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Phoenicians

A seafaring culture of fishermen, sailors, and merchants, the Phoenicians will chart the coastlines, their galley holds loaded with textiles and wine, cedar and glass, and more.

Unlike the massive territories that covered the ancient Near-East in the second and first millennia BCE, Phoenician cities did not spread east into the fertile plains of Mesopotamia, but west across the entire Mediterranean Basin. Highly skilled mariners and renowned merchants, they formed a vast network of trading routes that made Mediterranean unification possible for the first time.

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Phoenicia and Phoenician are two Greek words used to describe the peoples living in the city-states on the coast of modern day Lebanon. However, this does not mean that political unity existed among these city-states. They may have shared the same language, alphabets, social structures, and religious systems, but they never developed a sense of common identity. Tyre, Sidon, Byblos, and Arwad were the most important cities in this civilization. After being overshadowed by the Egyptians and the Hittites, the Phoenicians seized the opportunity to expand upon the decline of these two empires in the 13th century BCE. After this golden age, they were absorbed once again by the great empires of the Near-East. Phoenician cities began to gain power over the former Mycenaean shipping routes between the 12th and 9th centuries BCE. This was followed between the 9th and 8th centuries BCE by more colonies being established in the eastern Mediterranean all the way to North Africa and in the south of the Iberian Peninsula, including what would become Carthage. Phoenician expansion in the Mediterranean did not result in territorial conquests. The location of these trading posts was chosen based on a strategy focused on settlement along a trade route or in proximity to a source of raw materials. As a result, Phoenician cities served as an interface between the world of the Near-East and the Mediterranean and created enormous wealth through their commercial activities.

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The cities on the Phoenician coast gave birth to an influential culture. We owe to the Phoenicians the invention of an alphabet containing 22 consonants, which was the starting point for the Greek and Aramaic alphabets. These in turn were used to develop not only the Cyrillic and Latin alphabets, but the Hebrew and Arabic alphabets as well.