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.

With regard to the overland trade of the Phoenicians with the Eastern countries, little requires to be said except that it was one attended with great risks - the journey of a caravan across the deserts, and through the roaming tribes which separated Phoenicia from interior Asia, being a more serious enterprise than a long sea voyage. It is probable that the Phoenicians managed this commerce not in their own persons, but as wealthy speculative merchants, dealing in a skillful manner with the native Egyptian, Assyrian, or Arabian caravan-proprietors, with whom they maintained an understood connection. At the same time it is likely that they stimulated and regulated the Eastern commerce, by means of Phoenician agents or emissaries despatched into the interior with general instructions, just as in later times European agents were often despatched into the interior of Africa to direct the movements of native merchants. It was in their maritime trade with the West, however, that the Phoenicians chiefly exhibited the resources of their own character. Shipping the Oriental commodities, as well as their native products, at Tyre or Sidon, they carried them to all the coasts of the Mediterranean as far as Spain, selling them there at immense profit, and returning with freights of Western goods. With some of the nations of the Mediterranean their intercourse would be that of one civilized nation with another; with others, and especially with those of the West, it must have been an intercourse similar to that of a British ship with those rude islanders who exchange their valuable pro ducts for nails, bits of looking glass, and other trifles. Whether their customers were civilized or savage, however, the Phoenicians reaped profits from them. Their aim was to monopolise the commerce of the Mediterranean. 'If at any time,' it is said, 'their ships bound on a voyage observed that a stranger kept them company, or followed them in their track, they were sure to get rid of him, or deceive him if they could; and in this they went so far as to venture the loss of their ships, and even of their lives, so that they could but destroy or disappoint him; so jealous were they of foreigners, and so bent on keeping all to themselves. And to add to the dangers of the sea, and discourage other nations from trading, they practiced piracy, or pretended to be at war with such as they met when they thought themselves strongest.' This policy succeeded so far, that hardly a merchant ship was to be seen in the Mediterranean not manned by Phoenicians. From this extension of the Phoenician commerce throughout the Mediterranean resulted, by necessity, an extensive system of colonization. The distance, for instance, of Spain from Phoenicia, rendered all the greater by the ancient custom of always sailing close by the coast, made it necessary for the Phoenician traders to have intermediate ports, settlement, or factories, to which their vessels might resort, not to say that such settlements were required for the collection of the produce which was to be taken back to Phoenicia. Accordingly, in process of time, Phoenician colonies were established at all available points of the Mediterranean

the coasts of Africa, Sicily, Sardinia, and Spain, and in the Balearic Islands; the rising maritime spirit of the Greeks excluding the Phoenicians from the Aegean and the coasts of Asia Minor. Among the most ancient of the colonies from Tyre were Carthage and Utica on the African coast, and Gades (Cadiz) in Spain; all of which were founded before the first of the Greek Olympiads (B.C. 884). From these afterwards arose smaller settlements, which diffused the Phoenician agency still more extensively among the uncivilized nations of Africa and western Europe. Gades in Spain, situated, according to the ancient mode of navigation, at a distance of seventy-five days' sail from Tyre and Sidon - a distance larger than that which now divides Liverpool from Bombay - was a colony of special importance; first, as commanding the inland Spanish trade, particularly valuable at that time, inasmuch as the gold and silver mines of Spain caused it to be regarded as the Mexico or Peru of the ancient world; and secondly, as forming a point from which the Phoenician commerce could be still farther extended along the extra-Mediterranean shores. From this point, we are told, the Phoenician ships extended their voyages southward for thirty days' sail along the coast of Africa, and northwards as far as Britain, where they took in tin from Cornwall, and even as far as the Baltic, where they collected amber. Upon what a scale of profit must these expeditions have been conducted, when, from Tyre to Cornwall, not a merchant ship besides those of the Phoenicians was to be seen! And who can tell what influence these Phoenician visits may have had on the then rude nations bordering the Atlantic? - or how far these ante-historic Phoenician impulses may have stimulated the subsequent career of these nations? Like the visit of an English merchantman now to a South Sea Island, so must have been the visit of a Phoenician trading vessel 3000 years ago to the Britons of Cornwall.

As might be expected, this great merchant people were among the most cultured of antiquity, and especially skilled in all the arts of luxurious living. The 27th chapter of the book of Ezekiel presents a most striking picture of the pride and magnificence of the Tyrians, and embodies many minute particulars relative to Phoenician customs and mode of life. Indeed it has been pronounced the most early and most authentic record extant relative to the commerce of the ancients.

Among the contributions made by the Phoenicians to the west, were alphabetical writing, the Greek alphabet being a derivative from the Phoenician; the scale of weight; and that of coined money. Having made these and other contributions to the west, Phoenicia began about (700 B.C.) to decline in importance; the Ionian Greeks, and latterly the Egyptians, becoming its commercial rivals on the Mediterranean: and the invasions of the Assyrians from the east depriving it of independence. Subdued by the Assyrians and Babylonians, Phoenicia was transferred by them to the Persians. Among the last of the Phoenician achievements was the circumnavigation, of Africa B.C. 600 a feat undertaken by Phoenician sailors at the command of the Egyptian king Nekos, one of the immediate successors of Psammetik: and, as is now believed, really per formed - the course pursued being from the Red Sea round Africa to Spain - the reverse, therefore, of that followed by Vasco de Gama 2000 years later. About the time that Phoenicia began to wane, her colony, Carthage, assumed her place in the affairs of the world. Carthaginian civilization was essentially a mere repetition of the Phoenician, although under a different form of government; Carthaginian history interweaves itself with that of the Romans.