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Sunday, March 7, 2010

" The Phoenicians" by Glenn Markoe

A full yet concise book about Phoenician History. Starting all the way from their beginning and covering their lives all the way until they disappeared. The book gives and over all summary of their history in time line pattern. Other chapters describe their city and house lay-out, overseas colonies and religion.

The Phoenicians were North Western Semites they were a subgroup along with the Israelites of the Canaanites. Not much is known about the Phoenicians save what others have written about them. It is quite Ironic that they are the ones who gave us our alphabet and were one of the most literate societies of the Middle East, yet very few of their writing remain. What we know about the Phoenicians comes to us from outside sources. That would also mean their opponents or enemies, so what is said about them must be taken with a grain of salt.

Outside sources say mixed things about the Phoenicians. On the one hand they are known as master shipbuilders, architects, and businessmen. Yet on the other hand they bare depicted as being devoid of morality or being so low as to sell their own daughter for a profit. The question remains, how did the Phoenicians? Define themselves? They had no country to speak of , rather they had city-state each with it's own king. The word Phoenicians comes from the Greek word Poinex which could be a reference to the purple dye they were known for or the red color of their skin. It is Doubtful they called themselves Phoenicians.

It is shortly after the expulsion off the Hykso that Egypt invaded Canaan. At this point in time the two super powers were the Hittites and the Egyptians. The Egyptian had control a good portion of the time. THe Egyptians bought lots of timber from the Phoenicians. It could be noted that the Egyptians had a stronger cultural impact on the Phoenicians than did the Hittites. A number of Egyptian Gods were added to the Phoenician pantheon. Also the Phoenican incorporated the ahnk and the scarabs. When the Egyptian had control things went well as trade routes into Arabia and the South were open. The Phoenicians even set up a trading colony in Memphis as evidenced by the Phoenician temples. When the Hittites were in control Many Phoenicians would traade to the north and even settle in the North. Penultimately The Egyptians won out.

With the coming of the Assyrians the Phoenicians put up stiff resistance. In the end the city of Tyre was besieged and taken over but not totally destroyed as the Assyrians knew that Tyre if allowed to trade would be a cast cow. Several times though did the Phoenicians rebel against the Assyrians even under Egyptian sponsorship. The rebellion was crushed.

When the Babylonians came to power the Phoenician were loyal until the Persians came about. Under the Persians it was the Phoenicians who built their ship and composed a majority of their navy. When the Greeks came under Alexander the Great the Phoenician put up a stiff resistance. In the end Tyre was besieged and fell. Within a short time the Phoenicians on mainland Phoenicia would Hellenize and lose their identity. Their over seas colonies would last much longer before disappearing.

There were four major Phoenician cities in the mainland. They were Tyre,Arwad, Byblos and Sidon. Tyre was most famous for setting up Carthage and other colonies in the Mediterranean Sea basin. While there was an over all pantheon of Gods in Phoenicia each city state worshiped it's own God and Goddess. In Tyre Astarte and Melqart were worshiped. Based on the agricultural cycle with the male G0d dying and then being reborn in Marriage to the Goddess. In other City-States it was Eshmun and Astarte or Baal and Astarte. In Carthage it would be Punay and Tanite. The Phoenicians did have sacrifices of mostly plants and animals. On occasions there were human sacrifices to the God Baal Hamon and Tanite. When Carthage was about to be over taken by the Roman they sacrificed 200 noble born children. This was after they sacrificed 200 poor children. Temple prostitution was also prevalent with both male and female prostitutes. The temples were usually open air court yards with an altar in the middle. They were ran by priests and priestesses. Sometimes priestesses could be in charge. THe king was usually the high priest of a temple. There was a ritual called Marzeh which was intense eating and drinking in honor of the dead.

Their cities were built near the coast and tended not to be too large. Their harbors were defensible. The warehouses were often located near the shore. Houses were square shaped and tend to have a corridor with room on the side. Two story houses were around also with residences being on the second floor and the first floor being devoted to business. The Phoenicians set up colonies all over the known world. They reached as far as Spain. Most of their colonization was driven by trade, and the search for metallic ore. Their economy aslo relied on slavery and their metal working as well as their purple dye. Cathage and Cadiz (in Spain) developed into full blown cities. Kition was a Phoenician settlement in Cyprus. The Phoenicians even had settlements in Italy and had good relations with the Etruscans and Etrurians. The Phoenician in fact even allied with these two groups to fight against Greeks.

Phoenician culture disappeared after Carthage's defeat from the Romans during the Punic war. Yet their legacy goes on forever.

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