International Standard Bible EncyclopediaPHOENICIA; PHOENICIANS
1. The Land
2. The Colonies
3. The People
4. Arts and Manufactures
5. Commerce and Trade
6. Language and Culture
1. The Land:
The term "Phoenicia" is Greek (Phoinike, "land of dates, or palm trees," from phoinix, "the date-palm"). It occurs in the Bible only in Acts (11:19; 15:03; 21:2), the land being generally designated as the "coast" or "borders of Tyre and Sidon" (Matthew 15:21 Mark 7:24, 31 Luke 6:17). In the Old Testament we find it included in the land belonging to the Canaanites or to Sidon (Genesis 10:19; Genesis 49:13 Joshua 11:8 1 Kings 17:9). The limits of Phoenicia were indefinite also. It is sometimes used by classic writers as including the coast line from Mt. Cassius on the North to Gaza or beyond on the South, a distance of some 380 miles, or about 400 miles if we include the sweep of indentations and bays and the outstretching of the promontories. But in the stricter sense, it did not extend beyond Gabala (modern Jebleh) on the North, and Mt. Carmel on the South, or some 150 miles. The name was probably first applied to the region opposite Cyprus, from Gabala to Aradus and Marathus, where the date-palm was observed, and then, as it was found in still greater abundance farther South, it was applied to that region also. The palm tree is common on the coins of both Aradus and Tyre, and it still grows on the coast, though not in great abundance. The width of the land also was indefinite, not extending inland beyond the crest of the two ranges of mountains, the Bargylus (Nusairi Mountains) and the Lebanon, which run parallel to the coast and leave but little space between them and the sea for the greater portion of their length. It is doubtful whether the Phoenicians occupied the mountain tracts, but they must have dominated them on the western slopes, since they derived from them timber for their ships and temples. The width of the country probably did not exceed 25 or 30 miles at the most, and in many places it was much less, a very small territory, in fact, but one that played a distinguished role in ancient times.
There are few harbors on the whole coast, none in the modern sense, since what few bays and inlets there are afford but slight shelter to modern ships, but those of the ancients found sufficient protection in a number of places, especially by means of artificial harbors, and the facility with which they could be drawn out upon the sandy beach in winter when navigation was suspended. The promontories are few and do not project far into the sea, such as Theu-prosopon South of Tripolis, Ras Beirut and the broad projection South of Tyre including Ras el-`Abyadh and Ras en-Naqura and Ras el-Musheirifeh (see LADDER OF TYRE). The promontory of Carmel is rather more marked than the others, and forms quite an extensive bay, which extends to Acre. The promontory rises to a height of 500 ft. or more near the sea and to more than double that elevation in its course to the Southeast.
Mt. Lebanon, which forms the background of Phoenicia for about 100 miles, is a most striking feature of the landscape. It rises to a height of 10,200 ft. in the highest point, East of Tripolis, and to 8,500 in Jebel Sunnin, East of Beirut, and the average elevation is from 5,000 to 6,000 ft. It is rent by deep gorges where the numerous streams have cut their way to the sea, furnishing most varied and picturesque scenery. It was originally heavily wooded with cedar, oak, and pine trees, which are still found in considerable numbers, but by far the larger part of the mountain has been denuded of forests, and the slopes have been extensively terraced for the cultivation of vines and fruit trees and the mulberry for silk culture. The plains along the coast are not extensive, but generally very fertile and bear abundant crops of wheat, barley and other cereals, where not given to the culture of the mulberry, orange, lemon, fig, apricot and other small fruits. In its greatest extent Phoenicia included the broad plain of Sharon and that of Acre, between Carmel and that city, and a portion of the region watered by the Kishon, but the plains of Phoenicia, strictly speaking, are much more restricted. They are: the plain of Tyre, long but narrow, extending from Ras el-`Abyadh to Sarepta; the plain of Sidon extending from Sarepta to the Bostrenus (Nahr el-'Auly); the plain of Beirut (Berytus) between the extensive sand dunes along the shore and the rocky cape on the West and the foot of Lebanon, 10 or 12 miles long but only one or two wide, containing one of the largest olive groves in Syria; the very small plain of Tripolis, including that city and its port; and, the most extensive of all, the plain of Marathus, extending from Arka to Aradus or even beyond, including the river Eleutherus (Nahr el-Kebir). These plains furnished only a portion of the food needed by the inhabitants who were more or less dependent on their neighbors for it (1 Kings 5:11 Acts 12:20).
The rivers of Phoenicia are comparatively short and small; the Litany rises in the Buka', between Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon, and finds its way in a deep and narrow gorge between Lebanon and Mt. Hermon to the South, and finally turns westward and reaches the sea a few miles North of Tyre, where it is called the Kasimiyeh. About 12 miles North of Beirut is the Dog River (Lycus), a very short stream but noted for the famous pass at its mouth, where Egyptian Assyrian and Babylonian kings engraved their monuments; and a few miles South of Jebail (Gebal) is the Adonis (Nahr Ibrahim), which comes down from 'Afqa (Apheca equals Aphek, Joshua 13:4), noted for the rites of Venus and Adonis (see TAMMUZ); and the Eleutherus, already mentioned, which runs through the valley between Bargylus and Lebanon and provides the pass between these two mountains into the interior. The other rivers are very short, but furnish a perennial water-supply to the coast dwellers.
The products of the land, as well as the climate, are very varied on account of the difference in elevation of the tracts suitable to culture, ranging in temperature from the semi-tropical to Alpine. How far the ancients cultivated the mountain sides we do not know, but they certainly profited largely by the forests of cedar and pine, especially the former, which was the most valuable for shipbuilding and architectural purposes, and was highly prized, not only by the Phoenicians, but by Egyptians, Assyrians and Babylonians, who transported it to their own countries for buildings. The mineral products are few, and the Phoenicians depended on their colonies and other lands for what they needed of these.
2. The Colonies:
The narrowness of the land and the difficulty of expansion on account of the lofty mountain ranges and the hostility of the tribes of the interior led the Phoenicians to turn seaward for an outlet to their increasing population. We have only one instance of their attempt to colonize the Hinterland, and that ended in disaster (Judges 18). Hiram, king of Tyre, was not pleased with Solomon's gift of 20 cities in Galilee, probably not desiring to assume responsibility for their defense. The people early became mariners, and the dominion of the sea was more inviting to them, and they found room for expansion in the islands and on the coast of the Mediterranean, where they established colonies far and wide. Their first over-sea possessions were in Cyprus, the coasts of which they occupied in the 2nd millennium B.C., probably about 1500. On the southern coast they planted various colonies, such as Citium (Larnaca), Amathus, Curium and Paphos, and on the eastern, Salamis, Ammachosta and Soli, and, in the interior, Idalium and Golgi, besides other less important settlements. The evidences of the Phoenician occupation of Cyprus are numerous. The southern portion of Asia Minor also attracted them at an early date, especially the rich plains of Cilicia, and Tarsus became the most important of their colonies there. Its coins bear Phoenician types and legends, among which Baal is conspicuous. Other points along the coast were occupied, and the island of Rhodes as well as certain ports on the south coast of Crete, and most of the islands of the Aegean. Their presence in Attica is vouched for by inscriptions, and legend connects Thebes with them in the person of Cadmus, the reputed son of Agenor, king of Phoenicia. But it is doubtful whether they really colonized the mainland of Greece. They were more attracted by the lands farther to the West.
The greatest of their colonies was in Africa. They occupied Utica first, probably in the 12th century B.C., and others in the same region until in the 9th century. Great Carthage was founded, which was destined to become the richest and most powerful of all and the dreaded rival of Rome. All are familiar with the story of Elisa, or Dido, the reputed Tyrian queen who led her followers to the place and founded the city. The story is perhaps legendary, but that Carthage was a colony of Tyre there is no reason to doubt. Other colonists occupied portions of Sicily, such as Motya, Erix, Soli and Panormus (Palermo). They also crossed over to Sardinia and the Balearic Isles, and planted colonies on the south coast of Spain and the northwestern coast of Africa, within and beyond the straits of Gibraltar. Of their settlements in Spain Gades (Cades) and Tartessus were the most noted, the latter being probably the Tarshish of Scripture (1 Kings 10:22). Malaca (Malaga) and Abdera, within the straits, were likewise important settlements, and there were others of less note.
The colonial enterprise of the Phoenicians was remarkable for the age, and was only surpassed in ancient times by the Greeks who came later, the former being the pioneers. The energy and daring of the Phoenicians in pushing out into unknown seas, with the imperfect means at their disposal, is evidence of the enterprise of this people. Their chief object, however, was trade. Their colonies were mostly factories for the exchange of their manufactured articles for the products of the lands they visited. They cared little about building up new states or for extending their civilization and molding barbarous tribes and imparting to them their culture. In this they were far surpassed by the Greeks whose colonies profoundly modified the peoples and lands with which they came in contact.
3. The People:
The Phoenicians were the same as the Canaanites, under which name they are known in the Old Testament, as well as Sidonians (Genesis 10:19 Numbers 13:29). They were of Semitic stock, if we may judge by their language and characteristics. It is true that in Genesis 10:6 Canaan is called a son of Ham, but it is also true that the language of Canaan is identified with Hebrew (Isaiah 19:18). If the early Phoenicians spoke a different tongue, they entirely lost it before their contact with the Hebrews. Their writings and all the references to them in ancient authorities show that their language was purely Semitic. As to their origin and the time of their migration to the Syrian coast, it is more difficult to determine. Herodotus (i0.2; vii.89) says that they lived at first on the Erythraean Sea, which is identified with the Persian Gulf, and modern authorities have not found evidence to refute the statement. It is quite certain that they were not the aborigines of the country, and must have come in with some of the various migrations from the East, which we know, from Egyptian and Babylonian monuments, occurred in the 3rd, perhaps in the 4th, millennium B.C. Semites are found in Syria as early as the IVth Egyptian Dynasty, about 3000 B.C., and we may fairly conjecture that the Canaanites were in possession of the seacoast as early as 2500 B.C. It is possible that they were among the Hyksos invaders of Egypt (Paton, Syria and Palestine, 67).
That the Phoenicians took to the sea at a very early date and became the most skillful mariners of the ancient world is certain. Their enterprise in this direction is attested by classic writers, and the references to it in the Old Testament are numerous. This was coupled with great industry and skill in the manufacture of the various articles which furnished the materials of their extended commerce. They exhibited a boldness and audacity in braving the perils of the sea in their little ships, which, for the age, demands our admiration. They were the first who dared to push out of sight of land in their voyages and sail beyond the Pillars of Hercules into the ocean. But in their commercial dealings they were often unscrupulous, and their greed of gain often led them to take unfair advantage of the barbarous races with whom they came in contact. The purchase of the land on which the citadel of Carthage was built may illustrate the opinion of the ancients regarding them, but we ought to remember that trickery and deceit are charged against them by their enemies, who alone have handed down accounts of them. The Hebrew prophets speak of their pride and vanity (Ezekiel 28:17), and violence (Ezekiel 28:16), and Amos hints at a traffic in captives taken in war, but whether of Hebrews or not is not clear (Amos 1:9). Slaves were among the articles of merchandise in which they traded (Ezekiel 27:13 Joel 3:6), but this could hardly be charged against them as a great sin when slavery was universal. The chief reason for their being denounced by the prophets was their corrupt practices in worship and the baleful influence of the Baal and Astarte cult introduced by them into Israel through Ahab's marriage with Jezebel (1 Kings 16:31-33). This evil influence was felt even after the captivity when the rites of the Phoenician Tammuz were practiced in Jerusalem (Ezekiel 8:14). But the earlier relations of the Phoenicians with Israel in the days of David and Solomon were friendly and mutually beneficial. On the whole the judgment of history assigns to this people a high position for their enterprise and skill in carrying on their trade, and in being the pioneers of civilization in many of the Mediterranean lands, especially by their introduction of alphabetical writing, which was by far the most valuable of all their contributions to the culture of the ancient world.
4. Arts and Manufactures:
(1) Textile Fabrics:
The Phoenicians were celebrated for their textile fabrics of silk, wool, linen and cotton. The materials of the last three were obtained from Syria and Egypt, but the silk came from the Far East through Persia. The dyeing of these fabrics was by a process invented by the Phoenicians, and the luster and permanence of color were unequaled by the ancients and made the Tyrian purple famous throughout the world. The finer qualities of it were so precious that only the very wealthy, or kings and princes, could obtain it, and it became at last a synonym of royalty. This dye was obtained from the shell-fish which was abundant in the Mediterranean, especially along the Phoenician coast, species of the Murex and the Buccinum. The mode of manufacture is not definitely known and was probably kept a secret by the Phoenicians. At least they had a monopoly of the business.
Glass was another well-known product of the country, and although not invented by the Phoeniclans as formerly supposed, it was made in large quantities and exported to all countries about the sea.
Pottery was also an article of manufacture and export, and some of the examples of their work found in Cyprus show considerable skill in the art of decoration as well as making. In this, however, they were far surpassed by the Greeks.
Bronze was a specialty of the Phoenicians, and they were for centuries the leading producers, since they controlled the sources of supply of the copper and tin used in its manufacture. The remains of their bronze manufactures are numerous, such as arms for offense and defense, knives, toilet articles, axes, sickles, cups, paterae, and various other household utensils. Articles for artistic purposes are not of high value, although the pillars named Jachin and Boaz, the molten sea, the bases, layers and other articles cast by Hiram of Tyre for the temple of Solomon must have exhibited considerable artistic merit. Their bronze was of good quality and was tempered so as to serve well for edged tools. The composition was about 9 parts copper to 1 part of tin. They seem also to have made iron (2 Chronicles 2:14), and some specimens have come down to us, but we cannot judge from their scarcity as to the extent of their manufactures in this metal, since most of the articles have perished by corrosion.
Aesthetic art among the Phoenicians was of low grade, as it was among the Semites generally, and where we find some works of moderate merit they undoubtedly manifest the influence of Greek art, such as those found in Cyprus by General Di Cesnola and others. In Phoenicia proper very little of artistic value has come to light that can be ascribed to native artists. In sculpture the style is stiff and conventional, much of it exceedingly rude, and lacks expression. The animal forms are generally grotesque, often absurd, reminding one of children's attempts at plastic article The anthropoid sarcophagi discovered at Sidon were modeled after the Egyptian and the magnificent ones, of different design, from the same place, now in the Museum of Constantinople, were certainly the work of Greek artists of the age of Alexander the Great.
The architecture of the Phoenicians was characterized by massiveness, rather than elegance. The substructures of some of their temples and castles are cyclopean, like those of the temple at Jerusalem (1 Kings 7:10), and other examples are found at Sidon, Gebal, Marathus and other places in Phoenicia itself. Their work seems lacking in symmetry and grace, showing a want of aesthetic taste.
5. Commerce and Trade:
Trade was the very life of Phoenicia. The contracted limits of the land forbade any extensive agriculture, and the people were forced to get their living by other means. They applied themselves to industrial arts, and this led them to seek the means for distributing their wares. Trade was essential to them, and they sought outlets for it by sea and land. Their position was especially favorable for commerce. In the very center of the ancient world, with the great rich and populous nations of antiquity at their back and on either side, they faced the young, vigorous and growing nations of the West, and they served them all as carriers and producers. Their caravans threaded all the well-beaten routes of the East, the deserts of Arabia and the mountain defiles of Armenia and Asia Minor, and their ships pushed boldly out to sea and explored the Mediterranean and the Euxine and did not hesitate to brave the unknown dangers of the Atlantic and perhaps even penetrated to the Baltic, emulating the mariners of a later day in their zeal for discovery and search for new avenues of trade. Could we find a detailed account of their voyages and discoveries, it would be a most interesting document, but we have little except what others have written about them, which, however, gives us a pretty fair idea of the extent of their commercial enterprise. The prophet Ezekiel has given us a remarkable catalogue of the wares of Tyre and of the countries with which she traded (Ezekiel 27). There we have mention of nearly all the regions of Western Asia, Egypt, Greece and the islands, and Spain, indicated by the names of races, tribes and countries. The materials of their traffic include the most important known to the ancient world, the products of agriculture, such as wool, linen, oil, balm, spices, frankincense, wine, corn, etc.; of metals, such as gold, silver, copper (brass), tin, iron, lead, etc.; precious stones and the articles of manufacture, the "multitude of handiworks," which they were so skillful in producing. They traded in animals also, horses, mules, lambs, rams and goats, and, what is less to their credit, in the persons of men (Ezekiel 27:13). The range of their trade was much wider than is indicated by Ezekiel. We know they reached the Scilly Isles in Britain, and probably the Baltic, whither they went for amber, though this might have been brought overland to the Adriatic and received into their ships there. They passed along the western coast of Africa as far as Cape Non, and perhaps farther, for Herodotus tells us that Pharaohnecoh dispatched a crew of Phoenician sailors to circumnavigate Africa, which they accomplished in 3 years.
We know that they had a fleet in the Red Sea sailing from Elath or Ezion-geber (1 Kings 9:26, 27), and it is quite possible that they were allowed by some of the kings of Egypt to avail themselves of ports on the other branch of the Red Sea. They must have visited the eastern shore of Africa and perhaps struck across the Indian Ocean, after skirting the coast of Arabia, and thus carried on trade with India. The Ophir mentioned in connection with these voyages has not been definitely located, but was perhaps in Southern Arabia, though possibly in Southeast Africa.
The ships in which the Phoenicians made these voyages were small as compared with the great vessels of the present day, but the largest known in their age, as we may infer from the long voyages they made. Their superiority is testified to by classical writers. In the famous expedition of Xerxes to Greece the Phoenician ships excelled all others in speed, and the king chose one of them when he embarked upon the sea (Herodotus vii.100). These ships were impelled both by sails and oars, as we know from illustrations upon the coins.
6. Language and Culture:
The ancients attributed the invention of the alphabet to the Phoenicians. This is now regarded as doubtful, and there are no reliable data for determining what people first analyzed speech to its ultimate elements, but to the Phoenicians belongs the merit of bringing the invention to the knowledge of the western world. It is quite certain that the alphabets of Western Asia and those of Europe were derived from the Phoenician characters. This is what we should have expected from their wide commercial relations. The alphabetic writing was in fact one of their exports and was by far, the most important of them all. The world owes a great debt to this people for this invaluable aid to literature, science and culture.
The Phoenician alphabet comprises 22 letters and is deficient in signs to indicate vowels, which were left to be supplied by the reader. This defect is common to the Semitic alphabets, but was soon remedied when the Greeks adopted the Phoenician. Some of the letters have to serve for two sounds, such as the signs for "s" and "sh", for "p" and "ph", for "t" and "th"; besides, there is a redundant sign for the sound of "s". Also the sounds of "y" and "w" are unrepresented. The origin of the letters is probably to be found in the hieroglyphic signs for words and syllables used by the Egyptians and others, since the similarity of some of them to these signs is evident, but in some cases it is more likely that the Phoenicians adopted hieroglyphics of their own. Thus the first letter, 'aleph, which means "ox," was evidently derived from the picture of an ox's head and then reduced to a conventional form.
The Phoenician alphabet and language were common to the Canaanitish tribes and the Hebrews, as we know from the many inscriptions found in Western Asia. The Moabite Stone testifies to their use East of the Jordan, and the Siloam Inscription likewise for Israel, and the same characters have been found in North Syria. This would be natural, for people of these regions had become largely Semitic by the 9th century B.C., when we suppose that the Phoenician alphabet was in general use.
It is strange that the Phoenicians, who had an alphabet so early, and made it so widely known to the world, made so little use of it for literature. The remains of their language are very scanty, mostly inscriptions, and these generally very brief. The longest ones in Phoenician proper are those from Sidon, the most famous of which is that of Esmunazer, king of Sidon, comprising 298 words. Some few others, pertaining to the same dynasty, have been discovered in tombs and on the walls of the temple of Asmun, and show the Phoenician character and style in its best form. Only two works of any length are known to us by translation or references in Greek authors. The first is the Phoenician History of Sanchoniathon, of Beirut, which Philo of Byblus claims to have translated from the Phoenician original. This, however, is doubted, and both the author and the history are suspected to be mythical. The other work is genuine; the short account of the voyage of a Carthaginian king beyond the Pillars of Hercules, called the Periplus of Hanno, is not without merit as a narrative, and indicates that the Carthaginian branch of the Phoenician race, at least, may have had a literature of some value, but it is unfortunately lost. We cannot suppose, however, that it was very extensive or very important, as more of it would then have been preserved. The conclusion is natural that the Phoenicians were so absorbed in commercial enterprise and the pursuit of wealth that they neglected the nobler uses of the invaluable instrument of culture they had found in alphabetic writing.
A very prominent role was assigned to religion in the life of the Phoenicians. As a Semitic people, such a characteristic was but natural and they seem to have possessed it in large measure. Their religious ideas are important on account of the influence they had on the Hebrews, which is so apparent in the Old Testament. The worship of the Canaanitish Baal and Ashtoreth, or Astarte, led the Israelites astray and produced most disastrous results.
There can be little doubt that the chief deities of the Phoenicians, as well as the forms of their cult, were derived from Babylonia, brought with them probably when they migrated to the West, but afterward modified by contact with Egypt and Greece. Some regard the earliest conception of the deity among the Semites to have been monotheism, and we find traces of this in the attributes ascribed by the Phoenicians to their chief god. He is Baal, "lord" or "master"; Baal-samin, "lord of heaven"; Eliun, "supreme," etc. These terms imply either one God or one who is supreme among the gods and their ruler. But this belief was changed before the Phoenicians came into contact with the Hebrews, and polytheism took its place, though their gods were less numerous than among most polytheistic races. One of the most corrupting tendencies we notice was the ascription of sexual characteristics to the chief deities of their pantheon, such as Baal and Ashtoreth, which led to licentious rites of the most abominable character.
Baal ba`al; the Phoenician Baal was the chief deity and was universally worshipped, being usually designated by the locality in each place: Baal of Tyre or Baal-Tsur, Baal-Sidon, Baal-Tars (Tarsus), Baal-bek, etc. He was regarded as the god of the generative principle in Nature, and his statues were sometimes flanked by bulls. He was identified with Zeus, and he appears on the coins under the Greek type of Zeus, seated on a throne, holding an eagle in the outstretched right hand and a scepter in the left. Sometimes his head is encircled with rays showing him to be the sun-god.
Ashtoreth (Phoenician `ashtoreth) was the great Nature-goddess, the Magna Mater, queen of heaven (Jeremiah 7:18), and as Baal was the solar deity, so she was often represented under the lunar aspect, Ashteroth-karnaim, "Ashteroth of the two horns" (Genesis 14:5). Sometimes she is represented holding the dove, the symbol of fecundity, of which she was the goddess. She was commonly identified with Aphrodite or Venus. She, like Baal, had temples everywhere, and kings were sometimes her high priests, and her worship was too often accompanied with orgies of the most corrupt kind, as at Apheca.
Among the other gods we may mention: El, or Il ('el originally the designation of the supreme God, but afterward a subordinate deity who became the special divinity of Byblus (Gebal), and was regarded by the Greeks as the same as Kronos. Melqarth (melqarth, "king of the city") originally was the same as Baal, representing one aspect of that god, but later a separate deity, the patron god of Tyre whose head appears on many of its coins, as well as his symbol, the club, since he was identified with Hercules. Herodotus describes his temple at Tyre to which he attributes great antiquity, 2,300 years before his time. Dagon (daghon) seems to have been the tutelary deity of Aradus, his head appearing on the early autonomous coins of that city. He seems to have been regarded as the god of agriculture by the Phoenicians, rather than of fishing as generally supposed. Adonis ('adhon, "lord") was regarded as the son of Cinyras, a mythic king of Gebal and the husband of Ashtoreth. The myth of his death by the wild boar led to the peculiar rites celebrating it, instituted by the women of Gebal at Apheca and on the river named after him (see TAMMUZ). Esmun ('esmun) one of the sons of Siddik, the father of the Cabiri, was especially honored at Sidon and Beirut. At Sidon a great temple was built in his honor, the ruins of which have been recently explored and various inscriptions found dedicating it to him. His name signifies "the eighth," i.e. the eighth son of Siddik, the others being the Cabiri, or Great Ones, who were regarded as presiding over ships and navigation, and as such were worshipped in many places, although their special seat was Beirut. Although they were called "Great" they are represented as dwarfs, and an image of one of them was placed on the prow, or stern, of each Phoenician war galley. The goddess Tanith (tanith) occupied a lofty place in the pantheon, since in inscriptions she takes the precedence over Baal when the two names occur together. She was especially honored at Carthage and to her most exalted names are given, such as "the parent of all"; "the highest of the gods"; "the mistress of the elements," etc. Besides some other gods of less note originally worshipped by the Phoenicians, they introduced some foreign deities into their pantheon.
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