Phoenicians Essay, Research Paper

Phoenicians were the people who lived in the lands called Phoenicia. These people are famous for being great sailors and traders, and inventing the alphabet. Even though they are very important, we know very little about them. Knowledge about Egyptians, Assyrians, and Chinese was a lot more than the Phoenicians. We got more information about Phoenicians from other colonies than from the Phoenicians themselves. They were known to a lot of people back in the ancient times. One person, called Pomponius Mela, wrote about them (Edey 1):

The Phoenicians were a clever race, who prospered in war and peace. They excelled in writing and literature, and in other arts, in seamanship, in naval warfare, and in ruling an empire (Moorey 66) (Harden 19).

They were the greatest sea traders at that time. They started to appear in the east part of the Mediterranean, in a place now called Lebanon. The time when Phoenicians started to appear is still a mystery. Some people say they started to appear in 1200 BC, but others say in 1000 BC. Later they started colonizing in the west part of the Mediterranean. The east part is called Phoenicia East and the west is called Phoenicia West (Edey 3).

Phoenicia was not a unified state but a group of city-kingdoms ( Encarta 1). The independent cities were always competing and were always becoming jealous of each other, even though they spoke the same language and worshipped the same gods. This is why they did not come together and form a large empire. They called themselves by their city name, like Tyrians, Byblians and Carthaginians. The word Phoenician comes from Homer, which means a dark red or purplish-brown color (Edey 10). They were called that because they made a rich purple dye (Edey 4).

Most of the Phoenicians worked as sailors, traders, artisans, explorers or boat-builders. They went to a lot of places. They traded with Egyptians, Assyrians, Greeks, Babylonians, Africans, and Spanish people. The whole Mediterranean world was like their store (Edey 5).

Phoenicians were very different from their neighbors. Their neighbors left behind a lot of things, like myths and stories. The Assyrians and Babylonians wrote a lot of things on clay tablets and monuments. Egyptians used papyri to keep records. Poets like Homer and Herodotus wrote about the Greeks. From all this we got an idea of what the old world was like, but we never found anything like this from the Phoenicians. We do not know much about their daily lives or any tales they used to tell (Edey 8).

We found only a few things about them that were not from the neighboring colonies. We found some sunken ships and their cargo. We found objects from all over the ancient world, showing that the Phoenicians were busy traders and travelers. Other things we found were lots trading posts. Some of the posts turned into cities (Edey 10).

The Phoenicians were Canaanites. The Canaanites were a group spread all over the Near East for a few thousand years. Where they come from is hard to say, but some scholars thought they were semidesert herders, who came from northern Arabia to Mesopotamia and to areas in and near Lebanon, where civilized city-states started emerging. In about 5000 or 4000 BC a group of people went to Lebanon and Israel, where there were excellent harbors and good coastal farming areas. Those people started colonizing there. They started out by farming and fishing, and later they learned to build boats and go to sea and start trading with their neighbors. These people were called the Phoenicians (Edey 11).

Phoenicians were little known about, because they were in a damp climate. Because of the damp climate, things written on papyri, clay tablets, or stone monuments would not last long. Things written on papyri would disappear; clay tablets would crumble; and things written on stone monuments would easily get blurred and disappear (Edey 13).

Another reason the Phoenicians were not well known is because of the invasions. The powerful forces were the Assyrians and Babylonians, who were to the east of Lebanon; the Egyptians were to the south; and the Hittites were to the north. A desert broke their connection. Because they only had land armies, they had to get at each other by going along the Canaanite coast. Controlling the ports was very important, and everyone tried to control it. Because of this there were a lot of wars. A lot of things were destroyed (Edey 13).

A lot of people think the Phoenicians invented the alphabet, but they really did not. The first writing method in Mesopotamia is called cuneiform. The earlier cuneiform had a few thousand signs. It had pictures, which stood for objects, instead of symbols. Later the pictures turned into symbols. The symbols stood for different sounds. Still there were a lot of symbols. The number of signs started getting smaller and smaller. They got to about 650 signs. Cuneiform started spreading faster once it got smaller. When the Phoenicians started using it, they shortened it even more. The Phoenician alphabetic script of 22 letters was used at Byblos as early as the 15th century ( Britannica Online 1). Because there were no vowels, it really was not an alphabet; but they did create our consonants (Edey 15).

The Tyrian dye was famous in Phoenicia. The color of this dye was purple. The dye was found in about 1000 BC. It was found in snail glands. Each snail had about one or two drops of this dye. After that it was put outside for two weeks. Because of this one sixteenth of it was evaporated. It took 60,000 snails just to produce one pound of dye. This made the dye very costly. Someone estimated that one pound of dyed silk can cost as much as $28,000 today (Edey 62).

By 149 BC, only one city-state was left. The rest were gone; defeated or starved. The city-state was called Carthage. Romans were attacking them. At around 146 BC, Carthage was almost gone. Now only a few Phoenicians were left. They had no chance of survival. The Romans were going to destroy them all. The Romans surrounded them from all sides, and the Phoenicians were squeezed into a smaller and smaller area. Finally they all went to a large temple on top of a hill. There they set the temple on fire and burned themselves. This is the end of the Phoenicians (Edey 165).


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