Chronicle 19. PHOENICIA’S STROKE OF FORTUNE
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”.
“There was a relationship or partnership of some nature between the Sea Peoples and the Phoenicians”…
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 (in fact, around 2700 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, too, but eventually, they were discarded as entirely erroneous (see Chronicle 27. An Archaeologist’s Waterloo).
“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 the Phoenicians”. (S. Holst)
The Phoenicians may be the “darlings” of most historians; but none would ever 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.
They probably ventured out on the open sea some time before, in the mid-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.
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.”
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 Anatolian people from the sea. To deal with this, the Sea Peoples poured from Anatolia and the Black Sea into the Aegean, where they ravaged the Mycenaeans [and 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.(a)
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 (see next Chronicle).
“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.(b) 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.”
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:
“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);(c) in Cyprus: Kition (Larnaca). The Phoenicians gave rise to a powerful and wealthy sea-trading empire which stretched from Morocco to the Levant.”
● 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.”
“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 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, and 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,(d) the Strait of Gibraltar,(e) 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.
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. 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.
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.(f) 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.
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.(g) 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.
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