Tag Archives: Phoenician

Carthage

The Phoenicians were mighty sea-traders. Wherever there’s trade, you can bet there will be armed protection of trade routes and access to markets. The Phoenicians are thought to be the first people to build ships for military use—for a navy. They set up a humongous colony on the north coast of Africa called Carthage. Carthage was on the western side of the Mediterranean—so Phoenician traders had a safe place to land when they were far from home ports in the east.

Eventually Carthage became big and powerful enough that it was a threat to the Roman Empire. The wars between Carthage and Rome were called the Punic Wars. Maybe the Romans couldn’t pronounce the ph sound? Anyhoo, this was the conflict where Hannibal brought his army across the Alps on elephants, and when Carthage was finally conquered the Romans knocked everything down and salted the fields there so nothing would ever grow.

Rabbit hole time: I wonder if our word ‘punish’ comes from how the Romans treated Carthage? I’m noodling around on the search engine thinghy but can’t find a line from ‘phoenician-punic’ to the Latin verb ‘punire.’
https://www.etymonline.com/word/punish
https://www.etymonline.com/word/Punic
https://www.ageofempires.com/history/phoenician-culture/
https://www.ancient.eu/hannibal/

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Canaanite turquoise miners fool around with hieroglyphics during lunch break

My pals (and Western Civ User’s Guide Irregulars) Ilene L and Jeffrey K each sent me a link to this Nova series on PBS about the origins of the alphabet—in it, archaeologist Orly Goldwasser asserts that a group of Canaanite turquoise miners working in Egypt were fooling around with hieroglyphics and almost-by-accident invented the alphabet. I think it’s a compelling theory—that’s exactly how a creative mind works: by fooling around. Okay so far. If that’s how it happened, their invention would still need to be promoted, spread far-and-wide, made popular. How do you do that?

The beautiful top drawing of an ox head was drawn by an expert drawer. Under that is an ox head as the Egyptian hieroglyphic symbol Aleph. Under that is a pathetic attempt at drawing ox heads by some ham-fisted Canaanite turquoise miner. At the bottom is our letter A.

The Phoenician traders and all their customers needed an efficient writing system to keep business records. The alphabet turned out to be the writing system they needed. The Phoenician trade routes were a communications network—like social media today but without the kitten photos. Those sea-captains visited every port around the Mediterranean Sea. Once the Phoenicians started using the alphabet, everybody started using the alphabet.

And how did the Canaanite miners get their invention to Phoenician sea-captains? You kids who go to Sunday school and Hebrew school knew this one already. Look in the back of your study bibles at the map—the Phoenician cities Sidon, Byblos and Tyre are in the Land of Canaan. Canaanites = Phoenicians.

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-9122891/Alphabet-Canaanite-miners-Ancient-Egypt-simple-letters-intricate-hieroglyphs.html
https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2016/12/30/did-illiterate-egyptian-miners-invent-alphabet/95992202/
Very good article here: https://barzilaiendan.com/2012/06/08/cine-a-inventat-alfabetul/

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

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.