History of Phoenicians





“The Just man shall flourish, like the Cedar of Lebanon shall he grow; planted in the house of the LORD, they will flourish in the courts of our God” (Ps 92:12). The Phoenician galley was built from precious Cedar wood. The rower’s are God’s people rowing towards the Third Millennium. God created us, as He planted the Cedars of Lebanon, (Ps 104:16), to grow and flourish in His love, So that from a tiny seed, we might reach our full potential. Our Blessed Mother Mary nurtures us, just as she did her own Son, and guides us towards God’s plan for us.

Between the period of 1200 B.C. and 900 B.C. there was no major military power in Mesopotamia. Therefor smaller states like Phoenicia and the Hebrew kingdom were able to prosper. These kingdoms especially the Phoenicians started to trade throughout the Mediterranean region.


History tells us that the Canaanites, a tribe of Semitic origin, were first to inhabit the Lebanese shores. Indeed their culture is said to form the basis of the Aramaean culture of both Syria and of Israelite Palestine. The Canaanites who traded with the Greeks became known by them as Phoenicians.
Lebanon started to be called such by name sometime in the third Millennium before Christ, when reference is made to the Pharoahs of Egypt importing cedar wood from the mountains of Lebanon.
The term Phoenicia, from the Greek Phoenix, means purple-red, and refers to the purple industry (the dye extracted from the mollusc shell-fish and used to colour cloth) of the early Lebanese.


The word Lebanon itself, is an ancient Semitic term meaning “White”, and the country was so called as the Lebanese mountain summits remain snow-decked for most of the year. Seeking trading partners, the Phoenicians sailed further away from the shores of Lebanon, confident in their legendary vessels crafted in solid cedar wood.
By the end of the second century BC, they had colonised most of the Mediteranean shore, establishing trading depots and spreading the Semitic culture. The greatest of these colonies is said to have been Carthage. From the Mediteranean, the Phoenicians moved westward, eventually discovering the Atlantic Ocean.
They rounded Africa, landed in England and Ireland and built many cities in Western Europe and on the Atlantic coast of Africa. But while the Phoenicians became legendary traders – their wares included works of art, textiles, delicate glassware, precious stones and perfume – their intellectual contribution to society guaranteed their place in history.
They gave the world the twenty-two “magic signs” called the alphabet, the first developed system of modern writing and numerical figures. They also taught mankind the art of stone building and glass manufacturing.

Phoenicia (foh-NEE-shee-ah)


Phoenicia is the Greek name for the country and people living on the coast of Syria, in ancient times at the east end of the Mediterranean Sea. It is believed that economic opportunity and population pressures forced them out into the seas. The Phoenicians colonized many areas along the Mediterranean Sea. Areas where their colonies have been found: Sardinia, Cyprus, and Carthage – the most important and lasting colony. By far they were superior to all peoples of that time in seamanship. Legend has it that an Egyptian pharoah hired a band of Phoenicians to map and circumnavigate the coast of Africa. They are best remembered for their contributions in the establishment to trade with the many peoples living along the Mediterranean Sea. The Greeks received their alphabet from them as late as the 10th century B.C. or as early as the 15th. Other antiquities famed to the Phoenicians include carved ivories to be used in furniture, metalwork, and especially glassware.


The Fertile Crescent is roughly an arc-shaped area which stretches from the mouth of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers at the Persian Gulf, west to the Red Sea. About 5,000 years ago it was inhabited by a race know as Semites. The Semites who lived in the eastern portion of the Fertile Crescent were Sumerians, Assyrians, and Babylonians. In the western portion lived the Amorites. Those Amorites who settled in what are today Lebanon, Syria, and Israel were know as Canaanites. Later, the Greek called them Phoenicians.


There is no doubt the the Phoenicians were among the most interesting people in history. Because they left so few written records of their own achievements, their history has been pieced together from records of all the other nations with which they came in contact, either through trade or through battle. Other information has been gathered from the work of archaeologists whose digging have unearthed tombs of their rulers or what little is left of their cities.


Archaeologists have uncovered homes of farmers and fishermen in Gebeil dating back to 7000 B.C. They found one-room huts with crushed limestone floors and stone idol of god El. Because of these discoveries, it is thought that Gebeil (later known as Byblos) may actually be the oldest city in the world.


As far as back as 3200 B.C., the people of Gebeil (Byblos) were cutting down cedar trees in the mountains of Lebanon, to be shipped to Egypt and Mesopotamia for use in building ships and making columns for houses. In return, the Phoenicians brought back gold, copper, and turquoise from the Nile Valley and Sinai. Canaanite ceramic pieces have been found in Egyptian tombs dating back to 2999 B.C. In 1954, archaeologists found Cheops (khufu) at Giza. Cheops lived around 2550 B.C. A barge that was discovered in Cheops tomb was made of Lebanese cedar wood, and faint scent of the cedar was still in the grain at the time of its discovery.


Sumerian cuneiforms (wedge shaped symbols in clay tablets) and Egyptian hieroglyphics (pictographs) were the only known forms of writing before the alphabet as we know it was developed. Both scripts, though separately created, used picture writing. Eventually, pictures or signs represented sounds. Finally, the pictures became so simplified that a whole word was written as a single sign. By about 1200 B.C., the Phoenicians had developed symbols which in time became a real alphabet. The Phoenician alphabet consisted of twenty-two symbols, all consonants. Each one represented its own sound. The Egyptian symbol for the oxhead was given the Semitic name aleph, and was sounded as “a.” The symbol for house became beth, and was sounded as “b.” It is easily see how the Phoenician alphabet was used to form the other alphabets which followed it. Aleph became the Greek alpha, beth became beta. In time, these letters became the Roman letters A and B and eventually the English A and B, and so on for the entire alphabet. Once a written language was established, it was inscribed on Egyptian papyrus, a type pf paper made of reeds. So, closely linked was papyrus with the city of Byblos, (which traded cedar for the paper) that when the writing of the Hebrew prophets were translated into Greek, the city’s name was given to the great book – the Bible. Because the papyrus rotted away in the damp sea air and soil, there are practically no Phoenician writings left. Thus, the literature of the people who influenced the western world in her writing has largely vanished. Still, because Egyptian scribes copied the Phoenician letters after hieroglyphics were no longer used, and because artists in Ninevah inscribed them in stone, the alphabet remains with us.


For the next three centuries, independent Phoenicia reached its height as a nation whose prime interests were trade, the arts, and religion. Organized into individual city-states, each Phoenician city was under its own form of government. Each had its own god and its own ruler, whose usually remained in power for life. Gebeil (Byblos) was a strong religious city-state. Sidon and Tyre were cities of business, industry, and navigation. The city-states were all linked by their common ancestors, language, and writing. Their mutual interests were their trade arrangements, their customs, and their rituals and beliefs. Nevertheless, even though they were only a one or two day march from each other, they never were able to unite as a single power when they were attacked.


Tyre was the major region for thepurple dye industry, which probably began as early as the 18th century B.C. The dye was carefully extracted, a few drops at a time from the murex, a shell-fish found in the waters off of Tyre and Sidon. The process used to extract the fluid was so difficult and so expensive that only the rich could afford to buy the dyed fabric. It is because of this Phoenician fabric that we still use the expression “born in the purple” to mean one who is born rich.


The Mediterranean Sea allowed the Phoenicians to wander, to explore, and to discover. It was their link to a world that awaited their skill and their art. These fine merchants brought their dye, fabric, ceramics, glass, metals, wine, crops, and oil from port to port. They became the world’s finest maritime nation. The Phoenicians were not only adventurous merchants but expert sailors and navigators as well. They colonized parts of Cyprus, Rhodes, and the Aegean Islands. Phoenician sailors journeyed east to the Black Sea and west to places such as Corinth, Thebes, Sardinia, Palermo, Marseille, Corsica, and Malta. They were known to have gone as far as Gibraltar and Cadiz in Spain. By about 1000 B.C., they had finally reached the Atlantic Ocean. The Greeks were influenced in their navigation by the Phoenicians, who taught them to sail by the North star. The Greeks have designs on their ships similar to those from Phoenician models.


The development of the alphabet from the tenth century B.C. onwards.