How far did the Phoenicians travel?

About the life of the Phoenicians. Economy, politics and culture of the Carthaginians in antiquity


Phoenicians / Punians

The Phoenicians at Homer


Coexistence with other peoples


Merchant ships

Carthaginian form of government

Carthaginian Society



Phoenician expansion and Carthaginian colonies

Religion / belief / ideas of the afterlife









Phoenicians / Punians

The Phoenicians are the people who lived in Lebanon and Syria. To the east the land was protected by mountains. The Phoenician cities were all on the coast in places with natural harbors. Naturally, this provided the ideal conditions for shipping. In addition, Phenicia was blessed with a mild climate, fertile soils, lots of wood, lots of mines and lots of water. The prerequisites for good arable farming were created and thus also for a lively barter trade.

At that time this state had no name, but the Greeks called the people phoinos for purple. So it was the purple people. Presumably this is an allusion to the purple that the Phoenicians used. The word may also have a connection with Phoinix, who was the first to color with purple. This Phoinix is ​​considered to be the brother of Europa who, while searching for his sister, settled in a country to which he gave his name.

In Homer, Hesiod and Herodotus, phoinix is ​​also a musical instrument similar to the lyre. The word also denotes a place and a bird. All of these things originated in Phenicia.

The name Phoenician is of Greek origin and is first mentioned in Homer and Hesiod. They used the names associated with cities: Sidonians, Tyrers The Phoenicians themselves also called themselves canani.

This land of Canaan is also mentioned in the Bible and is of biblical origin. Canaan is the father of the Sidon and Sidon is also a Phoenician city. Homer occasionally refers to the Phoenicians as Sidonians.

In Hebrew, canani also means merchant. So Canaan was the land of merchants.

Homer calls the Phoenicians the skillful Sidonians.

Between 3100 and 2300, Byblos was the most dynamic city in the motherland. This had good trade contacts with Egypt. In an Egyptian inscription around 2600 ships from Byblos are mentioned, which transported wood and oil. The city was described as the main exporter of cedar wood. In return, the city received papyrus and later became the center of the Egyptian papyrus trade. Byblos is also the Greek word for papyrus. Originally the city was not called Byblos but Gubal.

Around 2800 one can assume a certain wealth, since a temple was built in Byblos, which was dedicated to Baal-Gebal. Many Egyptian finds have been made inside. This shows of great interest in everything Egyptian.

Between 2300 and 1900 the Amorites invaded Phenicia and destroyed the cities.

Tire was also very important, if not quite like Byblos. Herodotus relates that Tire was founded around 2750. Justinus writes that Tire was founded by the Sidonians around 1191. Since Tire certainly existed before, this statement should be understood to mean that the city was re-founded after the destruction.

When Herodotus visited the city, the priests told him about the founding date. Archeology has proven that this founding date could even be true. The myth tells that Tire was founded on stones held together by the roots of an olive tree.

Wen-amon inscriptions on Phoenician history between 1075 and 1060 do not confer privileged status on Tire.

The myth goes on to say that the Temple of Melqart was in Old Tire or Paleotyros. This city was only a few kilometers from New Tire on the mainland and for a long time water had been brought to Tire from there by boats. It was not until Hiram I that cisterns were built on New Tire.

Between 1900 and 1550, Egyptian records speak of an independent monarchy in Tire and Byblos. The Temple of the Obelisks in Byblos and the royal tombs of Byblos can also be dated to this period.

In the late Bronze Age, the Phoenician cities were members of the Mediterranean trade network (Mycenae, Egypt, Syria). So it is not surprising that, especially at this time, one can assume that there will be major commercial activity. Correspondence between the kings of Byblos and Tire and the Egyptian king Amenophis III has been preserved. This correspondence was found in El-Amarna and is written in Akkadian. Abi-Milki (King of Tire) and Rib-Addi (King of Byblos) affirm their loyalty to the Egyptian Empire and at the same time announce that ships full of timber loads are being used.

About 1200 you don't really know anything. Some cities were destroyed, others managed to survive and resume their trade relations e.g. Byblos and Sidon. Around 1200 the Israelites moved from the mountains to southern Canaan. At the same time, the Aramaeans expanded north and Phenicia became smaller.

The fact that even in these dark centuries some Phoenician cities were destroyed speaks against the theory of the sea peoples that marked the fall of the Mycenaean Empire. Around the time of 1200, most of the Mycenaean cities were destroyed. Based on inscriptions found in Pylos, it is known that immense military troops were also moved during this period and secured strategically unsecured positions. It is not known exactly what the Mycenaean world defended itself from. Again and again it was said that Sea Peoples - in particular the Phoenicians - attacked and eliminated this competitive power. If the Phoenicians were really behind the destruction, the question remains, why were their own cities destroyed in the process? The only really noteworthy cities in Phenicia were Tire, Byblos and Sidon and these cities were not destroyed. If one of these cities had been behind the attack on the Mycenaean Empire, wouldn't they have eliminated competition in their own ranks as well?

In the 10th century, Egypt lost power. The Philistines were defeated. A union took place in Israel. Tire took advantage of all of this to make himself independent. For the next 300 years, Tire's policy was to use everything for his own benefit.

Hiram built up a sea trade monopoly during this time. He also controlled the trade routes of the Asian continent. This also happened with the help and support of King Solomon of Israel. This of course gave Hiram access to the trade routes inland. Hiram also wanted to open up the Orient as a new trading partner. Israel also had this goal and they made common cause. A fleet was built - the so-called Tarshish Ships. This is also narrated in the Bible. The destinations of this fleet are in the Red Sea or the Indian Ocean. This proves that Tire was already capable of long expeditions at that time. That means good administration and a certain amount of wealth.

This is also evidenced by the new construction of the port of Tire. The two islands were then connected by Tire and the royal palace and the market were rebuilt under Hiram. It is also reported that Hiram suppressed the attempt by the Cypriot city of Krition to become independent. Proof that Hiram apparently also had influence in Cyprus. The first Tyrian colony will then also become a criterion in the following years.

At the same time, the demand for raw materials increased in the 9th century and the Phoenicians began to expand westward. They also expanded into the following areas: Cyprus, Assyria, Sicily, Anatolia, Ischia, Iberian Peninsula, Morocco, Algeria, Libya

Since people emigrated from the Levant to look for raw materials and colonies were established in the process, these had to be built in strategically favorable places. Proximity to raw material sources and a strategically favorable location were prerequisites. There are of course chronological and regional differences. That is why most of the cities are on the coast. Natural port facilities were used, but artificial entrances from the sea were also created. In the course of time, the cities were no longer dependent on the raw material trade, as agriculture and cattle breeding also gained in importance.

The Phoenicians introduced new plant species to the Occident in order to stimulate the demand for these products there. This was apparently very lucrative because the Phoenicians became oligarchs who dominated long-distance trade. They therefore also acted as a hub between producer and consumer. They also had a monopoly on trading in luxury goods.

It is therefore no wonder that a Phoenician merchant held a very high social status. The merchants were also based in the most important trading establishments.

The Phoenicians living in the west were called Punians by the Romans.

Between 887 and 856 there was an expansion into Asia. During this time the king of Tire called himself “King of the Sidonians” for the first time. During this time, Ithobaal founded a state that included both Tire and Sidon. Of course, Tyros was in the chair. During this period, Sidon also disappears from the Assyrian inscriptions, evidence that Sidon had given up its independence and really made common cause with Tire. During this period, the first Tyrian colonies also emerged in Botyrs, a town north of Byblos. It can therefore be assumed that Byblos and the surrounding area were already part of the Tyrian territory.

The Assyrians and Tire had no problem with each other, as Tire preferred to direct (and could manage) payments to the Assyrians than to fight against the Assyrians. There are Assyrian records of the payments made, which speak of gold, silver, linen and ivory.

Due to the good strategic location of the Phoenician cities, they also became an important international political factor between Egypt and Assyria.

It was only under Tiglath-Pileser II that the Assyrians (?) Waged war against the Egypt and transformed parts of the coast into Assyrian territory. Tiglath-Pileser II also wanted the submission of Tire. Although Tire had an anti-Assyrian attitude, Tire was treated separately.

Assyrians were also unable to continue maritime trade. So they reached an agreement with Tire and let Tire go on and profited from the merchandise.

For this concession, however, Tire had to separate off territories and pay 150 talents of gold, a sum that Tire had never paid for anything before.

Anti-Assyrian policies continued and Tire was besieged several times. A blockade has been imposed, water supplies have been cut and prices have skyrocketed. As a result, there was systematic destruction and mass deportation.

In 701 Tire lost Sidon and the inhabitants were brought to Nineveh. Tire was ruled by administrators. In the 7th century, the Tyrian empire consisted only of the city and the surrounding area.

Between 675 and 671, Baal of Tire and Asharhadon of Assyria signed a treaty in which Tire was free to trade with the north and west. The ship trade was limited. In 663 Tire was isolated and there was an economic crisis and only in this way could it happen that Tire became an Assyrian province in 640. Carthage used this time in his favor and began to independently found colonies and establish themselves in the trading world.

585-572 Nebuchadnezzar besieged Tire and deported the Tyrian king Ithobaal III to Babylon. Thus the monarchy in Tire was ended. Instead, a government of judges was established under Babylonian supervision.

The Phoenicians at Homer

In the Iliad, they are considered experts in the metal industry. They are also described as excellent sailors.

In the Odyssey, which is a little younger, the Phoenicians are already described as very dominant and are already considered traders and pirates.

The trade was not organized, but the goods are given to the highest bidder. Passengers are also transported on the merchant ships. There is no mention of a Phoenician settlement or colony.

From the Odyssey, we also know that Odysseus' swineherd was once a noblewoman, but was kidnapped by the Phoenicians to be sold in the port of Syros.

Odysseus also meets a Phoenician in Egypt who allegedly wants to show him his home in Phenicia (but in reality he wants to sell Odysseus). On the one hand you can see from this remark how far traveled the Phoenicians are, on the other hand you can see that the Phoenicians are not necessarily considered sympathetic contemporaries.

Sidon, the forefather of the Sidonians, is a grandson of Noah.[1]


The main economic source was trade, but the Phoenicians were also the first to use the dye purple. The source of this color was the purple snail. Pliny[2]says the Punians invented trade.

The Phoenicians copied the production of glass from the Egyptians, but soon mass-produced it. The technique of glass blowing was also developed.

Cedar wood was another important raw material. It is very easy to work with and does not twist and dry. It was not only used for the ships but also for sacred buildings. The pharaoh Senefru reports around 2750 that he imported cedar wood from Byblos. Cedar wood was also partially used for the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus, but the temples of Karnak and Memphis also had this type of wood as a fixed component. That is why the Greeks called this people phoinos for purple.

There is also a reference to the export of cedar wood in the Bible. It is said, for example, that Solomon brought as much cedar wood from this as he wished. In return, they received 700,000 of the finest oils.[3]

Coexistence with other peoples

In their homeland, the Punians were surrounded by the Assyrians and the Egyptians. Since these great powers were engaged in disputes with one another, the Phoenician cities were able to expand. In later times the Phoenician cities were destroyed or annexed, whereby some special cities always had a special status, e.g. Tire.

In the western part of the colonies there was a meeting of Romans, Etruscans, Greeks and Carthaginians. Carthaginians and Etruscans, whose interests were the same in the Tyrrhenian Sea, were allies and the Greeks were the enemy. Aristotle reports of treaties between the Carthaginians and the Etruscans, which were such that one could believe that the citizens are citizens of a single state.

There were also two treaties with Rome that gave the Romans the security of their territories in Italy and freedom of trade in Sicily. This first treaty speaks of the Romans and their subordinates. But they were not allowed to trade in Carthage and Libya. The first contract is from the 5th century. This contract is handed over to Polybios.[4]The second contract was signed in 348. This treaty no longer mentions the Romans and their subordinates. It is therefore clear that the Romans held a weaker position at that time. Carthage's position was evidently the stronger, because the second treaty speaks of the Carthaginians, Tyrians and Hykaiians. So Carthage had increased its power since the 1st treaty. In the 2nd treaty, Sardinia was also closed to the Romans for trade.

It is clear from both treaties that the Carthaginians ruled western Sicily.

Around 540 there was the battle of Alalia between the Carthaginians / Etruscans and the Greeks: 120 Carthaginian ships against 60 Phocean ships. The Phocaeans had settled in Corsica and practiced piracy. The Phoceans won, but suffered great losses. Therefore, they gave up the colonization of Corsica and the Etruscans were able to settle there.

An Etruscan ivory tablet from the 6th century was found in Carthage with a boar on the obverse and an Etruscan inscription on the reverse. The inscription says: I am a Punier from Carthage. Presumably this tablet is a recognition tablet or tessera hospitalis that Carthaginians used to wear in Etruria.

However, Greek finds from Pithakoussai were also found, which are from the 8th century, while Etruscan finds in Carthage can only be proven from the 7th century. This is probably due to the fact that the Greeks came into contact with the Carthaginians much earlier, as both of them lived in Sicily.

However, these finds also show that the Carthaginians had trade relations with all the great peoples of Italy. But it wasn't until the Etruscans had established themselves in Italy and became your sea power that they formed an alliance with them in the 7th century.

The Etruscan finds in Carthage are mainly the buccero pottery.

In Sicily there was a merger of Syracuse, Agrigento and Gela against Zankle, a city in northern Sicily. Gelon a tyrant from Syracuse wanted to conquer Himera, a city near Carthaginian territory, and Himera called Carthage to help.Carthage advanced with 300,000 men. It came to the battle of Himera, in which Carthage was defeated. Nevertheless, Carthage did not have to make any payments and did not lose any territory. From this point on, Carthage held back for a few years and concentrated only on building power in Africa. Since Carthage had mixed up in internal political disputes in Sicily, Carthage was of course the bogeyman. It is possible that Carthage had interfered in the internal Sicilian disputes because the Persian Wars were just happening in motherland Greece and Carthage possibly had an alliance with Persia. The Carthaginians were supposed to keep the Sicilian Greeks away from the motherland.[5]

Greeks and Punians also lived peacefully side by side in Sicily. The two peoples even married. It was only when Syracuse became dominant that the friendly relationship tipped over. In the 6th and 5th centuries there was tyranny in Syracuse. Tyrants wanted to drive all Punians off the island. That is why the Syracusans also needed a general who agreed to do so and Dionysius declared himself ready and seized power. The quarry in Syracuse was named after this tyrant: the ear of Dionysius. Syracuse then also wanted to conquer Segesta. Segesta, which was inhabited by the Elymers, called Selinunt (city of the Greeks) for help. But these did not help, so they turned to Carthage and Carthage helped. Thus the friendly relationship between the Greeks and the Carthaginians was a thing of the past. Carthage then also subjugated Selinunt, Himera, Gela and thus western Sicily was under Carthaginian rule and was administered by a military governor.

Nevertheless, Greeks also stayed in the cities of Sicily. We also know that Greeks also lived in Carthage in the 4th century, because Diodorus reports that the Demeter Kore cult was founded in Carthage in the 4th century - a typical Greek cult.

There were also Greek mercenaries in the Carthaginian army.

As long as Eastern Ciliates kept quiet, there was a peaceful coexistence between the Carthaginians and the respective peoples residing in the east. If a tyranny threatened, Carthage joined forces with the opposition of the respective city and armed itself. The reason for this was that Carthage needed Sicily and Sardinia to control the sea route. In addition, Plato also thinks that Carthage was one of the most bellicose peoples.

In 474 there was the Battle of Cumae in which Syracuse fought against the Etruscans, and the Etruscans lost. Because of this, the Etruscans also lost the shipping routes in the south and the Carthaginians had control of the sea.

At first there was also a friendly relationship with Rome. There were even treaties, as the Romans were interested in defending the enemy in Latium and Carthage in enforcing trade. Carthage protected itself from the piracy of the Romans and regulated trade modalities between Rome and Carthage.

It was only when a tyrant came to power again in Sicily that the once good relationship between the Romans and the Carthaginians overturned.

In 264 Hieron came to the throne of Syracuse. Messina was conquered by Roman mercenaries and shortly afterwards came into conflict with said Hieron. As a protection against Syracuse, Carthaginians were integrated into the city. For a reason that was no longer comprehensible, the inhabitants of Messina called on the Romans for help against Hieron in 264. This call for help was therefore directed against Hieron and not against the Carthaginians who lived in the city. The Romans forced the Carthaginians to withdraw from the city. How this succeeded is still controversial. The Romans may have threatened acts of war. The Carthaginians then again gave the Romans an ultimatum to withdraw their troops. The Romans let the deadline pass. Originally, Syracuse was an ally of the Carthaginians, but soon made peace with the Romans. Carthage devastated the Italian coast and Rome faced Carthage in a sea battle and won 260 in the Battle of Mylai, as the Romans had realized that they could not wage war on ships, only on land. They therefore equipped their ships with boarding bridges and thus transformed the ships into a level platform on which they could position their troops. Carthage had enough resources to make up for this loss.


[1]Bible, Gen. 10, 15

[2]Plin. Nat. hist. VII, 198

[3]Bible, 1 Kings 5: 22-23

[4]Poly. III, 22, 4-13

[5]Huss, 57

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