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Ancient Semitic civilization

Top 10 Phoenicia related articles

Coordinates: 34°07′25″N 35°39′04″E / 34.12361°N 35.65111°E / 34.12361; 35.65111


𐤐𐤕 / Pūt  (Phoenician)
Phoiníkē  (Greek)
2500 BC[1]–64  BC
Map of Phoenicia and colonies prior to Roman conquest
CapitalNone; dominant cities were Byblos (2500–1000 BC) and Tyre (900–550 BC)[2]
Common languagesPhoenician, Punic
Canaanite religion
GovernmentCity-states ruled by kings, with varying degrees of oligarchic or plutocratic elements; oligarchic republic in Carthage after c. 480 BC[3]
Well-known kings of Phoenician cities 
• c. 1800 BC (oldest attested king of Lebanon proper)
Abishemu I
• 969 – 936 BC
Hiram I
• 820 – 774 BC
Pygmalion of Tyre
Historical eraClassical antiquity
• Established
2500 BC[1]
• Tyre becomes dominant city-state under the reign of Hiram I
969 BC
• Carthage founded (in Roman accounts by Dido)
814 BC
• Pompey conquers Phoenicia and rest of Seleucid Empire
64  BC
1000 BC20,000 km2 (7,700 sq mi)
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Hittite Empire
Egyptian Empire
Achaemenid Phoenicia
Ancient Carthage

Phoenicia (/fəˈnɪʃə, -ˈn-/[4]) was an ancient Semitic-speaking thalassocratic civilization that originated in the Levant region of the eastern Mediterranean, primarily located in modern Lebanon.[5][6] It was concentrated along the coast of Lebanon and included some coastal areas of modern Syria and Galilee, reaching as far north as Arwad and as far south as Acre and possibly Gaza.[7][8][9] At its height between 1100 and 200 BC, Phoenician civilization spread across the Mediterranean, from the Levant to the Iberian Peninsula.

The term Phoenicia is an exonym from ancient Greek that most likely described a dye also known as Tyrian purple, a major export of Canaanite port towns. The term did not correspond precisely to Phoenician culture or society as it would have been understood natively,[10] and it is debated whether the Phoenicians were actually a civilization distinct from the Canaanites and other residents of the Levant.[11][12] Historian Robert Drews believes the term "Canaanites" corresponds to the ethnic group referred to as "Phoenicians" by the ancient Greeks.[13]

The Phoenicians came to prominence following the decline of most major cultures in the Late Bronze Age collapse (c. 1150 BC). They developed an expansive maritime trade network that lasted over a millennium, becoming the dominant commercial power for much of classical antiquity. Phoenician trade also helped facilitate the exchange of cultures, ideas, and knowledge between major cradles of civilization such as Greece, Egypt, and Mesopotamia. After its zenith in the ninth century BC, the Phoenician civilization in the eastern Mediterranean slowly declined in the face of foreign influence and conquest, though its presence would remain in the central and western Mediterranean until the second century BC.

Phoenician civilization was organized in city-states, similar to those of ancient Greece, of which the most notable were Tyre, Sidon, and Byblos.[14][15] Each city-state was politically independent, and there is no evidence the Phoenicians viewed themselves as a single nationality.[16] Carthage, a Phoenician settlement in northwest Africa, became a major civilization in its own right in the seventh century BC.

Though the Phoenicians were long considered a lost civilization due to the lack of indigenous written records, academic and archaeological developments since the mid-20th century have revealed a complex and influential civilization.[17] Their best known legacy is the world's oldest verified alphabet, which they transmitted across the Mediterranean world.[18][19] The Phoenicians are also credited with innovations in shipbuilding, navigation, industry, agriculture, and government. Their international trade network is believed to have fostered the economic, political, and cultural foundations of Classical Western civilization.[20]

Phoenicia Intro articles: 36


The name Phoenicians, like Latin Poenī (adj. poenicus, later pūnicus), comes from Greek Φοινίκη (Phoínikē). The word φοῖνιξ phoînix meant variably "Phoenician person", "Tyrian purple, crimson" or "date palm." Homer used it with each of these meanings.[21] (The mythical bird phoenix also carries the same name, but this meaning is not attested until centuries later.) It is difficult to ascertain which meaning came first, but it is understandable how Greeks may have associated the crimson or purple color of dates and dye with the merchants who traded both products. The Greek word may derive directly from the Phoenicians' endonym; the land was natively known as 𐤐𐤕 (Pūt) and its people as the 𐤐𐤍𐤉𐤌 (Pōnnim).[22]

Alternatively, the word may be related to Mycenean Greek po-ni-ki-jo, attested in Linear B inscriptions from the 2nd Millennium BC, meaning "crimson" or "palm tree". It does not denote a group of people in these texts.[23]

Phoenicia Etymology articles: 6


Since little has survived of Phoenician records or literature, most of what is known about their origins and history comes from the accounts of other civilizations and inferences from their material culture excavated throughout the Mediterranean.


The Canaanite culture that gave rise to the Phoenicians apparently developed in situ from the earlier Ghassulian chalcolithic culture. Ghassulian itself developed from the Circum-Arabian Nomadic Pastoral Complex, which in turn developed from a fusion of their ancestral Natufian and Harifian cultures with Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (PPNB) farming cultures, practicing the domestication of animals during the 6200 BC climate crisis, which led to the Neolithic Revolution in the Levant.[24] Byblos is attested as an archaeological site from the Early Bronze Age. The Late Bronze Age state of Ugarit is considered quintessentially Canaanite archaeologically,[25] even though the Ugaritic language does not belong to the Canaanite languages proper.[26][27]

Some scholars suggest there is evidence for a Semitic dispersal to the fertile crescent circa 2500 BC; others believe the Phoenicians originated from an admixture of previous non-Semitic inhabitants with the Semitic arrivals. Herodotus believed that the Phoenicians originated from Bahrain,[28][29] a view shared centuries later by the historian Strabo.[30] The people of modern Tyre in Lebanon, have particularly long maintained Persian Gulf origins.[31] The Dilmun civilization thrived in Bahrain during the period 2200–1600 BC, as shown by excavations of settlements and the Dilmun burial mounds. However, recent genetic researches have shown that present-day Lebanese derive most of their ancestry from a Canaanite-related population.[32]

Emergence during the Late Bronze Age (1550–1200 BC)

The first known account of the Phoenicians relates to the conquests of Pharaoh Thutmose III (1479–1425 BC). The Egyptians targeted coastal cities such as Byblos, Arwad, and Ullasa for their crucial geographic and commercial links with the interior (via the Nahr al-Kabir and the Orontes rivers). The cities provided Egypt with access to Mesopotamian trade as well as abundant stocks of the region's native cedar wood, of which there was no equivalent in the Egyptian homeland.[33]

By the mid 14th century, the Phoenician city states were considered "favored cities" to the Egyptians. Tyre, Sidon, Beirut, and Byblos were regarded as the most important. The Phoenicians had considerable autonomy and their cities were fairly well developed and prosperous. Byblos was evidently the leading city outside Egypt proper; it was a major center of bronze-making, and the primary terminus of precious goods such as tin and lapis lazuli from as far east as Afghanistan. Sidon and Tyre also commanded interest among Egyptian officials, beginning a pattern of rivalry that would span the next millennium.

The Amarna letters report that from 1350 to 1300 BC, neighboring Amorites and Hittites were capturing Phoenician cities, especially in the north. Egypt subsequently lost its coastal holdings from Ugarit in northern Syria to Byblos near central Lebanon.

Ascendance and high point (1200–800 BC)

Some time between 1200 and 1150 BC, the Late Bronze Age collapse severely weakened or destroyed most civilizations in the region, including the Egyptians and Hittites. The Phoenicians appear to have weathered the crisis relatively well, emerging as a distinct and organized civilization in 1230 BC. The period is sometimes described as a "Phoenician renaissance."[34] They filled the power vacuum caused by the Late Bronze Age collapse by becoming the sole mercantile and maritime power in the region, a status they would maintain for the next several centuries.[11]

The recovery of the Mediterranean economy can be credited to Phoenician mariners and merchants, who re-established long distance trade between Egypt and Mesopotamia in the 10th century BC.[35]

Early into the Iron Age, the Phoenicians established ports, warehouses, markets, and settlement all across the Mediterranean and up to the southern Black Sea. Colonies were established on Cyprus, Sardinia, the Balearic Islands, Sicily, and Malta, as well as the coasts of North Africa and the Iberian Peninsula.[36] Phoenician hacksilver dated to this period bears lead isotope ratios matching ores in Sardinia and Spain, indicating the extent of Phoenician trade networks.[37]

By the tenth century BC, Tyre rose to become the richest and most powerful Phoenician city state, particularly during the reign of Hiram I (c. 969–936 BC). During the rule of the priest Ithobaal (887–856 BC), Tyre expanded its territory as far north as Beirut (incorporating its former rival Sidon) and into part of Cyprus; this unusual act of aggression was the closest the Phoenicians ever came to forming a unitary territorial state. Once his realm reached its greatest territorial extent, Ithobaal declared himself "King of the Sidonians", a title that would be used by his successors and mentioned in both Greek and Jewish accounts.[38]

The Late Iron Age saw the height of Phoenician shipping, mercantile, and cultural activity, particularly between 750 and 650 BC. Phoenician influence was visible in the "Orientalization" of Greek cultural and artistic conventions.[11] Among their most popular goods were fine textiles, typically dyed with Tyrian purple. Homer's Iliad, which was composed during this period, references the quality of Phoenician clothing and metal goods.[11]

Foundation of Carthage

Carthage was founded by Phoenicians coming from Tyre, probably initially as a station in the metal trade with the southern Iberian Peninsula.[39] The city's name in Punic, Qart-Ḥadašt (𐤒𐤓𐤕 𐤇𐤃𐤔𐤕‎), means "New City".[40] There is a tradition in some ancient sources, such as Philistos of Syracuse, for an "early" foundation date of around 1215 BC—before the fall of Troy in 1180 BC. However, Timaeus, a Greek historian from Sicily c. 300 BC, places the foundation of Carthage in 814 BC, which is the date generally accepted by modern historians.[41] Legend, including Virgil's Aeneid, assigns the founding of the city to Queen Dido. Carthage would grow into a multi-ethnic empire spanning North Africa, Sardinia, Sicily, Malta, the Balearic Islands, and southern Iberia, but would ultimately be destroyed by Rome in the Punic Wars (264–146 BC) before being rebuilt as a Roman city.

Vassalage under the Assyrians & Babylonians (858–538 BC)

Two bronze fragments from an Assyrian palace gate depicting the collection of tribute from the Phoenician cities of Tyre and Sidon (859–824 BC). British Museum.

As a mercantile power concentrated along a narrow coastal strip of land, the Phoenicians lacked the size and population to support a large military. Thus, as neighboring empires began to rise, the Phoenicians increasingly fell under the sway of foreign rulers, who to varying degrees circumscribed their autonomy.[38]

The Assyrian conquest of Phoenicia began with King Shalmaneser III, who rose to power in 858 BC and began a series of campaigns against neighboring states. The Phoenician city-states fell under his rule, forced to pay heavy tribute in money, goods, and natural resources. Initially they were not annexed outright—they remained in a state of vassalage, subordinate to the Assyrians but allowed a certain degree of freedom.[38] This changed in 744 BC with the ascension of Tiglath-Pileser III. By 738 BC, most of the Levant, including northern Phoenicia, were annexed; only Tyre and Byblos, the most powerful of the city states, remained as tributary states outside of direct Assyrian control.

Tyre, Byblos, and Sidon all rebelled against Assyrian rule. In 721 BC, Sargon II besieged Tyre and crushed the rebellion. His successor Sennacherib suppressed further rebellions across the region. During the seventh century BC, Sidon rebelled and was completely destroyed by Esarhaddon, who enslaved its inhabitants and built a new city on its ruins. By the end of the century, the Assyrians had been weakened by successive revolts, which led to their destruction by the Median Empire.

The Babylonians, formerly vassals of the Assyrians, took advantage of the empire's collapse and rebelled, quickly establishing the Neo-Babylonian Empire in its place. Phoenician cities revolted several times throughout the reigns of the first Babylonian king, Nabopolassar (626–605 BC), and his son Nebuchadnezzar II (c. 605–c. 562 BC). In 587 BC Nebuchadnezzar besieged Tyre, which resisted for thirteen years, but ultimately capitulated under "favorable terms".[42]

Persian period (539–332 BC)

Phoenicians constructing Pontoon Bridges for Xerxes I of Persia during the second Persian invasion of Greece in 480 BC. (1915 drawing by A. C. Weatherstone)

In 539 BC, Cyrus the Great, king and founder of the Persian Achaemenid Empire, took Babylon.[43] As Cyrus began consolidating territories across the Near East, the Phoenicians apparently made the pragmatic calculation of "[yielding] themselves to the Persians."[44] Most of the Levant was consolidated by Cyrus into a single satrapy (province) and forced to pay a yearly tribute of 350 talents, which was roughly half the tribute that was required of Egypt and Libya.[45]

The Phoenician area was later divided into four vassal kingdoms—Sidon, Tyre, Arwad and Byblos—which were allowed considerable autonomy. Unlike in other areas of the empire, there is no record of Persian administrators governing the Phoenician city-states. Local Phoenician kings were allowed to remain in power and even given the same rights as Persian satraps (governors), such as hereditary offices and minting their own coins.[43][46]

Coin of Abdashtart I of Sidon during the Achaemenid period. He is depicted behind the Persian king on the chariot.

The Phoenicians remained a core asset to the Achaemenid Empire, particularly for their prowess in maritime technology and navigation;[43] they furnished the bulk of the Persian fleet during the Greco-Persian Wars of the late fifth century BC.[47] Phoenicians under Xerxes I built the Xerxes Canal and the pontoon bridges that allowed his forces to cross into mainland Greece.[48] Nevertheless, they were harshly punished by the Persian king following his defeat at the Battle of Salamis, which he blamed on Phoenician cowardice and incompetence.[49]

In the mid fourth century BC, King Tennes of Sidon led a failed rebellion against Artaxerxes III, enlisting the help of the Egyptians, who were subsequently drawn into a war with the Persians.[50] The resulting destruction of Sidon led to the resurgence of Tyre, which remained the principal Phoenician city for two decades until the arrival of Alexander the Great.

Hellenistic period (332–152 BC)

Phoenicia was one of the first areas to be conquered by Alexander the Great during his military campaigns across western Asia. Alexander's main target in the Persian Levant was Tyre, now the region's largest and most important city. It capitulated after a roughly seven month siege, during which many of its citizens fled to Carthage.[51] Tyre's refusal to allow Alexander to visit its temple to Melqart, culminating in the killing of his envoys, led to a brutal reprisal: 2,000 of its leading citizens were crucified and a puppet ruler was installed.[52] The rest of Phoenicia easily came under his control, with Sidon surrendering peacefully.[53]

A naval action during Alexander the Great's siege of Tyre (350 BC). Drawing by André Castaigne, 1888–89.

Alexander's empire had a tolerant policy of Hellenization, whereby Hellenic culture, religion, and sometimes language were spread or imposed across conquered peoples, but most of the time Hellenisation was not enforced and was just a language of administration until his death. This was typically implemented through the founding of new cities, the settlement of a Macedonian or Greek urban elite, and the alteration of native place names to Greek.[51] However, there was evidently no organized Hellenization in Phoenicia, and with one or two minor exceptions, all Phoenician city states retained their native names, while Greek settlement and administration appears to have been very limited.[51]

The Phoenicians maintained cultural and commercial links with their western counterparts. Polybius recounts how the Seleucid king Demetrius I escaped from Rome by boarding a Carthaginian ship that was delivering goods to Tyre.[51] The adaptation to Macedonian rule was likely aided by the Phoenicians' historical ties with the Greeks, with whom they shared some mythological stories and figures; the two peoples were even sometimes considered "relatives".[51]

When Alexander's empire collapsed after his death in 323 BC, the Phoenicians came under the control of the largest of its successors, the Seleucids. The Phoenician homeland was repeatedly contested by the Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt during the forty year Syrian Wars, coming under Ptolemaic rule in the third century BC.[42] The Seleucids reclaimed the area the following century, holding it until the mid-first 2nd century BC. Under their rule, the Phoenicians were evidently allowed a considerable degree of autonomy and self governance.[42]

During the Seleucid Dynastic Wars (157–63 BC), the Phoenician cities were mostly self governed and many of them fought for or over by the warring factions of the Seleucid royal family. Some Phoenician regions were under the control and influence of the Jews who revolted and succeeded in defeating Seleucids in 164 BC.

The Seleucid Kingdom, including Phoenicia, was seized by Tigranes the Great of Armenia in 82 BC thus ending once and for all the hellenicsitc influence on the region.

With their strategically valuable buffer state absorbed into a rival power, the Romans were moved to intervene and conquer the territory in 62 BC. Shortly thereafter, the territory was incorporated into the Roman province of Syria. Phoenicia became a separate province in the third century AD. With the Roman invasion whatever political autonomy Phoenicians had was dissolved and the region was romanised. Roman Empire ruled the Province up to 640s when the Muslim Arabs invaded successfully the region and a process of Islamisation and Arabisation started.

Phoenicia History articles: 86


The Phoenicians were an offshoot of the Canaanites, a group of ancient Semitic-speaking peoples that emerged at least in the second millennium BC.[11] Though they were often known to outsiders as Canaanites, and continued to self-identify as such, the Phoenicians became a distinct people some time in the Late Bronze Age, between the 14th and 13th centuries. A 2018 study of mitochondrial lineages in Sardinia concluded that the Phoenicians were "inclusive, multicultural and featured significant female mobility", with evidence of indigenous Sardinians integrating "peacefully and permanently" with Phoenician settlers. The study also found evidence suggesting that Europeans may have settled in the area of modern Lebanon.[54]

Genetic studies

A 2008 study led by Pierre Zalloua found that six subclades of Haplogroup J-M172 (J2)—thought to have originated between the Caucasus Mountains, Mesopotamia and the Levant—were of a "Phoenician signature" and present amongst the male populations of the "coastal Lebanese Phoenician Heartland" and wider Levant (the "Phoenician Periphery"), followed by other areas of historic Phoenician settlement, spanning Cyprus through to Morocco. This deliberate sequential sampling was an attempt to develop a methodology to link the documented historical expansion of a population with a particular geographic genetic pattern or patterns. The researchers suggested that the proposed genetic signature stemmed from "a common source of related lineages rooted in Lebanon".[55] Another study in 2006 found evidence for the genetic persistence of Phoenicians in the Spanish island of Ibiza.[56]

In 2016, the skeleton of 2,500 year old Carthaginian man was excavated from a Punic tomb in Tunisia, and was found bearing the rare U5b2c1 maternal haplogroup. The lineage of this "Young Man of Byrsa" is believed to represent early gene flow from Iberia to the Maghreb.[57]

A series of studies of different populations in the Levant suggest that Levantine Semites—such as Lebanese, Mizrahi Jews, Palestinians, and Syrians—are the closest surviving relatives of ancient Phoenicians. One study found that the Lebanese share 93% of their DNA with Bronze Age Sidonians.[58][59][60]

Phoenicia Demographics articles: 104