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The Phoenicians and Carthaginians

Ancient history, from the beginning of historical information to the downfall of the Western Roman Empire (? B.C. - 476 A.D.). The Great Empires: Eastern Nations.
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The Phoenicians, as the greatest money-makers by commerce, and as the chief colonisers, of antiquity, may well command the interest and sympathy of all true Britons. They afford a striking instance, like Athens, Sparta, Carthage in the olden world, Venice, Genoa, Florence, and Portugal in mediaeval days, and Holland and Great Britain in modern times, of the insignificance of mere size of home-territory in enabling a people to play a great part in the world. The Phoenician land was, in area, little more than half the size of Yorkshire. The Phoenician people, by their enterprising character and their maritime, commercial, and naval achievements, won for themselves immortal renown. They called themselves and their territory Chna or Canaan; the name bestowed by history, Phoenice for the country, Phoenices for the people, comes from the Greek phoenix in one of its two chief meanings-the purple-red or crimson colour for which the dyers of the country were famous, and the beauteous date-palm which grew, and grows, upon its shore, in territory lay on the eastern border of the Mediterranean, a long narrow tract, a far smaller Chili, between mountains and the sea, with Syria to the north and Palestine to the south. The coast-line was about 200 miles in length; the average breadth of the country may have been 15 miles, varying from less than 2 in the south to over 20 in parts of the centre and towards the north. A marked diversity of surface and production was of great service for the development of a prosperous nation. The belt along the coast was composed of fine white silicious sand, excellent for glass-making, and well suited for the date-palm. Inside this was a most fertile level region, the richest plains of which belonged, going from south to north, to Ake or Akko (Acre), Tyre, Sidon, Berytus -(Seyrout), and, much farther north, Marathus. Here were gardens gay with the scarlet blooms of the pomegranate, orchards, and most productive corn-land. The plain is bounded on the east by low swelling hills, on which the mulberry, the olive, and the vine were cultivated in abundance. The Lebanon range, opposite the middle of the coast, stretches for 100 miles, with peaks exceeding 9,000 feet, snow-clad for eight months of the year. These mountains, and the more northern range called Bargylus, about 5,000 feet high, had forests of oaks, chestnuts, sycomores, terebinths, fir, and pine, Lebanon being distinguished by the noble cedars which have never lost their fame. This inexhaustible supply of timber fit for ship-building and for oars was of vast importance to the people of a country forced by nature, as it were, to the sea for a livelihood. The coast-line was not rich in natural harbours, though in some places headlands gave shelter, on either side, from prevailing winds, and some bays, like that of Acre, were almost land-locked. At other points, as at Aradus, in the north, and at Tyre and Sidon, islets on the coast gave protection to vessels, and the industry and skill of the people made excellent artificial harbours at all needful points by excavation of the sandy soil, and the construction of breakwaters. The mountains to the north and east were of great value, in the political history of Phoenicia, as barriers against invasion, and the position of the country, in the natural course of trade between the eastern and western worlds of those ages, marked it out as a most fit abode for those who aimed at commercial wealth.

No records inform us exactly of how and when the Phoenicians first came to the land of Canaan. About 2000 b.c. Semitic immigrants from the east began to appear in the territory, and it is certain that for 1,000 years from the 14th century b.c. it was occupied by the people of Semitic race with whom we are now dealing, closely resembling their neighbours, the Jews, in form and feature. Their character, like that of all the western Semites, was marked by pliability, intensity of purpose, capacity for toil along with love of luxurious ease, and great regard for religion and religious ideas. The temple was the centre of attraction in every city, the gifts of monarch and people were costly, and the same gods with the same rites became objects of worship in every place where colonies were founded. In the historical period, the religion had become degraded from an original monotheism with a highly spiritual conception of Deity into a polytheism in which the chief gods adored were Baal, a sun-god; the goddess Ashtoreth or Astarte, specially reverenced at Sidon; and Melkarth, said to mean "king of cities," a "Baal of Tyre." Adonis, properly Adonai ("my Lord") was a special god at Byblus, and Moloch, the Ammonite god, was also Phoenician. The religious rites were marked by foul cruelty and vice, due to the superstitious desire of propitiating the gods by sacrifice of what parents naturally held most dear - the lives of children, and, worse still, the honour of daughters. All readers of the Old Testament are familiar with the "passing of sons and daughters through the fire to Moloch." They were literally burnt alive by being placed in the outstretched arms of a metal image within which a fire was kindled, and thence they rolled into the furnace, while their cries were drowned by the din of kettle-drums and flutes. The test-sacrifice to Baal, ordered by Elijah on Mount Carmel in the days of Ahab of Israel, shows us the priests, in their despair of an answer to their prayers, and stung by Elijah's mockery, offering their own blood by "cutting themselves after their manner with knives and lancets."

It was, above all, the character of the Phoenicians to be thoroughly practical. They were poor, so far as we know, in speculative thought, literature, science, and art. As ship-builders, navigators, merchants, miners, weavers, dyers, workers in metal, and colonisers, they were unequalled in the ancient world. Their enterprise and daring as explorers were wonderful, as they faced the perils of unknown seas in reaching all parts of the Mediterranean, the Propontis (Sea of Marmara), and the Euxine or Black Sea; in circumnavigating Africa, pushing out into the Atlantic, and in reaching Britain and, perhaps, the Baltic. Energetic, persevering, dexterous, unscrupulous, keen in all practical affairs, they were not, as has been supposed, the inventors of an alphabet, but they showed their practical genius in simplifying and adapting to the uses of business the cumbrous multiplicity of earlier systems, and, discarding superfluous signs, they framed a real working alphabet, with a single definite character for each sound - an alphabet which, with slight changes, has been adopted by civilised nations from their day to this.

The history begins with the occupation, at a very early date, of the sites of Sidon, Aradus, and other less important towns. The existence of Tyre came later, and Tripolis, "the town of three cities," as the Greek name indicates, was a colony of settlers from Tyre, Sidon, and Aradus. Gebal (called by the Greeks and Romans "Byblus"), Ake or Akko (Acre), Berytus (Beyrout], and Sarepta appear, with Tyre, in Egyptian inscriptions of the I4th century b.c. Sidon was the first of the independent townships or principalities which rose to the eminence shown by the allusions in the Homeric poems to her bowls of precious metal and her embroidered royal robes, and by her colonisation of Cyprus, the islands of the AEgean Sea, Malta, many places in Sicily, and of Utica and other points on the northern coast of Africa. Tyre became the leading city in the second period of Phoenician history, from the 13th to the 9th century, and founded colonies in Thasos, Thrace, and Bithynia; at Hadrumetum, Hippo Regius, and Leptis Magna in Africa; at Carthage, in the same region; and at Gadeira or Gades (Cadiz), Malaca (Malaga), and other places in Spain. Tyre, Sidon, and the other Phoenician cities were never formed into a regular confederacy, but lived, for the most part, on friendly terms, and were at times ready to combine against any formidable common foe. The commerce of the towns was probably first carried on with Cyprus, Cilicia, and Egypt. Cyprus, " the copper-land," as its name indicates, was visited for the abundant metal which was combined with tin, in the proportion of about nine parts of the red to one of the white metal, to make the bronze that, in those days, before the general use of iron, was the chief material for all kinds of weapons, tools, and utensils. The need of tin took the Phoenicians first to southern Spain, the district called Tarshish or Tartessus, where it was found in small quantities, and then to the north-western corner of the Peninsula, where it was more plentiful.

There is good reason to believe that the famous Cassiterides ("Tin Lands") of Herodotus, formerly identified with the Stilly Isles and the coast of Cornwall, were really islets off the Spanish coast, near Vigo, and that the great traders of antiquity did not obtain Cornish tin by a sea-route until a comparatively late day. The most precious thing for Tyre and Sidon and their sister-towns, but especially for Tyre, was the dye obtained from two, species of shell-fish, molluscs in the form of mussels, each of which gelded but one small drop of the fluid. The mussels producing the best dye were found on the Phoenician coast, between Tyre and Mount Carmel, and the possession of this finest raw material, along with chemical skill in fixing the colour, and the brilliant sunlight which, as the dyeing was in operation, gave the utmost vividness to the tint, enabled the Tyrians to produce the magnificent crimson or purple fabrics of their own weaving, used for the adornment of the temples of the gods, and of kings and nobles and Roman senators. Very costly to the buyer, and defying the many attempts at imitation, these articles were manufactured on the Phoenician coast until about the 8th century of the Christian era. The Sidonians were famous for glass in the form of vases, bottles, drinking-cups, and bowls, in small sizes made by the blow-pipe, and the people of both cities were renowned for excellence in bronze-work. In addition to their extensive commerce, by sea, in which they were the chief "carrying" people for many hundreds of years, the Phoenicians had a great land-traffic with Judah, Israel, Syria, Arabia, Assyria, Babylonia, Armenia, Asia Minor, and other parts of the East by means of caravans. The best description of the trade both by sea and land is given in that valuable historical document the 27th chapter of the prophet Ezekiel.

Leaving this subject, we turn to a brief account of the historical events, which are of little importance compared with the part played by the Phoenicians in the work of civilisation. Like prudent traders, the people wished only to be let alone. They did not aim at founding an empire. They were always more ready to pay than to fight, and would submit to any tolerable tribute if their commerce and religion and manufactures were not disturbed. They hired out their war-galleys to more powerful peoples in the various contests for supreme dominion. When they were hard pressed by direct attack on their own coast, they showed their Semitic capacity for desperate resistance. The one great monarch was king Solomon's friend Hiram of Tyre, who reigned for 43 years in the nth century. He greatly enlarged and adorned his city, and his commercial alliance with the Jewish king led to a most lucrative trade from Solomon's port on the Red Sea, Ezion-geber, carried on by the Phoenicians with Ophir, in south-east Arabia, and perhaps even with India and Ceylon. Ithobal or Eth-baal, who probably ruled both Tyre and Sidon, was the sovereign who gave his daughter Jezebel in marriage to Ahab of Israel, with results so disastrous to the religion of the Jews. After his reign, towards the end of the 9th century, the chief Phoenician cities became tributary to Assyria, and remained, for the most part, at peace with that empire for a century and a half. Then the tyrannical interference of Tiglath-pileser II. caused a revolt, and his successor Shalmaneser IV., was defeated in an attempt to reduce Tyre. Sennacherib, Esarhaddon, and Asshurbanipal had more success, and brought city after city to submission, compelling them to supply ships for their expeditions, inflicting burdensome taxation, and even carrying off men for forced military service, and women as degraded slaves. About 630 b.c., on the fall of Assyrian power, Phoenician independence was recovered, and this, with a great growth of material prosperity, continued for about 45 years, during which Tyre became the foremost city. Then Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, after very long sieges, captured the double city of Tyre, on the mainland and the island, in 585 b.c., and the place for many years was in a state of decline. Under Persian rule, from 527 to 333, Phoenicia was allowed to keep her native kings, was generally well treated by her suzerains, and assisted the Persian monarchs, with fleets of admirable war-galleys, in their contest with Greece. The country became, towards the end of this period, on friendly terms with Athens, and, still later, joined Egypt and other western populations in a great revolt against Persia. In 351 Tennes, king of Sidon, defeated two satraps sent to reduce the rebels, and Artaxerxes Ochus, the Persian monarch, gathered an enormous army. The Sidonian king, who had strengthened his fortifications, and had a hundred war-galleys, including some of the largest size - the quinqueremes of five banks of rowers - at his disposal, was frightened by the very sight of the assailing force. He made a base submission for his own personal safety by surrendering a hundred of the chief citizens and the main defences of the town. The hundred were at once slain by the besiegers and 500 others, who went forth to beg mercy for the body of the people, had the same fate. The Sidonians, who had already burned their ships, destroyed the town by fire, perishing to the number of 40,000, according to one historian, each father with his wife and family in his own dwelling. It is not a matter for regret that Tennes was put to death by the Persian fang.

During an interval of peace and repose Sidon was rebuilt and again flourished.

The overthrow of the Persian empire by Alexander of Macedon brought with it the destruction of Tyre and the end of Phoenician nationality. After the defeat of Darius at Issus in 333 b.c., Aradus, Byblus (Gebal), and Sidon surrendered to the conqueror, but Tyre, irritated and alarmed by Alexander's declared intention of entering their island-city, resolved on resistance. One of the famous sieges of all history, extending over seven months, January to July, 332, now occurred. The other Phoenician cities were either passive or hostile to Tyre, and a Phoenician fleet aided Alexander in his arduous operations. There was fierce fighting by sea and land, and the resources of ingenuity and valour were taxed to the utmost on both sides. The great Macedonian only succeeded at last by filling up, with enormous labour for his men, the strait between the isle and the mainland, and then, with his engines, battering-rams, and catapults, making breaches at which, from ships provided with boarding-bridges thrown across and resting on the wall, he entered at the head of stormers chosen from his best troops. The defence, the most glorious event of Phoenician history, did not even then collapse. A desperate street-fight ensued, and did not end until the Macedonians had used the utmost efforts of disciplined rage. The carnage of the Tyrians in the assault is stated at 8,000; 2,000 more, taken prisoners with arms in their hands, were crucified on the seashore in punishment for the massacre of Macedonian prisoners on the battlements during the siege. The women, children, and slaves were sold to the number of many thousands. Phoenicia then became a part of the empire of Alexander, and under his successors was a battle-ground, for possession of her territory, between the monarchs of Egypt and Syria. Tyre became again, in the course of 20 years from her ruin, a wealthy city. About 200 b.c. Phoenicia came under the Seleucid kings of Syria, and after the Roman conquest of that territory Tyre was one of Rome's "free cities," with municipal independence, a privilege shared with her by Tripolis and Sidon. During this period the Phoenician population became more and more "Gracised." The trade of Tyre and Sidon was still flourishing, and we take leave of the country at the time when a Tyrian Christian Church was established, and turn to the fortunes of Tyre's greatest colony.

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