Phoenician culture – History, economy and characteristics –

From the twelfth century a. C., a true Canaanite civilization survived in the small plains enclosed between the sea and the forest lands of Lebanon: it was the domain of those whom the Greeks called Phoenicians and the Easterners still called Canaanites.

Where is the Phoenician culture located?

The development of Phoenician culture took place in Asia Minor, in present-day Lebanon.

As you can imagine given the situation in which they found themselves, on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, they were important navigators and established large commercial agreements.

One of the most important legacies they left behind was the creation of the alphabet. The fact that they were navigators and merchants meant that the alphabet was expanded.

Periods of the Phoenician culture

Like the Canaanites of old, the phoenicians they always lived in small principalities made up of cultivated land around an urban center.

These cities were generally located at the bottom of small bays, on islands (such as Threw either plows), or on promontories (such as Byblos Y sidon). Some of these cities developed much earlier, around the third millennium BC. c.

But after the 1200 BCthe ancient maritime vocation of Phoenicia was no longer limited to its commercial relations with Egypt, Cyprus and southern Asia Minor: the Phoenicians expanded their influence to the Atlantic and their cities became true metropolises.

This Phoenician expansion must be framed in the political map of the time. Around the twelfth century a. C., the Aegean maritime power disappears and the empires decline. In this framework, the phoenician citiesindependent, gain ground propelling a prosperous economy based on commerce.

Sidon period

The city of Sidon was located on a rocky promontory facing the sea, which meant that they focused their economy on the maritime trade, both for fishing and for naval trade, through the Mediterranean Sea. This meant that they established contact with cities such as Cyprus, Rhodes, Asia Minor, Greece, the Aegean Islands and the Black Sea coast, establishing a predominance over these seas that made them the most important fishing center in Phoenicia.

Their hegemony lasted four hundred years, they even maintained themselves during the growing power of the pharaohs of Egypt, but the end began when the Greeks did not allow them to pass through the Aegean and the philistines destroyed the city of Sidon in the 12th century BC

Shooting Period

One of the great curiosities that the city of Tire presents is that it was built on two rocky islets, somewhat far from the coast, to favor defense against the land attacks that the Phoenicians had already suffered.

The citizens of Tire achieved hegemony over the Mediterranean Sea, founding new colonies on the coasts of Spain, Corsica, Sardinia, Malta, Sicily, the British Isles or North Africa, among others (Carthage was the most important), with great commercial and exploration activity.

Tire became a zone of trade between west and eastLater, the pressure and yoke of the Persians, among others, marked its end. As a curiosity, the temple in Jerusalem had labor from Tyre.

Carthage period

Cartago has been one of the most most important cities of the Mediterranean and was located in North Africa. Its maritime expansion was impressive, even greater than the previous cities of the Phoenicians, achieving commercial control of Sicily up to the Spanish coasts.

In the article “The Punic Wars» You can find more detailed information about its origin, its development and the end of this city, but we can tell you in advance that it was the Romans who destroyed the Carthaginians in 146 BC

Political organization of the Phoenician culture

city ​​states

The city states of the Phoenician culture is that in each city there was a palace for the royalty of the place and, from there, all the state treatment was carried out.

The cities at that time had great palaces and impressive temples, but smaller in size. The highest part of the city was walled, in turn, the rest of the city also had fortifications. Therefore, it was a city state that maintained its own political, economic and social unity.


The Phoenician government was based on the monarchy, like the rest of the West at that time. It was about one hereditary monarchy and protected by the gods, devoting himself to the construction of temples and statues. Both monarchs, the king and the queen, shared highly relevant priestly tasks and had an assembly of notables who assisted them in their functions. This assembly was composed of noble elders of the country who could make decisions in the absence of the monarchs.


The oligarchy It arises when power is in the hands of a few people who belong to a privileged status and, in the case of the Phoenicians, the oligarchy began to take shape as commercial activities were more expanded.

This meant that they no longer only listened to the wise in matters of politics, but that they also had to be heard. rich and powerful even when his interests did not benefit royalty or nobility. They even came to be able to decide the suffetes, who acted as civil magistrates for a specific time, and who made up the power.

The colonization

The Phoenicians were colonizers, some think that because of his seafaring character and others because of his desire to obtain the necessary raw materials for his trades. As you can imagine, given its location and everything mentioned above, the coast of the Mediterranean Sea was the area where they established their colonies.

The beginnings of its expansion began in the 10th century BC to secure their sea routes and, until the end of the 9th century BC, the desire to found colonies did not begin.

They founded a sanctuary in Gadir, Cádiz (Spain), where the Columns of Melkart were located according to the myth. The rest of the places we could think that it had a commercial purpose, to obtain the necessary materials – the mining of Tartessos, tin from the Cassiterides Islands, gold and African ivory – or to ensure its maritime routes and trade, establishing hills from Cyprus to Rhodes and Crete, Malta, Sicily, Gozo, Pantelleria and Lampedusa, Sardinia, Balearic Islands.

Social organization of the Phoenician culture

Following the line of what was mentioned above, over the years the social organization also underwent an important change. From royalty being the one who only made the decisions accompanied by their assembly, to the wealthiest merchants having a relevant place in decision-making.

That said, this meant that the richest merchants held high positions in the government. Next were those who were owners, merchants, artisans who formed the middle class of this organization, but with an important social difference between both classes.

Finally, if we think of it as a pyramid, the last class was made up of those who work in the palaces and temples, those who also worked in the countryside but they had no properties. In turn, it is also relevant to mention that there was also slaves and servants.

In this social organization, women they could also actively participate in both economic and social spheres.

Cultural manifestations of the Phoenicians

the phoenicians were polytheists and their gods were in nature, worshiping the stars and natural manifestations. Their names were Baal and Astarte or Baalith, but they could be given other names.

The artistic manifestations of the Phoenicians were mostly high value crafts, both for them and for other civilizations. To their artistic skills was added the influence of different peoples and cultures with which they were related, both to make them their own and to take them into account when creating objects and articles that were interesting for them to sell.

One of the best preserved pieces in the architectural field is the Goddess Tanitbuilt for the necropolis of Puig d’es Molins and that you can see in the Museum of Ibiza.

The alphabet It was one of the great contributions they left to history. In the third millennium BC they began with cuneiform writing on clay tablets and also used hieroglyphic writing on papyrus, later creating an alphabet with 22 signs to be able to communicate with a wide variety of different languages ​​and civilizations. To this alphabet of 22 signs, the Greeks added five more vowels.