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Greater Phoenicia

1. History

Lebanon, which is located at a crossroads of cultures in the eastern Mediterranean region, was the homeland of the Phoenicians.  The region was occupied successively by the empires of Mesopotamia, such as the Assyrians and the Babylonians, the Egyptians, the neo-Hittite kingdoms (2nd -1st millennia BC), the Persians (mid 1st millennium BC), the Greeks and the Romans.  Source: Nicholas Hardwick


The Phoenicians were the ancient seafaring people, and Lebanon was the beginning of their trade routes, which stretched throughout the Mediterranean Sea during the period from the mid 2nd millennium-c.300 BC.  Source: Markoe, 12. They are descended from the Canaanites who lived in the region in the Bronze Age (3000-1200 BC).  The term ‘Phoenician’ is usually applied to them from the beginning of the Iron Age from the 12th century BC, and the most important period of their history was from the 12th-6th centuries BC.   This is the time when the characteristic features of Phoenician culture developed, such as long distance seafaring, colonisation, trade, and distinctive elements of their language, script and material culture.  Source: Moscati, 18-9. As well as Lebanon, they occupied parts of the coast of Israel, Syria and Cilicia in modern day Turkey.  The rise of the Phoenicians to prominence is associated with disruptions throughout the eastern Mediterranean region at the end of the Bronze Age in c.1200 BC, which led to the decline of the influence of the major empires, and is the period associated with the so called ‘Sea Peoples’.

Source: Phoenicia.org, section on History: History of the Phoenicians; The Quest for the Phoenicians Pt 2

In contrast to the other ancient empires which were land empires, the Phoenicians had a sea empire.  Greeks and Romans conquered the Phoenicians and our account of their history is largely that of the conquerors.  Modern research involves high technology investigations, firstly, in the search for underwater wrecks and, secondly, genetic research using DNA in order to identify the ancient Phoenician people and their direct descendents.  The Phoenicians absorbed other cultures such as Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Greek and Roman, and in turn spread them on their trade routes.

Source: The Quest for the Phoenicians Pt 1


When we consider the origins of the Phoenicians, it is necessary to point out that their origins are not thought to lie in Europe or Africa, so that they are ethnically neither European nor black African.  The Eastern Mediterranean is the area where they originate.

Source: Phoenicia.org, section on Ethnic Origin, Language and Literature


The Phoenicians had a string of city states rather than a unified kingdom.  The most important cities of Phoenicia were Tyre, Sidon, Arados and Byblos.  They were located on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, this fact being a result of the significance of sea trade in the history of Phoenicia, which thus made these cities important.  The importance of these cities in relation to each other varied over the centuries.   In the 10th century BC, the city of Tyre rose to be the leading city, founded colonies throughout the Mediterranean, and exerted influence in the regions of Israel and Cilicia, and as far as the Hittite Empire in Anatolia, which is modern day Turkey.  Source: Moscati, 32, 41-4. The evidence for this is the Phoenician inscriptions which are found in these regions.  In the 9th century BC, the Assyrian Empire from Mesopotamia extended its influence into the region, which led to the Assyrian kings extracting taxes and tribute from the Phoenician cities.  By the 8th century BC, the Assyrians had incorporated many of the Phoenician cities in their empire and they were ruled by Assyrian governors.  The 7th century BC saw several attempted revolts by the Phoenician cities against Assyrian dominance, which were in each case brutally crushed.  During the successive Babylonian Empire of the 6th century BC, Tyre was besieged by King Nebuchadnezzar for thirteen years (586-573 BC), which is described in the Bible in the book of the prophet Ezekiel (Ch. 26-28: verse 19).

Source: Moscati, 30-46; Phoenicia.org, section on History: History of the Phoenicians


Phoenicians are often mentioned in the Old Testament of the Bible.  For example, Jezebel the wife of Ahab, King of Israel, whose reign is traditionally dated 869-850 BC, was a Phoenician.

Source: The Quest for the Phoenicians Pt 3; Moscati, 41.


The Phoenicians established colonies and trading posts throughout the Mediterranean Sea, in particular in the region of the Aegean Sea, North Africa, Malta, Sicily, Sardinia and Spain.  Source: Along the routes of the Phoenicians. Indeed, Phoenician and Punic colonies are found beyond the Straits of Gibraltar and along the Atlantic coast of Morocco. Source: Moscati, 54. The Aegean Sea was an important area for the exchange of ideas with the Greeks, such as the alphabet.  Indeed, the Phoenicians have left remains in this area such as marble coffins, which are called sarcophagi, which have sculptured faces and date from the 8th century BC.  Indeed, the Greeks and the Phoenicians were rival traders and colonists throughout the Mediterranean region for many centuries and undoubtedly learnt much from each other.  Since European civilisation is greatly influenced by the Greeks, it is thus significantly influenced by the Phoenicians because of their influence on the Greeks.   Source: Along the routes of the Phoenicians, 17-29; Moscati, 47-56; Nicholas Hardwick


One of the most important cities which they founded was Carthage in North Africa, situated in modern day Tunisia, whose traditional foundation date is 814 BC.  Source: Miles, 60. The meaning of Carthage in Phoenician (Qart-Hadasht) is ‘New City’, in other words, ‘New Tyre’, named after Tyre, which was then the most important city in Phoenicia.  Source: Miles, 62. The name of the Phoenicians means ‘purple’ because of the dye which they traded, which was made from the murex sea shell, and from their name is derived the Latin word ‘Punic’ for their descendents the Carthaginians.  Source: Markoe, 163.


Carthage established a significant empire in the western Mediterranean and was at its height in the 3rd century BC.  The Carthaginians and the Greek cities of south Italy were constantly in conflict, particularly for the control of Sicily.  Source: Miles, 96-138. Archaeological exploration of Sicily has led to significant discoveries of Phoenician and Punic occupation on the island.   Source: Along the routes of the Phoenicians, 51-61. The expansion of the Romans in Italy and the western Mediterranean brought them into contact with Carthage.  Source: Miles, 157-176. The famous Carthaginian general Hannibal fought the Romans during the 2nd Punic War (218-201 BC), and, although finally defeated, he almost overwhelmed the Romans in several famous battles in Italy, at Trebia, Lake Trasimene and Cannae.  Source: Miles, 256-307.


In legend, the founder of Carthage was Queen Dido, who came from Tyre.  She is portrayed in the epic poem in Latin by the Roman poet Virgil (70-19 BC), called The Aeneid, where she meets the Roman hero Aeneas, when he stopped in Carthage on his way from Troy in Asia Minor to Italy, where he laid the foundations of Rome.   Source: Miles, 365-370; Nicholas Hardwick


In the Persian period (539-333 BC), the most important city of Phoenicia was Sidon.  Source: Moscati, 45. A significant Phoenician naval contingent took part on the side of Persia in the Persian Wars of the early 5th century BC (499-479 BC).  The Persian Wars are well known as the famous conflict between the Persian Empire and the Greeks.  The Phoenicians played a significant role in the wars because Persia was not a sea power, since it had a land based empire covering regions including modern day Turkey and Iran.  The Phoenicians, who were allies of the Persian Empire, could contribute a significant navy to the Persian forces, on account of their significant knowledge of seafaring.   In that capacity, among their most significant achievements were assisting to construct a bridge over the Hellespont between Asia and Europe, near modern day Istanbul, and fighting against the Greeks in various sea battles, such as the Battle of Salamis in 480 BC.
Source: Phoenicia.org, section on History: History of the Phoenicians, citing N. Jidejian, Herodotus and Phoenician History


During the 5th century BC, the Phoenician navy served on behalf of the Persian Empire (Source: Moscati, 45), particularly in the region of Cyprus, where there were Phoenician colonies, in order to check the imperial expansion of Athens.  Herodotos (Bk 6, Ch. 47) also reports that during this Persian Period, the Phoenicians were responsible for exploiting gold mines in Thasos, the Greek island at the north of the Aegean Sea.  In the 4th century BC, Tripolis, modern day Tripoli, situated 97 kilometres north of Beirut in northern Lebanon, a confederation of three neighbouring fortified towns, was founded by the three Phoenician cites of Sidon, Tyre and Arados, which had a federal alliance.  This is the origin of the name ‘Tripolis’, which means in Greek ‘Three Cities’.   Tripolis was the seat of a pan-Phoenician council, the first such in the eastern Mediterranean region.  The evidence for Tripolis is reported in the 1st century BC by the Greek historian Diodoros Siculos (16.41.1-2).  Source: Markoe, 203. Phoenicia was conquered by Alexander the Great of Macedonia (336-323 BC), despite the resistance of Tyre, to which he had to lay siege for seven months in 332 BC.  Source: Moscati, 46. Such was the strength of the fortifications and protection for the island city of the surrounding sea, Alexander had to build a mole to the island city and undertake the final assault from the mole and from the sea in order to capture the city.

Source: Phoenicia.org, section on History: History of the Phoenicians


The main Phoenician cities minted their own silver coinage from the middle of the 5th century BC, having adopted the concept from the Greeks.  Source: Nicholas Hardwick


In the Hellenistic Period after the death of Alexander the Great (323-31 BC), Phoenicia was in the midst of struggles for supremacy between the various generals who were successors of Alexander, especially between Seleukos and the Seleucid dynasty, which was the successor to most of Alexander’s empire in Asia, and Ptolemy and the Ptolemaic dynasty in Egypt.  Phoenicia was Hellenised and Greek becomes a significant language of the region during this period, beside Aramaic.  The Romans conquered the region during the 1st century BC and Phoenicia becomes part of the Roman province of Syria.    The Phoenician cities continue to develop their sea trade during the Roman Empire.


During the Roman period, self government was retained by Sidon, Tyre and Arados.   The relatively obscure city of Berytus (Beirut) became important as a result of the grant of Roman colonial status by the Emperor Augustus (27 BC-AD 14) and by a subsequent significant building programme.   Under the Severan dynasty (AD 193-235), named after the Emperor Septimius Severus (AD 193-211), colonial status was granted to Sidon, Tyre, and probably Heliopolis (Baalbek).

Source: Phoenicia.org, section on History: History of the Phoenicians


During the later Roman and Byzantine periods (c.AD 300-634), emperors adhering to Christianity controlled the region of Phoenicia.  It is during the later part of this period that the Maronite Catholic Church was founded in the area of northern Lebanon.   In 608-609, the Persian King Khosrow II invaded Syria and Lebanon and reorganised the area into a new satrapy, that is, a province of the Sassanian Empire.   The Byzantine emperor Heraclius reconquered Syria-Lebanon for his empire between 622-629, and in the 630s Muslim Arabs conquered the old Phoenician cities with ease and little resistance was offered.


Since Phoenicia is located at the cross-roads of the Eastern Mediterranean, it was often the focus of invasions by armies of various powers. Thus, the various invaders influenced the Phoenicians in many ways.

Source: Phoenicia.org, section on History: History of the Phoenicians