Colonies of the Phoenicians

Phoenicians ships

Phoenicians  colonies


In dangerous waters Phoenician captains would tie themselves to the prow to better guide their ship

Illustration from The Adventures of Captain Mago by Leon Cahun, 1876


At the very commencement of his history, Herodotus informs us that the Phoenicians, after " having settled in the country which they now inhabit, forthwith applied themselves to distant voyages ; and that, having exported Egyptian and Assyrian merchandise, they touched at other places, and also at Argos."  It was from this place that lo, daughter of Inachus, was carried off by the Phoenicians, who, according to the Persians, were the original authors of the quarrel which afterwards developed into the long series of conflicts between Greeks and barbarians. The Phoenicians appear originally to have enjoyed the unenviable reputation of being great pirates, as well as kidnappers and slave-merchants, but they were probably no worse than other sea-faring people in the old days, and, in any case, they seem subsequently to have modified their ways and to have become peaceable traders, dealing honestly with the inhabitants of the countries they visited. Their great enterprise and spirit of adventure, combined with their natural commercial instincts, undoubtedly induced them to travel far and wide, leading them gradually to extend their journeys to almost every part of the Mediterranean, and even far beyond that sea.


Egypt seems to have been the country first visited by the Phoenicians as traders, their advent in the districts near the mouth of the Nile being apparently welcomed and encouraged by the. inhabitants of those places. At Memphis, indeed, they were permitted to establish a settlement or station, possibly only a temporary one, called the Tyrian Camp, from whence they carried on a busy trade with the Egyptians, and, in return for their own products, obtained the various articles of merchandise and goods which they required from that part of the African continent. These consisted mainly of corn, ivory, skins, feathers, pottery, and gems. According to Herodotus, the Phoenicians had a temple at Memphis dedicated to the " Foreign Venus," or Astarte, which was built about the time of the Trojan War, 1250 B.C., and were allowed to observe the worship of their deities freely and without hindrance .


Nothing of a positive nature appears to be known of any Phoenician settlement on the Red Sea, or in countries further east ; but, considering the importance of Phoenicia's commerce in those parts, and the enterprise of its traders, it is by no means improbable that such may have existed. Northwards, the Phoenicians visited most of the islands and sea- ports along the Mediterranean shores of Asia Minor, thence spreading westward, through the Aegean Sea, to the coasts of Greece, and along those of Macedonia, as far as the Black Sea. They may possibly even have penetrated into that sea and gone still further north, but of this there is no distinct evidence. On those islands and in other places which held out attraction to them for trading purposes they established settlements, among the principal of which may be mentioned Cilicia, Cyprus, Rhodes, Crete, the Cyclades and Sporades, Chalcis in Euboea, and Thasos. Cyprus, from its vicinity, as well as on account of its abundant mineral and agricultural productions, appears to have been much resorted to by the Phoenicians, and traces of their occupation there are numerous.


According to Strabo it was at an early period, or soon after  that the Phoenicians established colonies in South Spain, and apparently their earher settlements in North Africa were effected about the same date. It seems probable, indeed, that the Phoenician traders, about this time, either in consequence of their being ousted by the Greeks from some of their settlements in the Eastern Mediterranean, or possibly merely because of a desire still further to extend their travels and commerce, determined on visiting the western portion of this sea. Taking the southern route,^ by way of Egypt, and skirting along the North African coast, they will eventually have reached the Straits of Gibraltar, the so-called " Pillars of Hercules," and, finding a terra grata in the fertile region of Boetica or Andalusia, watered by the river Boetis, now the Guadalquivir, they there founded several colonies, among them Gadeira, or Gades, the modern Cadiz, Malaca, the present Malaga, Cartei'a, supposed to have been situated in the Bay of Algeciras, and Abdera, either the modern Adra or Almeria.


The most important of these appears to have been Gades, the chief emporium, apparently, of the district of Tartessus or Turdetania, as it was called later, and probably the Tarshish so frequently mentioned in Scripture. Whether there was a town of that name or not, there is every reason to believe that the term Tarshish was applied to the whole of the surrounding district, which was celebrated for its riches, as, in addition to its agricultural importance, its mineral wealth appears to have been very great, and its fisheries also most productive. At Gades temples were erected to several of the Phoenician deities, among them one dedicated to Hercules or Melkarth, which, according to Diodorus, continued to be held in great veneration by the Romans long after the time of its Phoenician founders.The most important of these appears to have been Gadte, the chief emporium, apparently, of the district of Tartessus or Turdetania, as it was called later, and probably the Tarshish so frequently mentioned in Scripture. Whether there was a town of that name or not, there is every reason to believe that the term Tarshish was applied to the whole of the surrounding district, which was celebrated for its riches, as, in addition to its agricultural importance, its mineral wealth appears to have been very great, and its fisheries also most productive. At Gades temples were erected to several of the Phoenician deities, among them one dedicated to Hercules or Melkarth, which, according to Diodorus, continued to be held in great veneration by the Romans long after the time of its Phoenician founders.


On the African coast  it was Utica, in the twelfth century before Christ. Utica, signifying " the Ancient," was situated on the north of the Gulf of Tunis, and about twenty miles from the town of that name. Though obliged to take a secondary place after the foundation of Carthage, or " the New City," it retained its importance for several centuries later, playing a conspicuous though by no means an admirable part in the Punic wars.


Settlements in Corsica, Elba, and the Balearic Isles, as well as those on the east coast of Spain and the west coast of Africa, together with the Atlantic islands of that coast, which have been attributed to the Phoenicians, were probably not effected until somewhat later, and were then, as seems more likely, carried out by Carthaginians, and not by the older Phoenicians. There is good reason, however, to suppose that Sardinia was visited by traders from Phoenicia itself in the earlier period, although this island was no doubt more extensively colonised later on by the Carthaginians, when it appears to have become a most prosperous country, entirely under Punic rule. It is even said that the Phoenician language was still spoken and written in Sardinia after the Roman conquest.


There seems to be no evidence of any settlements having been made on the Atlantic coast, further north than Andalusia, until the English Channel is reached, and here one hears of the traders carrying on an extensive commerce in Cornwall and the Scilly Isles, where they appear to have established themselves in order to obtain the supplies of tin required for their trade. Diodorus  speaks of the tin being conveyed to the opposite French coast, and thence transported, by means of pack animals, through France to the mouth of the Rhone, a thirty days' journey ; but no doubt a certain quantity of the metal will also have been carried by the Phoenician ships direct to the Mediterranean. At Marseilles, the ancient Massalia, or close by, it is probable the Phoenicians or Carthaginians had a not unimportant settlement. Whether the southern shores of Britain and the Scilly Isles, the Cassiterides or " Tin Islands," as they were called, formed the extreme limit of Phoenician wandering in this direction is un- certain. It may have extended still further up the English Channel, and possibly even to the Baltic, whence apparently came a portion of the amber which seems to have constituted an important article of Phoenician commerce ; but of this there is no distinct evidence. What is undoubted, however, is that the Phoenicians, bold navigators and adventurous explorers as they were, will have penetrated as far as they possibly could, and, even without perhaps actually planting permanent settlements, they may have visited many spots of which no mention is to be found in the accounts we have of their travels. In their commerce with the north they apparently made use of two overland trade routes, in addition to the ocean route round Spain and France, one being that above referred to, through France to the mouths of the Rhone, the other one through Central Europe to the head of the Adriatic .


Roughly speaking, the colonisation of the older Phoenicians may be said to have extended over almost the whole of the Eastern Mediterranean, from Egypt in the south to the Dardanelles in the north ; along the North African coast, from Cyrenaica in the east to the Straits of Gibraltar and South Spain in the west ; to Sicily, Malta, Sardinia, and some smaller islands in the Central Mediterranean ; and finally to the British coasts and the English Channel. Pre-eminently a maritime people, the Phoenicians appear to have confined their colonisation almost exclusively to the sea -coasts, and, although their trade with the interior of many of the Eastern countries seems to have been considerable, one hears of but few cases of any settlement having been made far inland.


Colonizing expeditions on a large scale, like that of Hanno, described in the Periplus, purposely sent forth with the view of establishing settlements throughout a given tract of country, belonged to a later date or to the Carthaginian period, and even then were probably of exceptional occurrence, though a certain number of such colonies were founded along the west coast of 1 Herodotus (iv. 1 96) relates how the Carthaginians, according to their own account, bartered their merchandise for gold, probably gold dust, on the West African coast. The traders seem to have landed and deposited their goods on the sea-shore, after which, returning to their ships, they lighted fires on board to attract the atten- tion of the natives by means of a dense smoke. The natives, on seeing this, and the coast being clear, approached the goods and, after examining them carefully, placed by their side the amount of gold they considered a fair price for them, then with- drawing inland again. The traders, relanding, made their calculations, and if they considered the amount sufficient they took it and, leaving the merchandise, re-embarked and sailed away; otherwise they left both goods and gold and, returning to their ships, waited till the natives increased the amount. The good faith displayed on the part of both sides in these transactions contrasts strangely with the distrust so evident in other respects on the part of one if not of both the parties .


Morocco, and trading appears to have been carried on for a considerable distance down the West African coast. The most important of the Carthaginian settlements on the west coast of Morocco must undoubtedly have been Lixus, near the site of the present El-Araich, to judge from the ruins that have been dis- covered of its fortifications and other remains.

the Phoenician colonies in Sicily belong to the early Phoenician period, and not to that of Carthage, which town was possibly not even founded when the SiciHan settlements were already in a flourishing state. At one period Phoenician settlements, in some form or other, appear to have existed along a considerable portion of the Sicilian coast, and their occupants seem to have lived on friendly terms with the older inhabitants of the island, trading peaceably with them, and not attempting any territorial expansion, or otherwise interfering with their neighbours. With the exception, however, of those colonies in the north-west of the island, the Phoenicians ' do not appear to have possessed settlements of great importance in Sicily ; at all events, there is nothing to show that such was the case. Most of the settlements, indeed, were probably mere tempo- rary trading stations, or factories, capable of being easily transplanted from one site to another, as the case might require.


Phoenician Ships



From wall relief from palace of Sennacherib (705-681 B.C) showing flight of the king Luli of Tyre


From the 9th cent. B.C. onward the Phoenicians primarly used hippoi (horse)ships for local and river traffic . These were small merchant galleys with an upturned prow and a larger gaulos (tub) with a deep rounded hull with a broad rectangular sail for long distance trading .


About the time of Sennacherib (B.C. 700), or a little earlier, some great advances seem to have been made by the Phoenician shipbuilders. In the first place, they introduced the practice of placing the rowers on two different levels, one above the other; and thus, for a vessel of the same length, doubling the number of the rowers. Ships of this kind, which the Greeks called "biremes."


The war-galleys of the Phoenicians in the early times were probably of the class which the Greeks called triaconters or penteconters, and which are represented upon the coins. They were long open rowboats, in which the rowers sat, all of them, upon a level, the number of rowers on either side being generally either fifteen or twenty-five. Each galley was armed at its head with a sharp metal spike, or beak, which was its chief weapon of offence, vessels of this class seeking commonly to run down their enemy. After a time these vessels were superseded by biremes, which were decked, had masts and sails, and were impelled by rowers sitting at two different elevations, as already explained. Biremes were ere long superseded by triremes, or vessels with three banks of oars, which are said to have been invented at Corinth, but which came into use among the Phoenicians before the end of the sixth century B.C. In the third century B.C. the Carthaginians employed in war quadriremes, and even quinqueremes; but there is no evidence of the employment of either class of vessel by the Phoenicians of Phoenicia Proper.


The Phoenicians were bound to have a large and efficient fleet of trading vessels, and it was fortunate for them that they possessed what was practically an inexhaustible supply of timber in the fine cedar and pine forests of the Lebanon. In shipbuilding they were probably unsurpassed by any other nation in the days in which they lived, and, to judge from what Xenophon writes,the excellence of their ships in every way, and particularly their equipment and capabilities of stowage, were greatly praised by the Greeks.

Herodotus also, when writing of the great war between Greece and Persia, and speaking of the latter country's fleet, says : " Persians, Medes, and Sacse served as marines on board all the ships. Of these the Phoenicians furnished the best sailing ships, and of the Phoenicians the Sidonians." A proof of the maritime importance of Phoenicia and of her naval resources at that time is afforded by the fact of her having been called upon by the Persians to contribute a contingent of warships far exceeding in number that of any of the other tributary states. At this period Phoenician shipbuilding was probably at its zenith, and the vessels she then constructed must have been of a very superior build, and very different from the primitive craft produced by her shipwrights of early days.




Cyprus served a strategic role for the westward expansion of  Phoenician trade .Evidence of Phoenician traders on the island from pottery and other remains are found from the eleventh century onward . Kition was the main Phoenician settlement on Cyprus . After being founded by people of Tyre it became self governing .




There is evidence of Phoenician trade activity in Rhodes by the mid ninth century B.C. and the island became a regional production center of Phoenician ggods such scarabs and pottery .




Crete served as a trading transit point and source of iron ore




The Phoenicians orginally established themselves all around the island but with the arrival of the greeks focused on the settlements of Motya, Soluntum and Panormus in the northwest . The earlist evidence of Phoenician setlents in Sicily date from tombs of the mid eighth century . Unlike the Greeks, whose colonial aims brought them into conflict with native inhabitants, the Phoenicians were interested in trade and had a peaceful relation with the natives .




Owing to its mineral wealth of copper,iron and silver the island attracted the Phoenicians by the 14th to 13th century B.C.








 History of the Phoenicians

 in their homeland


 Commerce, trade and


of the Phoenicians