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Labib Mansour 06 Mar 2023

Historical Snapshot: Inside The Phoenicians’ Vast Maritime Trade Network

We’ve long heard stories about how Phoenicia ruled the Mediterranean, with its ships sailing across its long waves with precious trade. But other than their world famous Tyrian purple, what else was going on inside the Phoenician civilization’s ancient trade networks? It’s time to find out.

Limited by the technology of the time, Phoenician sea traders were forced to stick to the shores of the Mediterranean, and fix their routes, with specific stations and permanent trade outposts. The Phoenicians also had to pay special attention to the environmental conditions of the time, requiring a strong knowledge of weather conditions and wind patterns. The main trading base for the Phoenicians was obviously in their “homeland” on the Levant coast of modern day Lebanon, with main hubs in cities like Tyre, Tripoli, Saida, and Beirut. Outside of that, the Phoenicians had significant trade and connections with their colonies across North Africa and Southern Europe.

The Phoenicians had significant trade with the other civilizations of the time, such as the Greeks, the Romans, Egyptians, and Mesoptomians. One of their main exports was the current symbol of the Lebanese Republic, cedar wood. This wood was ideal for conversion to timber, and was used in construction across numerous sectors.

Phoenican ships were often described as having blue and purple linen sails. Aboard those ships, they would have native produce, such as olives, figs, dates, walnuts, almonds, pomegranates, plums, apricots, melons, pumpkins, cucumbers, and wine. From their partners, they would get commodities such as ivory and ebony from Rhodes, wine and wool from Damascus, lambs, rams, and goats from Arabia, and wheat, honey, and oil from Palestine.

This vast trade network facilitated the expansion of the Phoenicians, with trade outposts as far west as Iberia, and land caravans stretching across the landmass of the Old World. Another major export alongside this expansion was famous Phoenician glass, which was used to manufacture mirrors, plates, and drinking glasses. It could also be seen in pots, jewelry, and perfume bottles across the region.

The reputation of the Phoenicians remains with local residents to this day, with narratives of entrepreneurism, trade, and exploration following us into stories such as the Taco Arabes and some fascinating cross-Atlantic diaspora expeditions. Next, it might be time to see what the Phoenicians ended up doing during their many trade trips to Iberia.


Trade in the Phoenician World

The Phoenician Trade Network: Tracing a Mediterranean Exchange System