WASHINGTON, D.C. (October 25, 2017)—The origin and identity of the Phoenicians is on display in Ephraim Stern’s article “Phoenicia and Its Special Relationship with Israel,” published in the November/December 2017 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review. Stern explores the rise and fall of the Phoenician empire and highlights the special relationship that the Phoenicians had with their neighbors, the Israelites.
The Bible records that the Phoenicians had a close relationship with the Israelites: Their royalty married each other. They traded with each other. Significantly, they never went to war with each other.
Stern identifies the Phoenicians as Canaanites who survived into the first millennium B.C.E.: “The Phoenicians were the late Canaanites of the first millennium B.C.E. (Iron Age through Roman period), descendants of the Canaanites of the second millennium B.C.E. (Middle Bronze Age through Late Bronze Age). ‘Phoenicians’ was the name given to this people by the Greeks, but the Phoenicians continued to refer to themselves as Canaanites or by the names of their principal cities.”
Arwad, Byblos, Berytus, Sidon and Tyre became the heartland of Phoenicia, but the Phoenicians didn’t stop there. Toward the end of the 11th century B.C.E., they began establishing colonies in the west—in Cyprus, Sicily, Sardinia, Malta, southern Spain and northern Africa. They soon had created an empire for themselves. But unlike other empires forged by war, this was an empire built on trade. Their commercial empire would last for nearly a millennium.
The Phoenicians successfully created a vast trading network, but even this could not last forever. Sharing the fate of many others, the Phoenician empire ultimately fell to Rome.