Language, script and texts of the Phoenicians


Phoenician on the tomb of King Ahiram of Tyre


The Phoenicians spoke a Northwest Semitic language closely related to Biblical Hebrew .  Each city had its own dialect . The dialects of Sidon and tyre are the best known . There have been inscriptions found in Tunisia (Carthage), Marseille, Cyprus, Sardinia and Spain . No literary text survive, a few lines of Punic ( Carthaginian Phoenician ) are preserved in Plautus' comedy, Poenulus .  



 A little story about baal in late phoenician language

with english translation.




The Phoenician alphabet developed from the North Semitic alphabet and was in use as early as the 11th cent B.C. and is the ancestor of Arabic, Latin, Hebrew and Greek scripts and the script to write this very article . Phoenician and Punic (Carthaginian Phoenician was in use until the first cent B.C. in Phoenicia and the third cent A.D. in North Africa . St. Augustine was the last ancient writer with knowledge of Punic .




Origin of the Phoenician alphabet

Phoenician script on the sarcophagus of Eshmunazar II, king of Sidon, 5th cent B.C.


' in the place which I have built. Whoever you are, of royal race or an ordinary man, may he not open this resting-place, and '

Example of Phoenician script from the sarcophagus of Eshmunazar II


It is generally agreed among scholars that the modern linear alphabet arose somewhere in the Levant during the second millennium B.C. The precise date , location and how this was transmitted to the Phoenicians are still debated . The earliest part of the story of the development of the alphabet starts with a group of pictographic inscriptions at Serbit el-Khadem in the Sinai at an Egyptian mining community from Middle and early New Kingdom . The individual pictographs each mark a discrete sound . The Phoenician alphabet with its 22 consonants is found on early monuments and tombs in Byblos and by this time firmly read from right to left . Vowel letters were never used by the Phoenicians . The forms of the Phoenician letters were standardized by the tenth century B.C. Most inscriptions which have survived on stone and metal are stereotyped dedications to a deity with the name of the person making the offering .


Phoenician trade expansion led to its use in Cyprus and the Aegean by 800 B.C. and introduced to the Greeks, who improved on it by adding vowels . According to Herodotus, the alphabet was brought to the Greek city of Thebes by the Phoenician Kadmos . Not long after the Phoenician script was being used in Greece it is found in Italy for Etruscian and other Italian dialects .


The Phoenician language derived from the old Semitic speech of the Canaanites and was closely related to the Hebrew spoken by the Israelies and the Moabites . Phoenician and Hebrew scripts were closely akin and developed along parallel lines .


 The tablets Charlton Heston holds up in the 1956 movie The Ten Commandments are written in

ancient Hebrew alphabet Ktav Ivri, which is derived from Phoenician script .





The Phoenician language used in Carthage evolved to the point of a distinct dialect by the sixth century B.C. and became the standard Phoenician for the western Mediterranean. The Phoenician language died out in its homeland, where it was replaced by Aramaic and Greek during Hellenistic times, but survived in North Africa and Sardinia up to at least the third century A.D.


Phoenician inscriptions are usually no more than a few lines, many on funerary stele .


Stele dedicated to Persephone by Milkyaton, the

suffete, son of Maharbal 300~200 B.C.


According to ancient sources a wide range of Phoenician works did once exist. Many scrolls were housed in temples, palces and libraries of the major cities .







 Religion of the



 Map of Greek and Phoenician

Settlements in the Mediterranean

 Basin,about 550 B.C