|Colonies of Ancient Greece and Phoenicia — circa 550 BCE (1).|
Here are five important Phoenician contributions to Western society.
The Phoenicians likely did not invent the alphabet. That honor probably goes to Semitic speaking people living in Egypt. Nonetheless, the Phoenicians were responsible for spreading the alphabet to other cultures living along the Mediterranean, including to the Greeks. The Phoenician alphabet represented a major advance over pictograph writing techniques, such as cuneiform, and is the foundation for the writing system used by modern Western societies.
Influence on Western Culture
Some scholars believe that Thales, the first Greek philosopher (and hence the father of Greek philosophy), was a Phoenician. Regardless of whether or not that hypothesis is correct, the Phoenician traders almost certainly played a significant role in shaping Greek culture and beliefs by exposing Greek city-states to ideas from other groups, such as the Babylonians. This contribution is important given the extent to which Greek ideas have influenced the development of modern Western culture.
The Phoenicians were expert sailors who are credited with discovering how to use the North Star to gauge direction. As a result of this discovery, the Phoenicians could sail on the open seas and in the ocean; they no longer had to use the coastline as a navigational aid. Phoenician sailors passed this important information on to the Greeks and other Mediterranean cultures.
The Phoenicians did not invent glass. However, a Phoenician glass maker is credited with inventing the free-blowing technique sometime around 50 B.C. As a result of this discovery, artisans could create a wider range of glass items. Craftspeople could also use the free-blowing method to make glassware that was much more transparent than previous versions.
While this accomplishment might not be as important as their other achievements, the Phoenicians were likely the first people to develop a purple dye. They maintained a near monopoly on this product (at least in the Mediterranean region) for centuries and sold it to the wealthy at exorbitant prices. Usually only high ranking nobles or government officials could afford to purchase purple colored garments. As a result, the color purple came to be associated with royalty. That connotation survives into today.
Gore, R. (2004). "Who Were the Phoenicians?" National Geographic Magazine.
Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. (2012). "The Phoenicians (1500-300 B.C.)." The Metropolitan
Museum of Art.
1. Photographer: Javierfv1212
Date: March 1, 2008
Title/Description: Map of the colonies of Ancient Greece and Phoenicia — circa 550 BCE.
Location/Permission: Wikimedia Commons - Author's note (click on the title to see photo,
credits, and permissions).
The author is a freelance writer and has a B.A. in History from Roanoke College.
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