The question we raise is “why did the Phoenicians sail into the Atlantic?” What would have driven this early people, intent on trading, to sail through the Gates of Hercules and into the unknown?
At the time in history when ships were quite limited in strength and power (before the invention of deep-water keel-hulled vessels), when the waves of the deep oceans placed stress upon the planking of vessels beyond the ship’s capability to withstand, and when no one knew what lay out in the deep ocean to begin with—why sail out there?
Before keels, plank-built vessels sailed the waveless Mediterranean and coastal waters, but were not strong enough to venture into the deep waters of the oceans because their hulls could not take the constant battering of waves and strong currents
The fact that tin trade existed is too well attested to need proof. Herodotus as early as 445 BC speaks of the British Isles as the Tin Islands or Cassiterides. Pytheas (352-323 BC) mentions the tin trade, as does also Polybius (circa 160). Diodorus Siculus gives a detailed description of the trade. He tells us that the tin was mined, beaten into squares, and carried to an island called Ictis, joined to the mainland at low tide, which is generally held to be Mount St. Michael in Cornwall, although some have identified it with Falmouth.
St. Michael off the coast of Cornwall in western England—at low tide, you can walk from the island to the mainland
However, this was a long, arduous and expensive route, and subject to marauding bands of Gauls, as it was transported across France on pack horses to Marseilles.
Land Route in red; sea route in yellow. The Phoenicians established the sea route as a means to saving money, expediting their trade of tin, and monopolizing the tin trade industry in the Mediterranean
Carthage is the largest of the settlements founded by the Phoenicians on the north African coast. It rapidly assumes a leading position among the neighboring colonies. The traditional date of its founding by Dido—according to the ancient Greek historian, Timaeus, Dido was the founder and first queen of Carthage—is 814 BC, but archaeological evidence suggests that it is probably settled around the middle of the 8th century.
Yellow Circle shows the area of Phoenician influence and control from their earliest existence through about 800 B.C., when they expanded into the central Mediterranean, founded Carthage, and began operating to the west toward Iberia (Spain). By about 700 B.C., when Carthage/Phoenicia began controlling the tin trade within the Mediterranean, their influence extended to the white circle, which they controlled without opposition, building forts in the west to keep other ships from sailing through Gibraltar to the Atlantic. In this way they kept their sea route to Britain and Gaul a highly-guarded secret
In addition to these exports and imports, the Phoenicians also conducted an important transit trade, especially in the manufactured goods of Egypt and Babylonia. From the lands of the Euphrates and Tigris regular trade routes led to the Mediterranean. In Egypt the Phoenician merchants soon gained a foothold; they alone were able to maintain a profitable trade in the anarchic times of the 22nd and 23rd dynasties (945-730 BC). According to Herodotus, though there were never any regular colonies of Phoenicians in Egypt, the Tyrians had a quarter of their own in Memphis. The Arabian caravan trade in perfume, spices, and incense passed through Phoenician hands on its way to Greece and the West, giving them predominance in the Mediterranean.
The role that tradition especially assigns to the Phoenicians as the merchants of the Levant was first developed on a considerable scale at the time of the Egyptian 18th dynasty. The position of Phoenicia, at a junction of both land and sea routes, under the protection of Egypt, favored this development, and the discovery of the alphabet and its use and adaptation for commercial purposes assisted the rise of a mercantile society. A fresco in an Egyptian tomb of the 18th dynasty depicted seven Phoenician merchant ships that had just put in at an Egyptian port to sell their goods, including the distinctive Canaanite wine jars in which wine, a drink foreign to the Egyptians, was imported. The Story of Wen-Amon recounts the tale of a Phoenician merchant, Werket-el of Tanis in the Nile Delta, who was the owner of "50 ships" that sailed between Tanis and Sidon. The Sidonians are also famous in the poems of Homer as craftsmen, traders, pirates, and slave dealers. The prophet Ezekiel (chapters 27 and 28), in a famous denunciation of the city of Tyre, catalogs the vast extent of its commerce, covering most of the then-known world.
At the height of Phoenician power, they controlled the sea lanes of the Mediterranean,
guarded jealously and forcefully the Straits of Gibraltar (only Portugal had access to the Atlantic), and brought goods from all over to the east where the traded with the Silk Road caravans (red arrriws) then took those goods and brought them to the rest of the world
(See the next post, “Why Did the Phoenicians Sail into the Atlantic? – Part II,” for more information as to why the Phoenicians seem unlikely to have been explorers and adventurers as plain businessmen expanding an ever-increasing trade business)