There is much interest to know more about great ancient powers and their contribution to how we see the world today. One of them is the Phoenicians, a people who go down in story as magnificent shipbuilding, sea navigating, and producing one of the greatest warriors of all time.
Here, we are going to explore more about the Phoenicians, ensuring that we talk about other notable contributions they have made in the word. Once you’re done, you’ll have a soaring admiration for the Phoenicians and understand why they peeked a lot of historian’s interest.
Phoenicians definition and meaning
Phoenician was a group of people based in the Ancient Greek empire by the Mediterranean Sea. They were said to have originated from the Levant, which is the geographical area that now covers modern-day Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Israel, and also southeastern Turkey. Phoenician itself, as per historians, includes the coastal territories of Syria and north Palestine but also included parts of now Israel.
Primarily, the Phoenicians resided by the coastal part of these areas. There are, however, historians who believe that the Phoenicians initially originated from The Kingdom of Bahrain, which is a sovereign state in the Persian Gulf. Overall, there are appears to be little physical evidence of the same, apart from some literature that mentioned the Phoenicians and the supposed origins.
Between 1500BC and 300BC, the civilization spread as far as North Africa and included the Carthage, and went as far as the Atlantic Ocean to parts of Spain. The name Phoenicia is the Greek word for cloth dyed Tyrian purple using predatory sea snails. Phoenicia initially referred to major Canaanite ports, which corresponds to the southern part of the Levant territory. The civilization was organized in city-states, with some of the most famous cities being Carthage, Sidon, Tyre, and Berytus.
What’s interesting about Phoenicia is that there is no archeological evidence that the Phoenicians considered themselves as one people. Eachcity-state was politically independent. There was not much that differentiated the people of Phoenicia from the more massive Levant colony.
The Phoenician alphabet is of great importance in our writing today. It started from the area, giving rise to the writing of the Phoenician itself. Merchants across the Mediterranean spread the language, and from there, many other cultures picked it up and assimilated it. It is the Phoenician alphabet that started the Greek alphabet, and which then inspired the Latin alphabet. We can, therefore, thank the Phoenician for inspiring the alphabet that languages across the world have adopted.
This Phoenician-Canaanite alphabet itself consists of 22 letters, which are all consonants. It is thought that the spread of the same began in 1050BC and spread to other territories, including to Europe and finally to the Greeks. It is said that Phoenicians were the first to make full use of the alphabet, which was then spoken by Phoenicians, Amorites, Israelites, Moabites, Ammonites, and Edomites.
Phoenician ships: Why did the Phoenicians first built ships?
The need for the Phoenicians to build ships had mostly to do with trade. They wanted to quire things like cold, silver, tin, and other goods from far and wide. There is also not forgetting the Tyre cloths that the region was known for. Their expansion reached as far as the Atlantic Ocean in Spain, having perhaps started purely from trading. The Phoenicians established quite a reputation among the mariners’ civilizations at the time, and they have also been credited for a lot of nautical inventions.
The fame of the Phoenicians ships was so much so that in the neighboring territories, they represented Phoenicians using vessels. Other ancient writers also praised the Phoenicians for their seamanship as it was nothing unlike anyone at the time had seen before. It would only be fair to say that during that era, they were the masters of the sea.
The other reason that the Phoenicians had to build ships was that they needed new territories to occupy. A thin coastal strip characterized their general homeland in the coast of Levant and right next to it were mountains. As they expanded, there wasn’t enough space to accommodate all persons in this somewhat strip of land. Even so, moving between city-states along the coast was more accessible by sea because some areas were blocked with rocky peninsulas.
Building ships was easy for them as there was an endless supply of what they needed from the mountains behind them. It, therefore, made sense whey they were able to advance as fast as they did in building ships and becoming such great navigators. It was through that the Phoenicians were able to expand the trade route from the Pillars of Hercules to ancient Britain in the Atlantic Ocean.
When it comes to all things ships, the Phoenicians are credited for having come up with the keel, the caulking between planks as well as the battering ram on the bow. There where different types of ships. One example is the warships were propelled by a single sail and also two banks of oars. Additionally, they had a ram that was low on the bow. Those for transport and trade purposes were somewhat similar but had bigger hulls for the goods, and they were more substantial. It was believed to have higher sides so that they could stack goods on the deck.
A fleet of merchant ships would be about 50, and because of what they were carrying and avoiding pirates, they had warships accompanying them. That made it easy and safe for them to move from place to place, knowing that they have security in case anything was to happen. The third time was much smaller than the other two and meant for fishing and also shorter trips. It would perhaps be what they used to move from one coastal town to another.
What is interesting about the Phoenician mariners was that they did not use a compass for navigation purposes. What they did instead was they relied on the stars, natural features by the coastlines they were passing through, and also dead reckoning, which was estimating the direction and distance one has traveled to know one’s position instead of relying on natural features.
The most important feature that they relied on to navigate the seas was the Pole Star on the Ursa Minor constellation. The Greeks were always quick to compliment the Phoenician marine skills and called this constellation the “Phoenician.” It was thought that there was a map of the coastal stretches, but the mariners used landmarks, winds, the sun, stars, and also drew from experience. For example, they would remember the tide and currents in a particular spot, and they could tell they were going in the right direction.
Historians think that the Phoenicians only traveled during the day. For that reason, they had to dock during the night, given that they needed to see the landmarks during the day. For that reason, it was thought that they would set sail and stop at Phoenician territories for familiarity and protection purposes. Even so, they did not sail too close to the land because a shallow area would cause the ship to get stuck. Instead, they would use the Mediterranean mountains in the distance to know that they were on the right track.
When did the Phoenician era end?
The decline of the Phoenicia came to an end in 539BC when Cyprus the Great, the Persian King at the time, conquered them. From then they were ruled under an iron rod where they also had to pay tribute. They were also tasked with building and sailing ships, having been considered the best people at it. Any rebellion that came up was squashed to the point that the Phoenicia territory was no more. From they were ruled over by Macedonia and finally Egypt as each people conquered the previous.
The total era of the Phoenicia territory and what had remained ended in 146BCE when the Romans destroyed Carthage, the last remaining stronghold of the Phoenicia cities. Even then, it took three wars for the city to be overthrown. The damage to the city was severe. It was burned to the ground, and those who survived the wars, about 50,000 people, were taken off as slaves.
Even then, their cultured lingered for a while before becoming integrated with their conquerors. The problems started for the Phoenicians when they started competing with the Greeks for trade colonies. In was this rivalry that saw the first warship get built. As time went, they ended up making ships for their new masters; the Persian fleet was made primarily by the Phoenicians.
The Phoenicians many have survived for a longer time if they were joined people instead of merely being city-states. That made it easier for other territories to come and conquer them one by one until the last one fell. However, the respect for all things ships and the Phoenician alphabet remain as it was their notable contribution in that era and even now.
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