Phoenicians: Sailing Away

The Phoenicians used cuneiform but later developed their own alphabet back in the 16th century B.C.E. They organized a system of 22 consonants that formed the foundation for the modern English alphabet and other alphabets.

Alphabet Soup

The Phoenicians started their alphabet from symbols that were already in use in Canaan and Mesopotamia.

The Phoenician merchants and traders wanted writing that would be simple to learn and quick to use.

They knew that most words were made up of only a small number of sounds that could be represented in only 22 symbols and their various combinations. The Phoenician alphabet used letters only for consonants, although their spoken language did contain vowel sounds.

The Phoenicians spread their alphabet through their vast trading network throughout the Mediterranean region. The Greeks adopted it and added vowels. The Romans also used a version that is very close to the one used today for English.

Trading on the High Seas

The Phoenicians were the greatest traders in the ancient world between 1000 B.C.E. and 600 B.C.E. They built strong boats to carry their goods and they could navigate using the North Star to sail at night.

They had warships that sailed with their trading ships to fight the pirates.

The Phoenicians built outposts that later became great cities. The most famous was Carthage, which became wealthy and powerful enough to challenge the Roman Republic.

Phoenician merchants 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.

The Phoenicians were also skilled artisans that produced beautiful glass, pottery, textiles, woodwork, and metalwork. They also made a brilliant purple dye for woolen garments, which were prized for their beauty. The dye became known as royal purple and was worn by Roman emperors.

By 572 B.C.E., the Phoenicians were ruled by the Assyrians. Greece began to compete with Phoenician trade routes. Two of their most important cities were destroyed by the Persians and Alexander the Great. Many Phoenicians migrated to their trading colonies, and soon the Phoenician people and ideas were assimilated into other cultures.

Source: Phoenicians: Sailing Away
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