So why go into the Atlantic?
When Rome was still a tiny village on the Palatine Hill, Phoenician traders were sailing their ships the length and breadth of the Mediterranean and short distances beyond in search of goods to be sold or traded for a handsome profit. There were great risks in making a long sea voyage and bringing home a valuable cargo, but the enormous profit that could be made from selling the goods made the risks worthwhile. The key was to trade a product that was unique, very desirable, hard to get, or desperately needed for other products that were common in the land of the people with whom you were trading. These products may be rare and desirable someplace else, and the trader now had something with which he could once again make a profit--it was a continual process.
The Bronze Age (in Europe 3000 BC to 500 BC) saw extensive trade networks develop across Europe. The technology of smelting copper and tin to form a durable alloy is first seen around the copper deposits of Cyprus. The warm Mediterranean world had few tin deposits, forcing them to trade with cold barbarian lands to the North. We know that from 2000 BC tin mining started in Cornwall, initially focusing on alluvial deposits (river gravels containing ore).
The Phoenicians traded directly with Cornwall. The name “Britain” comes from the Phoenician name “Baratanac,” meaning “Land of Tin.” The Greek historian Herodotus, who is the source for much of the little we know about the ancient world, describes how tin comes from the Cassiterides, ‘lands of tin’ that sat beyond Gaul (France). It’s thought that the Phoenicians, who managed the trade, might have been a little cagey about the exact whereabouts of this economically valuable land.
Tin mine in Cornwall, England, operating since ancient times
The deposits of tin in the ancient world were usually small and not very plentiful. As an example, tin is a relatively rare element in the earth’s crust, with about two-parts per million (compared to Iron which is 50,000 ppm, but with gold at 0.005 ppm). Ancient sources of tin were obviously rare and the metal usually had to be traded over very long distances to meet demand in areas which lacked its own deposits. However, its importance was extremely valuable since it was required to make bronze, and bronze was required for harder metals such as those for weapons, axes, and other tools since the tin metal strengthened the sharpness of the copper.
Phoenician overland expeditions northward discovered the existence of tin in Brittany in Gaul (France) and also across the channel in Devon and Cornwall in England; however, overland travel to obtain these deposits was both lengthy and costly, so they took their ships out into the Atlantic and hugged the coast as they sailed northward. This proved such a lucrative trade bonanza, that the Phoenicians opened guard posts along the Iberian peninsula and attacked any other vessel trying to get through Gibraltar out into the Atlantic in order to safeguard their route to the tin.
The Phoenician’s secret sea route to Cornwall, bypassing the land crossing of Gaul (France) and cutting off many days by pack animal to the south coast of France
Though modern historians do not place the reason Rome invaded England as being for Britain’s tin mines, and ancient writers thought the Gallic Wars were for the purpose of giving Caesar sole rule over the Roman Republic, there were those who understood the importance of France’s tin mines as well as those of England, namely Cornwall and Devon. After all, when great military powers invade far-off lands, there are always people who say that their true motivation was to get access to valuable natural resources—and Caesar’s wars in the far off north seem no less for tin than any other reason..
The point being, the Phoenicians did not sail out into the Pacific like the later explorers of the Age of Sail beginning in the 13th and 14 centuries, but went into the Atlantic to gain access to the known world’s largest tin deposits that would then line their own coffers and expand their territorial trading rights. It was a simple matter of business and cornering the market on a most valuable and limited resource. While the Phoenicians did some marvelous things, they did not discover America, did not cross the Atlantic for the frivolous idea of either planting a flag or opening up such distant trade routes, nor did they allow the Mulekites to book passage on their vessels and carry them to the New World—which they would not have had any idea existed at the time. They were business men and their world was trade and in such a world, you do what you do because it will turn a profit.
The Phoenicians were not pilgrimas seeking religious liberty like the Pilgraims; were not settlers looking for a new land; were not adventurers wanting to conquer other lands or rob and steal the wealth of established nations—they were traders, businessmen, seeking to always increase their trade and the objects others might want. Their very acts would have been based on profit, which would have kept them close to home, which is where they spent their time and efforts
They left the safety of the Mediterranean for tin. They knew both Britain and Gaul had tin mines, had been hauling tin overland for some time to bring it down to the south of France to Mediterranean shores. They knew this was a profitable venture, not only to cut down overland expenses and time, but to create a non-competitive control over the tin industry fueling the entire Mediterranean as well as the silk roads and Frankincense Trails. They also knew they could keep their route secret and with the forts they already had along the Iberian peninsula, and their overall control of the western Mediterranean, they obviously thought they could control that tin trade for some time to come. It was a purpose that could not be ignored. Sail to Britain and Gaul, fill their hulls with tin and sail back. They would sail clear to the eastern end of the Mediterranean and appear there with hulls full of tin as they always had after offloading it from the mule trains crossing Gaul. No one would be the wiser, and no one would be thinking there was a sea route to Britain, and no one did for quite some time.
It was the only reason that caused Phoenicians to sail into the Atlantic, that and the slave trade to the south along the coasts of Africa. For those who want to sell an untenable idea about Phoenicians reaching the New World hundreds of years before Columbus would never have happened for the reason stated in this series. The Phoenician world did not depend upon the expansion of their state borders and coffers, but in opening and supplying markets all along the Mediterranean where the vast majority of people lived in the time of the Phoenicians. To go into the Atlantic was both risky and had no profitable value other than for products like tin.