Before the rise of the Roman Empire, and before the fruitful era of the ancient Greeks, a great sea faring people once dominated the Mediterranean Sea. These people were the first visitors to the western world, spreading their civilization, language, culture, from the shores of the eastern Mediterranean to the coasts of the Atlantic Ocean.
Ancient Phoenicia 2500 BC was once a rich, blossoming civilization that consisted of several cities founded along the Levantine coast, where modern day Lebanon. Newer Phoenician cities were eventually established throughout the Mediterranean around the 8th century BC, from the islands of Cyprus, Malta, Sicily and Sardinia, to the peninsula of Gibraltar, the south of mainland Italy, Tunisia in northern Africa, and even as far west as Cádiz, a city on the Atlantic coast of Spain.
The end of the Dark Ages is traditionally dated to 776 BC, the year of the first Olympic Games. The Iliad and the Odyssey, the foundational texts of Western literature, are believed to have been composed by Homer in the 7th or 8th centuries BC.
History is often told from the biased perspective of those who are victorious, as opposed to those who are defeated. In this specific case, the fall of the great Phoenician civilization gave rise to Greece, and in turn, the Roman Empire. As such, much of what is known today about the Phoenicians and their culture has either been written by the Greeks or Romans, or has simply been lost to time.
Millennia old Phoenician cities and ports across the Mediterranean lie masked beneath the remains of later Roman cities or worse, buried beneath large modern day cities like Cagliari, the capital city of Sardinia. The letters that you are reading on this page in fact, the entire Latin, Greek, and even Arabic alphabets are derived from the alphabet of the Phoenicians, the first written and recorded phonetic alphabet in modern history.
To prove a point, the first two letters of the Phoenician alphabet were ‘aleph’ and ‘bet,’ which the Greeks soon modified into their own ‘alpha’ and ‘beta,’ while the Arabs similarly developed their own ‘alif’ and ‘be.’ The Etruscans soon adopted this innovative form of written communication, which was in turn modified and adapted by the ancient Romans to create the Latin alphabet. The first two letters of the Etruscan, then Roman, alphabet were ‘A’ and ‘B’.
Source: Wikimedia Commons.
The Phoenicians were remarkable shipbuilders and seafarers. They would trade their unique alphabet with their neighbors in exchange for precious artifacts and minerals. They mastered the Mediterranean and used it as their tool. Using wood from the abundant cedar trees of Lebanon, they were able to construct vast fleets of enormous ships that were able to carry them as far as the eastern coast of Europe and even the western coast of Africa. The art of ship making was developed and perfected by the Phoenicians.
Fabrics dyed from different species of sea snail and the shells of Bolinus Brandalis and the spiny dye-murex.
Among the numerous remarkable contributions to the world heritage is the color of Tyrian purple. Through our branding, we proudly wear this colour as a tribute to the ingenuity, intellect and the richness of the Phoenician civilization. This color named after the ancient Phoenician city of Tyre in South Lebanon where it was produced in about 1600 BC. And because it was extremely difficult to make, Tyrian purple was very expensive. By the fourth century AD, sumptuary laws in Rome had been tightened so much that only the Roman Emperor was permitted to wear Tyrian purple. This colorfast dye was an item of luxury trade, Vitruvius mentions the production of Tyrian purple from shellfish in his History of Animals, Aristotle described the shellfish from which Tyrian purple was obtained and the process of extracting the tissue that produced the dye. Pliny the Elder described the production of Tyrian purple in his Natural History.
A twentieth-century depiction of a Roman triumph celebrated by Julius Caesar. Caesar, riding in the chariot, wears the solid Tyrian purple toga picta. In the foreground, two Roman magistrates are identified by their toga praetexta, white with a stripe of Tyrian purple.