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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

Phoenicia, Phnicians

PHŒNICIA, PHŒNICIANS . Phœnicia was the strip of coast land between Lebanon and the hills of Galilee and the Mediterranean Sea. Its northern and southern limits are Indefinite, being differently defined by different ancient geographers.

The Semitic name of the country was ‘ Canaan ’ ( Kinachchi and Kinachna in the el-Amarna tablets, and Chna on PhÅ“nician coins; cf. Canaanites). The name PhÅ“nicia comes from a Gr. root signifying ‘blood-red,’ and was probably given on account of the colour of the soil. It was once thought to be derived from the Egyptian Fenkh , but that is now conceded to have been a designation of Asiatics in general (cf. W. Max Müller, Asien und Europa , 208 ff.).

The extent of the country may be roughly determined by its chief cities Arvad or Arados, on the island now called Ruad, eighty miles north of Sidon, Simyra, Arka, Gebal or Byblos, Biruta on the site of the modern Beyrout, Sidon, Sarepta, Tyre, Achzib, and Acco. The latter, the modern Acre, not far north of Mt. Carmel, was the most southerly of these cities.

The Phœnlcians are proved by their language and religion to have belonged to the Semitic race. Herodotus (l. 1 and vii. 89) records a tradition that they came from the Red Sea. Scholars now suppose that this refers really to the Persian Gulf, and that the Canaanites , of whom the Phœnicians were a part, came from North Arabia by way of the shore of the Persian Gulf and the Euphrates valley. This migration was probably a part of that movement of races which about b.c. 1700 gave Babylon the Kassite dynasty and Egypt its Hyksos kings (cf. Paton, Early Hist. of Syria and Pal . ch. v.). Perhaps the Canaanites were the last wave of Amorites (wh. see). Their chief cities may have been built by a previous race. Herodotus (li. 44) records a tradition which, if true, would carry the founding of the temple at Tyre back to b.c. 2730.

The civilization of the Phœnicians was a city civilization, and each city had its petty king. The history is therefore the record of a number of petty dynasties, often jealous of one another, and never powerful enough to resist a strong invader from without. Hemmed in between the mountains and the sea, they alone of the early Semites developed navigation, and became the merchantmen and the carriers of the ancient world. Their ships and shipping were important as early as b.c. 1400 (cf. KIB [Note: IB Keilinschriftliche Bibliothek.] v. 150:61, 152:58). Herodotus tells (iv. 42) how Necho of Egypt, a contemporary of Jeremiah, employed Phœnicians to circumnavigate Africa, while Strabo (xvi. ii. 23) again testifies to their excellence in seamanship. According to Homer, they had intercourse with Greeks in the time of the Trojan war ( Il . vi. 290). Traces of their influence are found in Greece (cf. Barton, Semit . Or . 315 ff.), and their maritime skill led them later to found colonies, especially in Sicily, Carthage, and Cyprus.

For some reason Sidon so excelled the other cities in the eyes of Israelites and Greeks, that in the OT and Homer the PhÅ“nicians are frequently called ‘Sidonians,’ even when, as in the case of Ahab’s marriage, Tyrians are really referred to (cf. Judges 10:6; Judges 10:12; Judges 18:7 , 1 Kings 5:6; 1 Kings 11:6; 1Ki 11:33; 1 Kings 16:31 , 2 Kings 23:13; Horn. Il . vi. 290, Od . iv. 618, xv. 118). The reason for this is obscure.

PhÅ“nicia first appears in written history in the record of the Asiatic campaigns of Thothmes iii. of Egypt. In his earlier campaigns that king conquered the region between the Lebanon ranges. In his 7th expedition (b.c. 1471) he came out to the coast and conquered Arvad, the most northerly of the important PhÅ“nician cities (cf. Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt , ii. 196). There are reasons for supposing that Tyre had previously been added to his empire (Breasted Hist. of Egypt , 298). Probably the same is true of the rest of PhÅ“nicia, for in the el-Amarna letters all the PhÅ“nician cities were included in the Egyptian empire of Amenophis iii. and Amenophis iv. These letters show that under Amenophis iv. Rib-Adda was vassal king of Gebal, Ammunira of Biruta, Zimrida of Sidon, and Abimilki of Tyre. These kings were in constant feud with one another, with the people of Arvad, and with the Amorites beyond the Lebanon. They are constantly accusing one another (cf. Nos. 33 ff., 128 130, and 147 156). Under the XIXth dynasty PhÅ“nicia was again invaded. Seti i. held Acco and Tyre (Breasted, Records , iii. 47), while Rameses ii. pushed northward to Biruta ( ib . iii. 123). In the reign of his successor Merenptah the cities from the Lebanon to Ashbelon revolted. PhÅ“nicia was probably included in the revolt, for in the poem written to celebrate the re-subjugation of these lands, we read: ‘Plundered is Canaan with every evil’ (Breasted, Records , iii. 264, Hist . 470). In the XXth dynasty Rameses iii. (b.c. 1198 1167) still held the country from Arvad and southward (Breasted, Records , iv. 34, 37). It is probably because of this long Egyptian vassalage that Genesis 10:15 traces the descent of Sidon from Ham. By the end of the dynasty PhÅ“nicia was again free, for in the fifth year of Rameses xii. (b.c. 1113) a certain Wenamon was despatched to PhÅ“nicia for cedar from the Lebanon forests; and Dor, Tyre, and Gebal, the towns at which he touched, were not only independent but had small respect for a representative of Pharaoh (Breasted, ib . iv. 274 ff.). The king of Gebal was at this time Zakar-Bel. Probably the dynasty of Tyre traced to Josephus ( c. Apion . i. 18) was founded at the time of this emancipation from Egypt, and the era to which he refers ( Ant . VIII. iii. 1) then began.

A century later than the time of Wenamon, Hiram king of Tyre was an ally of David, and furnished cedar to build him a place (2 Samuel 5:11 ). Later he was the ally of Solomon, and aided him in the construction of the Temple ( 1Ki 5:1; 1 Kings 7:13; 1 Kings 9:11-12 ). In the following century king Ahab of Israel married Jezebel, daughter of Ethbaal, king of Tyre. Thus PhÅ“nician influence found its way into Israel.

Shortly before the time of Ahab, the Assyrian king Ashur-nasir-pal (b.c. 884 860) had made a raid to the Mediterranean coast and exacted tribute from Tyre, Sidon, and Gebal ( KIB [Note: IB Keilinschriftliche Bibliothek.] i. 109). His successor, Shalmaneser ii., records tribute from the same cities in his 21st year ( KIB [Note: IB Keilinschriftliche Bibliothek.] i. 143). Later he took it also from Arvad ( ib . 173). Adad-nirari (b.c. 812 783) counted Tyre and Sidon among his subjects ( ib . 191). In the interval of Assyrian weakness which followed, PhÅ“nicia became once more independent, and when the powerful Tiglath-pileser iii. (b.c. 745 727) again invaded the West, Tyre joined a coalition against him, but in the end Tyre and Gebal and Arvad paid tribute ( KIB [Note: IB Keilinschriftliche Bibliothek.] ii. 21, 23, 31). Sidon is not mentioned. Probably it was subject to Tyre. Tyre at this period ruled over a part of Cyprus. Menander relates (Jos. [Note: Josephus.] Ant . IX. xiv. 2) that Shalmaneser iv. (727 722) overran PhÅ“nicia and unsuccessfully besieged Tyre for five years. Perhaps the issue of the siege came in the reign of Sargon, for the statue of that king in Cyprus shows that this dependency of Tyre was ruled by him. Sennacherib (705 681) records the submission of Sidon, Sarepta, Achzib, and Acco ( KIB [Note: IB Keilinschriftliche Bibliothek.] ii. 91). Tyre he did not disturb. Esarhaddon had to reduce Sidon by a siege, and changed its name to ‘Esarhaddonsburg’ ( Kar-Assurakhiddina ), but he failed to reduce Tyre ( KIB [Note: IB Keilinschriftliche Bibliothek.] ii. 125 ff., 149; Rogers, Hist. Bab. [Note: Babylonian.] and Assyr [Note: ssyr Assyrian.] . ii. 226 ff.). Ashurbanipal (668 626) claims to have reduced Tyre and Arvad. At any rate he made an alliance with the king of Tyre ( KIB [Note: IB Keilinschriftliche Bibliothek.] ii. 169, 171). Before the end of his reign, however, PhÅ“nicia was again independent, Assyria having become weak. We next hear that king Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon (604 562) unsuccessfully besieged Tyre for many years ( Ezekiel 26:1 ff; Ezekiel 29:17 ff.).

In the Persian period (how Phœnicia became subject to Persia our sources do not tell) Sidon again became the leading city, Tyre taking a second place. An inscription of Yabaw-melech, king of Gebal, probably belongs to this period ( CIS i. 1).

Sidon furnished the best ships for the fleet of Xerxes, Tyre the next best (Diod. Sic. xvi. xlvi.; Herod. vii. 44, 96, 98, viii. 67). Straton (Abd-Ashtart?) of Sidon in the next century effected Greek civilization (Ælian, Var. Hist . vii. 2; Athenæus, 531). About 350 his successor Tennes (Tabnith?) joined in an unsuccessful revolt against Persia, and Sidon was again besieged (Diod. Sic. xvi. xlii.).

After the battle of Issus (b.c. 333), all the Phœnician cities except Tyre opened their gates to Alexander the Great. Tyre resisted and again stood a siege of seven months (Diod. Sic. xvii. xll. ff.). During the next century, under the Ptolemys, a native dynasty flourished at Sidon, from which a number of inscriptions survive (cf. G. A. Cooke, North Sem. Inscr . 26 ff.; JAOS [Note: AOS Journ. of the Amer. Oriental Society.] xxiii. 156 ff.). The kings were Eshmunazar i., Tabnith, Bod-Ashtart, and Eshmunazar ii. Bod-Ashtart built a temple near Sidon, which has recently been excavated.

In the wars of the later Ptolemys and Seleucids the PhÅ“nicians played an important part. PhÅ“nicia belonged to the Seleucids after b.c. 197. In b.c. 65 it passed under Roman rule. The reference in Mark 7:26 to a woman who was a ‘ SyrophÅ“nician ’ by race shows that the Evangelist recognized that the old stock survived. In b.c. 14 Augustus made Biruta a Roman colony. Claudius (a.d. 41 54) made Acco, then called Ptolemais (cf. Acts 21:7 ), a Roman colony. Septimius Severus (a.d. 193 211) performed a similar service for Tyre, and Elagabalus (218 222) for Sidon. Gradually the old race was merged with various conquerors.

In civilization the Phœnicians were for the most part borrowers from Babylonia and Egypt. What they borrowed they carried in their trading voyages all about the Mediterranean, and thus diffused culture and the arts of life. Perhaps they were pioneers in the art of seamanship, but of this we cannot be sure; they may have borrowed this from Crete or the Mycenæans. That they invented the alphabet and diffused it in their voyages, so that it was adopted by the Greeks and Romans, is generally conceded, but whether they obtained it by adapting Egyptian hieroglyphs, or Babylonian cuneiform characters, or from some other ancient form of writing, is still in dispute. In religion they closely resembled the other Semites (cf. W. R. Smith, RS [Note: S Religion of the Semites.] ; and Barton, Semit. Origins ). Baal and Ashtart were the principal divinities, and much prominence was given to sexual rites (cf. Lucian, de Syria Dea , § 6 ). Human sacrifice persisted long among them in spite of their contact with the highly civilized Greeks (cf. EBi [Note: Encyclopædia Biblica.] iii. col. 3189, 3190).

The best account that we have of the nature and extent of PhÅ“nician traffic is contained in Ezekiel’s description (chs. 27, 28) of the trade of Tyre, which, as we have seen, had been the leading PhÅ“nician city for a century or more before his time.

George A. Barton

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Phoenicia, Phnicians'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hdb/p/phoenicia-phnicians.html. 1909.

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