Monday, 26 May 2008

The Phoenicians

The Phoenicians were principally traders. Their original name Canaanite means merchant in Hebrew, They may have been more advanced and civilising than the empires that were to follow. Much of their wealth and influence stemmed from the sea. At Tyre they traded in slaves, cypress, cedar, oak, ebony, ivory, embroidered linen, purple and scarlet cloth, gold, silver, iron, tin, lead, bronze, horses, mules and other livestock, coral, rubies, corn, wax, honey, tallow, balm, wine, wool and spices. The word cinnamon is Phoenician, as are probably words such as cumin, coriander, crocus, myrrh, aloe, balsam, jasper, diamond and sapphire. The Greeks named the North Sea as the Phoenician Star in recognition of their discovery. They were an ingenious and advanced society, their knowledge of the stars allowed them to navigate the oceans, which creates another interesting juxtaposition with early Britain and the Celts where druids too were fluent astronomers and read the stars to invoke their knowledge. Many megalithic sites also betray a distinguished knowledge of astronomy.

The Phoenicians were accomplished textile makers and sought out minerals not just from around Europe and the Mediterranean but probably circumvented the horn of Africa. This seafaring nation left an immense legacy from the 5th century BC which is still being uncovered. Among other things they left us with an alphabet. The city of Byblos gave its name indirectly to the Bible, byblos in Greek meaning papyrus hence book hence The Book. The Tyrian princess Europa gave her name to Europe. They needed this language to communicate with different people around the globe and although it is derived from Egyptian hieroglyphics, it forms the basis from which both Greek and Latin evolved.

They also needed language to trade. One early image of trading with new people describes how the sailors would row to the beach and leave a consignment of tradeable goods neatly on the sand and then make their way back to the ship. A fire was lit and the smoke would attract the natives who would come down to inspect the goods. If they wanted to trade the natives would lay up their own goods next to the first pile and then disappear back into the hills or forests. The traders would come back and either take their goods or would return to the ship and light the fire again to indicate they wanted more. In such early basic trade-offs the use of a symbolic language that could be etched in the sand would have represented something of an advance.

One thing is for sure, any ship seeking out new trading posts in strange new lands would have been drawn to bays with oysters as a reliable sign that not only would it likely be settled, but quite possibly there might be minerals there too.