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Phoenicians (Greek: Φοίνικες): Greek name of the inhabitants of the ancient cities of Aradus, Tripoli, Byblos, Berytus, Sidon, and Tyre. In the Iron Age, they founded colonies on Cyprus (Kition), on Sicily (Motya, Panormus), in Libya (Lepcis, Oea, Sabratha), in Africa (Hadrumetum,, Kerkouane, Carthage, Utica), in the Maghreb (Hippo, Icosium, Tipasa, Iol), in Andalusia (Malaca, Gadeira), and in Morocco (Tingis, Lixus, Essaouira). These colonies, usually called “Punic”, were an important trade network.
Name and Topography
- Φοίνικες is Greek and means “red”. Perhaps a reference to Phoenician purple, which is made from the murex sea snail. Another name, also given to the inhabitants of Iron Age Syria, was "Kanaanites", which also means "red".
- They were the continuators of the society of the Late Bronze Age known from a/o Ugarit. In the east, we find Aramaean towns, in the north the Neo-Hittite states, in the south the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. There are no clear boundaries.
- Inscriptions in Phoenician and Punic; references in Assyrian, Hebrew, and Babylonian texts; Greek and Latin texts.
- One problem: the Biblical books of Kings and derived ancient sources (e.g., Menander of Ephesus, Flavius Josephus) are often used as historical sources, but Biblical scholars are divided about their reliability. Scholars of ancient Phoenicia accept these sources, which can be eliminated, without questioning.
Early Phoenician History
- Never a unity; always separate city states, always interested in trade with the Mediterranean.
- Originally, Byblos was the main city, as it had been in the Bronze Age. Cf. Wen-Amun.
- Because the Lebanon Mountains made expansion to the interior impossible, expansion had to be overseas. It started in the tenth century BCE, first to Cyprus (Kition, founded in the ninth century) and the Aegean Sea (in Greek, Phoinikes can be the equivalent of “merchant” or “pirate”). Essentially renewal of Bronze Age trade network.
- The Phoenician merchants took the alphabet with them. Invented in Egypt or the Sinai, it had been in use by the Ugarites, and was now brought to Greece, Sicily, and Etruria.
Names of (some) colonies
|Colonies on Cyprus||Kition|
|Colony on Malta||Melita|
|Colonies in Libya||Lepcis Magna, Oea, Sabratha|
|Colonies on Sicily||Lilibaeum, Motya, Panormus|
|Colony on Sardinia||Caralis|
|Colonies in Africa||Meninx, Thapsus, Hadrumetum,, Kerkouane, Carthage, Utica|
|Colonies in Numidia||Hippo Regius, Icosium, Tipasa, Iol|
|Colonies in Andalusia||Malaca, Gadir|
|Colonies in the far west||Tingis, Lixus, Essaouira|
- Sometimes the cities were, like the Greek colonies of the Archaic Age, first founded on small islands (e.g. Motya), but more often, they were built on promontories.
- Main beneficients of the colonization: Sidon and Tyre, which was already important in the tenth century. The two cities appear to have become a unified monarchy.
- Several stories (e.g., the cooperation with king Solomon to sail to the deep south) may be legendary (see above, "Sources").
- Assyrian aggression proves problematic for the Levantine ports. In the mid-ninth century, Assyria starts to demand precious goods, which is an incentive for further trade and exploration.
- 814: Legendary foundation of Carthage (source); not much later, foundation of Lepcis (source)
- Sidon independent from Tyre.
- Mid-seventh century: annexation of several ports by the Assyrian king Aššurbanipal
- Rise of republican institutions. The Phoenician model of the city state may have influenced the rise of the Greek polis. The dual magistracy of the suffetes probably was the model of the Roman consulship, although it may have been exported indirectly, through Carthage.
- After the demise of Assyria (612 BCE: fall of Nineveh), the Levantine cities regain their Independence. They ally themselves to the Egyptian king Necho II and we know that under his orders, a group of Tyrians circumnavigated Africa.note[Herodotus, Histories 4.42.]
- Cooperation of the Phoenician cities and Judah with king Apries of Egypt (r.589-567) to protect themselves. As a result, Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar attacks Phoenicia and Judah. Jerusalem is captured in 587/586; the blockade of Tyre lasts thirteen years.
- Colonies start to look for a new leader: Carthage
- After the end of Babylonia, Phoenicia becomes Persian.
- 525 BCE Port of the Persian fleet, created by Cambyses to attack Egypt. Towns like Sidon and Byblos remained important Persian naval bases.
- Sidon is now the most important city. Temple of Eshmun rebuilt.
- One final revolt of Sidon in 350-346 (dates approximate), supported by Egypt, suppressed by Persians.
- 332 BCE: All cities surrender to Alexander the Great, except for Tyre, which is besieged but eventually captured. Phoenicia was to remain contested between the Ptolemaic and Seleucid empires. Trade continued (e.g. Phoenician glass in faraway Dacia; example)
- The Carthaginian Empire is taken over by the Romans after three great wars; the city itself is sacked in 146 BCE.
- The motherland retains the name Phoenicia, which will become the name of a Roman province.