History of Phoenicia - George Rawlinson




History of Early Phoenicia

Before the Hegemony of Tyre (to 1252 B.C.)

Separate autonomy of the Phoenician cities—No marked predominance of any one or more of them during the Egyptian period, B.C. 1600-1350—A certain pre-eminence subsequently acquired by Aradus and Sidon—Sidonian territorial ascendancy—Great proficiency of Sidon in the arts—Sidon's war with the Philistines—Her early colonies—Her advances in navigation—Her general commercial honesty—Occasional kidnapping—Stories of Io and Eumaeus—Internal government—Relations with the Israelites.

When the Phoenician immigrants, in scattered bands, and at longer or shorter intervals, arrived upon the Syrian coast, and finding it empty occupied it, or wrested it from its earlier possessors, there was a decided absence from among them of any single governing or controlling authority; a marked tendency to assert and maintain separate rule and jurisdiction. Sidon, the Arkite, the Arvadite, the Zemarite, are separately enumerated in the book of Genesis; and the Hebrews have not even any one name under which to comprise the commercial people settled upon their coast line, until we come to Gospel times, when the Greeks have brought the term "Syro-Phoenician" into use. Elsewhere we hear of "them of Sidon," "them of Tyre," "the Giblites," "the men of Arvad," "the Arkites," "the Sinites," "the Zemarites," "the inhabitants of Accho, of Achzib, and Aphek," but never of the whole maritime population north of Philistia under any single ethnic appellation. And the reason seems to be, that the Phoenicians, even more than the Greeks, affected a city autonomy. Each little band of immigrants, as soon as it had pushed its way into the sheltered tract between the mountains and the sea, settled itself upon some attractive spot, constructed habitations, and having surrounded its habitations with walls, claimed to be—and found none to dispute the claim—a distinct political entity.

The conformation of the land, so broken up into isolated regions by strong spurs from Lebanon and Bargylus, lent additional support to the separatist spirit, and the absence in the early times of any pressure of danger from without permitted its free indulgence without entailing any serious penalty. It is difficult to say at what time the first settlements took place; but during the period of Egyptian supremacy over Western Asia, under the eighteenth and nineteenth dynasties (ab. B.C. 1600-1350), we seem to find the Phoenicians in possession of the coast tract, and their cities severally in the enjoyment of independence and upon a quasi-equality. Tyre, Sidon, Gebal, Aradus, Simyra, Sarepta, Berytus, and perhaps Arka, appear in the inscriptions of Thothmes III, and in the "Travels of a Mohar," without an indication of the pre-eminence, much less the supremacy, of any one of them. The towns pursued their courses independently one of another, submitting to the Egyptians when hard pressed, but always ready to reassert themselves, and never joining, so far as appears, in any league or confederation, by which their separate autonomy might have been endangered. During this period no city springs to any remarkable height of greatness or prosperity; material progress is, no doubt, being made by the nation; but it is not very marked, and it does not excite any particular attention.

But with the decline of the Egyptian power, which sets in after the death of the second Rameses, a change takes place. External pressure being removed, ambitions begin to develop themselves. In the north Aradus (Arvad), in the south Sidon, proceed to exercise a sort of hegemony over several neighbouring states. Sidon becomes known as "Great Zidon." Not content with her maritime ascendancy, which was already pushing her into special notice, she aspired to a land dominion, and threw out offshoots from the main seat of her power as far as Laish, on the head-waters of the Jordan. It was her support, probably, which enabled the inhabitants of such comparatively weak cities as Accho and Achzib and Aphek to resist the invasion of the Hebrews, and maintain themselves, despite all attempts made to reduce them. At the same time she gradually extended her influence over the coast towns in her neighbourhood, as Sarepta, Heldun, perhaps Berytus, Ecdippa, and Accho.

The period which succeeds that of Egyptian preponderance in Western Asia may be distinguished as that of Sidonian ascendancy, or of such ascendancy slightly modified by an Aradian hegemony in the north over the settlements intervening between Mount Casius and the northern roots of Lebanon. During this period Sidon came to the front, alike in arts, in arms, and in navigation. Her vessels were found by the earliest Greek navigators in all parts of the Mediterranean into which they themselves ventured, and were known to push themselves into regions where no Greek dared to follow them. Under her fostering care Phoenician colonisation had spread over the whole of the Western Mediterranean, over the Aegean, and into the Propontis. She had engaged in war with the powerful nation of the Philistines, and, though worsted in the encounter, had obtained a reputation for audacity. By her wonderful progress in the arts, her citizens had acquired the epithet of {poludaidaloi}, and had come to be recognised generally as the foremost artificers of the world in almost every branch of industry. Sidonian metal-work was particularly in repute. When Achilles at the funeral of Patroclus desired to offer as a prize to the fastest runner the most beautiful bowl that was to be found in all the world, he naturally chose one which had been deftly made by highly-skilled Sidonians, and which Phoenician sailors had conveyed in one of their hollow barks across the cloud-shadowed sea. When Menelaus proposed to present Telemachus, the son of his old comrade Odysseus, with what was at once the most beautiful and the most valuable of all his possessions, he selected a silver bowl with a golden rim, which in former days he had himself received as a present from Phaedimus, the Sidonian king. The sailors who stole Eumaeus from Ortygia, and carried him across the sea to Ithica, obtained their prize by coming to his father's palace, and bringing with them, among other wares,

. . . a necklace of fine gold to sell,

With bright electron linked right wondrously and well.

Sidon's pre-eminence in the manufacture, the dyeing, and the embroidery of textile fabrics was at the same time equally unquestionable. Hecuba, being advised to offer to Athena, on behalf of her favourite son, the best and loveliest of all the royal robes which her well-stored dress-chamber could furnish—

She to her fragrant wardrobe bent her way,

Where her rich veils in beauteous order lay;

Webs by Sidonian virgins finely wrought,

From Sidon's woofs by youthful Paris brought,

When o'er the boundless main the adulterer led

Fair Helen from her home and nuptial bed;

From these she chose the fullest, fairest far,

With broidery bright, and blazing as a star.

Already, it would seem, the precious shell-fish, on which Phoenicia's commerce so largely rested in later times, had been discovered; and it was the dazzling hue of the robe which constituted its especial value. Sidon was ultimately eclipsed by Tyre in the productions of the loom; and the unrivalled dye has come down to us, and will go down to all future ages, as "Tyrian purple;" but we may well believe that in this, as in most other matters on which prosperity and success depended, Tyre did but follow in the steps of her elder sister Sidon, perfecting possibly the manufacture which had been Sidon's discovery in the early ages. According to Scylax of Cadyanda, Dor was a Sidonian colony. Geographically it belonged rather to Philistia than to Phoenicia; but its possession of large stores of the purple fish caused its sudden seizure and rapid fortification at a very remote date, probably by the Phoenicians of Sidon. It is quite possible that this aggression may have provoked that terrible war to which reference has already been made, between the Philistines under the hegemony of Ascalon and the first of the Phoenician cities. Ascalon attacked the Sidonians by land, blockaded the offending town, and after a time compelled a surrender; but the defenders had a ready retreat by sea, and, when they could no longer hold out against their assailants, took ship, and removed themselves to Tyre, which at the time was probably a dependency.

In navigation also and colonisation Sidon took the lead. According to some, she was the actual founder of Aradus, which was said to have owed its origin to a body of Sidonian exiles, who there settled themselves. Not much reliance, however, can be placed on this tradition, which first appears in a writer of the Augustan age. With more confidence we may ascribe to Sidon the foundation of Citium in Cyprus, the colonisation of the islands in the Aegean, and of those Phoenician settlements in North Africa which were anterior to the founding of Carthage. It has even been supposed that the Sidonians were the first to make a settlement at Carthage itself, and that the Tyrian occupation under Dido was a recolonisation of an already occupied site. Anyhow, Sidon was the first to explore the central Mediterranean, and establish commercial relations with the barbarous tribes of the mid-African coast, Cabyles, Berbers, Shuloukhs, Tauriks, and others. She is thought to claim on a coin to be the mother-city of Melita, or Malta, as well as of Citium and Berytus; and, if this claim be allowed, we can scarcely doubt that she was also the first to plant colonies in Sicily. Further than this, it would seem, Sidonian enterprise did not penetrate. It was left for Tyre to discover the wealth of Southern Spain, to penetrate beyond the Straits of Gibraltar, and to affront the perils of the open ocean.

But, within the sphere indicated, Sidonian rovers traversed all parts of the Great Sea, penetrated into every gulf, became familiar sights to the inhabitants of every shore. From timid sailing along the coast by day, chiefly in the summer season, when winds whispered gently, and atmospheric signs indicated that fair weather had set in, they progressed by degrees to long voyages, continued both by night and day, from promontory to promontory, or from island to island, sometimes even across a long stretch of open sea, altogether out of sight of land, and carried on at every season of the year except some few of special danger. To Sidon is especially ascribed the introduction of the practice of sailing by night, which shortened the duration of voyages by almost one-half, and doubled the number of trips that a vessel could accomplish in the course of a year. For night sailing the arts of astronomy and computation had to be studied; the aspect of the heavens at different seasons had to be known; and among the shifting constellations some fixed point had to be found by which it would be safe to steer. The last star in the tail of the Little Bear—the polar star of our own navigation books—was fixed upon by the Phoenicians, probably by the Sidonians, for this purpose, and was practically employed as the best index of the true north from a remote period. The rate of a ship's speed was, somehow or other, estimated; and though it was long before charts were made, or the set of currents taken into account, yet voyages were for the most part accomplished with very tolerable accuracy and safety. An ample commerce grew up under Sidonian auspices. After the vernal equinox was over a fleet of white-winged ships sped forth from the many harbours of the Syrian coast, well laden with a variety of wares—Phoenician, Assyrian, Egyptian—and made for the coasts and islands of the Levant, the Aegean, the Propontis, the Adriatic, the mid-Mediterranean, where they exchanged the cargoes which they had brought with them for the best products of the lands whereto they had come. Generally, a few weeks, or at most a month or two, would complete the transfer the of commodities, and the ships which left Sidon in April or May would return about June or July, unload, and make themselves ready for a second voyage. But sometimes, it appears, the return cargo was not so readily procured, and vessels had to remain in the foreign port, or roadstead, for the space of a whole year.

The behaviour of the traders must, on the whole, have been such as won the respect of the nations and tribes wherewith they traded. Otherwise, the markets would soon have been closed against them, and, in lieu of the peaceful commerce which the Phoenicians always affected, would have sprung up along the shores of the Mediterranean a general feeling of distrust and suspicion, which would have led on to hostile encounters, surprises, massacres, and then reprisals. The entire history of Phoenician commerce shows that such a condition of things never existed. The traders and their customers were bound together by the bonds of self-interest, and, except in rare instances, dealt by each other fairly and honestly. Still, there were occasions when, under the stress of temptation, fair-dealing was lost sight of, and immediate prospect of gain was allowed to lead to the commission of acts destructive of all feeling of security, subversive of commercial morals, and calculated to effect a rupture of commercial relations, which it may often have taken a long term of years to re-establish. Herodotus tells us that, at a date considerably anterior to the Trojan war, when the ascendancy over the other Phoenician cities must certainly have belonged to Sidon, an affair of this kind took place on the coast of Argolis, which was long felt by the Greeks as an injury and an outrage. A Phoenician vessel made the coast near Argos, and the crew, having effected a landing, proceeded to expose their merchandise for sale along the shore, and to traffic with the natives, who were very willing to make purchases, and in the course of five or six days bought up almost the entire cargo. At length, just as the traders were thinking of re-embarking and sailing away, there came down to the shore from the capital a number of Argive ladies, including among them a princess, Io, the daughter of Inachus, the Argive king. Hereupon, the trafficking and the bargaining recommenced; goods were produced suited to the taste of the new customers; and each strove to obtain what she desired most at the least cost. But suddenly, as they were all intent upon their purchases, and were crowding round the stern of the ship, the Phoenicians, with a general shout, rushed upon them. Many—the greater part, we are told—made their escape; but the princess, and a certain number of her companions, were seized and carried on board. The traders quickly put to sea, and hoisting their sails, hurried away to Egypt.

Another instance of kidnapping, accomplished by art rather than by force, is related to us by Homer. Eumaeus, the swineherd of Ulysses, was the son of a king, dwelling towards the west, in an island off the Sicilian coast. A Phoenician woman, herself kidnapped from Sidon by piratical Taphians, had the task of nursing and tending him assigned to her, and discharged it faithfully until a great temptation befell her. A Sidonian merchant-ship visited the island, laden with rich store of precious wares, and proceeded to open a trade with the inhabitants, in the course of which one of the sailors seduced the Phoenician nurse, and suggested that when the vessel left, she should allow herself to be carried off in it. The woman, whose parents were still alive at Sidon, came into the scheme, and being apprised of the date of the ship's departure, stole away from the palace unobserved, taking with her three golden goblets, and also her master's child, the boy of whom she had charge. It was evening, and all having been prepared beforehand, the nurse and child were hastily smuggled on board, the sails were hoisted, and the ship was soon under weigh. The wretched woman died ere the voyage was over, but the boy survived, and was carried by the traders to Ithaca, and there sold for a good sum to Laertes.

It is not suggested that these narratives, in the form in which they have come down to us, are historically true. There may never have been an "Io, daughter of Inachus," or an "Eumaeus, son of Ctesius Ormenides," or an island, "Syria called by name, over against Ortygia," or even a Ulysses or a Laertes. But the tales could never have grown up, have been invented, or have gained acceptance, unless the practice of kidnapping, on which they are based, had been known to be one in which the Phoenicians of the time indulged, at any rate occasionally. We must allow this blot on the Sidonian escutcheon, and can only plead, in extenuation of their offence, first, the imperfect morality of the age, and secondly, the fact that such deviations from the line of fair-dealing and honesty on the part of the Sidonian traders must have been of rare occurrence, or the flourishing and lucrative trade, which was the basis of all the glory and prosperity of the people, could not possibly have been established. Successful commerce must rest upon the foundation of mutual confidence; and mutual confidence is impossible unless the rules of fair dealing are observed on both sides, if not invariably, yet, at any rate, so generally that the infraction of them is not contemplated on either side as anything but the remotest contingency.

Of the internal government of Sidon during this period no details have come down to us. Undoubtedly, like all the Phoenician cities in the early times, she had her own kings; and we may presume, from the almost universal practice in ancient times, and especially in the East, that the monarchy was hereditary. The main duties of the king were to lead out the people to battle in time of war, and to administer justice in time of peace. The kings were in part supported, in part held in check, by a powerful aristocracy—an aristocracy which, we may conjecture, had wealth, rather than birth, as its basis. It does not appear that any political authority was possessed by the priesthood, nor that the priesthood was a caste, as in India, and (according to some writers) in Egypt. The priestly office was certainly not attached by any general custom to the person of the kings, though kings might be priests, and were so occasionally.

We do not distinctly hear of Sidon has having been engaged in any war during the period of her ascendancy, excepting that with the Philistines. Still as "the Zidonians" are mentioned among the nations which "oppressed Israel" in the time of the Judges, we must conclude that differences arose between them and their southern neighbours in some portion of this period, and that, war having broken out between them, the advantage rested with Sidon. The record of "Judges" is incomplete, and does not enable us even to fix the date of the Sidonian "oppression." We can only say that it was anterior to the judgeship of Jephthah, and was followed, like the other "oppressions," by a "deliverance."

The war with the Philistines brought the period of Sidonian ascendancy to an end, and introduces us to the second period of Phoenician history, or that of the hegemony of Tyre. The supposed date of the change is B.C. 1252.