Saturday, December 8, 2018

Where Did the Phoenicians Sail? – Part I

There is much written about the ancient Phoenicians by careless and unknowing writers, even historians, who fail to spend the effort to both search out the authentic historical facts and unbiasedly apply that information with the true reality of the times. Some have been so enamored by the romance of the Phoenician maritime traders, they have given the ancients talents and abilities far beyond their capability and their Age, suggesting they sailed far and wide across deep oceans, even to the Americas in the prehistoric B.C. era.
1898 Map of Cape Verde Islands, 33 years after they were first discovered, which was by Genoa-born António de Noli in 1856, who was afterward appointed governor of Cape Verde by Portuguese king Afonso V

However, sailing beyond the sight of land along the eastern Atlantic in such a time  was unknown and the many islands off the coast undiscovered, such as Cape Verde off the coast of Africa (1456 AD), Sao Tome and Principe off the coast of Africa (1400s AD), Madeira off the coast of Portugal (1419), Selvagens 175 miles north of Madeira (1438), Bioko Island 60 miles off coast of Nigeria (1472), the Canaries (Fortunate Isles) 62 miles off Morocco (discovered by the Romans in 1st century AD), had not yet been discovered in B.C. times.
It should be noted that the island-peninsula of Ceuta in the Strait of Gibraltar was not discovered until the 5th century B.C. by Carthaginians who called it Abyla, forming one of the famous Pillars of Hercules. This island is on the direct route out of the Mediterranean Sea into the Atlantic, where it became a commercial trade and military way-point thereafter. Only 15 miles across the Strait from Gibraltar, it would have been impossible for any vessel to have sailed past this all-important location without notice, or interest. And for a trading state such as Sidon or Tyre who guarded their routes judiciously not to have secured this most critical way-point and guard post in the Strait of Gibraltar until the 5th century B.C. can only suggest that passing through the Strait into the Atlantic was simply not done until after this period of time and settlement of Cueta by the Phoenicians from Carthage.
    Thus, as history has so readily shown, sailing beyond Gibraltar into the Atlantic Ocean for the Phoenicians as early as some writers want to claim, was beyond their ancient scope.
    To understand this better, Phoenicia is the area of present day Lebanon, just north of Israel, along the northeastern Mediterranean coast. The later Phoenicians that became so powerful and controlled maritime trade in the Mediterranean from about 1200 B.C. to about 600 B.C., were the survivors of the Canannites of the Bronze Age that preceded them, though there was continuity in their population
    With the port cities of ancient Byblos, which became the predominant center from where the Phoenicians dominated the Mediterranean and Erythraean (Red) Sea routes, as well as Sidon and Tyre, early Phoenician sailors opened up a trade monopoly that eventually grew into a maritime empire within the confines of the Mediterranean Sea, and over the latter centuries B.C., Byblos and other Phoenician states such as Sidon, Tyre, Arvad, and Beirut created an important niche for themselves by transporting luxury goods and bulk raw materials from overseas markets around the Mediterranean back to the Near East (an ancient term for what is now called the Middle East, i.e., Southwest Asia, particularly Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and other nations of the Arabian Peninsula ).
    The popularity of Phoenicians as the merchants of the Levant is attested to by recent artifacts found that were manufactured at Sidon and have been found ranging from Egypt to Babylonia. In fact, according to Herodotus, the 4th century BC Greek historian) Phoenicians also conducted an important transit trade, which moved goods around the Mediterranean, especially in the manufactured goods of Egypt and Mesopotamia. Their exports as a whole included cedar and pine wood, fine linen from Tyre, Byblos, and Berytos, cloths dyed with the famous Tyrian purple, embroideries from Sidon, metalwork and glass, glazed faience, wine, salt, and dried fish. They received in return raw materials, such as papyrus, ivory, ebony, silk, amber, ostrich eggs, spices, incense, horses, gold, silver, copper, iron, tin, jewels, and precious stones.
    A fresco in an Egyptian tomb of the 18th dynasty (around 1100 B.C.) 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, an Egyptian temple priest of Amun at Karnak of Ipet-isut in Thebes 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, which was that within the Mediterranean Sea.
    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 to 730 B.C). Though there were never any regular colonies of Phoenicians in Egypt, the Tyrians had a quarter of their own in Memphis, and the Arabian caravan trade in perfume, spices, and incense passed through Phoenician hands on its way to Greece and the West.
    Beginning anciently with Beirut (Canaanite be’erot, meaning “wells” for the underground water table of the area) and Byblos, the latter considered to be the first city in Phoenicia and one of the oldest continuously occupied cities in the world, it is first mentioned in the ancient Egyptian Tell el Amarna letters dating from the 15th century B.C. Called Jaibel or Gubla, artifacts have been found that archaeologists claim show the city dates back to the pre-Bronze Age. Excavations in the downtown city today have unearthed layers of Phoenician, Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, Arab, Crusader and Ottoman remains, making it a truly cosmopolitan area of the Mediterranean.
To the east of Beirut is the Beqaa Valley, situated at the northeastern most extension of the Great Rift Valley that stretches from Syria to the Red Sea, where the area was the source of grain since Roman times. Just east of Beqaa, the ancient ruins of Baalbek, a prehistoric city named for the Canaanite god Baal. The Romans renamed Baalbek “Heliopolis” and built an impressive temple complex, including temples to Baachus, Jupiter, Venus, and the Sun.
    To the south of Byblos and Beirut is located the ancient city of Sidon, which benefited greatly from the development of ships whose curved hulls were able to meet the challenges of the sea, and enabled the Phoenicians to deliver cargoes of Cedar wood to Egypt, beginning their involvement in maritime trade—an endeavor that helped Sidon grow in wealth as they extended their navigation skills across the wide expanse of the Mediterranean Sea.
    It should be kept in mind that the Phoenicians were not united. Their civilization was organized in city-states, similar to those of ancient Greece, with each city-state a politically independent unit, and it is uncertain to what extent the Phoenicians viewed themselves as a single nationality. In terms of archaeology, language, lifestyle, and religion there was little to set the Phoenicians apart as markedly different from other residents of the Levant.
    However, these city-states were often in conflict with each other for domination of the region and its trade. Because of this lack of cooperation, the Phoenicians were conquered and forced to pay tribute to virtually every empire in the region, including the Egyptians, Hittites, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, and Greeks.
(See the next post, “Where Did the Phoenicians Sail? – Part II,” to better understand the range and scope of the Phoenician commercial trading network, and as a result, where the Phoenicians sailed)

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