Land routes in the Mediterranean sea Phoenicia and Phoenician influence

Phoenicia. In the antiquity, country of the Near East, situated on the coast of the actual Lebanon, with extensions to the North through Syria and into the South by Israel. Inhabited by the Phoenicians, belonging to Semitic group. Historically important for its decisive contribution to the invention of the alphabetic writing and their navigations to the western Mediterranean that first they get to their coasts people in contact with a developed civilization. The Phoenician territory was small, a narrow coastal strip limited by Mount Lebanon with little agricultural potential. But, instead, it was an important natural crossroads, central pathways that connected to the most important people of the time; routes from Egypt to Asia Minor and Mesopotamia to the sea, with easy access for maritime contacts with Crete and the Aegean Islands. This situation determines much of its history and led to the creation of a civilization with varied influences: Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Syrian. These facts also facilitated the artisan and merchant character of its inhabitants, and its marine activities were favored by the possibility of obtaining quality wood: cedar of Lebanon, first rare good in the ancient East.

Phoenicia was made up of a series of Port-Cities, being the most important, from North to South; Aradus (Ruad), Trípoli, Biblos, Berytus (Beirut), Sidón, Tiro y Atlit. In pre-classical Phoenician prosperity (first millennium b.C.) some others must be added; Ra's Samra, the old Uga­rit. All of them were organized in the City-State regime, ie, with an independent political organization. Until midst of the last century the history of Phoenicia was known only through references from the Bible, especially in times of David and Solomon, and the texts of Greek and Latin authors; where reflected mainly the last centuries of its history. Today we have got data from many more sources, such as; Egyptian epigraphy papyrological, Mesopotamian cuneiform tablets and Hittites inscriptions, reflecting the relationships among the above countries mentioned with Phoenicia and by the excavations made in its own terrain, especially since the French mission of Ernest Renan in 1860; Where stand out the Byblos excavations and in a smaller scale Sidon and Tyre. Also, the oldest Phoenicia phases largely have been revealed by the excavations of the city of Ra's Samra, in the Syrian southern coast.

Ancient settlements Levant area

The discovery of the Mycenaean world, (early Greek civilizations), has revealed the relationship between the early stages of Greek and Phoenician history. Do not forget that for the global knowledge of Phoenicia basic investigations have been carried out in the western Mediterranean (south of Spain, North Africa and islands of Ibiza, Sardinia, Sicily and Malta), reveal aspects of barely glimpsed Phoenician action in the West. In this respect, developments in recent years are important. The knowledge of the history of Phoenicia is therefore a straightforward renewal process. Being baptized with the name of Malacca, this was one of the main commercial colonies by the Phoenicians of Tyre, from the seventh century b.C, this period lasted approximately according to some sources, the 770 to 550 b.C because of the good conditions for docking in its natural harbor at the foot of Mount Gibralfaro among others such as many silver and copper deposits. Economic activities here developed, we must refer to; fisheries for the production of purple and salting; and even they came to coin money.

Origins. The coast occupied by the Phoenicians was inhabited since ancient times. Appear remains before the V millennium of Neolithic populations in Byblos, with printed ceramic type. Follows a clear influence of Mesopotamian culture, which links to the Hassuna phase, with painted ceramics, and later we observe the influence of Hala Tell, . It ignores what types of population can be attributed to these cultures, but it appears that was Asian groups, perhaps from the northwest of Iran and Upper Mesopotamia. The arrival of the people who can link directly to those who will later be called Phoenicians may be around 3000 a.C. These are groups of Semitic language and ancestry, nomadic tradition, settlers at the coastal area of Phoenicia. Soon also of the interest of the Egyptian territory. From shortly after 2000 a.C., during the XII Dynasty Egyptian pressure is evident not only in trade and are frequent findings of Egyptian objects in the corresponding levels of the Phoenician cities of this age, but also in the establishment of a sort of protectorate. Undoubtedly, these commercial activities with the country of the Nile were a key element in the beginning of the economic prosperity of coastal Canaanite cities.

Ugarit. Today Ras Shamra, is the northernmost Phoenicia city. Owes its fame to a possible discovering of a beautiful dark red dye of a kind of mollusk shell, named Murex.

Arados. Built on a rocky island of 1,500 m. in perimeter. Strabo speaks of it, describing houses with several stories high. It prevailed in other Phoenician cities as Maratus y Simiro.

Sidón. Founded on the north side of an island. Where lived the goddess of the same name, in a magnificent temple where she was honored for her kings qualified as priests of the goddess.

Tyre. The map of which is better known. Tyre had originally two urban centers. On on an island located on the coast of southern Lebanon which was at that time a major key Phoenician seaport in ancient times. And the other one centre was located on the adjacent coastline before Alexandre the Great invaded, conquered it and united both together. Tyre was an island city strongly fortified and was situated in the middle of the sea. The coast line centre was mainly used as a lumber and drinking water deposit to supply the island. Tyre was probably founded as a colony of Sidon. Alexander besieged and invaded it after a seven month siege.

In the Iberian peninsula. Gades. Cadiz was founded as early as the XII century b.C. considered the oldest with Carthage. Gades was a key facility not only for its geographical and strategic location but because through it traded with metals and Tartessian wealth. From here, the Phoenicians settled on the SE coast of the peninsula, with major factories in Almuñecar and Malaga, and Sexi Mainake respectively. All main cities had similar characteristics in common. A beach for anchoring boats, potable water and a high rocky area used as a necropolis.

Ancient settlements west of the Mediterranean

The old Phoenicians or Canaanites. Until the end of the second Millennium b.C., are not distinguished with clarity to the Phoenicians from the rest of the Canaanites in terms of their ethnic and cultural evolution. But the Canaanites are more like inhabitants of the populations of the Levantine coastline South of Phoenicia. The two oldest known Phoenician cities are Ugarit, and Byblos, later were founded Tyre and Sidon. Syrian – Palestine coast is a narrow coastal strip in the Levant, separated from the Mainland by the mountain range of the Lebanon and anti-Lebanon. Agricultural production was scarce and insufficient instead wood was plentiful, from the forests of Cedars. With her first commercial transactions were initiated since the wood was needed for the manufacture of boats, houses, etc. and this little wooden by contrast Egypt and Mesopotamia. Thus the Phoenician cities mentioned above are found in sites with good ports for trade.

The invasion of the Hyksos in the 18th century b.C. broke the possibility of continuation, but with the 18th Dynasty of the Egyptian Pharaoh expansion into Asian coasts became again intense. The Kings of the Phoenician cities became vassals of Egypt, although Egyptian hegemony would be compromised by the expansion of the Hittites. Meanwhile, despite the prevalence of Pharaonic, Phoenicia relations with other countries not ceased: traffic of caravans to Anatolia and Mesopotamia and the high Syria, sailing to Cyprus, Centre producer of copper, and relations with the Cretan and Mycenaean world. On the cultural aspects, noted that the Egyptian, economic, and political pressure did not reach such influence to make disappear the peculiar manifestations of the country. Thus, as we need to see right away, the trials of creating an alphabetic script which are made based on the Mesopotamian Cuneiform signs and not in Egyptian hieroglyphics.

This period is closed with the invasions of the so-called "sea peoples" taking place towards the 12th century b.C. when the economic change that brings with it the diffusion of iron as the base metal.

Byblos Tyre

Several cities of Phoenicia are destroyed (Ugarit, Byblos and Sidon). It's the same phenomenon that causes the decline of the Mycenaean world, the collapse of the Hittites as a great power, etc. When shortly afterwards the destroyed cities are rebuilt, Tyre appears as a main centre. Despite the seriousness  of the crisis, the destructive action of the "peoples of the sea" opened new possibilities for Phoenicia, since they sank the Mycenaean power and weakened Egypt.

In such conditions, the Phoenicians were found with the Mediterranean opened to his explorations and commercial navigations. It is after the crisis of the 12th century b.C. when they begin the Phoenicians in the Western Mediterranean adventures, as we soon shall see. Between the 10 th  and 6 th centuries b.C. are founded cities and colonial factories that gave great economic strength to the Phoenician cities. Under Hiram I of Tyre (970-936 b.C.), through an agreement with Solomon, King of Israel, obtained facilities to use a port in the Red Sea, from where the Phoenician ships could trade with the coasts of East Africa and Arabia, the famous country of Ophir of the biblical sources. Also in the same period the Tyrians provide materials and technicians for the construction of the Temple in Jerusalem. Phoenicia was militarily weak, but when one of his neighbors expressed desire for imperialist expansion, there was no possibility of any effective resistance. Freed the country from the danger of absorption on the hand of the Egyptians and Hittites, fell in the area of conquest it Assyria, the new power that from century VIII expressed his interest to dominate the Asian shores of the Mediterranean. The Assyrian king Salmanasar III (858-824 b.C.) forced to pay tribute to the Phoenician cities, and the same Hiram of Tyre, despite its splendor, had to pay tribute to Tiglatpiliser III.

Neo-Babylonian Empire.

Map of the Neo-Babylonian Empire or Chaldean, 10th dynasty of Babylon, 625-539 b.C.

Politics. Economic dependence became policy. Sargon II (721-705 b.C) and Sennacherib (704-681 b.C.) conquered one after the other Phoenician cities. Only Tyre was free, but, after a foray into the time of Assaradon, it fell into the hands of Asurbanipal after a hard site followed by looting. The decadence of Assyria at the end of the 7th century b.C. could seem the possibility of the return to the old urban liberty, but the new empire of Babylon rose again, perhaps with further Assyrian ambitions. Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon (586-573 b.C.) subjected Tyre after a famous siege which lasted for thirteen years, taking advantage of the city his defensive position in an islet off the coast. It was the end of his period of great splendor.

Tyre then fell with the remaining Phoenician cities, in power of the Persians, which integrated Phoenicia within the fifth satrapy. When the conquest of Alexander the great, was Tyre the only Phoenician city which opposed serious resistance, but fell after a siege which ended in 332 b.C. From this date, Phoenicia followed the fate of the remaining lands of the Eastern Mediterranean, i.e. joined the Hellenistic world, and produced the general phenomenon of hellenization that failed to erase all the local features.

necropolis of Byblos

Hellenistic period. The Hellenistic period was favorable to the Phoenician cities, because the resulting trade liberalization allowed to range again develop their activities through ports, activities also continued under Roman rule, when the "Syrian businessmen" , Phoenicians, were present in all major ports of the Mediterranean.

Social structure. Despite the different political denominations, Phoenicia kept its special character through nearly two millennia, from the XI th b.C. until late Roman imperial era. The language. The language was always the Phoenician, belonging to semitic group. more info +

Phoenician pendant

Phoenician Religion. Although with close contacts with the neighboring Semitic groups, it has own nuances. The Phoenician religious sources are many and come from various cities. Ugarit and Byblos forming two groups with two very different visions for being distant chronologically. Considering that the Phoenicians were the bridge between East and West it is clear that Phoenicia was the origin of the Pantheon of Carthage and the religious ideas passed through this West. Highlights in her lack of homogeneity due to the numerous contributions and influence of the Libyan, Egyptian and Mesopotamian cultures.

Cities are organized in a form of the City-State, therefore, independent, that it constitutes the political unity and the urban area of each city had a territory reduced to it nearby. All had apparently hereditary monarchic regime, and some dynastic lists are kept.

The hegemony of a city above the other, as it is the case of Tyre in the 10th century b.C. There is no data that assume the existence, in certain moments, of confederations of cities with unitary tendency. Hegemony was only manifested in moral and economic, aspects never in political domain or desire for conquest.

Politics and organization. In the inner cities, below the Monarch, it is mentioned to the existence of Councils of elders, with significant power. But it is apparently a late phenomenon. Its zenith corresponds to the period of the Persian domain, when it manifests a clear tendency to the monarchical power is replaced by the oligarchy. Perhaps in some cases, even to the displacement of the Kings. It is a process similar to the one suffered by the Greek cities before, and that, in the case of Phoenicia are unaware if it was due to domestic pressures or also intervened the Hellenic influence.

The Council of elders gathered the heads of the aristocratic families, which in turn held the main economic role. The Phoenician aristocracy had to build its strength, in the absence of extensive lands, in the manufacture of craft products and especially in maritime trade. Given these conditions and the internal structure of the Phoenician cities, it is clear that this social class had to play a pivotal role, since the economic life of the city depended on the indicated business development. In this sense the Phoenician cities can really compare the Athens of the 6th century b.C. (before democratic reforms) and in some way to the medieval maritime cities of the Mediterranean.

Culture and Arts. Culturally the most outstanding contribution was the alphabet. The excavations of recent decades in Ra's Samra have allowed the existence of an alphabet that used Cuneiform signs, Mesopotamian, origin used in the middle of the Millennium to write a Semitic language, direct and immediate precedent of the Phoenician of the classical era. Most of these texts are religious poems. The inscription of King Ahiram of Byblos shows that in century XIII b.C. Phoenician writing had already reached almost final form, and in the first centuries of the 1st Millennium there are several testimonies of inscriptions with the complete set of 22 signs. The discovery influenced all the villages surrounding Phoenicia and is of special importance that Greeks adopt it, before the necessary transformations.

Arts from Mesopotamia. Less originality demonstrated in the plastic arts, which reveals a crossroads of influences: first Egypt and Mesopotamia, but also from Syria and the Hittites. The monumental and domestic architecture is poorly known, as a result of the success that had in the choice of the locations of the cities, because most of them have survived until today or at least until Roman times and therefore the major vestiges have been erased by subsequent constructions, but no major progress has been made to this point. Temples follow the scheme of Asians’, with altar to the open air, surrounded by a large arcaded courtyard, with secondary branches in lathe. The House not adopted the central courtyard until the Hellenistic influence impositions. The walls are distinguished by their good walls of large ashlars. In terms of the sculpture are few samples of monumental type in stone. On the other hand, figurines of bronze and Earth baked are frequent. In the first time, until V th century b.C show their Sirius–Babylonian affiliation or Egyptian, while as from this date and beyond shows a process of hellenization.

Almost the totality of the sculpture is religious. More importance and relative originality reach the decorative arts, including metalworking and the decorated ivories. Typical are the large silver dishes, with the inside completely occupied by relief and incisions with religious scenes, in some cases also of war and usual everyday life, with a central theme and the rest around, in the form of continuous frieze.The decorated ivories are; well plates applied to furniture, wooden boxes, etc., well different objects, as combs. Decorations, incised, are generally a clear stylistic tradition of Asian animal figures. The moment of greatest splendor of these demonstrations in precious metals and ivory are the IX to VI centuries. Other productions of minor arts must better be in the chapter of the industries.

Industry and commerce. Industrial activities in Phoenicia were very important, as they were at the base of their trade, which was fundamentally exchange. They offered objects manufactured in the native markets of the Mediterranean coast, in Exchange for raw materials which were to be used in their own country or resold in the Eastern markets. The textile industry was famous. It was base Egyptian cotton and wool-Asian valuing especially fabrics dyed with purple liquid extracted from a marine mollusk (murex) obtained on the shores of Phoenicia. Wastes from the production are the large piles of shells in the vicinity of Sidon and other cities.

The purple dye factories were very appreciated in all markets of antiquity, and the industry was thriving even during the Roman imperial period. The learned from the Egyptians the technique of vitreous paste, translucent, opaque material that had combinations of various colors. Applied to the manufacture of small vessels, to contain perfumes, as well as to make beads for necklaces. Both types are widespread among the indigenous environments of the Western Mediterranean, proof of the success achieved in commercial transactions.

The development of the techniques of glass explains that in Roman times, first century a.C. had place in Phoenicia and the surrounding area the discovery of glassblowing. Minor arts were not only limited to these type of industries. As a result of his connection to maritime activities, they invented or at least generalized a system to preserve the fish, turning it into a paste, called by the Greeks Garon and Garum by the Romans, who played an important role in the process of feeding of the peoples of the ancient Mediterranean; it was actually a very popular sauce. The fishing richness of the waters of the western end of the Mediterranean, especially around the Strait of Gibraltar, induced to create Garum factories in the Western colonies, which were kept booming until the end of the Roman period.

Maritime expansion: colonization and commerce. We have pointed out his country's geographical conditions predisposing to the Phoenicians to the maritime trade and the small area of the territory forced the emigration of the surplus population, not very numerous, but difficult to place given the limited number of cities. The Greeks considered the Phoenicians as their immediate predecessors at the colonial to the central Mediterranean and Western adventure, and some Hellenistic writers collected the tradition, according to which Phoenician navigations to the West, began in volume at the time that was traditionally supposed that the Trojan War, i.e., around 1,100 b.C. took place.

Recent archaeological research has revealed that maritime contacts between both sides of the Mediterranean are much earlier. Already during the third millennium the Levant-Mediterranean groups came to the Western Isles and the Iberian peninsula attracted by the metals (gold, silver, copper, Tin), and also, before the Phoenicians, Mycenaean sailors had been reached, at least, the coasts of Sicily. When the Phoenician expansion starts, the memory of such trips had lost much, and for the classical tradition was as a principle. According to the same tradition, the first Phoenician foundations in the West were three cities: Utica, on the North coast of Tunisia, Gadir (Cadiz), then still an islet next to the coast, and Lixus, in the Moroccan Atlantic coast, near the mouth of the Lucus, 3 Km away from the current one Rache.

The oldest archeological findings belong maximum to the VIII or IX b.C. this appears to be the time of the brilliance of colonization. It is not known if between the XI to IX centuries existed a less intense trade, which has not left such visible traces, or is it an exaggeration of the ancient. Both hypotheses have had defenders. In any case, from the VIII-XI centuries b.C. Phoenicians established two types of centers of colonization: cities and factories. First ones constituted the first true urban centers, with an important contribution of settler’s population. In many cases; such as in Carthage, Utica, Cadiz, in Lixus, in the cities of Sardinia (Nora, Cagliari, Sulcis, Tharros and Olbia), in Sicily (Mozia, Palermo, Solunto) or Ibiza.

Phoenician galley

The factories were originally supporting points for navigation, that needed frequent scales, as well as trade centers, inhabited by a small number of settlers. They were, of course, more than the cities, but played an important role in the development of commercial traffic. They left a minor influence  in written classical tradition. There are well known cases in which excavations have been possible. They were numerous in all the coast of Africa, west of Carthage and reached up to the small island of Mogador, on the southern coast of Morocco.

In Andalusia stand out in Almuñecar, on the coast of the province of Granada, whose necropolis,  VII-VI century b.C., was recently discovered, and others in the vicinity of Vélez Málaga, in course of investigation. We know that there was another important in Adra (whose Roman name was Abdera), to the West of Almeria. For the creation of these factories were chosen preferably islet, small peninsulas, in function of their defensive facilities against possible attacks of the natives, or close to sheltered beaches which offered good marine conditions.

Industrial beginnings of the colonies. Undoubtedly, most of the cities were previously factories of this type which, over time, acquired importance and received new groups of settlers, until true city category.

Phoenician navigation routes. The West Phoenicia expansion area was, on the one hand, the coast of North Africa, from the current state of Libya to the East to Mogador, and, on the other hand, the islands of Malta and Sicily (only the western part), Sardinia (mainly in its southern and western coasts), Ibiza, the Andalusian coast, i.e., with a clear tendency to the South Mediterranean while at the same time the Greeks were established and commercially dominated Central and northern sectors.

The rivalry between Greeks and Phoenicians. The rivalry between the two groups was just economic, and are not known armed clashes between Greeks and Phoenicians by the domain of the territory or Western markets.Belligerent fights took place only when the Carthaginians tried to dominate Sicily, event that represents something different from the actual Phoenician historical process. Relations between Carthage and ancient Phoenician colonies of the West pose a special problem, which today begins to glimpse under new perspectives. When Carthage began to stand out as the most important and vital of the Phoenician foundations, certain relations of hegemony of the Carthaginians against the remaining settlers from other cities and factories were established. The traditional historiography has considered that, from the  VI b.C. century and more marked from V century. Carthage went on to dominate the Western Phoenician world. Even supposed that commercial relations between Phoenicia and its ancient settlements had been cut. But things seem to have been more complex.

Eastern and Western influences. Some western colonies fell under the orbit of the Carthaginians, that's the case of Sardinia for instance or even new establishments  that Carthage settled, as Ibiza. But the old Phoenician cities relations with the homeland kept going after the centuries VI-V b.C. and the direct control over Carthaginian colonial cities of the West is not clear. Recent archaeological findings reveal a clear difference in between the area near Carthage, which includes Sicily, Sardinia, Ibiza and maybe the south-eastern tip of the Iberian peninsula, as well as, naturally, the Tunisian coast, and the western area.

In the first are found similar features to the metropolis of Carthage, while in the second one persist Phoenician type materials, without appreciate significant changes by the influence Carthage. Thus, in the western area, which we might call the Strait of Gibraltar's, no dedications to Tanit, or offering human shrines, the monetary coinages don't follow the types of Carthage, certain forms of tombs are different, etc.

So at this point we see that in this area remained off limits from Carthage more than was meant to believe, continuing their relationship with Phoenician despite the adverse vicissitudes suffered by Tyre. In short, the so-called imperial Roman Syrian merchants were none other than the Phoenicians with a new name.