The Phoenicians

Phoenicia was an exceedingly small country, its length being only about 120 miles, and its breadth nowhere greater than 20 miles. Indeed it may be described as a mere slip of coast-land, sufficiently large to accommodate a range of port towns, such as a merchant people required. The most northern of these Phoenician cities was Aradus, situated on a small island; the most southern was the famous Tyre; and between the two were situated many others, of which the chief were Sidon, Berytus, Tripolis, and Byblus. The greater part of the population was contained in these cities, the rural population being small in proportion.

Originally, Phoenicia was divided into a number of little states or communities, each having a town for its metropolis, with a hereditary king of its own; and ere the country was restricted by the formation of the Jewish nation, the number of these Phoenician or Canaanitish principalities must have been considerable. The Phoenicians were a fragment of the Canaanites of Scripture; and doubtless in the annals of the separate Phoenician towns, such as Tyre, Sidon, and Aradus, were preserved record from the Phoenician point of view, of many of those ancient transactions which are related in the Scriptural account of the settlement of the Jews in Canaan. Without going back, however, into the remoter period of Phoenician history, one of the questions connected with which is, whether Tyre (founded, it was said, B.C. 2700) or Sidon was the more ancient town, let us give a summary view of the nature of the Phoenician civilization at the period of its highest celebrity - namely, from B.C. 1200 to B. 0. 700, at which time we find Tyre exercising a presiding influence over the other Phoenician communities.

The Phoenicians were the great trading nation of antiquity. Situated, at so convenient a point on the Mediterranean, it devolved on them to transport to the sea-shore the commodities of the East, brought to them overland by Arabian and Egyptian caravans, and from the sea-shore to distribute them among the expecting nations of the west. Nor were they without valuable products of their own. The sand of their coasts was particularly suitable for the manufacture of glass; their bays abounded in species of fish which produced a fine purple dye - the celebrated Tyrian purple of antiquity; and in various parts of the country there were excellent mines of iron and copper. It was, in fact, essential for the general interests of the race that the people inhabiting that portion of the Mediterranean coasts should devote themselves to commerce. In anticipation of this, as it might seem, the mountains of Libanus, which separated the narrow Phoenician territory from Syria, were stocked with the best timber, which, transported over the short distance which intervened between these mountains and the sea, abundantly supplied the demands of the Phoenician dockyards. There was something in the Phoenician character, also, which suited the requirements of their geographical position. Skillful, enterprising, griping in their desire for wealth, and in other respects resembling much their neighbors the Jews, to whom they were allied in race, and whose language was radically identical with their own - theirs was essentially the merchant type of character.

Standing as the Phoenicians did as the people by whom the exchange between the East and the West was managed, a complete view of their life and manner of activity should embrace first, their relations with the East - that is, their overland trade with Assyria, Arabia, Egypt, Persia, and India; secondly, their relations with the West that is, their maritime trade with the various nations of the Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts; and thirdly, the peculiar character of mind which either accompanied or resulted from the consciousness of such a position in the great family of mankind.