Phoenicia

The Phoenicians have appeared in history as a major seagoing people who used to sail ships that became known as round ships. These were among the first merchant ships designed for cargo and although the Phoenicians were well known for their seamanship, they were renowned for their merchant trading enterprises and the colonies they began along the Mediterranean Sea. These colonies began as trading outposts and the colony at Carthage became a well known empire in its own right at a later date. Although their origins are still not certain the Phoenicians inhabited a Canaanite region known today as Lebanon, although they did, at times, also inhabit parts of Syria and Israel.

During its history Phoenicia (or parts of it) came under the control of Egypt, Assyria, Persia, and Greece before becoming part of the Roman province of Syria. Tyre and Sidon were among the better known cities of Phoenicia and once under Roman rule they retained self-government, as did so many other Roman cities.

Tyre and Sidon became well known for their exports of cedar, embroideries, metalwork and glassware. One of the most famous exports was purple cloth or just "purple" used by the wealthy and noble. This was from a dye extracted from several marine snails living in the Mediterranean Sea.  However it was a long and costly process to extract the liquid from the molluscs and then dye the materials.  This was one of the reasons that only the very wealthy could afford it.

The Bible mentions "purple" many times - several of these are in Exodus chapters 25 to 39 where there is a description of the tabernacle, and the colour of the cloth to be used in the making of the hangings.  Several other times the Bible mentions purple where it is stressing the richness of clothing.  In John 19:2-5 the implication is that a purple robe was placed on Jesus at his "trial" in mockery of His claim of kingship.

In Acts 16:14 there is mentioned a woman named Lydia who was a seller of purple.  She was a Gentile businesswoman of the time, who was also a believer in the One True God.

Tyre and Sidon are again mentioned in 1 Chronicles 22:4-5.  Here David is preparing the house of the Lord and acquiring the materials for his son Solomon to build the Temple and he obtains cedar from Tyre and Sidon.

In 2 Chronicles 2:8 Solomon requests Hiram, king of Tyre "send me also cedar, pine, and algum logs from Lebanon, for I know your men are skilled in cutting there".  In Verse 13, Hiram replies "I am sending you Huram-Abi, a man of great skill, whose mother was from Dan and whose father was from Tyre.  He is trained to work in gold and silver, bronze and iron, stone and wood, and with purple and blue and crimson yarn and fine linen."

The craftsmen from this area were obviously very well respected. When this region became Hellenised, natives were called Syrophoenicians. In Mark 7:26 "The woman was a Greek born in Syrian Phoenicia......"

In Matthew 11:21-22 Jesus mentions Tyre and Sidon in relation to the judgement to come. "Woe to you Korazin! Woe to you Bethsaida! If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.  But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgement than for you."

Jesus also travelled in the vicinity of Tyre and Sidon. In Matthew 15:21 it says "Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon.  A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him....."

Mark 7:24 - "Then Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre."

Again in Mark 7:31 - "Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee."

In Acts 21:3 - Paul stayed at Tyre for seven days with the disciples and again in Acts 27:3, we find Paul on his journey to Rome, landing at Sidon and his friends from there being allowed to see to his needs.

Tyre and Sidon were very important cities that played a major role in the world of their time. The Phoenicians also left us a legacy with their alphabet. Their language was a Northern Semitic language akin to Hebrew and although the Phoenicians used cuneiform for writing they also developed a 22 character script which could have been the precursor of the Greek alphabet.

The great seagoing traditions of the Phoenicians appear to have disappeared as the Phoenicians became incorporated into the ensuing civilisations but they did leave a seagoing tradition with the Carthaginians.