Tuesday, March 8, 2022

History of Phoenician people

The Phoenicians occupied a narrow tract of land along the coast of modern Syria, Lebanon and northern Israel. In 1950 Otto Eissfeldt in his article "Phoiniker" in the "Realenzyklopadie" expressed the opinion that the history of this people began about 3000 B.C.

Phoenicia was an ancient civilization in Canaan which covered most of the western, coastal part of the Fertile Crescent. Canaan was the bridge that concocted Egypt and Mesopotamia and this piece of land shared today by Lebanon and Israel. Two groups – The Phoenician and the Hebrews – settled in Canaan and formed small kingdoms.

Phoenicians were active in the eastern Mediterranean from around the 4th millennium BC probably before the Minoans whose civilization emerged in the 3rd millennium BCE. The Phoenicians people were part of a larger group known as the Canaanites. The Canaanites came from the desert south and east of Canaan.

The name Phoenician, used to describe these people in the first millennium B.C., is a Greek invention. One interpretation of the origins of the word Phoenician is that it derives from the Greek p(h)oinix (singular) or poiniki (plural) used to describe people who lived in Canaan.

The term Canaanites is generally applied to them, but could include non-Phoenicians. Another group – the Philistines – lived in southern Canaan along the Mediterranean. For about a thousand years, Phoenicians were able to travel by sea across the length and breadth of the Mediterranean and far beyond. Their sailors and explorer plotted their courses by the sun and stars. They travel to places where no one else dared to go.

They were the great mariners of the ancient world, and their thalassocracy (maritime realm) was organized into city-states akin to the Greeks. Around 60 BCE, Diadorus wrote: “The Phoenicians ... from ancient times were skilled in making discoveries for their own profit.” Masters of the sea, they took to exploring uncharted oceans as they looked for new sources of both raw materials and manufactured goods, as well as of grain and other foodstuffs.

Phoenicians’ heyday came after the collapse of the great powers of Hittite Anatolia, Kassite Babylonia, and Mycenaean Greece around 1200 BCE: merchants from Levantine ports including Tyre, Sidon, Byblos, and Beirut, seized a new set of opportunities, trading cedar from Mount Lebanon, along with exquisite items crafted from metal, ivory, and glass, for raw metals from the west.

The Phoenicians founded the coastal city-states of Byblos, Sidon and Tyre (ancient Canaan). All were fiercely independent, rival cities and, unlike the neighboring inland states, the Phoenicians represented a confederation of maritime traders rather than a defined country. Sidon and Tyre were two large Phoenician cities barely 35 kilometers apart, a fact that contributed to their rivalry, open or latent, throughout the whole of their history. They developed alternately: when one was prosperous and powerful, the other was weak and in decline. Sidon developed substantially during the second half of the second millennium.

The greatest of all the Phoenician city-states, however, was Carthage in North Africa. According to legend it was founded in 813 BCE by Queen Dido, and its name meant “New Village”.

Phoenicians played a large part in the development of the first alphabet using abstract symbols rather than pictographs as used in Egyptian and Babylonian writing. Herodotus cites Phoenicia as the birthplace of the alphabet, stating that it was brought to Greece by the Phoenician Kadmus.

Phoenician alphabet developed out of the North Semitic alphabet and was spread over the Mediterranean area by Phoenician traders. It was in use until about the 1st century BCE in Phoenicia proper.
History of Phoenician people


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