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Greater Phoenicia

5. Trade

The Phoenicians, because of their position on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, had a maritime tradition, and developed the technology to build ships with a keeled hull, which were able to sail in the open sea.  Consequently, they established significant sea trading networks.    Additionally, apart from this sea borne import and export trade, the Phoenicians were important for the transit trade which they conducted, which was particularly significant for trade in manufactured goods from Egypt and Mesopotamia, as Herodotos records (Bk I, Ch. 1).  Regular trade routes led from the region of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers to the Mediterranean Sea, and, in Egypt, Phoenician merchants established their significant positions, so that they alone were able to sustain successful trade during the unsettled political climate of the 22nd and 23rd Dynasties (c.945-c.730 BC).  No permanent Phoenician colonies existed in Egypt, but the Tyrians had a section in Memphis, as is noted by Herodotos (Bk II, Ch. 112).  Phoenicia was important as a transit location for the Arabian caravan trade in incense, spices and perfume, on its way to Greece and the west, as Herodotos records (Bk III, Ch. 107).

Source: phoenicia.org, section on Trade, Commerce, Crafts; Aubet, 97-143.


The role of the Phoenicians as merchants in the region of the Levant, which is traditionally assigned to them, was first established during the 18th Dynasty of Egypt (c.1550-c.1292 BC).   The advantageous position of Phoenicia, where sea and land routes meet, under the protection of Egypt, led to this development.  The creation of the alphabet, which was used and adapted for commercial purposes assisted in the development of a society with trading interests.  There is extensive evidence for Phoenician trading in Egypt, and there is a fresco in an Egyptian tomb dated to the 18th Dynasty, which depicts seven Phoenician merchant ships which have arrived in port.   Their cargo includes the Canaanite wine jars of distinctive shape, which were used to import wine, which was a drink not produced in Egypt.  The famous Egyptian Story of Wen-Amon is about an Egyptian merchant named Werket-el of Tanis, which is in the Delta of the Nile River.  He is said to have owned 50 ships and they sailed between Sidon and Tanis.  (For a translation of the text, see Aubet, 356-62).   The poems of the Greek epic poet Homer, The Iliad and The Odyssey, relate that the Sidonians were famous as traders, craftsmen, pirates and slave dealers.   In the famous denunciation of the city of Tyre in the Old Testament of the Bible by the prophet Ezekiel (Chs 27-8), we are given  in a catalogue a good idea of the vast extent of its commerce, which extended throughout the world as it was then known.

Source: phoenicia.org, section on Trade, Commerce, Crafts


They were thought by ancient authors to have sailed beyond the Pillars of Hercules (Straits of Gibraltar) in order to trade tin mined in the tin mines of far off regions.   Tin was very important in the ancient Mediterranean region because it was a principal component of bronze, which was used for weapons, tools, bowls, works of art and other objects.  Source: Nicholas Hardwick