Wikijunior:Ancient Civilizations/Phoenicians

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A Phoenician Sculpture

About 800 BC, the Phoenicians lived on the shores of the eastern Mediterranean. Their major cities were Tyre and Byblos, and they were merchants and sailors. They traveled all over the Mediterranean and Black Seas, establishing trading outposts and cities that bought goods and raw materials from local people, and sold luxuries like ivory and purple cloth. The purple cloth was their greatest luxury — no one else in the world knew the secret of making purple dye, and kings alone could wear the color because the Phoenicians made it so expensive. This was the origin of their name - "phoenix" in Greek means scarlet or dark red and was named after the famous dyes. The Phoenicians themselves had no real name, and because their writings are not common the Greek name has stuck.

What country did they live in?[edit]

A Map of Phoenicia with major cities marked

Ancient Phoenicia had its heartland in modern-day Lebanon and Syria.

Their most famous cities were Tyre, Byblos, Sarpeta, and Sidon. The Phoenicians called themselves the Canaani, but the name we know them by, the Phoenicians, is actually what the Greeks called them. It means "purple people" because of the purple dye and purple cloth which only they could provide. The Phoenicians also established trading colonies across the Mediterranean: Tunis in Tunisia sits on top of the ancient Phoenician city of Carthage, and Cadiz in Spain is also an ancient Phoenician city. For a time, parts of Sicily and the Baelaeric Islands were part of Phoenician territory.


What did their buildings look like?[edit]

The buildings are like other middle eastern buildings - block shaped houses with small windows to keep out the heat and strong fortresses for defense.

What did they eat/drink?[edit]

Because the Phoenicians traded all over the Mediterranean world, they ate very well. Their diet included olives, olive oil, wine, lamb, goat, cheese, garlic, honey, dried fish, soup, bread, watermelon, grapes, blueberries, and more.

What did they wear?[edit]

The Phoenicians wore many things that were purple. The kings wore a lot of purple items because they wanted to show their high authority. They wore sandals, and loose tunic type clothing. The women wore their hair in intricately pinned to their head. Jewelry was also part of Phoenician fashion.

What did their writing look like?[edit]

A statue inscribed with Phoenician words.

Phoenician writing is very similar in some ways to the Latin alphabet, because the Latin alphabet was designed, in part, from the Phoenician alphabet. In fact, the Phoenicians are the first known people to use an alphabet. Their writing system had 22 letters, which were all consonants. The reader had to guess at the vowels the author meant to use.

One Phoenician city, Byblos, is thought to have been a major center for writing, because the city's name is the origin of the word "book"! Many scribes or professional writers worked in Byblos, and made copies of books there on Egyptian papyrus — an important trade product.

The Phoenicians, most likely a Semitic people, spoke the Phoenician language. In addition to their many inscriptions, the Phoenicians, contrary to some reports, wrote many books that have not survived. Evangelical Preparation by Eusebius of Caesarea quotes extensively from Philo of Byblos and Sanchuniathon. Furthermore, the Phoenician Punic colonies of North Africa continued to be a source of knowledge about the Phoenicians. Saint Augustine knew at least a smattering of Punic and occasionally uses it to explain cognate words found in Hebrew. The name of his mother, Saint Monica, is said to be of Punic origin as well.

What did they believe?[edit]

Phoenicians had many gods and goddesses called Baal and Baalet. (Baals) for men and (Baalet) for women. They all worshiped the same major gods,but they may have different names in different cities. The Phoenicians practiced sacrifices including human sacrifices and that gave them the reputation of being cruel. It was inspired by nature. The temples were filled with priests,singers,musicians,divers,and scribes. Many of their sacrifices in the temple were of animals and children. Two of the gods they worshiped were named Baal and Astarte as he was the chief god and his consort. The Phoenicians took worship seriously and to prevent evil they would have ceremonies of dancing.

What is their History?[edit]

The Siege of Tyre by Andre Castaigne

The Phoenicians emerged around 1200 BC, when many other empires were being attacked by barbarians. They were able to become successful during the 400 years of "dark age" that followed. Instead of creating an empire of land, these traders formed many trade links from a few independent cities on the coast of what is now Lebanon. They originally only traded with Egypt and Palestine because the Minoan people controlled the trade with Greece. However, once the Minoans were destroyed in the disaster of 1200 BC, the Phoenicians were able to expand their trade. Because the Phoenician homeland was in the centre of the Ancient world, they could trade with Egypt, Greece and the Middle East. By 900 BC, when the Dark Age had ended, the Phoenicians were very rich. This made them targets especially by the Assyrian people. As they were attacked, they gradually established more colonies to the West, away from the plundering Assyrians. The most powerful of these colonies became Carthage and an empire in its own right once the Phoenician cities fell in this period. From then on, they were never as independent, being owned by Assyrians, Babylonians and Persians until Alexander the Great conquered them in 332 BC ending their independence forever.

What is left of them today?[edit]

The early Phoenician Alphabet which was later adapted by the Greeks

Their most significant contribution was the alphabet. It was the first original alphabet which the Greeks borrowed and changed and became similar to the one we use today. They are respected as great sailors and may have even discovered Britain and sailed around the African continent.