Thursday 2 May 2019

The Remarkable Phoenicians

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The Phoenicians, Remarkable Survivors

Three land based civilisations in and near Mesopotamia managed to survived the Bronze Age collapse (1200 to 1150 BC).
Свифт/Svift 1500 BC Wiki
The best of them were the Assyrians (in the north) with their stable monarchy, powerful army and secure borders, but even they (from 1055–936 BC) had a very significant (but temporary) setback when they encountered new Semitic peoples (Arameans who had arrived in Damascus).
Babylon continued to struggle, usually badly, under pressure from the Assyrians and other neighbours, until it joined a grand alliance to finally defeat the (temporarily weakened) Assyrians (626 BC) and grab its empire. They had reestablished their former greatness, but it only lasted less than a hundred years before the Persians, under Cyrus the Great, came knocking at their gates. 
The Elamites of Susa (at the edge of Iran/ Mesopotamia) did well for a short time until 1100 BC and after that they suffered for centuries under the aggressive Assyrians.They eventually became part of Persia with the fall of the Assyrians.
Kordas, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phoenicia
By contrast, the Phoenicians not only survived in this difficult period, they thrived!
From a collection of Semitic city states on the coast of Lebanon, the greatest of which was Byblos, they established a great trading and naval empire linked by a string of coastal colonies and trading posts throughout the Mediterranean, past the straits of Gibraltar as far as southern Portugal and a small part of the Atlantic coast of Morocco.
The Bronze Age collapse freed them from being virtual colonies (shipbuilders and suppliers of Lebanese cedar) to the Egyptians. The Mycenaeans, the city of Ugarit and the Hittites had all disappeared and the Egyptians couldn’t match them as sailors, so the waters of the Mediterranean were wide open to them.
They had extraordinary skill in seamanship and trading and a great position in the centre of trade. They set the standard in shipbuilding, glass-making, fine tin-glazed pottery, bronze and silver work. The also developed ways of mass producing their artifacts.
Their initial ships had a sail (at least one), a steering oar (at least one),  a horse-head or similar decoration on the prow and only one bank of oars. Some have falsely credited them with all sorts of sailing innovations that were available before their time (e.g. the keel, the ram), but they were widely seen as masters of the craft during their time.
They developed heavy, wide, big-bellied transport ships that could stack cargo, carrying somewhere in the region of 450 tons. Their greatest innovation was their were light, fast, highly maneuverable warships with two (biremes) or three levels of rowers (triremes) and supplementary sails. They had rams, grappling hooks, spear men and archers and used various techniques to sink, board, or break the oars of enemy ships and were taken up by their later rivals, the Greeks. Late in the period, ballistas and catapults were sometimes added.Their job was defend the merchant fleets from pirates and other raiders, and for a long time, the Phoenicians ruled the seas.
The Phoenicians were also well known for their alphabet, derived from an earlier Egyptian version (1850 BC). It spread throughout their vast trading empire. It was able to be adapted to different languages and facilitated literacy beyond scribes and the religious elite. It became the ancestor of almost every alphabet in use today.
Sadly, though they possessed an extensive literature nothing much remains beyond religious and burial inscriptions. It was written on perishable material, like papyrus, and needed to be endlessly transcribed. Some of it was likely taken to Carthage but all was lost when the Romans sacked that city (146 BC) and scattered what they didn't carry away.
Yom https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phoenicia
The Greeks, Etruscans, and Romans freely admitted what they owed to the Phoenicians. Their influence can be traced as far as the Iberian and Celtic worlds, but we still don’t know many things about them, like how they survived the Bronze Age collapse, or much about the first four hundred years. It may have been their Golden Age or maybe this came later.
On one hand, they were unmatched on the seas but on the other hand, population and trade was reduced until the world could recover. By the time the world had sufficiently recovered, their great maritime rivals, the Greeks had begun their own recovery. 776 BC was the time of first Olympics, and is taken as a significant date in the Greek recovery.
The Phoenicians were not an empire in the military sense (for Carthage, see below). The population in their colonies were a mix of locals and others. The Phoenicians didn’t have the numbers to fill them all. It seems likely that some of their ‘colonies’ were pre-existing towns in handy maritime positions before the Phoenicians sailed (or rowed) in with their rich trading goods and superior culture.
Most of their cities and colonies were independent and self governing.
There are many maps dividing the Mediterranean into Phoenician and Greek spheres of influence.  That doesn’t mean that individual Phoenician merchants stopped visiting Greek areas as they recovered. It just outlines an area of political influence. It may also underestimate their naval dominance during the Greek Dark Ages.
Gepgepgep (German captions) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phoenicia
The Phoenicians lived through many turbulent times and again proved to be great survivors. They were mostly peaceful, with powerful navies, but not much of an army beyond a citizen’s militia. They got on well with their cousins, the Israelites, and the newer Semitic tribes. The Philistines looked up to them and gradually embraced their culture and language.
When faced with a local superpower, they were forced to surrender and pay tribute. Their strongest city, Tyre built a fortified island off their coast which allowed them to survive attacks by the Egyptians and multiple others. The Assyrians besieged them 5 times: once for 4 yrs and once for 5 yrs. After the Assyrians were finally defeated, the resurrected Babylonians besieged them for 13 yrs before agreements for tribute were struck.
When the Persians, under Cyrus the Great, conquered the Neo-Babylonian Empire, the Phoenicians peacefully transferred their allegiance and tribute to the Persians. While they thrived under enlightened Persian rule, they had begun to lose some of their cultural dominance to Persian culture. They also continued to lose their maritime dominance to the Greeks and their previous colony, Carthage.
When Alexander the Great conquered the Persians, the Phoenicians offered surrender peacefully again, that was until Alexander demanded he be allowed to make a sacrifice at Tyre’s holiest and most famous temple.
To the people of Tyre this would be a sacrilege, but Alexander was not a man to say no to.
Tyre stood alone. Alexander besieged Tyre for over six months in 332 BC. His ingenious land based assaults (e.g. building a causeway) were defeated by the equally ingenious Tyrians until he realised he had gained a navy, and had offers for him to borrow more. It allowed him to overwhelm Tyre's navy by brute force.  He was said to have killed 6,000 of the defenders, crucified a further 2,000 Tyrians on the beach and sold most of the rest, 30,000 people, into slavery.
Had I mentioned that Alexander was a man you didn't say 'no' to?
The cities of Lebanon remain today, after passing through the hands of many conquerors, but 332 BC is usually taken as the end of the Phoenician era.
Some probable misconceptions about the Phoenicians
1. “They were named after their rare and expensive purple dye, produced with difficulty from the murex shellfish”. The Phoenicians refered to themselves as citizens of their mother city, or Canaanites. The French historian, Françoise Briquel-Chatonnet asserts that the classic Greek name ‘Phoiníkē (Phoenicians) comes from the Mycenaean po-ni-ki-jo, po-ni-ki and this in turn, is a borrowing from Ancient Egyptian ( fnḫw )  meaning "woodcutters" or “carpenters” (after the famous Lebanese Cyprus). If she is correct, the famous purple dye was named after (a name for) the Phoenician people and not visa versa.
2. “The Phoenicians dominated trade in the Red Sea and possibly went as far as India”. The ancient spice trade between Arabia and India goes back millennia. It was monopolised by the local Arabs who were also great sailors. From Arabia it was mainly overland until rather late in ancient history. In Egypt, wood had to be imported. It was alright if you were the Pharaoh, but locally made merchant boats relied on papyrus reeds, making the Egyptians inferior sailors. If they mounted an exploratory expedition they usually hired Phoenicians and ordered Phoenician ships, but this hardly translated into trading dominance. Herodotus claimed one such Egyptian funded Phoenician expedition circumnavigated Africa, returning via the Mediterranean, after 3 years. This was only one of the Phoenician and Carthaginian expeditions.
3. “The Phoenicians regular traded with Ireland, Cornwall and/ or Germany”. Regular trade across the English channel dates to Neolithic times and continued in the Bronze Age and beyond. In the Bronze Age the then people of Britain were making boats of oak planks sewn together by yew. By the end of the Greek Dark Ages, the Celts (who were able shipbuilders, mariners and traders locally) had set up a busy cross channel trading network. It is the reason that Ireland, Wales, Scotland and Britain absorbed the (dominant) Celtic culture (from across the channel). Ireland and its people were able to acquire a proud Celtic culture and a Celtic language, though genetically they remained closer to the early people of Britain.
Carthage may have mounted exploratory expeditions further into the Atlantic but this didn’t mean they were responsible for tin or other trade with Britain and Ireland. They did move further into Gaul in preparation for their second war with the Romans.
4. "They had to follow the coast and only sailed during the day." The Phoenicians regularly undertook journeys of more than a days sailing. Their warships had sails and rowers, but their merchants relied on wind and sail, so their speed and distance traveled varied with the wind. The Mediterranean has lots of landmarks allowing travel away from the coast and the Phoenicians did steer by the stars at night.

Post script to the Phoenicians, Carthage (founded ? 814 BC)
Javierfv1212 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carthage

Many Phoenicians fled to their former colony of Carthage which had already been taking over from the original Phoenicians for many centuries. It was more militaristic and behaved more like an empire, using its dominant navy and learning land warfare from many places, including the Greeks.
Carthage took over former Phoenician colonies and places like Sardinia (sometimes forcefully). It fought multiple wars with the Greeks over Sicily 580–265 BC and fought hard against the Romans twice. After the Romans forced a war on their remnant population for a third and last time, they were finally defeated in 146 BC. 

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