Phoenicia was an ancient civilization in southwest Asia consisting of city-states along the eastern Mediterranean Sea. Today that area covers Syria and Lebanon. It covered most of the western and coastal part of the Fertile Crescent. The name Phoenicia may also appear as Phenice and Phenicia. Basically, Phoenicians were Canaanites who conquered and settled on several landmarks surrounding the Mediterranean coastline. Phoencia is found on the Biblical Timeline Chart throughout the years 1500 BC to 300 BC. The places where they occupied and created small civilizations were: Cadiz, Kition, Utica and Lixis. Greeks were also colonizing side by side with Phoenicians who saw this as a competition between territories. As a result, Phoenicians worked double time to create bigger colonies. They established numerous colonies including Carthage in northern Africa.
Phoenicians and Their Contributions to the Society
The Phoenician civilization became well-known as the foremost navigators and traders of the Mediterranean by 1250 B.C. They were the early businessmen who practiced the trading and the industry of marketing. They had a keen ability to trade items with other colonies and tribes in their time. Their popular product was the purple dye made from snail. This is how they got the name Phoenicia or Phoenix in Greek, meaning purple-red. Another item that they traded were dogs bred to develop their hunting and herding skills. The Phoenicians also produced wines. When Egypt had a hard time producing wine, the Phoenicians took advantage of this and create their own to trade with Egypt. Phoenicians also created trading posts.
They were also famous for the marine vessel that allowed them to go from one location to another and best remembered for the products that they traded with others. As the Phoenicians traveled to the edges of the known world, they introduced their alphabet which was based on symbols for sounds rather than cuneiform or hieroglyphic representations. Their culture was gradually absorbed by Persian and later Hellenistic civilizations
How Phoenicia colonized Western Europe and Africa
Phoenician did not use brute force as conquerors do. The Phoenician people colonized Western Europe and Africa by means of trading goods from 1200 BC to 900 BC. Phoenicians, as Canaanites, were a Semitic tribe that occupied the shores of Lebanon. Those Canaanites trading in Greece were called Phoenicians by the Greeks so that by 3 BC Lebanon became known as Phoenicia. As businessmen, Phoenician went so far that by 200 BC, they had colonized almost all of the Mediterranean shore. They established trading ports and depots all over the great shores. As they searched for more trading partners, they rounded the whole of Africa, and went to England as well as Ireland. They founded many cities in Western Europe bringing with them their skills and industry of art, glassware, fragrance and precious stones.
Phoenician Colonies and Settlements
The Phoenicians had established commercial outposts throughout the Mediterranean including Carthage in North Africa and across the narrow straits in Sicily. These are considered the most strategically important ones. With these, they were able to monopolize the Mediterranean trade and keep their rivals from passing through. Some of their colonies were in Cyprus, Corsica, Sardinia, and the Iberian Peninsula. They also founded several small outposts a day’s sail away from each other all along the North African coast en route to Spain’s mineral wealth.
Phoenicians also reached the coast of southern Spain and along the coast of present-day Portugal. They also ventured north into the Atlantic Ocean as far as Great Britain, providing them tin mines and other important materials. Meanwhile, a Carthaginian expedition which was led by Hanno the Navigator explored and colonized the Atlantic coast of Africa as far as the Gulf of Guinea. They also explored south along the coast of Africa.
Basically, the Phoenicians were not an agricultural people because most of the lands in their settlements were not arable. Because of this, they focused on commerce and trading instead which established their identity as great mariners. On the other hand, the Phoenicians influenced other groups around the Mediterranean such as the Greeks who later became their main commercial rivals.
Phoenician Trade in the Bible
Phoenicians often trade their skills with the Israelites.
The people of Israel did not have enough time to master any skills in building even while in Egypt or when they were in the desert with Moses. For this reason King David, as well as his son King Solomon after him made use of the Phoenician people to build their temples as stated in the Biblical passage in I Chronicles 14:1. King Hiram of one Phoenician ancient city and a seaport, Tyre, sent his craftsmen to David to provide the King of Israel cedar logs with carpenters and stonemasons so that they could build his palace. When King David died and Solomon reigned after him, he wrote to King Hiram (I Kings 5:6) to build a temple for him as his father David was so busy warring, he was not able to build a temple for the Lord (I Kings 5:3). King Hiram sent his carpenters and stonemasons once more with cedar logs and pine trees to create the temple (I Kings 5:8-10).
The Phoenician people, especially those craftsmen from Tyre, traded with King Solomon as stated in I kings 7:13-16 where King Solomon, after finishing his house after 13 years, planned to build another one in the forest of Lebanon. Throughout the Bible from Genesis to the time of the disciples in the Book of Acts, Canaanites, Lebanon and the places of Tyre and Sidon (another city in Phoenicia which means fishing) have been mentioned.