Tag Archives: economics

A sea-change

Sure, they would have used Demotic script but hieroglyphics is much funnier.

If you own one of these Phoenician trading ships, you’re carrying cloth or papyrus or books or glass or copper or oil. You need to keep track of all that merchandise, how much it cost you and how much you want to sell it for. You’ll be putting in to different ports, unloading some of your cargo and taking on new merchandise. You need to keep records of what you sold and what you bought and who ordered which merch in advance. Egyptian hieroglyphics are way too complicated—even Demotic is cumbersome with symbols for entire syllables—and having a scribe aboard was an additional expense.

The Phoenicians looked at the Egyptian writing system and threw out all the pictograms and ideograms. They kept only the symbols that represented sounds and wound up with a 22 letter alphabet. That’s it. The alphabet was so simple that a sea-captain could write a list of all the stores in his ship without a scribe’s help.

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing.

Phoenicians



Happy new year! Well, we let that Rosetta Stone story take us a few thousand years ahead of our timeline. So, we’re going back to roughly 1500 bc., leaving Egypt and hieroglyphics behind so we can move along to the Phoenicians.

Phoenicians were seafaring-trading people who lived in what is now Lebanon, Syria and northern Israel on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea. There wasn’t a country called Phoenicia, exactly—it was more like a federation or league of cities: Tyre, Byblos, Sidon.

The Phoenicians traded with other people around the Mediterranean Sea and beyond. The city of Byblos did a big business trading in papyrus and books. The Phoenicians sold expensive purple cloth (they got purple dye from squishing murex mollusks—ew). What drove the Phoenician economy wasn’t so much the production of goods, but buying and selling goods in the free market. You buy papyrus in Byblos where they have lots of it and it’s not so expensive, take that papyrus to somewhere—maybe Cyprus—where they don’t have very much papyrus and they’ll pay much more than it cost you. You use the profit to buy copper for cheap, because Cyprus has lots of copper. You put that copper aboard your ship and take it where they’ll pay you well for it. Buy low, sell high, gang.

https://www.ancient.eu/phoenicia/

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing.