Nawal El Zoghbi
The area now known as Lebanon first appeared in recorded history around 3000
B.C. as a group of coastal cities colonised by the Phoenicians, seafaring
people related to the Canaanite, and one of the Mediterranean's greatest
They created the first real alphabet, and became the most notable traders
and sailors of the ancient world ruling the sea and became thriving
mercantile centres under the cultural influence of Babylonia, worshipping
the god Baal.
The fleets of the coast cities traveled throughout the Mediterranean and
even into the Atlantic Ocean, and other nations competed to employ
Phoenician ships and crews in their navies. In connection with their
maritime trade the city-kingdoms founded many colonies, notably Utica and
Carthage in north Africa, on the islands of Rhodes and Cyprus in the
Mediterranean Sea, and Tarshish in southern Spain.
Tyre was the leader of the Phoenician cities before they were subjugated,
once again, by Assyria during the 8th century BC. When Assyria fell during
the late 7th century BC, Phoenicia, except for Tyre, which succeeded in
maintaining its independence until about 538 BC, was incorporated into the
Chaldean Empire of Nebuchadnezzar II and, in 539 BC, became part of the
Persian Empire. Under Persian rule Sidon became the leading city of
Each of their coastal cities was an independent kingdom noted for the
special activities of its inhabitants. Tyre and Sidon were important
maritime and trade centers; Gubla (later known as Byblos and now as Jbeil)
and Berytus (present-day Beirut) were trade and religious centers. Gubla was
the first Phoenician city to trade actively with Egypt and the pharaohs of
the Old Kingdom (2686-2181 B.C.), exporting cedar, olive oil, and wine,
while importing gold and other products from the Nile Valley.
The most important Phoenician contribution to civilization was the alphabet.
Purple dye, called Tyrian purple, the manufacture of textile, and the
invention of glass, are also ascribed to the Phoenicians. Phoenician cities
were famous for their pantheistic religion. Each city had its special deity,
usually known as its Baal, or lord, and in all cities the temple was the
center of civil and social life.
The most important Phoenician deity was