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Phoenicia, Phoenicians


(a) The Greek name Phoinike (Phoinix) is first mentioned by Homer, and is subsequently well attested in the writings of Greek historians who consistently refer it to the eastern Mediterranean coast; in Homer, Phoenician is synonymous with Sidonian. Though the exact extent of the region called Phoenicia cannot be determined, the name is clearly the Greek equivalent of Canaan. One should also compare the Septuagint's at times mechanical translation of Canaan(ite) by Phoenicia(n) in Exodus 6:15; 16:35; Joshua 5:1, 12; and Job 40:30; as well as the parallel passages Mark 7:26 (Syro-Phoenician) and Matthew 15:22 (Canaanite); and the replacement of Canaan by Phoenicia in coins of the second century (see below). Some scholars derive the Greek name from phoinix, "crimson, purple," so that Phoinike is "the land of purple" (see *Canaan). Another possibility is to derive the Greek from Egyptian fenkhu, "loggers," "woodcutters," in keeping with the Phoenician foresting of the cedars of Lebanon. The Bible (I Kings 5:20) informs us how skilled the Sidonians were at lumberjacking (Scandon and Xella apud Krings, 632).

(b) The name Canaan(ite) is first attested in sources from *Mari in Syria in the 18th century B.C.E. (J. Sasson, BA, 47 (1984), 90) down to the early 12th century B.C.E.; after that, except in the Bible or writers under its influence, it virtually vanishes. Exceptions are a Babylonian lexical text (c. 1100 B.C.E.), a final Egyptian reference (c. 900 B.C.E.), and two coins of the second century B.C.E. (in what is probably the corresponding Greek version of these coins, Phoenicia replaces Canaan; see above). These last witnesses prove that the name was not forgotten among the natives; besides, Greek writers are familiar with xna both as the eponymous hero of the Phoenicians and as the latter's name for their native land, and Augustine testifies that even in his day Punic peasants still called themselves Chanani.

Though the interpretation of the evidence is disputed, in its earliest occurrences Canaan is a region along the Levantine coast, and its borders were probably around the Nahr el-Kebir (Eleutheros River) in the north, and the area above Carmel in the south; only in northern Galilee around Hazor does it seem to have reached inland to any extent. Biblical usage, though it occasionally reflects the original restriction to the coast (Num. 13:29; Deut. 1:7; Josh. 5:1), commonly refers the name Canaan(ite) to all of Palestine and part of Syria (e.g., Gen. 10:15ff.; Num. 13:17ff.); however, this represents a later development, which was probably connected with colonization of the interior. The beginnings of this broader reference can be observed in Egyptian sources of the late 14th and 13th centuries; it is doubtful, however, whether Canaan was ever the name of an Egyptian province either embracing all of the Egyptian territory in Syria and Palestine, or, in the el-Amarna period, located in the south with its center at Gaza, though both views have their proponents (see *Canaan).

The origin of the name, a problem intimately associated with its etymology, remains a non liquet ("unclear"). Certainly Canaan was associated very early with one of the land's principal industries, the manufacture of purple dye from the Murex shellfish so plentiful along the coast; already in the Nuzi documents "Canaanite" is the designation of a variety of purpledyed wool. This association is also reflected in the Greek name Phoenicia (see above). The problem is whether this connection with purple dye is primary (so W.F. Albright, hypothetical knʿ, "Murex"; otherwise B. Mazar, "merchant" (knʿ + Hurrian suffix), whence "merchant of purple [his staple]," etc.; S. Moscati, geographical term (origin unknown), whence derived meanings). No solution is without its difficulties; the last is best supported by parallels (cf. morocco, cordovan, etc.).

The Land

Geography played a very important role in the political and cultural history of Canaan. Lying between Egypt, Asia Minor, and Mesopotamia, and opening Asia to the Mediterranean world, Canaan was a confluence of cultures and of necessity deeply involved in the political ambitions and struggles of its neighbors. Its topography, however, led to political fragmentation; Canaan was never a state, and it was destined to centuries of vassalage under one or other of the surrounding colossuses.

To the east, most of Canaan was locked in by Lebanon, and the long, thin strip of coastal lowlands (c. 125 mi. = 200 km.) was often broken by gorges or promontories. Only at the mouth of the Eleutheros was there a plain of any size. There was one river, the Litani, besides a number of perennial streams; none of them was of use agriculturally. The climate, however, was warm (present monthly lowest median 50° F), with ample rainfall from October to April (annually in modern times, c. 40–24 in. from north to south). The climate and soil were favorable for the cultivation of wheat, barley, olives, figs, grapes, and other fruits. The densely forested hills and mountains provided excellent timber – the famous cedars, junipers (Juniperus excelsa, Heb. berosh; cf. I Kings 5:22, 24), firs, cypresses, and oaks. Sand from the shore would be the basis of a glassmaking industry, while from the sea itself came the source of the precious dye.

People and Language

Though there is much evidence for human habitation of Canaan as far back as the Paleolithic period, fixed settlements were apparently founded only in the pottery-Neolithic period, and, therefore, relatively late in the Syro-Palestinian picture. The lag was probably due, in part at least, to the necessity of clearing this section of the coast of forests before cultivation of the land was possible. Relics of the earliest settlers are the non-Semitic place-names in early written sources, like Uzu/Ushu (Palaityros on the mainland), Ammia, and Ullaza. However, most Canaanite cities bear names which certainly, or very probably, are Semitic: Tyre (the island city), Sidon, Beirut, Byblos, Batron, Irqata, Yarimuta, Sumur. In view of the tenacity of place-names, which tend to survive despite ethnic shifts in population, Canaan must have first been settled on a large scale by Semites. They were probably an offshoot of the Semitic inhabitants of Palestine and southern Syria, whose occupation of these areas goes back to the fourth millennium, and the penetration into Canaan proper was probably not much later – roughly, around 3000 B.C.E. Racially, as far as can be judged from the meager evidence, these Semites were mixed and, in this respect, indistinguishable from their predecessors; later, around 1500 B.C.E., a shift from the prevalence of a dolichocephalic to a brachycephalic type is observable, thus reflecting the more complex cultural relations of the period.

Of the language of the first settlers, except that it was Semitic, nothing is known. There is a stratum in the *Ugaritic lexicon which for a West Semitic language has an unusually close affinity with Akkadian; perhaps it is a survival of the earliest speech in the Syro-Palestinian area. The first real evidence for the language spoken in Canaan comes from the Execration Texts, shards (c. 1900 B.C.E.), or figurines (c. 1825 B.C.E.) inscribed with the names of rebellious rulers and their localities in Palestine and Canaan. These newcomers, another wave from the Syro-Arabian desert, usually called *Amorites, were also Semites and constituted another level of Semitic settlement. Their language, with dialectal differences, was identical with that of the Semites, who, in a long process of infiltration and finally invasion, seized power and set up a string of local dynasties from Babylonia to the borders of Egypt. Classification of this language in terms of the later developments which produced Canaanite and Aramaic is impossible; it is best simply called West Semitic. The question as to what happened to this language, i.e., whether it became the language of the earlier inhabitants (cf. *Aramaic), or disappeared, as in Babylonia, in favor of the established local language, unfortunately remains unanswered. The answer is crucial for the history of the Canaanite language which first emerges around 1400 B.C.E. At this time, "the language of Canaan" (Isa. 19:18) began to develop those specific features which would distinguish it from Aramaic. Their center of diffusion seems to have been Canaan itself; many of them appear only later, and then sporadically, in the north (Ugarit). The process of evolution continued – somewhat in contrast to Hebrew, a related dialect, which tended to be more conservative – and produced Phoenician. This was the language which was brought by the colonists to the western Mediterranean and became Punic.

History to 1200 B.C.E.

Canaanite history falls into two periods: approximately 3000–1200 B.C.E., and approximately 1200–332 B.C.E. In the first, Canaan, by and large, was in language, religion, art, and social and political institutions indistinguishable from Palestine and a large part of Syria. With the coming of the Philistines, and Arameans, and the emergence of the Israelites, the situation was profoundly changed, and the coastal Canaanites, who carried on the Late Bronze Age city system which had mostly been swept away by the 13th century catastrophe, had an identity thrust upon them such as they had never known. They became, as this new situation may be conveniently designated, Phoenicians. They maintained this identity until they were submerged by Hellenism, an event that may be dated to Alexander the Great's conquest. The date of course is too exact; such a change is never effected in a single blow, and there are always survivals, especially in religion; besides, the erosion of the old order had begun before the appearance of the conqueror. However, Hellenism, best symbolized by Alexander, was new, pervasive, and a turning point.

Early in the third millennium, Canaan was already in close contact with Egypt, which was to dominate so much of its history; Byblos became the center of an intense trade in timber, and by the Sixth Dynasty (c. 2305–2140 B.C.E.) was virtually an Egyptian colony. Such it remained with little or no interruption, despite periods of Egyptian weakness, until approximately 1740 B.C.E. Though the point is controversial, the political control evident at Byblos probably extended, though somewhat loosely and with some oscillations, to the rest of Canaan and Palestine. It probably continued during the *Hyksos rule of Egypt (c. 1670–1570 B.C.E.), and then after a brief period of independence following the expulsion of the Hyksos, it was resumed again with Egyptian expansion under Thutmosis I (1525–c. 1512 B.C.E.) and its consolidation under Thutmosis III (c. 1504–1450 B.C.E.). Within little more than a century, most of Canaan fell to the state of Amurru, which eventually became a Hittite vassal, and thus part of the Hittite empire (see *El-Amarna ). However, under Seti I (c. 1318–1301 B.C.E.) and Rameses II (c. 1301–1234 B.C.E.) it was reconquered once more, probably in its entirety. Finally, with the invasion of the Sea Peoples, in approximately 1200 B.C.E., the Egyptian yoke was broken forever.

Internal Development to 1200 B.C.E.

In this long period there were other influences on Canaan besides the Egyptian. Contacts with the Aegean world are demonstrable by 2000 B.C.E., and they became particularly close in the 14th–13th century when, after the fall of Cnossus, the Myceneans conducted a vigorous trade with the entire eastern Mediterranean littoral. Relations with Mesopotamia go back even further, probably to the early third millennium, but almost certainly to around 2400 B.C.E.; and three centuries later one hears of a messenger of the "governor" of Byblos at Drehem in Babylonia (though the title should not be taken as implying the suzerainty of the Sumerian Third Dynasty of Ur). The arrival of the Amorites, already noted, added the deep cultural tie of language and religion, which commerce only strengthened; in the *Mari texts of the 18th century, Byblos is involved (along with Aleppo, Carchemish, Qatna, and Ugarit) in the movement of timber, resinous substances, wine, olive oil, and grain from Syria and Canaan to the kingdom on the Middle Euphrates.

The Amorite invasion also marks an important stage in the formation of the system of small city states which became so characteristic of Syro-Palestine in the second millennium, and then, after the rise of the nearby national states in the Iron Age, continued in Phoenicia. The Execration Texts show the transition from a seminomadic stage – which is reflected in the earlier group – when the cities were probably not yet taken, and two or three sheikhs divided the authority over the environs, to a completely settled stage – attested in the later groups – when the cities had fallen and, with a couple of exceptions, there was a single ruler. Since the shift to monarchy is so widespread and so quick, it suggests the adoption and diffusion of an already prevailing institution. Acceptance of the institution, however, was hardly effected without important concessions, mainly in the form of land grants to the sheikhs who had helped in the conquest; at first, therefore, the king may have been only primus inter pares, as in early Assyria. The roots, therefore, of the city state system probably go back to the third millennium; its feudal character began with, or was strongly reinforced by, its adoption by the Amorites.

This development may have received in Canaan, as in other parts of Syria and Palestine, further impetus in the period between approximately 1700 and 1500 B.C.E., when the Indo-Iranian chariot warriors, called maryannu, were introduced to the area and their services secured for the crown by grants of fiefs. At least in the following period all Canaanite kings still bear Semitic names, and never is a maryannu associated with the coastal cities of Canaan. However, for whatever the causes, by the 14th century B.C.E. one finds strong social unrest in Canaan as attested by the el-Amarna Letters; the half free class who worked the land are escaping, and popular revolutions with assassination of the king are not unknown.

[William L. Moran / S. David Sperling (2nd ed.)]

The Transition

With the rise of a new dynasty in Egypt (the 19th), the southern part of Phoenicia fell again under Egyptian dominion. Seti I (c. 1318–1301 B.C.E.) speaks of conquering Asia, and mentions, among others, Tyre and Uzu (Ushu = Palaityros). Although Seti advanced as far as Kadesh on the Orontes, there is no evidence that Egypt could retain its hold on that vast Asian territory, for in the time of Seti's son, Rameses II (c. 1301–1234 B.C.E.), Kadesh was firmly in Hittite hands. Yet Egypt continued to rule the southern part of Phoenicia. In a famous treaty, the Egyptian and Hittite kings divided Syria and Phoenicia into two spheres of influence. The borderline may have passed north of Byblos (cf. Papyrus Anastasi I; Pritchard, Texts, 475ff.). The following peace was of great importance for the cultural and material development of Phoenicia, and its overseas trade reached a peak.

1200–1000 B.C.E.

In the last years of Merneptah (1234–1224 B.C.E.), there is reference to the first waves of the invasions of the Sea Peoples into the countries of the Fertile Crescent. In the days of Rameses III (1182–1151 B.C.E.), these invasions brought with them the destruction of all the coastal towns of the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea. The archaeological evidence shows the total destruction of Ugarit, and the Egyptian sources speak about the conflagration of Arvad. According to a Tyrian source preserved by Josephus, there were 240 years from the founding (of Tyre) until the reign of Hiram (Ant., 8:62). This date is confirmed by Justin, who says that the king of Ashkelon (= Philistines) defeated the Sidonians, who fled and founded the town of Tyre, one year before the fall of Troy (Justin, Trogi Pompei Historiarum Philippicarum Epitoma, 18:3, 5). These independent sources agree that Tyre was refounded at the very end of the 13th century or the very beginning of the 12th century B.C.E. Certainly there was no new foundation, but the tradition teaches us that a juncture occurred in Phoenician history. It may be suggested further that from now on the name Sidonian was applied to the Phoenicians generally.

Emergence – First Contacts with Israel

At the beginning of the 11th century, Tiglath Pileser I (1114–1076 B.C.E.) of Assyria arrived at the Phoenician coast. He mentions Lebanon and the towns of Arvad, Byblos, and Sidon. The story of Wen-Amon (in the first quarter of the 11th century B.C.E.; Pritchard, Texts, 25ff.; COS I, 89–93) shows the low political prestige of Egypt in the coastal towns at that time, a fact which is clearly expressed by the king of Byblos. Also the comparison of Byblos with Sidon shows Sidon's political and mercantile position. The first suggestion of contact between the tribes of Israel and the Phoenicians comes from about half a century earlier. In the Song of Deborah, the tribe of Dan already lives in the north (cf. the sequence of the tribes which did not participate in the struggle, Judg. 5:16–17), and the close relationship between the tribe of Dan and the Phoenicians can be seen from the verse: "And why did Dan remain in ships?" (Judg. 5:17), which Taeubler (Biblische Studien…(1958), 89ff.) interprets to mean that the Danites were seasonal workers in the harbors of Phoenicia. In the days of David there were already intermarriages with the Phoenicians (II Chron. 2:13). Similarly, there must have been intermingling between the tribe of Asher and the Phoenicians, for it says, "The Asherites dwelt among the Canaanites…for they did not drive them out" (Judg. 1:32), while the whole of the Valley of Acre and the southern Phoenician coast remained in Phoenician hands. It appears that at the end of the period of the Judges, Tyre rose to the position of the leading city on the Phoenician coast, and in the following 300 years it exercised a certain supremacy over the southern Phoenician coastal towns; W.F. Albright suggests that from this time Tyre became the capital of Phoenicia. Furthermore, Albright has propounded that it was Abibaal, the father of Hiram, who in a kind of alliance with David, destroyed the sea power of the Philistines, while David defeated them on the mainland. An alliance was formed between Hiram and Solomon (I Kings 5:15ff. = II Chron. 2:2[3] ff.), though given the superiority of Phoenician seamanship it is likely that the Phoenicians were the dominant partner (Cogan). Archaeological support is provided by finds of Phoenician wares in Israel in tenth–ninth century contexts (Kuhrt, 408). This included the supply of Phoenician lumber and technology in exchange for Israelite agricultural products, and led to a joint venture by sea to Ophir (see *Trade and Commerce ).

Height and Decline – 1000–750 B.C.E.

From the days of *Hiram the Great (c. 969–936 B.C.E.) Phoenician history, as known, becomes the history of Tyre. The external proof is the change of title: while Hiram is still called "king of Tyre" in the Bible, Ethbaal (c. 887–856 B.C.E.), the father-in-law of Ahab, is called "king of the Sidonians" (I Kings 16:31). The reign of Hiram also saw the beginning of the Phoenician colonial mercantile empire, which culminated in the foundation of Carthage in North Africa (c. 814–813 B.C.E.). By the marriage of Ahab with Jezebel, daughter of Ethbaal, the culture and religion of Phoenicia penetrated Samaria (I Kings 16:32ff.), and later by the marriage of Athaliah with Joram of Judah they also penetrated Jerusalem (II Kings 8:18; 11:18).Yet Phoenicia proved to be a haven to Elijah (I Kings 17:10). Among the allies who banded together with Hadadezer of Damascus, Irhuleni of Hamath, and Ahab of Israel, against Shalmaneser III of Assyria at the battle of Karkar (853 B.C.E.), were the northern Phoenician towns, Arvad, Arka, Usanata, Shian, but not Byblos, Sidon, or Tyre. It may be assumed that the king of the Sidonians, ruling over the whole coast from Byblos to Acre, was behaving exactly like his predecessors and successors and avoiding a fight on the continent; his strength was in his fleet. The poem on the "Ship Tyre" in Ezekiel 27, though from a later period, may preserve some memories of Tyre at the zenith of her power. From the first years of Adadnirari III (810–783 B.C.E.), Tyre and Sidon were among the tributary countries. The question is whether Tyre and Sidon formed a single unit, or were two different states. Tyre's leading position on the Phoenician coast is shown by the fact that it is always mentioned first in all the Assyrian lists from the days of Ashurnasirpal II (883–859 B.C.E.), even after the Assyrians definitely set up an independent kingdom of Sidon in the third year of Sennacherib, and it is also always mentioned first in all the pre-Exilic biblical sources (cf. Isa. 23; Jer. 47:4; Zech. 9:2).

750–538 B.C.E.

From the days of Tiglath Pileser III (744–727 B.C.E.), a change in the Assyrian policy toward its neighboring states can be observed. One after another, the states were turned into Assyrian provinces (on the Phoenician coast, Sumuz became the main seat of the Assyrian governor). Only the main Phoenician city states, such as Arvad, Byblos (the name of whose king is mentioned for the first time after a gap of 140 years), and Tyre, still remained "independent," certainly because of their commercial importance. In those days, another formidable enemy appeared – the growing colonial power of the Greek city-states in Cyprus, southern Italy, Sicily, and Sardinia. However, in the eyes of the prophets, Tyre was the "crowning city, whose merchants are princes, whose traders are the honorable of the earth" (Isa. 23:8; cf. Zech. 9:3).

While Shalmaneser V (726–722 B.C.E.) tried to break the power of Tyre by "liberating the subjugated towns (like Sidon, Acre, etc.)," Sargon II (721–705 B.C.E.) came to an understanding with "the king of the Sidonians," i.e., the king of Tyre. Sennacherib separated Sidon from Tyre and set it up as an independent kingdom (in 701 B.C.E.), but after an unsuccessful revolt in the days of Esarhaddon, Sidon became an Assyrian province (in 677/76 B.C.E. for about 45 years). Again the whole struggle against the imperialistic Assyrian forces was borne by Tyre alone. After a short interlude, when the Egyptian pharaoh Neco tried to reestablish Egyptian suzerainty in Greater Syria, including Phoenicia, he was defeated by Nebuchadnezzar at Carchemish (605 B.C.E.), and thus Babylon became the overlord of the Phoenician coast. At the beginning of the sixth century B.C.E. the west again revolted, with Egypt's support. After the fall of Jerusalem (586 B.C.E.), Nebuchadnezzar turned to the Phoenician cities and laid siege to Tyre as the main city of the coast (cf. Ezek. 26ff.). This siege lasted 13 years (Jos., Apion, 1:156), and ended in a conditional surrender (cf. Ezek. 29:18). At this time, the Phoenician colonies in Spain and Sicily, looking in vain for help from the mothercity against the growing Greek colonization, turned to Carthage, and with this move the real independent history of Carthage began. The contact with Tyre still continued, but now it took only a religious form. An annual tribute was sent from the daughter colony to the mother Tyre for Melkart (Melqart), literally, "the king of the city," i.e., the lord of Tyre (for the possibility that "city" in the god's name means "netherworld" see S. Ribichini, DDD, 563–65).

538–64 B.C.E.

According to Herodotus, the Phoenician towns opened their gates to Cyrus the Great of their own free will (Persian Wars, 3:91). From this time, Sidon, where the Persian king had one of his palaces, became the leading city of the Phoenician coast (cf. Ezra 3:7; I Chron. 22:4). The hegemony of Sidon is shown by the hierarchy of the command of the Persian fleet, since the king of Sidon is mentioned before the kings of Tyre and Arvad (Herod., ibid., 7:96, 98). Territorial rights to parts of the coast (mostly to the south, in Palestine) were granted to the main Phoenician towns, and Sidon, Tyre, and Arvad together, founded the city of Tripolis. Here the Phoenician cities now held assemblies, and together dealt with the Persian government. The cruel suppression of the great revolt of Sidon (about 350 B.C.E.) by Artaxerxes III was not forgotten by the Sidonians, who opened their gates to Alexander the Great. Tyre, in contrast, sustained a siege of nine months before it was conquered (332 B.C.E.) by Alexander, who built a dike from the coast to the island. Since that time, Tyre has been situated on a peninsula. During the wars of the successors of Alexander, the Diadochoi, the Phoenician coast not only changed hands from the Seleucids to the Ptolemies but the main cities also exploited these quarrels to become independent and counted the years accordingly (Tyre from 274 B.C.E., and a new era from 126 B.C.E., Sidon from 111 B.C.E., Beirut from 81 B.C.E.). In 64 B.C.E. the Phoenician coast was incorporated into the Roman Empire, with certain special rights for both Sidon and Tyre. In the last years of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, the Phoenicians are called anti-Jewish by Josephus (Apion, 7:70). Still, from the time of the Maccabees until the destruction of the Temple, the Tyrian coinage (kesep şōri) because of its purity and reliability was the official standard for specific payments whose amounts were defined in the Bible (Tosef., Ket. 13:3).

Phoenician Colonization

The Phoenician colonization – which was, in fact, Tyrian colonization, for none of the other Phoenician cities established colonies – was quite different from that of the Greeks. Its main purpose was the securing of trading posts. It may be assumed that it started with the establishment of such centers in Cyprus. One of the oldest, if not the oldest, Phoenician settlement there was the town of Citium/Kition (modern Larnaka), the *Kittim of the Bible (cf. Gen. 10:4), which may have been called Utica (cf. Jos., Ant., 8:146). It is said that its inhabitants revolted against the mothercity, Tyre, and were subdued by Hiram, the contemporary of King Solomon. From Cyprus, the Phoenicians penetrated, via Rhodes, to the Aegean Sea (according to Greek mythology Cadmus of Tyre came to Boeotia and introduced a number of arts, of which the most important was writing – Herod., Persian Wars, 5:57–58; cf. also the Phoenician merchantmen in the poems of Homer). According to Thucydides (Peloponnesian War, 6:2), the Phoenicians at one time had settlements all around the island of Sicily, although later they withdrew to the southwest. From Sicily they spread out to Sardinia in the north, and by way of the islands Malta and Gozo, southward to North Africa (Utica and Carthage), and from North Africa westward to Spain. It is possible that the Phoenician merchants reached Spain as early as the tenth century during the reign of Hiram (W.F. Albright, 1961, in bibl. against B. Mazar who thinks they date from the time of Ethbaal, about the middle of the ninth century). Josephus has preserved a notice that Ethbaal founded two colonies, one on the Phoenician coast itself and one in Lybia (Ant., 8:324). This Phoenician colonization of North Africa is not only reported in the classical literature, but also reflected in the Talmud and Midrash, and much later in the early Christian historiography as "an expulsion of the Canaanites by Joshua" (cf. H. Lewy, in: MGWJ, 77 (1933), 84ff.). The climax of Phoenician colonization was the foundation of Carthage according to tradition in 814/813 B.C.E. Thus far archaeological evidence is found no earlier than the second half of the eighth century. About the middle of the seventh century, the Carthaginians, the descendants of the Phoenicians, and the native populations took under their protection the Tyrian colonies, which were now endangered by the Greek colonization. Unlike the Greek colonial movement, Tyre's greatness rested on her mercantile colonies, which remained subjects of the mothercity. They paid their annual tithes to Melkart in Tyre, for Melkart, or the Tyrian Baal, now became also the chief deity in each colony.


The geographical conditions of Phoenicia dictated the pursuits and undertakings of its inhabitants; sea trade, fishing, and small industry. The Phoenicians claimed that they invented the building of ships and the art of fishing. The magnificent forest of Lebanon provided the wood for the ships, and the introduction of iron made it possible to build larger and more seaworthy ships, called "ships of Tarshish," which gave an impetus to more distant voyages. From the beginning of the tenth century, we can trace Phoenician colonization via Cyprus, to the western part of the Mediterranean – Sicily, Malta, North Africa, Sardinia, Corsica, and Spain – but it appears that the dates of the classical historians, who ascribe Phoenician colonization to the beginning of the 11th century, must be lowered by more than 100 years. Many Semitic names, however, have preserved the memory of Phoenician colonization, e.g., Cition (= Kittim) in Cyprus, Utica (= Watiga) and Carthage (qart-Hadasht) in North Africa, Cadez (= Gadar) and Tartessos (= Tarshish) in Spain. The Phoenicians actually founded only trading posts (this is the original meaning of Tarshish according to Albright) which engaged not only in trade, but also in a search for raw materials. The Phoenicians brought their own manufactures to the West, but to a far greater extent they acted as middlemen, transporting incense and spices from Arabia. These overseas expeditions were undertaken by guilds of merchantmen, with the king acting as representative both of the state and of the merchants (cf. The Journey of Wen-Amon; Pritchard, Texts, 25ff.; COS I, 89–93). The trips to *Ophir undertaken by Hiram and Solomon in partnership are the most famous examples of these expeditions. Ophir was apparently on the African coast, in the general region of Somaliland (Albright, Arch Rel, 133; cf. I Kings 9:28; 10:11, and for Jehoshaphat's aborted attempt, I Kings 22:49). The daring of the Phoenicians as sailors is shown by the expedition they made at the command of Pharaoh Neco, circumnavigating Africa by sailing south from the Red Sea and home through the Pillars of Hercules. Herodotus, who writes about this (Persian Wars, 4:42), discounts as incredible what in fact is the proof of its truth, namely, the fact that the Phoenician sailors claimed to have seen the sun on the right, i.e., to the north. Another famous voyage was made by Hanno from Carthage to Central Africa (approximately, Ivory Coast), at the beginning of the fifth century B.C.E.


The most famous industry of the Phoenicians was the manufacture of purple dye (it is possible that the name "Phoenicia" was derived from the industry; see above). Second in importance was weaving; the multicolored garments of the Phoenicians are mentioned in nearly all tribute lists of the Assyrian kings. Furthermore, the Phoenicians excelled in handicrafts: ivory objects, metalwork, metal statuettes and small stone sculptures, jewelry, and seals. Although the Phoenicians are credited with the invention of glass, it appears that they only developed the technique of its manufacture, for which they became famous in classical times. The purpose of all these handicrafts was not aesthetic but commercial. This is one of the reasons for the mixed styles, mostly borrowed from the neighboring countries and adapted to the taste of the customers. The Phoenicians were also famous as builders and architects (cf., e.g., the Temple of Solomon).


Little is known about the Phoenician religion (C. Bonnet and P. Xella apud Krings, 316–33; P. Scmitz, ABD, 5:357–63). Although over 6,000 inscriptions in Phoenician and Punic (overseas Phoenician) are known, there are no hymns, prayers, or god lists. Mostly, the inscriptions mention some specific deities, clients, and rituals. The excavations at *Ugarit in northern Syria of the late second millennium B.C.E. have brought to light many religious texts, myths, and rituals, which have enriched modern knowledge. The head of the pantheon was El, and his wife was Asherat of the Sea. In the poems about Baal and his sister Anath, their war against the gods of the underworld is recorded. These Ugaritic texts confirm to some extent the short notes of Philo of Byblos, which are quoted by Eusebius (Praeparatio Evangelica, 1:10, 7), about the Phoenician religion, and show a certain amount of continuity. At the same time much changed over a millennium thanks to Phoenician colonization resulting in increased contact with other cultures and the penetration of Hellenistic culture. In general each city-state had its own chief deity: El in Ugarit, Dagon in Arvad, the Lady of Byblos in Byblos, Eshmun in Sidon, Melkart in Tyre, Baal (Melkert) Hammon in Carthage. The most important goddesses were Astarte, in the east, and Tanit/Tinnit, in the west. B. Mazar has noted that from the first half of the tenth century, a new deity appears in the pantheon, Baalshamem. Baalshamem may be identified with the Greek Zeus, whose temple is mentioned by Menander and Dius (Jos., Apion, 7:113, 118). Mazar suggests that this new deity should be connected with the colonial movement (cf. also the group of gods connected with navigation in the seventh century treaty between Esarhaddon and Baal, king of Tyre: Baalshamem (Roellig, DDD, 149–51), Baalmadge ("Lord of Fishery"), and Baalsaphon (Niehr, DDD, 152–54)). The gods Eshmun (Ribichini, DDD, 307–9) and Melqart (Ribichinini, DDD, 563–65) are also newcomers unknown in the second millennium. There is no doubt that the Phoenician temples bore similarities to the Temple of Solomon, with two main pillars in front (cf. Jos., Apion, 1:118; Herod., Persian Wars, 2:44; and graphically, Harden, in bibl., The Phoenicians, pl. 50). The Phoenicians buried their dead in coffins as a rule, but there is also some archaeological evidence that they burned them. It is known that in Carthage the custom of infant sacrifices prevailed, which may have some connection with the cult of *Moloch (cf. II Kings 23:10). An inscription found at Incirli in Turkey may contain a reference to Moloch and human sacrifice (Kaufman and Zuckerman apud Holm).

Language and Literature – Later Period

The Phoenician language, which was spoken for more than 2,000 years, belongs to the northwest Semitic group. It is strongly related to Hebrew. As late as the fifth century C.E. there was to be found in North Africa a rustic dialect based on the Punic language, which is a descendant of Carthaginian, itself a descendant of the Phoenician language. The earliest Phoenician alphabetic text comes from the 11th century B.C.E.; we already find here the *alphabet of 22 consonants. Greek tradition tells us that the Phoenicians invented the alphabet, since it was from the Phoenician merchants that the Greeks learned alphabetic writing. At the courts of the Phoenician kings, archives were kept, dealing with historical events (cf. Jos., Ant., 8:144ff., 324; 9:283ff.; Apion, 1:159ff.) and mercantile accounts (cf. The Journey of Wen-Amon (Pritchard, Texts, 25ff.); the correspondence between Hiram and Solomon (I Kings 5:15ff.). The Phoenician merchants were opposed to any descriptions of their voyages, with one exception: "The Periplus of Hanno," which has come down in its Greek translation (Hannōnis Periplūs). The epigraphic material from Phoenicia and from its colonies is very scarce. The most famous inscriptions are the sarcophagus of Ahiram, king of Byblos (beginning of the tenth century B.C.E.); the Yehawmilk stele (about the middle of the fifth century); the sarcophagi of Tabnit and of Eshmunezer of Sidon (generally dated to the middle of the fifth century, but probably from the times of the Ptolemaic kings). Yet the longest Phoenician inscription on stone was discovered not in Phoenicia itself but in Cilica at Karatepe. It is a bilingual (Hittite and Phoenician) building inscription, of 62 lines (probably mideighth century B.C.E.). Another Phoenician inscription comes from Zinjirli, in northwest Syria (the building inscription of Kilamuwa, king of Yʾdy), and dates from the second half of the ninth century. Other Phoenician inscriptions (some of which are bilingual) have been discovered in Cyprus, Rhodes, Sicily, Sardinia (e.g., the so called Nora stone), Malta, Egypt, and even Attica. Examples of Phoenician writings occur on the coins of the main Phoenician towns, such as Arvad, Beirut, Byblos, Marathus, Ptolemais-Acre, Sidon, and Tyre. For a survey of Phoenician inscriptions see D. Vance, in: BA, 57 (1994), 110–20.

[H. Jacob Katzenstein / S. David Sperling (2nd ed.)]

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.