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The Phoenician Culture Essay

The Phoenicians have long been regarded as amongst the first and best seafarers in Ancient Human history. Their advancements in nautical technology and their peoples’ skill on the sea allowed for them to create colonies throughout the Mediterranean Basin and create legends of possible African circumnavigation and while no evidence has been found, journeys across the sea into the Western Hemisphere.

What allowed these Levantines to become such capable seafarers and what had forced them to turn their culture to the sea? Many answers can be given to these two question when one looks at oth the political environment, the geography, and the technology of the kingdoms in the Near East that allowed for the Phoenician culture to emerge. The Phoenicians are a Semitic group that existed in an area of the Levant and Near East that they are commonly referred to as a Canaan-Semitic people .

They also have several theories for their origin, the oldest was propagated by Herodotus that they came from around Bahrain around the Red Sea and then traveled overland to where they came to live along the Levantine coast “This people had formerly dwelt on the shores f the Erythraean Sea, having migrated to the Mediterranean and settled in the parts which they now inhabit. ” .

The next theory is believed that they come from what would be Northern Syria and South East Turkey and then travelled down to the coast. The last two theories can be combined as they are opposites on the same coin as they both revolve around the invasion from the “Sea People” around 1200 B. C. the first being that the Sea People created what became the Phoenicians through conquering the local people already in the area and combining with the local population.

The other angle of this heory is that the Phoenicians were not that much different from the peoples around them and through the Sea People conquering those around them and leaving them alone allowed them to turn into what the group that are now known as the Phoenicians. Many have come to believe this as there is not archeological evidence that distinguishes them from other Canaanite-Semitic peoples that existed in the Levantine Coast such as the Arameans and the Judah until they started trading with those such as the Egyptians started sailing over the sea .

Where ever the Phoenicians had come from did not have as reat of an impact on them as the location of where they ended up in. The home cities of the Phoenicians of Tyre, Sidon and Byblos lay on a strip of the Levantine Coast that stretched just under 200 miles, they were hemmed into the strip from the east geographically by Mt Lebanon that spanned for 110 miles of land occupied by the Phoenician cities stopped any spread eastward.

Farm land was fertile but not enough to feed a growing population . One of these key resources that the Phoenicians had in their corner where the forests of trees that grew on the slopes of Mt Lebanon, trees like pines, cypresses, nd the famous Lebanese cedar. Expansion by land however was not a reasonable option for the Phoenicians. Politically the region that the Phoenicians settled in did not give them much chance to turn into a land empire either.

With the Egyptians to the south and Hittites to the north that continually fought over the area of the Levant sending armies up and down the coast, Egypt fought to keep the Phoenician states free as a friendly merchant state and the Hittites trying to take control of the region for their own control and eventually Assyrians to the north east. The Phoenicians were faced against three very large empires that all but stopped their growth by land which of course gives the Phoenicians one last direction to expand, the west to the Mediterranean Sea .

The Phoenicians were in a unique position however as their proximity along the coast of the Sea along with their inability to expand on land coupled with their need for food to offset the production of their farms and, their numerous of resources such as murex shells which was turned into the deep purple dye that gave them their name, to wine and glass and lastly the famous Lebanese cedars, the tall ighty trees that the Phoenicians sold to anyone from Egyptian Pharaohs to King David of Israel .

It gave them the chance to become the merchants and traders they will be known to become. The Mediterranean Sea had been empty since the collapse of the Bronze Age by the Sea People and gave the Phoenicians the perfect opportunity to expand across the ors the Egyptians did not have the capability to build a seaworthy ship. The Egyptians rarely looked to the waters that bordered them, concentrating mostly on the Nile which serves as the lifeline for their Kingdom.

As such their hips were made to sail these calm shallow water, there for they also didn’t use what precious amounts of wood they had as wood went to building temples, pyramids and create chariots for the army, instead their Nile river boats were constructed using bundles of papyrus tied together lengthwise . When the Egyptians used wood to construct ships the timbers were held together with lashings and the boats had no support structure and a flat bottom as seen in the first figure.

This was a good shape for a boat that travelled on a calm river as stability was not a concern on a slow-moving body of water like the Nile owever would not fare well on well on open water like the waters as their closest Mediterranean. When a Pharaoh looked to the Red Sea and wished to send out boats on a trade expeditions to the land of Punt the boats were given more of a structure to their frame yet nothing that would be innovative in terms of nautical ability. As seen in the second figure these boats still had their planks lashed together with rope however they were given floor timber to keep the planks from shifting around.

The Egyptians held the planks to these floor timbers with a construction technique alled mortise and tenons which has a small peg or rectangular piece of wood in a channel cut into both pieces of timber however unlike figure three the Egyptians never utilized a second set of pegs to lock the tenon into place . These ships regardless of their construction still had relatively flat bottoms which as stated above is still meant for calmer river waters and is not meant to travel the deeper waters of the sea.

The advancements pioneered by the Phoenicians allowed them to travel into the deeper waters of the Mediterranean Sea. The most important of these is the development of a proto-keel, keels purpose on a ship much like the fins on a fish is to give it balance in the water, its gives the ship the v shape at the bottom of the hull and helps the ship be stable in deeper waters. The next advancement was that of the structure in the body of the ships, in figure 4 the ship was given a structure of thin timbers called ribs which travelled width wise across the inner hull, this kept the hull timbers from moving laterally.

The Phoenicians also improved upon the mortar and tenon system as stated above by using a set of pegs that would slide into each end of he tenon anchoring it into place in each plank that it would hold together, this advancement was so beneficial in terms of ships construction that when the Romans started making a fleet of their own this system would be come to be known as “Coagmenta Punicana” or Phoenician joints .

This advancement in form and construction allowed for ships to be built larger and longer, as the ship shown in the first figure was around 32 feet long by seven feet wide compared to a Phoenician ship found recently of the coast of Malta is estimated to be around 42 feet in length and 17 feet in width .

A wider boat will be more stable in the water than a thinner one and a longer boat will also be able to track better and travel faster than a shorter boat giving, the Phoenicians also capitalized on the setup of these ships as their ships were mostly powered by rowers incase wind was nonexistent on that day, they added more rowers and another bank of rowers above the first to maximize the power they could get from human strength .

They not only advanced their knowledge in their ship making ability but also in their knowledge of navigation as well, they studied the stars and used he Ursa Minor constellation to navigate as they identified that it took a tighter path around the celestial north pole as opposed to Ursa Major, their use of the constellation for navigation lead to the Ursa Minor being called the Phoenice or Ursa Phoenicia As they started sailing on voyages over the Mediterranean, their knowledge in the currents grew and was spread to other Phoenician captains, a knowledge that they protected more than the goods they carried as purported by Strabo who claimed that a Phoenician would run his ship aground and draw his enemies after him than allow them to gain knowledge of heir sea routes . The Phoenicians spread across the Mediterranean using this knowledge.

First in Cyprus and then Northern Africa, Western Sicily, the islands of Corsica and Sardinia and Southern France, they spread across the sea looking for new people to trade with always setting up trade posts in the cities they found spread across the region, as their interaction with the city grew over time so did their influence till eventually these cities became Phoenician colonies through emersion as most of these colonies had evidence of occupation before the arrival of the Phoenicians.

Many believe that their ability to start expanding across the Mediterranean is tied with the alliance between King Hiram of Tyre and King Solomon of Israel, as gaining an ally that is fully capable of defending itself an is very close by would be a benefit to the Phoenicians . In Cyprus, the Phoenicians traded with other merchants for other types of lumber and copper they used the island as the first main trade hub for ships to either sail north to Greece and Rhodes or west towards Italy and Spain or south towards Africa. Phoenician colonization first targeted the city of Kition on the

South-Eastern coast of the island and follows the idea stated above as there were human inhabitants well before the Phoenician merchants arrived and that it became their first colony around the 10th century because of immersion through contact rather than being founded by the Phoenicians . They then expanded westward to Sicily around the mid-9th century B. C. The island off the western point of the island would become the Phoenician city of Motya to the east was Soluntum and in between is what would become one of Sicily’s greatest cities, Palermo.

These cities were created to trade with the local people that lived in land in the mountains for resources like such as copper and marble along with fruits, olives, and wine. The foundation of Phoenicia’s most famous colony of Carthage between 846 and 813 B. C. ave the Phoenicians a strategic benefit as they could control trade going through the Strait of Sicily and if needed could deny access to merchant ships and force them to sail around the northern coast of Sicily and sail through the smaller Strait of Messina.

Continuing their western expansion, they setup trade cities on the islands of Corsica and Sardinia, the cities of Cagliari, Olbia and Bithia all created to serve as trade hubs between the local people who sold the goods and resources and the Phoenician captains who bought them to load their ships with goods. Spain and North Western Africa soon came under the Phoenicians influence as the cities of Gadiz, Malaga, Cartama in southern Spain and the cities of Tingis around the 8th B. C. and the eastern most colony of Mogador founded in 7th century B. C .

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