The Ancient Phoenicians for Kids and Teachers
The Land of Canaan: At the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea was a piece of land that connected ancient Egypt and ancient Mesopotamia. This land was called Canaan. In ancient times, this land was home to two groups of people - the Phoenicians and the Hebrews. Each group was interested in peaceful trade and learning.
The Phoenicians, the Purple People (also known as the Sea People) - By 1200 BC (over 3,000 years ago!) the Phoenicians had built cities and towns along the coastline of their portion of Canaan. This portion became known as Phoenicia. The Phoenicians were coastal traders, trading between their own city-states, and with the people in nearby Egypt and Mesopotamia. Canaan was rich in timber, especially cedar. The Phoenicians traded lumber and other goods. One of those goods was a gorgeous shade of purple dye they invented by crushing certain sea shells. To make it, their arms from mixing were dyed purple. The Phoenicians became known as the purple people. This was not very fair as only a small percentage of the people made purple dye, but you know how nicknames go - they don't always make sense.
The Phoenicians were adventurers. Calling the Phoenicians the Sea People fit them far more accurately. The Phoenicians were curious by nature, and extremely brave. They went places no one else would go. The Phoenicians went all the way to the other end of the Mediterranean Sea just to see what was there. They discovered the Atlantic Ocean. This was very exciting. They rushed back to share the news with their city-state and with their trading buddies the Egyptians and the Mesopotamians. Some people believe a group of Phoenicians traveled across the Atlantic and reached the Americas about 2,000 years before Columbus. It could be true. They were certainly adventurous enough.
The Transference of Ideas: Soldiers and traders and merchants who passed through Canaan on their way to Egypt or Mesopotamia carried new ideas as well as goods. The Phoenicians learned metalwork from the Egyptians and Mesopotamians. They in turn learned wood construction and wood working from the Phoenicians. It was the Phoenicians who invented the first alphabet.
The Phoenicians lived in city-states. They never formed themselves into a country. There was no central government. Each city-state was an independent unit with its own government and its own way of doing things. The people all spoke the same language and worshiped the same gods, but the various city-states did not always get along. The people collectively did not call themselves Phoenicians. They called themselves by the city-state in which they lived. Each city-state started with a king in charge. As trade flourished, rich trading families began to tell the kings what to do, and even took over the government and ruled by council. Phoenician cities became crowded. Their schools were lacking (pretty much everything.) But, they were the greatest traders of their time.
Did the ancient Phoenicians know the ancient Greeks? Absolutely. They were both seafaring cultures. Both established colonies around the Mediterranean. The Greeks focused their colonial efforts on the Eastern Mediterranean region - places like Sicily (Italy) and along the Black Sea. Most Greek colonies were more likely to be trading posts. The Phoenicians set up colonies in the Western Mediterranean region including North Africa. The most famous of the Phoenician colonies was Carthage. Carthage grew into an empire of its own, and took on Ancient Rome, many years later.