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Phoenicia was a maritime civilization, in existence centuries before Christ – a Semitic grouping that originated from the presently named regions of Lebanon, Syria and Palestine. Their small claim to land forced them out into the seas where they flourished into an impressive and unrivaled naval power – as a result, they managed to expand their reach to Spain, Gibraltar and became founders of Cadiz (southern Spain). In the quest for tin, they traveled to the British Isles and reached the South of Africa. Their travels led them to establish a number of colonies, the primary being Carthage (Tunisia).

1280px-Phoenician_ship

What the Phoenicians brought to the world is nothing short of impressive. The syllabic writing, developed in Byblos at around 1000 BC highly influenced the Aramaic and Greek alphabet, which was adopted by the Greeks in around 8 BC. The Greek word Biblia, meaning book, and the English word Bible, stemmed from Byblos which was the Greek name (and perhaps ultimately Egyptian) for the Phoenician city of Gebal.

Frequently invaded, the Phoenicians submitted to their ever-changing rulers but were still allowed to pursue their economic enterprises. Thanks to the Phoenicians, the Persian fleets of Darius and Xerxes were executed with perfection for their successful invasion of Greece. Commercial and religious connections were established with Egypt in around 3000 BC and continued for 400 years until the Amorites invaded Phoenicia.

Map of Greek and Phoenician colonization. Click for full size.

Map of Greek and Phoenician colonization. Click for full size.

Apart from the alphabet, what are the greatest legacies the Phoenicians left behind? They reopened trade routes connecting the Egyptian and Mesopotamian civilizations after a hiatus period, they invented a more democratic social structure than any other prior the Athenian revolution, were a strong influence on the development of the Greek constitutional government, as the first explorers beyond the Straits of Gibraltar, they were additionally the first to colonise the Western Mediterranean in a significant way and were a heavy influence on Greek, Etruscan, Roman and less so Iberian and Celtic civilizations from the 8th century and beyond.  Considering the colossal advancements and undeniable influence in the creation of one of the best political systems we still revere over 2000 years later, we all have something to thank the Phoenicians for.

Byblos Port

 

Noora Ismail

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