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date: 20 October 2019


  • Eric Gubel


Name given to the Semitic inhabitants of part of the east Mediterranean coast in the 1st millennium bc. They engaged in maritime trade and founded colonies throughout the Mediterranean, of which the most famous was Carthage (see Punic art). In order to supply this trade they manufactured goods in ivory, metal and glass using a variety of Near Eastern styles and Egyptianizing motifs. They were renowned for their textiles and for a distinctive purple dye. To facilitate their trade, they also developed an alphabet, which was adopted by the Greeks and is the ancestor of most modern alphabets (see Ancient Near East, §I, 3). There are major collections of Phoenician antiquities in the British Museum in London, the Louvre in Paris, the Musée National in Beirut, the Archaeological Museum in Istanbul and the Museo Archeologico Nazionale in Cagliari.

The area referred to as Phoenicia is the Levantine coast from the plain north of Tartus in Syria to the plain of Dor south of the Carmel mountain range in Israel. At times, however, Phoenicia was restricted to the lands controlled and cultivated by the Phoenician people’s Canaanite ancestors, which probably did not reach far beyond Tyre to the south. The Biqa‛ plain east of the Lebanon range should also be included when defining the cradle of the Phoenician civilization, for many finds reflect the impact of coastal metropolitan art. Since this area controlled a wealth of natural resources, especially wood and metals, and was situated at a main economic crossroads, it naturally fell prey to the territorial ambitions of its powerful Egyptian, Hittite and Mesopotamian neighbours during the 3rd and 2nd millennia ...

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