1. The Land
2. The Colonies
3. The People
4. Arts and Manufactures
5. Commerce and Trade
6. Language and Culture
1. The Land:
There are few harbors on the whole coast, none in the modern sense, since what few bays and inlets there are afford but slight shelter to modern ships, but those of the ancients found sufficient protection in a number of places, especially by means of artificial harbors, and the facility with which they could be drawn out upon the sandy beach in winter when navigation was suspended. The promontories are few and do not project far into the sea, such as Theu-prosopon South of Tripolis, Ras Beirut and the broad projection South of Tyre including Ras el-`Abyadh and Ras en-Naqura and Ras el-Musheirifeh (see Ladder of Tyre). The promontory of Carmel is rather more marked than the others, and forms quite an extensive bay, which extends to Acre. The promontory rises to a height of 500 ft. or more near the sea and to more than double that elevation in its course to the Southeast.
Mt. Lebanon, which forms the background of Phoenicia for about 100 miles, is a most striking feature of the landscape. It rises to a height of 10,200 ft. in the highest point, East of Tripolis, and to 8,500 in Jebel Sunnin, East of Beirut, and the average elevation is from 5,000 to 6,000 ft. It is rent by deep gorges where the numerous streams have cut their way to the sea, furnishing most varied and picturesque scenery. It was originally heavily wooded with cedar, oak, and pine trees, which are still found in considerable numbers, but by far the larger part of the mountain has been denuded of forests, and the slopes have been extensively terraced for the cultivation of vines and fruit trees and the mulberry for silk culture. The plains along the coast are not extensive, but generally very fertile and bear abundant crops of wheat, barley and other cereals, where not given to the culture of the mulberry, orange, lemon, fig, apricot and other small fruits. In its greatest extent Phoenicia included the broad plain of Sharon and that of Acre, between Carmel and that city, and a portion of the region watered by the Kishon, but the plains of Phoenicia, strictly speaking, are much more restricted. They are: the plain of Tyre, long but narrow, extending from Ras el-`Abyadh to Sarepta; the plain of Sidon extending from Sarepta to the Bostrenus (Nahr el-’Auly); the plain of Beirut (Berytus) between the extensive sand dunes along the shore and the rocky cape on the West and the foot of Lebanon, 10 or 12 miles long but only one or two wide, containing one of the largest olive groves in Syria; the very small plain of Tripolis, including that city and its port; and, the most extensive of all, the plain of Marathus, extending from Arka to Aradus or even beyond, including the river Eleutherus (Nahr el-Kebir). These plains furnished only a portion of the food needed by the inhabitants who were more or less dependent on their neighbors for it (
The rivers of Phoenicia are comparatively short and small; the Litany rises in the Buka’, between Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon, and finds its way in a deep and narrow gorge between Lebanon and Mt. Hermon to the South, and finally turns westward and reaches the sea a few miles North of Tyre, where it is called the Kasimiyeh. About 12 miles North of Beirut is the Dog River (Lycus), a very short stream but noted for the famous pass at its mouth, where Egyptian Assyrian and Babylonian kings engraved their monuments; and a few miles South of Jebail (Gebal) is the Adonis (Nahr Ibrahim), which comes down from ’Afqa (Apheca equals Aphek,
The products of the land, as well as the climate, are very varied on account of the difference in elevation of the tracts suitable to culture, ranging in temperature from the semi-tropical to Alpine. How far the ancients cultivated the mountain sides we do not know, but they certainly profited largely by the forests of cedar and pine, especially the former, which was the most valuable for shipbuilding and architectural purposes, and was highly prized, not only by the Phoenicians, but by Egyptians, Assyrians and Babylonians, who transported it to their own countries for buildings. The mineral products are few, and the Phoenicians depended on their colonies and other lands for what they needed of these.
2. The Colonies:
The narrowness of the land and the difficulty of expansion on account of the lofty mountain ranges and the hostility of the tribes of the interior led the Phoenicians to turn seaward for an outlet to their increasing population. We have only one instance of their attempt to colonize the Hinterland, and that ended in disaster (
The greatest of their colonies was in Africa. They occupied Utica first, probably in the 12th century BC, and others in the same region until in the 9th century. Great Carthage was founded, which was destined to become the richest and most powerful of all and the dreaded rival of Rome. All are familiar with the story of Elisa, or Dido, the reputed Tyrian queen who led her followers to the place and founded the city. The story is perhaps legendary, but that Carthage was a colony of Tyre there is no reason to doubt. Other colonists occupied portions of Sicily, such as Motya, Erix, Soli and Panormus (Palermo). They also crossed over to Sardinia and the Balearic Isles, and planted colonies on the south coast of Spain and the northwestern coast of Africa, within and beyond the straits of Gibraltar. Of their settlements in Spain Gades (Cades) and Tartessus were the most noted, the latter being probably the Tarshish of Scripture (
The colonial enterprise of the Phoenicians was remarkable for the age, and was only surpassed in ancient times by the Greeks who came later, the former being the pioneers. The energy and daring of the Phoenicians in pushing out into unknown seas, with the imperfect means at their disposal, is evidence of the enterprise of this people. Their chief object, however, was trade. Their colonies were mostly factories for the exchange of their manufactured articles for the products of the lands they visited. They cared little about building up new states or for extending their civilization and molding barbarous tribes and imparting to them their culture. In this they were far surpassed by the Greeks whose colonies profoundly modified the peoples and lands with which they came in contact.
3. The People:
The Phoenicians were the same as the Canaanites, under which name they are known in the Old Testament, as well as Sidonians (
That the Phoenicians took to the sea at a very early date and became the most skillful mariners of the ancient world is certain. Their enterprise in this direction is attested by classic writers, and the references to it in the Old Testament are numerous. This was coupled with great industry and skill in the manufacture of the various articles which furnished the materials of their extended commerce. They exhibited a boldness and audacity in braving the perils of the sea in their little ships, which, for the age, demands our admiration. They were the first who dared to push out of sight of land in their voyages and sail beyond the Pillars of Hercules into the ocean. But in their commercial dealings they were often unscrupulous, and their greed of gain often led them to take unfair advantage of the barbarous races with whom they came in contact. The purchase of the land on which the citadel of Carthage was built may illustrate the opinion of the ancients regarding them, but we ought to remember that trickery and deceit are charged against them by their enemies, who alone have handed down accounts of them. The Hebrew prophets speak of their pride and vanity (
4. Arts and Manufactures:
(1) Textile Fabrics:
The Phoenicians were celebrated for their textile fabrics of silk, wool, linen and cotton. The materials of the last three were obtained from Syria and Egypt, but the silk came from the Far East through Persia. The dyeing of these fabrics was by a process invented by the Phoenicians, and the luster and permanence of color were unequaled by the ancients and made the Tyrian purple famous throughout the world. The finer qualities of it were so precious that only the very wealthy, or kings and princes, could obtain it, and it became at last a synonym of royalty. This dye was obtained from the shell-fish which was abundant in the Mediterranean, especially along the Phoenician coast, species of the Murex and the Buccinum. The mode of manufacture is not definitely known and was probably kept a secret by the Phoenicians. At least they had a monopoly of the business.
Glass was another well-known product of the country, and although not invented by the Phoeniclans as formerly supposed, it was made in large quantities and exported to all countries about the sea.
Pottery was also an article of manufacture and export, and some of the examples of their work found in Cyprus show considerable skill in the art of decoration as well as making. In this, however, they were far surpassed by the Greeks.
Bronze was a specialty of the Phoenicians, and they were for centuries the leading producers, since they controlled the sources of supply of the copper and tin used in its manufacture. The remains of their bronze manufactures are numerous, such as arms for offense and defense, knives, toilet articles, axes, sickles, cups, paterae, and various other household utensils. Articles for artistic purposes are not of high value, although the pillars named
Aesthetic art among the Phoenicians was of low grade, as it was among the Semites generally, and where we find some works of moderate merit they undoubtedly manifest the influence of Greek art, such as those found in Cyprus by General Di Cesnola and others. In Phoenicia proper very little of artistic value has come to light that can be ascribed to native artists. In sculpture the style is stiff and conventional, much of it exceedingly rude, and lacks expression. The animal forms are generally grotesque, often absurd, reminding one of children’s attempts at plastic article The anthropoid sarcophagi discovered at Sidon were modeled after the Egyptian and the magnificent ones, of different design, from the same place, now in the Museum of Constantinople, were certainly the work of Greek artists of the age of.
The architecture of the Phoenicians was characterized by massiveness, rather than elegance. The substructures of some of their temples and castles are cyclopean, like those of the temple at Jerusalem (
5. Commerce and Trade:
Trade was the very life of Phoenicia. The contracted limits of the land forbade any extensive agriculture, and the people were forced to get their living by other means. They applied themselves to industrial arts, and this led them to seek the means for distributing their wares. Trade was essential to them, and they sought outlets for it by sea and land. Their position was especially favorable for commerce. In the very center of the ancient world, with the great rich and populous nations of antiquity at their back and on either side, they faced the young, vigorous and growing nations of the West, and they served them all as carriers and producers. Their caravans threaded all the well-beaten routes of the East, the deserts of Arabia and the mountain defiles of Armenia and Asia Minor, and their ships pushed boldly out to sea and explored the Mediterranean and the Euxine and did not hesitate to brave the unknown dangers of the Atlantic and perhaps even penetrated to the Baltic, emulating the mariners of a later day in their zeal for discovery and search for new avenues of trade. Could we find a detailed account of their voyages and discoveries, it would be a most interesting document, but we have little except what others have written about them, which, however, gives us a pretty fair idea of the extent of their commercial enterprise. The prophet Ezekiel has given us a remarkable catalogue of the wares of Tyre and of the countries with which she traded (
We know that they had a fleet in the Red Sea sailing from Elath or Ezion-geber (
The ships in which the Phoenicians made these voyages were small as compared with the great vessels of the present day, but the largest known in their age, as we may infer from the long voyages they made. Their superiority is testified to by classical writers. In the famous expedition of Xerxes to Greece the Phoenician ships excelled all others in speed, and the king chose one of them when he embarked upon the sea (Herodotus vii.100). These ships were impelled both by sails and oars, as we know from illustrations upon the coins.
6. Language and Culture:
The ancients attributed the invention of the alphabet to the Phoenicians. This is now regarded as doubtful, and there are no reliable data for determining what people first analyzed speech to its ultimate elements, but to the Phoenicians belongs the merit of bringing the invention to the knowledge of the western world. It is quite certain that the alphabets of Western Asia and those of Europe were derived from the Phoenician characters. This is what we should have expected from their wide commercial relations. The alphabetic writing was in fact one of their exports and was by far, the most important of them all. The world owes a great debt to this people for this invaluable aid to literature, science and culture.
The Phoenician alphabet comprises 22 letters and is deficient in signs to indicate vowels, which were left to be supplied by the reader. This defect is common to the Semitic alphabets, but was soon remedied when the Greeks adopted the Phoenician. Some of the letters have to serve for two sounds, such as the signs for "s" and "sh", for "p" and "ph", for "t" and "th"; besides, there is a redundant sign for the sound of "s". Also the sounds of "y" and "w" are unrepresented. The origin of the letters is probably to be found in the hieroglyphic signs for words and syllables used by the Egyptians and others, since the similarity of some of them to these signs is evident, but in some cases it is more likely that the Phoenicians adopted hieroglyphics of their own. Thus the first letter, ’aleph, which means "ox," was evidently derived from the picture of an ox’s head and then reduced to a conventional form.
The Phoenician alphabet and language were common to the Canaanitish tribes and the Hebrews, as we know from the many inscriptions found in Western Asia.testifies to their use East of the Jordan, and the Siloam Inscription likewise for Israel, and the same characters have been found in North Syria. This would be natural, for people of these regions had become largely Semitic by the 9th century BC, when we suppose that the Phoenician alphabet was in general use.
It is strange that the Phoenicians, who had an alphabet so early, and made it so widely known to the world, made so little use of it for literature. The remains of their language are very scanty, mostly inscriptions, and these generally very brief. The longest ones in Phoenician proper are those from Sidon, the most famous of which is that of Esmunazer, king of Sidon, comprising 298 words. Some few others, pertaining to the same dynasty, have been discovered in tombs and on the walls of the temple of Asmun, and show the Phoenician character and style in its best form. Only two works of any length are known to us by translation or references in Greek authors. The first is the Phoenician History of Sanchoniathon, of Beirut, which Philo of Byblus claims to have translated from the Phoenician original. This, however, is doubted, and both the author and the history are suspected to be mythical. The other work is genuine; the short account of the voyage of a Carthaginian king beyond the Pillars of Hercules, called the Periplus of Hanno, is not without merit as a narrative, and indicates that the Carthaginian branch of the Phoenician race, at least, may have had a literature of some value, but it is unfortunately lost. We cannot suppose, however, that it was very extensive or very important, as more of it would then have been preserved. The conclusion is natural that the Phoenicians were so absorbed in commercial enterprise and the pursuit of wealth that they neglected the nobler uses of the invaluable instrument of culture they had found in alphabetic writing.
A very prominent role was assigned to religion in the life of the Phoenicians. As a Semitic people, such a characteristic was but natural and they seem to have possessed it in large measure. Their religious ideas are important on account of the influence they had on the Hebrews, which is so apparent in the Old Testament. The worship of the Canaanitish Baal and Ashtoreth, or Astarte, led the Israelites astray and produced most disastrous results.
There can be little doubt that the chief deities of the Phoenicians, as well as the forms of their cult, were derived from Babylonia, brought with them probably when they migrated to the West, but afterward modified by contact with Egypt and Greece. Some regard the earliest conception of the deity among the Semites to have been monotheism, and we find traces of this in the attributes ascribed by the Phoenicians to their chief god. He is Baal, "lord" or "master"; Baal-samin, "lord of heaven"; Eliun, "supreme," etc. These terms imply either one God or one who is supreme among the gods and their ruler. But this belief was changed before the Phoenicians came into contact with the Hebrews, and polytheism took its place, though their gods were less numerous than among most polytheistic races. One of the most corrupting tendencies we notice was the ascription of sexual characteristics to the chief deities of their pantheon, such as Baal and Ashtoreth, which led to licentious rites of the most abominable character.
Baal ba`al; the Phoenician Baal was the chief deity and was universally worshipped, being usually designated by the locality in each place: Baal of Tyre or Baal-Tsur, Baal-Sidon, Baal-Tars (Tarsus), Baal-bek, etc. He was regarded as the god of the generative principle in Nature, and his statues were sometimes flanked by bulls. He was identified with Zeus, and he appears on the coins under the Greek type of Zeus, seated on a throne, holding an eagle in the outstretched right hand and a scepter in the left. Sometimes his head is encircled with rays showing him to be the sun-god.
Ashtoreth (Phoenician `ashtoreth) was the great Nature-goddess, the Magna Mater, queen of heaven (
Among the other gods we may mention: El, or Il (’el originally the designation of the supreme God, but afterward a subordinate deity who became the special divinity of Byblus (Gebal), and was regarded by the Greeks as the same as Kronos. Melqarth (melqarth, "king of the city") originally was the same as Baal, representing one aspect of that god, but later a separate deity, the patron god of Tyre whose head appears on many of its coins, as well as his symbol, the club, since he was identified with Hercules. Herodotus describes his temple at Tyre to which he attributes great antiquity, 2,300 years before his time. Dagon (daghon) seems to have been the tutelary deity of Aradus, his head appearing on the early autonomous coins of that city. He seems to have been regarded as the god of agriculture by the Phoenicians, rather than of fishing as generally supposed. Adonis (’adhon, "lord") was regarded as the son of Cinyras, a mythic king of Gebal and the husband of Ashtoreth. The myth of his death by the wild boar led to the peculiar rites celebrating it, instituted by the women of Gebal at Apheca and on the river named after him (see Tammuz). Esmun (’esmun) one of the sons of Siddik, the father of the Cabiri, was especially honored at Sidon and Beirut. At Sidon a great temple was built in his honor, the ruins of which have been recently explored and various inscriptions found dedicating it to him. His name signifies "the eighth," i.e. the eighth son of Siddik, the others being the Cabiri, or Great Ones, who were regarded as presiding over ships and navigation, and as such were worshipped in many places, although their special seat was Beirut. Although they were called "Great" they are represented as dwarfs, and an image of one of them was placed on the prow, or stern, of each Phoenician war galley. The goddess Tanith (tanith) occupied a lofty place in the pantheon, since in inscriptions she takes the precedence over Baal when the two names occur together. She was especially honored at Carthage and to her most exalted names are given, such as "the parent of all"; "the highest of the gods"; "the mistress of the elements," etc. Besides some other gods of less note originally worshipped by the Phoenicians, they introduced some foreign deities into their pantheon. Thus Poseidon appears frequently on the coins of Beirut and became its patron deity in Roman times; Isis and her temple at Gebal are likewise represented on its coins, the Dioscuri or their symbols on those of Tripolis and Beirut, etc. The corrupt nature of the Phoenician worship has been referred to. It was also cruel, the custom of human sacrifices being common and carried to an extent unheard of among other peoples, such as the horrible sacrifice of 200 noble youths at Carthage when besieged by Agathocles. The sacrifice was by burning, the victim being placed in the arms of the statue of the god, heated for the purpose. In Phoenicia this god was Melqarth, or Molech, and the custom is denounced in the Old Testament (
The political history of Phoenicia is that of the towns and cities belonging to it. The country as a whole had no centralized government, but the chief towns exercised a sort of hegemony, at times, over some of the lesser ones. This was especially the case with Sidon and Tyre, but every city had its king and its local government. The land is never referred to in ancient documents, but the people are designated by their cities. Thus, we find in
The cities first come into notice in the period of the Egyptian domination, beginning in the 16th century BC under Thothmes III. This king subdued most of the Phoenician cities, or received their submission, in his numerous campaigns to Syria, and the Egyptian rule continued with more or less interruption until the decline of Egypt under the XXth Dynasty, or about 300 years. During this time Arvad seems to have exercised the hegemony in the North, and Sidon in the South, with Gebal controlling the middle region. The Tell el-Amarna Letters reveal many facts concerning the condition of things while the Egyptian power was declining in the latter part of the XVIIIth Dynasty, especially in the reign of Amenhotep IV (Ikhnaton). The rise of the Amorite and Hittite power in the North threatened these cities, which were under Egyptian governors, and they called upon their suzerain for aid, which was not given, and they fell, one after another, into the hands of the enemy. Rameses II restored Egyptian rule, but his successors of the XXth Dynasty could not maintain it, and the invasion of tribes from the West and North, called the Peleset, or Philistines, by land and sea, though repelled by Rameses III, continued to increase until the Egyptian domination was broken, and the coast towns resumed their independence about the middle of the 12th century BC. Sidon came to the front as the chief city of Phoenicia, and it is referred to by Joshua as "Great Sidon" (
The frequent rebellions of the Phoenician towns show their love of independence and a sturdy resistance to oppression. They became freed from the yoke of Assyria probably about 630 BC, when the Medes attacked Nineveh and the Scythic hordes overran all Western Asia. The Phoenician cities were fortitled and did not suffer very much from the barbarian invasion, and, as Assyria was broken, they resumed their independence. In the struggle which followed between Egypt and Babylon for the mastery of Syria, Phoenicia fell, for a time, under the sway of Egypt, but was not oppressed, and her towns prospered, and it was in this period that Tyre attained great wealth and renown as reflected in the Book of Ezk. When Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to it, a resistance of 13 years showed its strength and resources, and although the town on the mainland was destroyed, it is doubtful whether the king of Babylon took the island city, but it must have submitted to pay tribute (585 BC). Phoenicia remained subject to Babylon until that empire fell into the hands of the Persians (538), and then accepted the yoke of the latter in the days of Cambyses, if not earlier, but the Persian king does not seem to have used force to gain the adherence of the Phoenicians. He needed their fleets to assist in the attack upon Egypt and secured them without difficulty. They aided him in the conquest of Egypt, but when he asked them to proceed against Carthage they refused, and he had to desist. The navy of Phoenicia was too necessary for him to run any risk of alienating it.
This navy was the strongest sea power of the Persians in all their coming wars with Greece. Without its assistance Darius and his successors could with difficulty have invaded that country or held in subjection the western coasts of Asia Minor. Phoenicia remained faithful to her Persian rulers about 150 years, but when the general revolt of the western satraps occurred in 362 BC, Phoenicia seems to have favored them, but no open rebellion broke out until 351, when Sidon, under her king Tabnit II (Tennes), boldly declared her independence and induced most of the Phoenician cities to do the same. The Persian garrisons were massacred or driven out. Ochus, the king of Persia, marched with an army of 300,000 infantry and 30,000 horse to punish the rebels, and Tabnit, in cowardly alarm, betrayed Sidon into his hands, but the citizens set fire to the city and destroyed themselves rather than fall into the hands of Ochus, who, as treacherous as Tabnit, slew the traitor (see Sidon). The other cities then submitted, and Phoenicia remained subject to Persia until the time of Alexander the Great. When this conqueror invaded the dominions of Persia and had defeated Darius at Issus, 333 BC, he demanded the submission of the Phoenician towns, and all yielded save Tyre. Alexander was obliged to lay siege to it, which cost him 7 months of the severest labor, such was the valor and skill of the Tyrians. The capture of Tyre is reckoned as one of the greatest exploits of this mighty conqueror who stained his record by his cruel treatment of the brave defenders. He massacred the male prisoners and sold the remainder of the inhabitants, to the number of 30,000, into slavery (see Tyre). After the death of Alexander the Phoenician cities were subject to the Ptolemies of Egypt and the Seleucids of Syria, the latter finally obtaining control of all by the victory of over Scopas in 198 BC. From this time on Phoenicia formed a part of the Seleucid kingdom until it passed, together with Syria and Palestine, into the hands of the Romans. Its cities became the home of many Greeks and its language became largely Greek, as inscriptions and coins testify. The Romans had also much to do in modifying the character of the people, and some towns, Berytus, especially, became largely Roman. Phoenicia can hardly be said to have had a separate existence after the Greek invasion.
Rawlinson, History of Phoenicia; Kenrick, Phoenicia; Movers, Phonizier; Breasted, History of Egypt, and Ancient Records; Budge, History of Egypt; Rawlinson, Ancient Monarchies; Rogers, Babylonia and Assyria; Bevan, House of Seleucus; Tell el-Amarna Letters; Perrot and Chipiez, Art in Phoenicia.