Chronicle 19. PHOENICIA’S STROKE OF FORTUNE
/ΕΛΛΗΝΙΚΑ/ Χρονικό 19. ΦΟΙΝΙΚΗ: Η ΕΥΝΟΙΑ ΤΗΣ ΤΥΧΗΣ
● Phoenicians and Sea Peoples ● Minoan Eruption on Thera ● Trojan War and Bronze Age Collapse (B)
PARADOXICALLY ENOUGH, “A CRITICAL TURNING POINT in history, an important element mentioned by many sources, and yet given consideration by virtually none, is the simple fact that – in the midst of a cataclysm which destroyed almost every city in the area of the eastern Mediterranean – the Phoenician cities remained untouched… accorded a special status by the invading peoples”.
Such is the standpoint of Sanford Holst, a specialist on Phoenicia, in his analysis on Sea Peoples and the Phoenicians: A Critical Turning Point in History, adding equally unequivocally:
“There was a relationship or partnership of some nature between the Sea Peoples and the Phoenicians”…
“A critical turning point in history mentioned by many sources, and yet given consideration by virtually none, is that, in the midst of a cataclysm destroying almost every city in eastern Mediterranean, Phoenicia remained untouched, accorded a special status by the invading peoples… There was a relationship or partnership between the Sea Peoples and Phoenicians”. (Sanford Holst)
However, as he is “Philo-Phoenician”, he tries to minimize the importance of the Minoans in his text regarding the Origin of the Phoenicians, Interactions in the Early Mediterranean Region. Reversing historical periods, he opts to portray the Minoans as the Phoenicians’ “pupils”, and uses the usual “beautiful” phrases as a cover-up:
“Around 2000 BC”, he maintains (but in reality, circa 3000 BCE), “the beautiful Minoan civilization arose on Crete, accompanied by many indications of ‘Eastern influence’. By that time the Phoenicians had long been established as major sea traders on the Mediterranean. [!] That the Minoans received influences from them and others in the form of specific pottery, architectural practices, social practices, legends and language are very much in evidence”…
Such assertions, by the way, were made by the great archaeologist Leonard Woolley, but eventually, they backfired and were discarded as entirely erroneous (see Chronicle 27. An Archaeologist’s Waterloo).
The Phoenicians may be the “darlings” of most historians; but none would ever dare to claim that their civilization was older than that of the Minoans. Consequently, the latter were the real masters, and their good pupils, as it turned out, were not the Mycenaeans but the Phoenicians, when the Cretans voyaged to Canaan very often for trade.
“The Phoenicians began to develop as a seafaring, manufacturing, trading nation when the Cretans – the first masters of the Mediterranean – were overthrown by the Greeks”, R. A. Guisepi points out in his text on The Phoenicians.
The Minoan Eruption on Thera
They probably ventured out on the open sea some time before, in the early 16th century, trying to profit from the misfortunes of the Cretans (mainly due to the Minoan eruption), but in vain: the Minoans were still standing, and afterwards they were succeeded by the Mycenaeans…
“The Late Minoan I period as a whole [1600-1450 BCE] represents the zenith of Minoan civilization”, W. Sheppard Baird contends in his study about The Bronze Age Eruption of Santorini and Late Minoan IB Destruction Event, and then explains: “Their cultural and maritime economic influence throughout the Mediterranean and Black Sea would never be exceeded. This was a time of great social and political cohesion and commercial and industrial prosperity. Their only economic rival in the Mediterranean was the Egyptians. The Minoans at this time ruled the seas with the largest navy and commercial fleet ever seen in the Mediterranean. Then it all came crashing down with the incredible eruption of the Theran marine volcano”…
● The Minoan eruption was one of the largest volcanic events in recorded history (and probably the second biggest after Tambora, Indonesia, in 1815 CE), devastating Thera, nearby islands and parts of Crete. The eruptions, generating tsunamis and preceded by earthquakes, provided a basis for or inspired Plato’s Atlantis story and the Titanomachy in Hesiod’s Theogony. The exact date has been difficult to determine. The initial date of 1500 BCE appeared to be incorrect, as radiocarbon dating analysis indicated that the eruption occurred at least a century before, c. 1627-1600. A volcanic winter after the eruption provoked the collapse of the Xia dynasty in faraway China, following “yellow fog, a dim sun, frost in July, famine, and the withering of all five cereals”. Heavy rains and storms that ravaged Egypt have been attributed to short-term climatic changes caused by the eruption. W. Sheppard Baird suggests the idea that at least one pyroclastic surge of superheated steam travelled at a very high speed over 110 kilometers of sea water to incinerate large areas of Crete spreading destruction, havoc and death. The Mycenaean conquest of the island occurred about 150 years after the catastrophe; therefore, many archaeologists speculate that it induced a grave crisis in the Minoan civilization that made things far easier for the Mycenaeans. The internal political conflict hypothesis is also presented here. It is a realistic scenario because of the instability the catastrophe provoked. It could also be a factor that might have paved the way for the Mycenaeans. Their operation in Crete lasted from c. 1450 to 1375 BCE, when Knossos finally fell.
W. Sheppard Baird refers to this “big bang” on Santorini, even when he is more concentrated on The Origin of the Sea Peoples:
“When the Theran volcano exploded in the Aegean”, he suggests, “it would have been difficult enough for the surviving Minoans to resurrect the Mediterranean trade routes amid the incredible devastation. The effective Minoan policing of the old trade routes from piracy that was in place before the eruption might have never again been achieved”. Describing the aftermath of the Sea Peoples’ raids, he concludes: “By this time all of the great Bronze Age powers that had existed before the volcanic eruption, except the Egyptians, lay shattered, depopulated, and would never recover. In sharp contrast, the Phoenicians survived completely unscathed and invigorated. It was the beginning of the ‘Age of the Phoenicians’ in the Mediterranean. What did they do? They headed straight for the gold, silver, and tin of southern Iberia to establish trading outposts [emporia] and colonies.”
Mycenaeans and Hittites vs. Phoenicians and Sea Peoples
Not “what did they do?” but “how did they make it?” should be the first question to ask – followed by the crucial query: “Who were the Phoenicians’ adversaries?” Sanford Holst explains:
“The Phoenician people had been dominant sea traders in the Mediterranean prior to 1500 BC [in fact, they had attempted unsuccessfully to establish themselves as such after the Minoan eruption]. Then the rise of the Mycenaeans caused sea trade to fall into the hands of that new power. This pushed the Phoenicians backward from the west. The growth of Ugarit as a major sea trader located just north of the Phoenicians exerted additional pressure from that direction. Immediately beside that powerful city were the Hittites.”
The Phoenicians’ adversaries, therefore, were the Mycenaeans and the Hittites, including Ugarit. A war between Egypt and Hatti in the early 13th century was inconclusive and the Hittites kept all the lands they had taken. Then the great pharaoh Ramses II died in 1213 BCE, and the Sea Peoples appeared on the scene four years later, waging their first doomed raid against Egypt, “the breadbasket which had been supplying the Hittites with wheat via Ugarit”. The hungry Sea Peoples wanted bread and the breadbasket was Egypt, but this did not serve the Phoenicians’ interests. It was urgent for them that the Sea Peoples’ attention be turned elsewhere: to the Aegean and Anatolia, to the Mycenaeans and Hittites…
The hungry Sea Peoples wanted bread, the breadbasket was Egypt, but
this did not serve the Phoenicians’ interests. The Sea Peoples’ attention
should be urgently turned elsewhere: to the Aegean and Anatolia…
“What led to the special treatment the Phoenicians seem to have been given by the Sea Peoples? What services could the Sea Peoples possibly have received from these maritime traders?”, Sanford Holst wonders.
The answer is, of course: bread – if not something more than bread. As for the… “circuses”, well, the investing Phoenicians hoped that they would be rewarding enough; how fruitful they were in fact, not even the most optimistic Phoenician could ever dream of or imagine… Holst has the story unfolding:
“With the Hittites threatening their northern border, the Phoenicians would reasonably have supported whichever groups among Sea Peoples wanted to shift attacks away from the failed effort at Egypt and toward a more promising one against the Hittites. Though the Hittites themselves had no excess food to offer, they stood between the Sea Peoples and an achievable goal: the land of Canaan, which was second only to Egypt as a source of wheat. In addition, by going through the Hittite land and Canaan, the Sea Peoples would bring a force numbering hundreds of thousands to confront the wheat-rich Egyptians – rather than the handful of warriors who had failed on the first attempt.
“But a problem had to be overcome. The Mycenaeans continued to hold the Aegean and attacked the Anatolian people from the seaward side. To deal with this, warriors and ships in the Sea Peoples confederacy poured from Anatolia and the Black Sea into the Aegean, where they ravaged the Mycenaeans. Following this widespread disruption the Mycenaean cities withered and eventually died. When the Aegean had been thus cleared, the people of western Anatolia were able to turn their full attention to the Hittites.”
“The Mycenaeans continued to hold the Aegean and attacked the Anatolians from the sea. To deal with this, the Sea Peoples poured into the Aegean and ravaged the Mycenaeans [until their] cities withered and died. When the Aegean had been thus cleared, the Western Anatolians were able to
turn their full attention to the Hittites.” (Sanford Holst)
Holst apparently alludes to the Trojan War. If so, it explains why the fighters on the Trojan side, as Homer says, sounded just like the Tower of Babel builders – that is, speaking various languages and thus needing to have orders translated to them by their commanders. It seems, therefore, that the fall of Troy did not seal the end of the war. The Sea Peoples counter-attacked, bringing the war on Hellenic soil.(1)
- (1) So, were the Greeks a part of the Sea Peoples? The answer is evidently negative: “No, they were not!” Or were they? We need to elaborate on that in our next Chronicle.
Let’s compare Eberhard Zangger’s view:
“The Sea Peoples may well have been Troy and its confederated allies, and the literary tradition of the Trojan War may well reflect the Greek effort to counter those raids.” Hence the Iliad may well reflect this conflict.
“The Sea Peoples may well have been Troy and its confederated
allies, and the literary tradition of the Trojan War may well reflect
the Greek effort to counter those raids.” (Eberhard Zangger)
“In 1182 BC Ugarit fell [burned to the ground and left unoccupied thereafter] and the flow of wheat from Egypt was cut off”, says Holst. “Approximately two years later the Hittite empire died. Now nothing stood in the way of the Sea Peoples’ exodus.(2) With their wives, children and household possessions in two-wheeled carts, the Sea Peoples – now more properly the Land Peoples – flowed across on their path of destruction and, observing their special relationship with Phoenicia, they by-passed that land. Flowing down through Canaan they destroyed the cities they encountered. Many settled beside the wheat fields and took some of the land for themselves and their families. A very large number of the Land and Sea Peoples continued onward and eventually arrived at the border between Canaan and Egypt. There a great battle was fought and the Sea Peoples were finally stopped.”
- (2) Writing “exodus”, Holst clearly sought “Biblical” connotations. The historical connotations though are more compelling: it is irresistible the urge to compare or find parallels between the Sea Peoples and the First Crusade (1096–1099 CE), especially the so-called People’s, or Peasants’, or Paupers’ Crusade – although, if we wish precision, we need to describe it as the Unruly Mob’s Crusade. If, on the contrary, we try to find analogies with the Phoenicians’ conduct, we need to “flash forward” to the Fourth Crusade (1202–1204), branded as the “Cursed Crusade”, as it was originally intended to conquer Muslim Jerusalem by means of an invasion through Egypt; but instead, in April 1204, the Crusaders mercilessly sacked Christian Constantinople, capital of the Byzantine Empire, which was partitioned among the plunderers, establishing the Latin Empire. The Venetians in this Crusade acted just like the Phoenicians in the Sea Peoples’ raids during the Bronze Age collapse. One day we may get to know who the Phoenician “Enrico Dandolo” was, and how he contributed to this collapse…
● Just a tiny portion of the incalculable booty pillaged by Venetians and Franks in the city is the “Horses of St. Mark” in Venice, a work that some attribute to Lysippos. Napoleon stole later the… stolen horses but, after Waterloo, they were returned to their… legitimate looters!
The Egyptians won the battle but, as we have seen, lost the war. Who else did? The Mycenaeans, the Hittites, Ugarit, and also the peoples of Canaan – except the Phoenicians. Even the militaristic Assyrians can be counted among the losers being obliged to withdraw to their borders for protection. In short, all the great powers of the day. As for the winners, apart from the Sea Peoples themselves, there is no doubt:
“Under the destructive force of the Sea Peoples’ attacks, all of the
Phoenicians’ powerful adversaries had been destroyed. The Phoenician
cities were untouched by this devastation that happened around them,
which left these people in an advantageous position.” (Sanford Holst)
“The Phoenicians seem to have gained more than anyone else from the mass migration of the Land and Sea Peoples”, Holst sums up. “Under the destructive force of the Sea Peoples’ attacks, all of the Phoenicians’ powerful adversaries had been destroyed. The Phoenician cities were untouched by this devastation that happened around them, which left these people in an advantageous position.
“The historical record shows their active cities quickly began to expand their domain by placing trading posts in Cyprus, the Aegean, Sicily, Sardinia, North Africa, Algeria, Morocco and Spain. Among the cities they created were these in Morocco: Lixus (modern Larache), Sala (Rabat), Mogador (Essaouira) and Tingis (Tangier); in Spain: Gadir (Cádiz), Malaka (Málaga), Ibisa (Ibiza); in Algeria: Icosia (Algiers); in Tunisia: Utica and Carthage; in Sardinia: Karalis (Cagliari); in Sicily: Panormus (Palermo);(3) in Cyprus: Kition (Larnaca). The Phoenicians gave rise to a powerful and wealthy sea-trading empire which stretched from Morocco to the Levant.”
- (3) One of too many similar cases: colonies supposedly founded by the Phoenicians but known by their Greek names as the Canaanite toponyms (if there were such names) were forgotten…
● Therefore, Sanford Holst is absolutely right to underline that “this element turns out to be one of the keys which help to unlock the mystery of the Sea Peoples – an event which changed the course of history.”
“Age of the Phoenicians”
THE RESULTING POWER VACUUM WAS A GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY for the Phoenicians to take advantage and emerge as true heirs of the Minoans, rising as a great maritime power. Their zenith in history (1200–800 BCE) coincides with the dark ages of all their antagonists. Enjoying almost complete freedom of movement for such a long time, they methodically built their trading empire; and when the tide of history brought the great powers back (Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians), subjugating Phoenicia from the 9th to the 6th centuries BCE, they were prepared to shift the hub of the empire from the Near East to the centre of the Mediterranean, from Canaan to Tunisia.
Under Persian yoke, many Phoenicians migrated to colonies, such as Carthage. There they might realize their dream to become a real empire, achieving military supremacy, as well, which was rather infeasible in the narrow strip of Phoenicia. As for the Hellenes, they gradually woke up from their dark age and, starting in 900 BCE, rushed to make up for lost time founding their own colonies not only in the Mediterranean, but also in the Black Sea, where the Phoenicians never dared to enter. Studying a map of 550 BCE, the Greek superiority is obvious. The Phoenicians faced a very serious problem: lack of manpower. But they enjoyed a crucial strategic advantage: the control of the Pillars of Heracles,(4) the Strait of Gibraltar,(5) where Carthage would impose a blockade to secure its monopoly with metal-bearing Iberia, the lost city of Tartessos, and the Atlantic, North and South. Using e.g. gold obtained by their expansion of the African coastal trade in the mid-4th century BCE, the Punics minted gold staters bearing a pattern in the reverse exergue of the coins, which some have interpreted as a map of the Mediterranean with America (or Atlantis?) shown to the West.
- (4) The Pillars of Heracles of the Hellenes were the Strait of Gibraltar. But in earlier times, when they had not gone so far, this phrase referred to the “strait” between Tunisia and Sicily. Thus the Phoenicians, and later the Punics, sought to control both the “internal” and “external” Pillars.
- (5) Gibraltar is the European Pillar of Heracles on Spanish soil but controlled by Britain. The term means “Rock of Tariq” (Gibr al-Tariq), from the name of Tariq ibn Ziyad who led the vanguard of the Arabs that invaded Iberia in 711 CE.
● However, long before the Spaniards, the British and the Arabs, the Visigoths and the Vandals (hence the name of Andalusia), the Punics and the Romans, the Phoenicians or the Greeks, long before the Celts, even the Iberians and locals, the rock was occupied by the Neanderthals. The evidence in Gorham’s cave, between 125,000 and 25,000 years ago, makes it their last known holdout. Similarly on the opposite, African Pillar, Ceuta, in Moroccan territory but controlled by Spain, the oldest traces of human presence go back 250,000 years.
That was the background of Phoenicia’s sea trade enterprise that spread across the seas from 1550 to 300 BCE. The Phoenicians were remarkable in seamanship and famous as “traders in purple”, due to their monopoly on the precious purple dye of the murex snail, once profusely available in the eastern Mediterranean, though exploited to local extinction, and used, inter alia, for royal clothing. In fact, the word Phoenicia derives from the Hellenic words φοῖνιξ and φοινός, i.e. purple, passing to Latin as Punic.(6) They called their country Canaan, which may also mean Land of Purple. If so, Canaan and Phoenicia are synonyms. Hecataeus said Phoenicia was formerly called Χνᾶ (Khnā). However, the Greek term did not correspond to a cultural identity that would be recognized by the Phoenicians themselves. It is uncertain if and to what extent they viewed themselves as a single ethnicity. It was a civilization organized in city-states, similar to Hellas. They would come into conflict and one city might dominate the others, though they could collaborate in leagues or alliances, as well. In terms of language, life style and religion, there is little to set the Phoenicians apart from other Semitic cultures of Canaan as markedly different.
The Minoan “Phoenician” purple
- (6) Seeking information on purple in Wikipedia, you are redirected to the so-called “Phoenician” or “Tyrian” purple, extracted from a spiny sea snail: Murex, or Bolinus, or Haustellum, brandaris. Despite being established as such, nevertheless, purple must have been a Minoan invention; the Phoenicians appropriated it, together with several Cretan innovations, and brought them huge profits after the Bronze Age collapse. As the most expensive and finer dye, purple has long been considered a royal and divine symbol and privilege: the higher one was in political or religious hierarchy, the more purple clothes one was allowed to wear. Therefore, it also meant the purple royal robe and, thence, royal power.*
* Medicine “took revenge” on all those “blue bloods”, terming as purpura (porphyra) a skin disease with red spots. (Etymology of the word purple: < Latin purpura <Greek porphyra (πορφύρα) < of unknown origin; it seems, however, it is perhaps the only Minoan word still in use).
● Archaeologists have found substantial numbers of murex shells in Crete, dating to the 20th – 18th centuries BCE. Thus, the Minoans must have pioneered the extraction of purple, centuries before the Tyrians, and the Phoenicians in general. An important site was the now uninhabited islet of Chryse (Golden), also known as Gaidouronesi (Donkey isle), 15 km south of Crete off Hierapetra, where archaeologists excavated a Minoan settlement dating to 1800-1500 BCE, with purple dye workshops and many artifacts. The Minoans developed various purple dye tones (from blue to red) depending on the method of processing. Accumulations of crushed murex shells have been found in other parts of the Mediterranean, e.g. Apulia, Magna Gaecia. It seems that Laconia was the place with the best purple production in Europe, the islet Meninx (Djerba) in Africa, and Tyre in Asia.
Apart from purple, the Phoenicians exported textiles, glass, and wine to Egypt, where grapevines would not grow, and obtained Nubian gold, Iberian silver, and British tin. However, what was once thought to be direct trade is now believed it was indirect. Timothy Champion suggests it was under the control of the Celts of Britanny.(7) In any case, the recovery of the Mediterranean economy after the Bronze Age collapse was largely due to the work of Phoenician traders, who re-established long distance commerce.
- (7) This is a very simple but quite interesting idea: Why should any trading sailor, be it Minoan or Mycenaean, Phoenician or Carthaginian, take the risk of travelling around Iberia and then up to Britain, when tin from Cornwall or Brittany could be transported overland through Gaul-France? It is the reason why Carthage tried in vain to prevent the founding of the colony of Massalia: even with Gibraltar blockaded, tin from Cornwall or Brittany was available in the Mediterranean, and Carthage could not impose an all-out monopoly.
While trade and colonies spread, the Mediterranean was split into two with the Phoenicians sailing along and finally dominating the southern shores, while the Greeks were active along the northern coast. This arrangement did not exclude mutual intrusions, as the examples of Cyrenaica and Sardinia indicate. The two cultures clashed rarely, mainly in Sicily (due to its strategic position, opposite Carthage, at the “internal Pillars” of the Mediterranean), and finally settled into two spheres of influence. When the Punics took over, things changed dramatically.
Despite the exergues, which supposedly depict America (or Atlantis), what we can see on the other side of the Phoenician “coin” is a certain kind of cultural deficiency. Their art lacks some unique characteristics that might differentiate it from its contemporaries. This is due to its being highly influenced by foreign cultures: primarily Egypt, Assyria, or Hellas. Their art was an amalgam of foreign models and perspectives. In addition, although they are credited for the spread of their “abjad”, from which all major alphabets originated, they used this script mainly for their trade business.(8) And apart from their inscriptions, they have left almost no other written sources – or they have not survived. We even ignore the name of their “Lord of the Sea”, their “Poseidon” – quite strange for a society of sailing merchants where such a deity is so very important.
- (8) The precursor to the “Phoenician alphabet” was likely of Egyptian origin as the Middle Bronze Age abjads from Canaan resemble hieroglyphs or, far more specifically, an early abjad found in central Egypt. In addition to being preceded by proto-Canaanite scripts, the Phoenician abjad also followed the Ugaritic “alphabet” of Mesopotamian origin. Hence, the consonantal Semitic “alphabets” should have originated in Egypt and Mesopotamia.
The same could be said about the Minoans, whose deities we also ignore, if we do not take into account that they represent an older civilization, whose script is still undeciphered. Note that there was a god of the sea and the rivers, named Yam (Yaw), in the Canaanite Pantheon. Was he worshipped by the Phoenicians? It seems that, except Baal (Baal-hamon and his consort Tanit were the patrons of Carthage), the Phoenicians specifically honoured Melqart, patron of Tyre, the founder of most colonies, including Gadir (Cádiz) and Carthage. Gradually, due to mutual influence, Melqart was identified with Heracles. But for sure, none of these gods could substitute Yam-Poseidon. Therefore, the mystery (a people of seamen without a god of the sea) is here to stay…
● If we search for the entry “Phoenician mythology” in Wikipedia, we are redirected to a certain Sanchuniathon, a purported author of three lost works in the Phoenician language, supposedly surviving only in partial paraphrase and summary of a Greek translation by Philo of Byblos, according to the bishop of Caesarea, Eusebius. All we know about Sanchuniathon’s work comes from Eusebius, citing the only surviving excerpts from his writings, as summarized and quoted from his supposed translator, Philo. The hypothetical date of the alleged writings take us back to a time before the Trojan War, around the time some other hypothetical persons lived, such as Moses, “when Semiramis was queen of the Assyrians”. Thus Sanchuniathon is placed in the mythic context of an antiquity from which no Hellenic or Phoenician writings have survived. Paradoxically enough, however, the “writer” is made to refer disparagingly to… Hesiod, who lived in the 8th century BCE! Some have suggested that Eusebius’ intent was… “pious” (“eusebeia” means “piety” in Greek): he desired to “discredit polytheism”; others that it was a forgery by Philo himself. Anyone can draw his own conclusions about the real motives of the forgers, whoever they were. At any rate, you are certainly quite astonished when finally a search for “Phoenician mythology” is redirected to a hoax – “pious” or not…
Next Chronicle 20. THE ENIGMATIC SEA PEOPLES ● Bronze Age Collapse Due to Famine ● Trojan War and Anatolian Sea Peoples ● Merneptah Stele and Exodus ● Hittites and Luwians
There is sufficient evidence to support many of Holst’s contentions. Byblos commercial port was just discovered last year, excavations this year (2017) are probably going to embarrass quite a few people. Byblos (Jebail) was pretty clearly developing multiple major trade routes from 3,200 BCE on. Sanford Holst does draw some aggressive conclusions, but he is on to something for sure. Your interest may be focused on the Minoans, but the whole Phoenicia wasn’t a thing before the Sea Peoples does not work when you compare Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Minoan, and actual Phoenician evidence. Byblos got very very rich in record time, between 3,200 BCE and roughly 2,750 when they settled Trye, then Sidon. Also, I met a Micromorphologist, last month, Rachel Kulick from U of T, and she was definitive, the site at Palekastro (Kouremenos) and there was NO evidence for a tsunami from thin section soil analysis. Sooo, no Thera Tsunami hit Eastern Crete.