Phoenician Settlements Outside the Motherland

North Africa and Spain

The Mediterranean and North African coast (with the exception of Cyrenaica) entered the mainstream of Mediterranean history with the arrival in the 1st millennium BC of Phoenician traders, mainly from Tyre and Sidon in the eastern Mediterranean. The Phoenicians were not looking for land to settle but for anchorages and staging points on the trade route from Phoenicia to Spain, a source of silver and tin. Points on an alternative route by way of Sicily, Sardinia, and the Balearic Islands also were occupied. The Phoenicians lacked the manpower and the need to found large colonies as the Greeks did, and few of their settlements grew to any size. The sites chosen were generally offshore islands or easily defensible promontories with sheltered beaches on which ships could be drawn up. Carthage -- --(from the Phoenician Kart-Hadasht, New City or Land), destined to be the largest Phoenician colony and in the end an imperial power, conformed to the pattern.

Tradition dated the foundation of Gades (modern Cádiz; the earliest known Phoenician trading post in Spain) to 1110 BC, Utica (Utique) to 1101 BC, and Carthage to 814 BC. The dates appear legendary, and no Phoenician object earlier than the 8th century BC has yet been found in the west. At Carthage some Greek objects have been found, datable to about 750 or slightly later, which comes within two generations of the traditional date. Little can be learned from the romantic legends about the arrival of the Phoenicians at Carthage transmitted by Greco-Roman sources. Though individual voyages doubtless took place earlier, the establishment of permanent posts is unlikely to have taken place before 800 BC, antedating the parallel movement of Greeks to Sicily and southern Italy.

Material evidence of Phoenician occupation in the 8th century BC comes from Utica, and of the 7th or 6th century BC from Hadrumetum (Susah, Sousse), Tipasa (east of Cherchell), Siga (Rachgoun), Lixus, and Mogador (Essaouira), the last being the most distant Phoenician settlement so far known. Finds of similar age have been made at Motya (Mozia) in Sicily, Nora (Nurri), Sulcis, and Tharros (San Giovanni di Sinis) in Sardinia, and Cádiz and Almuñécar in Spain. Unlike the Greek settlements, however, those of the Phoenicians long remained politically dependent on their homeland, and only a few were situated where the hinterland had the potential for development. The emergence of Carthage as an independent power, leading to the creation of an empire based on the secure possession of the North African coast, resulted less from the weakening of Tyre, the chief city of Phoenicia, by the Babylonians than from growing pressure from the Greeks in the western Mediterranean; in 580 BC some Greek cities in Sicily attempted to drive the Phoenicians from Motya and Panormus (Palermo) in the west of the island. The Carthaginians feared that if the Greeks won the whole of Sicily they would move on to Sardinia and beyond, isolating the Phoenicians in North Africa. The successful defense of Sicily was followed by attempts to strengthen limited footholds in Sardinia; a fortress at Monte Sirai is the oldest Phoenician military building in the west. The threat from the Greeks receded when Carthage, in alliance with Etruscan cities, backed the Phoenicians of Corsica in about 540 BC and succeeded in excluding the Greeks from contact with southern Spain.

Venerable historical traditions recount the Phoenician voyages to found new cities. Utica, on the Tunisian coast of North Africa, was reputedly founded in 1178 BC, and by 1100 BC the Phoenician city of Tyre supposedly had a Spanish colony at Gadir (Cadiz). Although intriguing, these historical traditions are unsupported by evidence. Excavations confirm that the Phoenicians settled in southern Spain after 800 BC. Their search for new commodities led them ever farther westward and was the reason for their interest in southern Spain's mineral wealth. The untapped lodes of silver and alluvial deposits of tin and gold provided essential raw materials with which to meet the increasing Assyrian demands for tribute. By 700 BC silver exported from the Río Tinto mines was so abundant that it depressed the value of silver bullion in the Assyrian world. This is the background for Phoenician interest in the far west.

Phoenician commerce was conducted by family firms of shipowners and manufacturers who had their base in Tyre or Byblos and placed their representatives abroad. This accounts for the rich tombs of Phoenician pattern found at Almuñécar, Trayamar, and Villaricos, equipped with metropolitan goods such as alabaster wine jars, imported Greek pottery, and delicate gold jewelery. Maritime bases from the Balearic Islands (Ibiza) to Cadiz on the Atlantic were set up to sustain commerce in salted fish, dyes, and textiles. Early Phoenician settlements are known from Morro de Mezquitilla, Toscanos, and Guadalhorce and shrines from Gorham's Cave in Gibraltar and the Temple of Melqart on the island of Sancti Petri near Cadiz. After the fall of Tyre to the Babylonians in 573 BC and the subjugation of Phoenicia, the early prosperity faded until the 4th century. Many colonies survived, however, and Abdera (Adra), Baria (Villaricos), Carmona (Carmo), Gadir (Cadiz), Malaca (Málaga), and Sexi (Almuñécar) thrived under the trading system established by Carthage for the central and western Mediterranean. Eivissa (Ibiza) became a major Carthaginian colony, and the island produced dye, salt, fish sauce, and wool. A shrine with offerings to the goddess Tanit was established in the cave at Es Cuyram, and the Balearic Islands entered Eivissa's commercial orbit after 400 BC. In 237 BC, just before the Second Punic War, Carthage launched its conquest of southern Spain under Hamilcar Barca, founded a new capital city at Cartago Nova (Cartagena) in 228 BC, and suffered crushing defeat by the Romans in 206 BC.

The Colonies, Phoenicia's Diaspora

Among the most outstanding colonies or trading posts which the Phoenicians had established were the cities of Genoa, where they went in with the Celts and established a flourishing colony, and Marseille which they started as nothing more than a trading post before it became fully Hellenized.

It is very probable that the tremendous colonial activity of the Phoenicians and Carthaginians was stimulated in the 8th to 6th centuries BC by the military blows that were wrecking the trade of the Phoenician homeland in the Levant. Also, competition with the synchronous Greek colonization of the western Mediterranean cannot be ignored as a contributing factor.

The earliest site outside the Phoenician homeland known to possess important aspects of Phoenician culture is Ugarit (Ras Shamra), about six miles north of Latakia. The site was already occupied before the 4th millennium BC, but the Phoenicians only became prominent there around 1991-1786 BC.

According to Herodotus, the coast of Libya along the sea which washes it to the north, throughout its entire length from Egypt to Cape Soloeis, which is its furthest point, is inhabited by Libyans of many distinct tribes who possess the whole tract except certain portions which belong to the Phoenicians and the Greeks.

Tyre's first colony, Utica in North Africa, was founded perhaps as early as the 10th century BC. It is likely that the expansion of the Phoenicians at the beginning of the 1st millennium BC is to be connected with the alliance of Hiram of Tyre with Solomon of Israel in the second half of the 10th century BC. In the following century, Phoenician presence in the north is shown by inscriptions at Samal (Zincirli Hüyük) in eastern Cilicia, and in the 8th century at Karatepe in the Taurus Mountains, but there is no evidence of direct colonization. Both these cities acted as fortresses commanding the routes through the mountains to the mineral and other wealth of Anatolia.

Cyprus had Phoenician settlements by the 9th century BC. Citium, known to the Greeks as Kition (biblical Kittim), in the southeast corner of the island, became the principal colony of the Phoenicians in Cyprus. Elsewhere in the Mediterranean, several smaller settlements were planted as stepping-stones along the route to Spain and its mineral wealth in silver and copper: at Malta, early remains go back to the 7th century BC, and at Sulcis and Nora in Sardinia and Motya in Sicily, perhaps a century earlier. According to Thucydides, the Phoenicians controlled a large part of the island but withdrew to the northwest corner under pressure from the Greeks. Modern scholars, however, disbelieve this and contend that the Phoenicians arrived only after the Greeks were established.

In North Africa the next site colonized after Utica was Carthage (near Tunis). Carthage in turn seems to have established (or, in some cases, reestablished) a number of settlements in Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, the Balearic Islands, and southern Spain, eventually making this city the acknowledged leader of the western Phoenicians.

Carthage

Phoenician KART-HADASHT, Latin CARTHAGO, great city of antiquity, traditionally founded on the north coast of Africa by the Phoenicians of Tyre in 814 BC. It is now a residential suburb of the city of Tunis. Its Phoenician name means New Town or Land.

A brief treatment of ancient Carthage follows. For full treatment, see North Africa: History.

Various traditions concerning the foundation of Carthage were current among the Greeks, who called the city Karchedon; but the Roman tradition is better known because of the Aeneid, which tells of the city's foundation by the Tyrian princess Elissar or Elyssa (Dido in Greek), who fled from her brother Pygmalion (the name of a historical king of Tyre who ruled a century after Hiram). The inhabitants were known to the Romans as Poeni, a derivation from the word Phoenikes (Phoenicians), from which the adjective Punic is derived. According the Greek historian Timaeus (c. 356-260 B.C.), Carthage was founded in 814 B.C. by a Elyssa who gathered up the royal treasury and a group of supporters and traveled to Cyprus, another Phoenician colony. Thereafter she traveled to North Africa where present day country of Tunis is.

The site chosen for Carthage in the centre of the shore of the Gulf of Tunis was ideal: the city was built on a triangular peninsula covered with low hills and backed by the Lake of Tunis with its safe anchorage and abundant supplies of fish. The site of the city was well protected and easily defensible. On the south the peninsula is connected to the mainland by a narrow strip of land. The ancient citadel, the Byrsa, was on a low hill overlooking the sea. It is said, the local Berber permitted Elyssa and her people to have as much land at that which could be covered with a single oxhide. Hence, she was supposed to have cut an oxhide into thin strips and encircled the hill. Some of the earliest tombs have been found there, though nothing remains of Carthage's domestic and public buildings. Byrsa means fortress in Phoenician. Byrsa in Greek and Latin mean hide from which bourse or stock-market, and purse are derived.

The standard of cultural life enjoyed by the Carthaginians was probably far below that of the larger cities of the classical world. Punic interests were turned toward commerce. In Roman times Punic beds, cushions, and mattresses were regarded as luxuries, and Punic joinery and furniture were copied. Much of the revenue of Carthage came from its exploitation of the silver mines of North Africa and southern Spain, begun as early as 800 BC.

From the middle of the 3rd century to the middle of the 2nd century BC, Carthage was engaged in a series of wars with Rome called the Punic Wars. These wars, which are known as the Punic Wars, ended in the complete defeat of Carthage by Rome. When Carthage finally fell in 146 BC, the site was plundered and burned, and all human habitation there was forbidden.

Around Memphis

Phoenicians from the city of Tyre dwell all round memphis, and the whole place is known by the name of "the camp of the Tyrians." Within the enclosure stands a temple, which is called that of Venus the Stranger.


Phoenicia Index