A Semitic people from the eastern Mediterranean, descendants of the Canaanites, renowned as traders in later prehistory, and erroneously credited with many wondrous exploits around the world. Their early history is obscure. By the later 2nd millennium bc, however, they occupied the narrow coastal plain of Lebanon and Syria, with important settlements at Tyre, Sidon, and Byblos. Under Hiram I of Tyre (970–936 bc) the Phoenicians enjoyed a golden age; soon afterwards a series of colonies was established as part of a complex and extensive trading network in the western Mediterranean. The colonies included Gades, Gibraltar, Tingis, Ebusius, Cherchell, Algiers, Hippo, Carthage, Utica, Sabrata, Lepcis Magna, Malta, Nora, Caralis, Sulicis, Tharros, and Olbia. After their incorporation into the Babylonian Empire in 574 bc they continued their role as merchants, traders, and middlemen. They were the leading seafarers of the 1st millennium bc, sailing into the Atlantic and reputedly circumnavigating Africa. It is often claimed that they came to Britain, but this has never been substantiated. Towards the end of the 1st millennium bc they were absorbed into the Hellenistic and Roman world. The Phoenicians are believed to have developed the first alphabetic script around 1500 bc; the Greek, Roman, Arabic, and Hebrew alphabets all derive from the Phoenician one.
Subjects: Classical Studies — Archaeology.