The Phoenician People

The Phoenicians were a seafaring trading company who called themselves Canaanites, meaning "merchant", which describes the Phoenicians very well. The Canaanite civilization began to develop in the modern day land which is Lebanon, parts of Syria and Israel, circa 3000 B.C. The term Phoenicia, from the Greek Phoenix, means Purple-red. This refers to the purple industry of the early Lebanese people. Phoenicians were wealthy, as the main occupation in Phoenicia was being a merchant. Their trading ships carried products such as timber from their prized cedar trees, copper and other minerals, and manufactured goods like their purple cloth, fine wooden furnature, carved ivory, metal work, and glass.  They established trading colonies along the Mediterranean Sea from Phoenicia to Spain.

Phoencia's leading cities were Sidon and Tyre, another was Byblos, that came from the word bible, because the city exported Papyrus for writing. Tyre was the center of the purple dye industry.


The Phoenicians made the alphabet, which is very important in society today. The most signifigant contribution from the Phoenicians is syllable writing. Many people today do not know that the Phoenicians created the alphabet, but think that the Greeks did. The Phoenicians traded with the Greeks, and shared the alphabet with them. The original Phoenician alphabet had 22 letters, and was adopted by the Greeks, who added four letters, all 26 of which we use today.

A Phoenician Numerical Chart
A Phoenician Numerical Chart

The Phoenicians also invented the numbers, which look like what we call today the "Roman Numerals" but are most certainly not. The number zero, which the Phoencians have also created, is not shown in the numerical chart below. The Phoenicians were more concerned about money and material things, so they wouldn't really ever write about themselves. They invented the alphabet and the numbers for the sole purpose of being able to record information about their trade, such as the day's total income.


"The Phoenicians were ingenious traders, seafarers, and inventors, who made many contributions to society."