Friday, September 23, 2016

Why Did the Phoenicians Sail into the Atlantic? – Part I

It is always interesting to see how modern man thinks about things of the ancient past. Take the idea of the Phoenicians, a now vanished pre-Roman civilization in, originating in Lebanon and later in North Africa, at Carthage, sailing out into the Atlantic for the purpose of discovery as so many Theorists want us to believe so they can justify their models of people living in areas before Lehi arrived. Or just historians who want to give undeserved credit to some past group or people.
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 Mediterranean Sea at the time was 965,300 square miles—2,300 miles in length with an average depth of 4,900 feet and a maximum depth of 16, 896 feet—plenty of sailing space for any purpose, with lands surrounding the Sea enabling ships to move about and land wherever they needed. In addition, the Sea is almost landlocked, providing easy sailing and typically uneventful. For the emerging trade business of the Phoenicians, who opened up what was then the western reaches of the Mediterranean with their settlement of Carthage, developing a flourishing sea trade within the reaches of the Mediterranean.
    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

     Originally, the land route to the Mediterranean consisted of a shipment from Cornwall across the channel to Morlais on the northwest coast of Gaul (Gaul was a region of Western Europe during the Iron Age that was inhabited by Celtic tribes, encompassing present day France, Luxembourg, Belgium, most of Switzerland, Northern Italy, as well as the parts of the Netherlands, central Italy and Germany on the west bank of the Rhine). Then by pack mule all across Gaul to Marseilles in the South of France along the Mediterranean coast, where it was then loaded onto Phoenician ships and sailed to the eastern Mediterranean.
    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

    Innumerable ancient workings in Cornwall still attest to this trade, and tin is still mined there today. Lord Avebury and Sir John Evans held the opinion that the trade existed as early as 1500 B.C., and Sir Edward Creasy writes: "The British mines mainly supplied the glorious adornment of Solomon's Temple." This matter ties in very well with the involvement of Phoenician builders with construction of Solomon's Temple.
    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.
    The subsequent spread and growth of Phoenician colonies in the western Mediterranean, and even out to the Atlantic coasts of Africa and Spain, is as much the achievement of Carthage as of the original Phoenician trading cities such as Tyre and Sidon. But no doubt links were maintained with the homeland, and new colonists continued to come west.
    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.
    In this B.C. era of the Phoenicians, the Mediterranean Sea itself was an important route for merchants and travelers of ancient times that allowed for trade and cultural exchange between emergent peoples of the region, and basically connected the known world, either by sea directly down the Red Sea, or with the Silk Road in the eastern Mediterranean.
(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)

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