(Map 7:G4). The Greek word phoinix, from which apparently the geographical region of Phoenicia is named, means, literally, “red purple.” Thus, the name is derived from one product of the region, red dye, for which Phoenicia was famed throughout the ancient world. It was a shared interest in commerce and trade by the inhabitants of the region rather than any tightly knit political system that gave the Phoenicians their distinctive characteristics and ethos in the ancient world.

The territory inhabited by this people, Semitic in origin and Mediterranean in outlook and activity, was the narrow coastal plain extending from the Eleutherus river in the north to the Carmel range in the south, a distance of about 260 km (160 mi) in all, approximately the extent of modern Lebanon with an extension to the south. From ancient times kings ruled the region centered in such cities as Byblos, Berytus (Beirut), Sidon, and Tyre. Physical features give the whole region a very distinctive character, as the coastal plain is narrow, and sometimes, as at the Ladder of Tyre, the mountains form a promontory into the sea. Elsewhere they rise sharply, separating the coast from the interior, even though at certain historical periods there was a natural tendency for the various city‐states to include some of that hinterland in their territory. This was certainly true in the case of Tyre, whose territory at times included parts of Galilee (1 Kings 9.11; see also Josephus, Ant. 5.1.63). It was probably due to the peculiar physical layout of the region inhabited by the Phoenicians that the territory as a whole never attained a fully cohesive political structure but instead comprised a number of city‐states, which left them vulnerable to the more centralized political powers in the region.

There were geographical advantages also. The coastline of the Phoenician territory had a number of excellent harbors, unlike Israel further to the south, and thus shipping was a significant aspect of the Phoenician way of life. In the ancient world, the Phoenicians were celebrated navigators (see Ezek. 27); Herodotus also attributes to them the circumnavigation of Africa. A number of important Phoenician colonies were established in the western Mediterranean, Carthage in North Africa being the most famous. This westward orientation also led to the spread of the linear Phoenician alphabet to the west (see Writing). In addition the climate, though warm, had good rainfall, and there was a rich vegetation with the famous cedars of Lebanon being particularly important as a supply of timber. Solomon's building projects benefited from such a supply from King Hiram of Tyre (1 Kings 5), and there is even older evidence of Egyptian interest. Vitreous glass has been found in the region near Ptolemais, and there appears to have been a thriving fine‐ware industry in Hellenistic times in the region.

Phoenician connections with the northern kingdom of Israel were generally close, as the marriage between Ahab and Jezebel, the daughter of the Tyrian king Ethbaal, illustrates. A distinctive Phoenician style of masonry is also characteristic of royal and public architecture at cities such as Samaria and Megiddo in the period. But like Israel and other states in the region, the Phoenician cities had strained relations with the Assyrian and Neo‐Babylonian rulers, and as they attempted to assert their independence, Sidon was destroyed and Tyre defeated after a thirteen‐year siege by Nebuchadrezzar. The Persians adopted a more tolerant attitude toward their vassal states, and they utilized the navigational skills of the Phoenicians in their various campaigns to the west, most notably against the confederation of Greek city‐states, until the Persian defeat at the famous naval battle of Salamis in 481 BCE.

It was during this period of relative autonomy that the various Phoenician states achieved a greater degree of harmony among themselves, and a confederation of Tyre, Sidon, and Arvad was formed, leading to a revolt against Persian rule and the consequent destruction of Sidon in 351 BCE. As Alexander the Great began his conquest of the East, Tyre offered stout resistance to his advance on Egypt but was eventually destroyed in 332 BCE. In line with later Hellenistic policy, however, these cities, as well as Acco/Ptolemais closer to Jewish territory, were reestablished as Greek city‐states and became important centers for the diffusion of Greek culture in Palestine and Syria. The games at Tyre in honor of Zeus Olympus were highly regarded, and some Jews, contrary to their religious beliefs, were tempted to participate (2 Macc. 4.18). Nevertheless, inscriptions show that Phoenician as well as Greek was spoken in Tyre as late as the first century BCE.

In line with the process of hellenization elsewhere in the ancient world, the emerging culture was a mixture of the old and the new. Particularly in the sphere of religion, various deities that were worshiped in Hellenistic times, such as Zeus and Heracles, are the older Phoenician deities Baal Shamem (Lord of the Heavens) and Melqart in Greek dress. Both were closely associated with the older Canaanite deities such as El, known to us from discoveries at Ras Shamra (see Ugaritic), thus suggesting ancient and close links between the Phoenicians and the Canaanites. Even prior to the Hellenistic age, Phoenician culture had been influenced by features from many quarters, including Greece, thus underlining the many contacts that had been established through trade and commerce. This can be seen both in their art and architecture, which apparently provided a blueprint for Solomon's Temple.

Under the Romans, the various cities in Phoenician territory continued as they had been, but now as part of the network of urban centers that Rome utilized in controlling the east. Phoenicia is named as one of the regions to which the Christian movement spread from Jerusalem after the Hellenists had been forced out (Acts 11.19). It is doubtful, however, whether the old Phoenician culture had persisted to any great degree in the area. This combination of a memory of the ethnic background and recognition of the current cultural affiliation of the territory is found in Mark's description of the woman who came to Jesus requesting to have her daughter healed. She is described as being “Greek, Syrophoenician by birth” (Mark 7.26). The Tyrian shekel, because of its stability in a volatile currency market, remained the offering for the sanctuary in Jerusalem that every male Jew was expected to make throughout the Second Temple period (see Money), and recent archaeological evidence from Upper Galilee gives abundant evidence of the trading links that a religiously conservative Jewish population continued to have with Tyre in the early centuries CE. Thus, long‐established patterns of religious diversity and commercial and trading links (see Ezekiel 27) were maintained between the Jewish population and its Phoenician coastal neighbors—one example among many of human need transcending religious and cultural diversity.

Seán Freyne