Attention!
15 million Ukrainian are displaced by Russia's war.
Millions miss a meal or two each day.
Help us change that! Click to donate today!

Bible Encyclopedias

Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature

Phoenicia

Additional Links

Phoeni´cia, and the Phoenicians. This name was used by the ancients sometimes in a wider, sometimes in a narrower sense. Phoenicia, in its widest signification, embraces the whole coast of the Mediterranean situated between the River Orontes and Pelusium. In a more restricted sense it was regarded as the territory between the River Eleutheros on the north, and Dora on the south.

Phoenicia is situated between about lat. 33° and 35° N., and under long. 33° E. The whole of Phoenicia is situated at the western declivity of Mount Lebanon. Compare the article Lebanon.

Phoenicia was distinguished by the variety of its vegetable productions. This variety was occasioned by the great diversity of climate produced by the diversity in the elevation of the soil. The Lebanon is said to bear winter on its head, spring on its shoulders, autumn in its lap, and to have summer at its feet. The fertility of Phoenicia is increased by the numerous streams whose springs are in Mount Lebanon. Even in the Song of Solomon we read the praises of the spring of living waters which flows down from Lebanon. The dense population assembled in the great mercantile towns greatly contributed to augment by artificial means the natural fertility of the soil. The population of the country is at present very much reduced, but there are still found aqueducts and artificial vineyards formed of mold carried up to the terraces of the naked rock. Even now Phoenicia is among the most fertile in Western Asia. It produces wheat, rye, and barley, and, besides the more ordinary fruits, also apricots, peaches, pomegranates, almonds, citrons, oranges, figs, dates, sugar-cane, and grapes, which furnish an excellent wine. In addition to these products, it yields cotton, silk, and tobacco. The country is also adorned by the variegated flowers of oleander and cactus. The higher regions are distinguished from the bare mountains of Palestine by being covered with oaks, pines, cypress-trees, acacias, and tamarisks; and above all by majestic cedars, of which there are still a few very old trees, whose stems measure from thirty to forty feet in circumference. The inhabitants of Sur still carry on a profitable traffic with the produce of Mount Lebanon, namely, wood and charcoal. Phoenicia produces also flocks of sheep and goats; and innumerable swarms of bees supply excellent honey. In the forests there are bears, wolves, panthers, and jackals. The sea furnishes great quantities of fish, so that Sidon, the most ancient, among the Phoenician towns, derived its name from fishing.

The inhabitants of Phoenicia might at the first view appear to have derived their origin from the same source (pre-Abrahamite) as the Hebrews; for they spoke the same language.

In the Old Testament the Phoenicians and Canaanites are, however, described as descending, not from Shem, but from Ham. Herodotus, also, on the authority of some Persian historians, states that the Phoenicians came as colonists to the Syrian coasts from the Erythræan Sea.

The first Phoenician colony was Sidon, which is therefore called in Genesis () the firstborn of Canaan. But soon other colonies arose, like Arka (), Aradus, and Simyra (), etc., whose power extended beyond the Jordan, and who drove out before them the earlier inhabitants of Palestine. Hence it arose that the appellation, 'the land of Canaan' (the netherlands or lowlands), was transferred to the whole of Palestine, although it is by no means a country of a low level, but is full of high elevations. However, the Canaanites, in a stricter sense, were the people who resided in the lower regions along the coast, and on the banks of the Jordan.

When the Israelites conquered the country, the Canaanites on the Phoenician coast, who resided in powerful maritime towns, preserved their independence, and were called Canaanites in particular. Thus we read, in , Canaan, in the signification of Phoenicia.

The Carthaginians, as Phoenician colonists, maintained, even in the days of St. Augustine, that they were Canaanites.

During the period of the conquest of Canaan by the Israelites, the Phoenicians possessed the following towns, which we will enumerate successively, in the direction from south to north:—Dora (; , sq.); Ptolemais (); Ecdippa (, Achzib); Tyre (); Sarepta (, sq.; ); Sidon (); Berytus (; ); Byblus (); Tripolis, Simyra (); Arka (); Simna (); Aradus ().

Heeren, in his work, On the Commerce and Politics of the Ancients, vol. i. part ii. p. 9, Göttingen, 1824, justly observes that the numerous towns which were crowded together in the narrow space of Phoenicia covered almost the entire coast, and, together with their harbors and fleets, must have presented an aspect which has scarcely ever been equaled, and which was calculated to impress every stranger on his arrival with the ideas of wealth, power, and enterprise.

As the annals and public documents of the Phoenicians have all been lost, our knowledge of their history is consequently confined to occasional notices in the Hebrew and classical authors of antiquity. This deficiency of historical information arises also from the circumstance that the facts of Phoenician history were less connected than the events in the history of other nations. The Phoenicians never formed one compact body politic, and consequently did not always gradually advance in their political constitution and in the extent of their power. Every town endeavored to advance its commerce in its own way. Thus there constantly entered into the life of the Phoenicians new elements, which disturbed a gradual historical progress. Phoenicia was a country favorable to the growth of maritime towns, but did not afford room for great political events. The history of the Phoenicians is that of their external commerce.

A mercantile nation cannot bear despotic government, because the greatest external liberty is requisite in order constantly to discover new sources of gain, and to enlarge the roads of commerce. The whole of Phoenicia consisted of the territories belonging to the various towns. Each of these territories had its own constitution, and in most of them a king exercised supreme power. We hear of kings of Sidon, Tyre, Aradus, and Byblus. It seems that after Nebuchadnezzar had besieged Tyre in vain, the royal dignity ceased for some time, and that there existed a kind of republican administration, under suffetes or judges. The regal power was always limited by the magistracy and the priesthood. The independent Phoenician states seem to have formed a confederation, at the head of which stood for some time Sidon, and at a later period Tyre. Tripolis was built conjointly by the various states in order to form the seat of their congress. The smaller states were sometimes so much oppressed by Tyre, that they preferred rather to submit to external enemies.

The position of Phoenicia was most favorable for the exchange of the produce of the East and West. The Libanus furnished excellent timber for ships. Corn was imported from Palestine. Persians, Lydians and Lycians frequently served as mercenaries in the Phoenician armies (). Phoenicia exported wine to Egypt. Purple garments were best manufactured in Tyre. Glass was made in Sidon and Sarepta. In Phoenicia was exchanged the produce of all known countries. After David had vanquished the Edomites and conquered the coasts of the Red Sea, King Hiram of Tyre entered into a confederacy with Solomon, by which he ensured for his people the right of navigation to India. The combined fleet of the Israelites and Phoenicians sailed from the seaports of Ezion-geber and Elath. These ports were situated on the eastern branch of the Red Sea, the Sinus Aelaniticus, or Gulf of Aqaba. Israelitish-Phoenician mercantile expeditions proceeded to Ophir, perhaps Abhira, situated at the mouth of the Indus. It seems, however, that the Indian coasts in general were also called Ophir. Three years were required in order to accomplish a mercantile expedition to Ophir and to return with cargoes of gold, algum-wood, ivory, silver, monkeys, peacocks, and other Indian produce.

It seems, however, that these mercantile expeditions to India were soon given up, probably on account of the great difficulty of navigating the Red Sea. King Jehoshaphat endeavored to recommence these expeditions, but his fleet was wrecked at Ezion-geber (). About B.C. 616 or 601, Phoenician seamen undertook, at the command of Pharaoh-Necho. a voyage of discovery, proceeding from the Red Sea round Africa, and returning after two years through the columns of Hercules to Egypt (Herod. iv. 42). Ezekiel 27 mentions the commerce by land between India and Phoenicia. The names of mercantile establishments on the coasts of Arabia along the Persian Gulf have partly been preserved to the present day. In these places the Phoenicians exchanged the produce of the west for that of India, Arabia, and Ethiopia. Arabia especially furnished incense, gold, and precious stones. The Midianites () and the Edomites () effected the transit by their caravans. The fortified Idumean town Petra contained probably the storehouses in which the produce of southern countries was collected. From Egypt the Phoenicians exported especially byssus (, linen) for wine. According to an ancient tradition, the tyrant of Thebes, Busiris, having soiled his hands with the blood of all foreigners, was killed by the Tyrian Hercules. This indicates that Phoenician colonists established themselves and their civilization successfully in Upper Egypt, where all strangers usually had been persecuted.

At a later period Memphis was the place where most of the Phoenicians in Egypt were established. Phoenician inscriptions found in Egypt prove that even under the Ptolemies the intimate connection between Phoenicia and Egypt still existed.

From Palestine the Phoenicians imported, besides wheat, especially from Judea, ivory, oil, and balm; also wool, principally from the neighboring nomadic Arabs. Damascus furnished wine (;; ,) and the mountains of Syria wood. The tribes about the shores of the Caspian Sea furnished slaves and iron. Horsemen, horses, and mules, came from the Armenians.

The treasures of the East were exported from Phoenicia by ships which sailed first to Cyprus, the mountains of which are visible from the Phoenician coast. Cyprus was subject to Tyre up to the time of Alexander the Great. There are still found Phoenician inscriptions which prove the connection of Cyprus with Tyre. At Rhodes also are found vestiges of Phoenician influence. From Rhodes the mountains of Crete are visible. This was of great importance for the direction of navigators before the discovery of the compass. In Crete, and also in the Cycladic and Sporadic Isles, are vestiges of Phoenician settlements. On the Isle of Thasos, on the southern coast of Thrace, the Phoenicians had gold mines; and even on the southern shores of the Black Sea they had factories. However, when the Greeks became more powerful, the Phoenicians sailed more in other directions. They occupied also Sicily and the neighboring islands, but were, after the Greek colonization, confined to a few towns, Motya, Soloes, Panormus. The Phoenician mercantile establishments in Sardinia and the Balearic Isles could scarcely be called colonies.

Carthage was a Phoenician colony, which probably soon became important by commerce with the interior of Africa, and remained connected with Tyre by means of a common sanctuary. After Phoenicia had been vanquished by the Assyrians, Babylonians, and Persians, the settlements in Sicily, Sardinia, and Spain came into the power of Carthage. The Phoenicians had for a long period exported from Spain gold, silver, tin, iron, lead (), fruit, wine, oil, wax, fish, and wool. Their chief settlement was Tarshish.

There are other names of towns in Spain which have a Phoenician derivation, such as Gades, Malaga, and Belon.

The voyage to Tarshish was the most important of those undertaken by the Phoenicians. Hence it was that their largest vessels were all called ships of Tarshish, although they sailed in other directions ().

It appears, also that the Phoenicians exported tin from the British Isles, and amber from the coasts of Prussia. Their voyages on the western coasts of Africa seem to have been merely voyages of discovery, without permanent results. The Spanish colonies were probably the principal sources of Phoenician wealth, and were founded at a very remote period. The migration of the Phoenician, Cadmus, into Boeotia, likewise belongs to the earlier period of Phoenician colonization.

Phoenicia flourished most in the period from David to Cyrus, B.C. 1050-550. In this period were founded the African colonies, Carthage, Utica, and Leptis. These colonies kept up a frequent intercourse with the mother country, but were not politically dependent. This preserved Phoenicia from the usual stagnation of Oriental states. The civilization of the Phoenicians had a great influence upon other nations. Their voyages are described in Greek mythology as the expeditions of the Tyrian Hercules. The course of the Tyrian Hercules was not marked like that of other conquerors—viz., Medes and Assyrians—by ruined cities and devastated countries, but by flourishing colonies, by agriculture, and the arts of peace.

According to the Phoenician religion, the special object of worship was the vital power in nature, which is either producing or destroying. The productive power of nature, again, is either procreative, masculine, or receptive, feminine. These fundamental ideas are represented by the Phoenician gods, who appear under a great variety of names, because these leading ideas may be represented in many different ways.

We need not here enter into details concerning the Phoenician gods, as the principal of them have been noticed under their names [BAAL, ASHTORETH]. It suffices to state generally, that the procreative principle was worshipped as Baal, lord, and as the sun. The rays of the sun are, however, not only procreative, but destructive; and this destructive power is especially represented in the Ammonitish fire-god Moloch. Thus Baal represented both the generative and destructive principles of nature; in which latter capacity the Hebrews worshipped him by human sacrifice (; ). He was the tutelary god of Tyre, and hence had the name of Melkar, equivalent to Melech-kereth, 'king of the city,' whom the Greeks called the Tyrian Hercules.

Of Baaltis, or Astarte, which are usually identified, although they seem to have been originally different, we shall here add nothing to what has been already stated under Ashtoreth.

Besides these principal deities, the Phoenicians worshipped seven kabirim, mighty ones, whose numbers corresponded with the seven planets. These kabirim were considered as protectors of men in using the powers of nature, especially navigation. With these seven kabirim was associated Esmun (the eighth), representing the sky full of fixed stars, surrounding the seven planets, the refreshing air and the warmth of life. Many Phoenician names are compounded with Esmun. Hence we infer that he was frequently worshipped.

 

 

 

 

Copyright Statement
Public Domain.

Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Phoenicia'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature". https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/kbe/p/phoenicia.html.

Search for…
Enter query in the box below:
Choose a letter to browse:
A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W Y Z
Prev Entry
Phoebe
Next Entry
Phrygia