What We Know of Tyre and the rest of the Phoenician homeland is limited. Most of our information and inferences are based off of what we know about Carthage, one of the greatest (Phoenician) cities in the world.

  • There was social mobility in most communities. They were ruled by a merchant aristocracy, thus newly successful families could become powerful.
  • In Carthage, men were not required to serve in the army. They were more lucrative as merchants and trade assets. This demonstrated Phoenician priorities.
  • Phoenicians only garrisoned their Spanish territories to secure resources and protect from hostiles. Every other territory was simply an autonomous trading center.
  • Phoenicians almost entirely focused on trade because of the wealth and political power it brought them. This made merchants rich and also the ruling class in most territories.

  • Early Phoenicians adopted Canaanite figures/models into an entirely vowel based system of phonetic writing. Later adopted by Greeks who added consonants.
  • Used Papyrus from Egypt to write on. Papyrus is perishable, so little remains of Phoenician writing after several thousand years.
Phoenician Alphabet
Phoenician Alphabet

  • Phoenicians frequently intermarried with other people. Solidified relationships with locals in colonies.
  • In Tyre, a huge palace held the treasury, archives, and temples to the gods Melqart and Astarte.
  • In Carthage, they worshiped the gods Baal Hammon (a male storm god) and Tanit (a female fertility goddess).
  • In Carthage, the aristocracy sacrificed their male children during times of crisis. The ashes were sealed in urns and placed inside walled enclosures called taphets.

A 1920's depiction of King Hiram.
A 1920's depiction of King Hiram.

  • The Phoenician homeland was originally Canaanite territory. Chief city states were Byblos (Most important prior to 1000 B.C.E.), Berytus, Sidon, and Tyre.
  • The massive/expansive trade that the Phoenicians conducted brought their city-states considerable wealth and political influence.
  • King Hiram brought Tyre to power in 969 B.C.E. Supposedly (according to the Hebrew Bible) he allied with King Soloman and provided him with cedar wood and the craftsmen to build the Temple in Jerusalem. Consequently gained access to silver, food, and trade routes to the east and south.
  • Colonized Cyprus around 900 B.C.E. (A copper rich island)
  • Tyre conquered Sidon in 800 B.C.E.
  • 800's-600's: Contended with aggressive Assyrians. Remained autonomous by pitting enemies against each other and/or by allying with a distant ruler.
  • 701: Fell to the Assyrians. Sidon became the leading city-state.
  • 814 B.C.E. Carthage founded in modern day Tunisia by Phoenicians. Became a major commercial center and naval power on the western Mediterranean until Rome defeated it in the 200's B.C.E.
  • Elected two "judges" yearly to act as heads of state and judges.
  • Most power held in the Senate. Leading merchant families ruled. Elected public officials were selected on occasion to stir public emotion.
  • Held massive monopoly in the western Mediterranean. Treaties between Carthage and other states officially recognized this monopoly.
  • Carthage allowed nearby Phoenician communities to maintain autonomy while offering them protection. These communities tended to side with Carthage in nearly every matter.

A map of the Phoenician homeland and where they could gather their trade materials.
A map of the Phoenician homeland and where they could gather their trade materials.

  • Tyre and the other Phoenician colonies depended upon ocean trade to survive.
  • They later thrived and based their economy on this trade.
  • Traded raw materials (ie. cedar, pine, metals, incense, and papyrus), food (wine, spices, and salted fish), and crafted luxury items (carved ivory, glass, and textiles dyed in an exceedingly valuable pigment extracted from the murex snail).
  • Tyre became entirely dependent upon food from their mainland territories. Still had a large marketplace in the center of the city.
  • Colonized distant lands to A) alleviate the growing population density B) spread economically by opening new ports and resources and C) gain political power with foreign countries.
  • With Carthage in the lead, Phoenicians eventually held the Strait of Gibralture (entrance to the Mediterranean), the islands of Sardinia, Sicily, and Malta off of Italy, and several other territories nearer to Tyre. They, in essence, held all of the Mediterranean sea in an economic monopoly.
  • Came to trade with sub-Saharan Africa much later.

A Phoenician ship.
A Phoenician ship.

Humans and their Environment-
  • Tyre was an island with two harbors linked by a man-made canal.
  • Carthage took advantage of its dual harbors, built massive walls and fortifications, and capitalized on their naval power.
  • Phoenicians used their naval prowess and understanding of the local shores to secure marine dominance in the western Mediterranean.
  • Made great innovations in naval technology.

Bulliet, Richard W., Crossley, Pamela Kyle, Headrick, Daniel R., Hirsch, Steven W., Johnson, Lyman L., Northup, David, The Earth And Its Peoples: A Global History (Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 20 Channel Center Street, Boston, MA 02210, USA, 2011), Pages 91-97

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