Ancient region of today's coastal Lebanon (for simplicity, this region is referred to as Lebanon in the rest of Contents as we do not know what it was named by the Phoenicians even if eastern Lebanon was not part of Phoenicia) with cultural and economic identity if never any common government. The southern border of Phoenicia is considered to be Mount Carmel in today's northern Israel.
Remains of an Phoenician city. Byblos, Lebanon
Modern reconstruction of a Phoenician boat.
The name Phoenicia comes probably from the Greek word phoinix, meaning purple red. The reason for this name was the famous purple red dye of the Murex snail that was produced in this region.
The names "Phoenicia" and "phoenicians" for the people came from the Greek poet Homer we do not know what the called themselves. In the Old Testament they are referred to as "Sidonians", in Akkadian they were probably called "Kinahna" (which is close to the term used in Hebrew for merchant). But we do know that the people here referred to themselves according to which city they came from: Tyrians, Sidonians, Carthaginians etc.
Phoenicia was based upon independent city states, and eventually, colonies as far away as in Spain. The Phoenicians were merchants and traders, and even if they colonized certain strategic spots in today's Syria, Cyprus, Libya, Tunisia, Italy, Malta, Algeria, Morocco and Spain, they were never warlords.
Among the most important Phoenician colonies were the following:
Libya: Leptis, Oia, Sabrata.
Tunisia: Carthage, Utica, Hippo Diarrhytos, Neapolis, Hadrumetum, Thapsos, Acholla.
Italy: Solus, Panormus, Motye (Sicily), Nora, Karalis, Sulci, Tharros (Sardegna), Kossyra (Pantelleria).
Malta: Melita, Gaulos.
Algeria: Hippo, Icosium.
Morocco: Tingis, Zili, Lixus.
Spain: Ebusos (Ibiza), Abdera, Sexi, Malaka, Karteia, Gadeira and Tartessos (main land Spain).
The people of Phoenicia, are now referred to as Phoenicians, even if before 1200 BCE we see that there are no distinctions in descriptions or names between them and the Canaanites. We do no know if they represented one ethnic unity, or several. But from all sources, we see that they used one language, belonging to the Semitic family, now referred to as Phoenician.
According to one theory the Phoenicians were immigrants coming to the region around 3000 BCE. If this theory is true, it is furthermore possible that their origin was in the Persian Gulf, as this is stated in older traditions. But there are no forms of historical or archaeological evidence for this.
More likely however, is that the ancestors of the Phoenicians were the original population of the area. Yet it is room for the theory of immigration, as this could have involved a limited immigration, with the change of language and some traditions as a result.
If the first theory is correct, upon their arrival in Lebanon, it is quite likely that they mixed with an indigenous people. And it is quite likely that the original Phoenicians mixed with neighbour people, as well as other trading peoples. In general, one could say that today's Lebanese are direct descendants of the Phoenicians, but migrations and mixing of ethnic groups have been a part history ever since the decline of the Phoenicia.
The Phoenician city states never constituted one political unity, but we believe that there was a cultural identity between the peoples, mainly because of a common language. But it appears that at times, one of the city states proved to be the strongest, and could dominate the others.
Every main city was ruled by a king, who had to cooperate with strong representatives of merchant families. Over time these representatives developed into councils, shofets that in the 1st millennium BCE would dethrone the kings. In addition, it appears to have been an independent religious aristocracy, mainly employing male priests and servants, but also with some few priestesses.
In every Phoenician city, the wealthy merchant aristocrats had certain rights protecting them from the full strength of the law. Under the aristocracy, were the lesser businessmen, craftsmen, dealers, shopkeepers and entrepreneurs. Below this group in social standing were the normal working man, and at the bottom, slaves. Still, slaves were protected to some extent by the law, and could earn money and even buy their own freedom.
Two very important inventions are ascribed to the Phoenicians, glass and the alphabet. However, both were techniques imported from others glass from the Egyptians and the alphabet from the more southern Canaanites. But it was the Phoenicians who invented the glass blowing technique, and who stated mass production and exports of glass. More about alphabet under Language.
Because of geography, Lebanon proved ideal for trade in antiquity. The mountains in the east, the rough coast with the small islands and the sea in the west made the city states of Phoenicia relatively easy to defend from tribesmen and villains. All the early cities were first established with small island just off the coast as the administrative and military centre. On the mainland less important structures were placed. However, the cities never were able to defend themselves against large armies and navies, but by paying tribute the victors, the cities activities could go on mostly uninterrupted.
Lebanon was the origin for a selection of very attractive products, like cedar and pine wood. And Lebanon developed also other industries, like ivory and wood carving, the production of fine linen from Tyre, Byblos and Berytos, purple cloths dyed by the snail Murex, embroideries from Sidon, wine, metalwork, glass, faience, salt and dried fish.
One of the secrets of the Phoenician trade, was their ability to adopt to the taste of the buyers in different countries around the Mediterranean Sea.
Another important merchandise were slaves, important to all wealthy societies in this time. In many cases, the seafaring traders kidnapped boys and girls they needed for trade and for their own use.
Among the products imported to other countries we find silver, iron, tin and lead from Spain, ivory and ebony from Africa and India, cloth, wool, wine and precious stones from Syria, perfumes from Israel and Judah and garments, embroidery and cord from Mesopotamia.
International trade in this period was limited, both in distances covered as well as in the quantity of products sold. By using the sea routes efficiently, and developing colonies, from which trade to local regions could be performed, the Phoenicians were able to sell their own products, and buy products both for imports to Lebanon as well as resale to other regions around the Mediterranean.
The most important colonies established by the Phoenicians were Ugarit (today's Syria), Dor, Acre and Joppa (today's Israel), Carthage and Ugarit (today's Tunisia), the islands of Rhodes and Cyprus (today's Greece) and Tarshish (today's Spain).
Around 3000 BCE: First recordings of settlements of Phoenician character. Either this came as a result of immigration, or from development and urbanization among the indigenous population.
Around 1800: Egypt invades and takes control over Phoenicia.
16th century: Sources tell that extensive trade between Phoenician cities and foreign cities have started.
Around 1400: Egypt loses its control over Phoenicia. The Hittites become the strongest power in the region, and takes effectively control over the Phoenician cities.
1100: The Phoenician cities are finally able to gain their independence from the Hittites. This became the beginning of the strongest cultural and economic growth of the Phoenician city states, and trade across the Mediterranean started.
814: According to legends, Carthage (near today's Tunis, Tunisia) is this year founded by Phoenician traders.
8th century: Phoenicia falls to Assyria, which takes control over the region.
612: With the fall of the Assyrian empire, most of Phoenicia (except Tyre) falls to the Chaldean Empire of Nebuchadnezzar 2.
Around 600: Phoenician seafarers circumnavigate Africa as the first in world history.
539: The Persian Empire takes control over Phoenicia.
538: Tyre falls to Persia.
333: Alexander the Great conquers most of Phoenicia, except Tyre which refuses to submit. A siege of Tyre starts.
332: After 7 months of siege, Tyre falls to Alexander the Great as well.
4th century: Phoenicia becomes integrated in the Seleucid kingdom, and starts to lose its cultural identity.
64 BC: Phoenicia becomes part of the Roman province of Syria, and the name Phoenicia is no longer used. Still, the cities Aradus, Sidon and Tyre retain self-government.