Sunday, December 9, 2018

Where Did the Phoenicians Sail? – Part II

Continuing from the previous post regarding where the early Phoenician mariners sailed. We need to keep in mind that the Phoenicians were not explorers, discoverers, or adventurers—they were merchant traders. Their involvement on the sea was to widen their trading enterprises and spread trade further and further, opening new trading areas and establishing new trading partners.
    Knowledge of Phoenician trading is learned from recovered artifacts from Sidon found in throughout Mesopotamia to Rome and even the Atlantic coasts of Spain and Morocco. To expand in trading, the Phoenicians built settlements and outposts that later became great cities in their own right. The most famous of these outposts was Carthage (founded in 814 B.C. and located in modern-day Tunisia, North Africa) was begun under Pygmalion of Tyre.
Map of the Phoenician trading outposts and those of the Greek; in the latter half of the Phoenician trading period, the Greeks controlled the northern rim of the Mediterranean in the east and the Phoencians the south rim, and concentrated in the Western Mediterranean

In fact, under Pygmalion, Tyre shifted the heart of its early trading empire from the Middles East into the Mediterranean, establishing Carthage, term that can be traced to the Greek Qart-hadasht, meaning “New City,” showing it was a colony, and as history shows, the largest Phoenician outpost. They also settled other colonies such as Kition (Citium, Kittim) on Cypress, which Tyre    ruled beginning in 1000 BC, with the Tyranians rebuilding the city in 850 BC, and maintaining the outpost until 570 BC, when the Persians gained control. The Phoenicians also traded in Sardinia, an island just west of the Italian peninsula, in what is considered to be the beginning of the western Mediterranean.
    It might be noted that as late as 510 BC, Carthage invaded Sardinia and gained control of the west-central and southern part of the island, so they could have an anchorage for sailing further westward. The savage battles for this island suggests both the importance of and anchorage for further westward movement, and the fact that Phoenician had not yet achieved or reached the far western end of the Mediterranean. 262 years later, the Romans, as a result of the First Punic War, gained control of Corsica and Sardinia from Carthage, which they maintained for 694 years.
    Without this anchorage, from which westward movement could be undertaken within the Mediterranean, the great Carthage (Phoenician) dominance of the entire Mediterranean was on hold.
    It might also be of interest to know that from the beginning, the city of Byblos, which flourished long before any other Phoenician city, dates from before 1500 BC, this date being when other Levant Phoenician cities developed. However, these cities are located 2,325 miles from the Straits of Gibraltar (to better understand this, by commercial airliner today that is nearly a 4½-hour flight at about 550 mph—this of moving that distance in an ancient sailing ship covering 90 miles per day—or about twenty-six days steady sailing. While Columbus could maintain that speed, it was not how sailing vessels traveled in BC times for they would have sailed the Mediterranean only during daylight hours, then set in to land and made camp for the night making it at least a 52- to 55-day voyage, which is almost as long as it took Columbus to cross the entire Atlantic).
    In addition, Phoenician Carthage eventually became wealthy and powerful enough to challenge the Roman Republic.
The two major centers of power of the Phoenician commercial network was Tyre and Sidon in Phoenicia and Carthage in Tunesia, North Africa. As Phoenician trade moved westward, the power base shifted from the Levant to Carthage

In fact, the Phoenicians were considered a thatlassocracy, or “sea power,” meaning a state with primarily maritime realsm, an empire at sea such as the Phoenician network of merchant cities. In addition, traditional thalassocracies seldom dominated land interiors, even in their home territories such as Tyre, Sidon and Carthaghe. Whereas an “empire,” though possibly linked principally or solely by sea lanes, always extended the state's territories into mainland interiors. The former was certainly the case with Phoenicia, who settled along the coasts and dealt strictly with coastal lands in their own area and that of the outposts and settlements with whom they traded. Their outward reach along the sea spread across the Mediterranean between 1500 and 300 BC.
    Actually, the Phoenician merchants acted as middlemen for their neighbors. They transported linen and papyrus from Egypt, copper from Cyprus, embroidered cloth from Mesopotamia, spices from Arabia, and ivory, gold, and slaves from Africa to destinations throughout the Mediterranean.
    However, in 572 B.C.E., the Phoenicians fell under the harsh rule of the Assyrians. They continued to trade, but encountered tough competition from Greece over trade routes. As the 4th century B.C. approached, the Phoenicians' two most important cities, Sidon and Tyre, were destroyed by the Persians and Alexander the Great. Many Phoenicians left the Mediterranean coast for their trading colonies, and Phoenicia people and ideas were soon assimilated into other cultures.
    The Phoenicians were among the greatest traders of their time and owed much of their prosperity to trade. At first, they traded mainly with the Greeks. As trading and colonizing spread over the Mediterranean, Phoenicians and Greeks seemed to have split that sea in two: the Phoenicians sailed along and eventually dominated the southern shore, while the Greeks were active along the northern shores. The two cultures rarely clashed, mainly in the Sicilian Wars, and eventually settled into two spheres of influence, the Phoenician in the west and the Greeks to the east.
    In the centuries after 1200 B.C., the Phoenicians were the major naval and trading power of the region. Phoenician trade was founded on the Tyrian purple dye, a violet-purple dye derived from the Murex sea-snail, once profusely available in coastal waters of the eastern Mediterranean Sea but exploited to local extinction. The Phoenicians eventually established a second production center for the dye in Mogador, in present-day Morocco. 
    The Phoenicians have been referred to as the “middlemen” of culture due to the cultural transferrence which accompanied their trade. During the height of their influence and power, the Phoenicians set up colonies along various coastal areas where they began to expand their operations and trade goods with many nations, exchanging merchandise with past world powers such as Egypt, Greece, Rome and the Iberian Peninsula or Spain. They also traded with other empires and kingdoms that were located near their coastal cities. The Israelites, Babylonians and the Hittites were other groups of people that conducted business with the Phoenicians. They extended their seafaring power all the way to Spain near the Straits of Gibraltar. This particular landmark represented the extent of their empire in the west.
A relief found in Nineveh showing a Phoenician 700 BC ship, called a bireme (Greek διήρης) with two levels of oars and no sail

It should be noted here, that the Phoenicians were not a true seafaring nation; that is, they were not an exploring people going into seas and areas beyond the Mediterranean. They were a sea power, but only as it allowed them to establish and maintain trading centers, trading outposts, and open up trade in the cities and areas around the Mediterranean. Their involvement with Gaul, was along the northern rim of the Mediterranean, with ports like Marsillia (Marseille), Aqua Sextiae (Aix-en-Provence), and Arelate (Aries) along Gaul’s southern coast. Whether or not the Phoenicians actually sailed to Britain is in question, however, their trade in Cornwall tin might well have occurred overland through Gaul to the Mediterranean as many historians claim.
    In fact, the Phoenicians are considered today to have been among one of the world’s leading trading civilizations. At first, they traded mostly with the Greeks, but eventually widened their trading interests to eventually cover most of the Mediterranean. However, when it comes to where they sailed, that question has never been completely answered, partly because of the myths that have been fostered by so-called historians.
(See the next post, “Where Did the Phoenicians Sail? – Part III,” 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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