The Phoenicians were a loose cultural group dwelling in cities on the coastal plain of Palestine and ethnically connected to the Canaanites. They developed a powerful maritime, trading culture between 1500 and 300 b.c, their ships even reaching the British Isles. Their cultural achievements include the ancestor of the modern alphabet.
Who were the Phoenicians
Where was Phoenicia?
The people of Phoenicia were linked to the Canaanites, and inhabited the coastal areas of modern Lebanon, their great cities including Tyre and Sidon. They flourished between 1500 and 300 B.C, although their culture was at its greatest between 1200 to 800. After the attacks of Assyrians of modern Iraq weakened them, they were eventually absorbed into Alexander the Great's Macedonian Greek Empire. They had many dealings with the Hebrews in Biblical times.
Phoenicia was never a unified entity and was composed of a number of often conflicting city states. Each state had its own king. However, the temples of Baal, the Phoenician sky god, and their priests were very influential. Kings were backed by a council of elders. At the Phoenicians' high point they sent out colonies to settle nearby lands, one of which was Carthage in North Africa, later destroyed by the Romans.
They were great traders, selling cedar wood of Lebanon for the construction of the Jerusalem temple under Solomon. Trading relations with Egypt were important and the similarity between the Phoenician and Greek alphabets indicate close connections between the two cultures. Their demand for tin to make bronze led them to venture beyond the straits of Gibraltar, known as the Pillars of Hercules, to Cornwall. They named Britain the Tin Islands.
Phoenician ships crossed the Mediterranean, carrying settlers. Modern towns such as Cadiz in Spain were originally Phoenician colonies. They were aided by their advanced ship designs. Some scholars think that they developed the bireme, the galley with two tiers of oarsmen, but this is uncertain.
Their contribution to the alphabet was significant. The Phoenician script was the ancestor of the Greek alphabet and our own. It was far more usable than the clumsy Egyptian hieroglyphics and the Babylonian equivalent. Their city, Byblos, gave its name to Biblion, the Greek word for book, and hence to the modern word Bible.This was because it exported so much Egyptian papyrus to the rest of the Mediterranean world that its name became linked with paper and hence books.
A little known Phoenician cultural contribution was the design of the Biblical Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem, which was constructed to a Phoenician model by a craftsman loaned to King Solomon by the king of Tyre. Check online for Phoenician hotels if you wish to visit.