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Who were the Phoenicians?

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Quick Answer

The Phoenicians were members of a Semitic civilization centering on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea that existed from the fourth millennium B.C. until the end of the first millennium B.C. They were famous for trading, inventing an alphabet and manufacturing rich cloth.

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Full Answer

The name "Phoenician" comes from the Greek "phoinikes," which means the "red people." This name was derived from the Phoenicians' famous reddish-purple cloth. From their strongholds in the Levant, the Phoenicians sent out trading and colonizing ventures, dominating trade in the Mediterranean Sea between 1200 and 800 B.C. They founded coastal cities all around the region, including Hippo (modern Annaba, Algeria), Zyz (modern Palermo, Sicily), Oea (modern Tripoli, Libya) and Gadir (modern Cádiz, Spain).

They also founded the powerful city of Carthage, which is in modern-day Tunisia. Carthage became a powerful city in its own right, eventually dominating trade in the western Mediterranean. This domination brought it into conflict with the rising Roman Republic, resulting in the defeat of the Phoenicians in the three Punic Wars during the second and third centuries B.C. The Phoenicians also developed an alphabet, one of the first ever, whose phonetic structure made it much easier to learn than the more complex Egyptian and Syrian alphabets.

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