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Phoenician of Ancient Europe

 by Nataša Pantović

The origins of cuneiform may be traced back approximately to the end of the 4000 BC. At that time the Sumerian carved pictographic tablets in Uruk (Erech), for example, the picture of a hand came to stand for both Sumerian šu that is “hand” and also for the phonetic š. As in Chinese, Sumerian words were largely monosyllabic, so for example, ba, bá, bà, ba would have different meaning. but often representing similar concepts - sun, day, bright...

Ancient Mediterranean Map Major Cities

Ancient Mediterranean Map Major Cities

They used clay tablets - being pressed into the soft clay with the normal order of signs - columns running downward changing to from left to right, without any word dividers. This change of writing methods made some signs change from one side to the other.

The system was adopted by the Akkadians, who established themselves in Mesopotamia 3000 BC. Babylon was an ancient city located on the lower Euphrates river in southern Mesopotamia, within modern day Iraq. Babylon functioned as the main cultural and political centre of the Akkadian speaking region of Babylonia.

Thus the sign for mountain, originally a picture of three mountain tops, has changed its phonetic value. The earliest type of cuneiform in Mesopotamia is called the Old Akkadian 2000 BC, King Hammurabi of Babylon 1730 BC had unified all of southern Mesopotamia with much evidence of extensive Law Code and other documents.

The Mediterranean in 6th century BC Phoenician settlements are labelled in red Greek areas in blue

The Mediterranean in 6th century BC Phoenician settlements are labelled in red Greek areas in blue

In the 2000 BC the Akkadian of Babylonia became a lingua franca of international exchange and cuneiform writing became a universal medium of written communication. The political correspondence was conducted almost exclusively in that language and writing. Next door, the Neo-Assyrian period was the great era of Assyrian power where writing culminated during 650 BC. In 1400 BC, cuneiform was adapted as the script of the Canaanite (Phoenicians) city of Ugarit on the Syrian coast.


1360 BC Akkadian diplomatic letter found in tell Amarna

The Phoenician city states produced notable merchants, traders, and colonizers. Phoenicia was an ancient Arabic speaking civilization that originated in modern Lebanon. At its height between 1100 and 200 BC, Phoenician spread across the Mediterranean. According to genetic studies performed on the Lebanese people, the Lebanese share more than 90% of their genetic makeup with the ancient Canaanites who lived 3,700 years ago. A Phoenician identity includes the worship of pre Christian Phoenician gods: ElBaalAstarte and Adon until mid 600 AC. 

Phoenicians were citizens of the ports they came from such as Byblos (Babilon), Sidon, or Tyre. They traded in the Mediterranean Sea, establishing colonies from Cyprus to Italy, North Africa, and Spain.

They grew rich trading precious metals and products such as wine, olive oil, and the timber of Lebanon. The armies that conquered the Phoenicians destroyed their cities, and their writings, so that we now know the Phoenicians mainly by the reports of their enemies. The Phoenicians actually developed the modern alphabet and spread it through trade. The Phoenicians imported papyrus from Egypt so that the Greeks used word byblos to refer to the ancient paper (note the name Bible). The DNA studies have indicated that more than half of the Y chromosome lineages that we see in today's Maltese population have come in with the Phoenicians.

Acting as cultural middlemen, the Phoenicians shared knowledge from the powerful North Africa. New ideas sparked a cultural revolution all around ancient Europe. 

Around 1000 BC, the Phoenicians around the Mediterranean traded tin mixed with copper that was sought after for making Bronze. It is interesting to find that the Celtic God Bél was celebrated in bonfires similar to the ones offered by the Phoenicians to the God Baal during the same period.

In 1926 Gibran Khalil Gibran draws the portrait known as: ‘’Portrait of a poet’’ of the Irish W.B. Yeats that is currently in Gibran Museum in Lebanon.

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