Canaanite and Phoenician astronomy: from the late Bronze Age to the early Iron Age
AuthorGoldfarb, Amanda Nicole
AffiliationSchool of Historical Studies and Philosophical Studies
Document TypeMasters Research thesis
CitationsGoldfarb, A. N. (2012). Canaanite and Phoenician astronomy: from the late Bronze Age to the early Iron Age. Masters Research thesis, School of Historical Studies and Philosophical Studies, The University of Melbourne.
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© 2012 Amanda Nicole Goldfarb
The Phoenicians and Canaanites were renowned sailors, and have long been hailed as excellent astronomers by ancient writers such as Strabo and Aratus. Owing to their well-known maritime expertise, even today’s scholars assume their knowledge of the night sky to have been great. Yet very little modern study has been dedicated to determining the extent of their astronomical knowledge — were they just observational astronomers, or was there a more mathematical approach undertaken? It is thus the purpose of this thesis to introduce the topic and identify evidence of Canaanite and Phoenician astronomy. Both cultures had pantheons featuring astral gods and a rich mythology known today only through fragments. In order to determine if these astral gods are indicative of Canaanite and Phoenician practices, these pantheons were studied in comparison to contemporary Mesopotamian and Egyptian religions (as they were both known to practise observational astronomy). Ancient calendars were also reviewed, as these could indicate an understanding of the solar versus lunar year. From this assessment, it became clear that many important deities within the Canaanite and Phoenician cultures had astronomical significance — they were associated with planets, constellations and weather phenomena. Furthermore, it appears they had luni-solar calendars, akin to the Mesopotamians, indicating the importance of the moon, rather than the sun, as a time-keeping object. Armed with this knowledge, Canaanite and Phoenician iconography was then examined, in order to determine if well-known narratives, such as the lion/bull attack scenes (common over the Near East), had any possible astronomical significance. After reviewing several differing iconographical narratives, it was determined that there were clear astronomical associations apparent on artefacts with multivalent iconographies. The equinoxes, solstices and even eclipses were represented on bowls and mugs, found from Ugarit through to Italy, crafted by Phoenician and Canaanite tradesmen. While no mathematical approaches could be determined from this study, it was possible to show (rather than hypothesise) that the Phoenicians and Canaanites practised at least a basic level of observational astronomy.
KeywordsCanaanite; Phoenician; astronomy; ancient
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