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1200 BC–539 BC Achaemenid Empire.jpg
Location of Phoenicia
Map of Phoenicia
Capital Byblos
(1200 BC – 1000 BC)

(1000 BC - 333BC)
Language(s) Phoenician, Greek, Punic
Religion Phoenician polytheism
Government Kingship (City-states)
 - ca. 1000 BC Ahiram
 - 969 BC - 936 BC Hiram I
 - 820 BC - 774 BC Pygmalion of Tyre
Historical era Classical antiquity
 - Byblos becomes the predominant Phoenician center 1200 BC
 - Tyre, under the reign of Hiram I, becomes the dominant city-state 969 BC
 - Pygmalion founds Carthage 814 BC
 - Cyrus the Great conquers Phoenicia 539 BC
 - 1200 BC[1] est. 200,000 

Phoenicia (Phoenician: 𐤊‏𐤍‏𐤏‏𐤍‏, Canaan or Kana'an, nonstandardly, Phenicia; pronounced /fɨˈnɪʃiə/[2], Greek: Φοινίκη: Phoiníkē, Latin: Phœnicia) was an ancient civilization centered in the north of ancient Canaan, with its heartland along the coastal regions of modern day Lebanon, extending to parts of Israel, Syria and the Palestine. Phoenician civilization was an enterprising maritime trading culture that spread across the Mediterranean during the period 1550 BCE to 300 BCE. Though ancient boundaries of such city-centered cultures fluctuated, the city of Tyre seems to have been the southernmost. Sarepta (modern day Sarafand) between Sidon and Tyre, is the most thoroughly excavated city of the Phoenician homeland. The Phoenicians often traded by means of a galley, a man-powered sailing vessel and are credited with the invention of the bireme.[3]

It is uncertain to what extent the Phoenicians viewed themselves as a single ethnicity. Their civilization was organized in city-states, similar to ancient Greece. Each city-state was an independent unit politically, although they could come into conflict, be dominated by another city-state, or collaborate in leagues or alliances. Tyre and Sidon were the most powerful of the Phoenician states in the Levant, but were not as powerful as Tyre's colony Carthage.

The Phoenicians were also the first state-level society to make extensive use of the alphabet, and the Canaanite-Phoenician alphabet is generally believed to be the ancestor of almost all modern alphabets. Phoenicians spoke the Phoenician language, which belongs to the group of Canaanite languages in the Semitic language family. Through their maritime trade, the Phoenicians spread the use of the alphabet to North Africa and Europe where it was adopted by the Greeks, who later passed it on to the Romans and Etruscans.[4] In addition to their many inscriptions, there were a considerable number of other types of written sources left by the Phoenicians, which have not survived. Evangelical Preparation by Eusebius of Caesarea quotes extensively from Philo of Byblos and Sanchuniathon.



Origins: 2300-1200 BC

History of Lebanon


Ancient History
Ancient history of Lebanon
Foreign Rule
Assyrian Rule
Babylonian Rule
Persian Rule
Macedonian Rule
Roman Rule
Byzantine Rule
Arab Era
Ottoman Rule
French Rule
Modern Lebanon
Timeline of Lebanese history

Archaeologists argue that the Phoenicians are simply the descendants of coastal-dwelling Canaanites, who over the centuries developed a particular seagoing culture and skills. Other suggestions are that Phoenician culture must have been inspired from external sources (Egypt, North Africa etc.), that the Phoenicians were sea-traders from the Land of Punt who co-opted the Canaanite population; or that they were connected with the Minoans, or the Sea Peoples or the Philistines further south; or even that they represent the maritime activities of the coastal Israelite tribes like Dan, who from the Song of Deborah in Judges, are listed as being "amongst their ships".

Phoenician sarcophagus found in Cadiz, Spain; now in Archaeological Museum of Cádiz. The sarcophagus is thought to have been designed and paid for by a Phoenician merchant, and made in Greece with Egyptian influence.

Some scholars, including Sabatino Moscati, believe that the Phoenicians' ethnogenesis included prior non-Semitic people of the area and a mixture between two populations. Both Sumerian and Akkadian armies had reached the Mediterranean, but very little is known of Phoenicia before it was conquered by Thutmoses III of Egypt around 1500 BC. The Amarna correspondence (ca. 1411-1358 BC) reveals that Amorites and Hittites were defeating the Phoenician cities that had been vassals to Egypt, especially Rib-Addi of Byblos and Abi-Milku/Abimelech of Tyre, but between 1350 and 1300 BC Phoenicia was reconquered by Egypt. Over the next century Ugarit flourished, but was permanently destroyed at the end of it (ca. 1200 BC).

In terms of archaeology, language, and religion, there is little to set the Phoenicians apart as markedly different from other cultures of Canaan. They were Canaanites. They are unique in their remarkable seafaring achievements. In the Amarna tablets of the 14th century BC they call themselves Kenaani orKinaani (Canaanites). Note, however, that the Amarna letters predate the invasion of the Sea Peoples by over a century. Much later in the 6th century BC, Hecataeus of Miletus writes that Phoenicia was formerly called χνα, a name Philo of Byblos later adopted into his mythology as his eponym for the Phoenicians: "Khna who was afterwards called Phoinix". Egyptian seafaring expeditions had already been made to Byblos to bring back "cedars of Lebanon" as early as the third millennium BC.

Stories of their emigrating from various places to the eastern Mediterranean are probably founded in 'oral fact', but researchers are pursuing DNA tests to verify these legends. Herodotus's account (written c. 440 BC) refers to the Io and Europa myths. (History, I:1).

According to the Persians best informed in history, the Phoenicians began the quarrel. These people, who had formerly dwelt on the shores of the Erythraean Sea, having migrated to the Mediterranean and settled in the parts which they now inhabit, began at once, they say, to adventure on long voyages, freighting their vessels with the wares of Egypt and Assyria...

An example of a 19th century view is that of John Denison Baldwin who thought that the ancient Phoenicians were of Cushite or Hamite origin. Speaking of their stupendous architectural remains, he wrote:- The Cushite origin of these cities is so plain that those most influenced by the strange monomania which transforms the Phoenicians into Semites now admit that the Cushites were the civilizers of Phoenicia. “Prehistoric Nations” pg 145.

TV journalist Gerhard Herm asserts that, because the Phoenicians' legendary sailing abilities are not well attested before the invasions of the Sea Peoples around 1200 BC, that these Sea Peoples would have merged with the local population to produce the Phoenicians, whom he says gained these abilities rather suddenly at that time. There is also archaeological evidence that the Philistines, often thought of as related to the Sea Peoples, were culturally linked to Mycenaean Greeks, who were also known to be great sailors even in this period.

The question of the Phoenicians' origin persists. Archaeologists have pursued the origin of the Phoenicians for generations, basing their analyses on excavated sites, the remains of material culture, contemporary texts set into contemporary contexts, as well as linguistics. In some cases, the debate is characterized by modern cultural agendas. Ultimately, the origins of the Phoenicians are still unclear: where they came from and just when (or if) they arrived, and under what circumstances, are all still energetically disputed.

Spencer Wells of the Genographic Project has conducted genetic studies which demonstrate that male populations of Lebanon, Malta, Spain and other areas which are past Phoenician settlements, share a common m89 chromosome Y type,[5] while male populations which are related with the Minoans or with the Sea Peoples have completely different genetic markers. This implies that Minoans and Sea Peoples probably didn't have any ancestral relation with the Phoenicians.[2][3]

In 2004, two Harvard University educated geneticists and leading scientists of the National Geographic Genographic Project, Dr. Pierre Zalloua and Dr. Spencer Wells identified the haplogroup of the Phoenicians as haplogroup J2, with avenues open for future research. As Dr. Wells commented, "The Phoenicians were the Canaanites—and the ancestors of today's Lebanese."[6] The male populations of Tunisia and Malta were also included in this study and shown to share overwhelming genetic similarities with the Lebanese-Phoenicians. In 2008, scientists from the Genographic Project announce that "as many as 1 in 17 men living today on the coasts of North Africa and southern Europe may have a Phoenician direct male-line ancestor." [4] See Genetics of the Ancient World.

High point: 1200–800 BC

An ancient Phoenician coin.

Fernand Braudel remarked in The Perspective of the World that Phoenicia was an early example of a "world-economy" surrounded by empires. The high point of Phoenician culture and seapower is usually placed ca. 1200–800 BC.

Many of the most important Phoenician settlements had been established long before this: Byblos, Tyre, Sidon, Simyra, Arwad, and Berytus all appear in the Amarna tablets; and indeed, the first appearance in archaeology of cultural elements clearly identifiable with the Phoenician zenith is sometimes dated as early as the third millennium BC.

This league of independent city-state ports, with others on the islands and along other coasts of the Mediterranean Sea, was ideally suited for trade between the Levant area, rich in natural resources, and the rest of the ancient world. Suddenly, during the early Iron Age, in around 1200 BC an unknown event occurred, historically associated with the appearance of the Sea Peoples from the north who were perhaps driven south by crop failures and mass starvation following the Thera eruption. The powers that had previously dominated the area, notably the Egyptians and the Hittites, became weakened or destroyed; and in the resulting power vacuum a number of Phoenician cities established themselves as significant maritime powers.

Authority seems to have stabilized because it derived from three power-bases: the king; the temple and its priests; and councils of elders. Byblos soon became the predominant center from where they proceeded to dominate the Mediterranean and Erythraean (Red) Sea routes, and it is here that the first inscription in the Phoenician alphabet was found, on the sarcophagus of Ahiram (ca. 1200 BC). However, by around 1000 BC Tyre and Sidon had taken its place, and a long hegemony was enjoyed by Tyre beginning with Hiram I (969-936 BC), who subdued a rebellion in the colony of Utica. The priest Ittobaal (887-856 BC) ruled Phoenicia as far north as Beirut, and part of Cyprus. Carthage was founded in 814 BC under Pygmalion (820-774 BC). The collection of city-kingdoms constituting Phoenicia came to be characterized by outsiders and the Phoenicians themselves as Sidonia or Tyria, and Phoenicians and Canaanites alike came to be called Zidonians or Tyrians, as one Phoenician conquest came to prominence after another.

Decline: 539-65 BC

The Siege of Tyre by Andre Castaigne

Cyrus the Great conquered Phoenicia in 539 BC. Phoenicia was divided into four vassal kingdoms by the Persians: Sidon, Tyre, Arwad, and Byblos, and prospered, furnishing fleets for the Persian kings. However, Phoenician influence declined after this. It is also reasonable to suppose that much of the Phoenician population migrated to Carthage and other colonies following the Persian conquest. In 350 or 345 BC a rebellion in Sidon led by Tennes was crushed by Artaxerxes III, and its destruction was described, perhaps too dramatically, by Diodorus Siculus.

Alexander the Great took Tyre in 332 BC following the Siege of Tyre. Alexander was exceptionally harsh to Tyre, executing 2000 of the leading citizens, but he maintained the king in power. He gained control of the other cities peacefully: the ruler of Aradus submitted; the king of Sidon was overthrown. The rise of Hellenistic Greece gradually ousted the remnants of Phoenicia's former dominance over the Eastern Mediterranean trade routes, and Phoenician culture disappeared entirely in the motherland. However, its North African offspring, Carthage, continued to flourish, mining iron and precious metals from Iberia, and using its considerable naval power and mercenary armies to protect its commercial interests, until it was finally destroyed by Rome in 146 BC at the end of the Punic Wars.

As for the Phoenician homeland, following Alexander it was controlled by a succession of Hellenistic rulers: Laomedon (323 BC), Ptolemy I (320), Antigonus II (315), Demetrius (301), and Seleucus (296). Between 286 and 197 BC, Phoenicia (except for Aradus) fell to the Ptolemies of Egypt, who installed the high priests of Astarte as vassal rulers in Sidon (Eshmunazar I, Tabnit, Eshmunazar II). In 197 BC, Phoenicia along with Syria reverted to the Seleucids, and the region became increasingly Hellenized, although Tyre actually became autonomous in 126 BC, followed by Sidon in 111. Syria, including Phoenicia, were seized by king Tigranes the Great from 82 until 69 BC when he was defeated by Lucullus, and in 65 BC Pompey finally incorporated it as part of the Roman province of Syria. Genetic studies showed them to be closely related to the Maltese people today.[7]


Map of Phoenicia and trade routes

The Phoenicians were amongst the greatest traders of their time and owed a great deal of their prosperity to trade. The Phoenicians' initial trading partners were the Greeks, with whom they used to trade wood, slaves, glass and powdered Tyrian Purple, used by the Greek elite to color clothes and other garments and was not available anywhere else. Without trade with the Greeks they would not be known as Phoenicians, as the word for Phoenician is derived from the Ancient Greek word phoinikèia meaning "purple".

In the centuries following 1200 BC, the Phoenicians formed the major naval and trading power of the region. Phoenician trade was founded on Tyrian Purple, a violet-purple dye derived from the Murex sea-snail's shell, once profusely available in coastal waters of the eastern Mediterranean Sea but exploited to local extinction. James B. Pritchard's excavations at Sarepta in present day Lebanon revealed crushed Murex shells and pottery containers stained with the dye that was being produced at the site. The Phoenicians established a second production center for the purple dye in Mogador, in present day Morocco. Brilliant textiles were a part of Phoenician wealth, and Phoenician glass was another export ware. It is also widely accepted[who?] that the Phoenicians were very important in the establishment of many ancient dog breeds through the Mediterranean basin. They traded unrefined, prick-eared hunting dogs of Asian or African origin which locally they had developed into many breeds such as the Basenji, Ibizan Hound, Pharaoh Hound, Cirneco dell'Etna, Cretan Hound, Canary Islands Hound and Portuguese Podengo. To Egypt, where the grapevine would not grow, the 8th-century Phoenicians sent wine: the wine trade with Egypt is vividly documented by the shipwrecks located in 1997 in the open sea thirty miles west of Ascalon;[8] pottery kilns at Tyre and Sarepta produced the big terracotta jars used for transporting wine. Egypt in turn was the outlet for Nubian gold.

From elsewhere they obtained other materials, perhaps the most important being silver from Iberian Peninsula and tin from Great Britain, the latter of which when smelted with copper (from Cyprus) created the durable metal alloy bronze. Strabo states that there was a highly lucrative Phoenician trade with Britain for tin.

The Phoenicians established commercial outposts throughout the Mediterranean, the most strategically important being Carthage in North Africa, directly across the narrow straits. However, ancient Gaelic mythologies of origin attribute a Phoenician/Scythian influx to Ireland by a leader called Fenius Farsa. Others also sailed south along the coast of Africa. A Carthaginian expedition led by Hanno the Navigator explored and colonized the Atlantic coast of Africa as far as the Gulf of Guinea; and according to Herodotus, a Phoenician expedition sent down the Red Sea by pharaoh Necho II of Egypt (c. 600 BC) even circumnavigated Africa and returned through the Pillars of Hercules in three years.

Important cities and colonies

Map of Phoenician and Greek colonies at about 550 BC (with German legend).

From the 10th century BC, their expansive culture established cities and colonies throughout the Mediterranean. Canaanite deities like Baal and Astarte were being worshipped from Cyprus to Sardinia, Malta, Sicily, Spain, Portugal, and most notably at Carthage in modern Tunisia.

In the Phoenician homeland:

  • Arka
  • Arwad (Classical Aradus)
  • Berut (Greek Βηρυτός; Latin Berytus;
    Arabic بيروت; English Beirut)
  • Botrys (modern Batroun)
  • Gebal (Greek Byblos)
  • Porphyreon
  • Safita
  • Sarepta (modern Sarafand)
  • Sidon
  • Tripoli
  • Tyre
  • Ugarit
  • Zemar (Sumur)

Phoenician colonies, including some of lesser importance (this list might be incomplete):

  • Located in modern Algeria
    • Cirta (modern Constantine)
    • Malaca (modern Guelma)
    • Igigili (modern Jijel)
    • Hippo (modern Annaba)
    • Ikosium (modern Algiers)
    • Iol (modern Cherchell)
  • Located in modern Cyprus
    • Kition (modern Larnaca)
    • Dhali (modern Dali, Cyprus)
    • Marion (modern Polis, Cyprus)
  • Located in modern Italy
    • Mainland
      • Genoa
      • Venice
    • Sardinia
      • Karalis (modern Cagliari)
      • Nora
      • Olbia
      • Sulci[9]
      • Tharros
    • Sicily
      • Ziz, Classical Lilybeaum (modern Marsala)
      • Motya
      • Solus (modern Solunto)
  • Located in modern Libya
    • Leptis Magna
    • Oea (modern Tripoli)
    • Sabratha
  • The Mediterranean islands of Malat (modern Malta)
  • Located in modern Mauritania
    • Cerne
  • Located in modern Morocco
    • Acra
    • Arambys[15]
    • Caricus Murus
    • Gytta
    • Lixus (modern Larache)
    • Rusadir (modern Melilla)
    • Tingis (modern Tangier)
  • Located in modern Spain
    • Abdera (modern Adra)
    • Abyla (modern Ceuta)
    • Akra Leuke (modern Alicante)
    • Gadir (modern Cádiz)
    • Ibossim (modern Ibiza)
    • Malaca (modern Málaga)
    • Onoba (modern Huelva)
    • Qart Hadašt (Greek Νέα Καρχηδόνα; Latin Carthago Nova; Spanish Cartagena)
    • Sexi (modern Almuñécar)
  • Located in modern Portugal
    • Olissipona (modern Lisboa)
    • Ossonoba (modern Faro)
  • Located in modern Tunisia
    • Hadrumetum (modern Susat)
    • Hippo Diarrhytos (modern Bizerte)
    • Qart Hadašt (Greek Καρχηδόνα; Latin Carthago; English Carthage)
    • Thapsus (near modern Bekalta)
    • Utica
  • Located in modern Turkey
    • Phoenicus (modern Finike)
  • Other colonies
    • Calpe (modern Gibraltar)
    • Gunugu
    • Thenae
    • Tipassa
    • Sundar
    • Surya
    • Shobina
    • Tara


Language and literature

The Phoenicians are credited with spreading the Phoenician alphabet throughout the Mediterranean world.[16] It was a variant of the Semitic alphabet of the Canaanite area developed centuries earlier in the Sinai region, or in central Egypt. Phoenician traders disseminated this writing system along Aegean trade routes, to coastal Anatolia, the Minoan civilization of Crete, Mycenean Greece, and throughout the Mediterranean.

This alphabet has been termed an abjad or a script that contains no vowels. A cuneiform abjad originated to the north in Ugarit, a Canaanite city of northern Syria, in the 14th century BC. Their language, Phoenician, is classified as in the Canaanite subgroup of Northwest Semitic. Its later descendant in North Africa is termed Punic.

Sarcophagus of a Phoenician woman (c. 400 BC.) found in the necropolis of Magharat Tabloun in Sidon (The Louvre)

The earliest known inscriptions in Phoenician come from Byblos and date back to ca. 1000 BC. Phoenician inscriptions are found in Lebanon, Syria, Israel, Cyprus and other locations, as late as the early centuries of the Christian Era. In Phoenician colonies around the western Mediterranean, beginning in the 9th century BC, Phoenician evolved into Punic. Punic Phoenician was still spoken in the 5th century CE: St. Augustine, for example, grew up in North Africa and was familiar with the language.


Phoenician art had no unique characteristic that could be identified with. This is due to the fact that Phoenicians were influenced by foreign designs and artistic cultures mainly from Egypt, Greece and Assyria. Phoenicians who were taught on the banks of the Nile and the Euphrates gained a wide artistic experience and finally came to create their own art, which was an amalgam of foreign models and perspectives.[17] In an article from The New York Times, published on January 5, 1879, Phoenician art was described by the following:

He entered into other men's labors and made most of his heritage. The Sphinx of Egypt became Asiatic, and its new form was transplanted to Nineveh on the one side and to Greece on the other. The rosettes and other patterns of the Babylonian cylinders were introduced into the handiwork of Phoenicia, and so passed on to the West, while the hero of the ancient Chaldean epic became first the Tyrian Melkarth, and then the Herakles of Hellas.


Attested 2nd Millennium

  • Adonis
  • Amen (Amun)
  • Astarte
  • Baal Saphon
  • Baalat Gebal "Lady of Byblos"
  • Baal Shemen consort of Baalat Gebal
  • El
  • Eshmun
  • Hail
  • Isis
  • Melqart
  • Osiris
  • Shed
  • Venerable Reshef (Reshef of the Arrow)


Attested 1st Millennium

  • Chusor
  • Dagon
  • Eshmun-Melqart
  • Milkashtart
  • Reshef-Shed
  • Shed-Horon
  • Tanit-Astarte

Influence in the Mediterranean region

Cadmus fighting the dragon. Side A of a black-figured amphora from Euboea, ca. 560–550 BC, Louvre

Phoenician culture had a huge effect upon the cultures of the Mediterranean basin in the early Iron Age, and had also been affected in reverse. For example, in Phoenicia, the tripartite division between Baal, Mot and Yam seems to have been influenced by the Greek division between Zeus, Hades and Poseidon. Phoenician temples in various Mediterranean ports sacred to Phoenician Melkart, during the classical period, were recognized as sacred to Hercules. Stories like the Rape of Europa, and the coming of Cadmus also draw upon Phoenician influence.

The recovery of the Mediterranean economy after the late Bronze Age collapse, seems to have been largely due to the work of Phoenician traders and merchant princes, who re-established long distance trade between Egypt and Mesopotamia in the 10th century BC. The Ionian revolution was, at least in legend, led by philosophers such as Thales of Miletus or Pythagoras, both of whom had Phoenician fathers. Phoenician motifs are also present in the Orientalising period of Greek art, and Phoenicians also played a formative role in Etruscan civilisation in Tuscany.

There are many countries and cities around the world that derive their names from the Phoenician Language. Below is a list with the respective meanings:

  • Altiburus: City in Algeria, SW of Carthage. From Phoenician: "Iltabrush"
  • Bosa: City in Sardinia: From Phoenician "Bis'en"
  • Cadiz: City in Spain: From Phoenician "Gadir"
  • Dhali (Idalion): City in Central Cyprus: From Phoenician "Idyal"
  • Erice: City in Sicily: From Phoenician "Eryx"
  • Malta: Island in the Mediterranean: From Phoenician "Malat" ('refuge')
  • Marion: City in West Cyprus: From Phoenician "Aymar"
  • Oed Dekri: City in Algeria: From Phoenician: "Idiqra"
  • Spain: From Phoenician: "I-Shaphan", meaning "Land of Hyraxes". Later Latinized as "Hispania"

In the Bible

Hiram (also spelled Huran) associated with the building of the temple.

2 Chronicles 2:13—The son of a woman of the daughters of Dan, and his father [was] a man of Tyre, skillful to work in gold, silver, brass, iron, stone, timber, royal purple(from the Murex), blue, and in crimson, and fine linens; also to grave any manner of graving, and to find out every device which shall be put to him...

This is the architect of the Temple, Hiram Abiff of Masonic lore. They are vastly famous for their purple dye.

Later, reforming prophets railed against the practice of drawing royal wives from among foreigners: Elijah execrated Jezebel, the princess from Tyre who became a consort of King Ahab and introduced the worship of her gods.

Long after Phoenician culture had flourished, or Phoenicia had existed as any political entity, Hellenized natives of the region where Canaanites still lived were referred to as "Syro-Phoenician", as in the Gospel of Mark 7:26: "The woman was a Greek, a Syrophoenician by birth..."

The word Bible itself ultimately derives through Greek from the word Byblos which means Book, and not from the Hellenised Phoenician city of Byblos (which was called Gebal), before it was named by the Greeks as Byblos. The Greeks called it Byblos because it was through Gebal that bublos (Bύβλος ["Egyptian papyrus"]) was imported into Greece. Present day Byblos is under the current Arabic name of Jbeil (جبيل Ǧubayl) derived from Gebal.


The name Phoenician, through Latin poenicus (later punicus), comes from Greek phoinikes, attested since Homer and influenced by phoînix "Tyrian purple, crimson; murex" (itself from phoinos "blood red")[18]. The word stems from Linear B po-ni-ki-jo, ultimately borrowed from Ancient Egyptian Fenkhu (Fnkhw)[19] "Syrian people". The association of phoinikes with phoînix mirrors an older folk etymology present in Phoenician which tied Kina'ahu "Canaan; Phoenicia" with kinahu "crimson".[20] The land was natively known as Kina'ahu, reported in the 6th century BC by Hecataeus under the Greek-influenced form Khna (χνα), and its people as the Kena'ani.


The Greeks had two names for Phoenician ships: hippoi and galloi. Galloi means tubs and hippoi means horses. These names are readily explained by depictions of Phoenician ships in the palaces of Assyrian kings from the 7th and 8th centuries, as the ships in these images are tub shaped (galloi) and have horse heads on the ends of them (hippoi.) It is possible that these hippoi come from Phoenician connections with the Greek god Poseidon.


The Tel Balawat gates (850 BCE) are found in the palace of Shalmaneser, an Assyrian king, near Nimrud. They are made of bronze, and they portray ships coming to honor Shalmaneser.[21] [22]

The Khorsabad bas-relief (7th Century BCE) shows the transportation of timber (most likely cedar) from Lebanon. It is found in the palace built specifically for Sargon II, another Assyrian king, at Khorsabad, now northern Iraq.[23] [24]

Relationship between the Greeks and Phoenicians


In the Late Bronze Age (around 1200 BCE) there was trade between the Canaanites (early Phoenicians), Egypt, Cyprus, and Greece. In a shipwreck found off of the coast of Turkey, the Ulu Bulurun wreck, Canaanite storage pottery along with pottery from Cyprus and Greece was found. The Phoenicians were famous metalworkers, and by the end of the 8th Century BCE, Greek city-states were sending out envoys to the Levant (the eastern Mediterranean) for metal goods [25]

The height of Phoenician trade was around the 7th and 8th centuries. There is a dispersal of imports (ceramic, stone, and faience) from the Levant that traces a Phoenician commercial channel to the Greek mainland via the central Aegean. [26] Athens shows little evidence of this trade with few eastern imports, but other Greek costal cities are rich with eastern imports that evidence this trade.[27]

Al Mina is a specific example of the trade that took place between the Greeks and the Phoneicians. [28] It has been theorized that by the 8th century BCE, Euboean traders established a commercial enterprise with the Levantine coast and were using Al Mina (in Syria) as a base for this enterprise. There is still some question about the veracity of these claims concerning Al Mina. [29] The Phoenicians even got their name from the Greeks due to their trade. Their most famous trading product was purple dye, the Greek word for which is phoenos [30]


The Phoenician alphabet was given to the Greeks no later than the 8th century BCE (around the time of the hippoi depictions). This most likely did not come from a single instance but from a culmination of commercial and cultural exchange.[31] This means that before the 8th century, there was a relationship between the Greeks and the Phoenicians. It would be very possible in this time for there to have been not only an exchange of alphabet, but also an exchange of religious ideas as well. Herodotus cited the city of Thebes (a city on Euboea) as the place of the importation of the alphabet. The famous Phoenician Kadmos is credited with bringing the alphabet to Greece. Euboea was active in eastern trade early on and is linked with Al Mina.[32]

Connections between Greek and Phoenician religions/mythology


In both Phoenician and Greek mythologies, Kadmos is a Phoenician prince, the son of Agenor, the king of Tyre. Herodotus credits Kadmos for bringing the Phoenician alphabet to Greece[33]. "So these Phoenicians, including the Gephyraians, came with Kadmos and settled this land, and they transmitted much lore to the Hellenes, and in particular, taught them the alphabet which, I believe the Hellenes did not have previously, but which was originally used by all Phoenicians" - The Landmark Herodotus: The Histories, Book 5.58, translated by Andrea L. Purvis

Phoenician gods of the sea

Due to the number of deities similar to the “Lord of the Sea” in classical mythology, there have been many difficulties attributing one specific name to the sea deity or the “Poseidon –Neptune” figure of Phoenician religion. This figure of “Poseidon-Neptune” is mentioned by authors and in various inscriptions as being very important to merchants and sailors [34], but a singular name has yet to be found. There are, however, names for sea gods from individual city-states. Ugarit is an ancient city state of Phoencia. Yamm is the Ugaritic god of the sea. Yamm and Baal, the storm god of Ugaritic myth and often associated with Zeus, have an epic battle for power over the universe. While Yamm is the god of the sea, he truly represents vast chaos [35]. Baal, on the other hand, is a representative for order. In Ugaritic myth, Baal overcomes Yamm’s power. In some versions of this myth, Baal kills Yamm with a mace fashioned for him, and in others, the goddess Athtart saves Yamm and says that since defeated, he should stay in his own province. Yamm is the brother of the god of death, Mot. [36]


The trident bearing sire of swelling Ocean – Ovid, Metamorphoses, pg 256, translated by Rolfe Humphries

Poseidon is the god of the sea, earthquakes, and horses in ancient Greece. Horses, tridents and fish often represent him. He is the brother of Zeus and Hades, and his consort was Amphitrite. [37]

Overlap between the two

In antiquity, the two forces represented by Poseidon, horses and the sea, were chaotic forces that the Greeks had to tame to control and order their world. Yamm was also a chaotic force that had to be tamed. Once Yamm was under Baal’s control, the universe could assume its proper order, just as the universe assumed its proper order after Zeus was declared supreme ruler, and Poseidon was placed under him. Zeus and Poseidon were in constant a power struggle, as Poseidon worked to achieve his own ends under the rule of his brother. Though they were not brothers, Baal and Yamm were also in conflict against one another. While the reason for this possible Phoenician adaptation of Poseidon, as shown in the hippoi, is unknown it could be postulated that it may have had something to do with the Phoenicians' expanding worldview. Yamm seems to be less civilized, and more malicious than Poseidon. For example, Poseidon’s attempts to gain power are never to the point of killing Zeus, while Yamm tried to do just that to Baal. Perhaps as the Phoenicians grew more cultured and technologically advanced and as their experiences with the outside world (specifically the Greeks) grew, their need for a chaos figure progressed from ultimate chaos (Yamm) in the universe to a more earthly and controllable one, like the one Poseidon represents.

In light of both the religious connections and the interaction between Greece and Phoenicia at the time of the hippoi depictions, it is not hard to imagine that perhaps the hippoi on the ends of the ships were indeed a product of Greek religious influence on the Phoenicians. It would be logical that these horse heads would be on Phoenician ships, as they were great seafarers and Poseidon was the God of the sea. With his protection, the Phoenicians would be able to carry out their duties on the sea.

See also

  • Phoenicianism
  • Punic
  • Carthage
  • Names of the Levant


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  • Aubet, Maria Eugenia, The Phoenicians and the West: Politics, Colonies and Trade, tr. Mary Turton (Bryn Mawr Classical Review, 2001: review)
  • The History of Phoenicia, first published in 1889 by George Rawlinson is available under Project Gutenberg at: http://digital.library.upenn.edu/webbin/gutbook/lookup?num=2331 Rawlinson's 19th century text needs updating for modern improvements in historical understanding.
  • Todd, Malcolm; Andrew Fleming (1987). The South West to AD 1,000 (Regional history of England series No.:8). Harlow, Essex: Longman. ISBN 0-582-49274-2 (Paperback), 0-582-49273-4 (hardback). , for a critical examination of the evidence of Phoenician trade with the South West of the U.K
  • Markoe, Glenn (2000). Phoenicians. University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-226135 (hardback). 
  • Thiollet, Jean-Pierre, Je m'appelle Byblos, H & D, Paris, 2005. ISBN 2 914 266 04 9

External links