|© 1998 Bernard SUZANNE
|Last updated December 25, 2004
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This page is part of the "tools" section of a site, Plato and his dialogues, dedicated to developing a new interpretation of Plato's dialogues. The "tools" section provides historical and geographical context (chronology, maps, entries on characters and locations) for Socrates, Plato and their time. By clicking on the minimap at the beginning of the entry, you can go to a full size map in which the city or location appears. For more information on the structure of entries and links available from them, read the notice at the beginning of the index of persons and locations.
Province along the Mediterranean coast of Syria, in
the area of the cities of Tyre and Sidon
Phoenicia was the homeland of the Phoenicians, a semitic people. The Phoenician civilisation could be traced back as far as the XIIIth century B. C.. In biblical times, the Phoenicians were heavily involved in maritime trade and Tyre was one of the busiest harbours of the whole Mediterranean, an extremely wealthy city (some of Ezekiel's prophecies against Tyre give a very vivid description of the city and its wealth : Ezekiel, 26-28). They had established trading posts in various parts of the Mediterranean, as far as Carthage, founded toward the end of the IXth century B. C.
For the Greeks, Phoenicians were the descendants of Phoenix, a son of Agenor and brother of Cadmus, Cilix , Thasus and Europa. Agenor traced his origins to Io, the Argive princess abducted by Zeus and changed by Hera into a heifer : Epaphus, Io's son by Zeus, who was born after she had arrived in the Nile region, had married Memphis, the daughter of the River-God Nile, from which he had had a daughter named Libya, who, from Poseidon, became the mother of twins, Belus, who became king of Egypt, and Agenor, who settled in Syria. After Agenor's daughter Europa had been loved and abducted by Zeus under the guise of a bull to become the mother of the Cretan king Minos, he asked his four sons to run the world and not come back until they had found her, which led them in all sorts of places where they founded cities and established settlements : Phoenix in Tyre and Sidon, where he gave his name to the Phoenicians, Cilix in Cilicia , Thasus in the island of Thasos, Cadmus in various places including the island of Thera, before settling in Boeotia where he founded Thebes.
These wanderings preserve a legendary version of the expeditions of Phoenicians throughout the Mediterranean and of their settlements in various places. Through these wanderings, Phoenicians introduced in other parts of the Mediterranean world various inventions of theirs, including the alphabet which they probably invented around 1100 B. C. and which was introduced in Greece toward the end of the IXth century B. C. or beginning of the VIIIth, replacing earlier syllabic systems known as Linear A and B to give birth to the Greek alphabet (the Phoenician alphabet is indeed the first known alphabet, that is, a writing system based on letters representing elementary sounds rather than ideograms, like the Egyptian hieroglyphs, or syllables, like the Cretan Linear A and B writing systems that preceeded it ; and the main innovation of the Greeks with respect to writing was to add letters for vowels to an alphabet which, like today's Hebrew or Arabic alphabets, included only consonants). To this, Herodotus bears witness in his Histories at V, 57-58, where he credits Cadmus and his Phoenician companions with introducing many new techniques in Greece, including the alphabet.