dantzic. It is very scarce elsewhere. The Phoenicians seem to have made use of amber in their necklaces from a very early date 106 and, though they might no doubt have obtained it by land-carriage across Europe to the head of the Adriatic, yet their enterprise and their commercial spirit were such as would not improbably have led them to seek to open a direct communication with the amber-producing region, so soon as they knew where it was situated. The dangers of the German Ocean are certainly not greater than those of the Atlantic and if the Phoenicians had sufficient skill in navigation to reach Britain and the Fortunate Islands, they could have found no very serious difficulty in penetrating to the Baltic. On the other hand, there is no direct evidence of their having penetrated so far, and perhaps the Adriatic trade may have supplied them with as much amber as they needed.


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This updated version of Maria Eugenia Aubet's highly praised book (1993) incorporates the most recent research findings on the ancient civilization of Phoenicia and includes an updated bibliography. The Phoenicians established the first trading system in the Mediterranean basin between the eighth and sixth centuries B.C. Continuous archaeological research over the past decades has transformed our understanding of Phoenicia, its colonies and their relationship to local communities. First Edition Hb (1993): 0-521-41141-6 First Edition Pb (1996): 0-521-56598-7

  • Sales Rank: #950517 in Books
  • Brand: Brand: Cambridge University Press
  • Published on: 2001-10-15
  • Original language: Spanish
  • Number of items: 1
  • Dimensions: 8.98" h x .91" w x 5.98" l, 1.55 pounds
  • Binding: Paperback
  • 452 pages
  • Used Book in Good Condition

Review
"Aubet's book is sensible, sound, sane, and comprehensive--quite an achievement in Phoenician studies. She offers a superb overview of all aspects of Phoenician history and culture, making full use of new archaeological evidence as well as recent work on Phoenician art, religion, and political institutions." Journal of the American Oriental Society

Language Notes
Text: English (translation)
Original Language: Spanish

About the Author
Maria Eugenia Aubet is Professor in the Department of Archaeology, Universidad Pompeu Fabra. Her other publications include Tartessos (1990) and Les Orants de Carthage (1974).

Most helpful customer reviews

24 of 25 people found the following review helpful.
Very thorough.
By Mark Howells
This is an interesting book which describes the Phoenician expansion into the Western Mediterranean from the eighth to sixth centuries B.C. The focus is the Iberian Phoenician settlements on either side of the Pillars of Hercules with Gadir (Cadiz) as the main attraction. As the written record of the Phoenicians themselves did not survive, this work relies primarily on archaeological information and the small body of sources written by the Phoenicians' neighboring cultures (the Greek Homer's epic poetry, the Jewish Old Testament, etc.).
There is much discussion about the social, political, and economic reasons for the Phoenician expansion westward. In addition, the form which this expansion took - from informal trade to outright colonization is explored. A large part of the book is devoted to the competing historical theories regarding this expansion in which the author is obviously well-grounded.
Who engaged in the trade and expansion- the palace, the temple, or independent merchants? How was it organized? What were the ships like? What were the commodities traded? How were Phoenician relations with the indigenous peoples handled? All these questions are answered.
There is obviously comparison between the original Phoenician settlements in the West and those of her daughter colony Carthage which succeeded them. The emphasis in this work is on the Phoenician period rather than the following Punic period of settlement. This is done to give the Phoenicians' initial accomplishments in the West due credit rather than have them overshadowed by Carthage.
With the book's emphasis on the Iberian peninsula, the Phoenician enclaves in the central Mediterranean such as on Malta, Sicily, and Sardinia do not get much attention. I would have enjoyed more comparison between the Phoenician settlements and the subsequent Greek colonies in the West as well.
An interesting read on a little-known but highly-influential ancient people. And don't forget to thank them for this alphabet while you're at it.

11 of 15 people found the following review helpful.
Very poor research.
By History reader
The Phoenicians are fascinating people and deserve a good telling of their history. Unfortunately this is not it. After acknowledging significant errors in the first edition, the author simply added new evidence contradicting older parts of the book. For example, destruction by the Sea Peoples is said to have resulted in Tyre being 'founded' after 1200 BC. But later it is admitted that Tyre was not destroyed by the Sea Peoples, so the city existed before that date. Nevertheless, the earlier error is still used as the basis for claiming that the Phoenicians of Tyre made no westward expansion across the Mediterranean until a later time. Unfortunately this edition still contains many significant errors, but now with contradictions. Phoenicians (2000) by Markoe and other books are better sources.

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful.
An important work on Phoenicia!
By Mark
Maria Eugenia Aubet is a Spanish Archeologist who has made a significant contribution to the history of the maritime trade and colonies of the Phoenicians. Phoenicia, now modern-day Lebanon, was the home of the Biblical Canaanites, who, because of contraction of their land from Israelite and other invasions, turned outward to the Mediterranean Sea for survival. In trading with so many diverse nations, the Phoenicians developed a 22-letter alphabet based on sound, the basis of our alphabet of today.

This book is scientific and well-presented. My only regret is that she could have spent more time on the development of the alphabet.

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2001, Cambridge University Press

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2001, Cambridge University Press

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  • ISBN: 0521795435
  • ISBN-13: 9780521795432
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2001, Cambridge University Press

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The Phoenicians and the West: Politics, Colonies and Trade Hardcover – 25 March 1993

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Who Were The Phoenicians?

An authoritative and engaging new study questions whether this Eastern Mediterranean culture had a homogeneous language or cultural heritage.

The people known to history as the Phoenicians occupied a narrow tract of land along the coast of modern Syria, Lebanon and northern Israel. They are famed for their commercial and maritime prowess and are recognised as having established harbours, trading posts and settlements throughout the Mediterranean basin. However, the Phoenicians’ lack of recognisable territory, homogeneous language or shared cultural heritage means that, despite being one of the most influential Mediterranean peoples of the first millennium BC, their identity has long remained shrouded in mystery.

In Search of the Phoenicians takes the reader on an exhilarating quest to reveal more about these enigmatic people. Using a dazzling array of evidence, this engaging book investigates the construction of identities by and for the Phoenicians from the Middle East to Ireland, from the Bronze Age to Late Antiquity and beyond.

The volume’s starting point is to emphasise the lack of definitive evidence to support the notion that the Phoenicians ever self-identified as a single ethnic group or acted as a stable collective. Quinn, however, argues against simply dismissing them as a historical mirage. Rather, having demonstrated that the Phoenicians were originally an invention of ancient Greek ethnographic traditions, she shows how, during the Hellenistic and Roman periods, eastern and western conceptions of ethnicity became blurred, leading some cities to identify themselves as ‘Phoenician’. Significantly, she also shows that those cities that promoted their supposedly Phoenician heritage did so because they wished to convey a political or cultural message, rather than because they endorsed the concept of a specifically Phoenician ethnicity. Carthage, for example, embraced its ‘Phoenician’ heritage as a way of enhancing its prestige and authority, consolidating its power in North Africa and encouraging other ‘Phoenician’ cities to join it in resisting Roman imperialism.

The book is divided into three parts. The first juxtaposes the modern picture of the Phoenicians as a coherent people or culture with the very different story presented in the ancient sources. Having shown that there is no direct evidence for anyone self-identifying as Phoenician prior to late antiquity – or that the Phoenicians ever had a sense of shared identity, ancestry, or native land – part one closes by exploring the external perspectives of the Phoenicians, as presented in Classical literature.

Part two shifts the focus from texts to objects and examines how Phoenician-speaking peoples interacted with one another in their home cities and in their overseas settlements. Quinn demonstrates that, despite the absence of a common ethnic identity, the Phoenicians used economic and religious associations to foster political and cultural links.

The final part argues against the commonly held view that Phoenician history came to an end with the conquests of Alexander the Great in the east and the destruction of Carthage in the west. Instead, it shows how interest in the Phoenicians increased during the Hellenistic and Roman periods. The concluding chapter examines how claims to Phoenician ancestry by modern nations such as Lebanon and Tunisia have influenced and shaped the ways in which the Phoenicians have been perceived.

The book is intended as a lively and provocative introduction to the complex issues surrounding the reconstruction and recovery of ancient identities, rather than as a volume for specialists or as a textbook for students. As such, it not only engages the reader by challenging their presumptions and preconceived ideas, it also encourages them to re-evaluate the diminutive role that has been ascribed to social, economic, religious and political affiliations in the development of identities in the ancient Near East. Quinn’s relaxed, engaging and authoritative prose style means that In Search of the Phoenicians is an enjoyable and intellectually rewarding read.

In Search of the Phoenicians
Josephine Quinn
Princeton University Press
360pp £27

Mark Woolmer is Assistant Professor in Ancient History at Durham University.


The Southern Colonies

By contrast, the Carolina colony, a territory that stretched south from Virginia to Florida and west to the Pacific Ocean, was much less cosmopolitan. In its northern half, hardscrabble farmers eked out a living. In its southern half, planters presided over vast estates that produced corn, lumber, beef and pork, and–starting in the 1690s–rice. These Carolinians had close ties to the English planter colony on the Caribbean island of Barbados, which relied heavily on African slave labor, and many were involved in the slave trade themselves. As a result, slavery played an important role in the development of the Carolina colony. (It split into North Carolina and South Carolina in 1729.)

In 1732, inspired by the need to build a buffer between South Carolina and the Spanish settlements in Florida, the Englishman James Oglethorpe established the Georgia colony. In many ways, Georgia’s development mirrored South Carolina’s.


The chariot apparently originated in Mesopotamia in about 3000 bc monuments from Ur and Tutub depict battle parades that include heavy vehicles with solid wheels, their bodywork framed with wood and covered with skins.

The chariot was doomed by the same thing that allowed it to excel – horse breeding. Stronger horses could carry men on their backs into battle. Stronger horses made chariots more effective, but they also made them obsolete. By the time the Romans rose to power, they were using them only for sports and parades.


Item of the Day: A Philosophical and Political History of the Settlements and Trade of the Europeans in the East and West Indies (1777)

Full Title: A Philosophical and Political History of the Settlements and Trade of the Europeans in the East and West Indies. Translated from the French of Abbe Raynal, by J. Justamond. Third Edition, Revised and Corrected. With Maps Adapted to the Work, and Copious Index. Vol. I. London: Printed for T. Cadell, MDCCLXXVII.

NO event has been so interesting to mankind in general, and to the inhabitants of Europe in particular, as the discovery of the New World, and the passage to India by the Cape of Good Hope. It gave rise to a revolution in the commerce, and in the power of nations and in the manners, industry, and government of the whole world. At this period, new connexions were formed by the inhabitants of the most distant regions, for the supply of wants they had never before experienced. The productions of climates situated under the equator, were consumed in countries bordering on the pole the industry of the north was transplanted to the south and the inhabitants of the West were clothed with manufactures of the East a general intercourse of opinions, laws and customs, diseases and remedies, virtues and vices, was established among men.

Every thing has changed, and must change again. But it is a question, whether the revolutions that are past, or those which must hereafter take place, have been, or can be of any utility to the human race: will they ever add to the tranquillity, the happiness, and the pleasures of mankind? Can they improve our present state, or do they only change it?

The Europeans have founded colonies in all parts, but are they acquainted with the principles on which they ought to be formed? They have established a commerce of exchange, of the productions of the earth and of manufactures. This commerce is transferred from one people to another. Can we not discover by what means, and in what situations this has been effected? Since America and the passage by the Cape has been known, some nations that were of no consequence are become powerful: others, that were the terror of Europe, have lost their authority. How has the condition of these several people been affected by these discoveries? How comes it to pass that those to whom Nature has been most liberal, are not always the richest and most flourishing? To throw some light on these important questions, we must take a view of the state of Europe before these discoveries were made we must trace circumstantially the events they have given rise to and conclude with examining it, as it presents itself at this day.

The commercial states have civilized all others. The Phoenicians, whose extent of country and influence were extremely limited, acquired by their genius for naval enterprises, an importance which ranked them foremost in the history of ancient nations.

They are mentioned by writers of every class. They were known to the most distant climes, and their fame has been transmitted to succeeding ages.

Situated on a barren coast, separated from the continent by the Mediterranean on the one side, and the mountains of Libanus on the other they seem to have been destined by Nature for the dominion of the sea. Fishing taught them the art of navigation, and furnished them with the purple dye which they extracted from the murex: at the same time the sea-sand led them to discover the secret of making glass. Happy in possessing so few natural advantages, since the want of these awakened that spirit of invention and industry, which is the parent of arts and opulence!

It must be confessed, that the situation of the Phoenicians was admirably adapted to extend their commerce to every part of the world. By inhabiting, as it were, the confines of Africa, Asia, and Europe, if they could not unite the inhabitants of the globe in one common interest, they at least had it in their power, by a commercial intercourse, to communicate to every nation the enjoyments of all climates. But the antients whom we have so often excelled, though we have derived much useful knowledge from them, had not means sufficient to enable them to establish an universal commerce. The Phoenicians had no shipping except gallies they only carried on a coasting trade, and their sailing was confined to the Mediterranean. Though this state was the model upon which other maritime powers were formed, it is not so easy to determine what they have, as what they might have performed. We may form a conjecture of their population by their colonies. It is said that their numbers extended along the coasts of the Mediterranean, particularly the shores of Africa. . . .


Ethnic Group

The Phoenicians are Canaanites, classified as Western Asians, where we can also find the Amorites, a group with whom they were closely related, in terms of both culture and ethnic composition.

Canaanites, Phoenicians and Punics: people of this ethnic and cultural group called themselves Canaanites, the Greeks called them Phoenicians and the Romans called them Punics.

(Note: although it is a generalized term, we do not use the word “Semitic” to describe the cultures and groups of the Middle East, as we believe that it is a limited term and it has previously been used inappropriately).

Universal People

They were successors and promoters of a great culture of peace and development. They had a broad worldview, as they learned to relate to many other groups of people and cultures. This means that they had open minds and political and diplomatic skills. They adapted to many different climates and geographic environments. They were not ethnocentric.

Phoenician Culture and Society

Culture based on knowledge

They were people of letters, alphabets, books, libraries, inventions and discoveries, and scientific, philosophical and religious thinking. They were people who lived off knowledge.

They created cities that are still around today (Byblos, Beirut, Tyro, Malaga, Ibiza, and Cadiz amongst others). They promoted trade and made great contributions to the organization of the social, economic, political and religious life of the ancient world. The Phoenician culture was enormous and spread all around the world.

The First Global Culture

As a result of their expansion throughout the basin of the Mediterranean Sea and the coast of the Atlantic Ocean, they were the first multinational global culture in history. They covered the Middle East, Northern Africa, the South and West of Europe and the surrounding islands. They gave a sense of identity to a large part of the world through sharing trade, their alphabet, and their political, social, philosophical and religious ideas. The Phoenician culture is a fundamental component of Mediterranean culture of the past and present. Even today we can still identify the continuity and evolution of the Phoenician thought process in many groups and cultures.

Main Contributions of the Phoenicians

The Phoenicians made important contributions in terms of thought process, as well as social development and the production of material goods, which we can see in the following examples:

  • Aspects of thought doctrine: the alphabet, astronomy, medicine, and stoic philosophy.
  • Social development: the expansion of international trade, diplomacy, orderly life in cities, and Phoenician democracy.
  • Material goods: glass, purple ink to dye fabrics, bireme and trireme ships, amongst others.

The Phoenicians: Geographic Location

The Canaanites lived in the region that today corresponds to Lebanon, Syria, Palestine-Israel and part of Jordan, from at least 3200 BC. In ancient times they shared the region with the Aramaeans. Currently the indigenous population of this region is descended from the Phoenicians, Aramaeans and the Arabs.

Expansion- From the year 1200 BC they expanded throughout the whole Mediterranean. Currently 6% of the inhabitants of the Mediterranean have Phoenician genes, in some places the majority of the population has these genes, such as in Cyprus, Sicily, Malta, and northern Morocco.

Important cities for the Phoenicians: in the Middle East: Byblos, Sidon, Tyro, Ugarit in the north of Africa: Cartago, Utica in Spain: Cadiz, Malaga, Cartagena, Villaricos, Ibiza in Portugal: Alcácer do Sal.

Geographic Environment

The Phoenician climate corresponds to what we call today “Mediterranean climate”.
The areas inhabited by the Phoenician culture in the Mediterranean climate have two main characteristics: coastal and mountainous.

The Mediterranean climate on the coast is characterized by being dry and hot in spring and summer. In autumn and winter it is damp, rainy and mild. The earth is fertile as there are many rivers that originate in the mountains. On the coastal plain one can find vegetation such as grass, bushes and shrubs.
The Mediterranean climate in the mountains is mild throughout the majority of the year, although in winter it is cold and the highest mountains are topped with snow. In the mountains there are many pine forests with cedar and fir trees, as well as fruit trees.

Time and History

Canaanite culture can be located by archaeological finds from 8000 BC, mainly in the form of agricultural villages. From the year 3200 BC onwards, the urban stage began, where we can find some of the worlds oldest cities such as: Ebla, Byblos and Jericho. The Canaanite culture spread throughout the Mediterranean from the year 1200 BC. At the end of the millennium BC they became part of the Roman Empire, although they conserved many of their own characteristics – including their language. At the end of the Roman Empire, in 400 BC, Phoenician culture developed in different ways depending on the region, whether it was in the Middle East, Northern Africa, the Mediterranean islands or the Iberian Peninsula.

Language and Writing

Language of the Phoenicians

The Phoenicians’ language was called Canaanite. The Canaanite languages had several stages of development: the first was archaic Canaanite which was spoken until around 2000 BC, subsequently Classical Phoenician was developed (Classical Canaanite), whose main characteristic was that it incorporated many words and expressions from the Amorites (predecessor of the Arameans). From the year 1000 BC, interaction between Phoenicians and Arameans became closer (Amorites from the first millennium BC) this led to the formation of the Phoenicians and the Arameans of the first millennium BC, who both shared many similarities. The Aramaic language gradually started replacing the Phoenician, until it became dominant around the year 200 BC, although some villages carried on speaking Phoenician until the start of the new millennium. Additionally, in the Western side of the Mediterranean, Northern Africa and Spain from around the year 1200 BC Phoenician (Canaanite) was primarily spoken, first the classical version and later on Western Phoenician was spoken (Punic, Carthaginian and Iberian), or in other words, in regional variations were invented. There are records that in the year 400 AD there were still parts of Spain and Northern Africa in which some variations of Phoenician were still spoken.

  • In Mesopotamia: Acadian. Variants: Classical Acadian, Assyrian, and Babylonian
  • In Syria, Lebanon, Palestine: Canaanite and Amorite
  • In the Arabian Peninsula: Arabic

Writing of the Phoenicians

Phoenician texts were written in the Phoenician alphabet that they invented and developed.
It was composed of 22 letters and read from right to left. Some of the first discovered Phoenician alphabets have been dated around 1600 BC, where we currently find the countries Lebanon and Syria.

Important people in Phoenician culture

(Many of them have been incorrectly called Greeks, however they are Phoenician).

Phoenician scholars and scientists

  • Thales of Miletus. Rational philosopher settled in Ionia.
  • Zenón of Kitión- Philosopher-Developed stoic philosophy.
  • Pythagoras – Mathematician, musician, philosopher.
  • Porfirio of Tiro- Neo-Platonic philosopher.
  • Antipater of Tiro. Stoic philosopher.
  • Apolonio of Tiro. Stoic philosopher.
  • Aspasio of Tiro. Historian.
  • Filón of Byblos. Historian.
  • Marino of Tyro. Scientific geographer.
  • Magón of Carthage. Agronomist.
  • Sanconiatón of Beirut (Sanjuniatón). Historian and priest.

Royals and legendary Phoenician characters

King Ibrim (also known as Abram or Ebreum). He governed the city of Ebla (Syria). He expanded trade routes, science and arts, 2500 BC.
King Hiram – King of Tyro, wise and powerful. Their ships sailed across the whole of the Mediterranean.
Elisa (Dido) – Founder of the city of Carthage, which would later on be the center of a great Empire.
Aníbal Barca – Carthaginian, military strategist who successfully faced the Roman army.
Cadmus- Prince of Tyro who brought the alphabet to the Greeks.
Europa – Princess who had a whole continent named after her
Eshmún – The doctor.
Taautos. Wise promoter of civilized life. He is considered as a promoter of ordered ways of thinking, acting, and talking. His teachings allowed science, art, laws, society and religion to develop.

Social, Economic, Cultural and Political Aspects of the Phoenicians

Social Aspects and Daily Life of the Phoenicians

Phoenician society was highly organized. They were a hierarchical society that formed around a social scale, which involved:

  • The group of leaders: Kings, aristocrats, priests or judges
  • Assemblies or councils
  • Different types of officials
  • Free workers: merchants, sailors, farmers, stockbreeders
  • Wage workers: peasants, servants
  • Enslaved workers: prisoners who served the Kings

Food: What did the Phoenicians eat?

In accordance with their activities and some texts, we can predict that the Phoenicians ate salt beef, ram, fish, octopus, milk, cheese, honey, wheat bread, beer, wine, olive oil, oranges, grapes, figs, pomegranates, dates, and nuts.

Family

Phoenician families changed throughout their history, but in the classical period (1,200 to 46 BC), the family consisted of father, mother and children. Both men and women were actively involved in the family.

Education

Based upon their way of seeing the world (cosmogony), the Phoenicians focused on fulfilling their mission of being inventors and discoverers and spreading their knowledge all over the world. The Phoenicians did countless tests and promoted culture and civilization in the Mediterranean and in many different groups of people throughout the world. They developed important skills and organization methods that made them great teachers with disciples from all walks of life places, cultures, languages, and behaviors throughout the whole length and breadth of the Mediterranean, which is what makes them a culture of diplomacy, knowledge and education.

Education of children and young people

This essentially influenced the education of youngsters who received instructions to be creative in productive activities, trade, society, politics, and diplomacy and in the search for knowledge.

Religion and Phoenician Gods

Religion was very important for the Phoenicians and influenced the beliefs of many groups of people. The Phoenicians had universal Gods and earthly Gods. The earthly Gods were sons of the universal Gods.

Universal Gods: Father God (El), the Celestial Mother (Ashera, also known as Maryam, which means Lady of the Sea),

Earthly Gods: Son God (Baal, Adonai), Virgin God (Anat, also known as Astarte).

Economic, Productive and Commercial Aspects

Barter, trade, coins, banks.

Phoenician economy was based upon trade, at the beginning they bartered, and then began to use coins, called Shekel. The trade of goods was done between different Phoenician cities with other villages. In this, they exchanged products made by themselves as well as products from other countries.

The King and the priests of each city regulated the economy later on the economy was directed by judges also known as magistrates.

Trade routes

Phoenician trade was done along sea routes and land. To promote maritime trade they built a big fleet and many ports along the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic coastline along Africa and Europe. Overland trade was done by groups of traders who took turns to bring materials over the Middle East, Africa, Central Asia and even to India.

Phoenician trade products

The economy and trade of the Phoenicians was based upon:

In the Bronze Age: 3200 – 1200 BC

  • Exploitation of the abundance of the forests: cedars from Lebanon and vegetable resins.
    Mining products and minerals: metals such as gold, silver and bronze obsidian and precious gems bitumen (petrol oil), salt.
  • Agricultural and secondary products: oil, wine, figs, dates, grapes, honey, olives, barley, wheat, pomegranates and different fruits.
  • Fish, cattle and secondary products: different types of fish, octopus, mollusk ink for dying, horses, cow and goat livestock, milk, cheese, wool.
  • Manufactured products: bowls and cups made from alabaster and stone, linen and wool materials and garments, chairs and tables made from ebony and other pieces of furniture, carts, metal work, ceramics, crafts. They had highly specialized industries such as ivory carving, textile products and for purple dyes.

In the Stone Age: 1200 – 330 BC:

Alongside the aforementioned we can add:

  • Mining products and minerals: tin, lead, malachite.
  • Manufactured products: iron products, perfumes, ointments, precious garments, hyacinth mantles, tapestries, and papyrus. We can also add highly specialized industries, which were required in different parts of the world: glass and glass products, boats and navigation knowledge, engineering and the construction industry, written documents and scribes.

They were hard-working people, some worked in the countryside, others in the cities and others in the boats that they navigated through the seas, and there were also people who had specialized jobs.

Work in the countryside.

The people who worked in the countryside would plant seeds and raise cattle. What did they plant? Mainly wheat, olives, fruits such as oranges, grapes, figs and pomegranates. What animals did they raise? Horses, sheep, cows and bulls. They also produced honey. Both men and women worked in the countryside.

Work in the city.

The people who worked in the city would have a trade such as: blacksmiths, carpenters, glaziers, weavers, potters, etc. They organized themselves into different working groups, so there was a group of blacksmiths, a group of carpenters, etc. These groups were called guilds and each had a master, a workshop master, apprentices and helpers. Normally children learned their trade from their parents. In the cities the men did the toughest work, and the women worked more with ceramics and fabrics.

Trade was a very important activity in cities and ports, and both men and women participated.

There were people who did special jobs, such as doctors, scribes, philosophers and priests, amongst others. We know that both men and women alike could be priests.

Work at sea

The Phoenicians were great sailors, which means they knew a lot about ship building, navigation, fishing, climate, and astronomy to get their bearings. They also needed to be friendly and diplomatic in order to be well received by the different groups of people in the different countries they arrived in. And moreover they needed to know how to trade, i.e. buying and selling products in many different places. Work at sea was primarily done by men.

Cultural Aspects of the Phoenician Culture

When we talk about the Phoenicians we are referring to a culture. Phoenicia was not a country, but a way of life. The Phoenician Canaanite culture developed in the Middle East from at least the year 3200 BC. From the year 1200 BC they expanded and were the first culture that encompassed the whole of the Mediterranean and this lasted over 1000 years. Since then the Phoenicians were people of Canaanite origin who lived in the Middle East but also people who settled in various parts of Europe, North Africa and the islands in the Mediterranean sea, in addition to the people who adopted their culture and joined the “Phoenician style”. They all shared the same culture, which includes political, social and economic organization, as well as language, beliefs and customs. This is why people talk of Phoenicia and the Phoenicians without referring to one country, government or religion, unlike what happened in Egypt or Mesopotamia. What gave identity and cohesion to Phoenicia was the expansion, presence and development of a shared culture over a large amount of land (Middle East, North Africa, Iberian Peninsula, and the islands in the Mediterranean sea) and for over a thousand years.

Bases of Phoenician Culture

Mission

The Phoenicians described their mission in life:

  1. To be inventors and discoverers
  2. To understand and organize the world
  3. To spread out all over the world
  4. To be an example for others

Participation

The participation of men and women is the basis of everything we have in the world.
The Phoenicians believed that the union of masculine and feminine forces created the universe.
They believed that this world is looked after by the Son of God and the daughter of God (the virgin).
They believed that men and women should collaborate respectfully and worship together in order to create daily life.

International relations

The Phoenicians had a cosmopolitan culture. Due to their dispersion throughout the known world they had a broad view of many different cultures and cultural practices.

They also practiced bonding and diplomacy to interact with other people in a peaceful and continuous manner. This interaction dynamic was crucial for their expansion throughout the world and to consolidate their commercial, political and cultural actions.

The Phoenicians developed extensive knowledge, which provided useful to contact different cultures and not come into conflict with them, or rather to maintain interactions and long-lasting relations, which is why bonding and diplomacy were instrumental to perform commercial, political and cultural activities. Their knowledge of the treatment and relations between nations allowed them to develop the expansion, permanence and cultural influence in the western part of the Mediterranean: North Africa, the islands and the Iberian Peninsula, as well as in other regions and with other cultures.

Philosophical thought

Phoenician philosophy had several expressions within the same culture not everybody had the same way of thinking:
Naturalistic philosophy: Nature is the origin of everything.
Religious philosophy: Gods are the origin of everything.
Personal philosophy: Everybody is responsible for his or her own selves an example of this is stoic philosophy. “The atmosphere of dynamism and the cosmopolitan culture which has always impregnated the urban layers of Phoenician culture was the most appropriate means for the emergence of what has become one of the most widespread and practiced philosophies in history: stoicism.”

Political Aspects of the Phoenicians

Phoenician politics was carried out under different systems depending on the era or the region. These systems were: monarchy, oligarchy, and democracy.
Political functions were carried out by the monarchy: by Kings, aristocrats and priests: judges in democracy: magistrates and citizens.
In all cases the power was not absolute because assemblies were also involved in decision-making. One could say that the Phoenician political system was hierarchical and participatory.

The Phoenician Political System

The Phoenicians lived in city-states, which means that each city had its own leaders. The government system varied throughout the centuries and the regions. In the Middle East the dominant political system was monarchy and aristocracy, which means that they were governed by Kings and hereditary privileged classes. But in Western settlements and colonies (Carthage, Iberia), oligarchy was the dominating system, which means that the government consisted of a few appointed people such as judges: they were the representatives of the most powerful families, mainly traders, priests and members of the military. From the 6th Century BC onwards, Eastern and Western Phoenician cities started to establish democratic systems, of which the best-known example is Carthage.

Monarchy (since approximately 3000 BC)

Kings and Queens were usually the leaders, who often also had the role of priests. On other occasions the Kings and priests were different people. For this reason, they had palaces and temples. They also had public rooms where the Kings attended to the inhabitants of his kingdom and took care of their problems. But the Royals didn’t govern alone, in order to decide many things they met with the representatives of families through the Council of Elders, whose members were elderly people who were considered wise and mediated between the Kings and the inhabitants they also had a Youth Council, who expressed their views on different aspects of the city. There are records that on some occasions people dismissed the Kings through the Councils when they failed their duties. These sessions were conducted in a special assembly room.

Duties of the Kings and Queens

The King had the obligation to be wise and fair. He must build and keep in order the city, temples and ports. He must look after orphans, widows and the disadvantaged. He must listen to the needs of the people.

Oligarchy (from 1200 BC)

When the Phoenicians expanded westwards (to the Mediterranean islands, North Africa, Iberia), they stopped forming monarchies and no longer needed Kings as they needed lots of freedom to travel, trade and govern themselves. Instead they formed local governments consisting of the most powerful families of merchants (oligarchy) in a Council of Judges (also called magistrates) and meanwhile other groups could express their thoughts in the People’s Assemblies.

Democracy (from the 6th Century BC)

As society developed and became more complex, democracy established itself as a new form of government that fulfilled society’s needs and challenges. The democratic system was divided into two powers: executive power and legislative power. Both powers divided legal functions and each was assigned specific tasks.

Executive power

Executive power consists of a head of State (President) and judges. To appoint the head of State the judges gathered together and chose one of themselves. The judges were elected for their wealth and intellectual, social or military merit. It can be said that the highest levels of government chose their members through a meritocracy, i.e. by the evaluation of the achievements of the candidates.

The executive power designed, organized, operated and evaluated various governmental plans. These activities were carried out in a Council of Judges, in which the Head of State was the President of the Council. Each of the judges was responsible for a particular subject, for example: defense, taxes, temples, construction, navigation, etc. In addition, a group of these same judges attended the civil courts, which dealt with the demands and problems of local people.

Legislative power

This was made up of two chambers: the High Assembly and the People’s Assembly.

The High Assembly

This was also known, following the ancient tradition, as the Assembly of Elders, Seniles or Senators (the word senator derives from senile, i.e. old). Formed by nobles who made laws and made decisions on many political and social issues. Within this chamber there was a Legal Council that analyzed special cases, and which was also responsible for punishing any abuse of power by influential families who tried to avoid laws and mistreat other individuals.

The People’s Assembly

This followed the old Youth Council. All citizens were represented within this council. As time went by, the People’s Assembly started gathering strength and expanding its functions (around the 3rd Century BC), they would gather spontaneously, decide the topics they wished to deal with, and even choose the generals and judges, and they would reach conclusions on various issues by applying Phoenician law, of which the best known is the Carthaginian.

In Carthage democracy lasted around 300 years. It began in the 5th Century BC (approximately around the year 450 BC) and ended with the Roman conquest in 146 BC (2nd Century BC).

Strengths and Weaknesses of Phoenician Democracy

Strengths

According to Aristotle (Greek philosopher 384-322 BC) through the People’s Assembly of Carthage, “the voice of the people was predominant in the deliberations” and “the people themselves solved problems”. Aristotle praised the political constitution of Carthage as one of the most advanced and functional of his time. The political system, the Constitution and the laws were shared in different regions and Phoenician cities, “Aristotle refers to Carthage but the text should be largely applicable to the Phoenician city-States” (Blázquez, 1999).

Weaknesses

Polybius (Greek historian 200-118 BC) considered that the excessive discussions about democracy in Carthage weakened it in its fight against Rome. The Greek philosopher suggested that the decisions made by the Roman Senate were faster, more thoughtful and more efficient than those that came from the Carthaginian People’s Assembly. Polybius thought that this difference was instrumental to the survival of these nations, especially when it came to matters of war (Wagner, 1999). According to this author, this feature was essential in order for Rome to win the war and conquer the Phoenicians.

The Importance of the Assemblies and Councils in Phoenician Society

The formation of assemblies and councils was a feature that was present throughout the whole of Phoenician history. They were always present in the political and social organizational structures. Its composition and objectives varied over time.
During the period of monarchy, the Council of Elders and the Youth Council advised Kings and Queens, where a wide range of people participated to represent different groups in society. In the regions governed by oligarchies the Council of Judges was in charge (also known as the magistrates).

Later on, (6th Century BC) the forms of government developed more defined democratic structures, which happened through process of recovery, integration and reorganization throughout history. The Council of Elders gave rise to the High Assembly (or senators) formed of representatives of the most important traders, politicians and high-ranking military. The Youth Council gave rise to the People’s Assembly, which was formed of representatives of different groups in society such as the small traders or craftsmen and skilled tradespeople. These assemblies were the legislative power, which at the time was clearly separated from executive power. The concept of judges was used only in executive power, where one judge would be President. They gathered in the Council of Magistrates, where they made decisions and strategies and assessed progress in different aspects of Government.

The presence and importance of the assemblies was so great amongst the Phoenicians that even religious mythology relied upon the Divine Assembly, or Assembly of the Gods. In this Assembly decisions were made by the Father and Mother Gods, the Son and Daughter Gods, messengers (angels) and different universal forces such as wisdom, creativity, chaos and death. The Divine Assembly would meet in the Palace of Monte Cassius, also sometimes known as Monte Lalu (Olmo Lete, 1998).l


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