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Greater Phoenicia

7. Seafaring and travel

Since seafaring and trade were such an important factor in the life of the Phoenicians, it is understandable that they made significant advances in the design and construction of ships and in the arts of navigation.  The fact that they traded and established colonies throughout the Mediterranean Sea and sailed as far beyond it in order to trade tin, reveals that they developed both ships and skills in navigation for long distance travel.   Sailing in the Mediterranean Sea usually took place in the months between spring and autumn, and the winter was avoided because of the bad weather.   Sailing was usually done by hugging to the coast, because of the dangers of sailing in the open sea because of storms.  The fact that the Phoenicians sailed into the Atlantic Ocean and crossed the open stretches of the Mediterranean Sea demonstrates their additional expertise in mastering the art of sailing across the ocean, which had particularly difficult conditions.  Source: Nicholas Hardwick


The Phoenicians developed sophisticated war galleys with rowers and oars.  They were constructed of timber and propelled by both sails and rowers.  Representations of them are found on the silver coins of Sidon minted during the 5th-4th centuries BC.  Source: Moscati, 525, fig. The Carthaginians also had a developed navy and there were many sea battles between them and the Greeks and with the Romans, especially during the 1st Punic War (264-241 BC).  Source: Nicholas Hardwick


Some of the most significant evidence for seafaring and trade comes from ship wrecks.  These are particularly significant because of the lack of surviving evidence of the Phoenician cities or colonies.  Until recently, no evidence of actual ships, apart from a few artistic images, had survived from antiquity.  Our knowledge has increased greatly in recent years as a result of developments in technology which have greatly improved underwater archaeology, since they allow not only accurate recording but also exploration at significant depths in the ocean.  As well as the ships themselves, their cargoes have come to light as a result of undersea exploration using robots.  These include large quantities of amphorae, ancient clay storage jars, which are stacked in the holds of the sunken vessels.  Source: Moscati, 100. These amphorae, often 1 metre in length, held olive oil, fish sauce, honey, and other trade products, as well as wine.   The clay amphorae are quite strong and can survive for many centuries, particularly when they are undisturbed in the depths of the sea.  Those which have been recovered in the western Mediterranean Sea very often come from Carthage, and those dating from the 5th century BC reveal the city at the height of its trading power.  Source: Miles, 112.


Also in the wrecks are tools, personal items and timber from the ship which assist archaeologists in determining the cause of the sinking as well as the origin and destination of the cargo.  This is important for reconstructing the ancient trade routes of Phoenicia.  The depth of the wreck and cold nature of the surrounding water is important for the preservation of the evidence.

Source: Phoenicia.org, section on History: Phoenician Ship Wreck: Teaming up to find ancient mariners by William J. Broad, The New York Times; The Quest for the Phoenicians