Phoenicians (1500–300 B.C.): Byblos, Sidon, Tyre and the Bible

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PHOENICIANS (1500–300 B.C.)

The Phoenicians established a great early civilization. Originating in the coasts of present-day Lebanon and Israel, they developed an alphabet that was modified and adopted by much of the world and were expert sailors and traders. The dominated the Mediterranean, acted as intermediaries between Mesopotamia and Egypt and came close to defeating the Romans. Punic was another name for Phoenician or Carthaginian. Carthage was a Phoenician colony that developed unto a power city state. The Romans called the residents of Carthage: Carthaginians, Poeni or Punic. [Sources: Rick Gore, National Geographic, October 2004; Dora Jane Hamblin, Smithsonian magazine, August 1988; Samuel W. Matthews, National Geographic, August 1974]

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “The Phoenicians were a people who occupied the coast of the Levant (eastern Mediterranean). Their major cities were Tyre, Sidon, Byblos, and Arwad. All were fiercely independent, rival cities and, unlike the neighboring inland states, the Phoenicians represented a confederation of maritime traders rather than a defined country. What the Phoenicians actually called themselves is unknown, though it may have been the ancient term Canaanite. The name Phoenician, used to describe these people in the first millennium B.C., is a Greek invention, from the word phoinix, possibly signifying the color purple-red and perhaps an allusion to their production of a highly prized purple dye.” [Source: Department of Ancient Near Eastern Art. Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2004]

The Phoenicians are known as the creators of the first alphabet. They spoke a Semitic language like Jews and Arabs. The are associated with Lebanon but little is known of their origin. They fit no clear or racial or physical profile and appear ro be a kind of mongrel race comprised of various groups that lived in the Middle East and the Mediterranean. They came into their own in 1200 B.C. and endured until the razing of Carthage in 146 B.C. The Phoenicians were initially based in what is now Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. They formed a string of colonies and city states that stretched across the Mediterranean to the Atlantic. Later they were based in Carthage.

Phoenician mask

The Phoenicians were known as the “ Kinanu” in Akkadian and the “ Phoenikes” to the Greeks. Both words appear to be a reference to dark red or purple, the color of the much-coveted dyed clothing they produced from sea snails. The Phoenicians did not call themselves Phoenicians. They called themselves names that referred to the cities they were from: Sidoans, Tyrians, Giblites [for Gebal as Byblos was earlier known).

Little is known about the Phoenicians because very little actually written by Phoenicians remain. Most of what is known about them was written by their traditional enemies. Other stuff comes from funerary statues, dedications of temples, votive offerings, list of divinities, Egyptian and Mesopotamian records of transactions, Assyrian boasts concerning them, Biblical records, and chronicles from Greek and Roman historians. What the Phoenicians wrote about themselves was written down mostly on papyrus that crumbled away centuries ago. Archeological research of the Phoenicians is hampered by the fact that Phoenician ruins often lie underneath Roman remains on some other ruins, which people do not want to see dug to get at the Phoenician layers underneath.

Books: "The Phoenicians" by Donald Harden, "The Phoenicians" by Edward Lipinski In "Civilizations of the Ancient Near East," vol. 2, edited by Jack M. Sasson, pp. 1321–33. . New York: Scribner, 1995. "Phoenicians" by Glenn Markoe (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000)

PhoeniciaOrg is the largest compilation and repository of studies on the Phoenicians on the web. It covers extensive and inclusive Canaanite Phoenician information i.e. the origin, history, geography, religion, arts, thinkers, trade, industry, mythology, language, literature, music, wars, archaeology, and culture of this people.

Phoenician Achievements

According to “The Phoenicians were not mere passive peddlers in art or commerce. Their achievement in history was a positive contribution, even if it was only that of an intermediary. For example, the extent of the debt of Greece alone to Phoenicia may be fully measured by its adoption, probably in the 8th century B.C., of the Phoenician alphabet with very little variation (along with Semitic loan words); by "orientalizing" decorative motifs on pottery and by architectural paradigms; and by the universal use in Greece of the Phoenician standards of weights and measures. Having mentioned this, the influence on or from Linear A and B scripts is unknown. [Source: ^=^]

“The Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder was a great admirer of the Phoenicians, he credited them with many discoveries, including the invention of trade. Although Pliny was not adverse to exaggerating, scholars do accept his evidence that Phoenicians were the first traveling salesmen. Because they needed an efficient method of keeping records, they invented an alphabet from which every alphabet of the world has descended. Along with an alphabet came the equipment for using it: pen, ink and, of course, papyrus, parchment and finally paper. A wax-writing tablet was found in an ancient Uluburun shipwreck (most likely to have been Canaanite Phoenician) off the coast of Turkey.” ^=^

City States of the Phoenicians

Around 2500 B.C., major ports on the Phoenicians coast — Byblos, Sidon, Tyre and Beirut — emerged as independent city states. Excavations in these places have revealed mysterious burials of people in layers of sand brought from a sand dune somewhere else. Some people were buried with weapons in brick graves. Later children were found buried in clay pots. Metals used to make weapons dated to 1950 B.C. came from what is now Turkey, Cyprus and Syria, an indication that there was already a flourishing metals trade at that time.

The Phoenician settled in the great city states of Byblos, Sidon and Tyre. The Phoenicians could not capture the city-states of Aradus, Sidon and Tyre. Instead they employed a if-you-can't-beat-em-join-em strategy and over time came to dominate them. Beirut was a small Phoenician outpost.


Byblos (23 miles north of Beirut) is the source of the word Bible. One of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world it was called Byblos (Greek for "papyrus") by the ancient Greeks not because it was a source of papyrus (that came from Egypt) but because it was the center in the papyrus trade. The first Christian texts were printed on papyrus that was sold out of Byblos and the name of city was attached to the name of the text itself.

Byblos was first known a Gebal. The Giblites used flat axes to cut timber from nearby mountains. As early as 3200 B.C., Egyptians imported cedars from Canaanite (Phoenician) traders in Byblos.

Archeologists have uncovered evidence of human habitation dating to 5000 B.C. Around 3000 B.C., an important Canaanite timber shipping city emerged at Byblos. Lumber and oil from harvested cedars was traded with Egypt for gold, alabaster, papyrus rolls, papyrus rope and linen. The Egyptians used cedar wood to build tombs, monuments and boats for the pharaohs. Oils were used in perfumes and mummification. This trade endured for over 2,000 years.

Byblos was burned to ground around 2100 B.C., most likely by aggressive Mesopotamian Amorites. Some of the oldest examples of the Phoenician alphabet have been found here. Over the centuries, it was occupied by Phoenicians, Persians, Hellenist Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Crusaders, Mamlukes and Turks.

Byblos Archaeological Site

The ruins of ancient Byblos today is an archeological site consisting primarily of foundations and short walls. Different structures were built by different civilizations and unless you are an archeologist you will have trouble telling the difference. Among the ruins are the remains of a third millennium B.C. city gate, a 4,500-year-old wall, the Temple of the Obelisk (where 1,306 offerings have been uncovered, including bronze human figures covered with gold leaf), Bronze Age buildings and houses, and Royal tombs (from which the earliest example of the Phoenician alphabet was found).

The Byblos archaeological site is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. According to UNESCO: “The ruins of many successive civilizations are found at Byblos, one of the oldest Phoenician cities. Inhabited since Neolithic times, it has been closely linked to the legends and history of the Mediterranean region for thousands of years. Byblos is also directly associated with the history and diffusion of the Phoenician alphabet. [Source: UNESCO World Heritage Sites, =]


“The coastal town of Byblos is located on a cliff of sandstone 40 km North of Beirut. Continuously inhabited since Neolithic times, Byblos bears outstanding witness to the beginnings of the Phoenician civilization. The evolution of the town is evident in the structures that are scattered around the site, dating from the different periods, including the medieval town intra-muros, and antique dwellings. Byblos is a testimony to a history of uninterrupted construction from the first settlement by a community of fishermen dating back 8000 years, through the first town buildings, the monumental temples of the Bronze Age, to the Persian fortifications, the Roman road, Byzantine churches, the Crusade citadel and the Medieval and Ottoman town. Byblos is also directly associated with the history and diffusion of the Phoenician alphabet. The origin of our contemporary alphabet was discovered in Byblos with the most ancient Phoenician inscription carved on the sarcophagus of Ahiram. =

Byblos is an important site because: 1) It bears an exceptional testimony to the beginnings of Phoenician civilization. Since the Bronze Age; it provides one of the primary examples of urban organization in the Mediterranean world; and 3) it is directly and tangibly associated with the history of the diffusion of the Phoenician alphabet (on which humanity is still largely dependent today), with the inscriptions of Ahiram, Yehimilk, Elibaal and Shaphatbaal. =


Sidon (25 miles south of Beirut) is port built by the Phoenicians on a promontory facing an island. In ancient times it was the home of a Phoenician purple dye factory (a 300-foot-long mound of murex shells remains from this) and merchants who got very rich trading it. Sidon was also a center of Phoenician glass making. Some archaeologists believe that the practice of glassblowing was developed in Sidon in the first century B.C.

Sidon was established after Byblos and was eventually eclipsed by its colony Tyre. It was at it peak during the time of Homer, who referred to the Phoenicians as the Sidonians and described them as "well skilled in deft handiwork" in the “Iliad” and said they made silver bowls that were the "Coolest in all the earth”. In the “Odyssey” he called the Phoenicians men famed from their ships and greedy knaves that brought countless trinkets.

Eshmoun (one kilometer from Sidon) contains a Phoenician temple complex dedicated to the Phoenician healing god Eshmoun, who, according to legend, was originally a human man who mutilated himself and died in an effort to escape the advances of a goddess, and then was brought back to life by the goddess in the form of a god. Waters from the sacrificial basins at the temple were reported to have miraculous healing powers.

Situated in a lush valley with citrus groves and built in the 7th century B.C., the archaeological site include Phoenician walls, inscriptions, pyramid-like structures, and channels for the temple’s healing waters and sacred basins. There are also carved Persian bull's heads; Hellenistic statues, stone sphinxes, friezes of cock sacrifices; an Astarte (Venus) sanctuary guarded by lions; and a Roman-era a nymphaeun with nymph statues.

20120208-Sidon Istanbul.jpg


Tyre (60 miles south of Beirut) was the most powerful of the Phoenicia’s city. It possessed what would be a model for future Phoenician cities: a defensible island or peninsula, a protected anchorage and easy access to agricultural areas on the mainland.

Tyre (60 miles south of Beirut) was mentioned in the Bible. Located on an island that has since been joined to the land and known to the Phoenicians as the "Queen of the Waters," it was founded in the third millennium B.C. and prospered as a trading city between the 10th century B.C., when it became the capital of all Phoenicia, to the 6th century B.C.

Tyre was a center of the Phoenician glass and purple industry. Factories there produced purple dye from sea snails. It was also a major trading center with colonies in Sicily, Spain and North Africa. Around 950 B.C., Hiram I joined two islands and built an all but impregnable citadel on the sea. Hiram I was a friend of David and Solomon. He supplied both with timber and craftsmen. Some of the timber was used to build the first great temple of Jerusalem.

History of Tyre

. According to UNESCO: “According to legend, purple dye was invented in Tyre. This great Phoenician city ruled the seas and founded prosperous colonies such as Cadiz and Carthage, but its historical role declined at the end of the Crusades. There are important archaeological remains, mainly from Roman times.[Source: UNESCO World Heritage Sites, =]

“Located on the southern coast of Lebanon, 83 km south of Beirut, the antique town of Tyre was the great Phoenician city that reigned over the seas and founded prosperous colonies such as Cadiz and Carthage and according to legend, was the place of the discovery of purple pigment. =

“From the 5th century B.C., when Herodotus of Halicarnassus visited Tyre, it was built for the most part on an island reportedly impregnable, considered one of the oldest metropolises of the world, and according to tradition founded in 2750 B.C. Tyre succumbed to the attack of Alexander of Macedonia who had blocked the straits by a dike. First a Greek city, and then a Roman city were constructed on this site, which is now a promontory. =

“Tyre was directly associated with several stages in the history of humanity, including the production of purple pigment reserved for royalty and nobility, the construction in Jerusalem of the Temple of Solomon, thanks to the material and architect sent by the King Hiram of Tyre; and the exploration of the seas by hardy navigators who founded prosperous trading centres as far away as the western Mediterranean, that ultimately assured a quasi-monopoly of the important maritime commerce for the Phoenician city. The historic role of Tyre declined at the end of the period of the Crusades. =


Tyre is associated with the important stages of humanity. Astute navigators and merchants, the Phoenicians were reputed to have given birth to the great figures of mythology including Cadmos, credited for the introduction of the alphabet to Greece and his sister, Europe, who gave her name to the European continent. Tyre rapidly became the most important centre for maritime and land commerce in the eastern Mediterranean. The Phoenician remains reflect the power, influence and wealth of the merchants of Tyre who navigated the Mediterranean waters and filled their warehouses with goods from their extensive colonies all around the Mediterranean coasts. =

Tyre Archaeological Site

Archaeological Tyre was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1979. Located mostly on the end of a peninsula, it contains impressive Roman ruins and a few remains from the Phoenician era, including a first millennium B.C. cemetery that was revealed in 1991 by clandestine excavations. Among the objects discovered were funerary jars, jewelry and inscribed stele.

Tyre is divided into three major sites: Area One, Area two and Area Three. Among the points of interest in Area One, which is located on the former Phoenician island, are civic buildings, colonnades, public baths, mosaic streets, and a rectangular arena. Near the beach at the far end of the site are the columns of the Palaestra, an arena where the athletes trained. The "islands" offshore are the remains of a Phoenician breakwater. Little remains of the Phoenician era. Most of the ruins date the Roman period or later.

Ras el-Ain (4 miles from Tyre) was Tyre's main source of water in Phoenician times. Artesian wells gush up in stone reservoirs that have been maintained over the centuries. Once of the reservoirs fed a Roman aqueduct that carried water to Tyre. A short portion of the aqueduct can be seen near the reservoirs and connues be used in a modern water system.

According to UNESCO: “In the modern town of Soûr, the property consists of two distinct sites: the one of the town, on the headland, and the one of the Necropolis of El Bass, on the continent. The site of the town comprises important archaeological vestiges, a great part of which is submerged. The most noteworthy structures are the vestiges of the Roman baths, the two palaestrae, the arena, the Roman colonnaded road, the residential quarter, as well as the remains of the cathedral built in 1127 by the Venetians and some of the walls of the ancient Crusader castle. The sector of Tyre El Bass, constituting the principal entrance of the town in antique times, comprises the remains of the necropolis, on either side of a wide monumental causeway dominated by a Roman triumphal arch dating from the 2nd century AD. Among the other vestiges are an aqueduct and the hippodrome of the 2nd century, one of the largest of the Roman world. [Source: UNESCO World Heritage Sites, =]

Tyre, the Phoenicians and the Bible

20120208-Tyre_1887.jpgTyre was mentioned several times in the Bible. The prophet Ezekial called it a "city renowned, that was mighty on the sea” and said “in the midst of the seas, thy builders have perfected beauty...all the ships of the sea with their marines were in thee to occupy thy merchandise..." (Ezekiel 27:1-25). Isaiah described it as the "crowning city" whose "merchandary princes" and "whose traffickers are the honorable of the earth."

Ezekial mentioned oil, oak, embroidered linen, silver, ivory and purple dye traded in Tyre. Describing it riches he wrote: "Tarnish was they merchant by reason of the multitude of all kind of riches; with silver, iron, tin, and lead, they traded...many isles were the merchandise of thine hand: they brought thee...horns of ivory and ebony...emeralds...fine linen...honey, and oil, and white wool...precious stones, and gold." In the early 6th century B.C. King Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to Tyre for 13 years but was unable to conquer it. Later it had a large Christian community. The city prospered under the Byzantines and later was occupied by Arabs, Mamluks and Ottoman Turks.

Canaanites and to a lesser extent Phoenicians are mentioned frequently in the Bible. Isaiah and Ezekiel wrote about the Phoenicians. Sarepta was wear Elijah came after fleeing a famine in Israel and there brought a Phoenician boy back from the dead to thank his mother for her hospitality (I Kings 18:8-24).

Phoenician ships brought Solomon gold from Ophir, sandalwood, ivory, peacocks and things "so king Solomon exceeded all the riches" Ophir is believed to have been in India.

Phoenicians and the Temple of Jerusalem

Siege of Tyre 332 B.C.
Hiram, a Phoenician architect, designed the Temple of Jerusalem. It is believed to have been modeled after the temple to Ball Melqart in Tyre, which Herodotus said has one hill of "gold, the other of emerald."

Solomon’s Temple was built on Mt. Moriah on on a “threshing floor” on the mountain purchased by David for 50 shekels of silver from the Araunah the Jebusite in 1000 B.C."Behold, I propose to build an house unto the name of the Lord my God," King Solomon declared. His people were nomads and shepherds and they lacked experience building monuments so that is why he sought their assistance of his ally Hiram.

The first Jewish Temple took seven years to build and employed hundreds of workmen and laborers. It was made from cut stone and cedar timber and was veiled in purple cloth. The entrance was marked by two great pillars of bronze, Solomon paid for the building with wheat and olive oil, 20 cities in Galilee and 120 tenants of gold. So much money was spent that it drained money from the treasury which could have been used to beef up the military. Not long afterwards the Jewish kingdom split apart and was defeated by Nebuchadnezzar.

Solomon said of one Phoenician, he is "a worker in brass; and he was filled with wisdom, and understanding, and cunning to work all works in brass."

There is no direct archaeological evidence of the existence of Solomon's reign. But in 1997, archaeologists discovered a 13-word scrap of Old Hebrew script on an inscription that mentioned the payment of three shekels of silver to King Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem. Dated between the 7th and 9th centuries B.C. , its is the oldest non-Biblical reference to Solomon's temple ever recorded. The inscription was found on a pottery fragment in a private collection and its source is not known.A shekel was a measure of weight equal to around 11 grams.

Phoenicians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks and Persians

Alexander at the Siege of Tyre
The Phoenicians prospered despite being surrounded by often hostile neighbors such as Assyrians, Babylonians and Persians. They seemed to have thrived in an environment where others needed them for trade. When faced with a rival stronger than themselves the Phoenicians usually submitted to the conquerors and paid tribute. In 877 B.C., Assyrian King Ashurbasirpal II visited the cities of Phoenicia, which avoided trouble by sending tributes to his empire.

When the wealthy but military weak Phoenician cities were attacked by stronger foes, envoys were usually sent to strike a bargain of tribute in exchange for a degree of independence and autonomy. When they had to they were prepared to fight. They possessed copper, bronze and iron weapons. They used bronze arrowheads that were tiny and sharp.

After Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem in 586 B.C. he besieged Tyre for 13 years and took control of its in 573 B.C.. He rammed the walls of the mainland part of the city and trampled citizen under his chariots. Without an effective navy he was unable to deny the island citadel of supplies and effectively lay siege to it. Finally the Babylonian were pacified with nobleman hostages. "Every head was made bald" from wearing helmets so long, " and "every shoulder was peeled" according to the Bible.

In 539 B.C., when the Cyrus the Great captured Babylon, Phoenicia became part o the Persian Empire. The Phoenicians fought for the Persians Darius and Xerxes and supplied the Persians with ships to fight the Greeks. Phoenicians ships made up the heart of Xerxes fleet at the Battle of Salamis in 480 B.C.

The Phoenicians traded with the Greeks and other groups that inhabited the Mediterranean. Homer wrote about the Phoenicians. The Phoenicians gave the Greek their alphabet. In 535 B.C. the Phoenicians allied themselves with the Etruscans and defeated the Greeks in Corsica and Carthage took Sicily and Sardinia ad the Etruscans took Corsica and Ebla.

The Phoenicians were ultimately conquered by more militant empires. They were outclassed by the Greeks who took away their markets, dominated trade and defeated their Phoenician fighting ships. In the Battle of Catana the Phoenician trading center Motya in Sicily was sacked in 397 B.C. by the Greeks.

Phoenicians and Alexander the Great

Siege of Tyre by
Andre Castaigne (1898-1899)
As Alexander the Great headed south down the Mediterranean after defeating the Persians in Asia Minor in 334 B.C., nearly all the cities that were under Persian control surrendered and opened their gates to Alexander. The only city that put any resistance was Tyre, a former Phoenician island fortress off the coast of Lebanon.

In the early 6th century, King Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to Tyre for 13 years but was unable to conquer it. In 332 B.C., Alexander the Great captured Tyre by using ship-mounted battering rams and catapults to blast a hole in the fortress wall and gangplanks and two large siege towers to launch the assault.

Alexander’s army had spent seven months building a half mile causeway to the island, with debris from an abandoned mainland city, only to be bombarded with stones and arrows when they got near. The Tyrians also launched a boat with blazing cauldrons to set fire to the attackers. This tactic only delayed the inevitable.

The victory over Tyre added Lebanon as well as Palestine, Syria and Egypt to Alexander's empire. Alexander was reportedly so enraged by the loss of time and men used to capture Tyre that he destroyed half the city, and rounded up its residents, who were either massacred or sold into slavery. Seven thousand people were slaughtered after the capture, 2,000 young men were crucified and 30,000 people were sold into slavery.

Herodotus on Phoenicians and Carthaginians, 430 B.C.

Herodotus wrote in Book IV of' Histories, “The Phoenicians took their departure from Egypt by way of the Erythraean sea, and so sailed into the southern ocean. When autumn came, they went ashore, wherever they might happen to be, and having sown a tract of land with corn, waited until the grain was fit to cut. Having reaped it, they again set sail; and thus it came to pass that two whole years went by, and it was not till the third year that they doubled the Pillars of Hercules, and made good their voyage home. On their return, they declared- I for my part do not believe them, but perhaps others may- that in sailing round Libya they had the sun upon their right hand. In this way was the extent of Libya first discovered.[Source: Herodotus’s “Histories”, Book IV, Written 440 B.C., translated by George Rawlinson, (New York: Dutton & Co., 1862)]

“Next to these Phoenicians the Carthaginians, according to their own accounts, made the voyage. For Sataspes, son of Teaspes the Achaemenian, did not circumnavigate Libya, though he was sent to do so; but, fearing the length and desolateness of the journey, he turned back and left unaccomplished the task which had been set him by his mother. This man had used violence towards a maiden, the daughter of Zopyrus, son of Megabyzus, and King Xerxes was about to impale him for the offence, when his mother, who was a sister of Darius, begged him off, undertaking to punish his crime more heavily than the king himself had designed. She would force him, she said, to sail round Libya and return to Egypt by the Arabian gulf. Xerxes gave his consent; and Sataspes went down to Egypt, and there got a ship and crew, with which he set sail for the Pillars of Hercules. Having passed the Straits, he doubled the Libyan headland, known as Cape Soloeis, and proceeded southward. Following this course for many months over a vast stretch of sea, and finding that more water than he had crossed still lay ever before him, he put about, and came back to Egypt. Thence proceeding to the court, he made report to Xerxes, that at the farthest point to which he had reached, the coast was occupied by a dwarfish race, who wore a dress made from the palm tree. These people, whenever he landed, left their towns and fled away to the mountains; his men, however, did them no wrong, only entering into their cities and taking some of their cattle. The reason why he had not sailed quite round Libya was, he said, because the ship stopped, and would no go any further. Xerxes, however, did not accept this account for true; and so Sataspes, as he had failed to accomplish the task set him, was impaled by the king's orders in accordance with the former sentence. One of his eunuchs, on hearing of his death, ran away with a great portion of his wealth, and reached Samos, where a certain Samian seized the whole. I know the man's name well, but I shall willingly forget it here.

“Of the greater part of Asia Darius was the discoverer. Wishing to know where the Indus (which is the only river save one that produces crocodiles) emptied itself into the sea, he sent a number of men, on whose truthfulness he could rely, and among them Scylax of Caryanda, to sail down the river. They started from the city of Caspatyrus, in the region called Pactyica, and sailed down the stream in an easterly direction to the sea. Here they turned westward, and, after a voyage of thirty months, reached the place from which the Egyptian king, of whom I spoke above, sent the Phoenicians to sail round Libya. After this voyage was completed, Darius conquered the Indians, and made use of the sea in those parts. Thus all Asia, except the eastern portion, has been found to be similarly circumstanced with Libya.

Phoenician trade

“But the boundaries of Europe are quite unknown, and there is not a man who can say whether any sea girds it round either on the north or on the east, while in length it undoubtedly extends as far as both the other two. For my part I cannot conceive why three names, and women's names especially, should ever have been given to a tract which is in reality one, nor why the Egyptian Nile and the Colchian Phasis (or according to others the Maeotic Tanais and Cimmerian ferry) should have been fixed upon for the boundary lines; nor can I even say who gave the three tracts their names, or whence they took the epithets. According to the Greeks in general, Libya was so called after a certain Libya, a native woman, and Asia after the wife of Prometheus. The Lydians, however, put in a claim to the latter name, which, they declare, was not derived from Asia the wife of Prometheus, but from Asies, the son of Cotys, and grandson of Manes, who also gave name to the tribe Asias at Sardis. As for Europe, no one can say whether it is surrounded by the sea or not, neither is it known whence the name of Europe was derived, nor who gave it name, unless we say that Europe was so called after the Tyrian Europe, and before her time was nameless, like the other divisions. But it is certain that Europe was an Asiatic, and never even set foot on the land which the Greeks now call Europe, only sailing from Phoenicia to Crete, and from Crete to Lycia. However let us quit these matters. We shall ourselves continue to use the names which custom sanctions.”

Herodotus on Hellenes and Phoenicians, c. 430 B.C.

Herodotus wrote in “Histories”: Book I, 1-2: The Phoenicians, who had formerly dwelt on the shores of the Persian Gulf, 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. They landed at many places on the coast, and among the rest at Argos, which was then pre-eminent above all the states included now under the common name of Hellas. Here they exposed their merchandise, and traded with the natives for five or six days; at the end of this time, when almost everything was sold, there came down to the beach a number of women, and among them the daughter of the king, who was, they say, agreeing in this with the Hellenes, Io, the child of Inachus. The women were standing by the stern of the ship intent upon their purchases, when the Phoenicians, with a general shout, rushed upon them. The greater part made their escape, but some were seized and carried off. Io herself was among the captives. The Phoenicians put the women on board their vessel, and set sail for Egypt. Thus did Io pass into Egypt, and thus commenced the series of outrages. . . .At a later period, certain Greeks, with whose name they are unacquainted, but who would probably be Cretans, made a landing at Tyre, on the Phoenician coast, and bore off the king's daughter, Europa. In this they only retaliated. The Cretans say that it was not them who did this act, but, rather, Zeus, enamored of the fair Europa, who disguised himself as a bull, gained the maiden's affections, and thence carried her off to Crete, where she bore three sons by Zeus: Sarpedon, Rhadamanthys, and Minos, later king of all Crete.” [Source: Herodotus’s “Histories”, written 440 B.C., translated by George Rawlinson, (New York: Dutton & Co., 1862)]

In Book V: '57-59, Herodotus wrote: “Now the Gephyraean clan, claim to have come at first from Eretria, but my own enquiry shows that they were among the Phoenicians who came with Cadmus to the country now called Boeotia. In that country the lands of Tanagra were allotted to them, and this is where they settled. The Cadmeans had first been expelled from there by the Argives, and these Gephyraeans were forced to go to Athens after being expelled in turn by the Boeotians. The Athenians received them as citizens of their own on set terms. These Phoenicians who came with Cadmus and of whom the Gephyraeans were a part brought with them to Hellas, among many other kinds of learning, the alphabet, which had been unknown before this, I think, to the Greeks. As time went on the sound and the form of the letters were changed. At this time the Greeks who were settled around them were for the most part Ionians, and after being taught the letters by the Phoenicians, they used them with a few changes of form. In so doing, they gave to these characters the name of Phoenician. I have myself seen Cadmean writing in the temple of Ismenian Apollo at Boeotian Thebes engraved on certain tripods and for the most part looking like Ionian letters.”

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, The Louvre, The British Museum

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Mesopotamia , National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, especially Merle Severy, National Geographic, May 1991 and Marion Steinmann, Smithsonian, December 1988, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, BBC, Encyclopædia Britannica, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “History of Warfare” by John Keegan (Vintage Books); “History of Art” by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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