Phoenicians Sailing Away

Trading on the High Seas

The Phoenicians were the greatest traders in the ancient world for the period between 1000 B.C.E. and 600 B.C.E. They were highly skilled shipbuilders, who built strong and fast sailing vessels to carry their goods. They learned how to navigate and used the North Star to sail at night. It is possible that they even sailed as far as Britain and around the southern tip of Africa.

To fight off pirates who often attacked trading ships, the Phoenicians designed special warships to accompany their trading fleets. Oarsmen would propel a sharp ramming device at the front of the boat into an enemy's vessel, putting a hole into it that would cause it to sink.

To expand in trading, the Phoenicians also built outposts that later became great cities in their own right. The most famous of these outposts was Carthage (located in modern-day Tunisia). Carthage eventually became wealthy and powerful enough to challenge the Roman Republic.

Phoenician merchants acted as middlemen for their neighbors. They transported linen and papyrus from Egypt, copper from Cyprus, embroidered cloth from Mesopotamia, spices from Arabia, and ivory, gold, and slaves from Africa to destinations throughout the Mediterranean.

Given their location on the east coast of the Mediterranean Sea, it was natural for the Phoenicians to sail.

The Phoenicians also had valuable resources and were highly skilled artisans. From a small shellfish, they produced a brilliant purple dye used on woolen garments, which were highly prized for both their beauty and their high cost. This dye became known as royal purple and was worn by Roman emperors.

Skilled artists also produced beautiful glass, pottery, textiles, woodwork, and metalwork desired by people all over the ancient world. King Solomon of Israel even used Phoenician artisans and resources to build the great Hebrew Temple in Jerusalem.

By 572 B.C.E., the Phoenicians fell under the harsh rule of the Assyrians. They continued to trade, but encountered tough competition from Greece over trade routes. By the 4th century B.C.E., the Persians and Alexander the Great had destroyed the Phoenicians' two most important cities, Sidon and Tyre. Many Phoenicians left the Mediterranean coast for their trading colonies, and Phoenicia people and ideas were soon assimilated into other cultures.

Source: Phoenicians Sailing Away
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