Academic journal article Comparative Civilizations Review

Phoenicians: The Quickening of Western Civilization

Academic journal article Comparative Civilizations Review

Phoenicians: The Quickening of Western Civilization

Article excerpt

Editor's Note: This article builds upon a preliminary version sketched out last year and published in the journal on Pages 25 to 40, issue No. 78, Spring 2018. It represents in our view an important addition to scholarship on a significant and foundational topic, one central to the development of Western Civilization and the comparative study of civilizations.

A relatively recent field of inquiry, Phoenician and Punic studies covers much the same time and geographical areas as Archaic, Classical, and Hellenistic Greek and Roman history.1 Adjacent fields include economic, business, writing, agricultural, nautical, and biblical history. Scholarship today is moving beyond the Hellenocentric and Romanocentric viewpoints and the record of Phoenician history is increasingly seen as critical for understanding European origins.

Scholars generally agree that there are two sources of the Western tradition: Jude°Christian doctrine and ancient Greek intellectualism. There is also recognition that Western civilization is largely built atop the Near Eastern civilizations of Mesopotamia and Egypt, which were among the first in the world. The proximity of Europe to the Near East, hence "near" region, explains cultural interaction. A basic question arises, however, as to which antique people specifically prepared the way for the West to develop. While early Aegean cultures are often viewed as the mainspring, assessment of the growing literature reveals that the maritime city-states of Phoenicia stimulated (Bronze Age) and fostered (Iron Age) Western civilization.

Phoenicia, a small maritime region, lay on the Eastern Mediterranean coast. The Phoenicians, who were Semites, emerged as a distinct Canaanite group around 3200 BCE. Hemmed in by the Lebanon Mountains, their first cities were Byblos, Sidon, Tyre, and Aradus.2

The principal axis of Eastern influence, Phoenicia sent forth pioneering seafarers, skilled engineers, gifted artists and artisans, and master entrepreneurs of antiquity.

Through a peaceful,3 long-distance exchange network of goods and ideas, they influenced the trade, communication, and civilizational development of the Mediterranean basin, notably Greece. The height of Phoenician shipping, mercantile, and cultural activity was during the early Greek Archaic period, especially, the Orientalizing phase, c. 750-650 BCE, which appears to have laid the foundations for fifth century BCE Classical Greece. Phoenician mercantilism prompted European state formation in the Aegean, Italy, and Spain.

This past century, anthropologist Ralph Linton, in The Tree of Culture, confirmed the influence of the Phoenician thalassocracy - rule of the sea - and explained: "Their main role in the development of the Greek and other Mediterranean cultures was as intermediaries between Asia and Europe."4 Modern Phoenician studies were launched during the early 1960's by Sabatino Moscati and the Italian school. During the seventies, there was a focus on the Phoenician expansion.

The Sea Traders was introduced by archeologist James B. Pritchard: "They became the first to provide a link between the culture of the ancient Near East and that of the uncharted world of the West...They went not for conquest as the Babylonians and Assyrians did, but for trade. Profit rather than plunder was their policy."5 Hans G. Niemeyer edited the educative Phönizier im Westen6

Toward the close of the century, La civilization phenicienne et punique: Manuel de recherché1 appeared as a landmark collection of articles in Phoenician-Punic studies. Reviewer Philip C. Schmitz's concluding comment: "To the general historian, the volume offers an alternative history of the Mediterranean before Rome, balancing the Hellenocentric narratives that have so long determined the shape of 'Western' civilization."8

The Bronze Age: Phoenicia and Embryonic Western Civilization

From the Early Bronze through the Iron Age, North Africa and the whole of Europe were eventually integrated. …

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