Winds of trade and maritime tides: the Phoenician Mediterranean in the Iron Age
AffiliationSchool of Historical and Philosophical Studies
Document TypeMasters Research thesis
CitationsBell-Ogilby, J. (2012). Winds of trade and maritime tides: the Phoenician Mediterranean in the Iron Age. Masters Research thesis, School of Historical and Philosophical Studies, The University of Melbourne.
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© 2012 Joy-lyn Bell-Ogilby
The Phoenician homeland of the Levant, in the eastern Mediterranean, was a narrow strip of coastal land with little agricultural hinterland. The people were comprised of diverse groups with differing cultural and religious affiliations who lived in city-states. While the topographical confine of their homeland was limited, it brought together people who were skilled craftsmen whose economy was characterised by external trade. The upheavals that occurred in the eastern region of the Mediterranean around 1200 B.C. offered new opportunity for trade and expansion, which was of particular interest to those with maritime experience. The Phoenicians already acclaimed for their expertise at sea took the lead conducting exploration for safe and speedy routes to new sources of raw materials. Islands and coastal regions were selected to establish trading posts, harbours, and later mercantile and administrative colonies by entrepreneurs and sea traders from the Levant. The areas included were Cyprus in the east, and Sardinia, Sicily, Malta in the central region, and further west as far as the Atlantic coast of Spain and Morocco. The expansion may not have been possible had suitable landing places and negotiation with indigenous populations not been carefully observed. The Mediterranean winds and currents largely defined the suitability of routes and times taken for trade. The regular low tides and shallow waters in the Mediterranean region, combined with low-lying shorelines, particularly around some islands was a significant factor in the Phoenician choice of their settlements. These factors, combined and repeated in their major centres, were to become a recognisable formula for their settlement pattern, seen for example, at Motya, Sicily. These specific features associated with their settlements have not been fully explored. Furthermore, the underlying know how they utilised to determine the suitability of settlement sites can be teased from the archaeological evidence. This study examines the geographical and topographical similarities between the homeland and the Phoenician colonies. It is argued that the knowledge they had acquired from the homeland concerning the sea and tides, may have guided the Phoenicians to seek out certain early landing places and to choose semi or permanent settlements at others. This knowledge, in conjunction with indigenous co-operation, may have contributed significantly to their dominant position as traders in the Mediterranean region. In the course of this study, attention has been drawn to the similarity in plan of settlement, cultural traditions and material expression carried from the Phoenician homeland to their centres in the central and western Mediterranean.
KeywordsPhoenicians; Mediterranean; trade; Iron Age
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