The  Mediterranean  Sea

-  a brief history  Page 5  -

The Phoenicians

Persia’s propensity for trade was taken up by the Phoenicians, who lived on the Lebanese coast in the ancient cities of Biblos, Sidon and Tyre. Whereas the Egyptians kept more to themselves and traded predominantly up the Nile, the Phoenicians, with only a narrow strip of fertile coastal land to live on, could only look outwards for any hope of development and it was from here that Man commenced his navigation westwards, to conquer ever more territories.

Using their large supply of fine cedar wood, the Phoenicians constructed boats strong enough to face the Mediterranean Sea, which at first had represented a barrier, but now gave them the possibility to travel westwards and to found new colonies. Their boats were driven both by sail and by crews of oar-men and became progressively larger and larger.

 There were three routes for sailing West:                                                     

                               The three routes of the Phoenecians

1.      Following the Northern shores, through Turkey, Greece, Corfu, the heel of Italy, The Messina Strait, the Italian coastline to Elba, then across to Corsica and Sardinia.

2.      The Southern course, following the North African coastline, always remaining within sight of land and making land-fall at night time. Many a port on today’s maps represented one day’s sailing from the next, for the ancient Phoenicians.

3.      The third route westwards was used later, by the more experienced sailors and with a more refined sailing equipment, as it meant going straight out to sea, beyond sight of land. From Tyre, they sailed to Cyprus, then to Crete, to Malta and arriving at Carthage, travelling overnight and navigating by the stars.

The Phoenicians were peaceful traders, interested only in building up their commerce and founded many colonies in the then “Far West”, in Cyprus, Rhodes and in the Aegean Islands. Sailing further they founded Tharros and Nora in Sardinia, Tashish, a great commercial colony on the coast of Spain, and of course the city that was to become the capital of all the colonies, Carthage, in present day Tunisia, which was in the exact centre of the Mediterranean. (The remarkably well-preserved ruins of these Punic cities are a must to see - in fact most of the promontories you encounter will have once been occupied by the Phoenecians, seeking shelter in their lee side for their ships)

Carthage dominated the scene up until defeat by the Romans in around 200 BC.

Incidentally, the Phoenicians were also the inventors of modern writing, with the alphabet of 22 letters that we are familiar with. This proved to be a technological break-through at the time, in communication and greatly favoured commerce and the colonisation of distant lands. 

They exported their highly-valued purple dye colored cloths, which were achieved from processing certain marine sea-shells and traded their fine glass-wares. They were also traders in wine, shipping it all the way from Lebanon, up until grape vines began to be cultivated locally. Their colonisation of Sardinia, dating from VIII Century BC, was mainly to acquire silver, copper and lead from the mines, which they traded with much profit.  

A recent theory would have the Phoenecians belonging to the ancient Hebrew people who inhabited the Palestinian - Lebanon region, who migrated extensively and this would explain the very early presence of Jewish peoples at the far end of the Mediterranean, including Morocco.  

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  The Mediterranean Sea
      Copyright L. Camillo 2011