Markoe, Glenn E. Phoenicians. (Peoples of the Past series)

Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000.

For a culture that had such a profound effect on the course of Middle Eastern and Western European history generally, we know remarkably little about the Phoenicians — not even what they called themselves, though something close to “Canaanite” is probably a good guess.

Their homeland is generally described as the Levant, from the Gulf of Alexandretta south to the edge of the Sinai, but that’s probably overstating things. But it doesn’t really matter because the Phoenicians seem to have been less a “nation” than a commercial hegemony. Their cities — Byblos, Sidon, Tyre, Carthage — were each fiercely independent of and competitive with each other, but they shared a language (including an alphabetic script which is the basis of all European written languages) and a knack for mercantilism. But because of where they lived, and because they were not only defeated but utterly destroyed by the nascent Roman state, not a single Phoenician manuscript has survived, not so much as a warehouse inventory. Markoe, a curator of classical and Near Eastern art, does a very good job of reconstructing and bringing together what we do know about their history, urban culture, economy, literature, religion, and commercial (rather than “imperial”) expansion, interspersing the text with numerous plates and illustrations of historical sites and surviving artifacts. A first-rate entry in an above-average series.

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Published in: on 10 April 2015 at 10:54 am  Leave a Comment  
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