Phoenicia

In the first millennium BCE, the city-states of Arwad (in modern Syria) as well as Byblos, Sidon, and Tyre (in Lebanon) each had their own royal dynasties, trade networks, and other infrastructure. These city-states sometimes competed with one another economically, militarily, and diplomatically. But they shared some traditions and practices as well: they all wrote in a Semitic language we call Phoenician, used similar pottery types and styles, and worshipped a similar pantheon of gods and goddesses. Archaeologically speaking, these distinct regional states and dependent territories look homogeneous, thereby leading generations of scholars to talk about coastal Syria, Lebanon, and Northern Israel / Palestine collectively as “Phoenicia,” even though this is a Greek term that few would have identified with until the Roman period

Did you know…?

  • There are thousands of Phoenician and Punic inscriptions, but almost all of them are short, formulaic, and from graves.
  • Archaeologists have excavated more than a dozen temples from Phoenician cities, some of which reflect elements of the biblical description of the temple of Yahweh in Jerusalem (see chapter 5 of Hélène Sader’s recent book).
  • In each of the Phoenician kingdoms’ pantheons, the goddess Ashtart seems to be the most important deity.
  • The famous cedars of Lebanon were used not just in the temple of Yahweh in Jerusalem but in temples in Mesopotamia and Egypt too.
  • Some evidence of embalming has been found in royal Phoenician tombs from Sidon and Arwad although these mummies had no organs removed, as in Egypt.

Contributors

  • Dixon-Helen

    Assistant Professor, East Carolina University

    Helen Dixon teaches ancient and public history at East Carolina University in the University of North Carolina system. She earned her doctorate in Near Eastern Studies from the University of Michigan in 2013. Her research explores the ancient Mediterranean world through the culture, history, and impact of the Phoenicians in the first millennium BCE. While Phoenicians are often remembered as inventors of the alphabet and neighbors to biblical Israel, Dixon’s research examines other ways their religious, political, social, and art historical innovations shaped the ancient landscape.