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History of the Phoenician Civilization - Part II

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Everyone, at some time or another, has read about the Greek and Persian wars fought during the sixth to fourth centuries B.C. What he perhaps does not know is that the Phoenicians played an important role in this great historical drama.

The reason is simple.

Persia is not a sea power and is land locked in Asia Minor and on the East Mediterranean coast with a formidable array of soldiers from many nations.

The Phoenicians, on the other hand, have the fleets, the navigators, the seamen and the “know-how”. Guided by the stars they sail at night over dark, dangerous, uncharted waters, guided only by the stars. An arrangement is therefore reached with the kings of the Phoenician cities to furnish a fleet to the Persians provided they are not bothered by them at home.

Soon after Greece is invaded by Xerxes, the Persian “King of Kings”. Bloody battles on land and sea follow. Sporadic fighting spreads to the Greek islands and Cyprus.

Then in 333 B.C. Alexander the Great at the head of his Macedonian phalanxes crosses the Hellespont in pursuit of Darius Codamannus, the Persian king, thus bringing the war into Asia. City after city go over to him.

Alexander’s conquest of the East ushurs in the Hellenistic Age. With the spread of Greek culture and ideas, a new political and social order arises and travels to the farther reaches of his empire contributing to fashion the course of the modern world in which we live.

The Greek and Persian Wars
550 to 330 B.C.

Herodotus is a Greek born during the fifth century B.C. in Halicarnassus, southwest Asia Minor. Centuries before his time the Greeks abandon their homes on the mainland, put their families and belongings in ships and sail eastwards across the Aegean. Some settle for good on the islands, others found a number of Greek cities all along the coast of Asia Minor.

As a young man Herodotus, intelligent and inquisitive, displays a great gift for story-telling. He wanders freely throughout a large part of the great Persian empire recording all he sees and hears. He is the world’s authority on the Greek and Persian wars that shook the ancient world so long ago.

This is his story.

Soon after his conquest of the empire of the Medes, Cyrus, king of Persia, is attacked by a coalition of the other great powers of the day: Babylon, Egypt and Lyclia who come to fear him, joined by Sparta, the greatest military power of Greece. In the spring of 546 B.C. the richest and most powerful man in the world, Croesus, king of Lydia, advances into Cappadocia, Asia Minor while the other kings are still feverishly gathering their troops for battle. But Cyrus cleverly attacks first, marches one thousand miles overland, even through the outlying provinces of Babylon. He defeats Croesus and follows him to his capital city. In the autumn of 546 Cyrus storms Sardis and orders that Croesus be taken alive. The Lydian kingdom henceforth becomes a province of Persia.

The gateway to Greece and the Near East now lies open before the Persian king. The Ionian Creek cities of Asia Minor, the Carians, the Lycians and the king of Cilicia humbly acknowledge Persian supremacy.

War with Babylon is inevitable. In a single swift campaign, Cyrus destroys the mighty kingdom. The army of King Nabonidus is defeated and Babylon surrenders without resistance in October 539.

In Sidon at this time Mapen and his sister Myrra live in a little stone house near the port. Their father, Elibar, is a carpenter and is greatly respected for his ability and his skill. Not only does he saw heavy logs of wood with precision for sea-faring galleys but he can also carve smaller bits of wood into various objects: luxury boxes to hold jewelry, plain boxes to hold precious spices, wooden toys with which children can play: a cow, a horse, a dog and even a small doll for Myrra. Children follow him closely when he walks through the streets of Sidon, hoping for a toy.

Mapen and Myrra not only love their father but are very proud of him. They love their mother too, because she keeps the little stone house spic and span. She also welcomes her children’s friends with warmth at any time.

Life is peaceful in Sidon. At nightfall around the fire their parents talk about what is happening in Babylon. But all this is so far away.

Then one day the mighty king of Babylon is no more. The king of Persia from afar assumes sovereignty over Babylon’s possessions on the east Mediterranean seaboard. Thus Sidon, Tyre, Byblos, Beirut, Arvad (Ruad) and the other port cities are left to themselves to enjoy a period of freedom and peace.

Great excitement spreads in Sidon and Tyre when news arrives that all displaced persons by order of Cyrus can now return to their homelands. The Jews taken to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar are allowed to proceed to Jerusalem. Cyrus grants a royal concession of Phoenician timber to the Jews to rebuild Jerusalem and their temple. Phoenician artisans make their way to Jerusalem to take part in the reconstruction of the city. In the Old Testament, Ezra (3.7) infers that Jews and Phoenicians renew commercial relations:

“So they gave money to the masons and the carpenters and food, drink and oil to the Sidonians and Tyrians to bring cedar trees from Lebanon to the sea to Joppa, according to the grant that they had from Cyrus, king of Persia.”

Cedar trees are cut on the mountains of Lebanon and rolled down the slopes. Logs are tied one to the other and dragged by teams of oxen to the port of Byblos. There they are lashed together with heavy ropes into rafts and floated down the coast.

From afar Mapen and Myrra see the logs arriving. There is a frightening sound as they collide against each other. In the port there is a large galley ready to carry the carpenter and stone masons. Elibar hugs his wife and children tight to his bosom and embarks for Tyre to pick up more artisans and then sails further south.

A year goes by . . . The children miss their father. Then one day from afar, a galley is seen slowly approaching the port. Mapen and Myrra rush to the shore. They are overjoyed to see their father once again. He has worked hard, has been well-paid and has a leather pouch full of gold pieces. But he is glad to return to the little stone house in the port. There the family receives relatives and friends who eagerly listen to the stories Elibar tells them about Jerusalem, the temple and other unfamiliar sights.

Peace reigns in the region. Trade prospers. Herodotus (1.143) tells us that the Ionian Greeks too and those living on the Greek islands in the Aegean have nothing to fear from the Persians. For the Phoenicians alone control the sea routes and are free to come and go. The Persians are not seamen nor do they have a fleet.

The situation however soon changes. Egypt alone remains unconquered by the king of Persia. In 529 B.C. Cyrus dies and is succeeded by his son, Cambyses. The conquest of Egypt is necessary if Persia is to dominate the east Mediterranean world. The Mediterranean seaboard must be taken but first an understanding reached with the kings of the Phoenician cities to supply Persia with the necessary ships and crews.

An arrangement is therefore made whereby the kings of the city-states place their fleets at the disposal of the Persian monarch. In return the cities are not occupied and are allowed to retain their native kings. All during the Persian period of domination (550 to 330 B.C.) the kings of the Phoenician cities command their naval contingents and are treated as friends and allies.

In 525 B.C. Cambyses captures Pelusium in the Delta. The fall of Memphis completes the Persian conquest of Egypt.

When Cambyses plans a campaign against Carthage, the Phoenicians refuse to sail because they consider the city is a colony of Tyre. Cambyses abandons the expedition. Herodotus (3.19-20) explains:

“Cambyses did not think fit to bring pressure to bear because the Phoenicians had taken service under him of their free will and his whole naval power was dependent on them.”

Cambyses dies. The year 521 B.C. marks the accession of Darius Hystaspis. Darius believes that the greatest danger to the Persian empire is a rebellion in a distant province. To prevent power being held by one man, he appoints three officials in each province: a satrap, a general and a secretary of state. independent of each other they spy on each other and report to the king direct.

Herodotus (3.91) lists the twenty satrapies of the Persian empire and the taxes paid by each. Phoenicia is united with Syria, Cyprus and Palestine in the Fifth Satrapy and is taxed lightly compared to the others.

Darius is the first Persian king to coin money. The Maric”, a gold coin weighing 130 grains, soon becomes the gold currency of the old World. Herodotus (4.168) tells us that silver coinage, also called Maric% is subsequently minted by a Persian satrap in Egypt.

Darius realizes the importance of good communications to hold his empire together. He orders that a royal highway with one hundred and eleven post houses link Sardis in Lydia to Susa in southern Persia. Herodotus (4.52-56) travels on this royal road. At the post houses tired horses are exchanged for fresh steeds for the onward journey. Royal courriers find shelter and the much needed rest.

But trouble is now brewing in the provinces. The Ionian cities in Asia Minor revolt against Persia. The revolt spreads to Caria and the island of Cyprus. Darius orders the Phoenician cities to assemble a fleet. Ships are sent to Cilicia to transport Persian troops to Cyprus. The fleet anchors in the bay opposite Salamis, Cyprus, facing the Ionian fleet already there. This is the very first encounter at sea between Phoenicians and Greeks. The Phoenicians lose the battle but Persian land forces gain a victory over the Cypriotes. Hatred flares up between the Phoenicians and the Greeks for the Greeks in the Aegean are a serious threat to Phoenician domination of the commercial sea lanes.

A series of rebellions follow. Sardis is taken and burned to the ground by Athenian and Ionian forces.

Next the Creek cities in Asia Minor rebel against Persia. Herodotus (5.106) tells us that in his anger Darius commands one of his attendants to repeat to him three times whenever he sits down to dine: Waster, remember the Athenians”.

A great clash is in the offing. The decisive battle between the Ionian Greeks and Persia occurs at sea In the naval battle of 494 near the island of Lade opposite Miletus, the Persians with the Phoenician fleet defeat the Ionian Greeks of Asia Minor.

Darius is pleased with the outcome of the battle and realizes that the conquest of mainland Greece will not present much difficulty. He decides to lead his army through Thrace and Macedonia with the ultimate goal of punishing Athens. Herodotus (3.136) tells us that he has already sent a spying mission of Persian nobles in Phoenician ships to the coast of Greece.

The Phoenician cities furnish a large part of the fleet led by the Persian general Mardonius in the year 492 But heavy losses occur when the ships are dashed against the rocks of Mount Athos and most of the fleet sinks.

Then comes the Persian setback at Marathon in 490 B.C. The Persian archers are cut down by the Greek phalanx of hoplites.

In 485 Darius dies and with the accession to the throne in 481 of his son Xerxes we are about to witness the greatest expedition of all times.

Forces are drawn from every quarter of the Persian empire. Two bridges are thrown across the Hellespont, the narrow strait that divides Europe from Asia (called the Dardanelles today).

At Abydos on the Propontis a lofty seat of white stone is carved out on the hilltop to enable Xerxes to look down on the seashore where his army and fleet are assembled. A race of ships is organized in his honor and the ships of Sidon win, to the king’s great pleasure. Xerxes shows a marked preference for Phoenician vessels, the Sidonian ones in particular.

Riding in his chariot, the king drives past the men of each nation, foot soldiers and cavalry, questioning them while his scribes write down the answers. Then the king alights from his chariot and, according to Herodotus (7.100) boards a ship of Sidon, sitting under a golden canopy. He sails past the prows of all the ships assembled before him, questioning the seamen and ordering that their answers be written down.

The loss of the fleet in the previous expedition off the rocky coast of Mount Athos prompts Xerxes to order that a canal be dug through the isthmus to allow his ships to pass in safety. No sooner this is done, however, the sides cave in. Phoenician engineers, Herodotus (7.23) writes, rescue the project.

in the section of the canal allotted to them, the Phoenicians dig a trench double the width at the top than at the canal level thus preventing wall collapse. The other engineers follow the Phoenicians’. example.

Xerxes, at the head of his army, marches into Thessaly and quarters his troops at Therma, Macedonia. There he embarks on a ship of Sidon to reconnoiter by sea. After the Persian victory at Thermopylae, Xerxes gives orders to proceed to Artemisium, where the Greeks await him. A fierce battle ensues. The Athenians and Sidonians fight bravely.

But the decisive battle is yet to come. Before throwing his troops into battle at Salamis, Greece, Xerxes holds a council of war. His high esteem for the king of Sidon is seen by the place assigned to him at the meeting. Herodotus (8.67) tells us “First in place is the king of Sidon and next the king of Tyre.” Among the kings and princes of Phoenicia who sail with Xerxes, Herodotus (7.98) records, are Tetramnestus, son of Anysus of Sidon, and Matten, son of Sirom (Hiram) of Tyre.

Xerxes has one woman admiral. She is Artemesia, a widow, in command of the naval contingents of Halicarnassus, Cos, Nisyra and Calydna in Asia Minor. She is the only one to object to plans for a battle at sea, claiming that the Greeks are far superior to the Persians in naval matters.

On Mount Aegaleos Xerxes surveys the naval engagement from his silver footed throne. The narrowness of the straits at Salamis and the fact the Greeks are fighting in home waters leads to the defeat and flight of the Phoenician ships. When some of the captains appear before him to furnish explanations, Xerxes has them executed on the spot. Other Phoenician commanders become so alarmed that they desert the fleet and sail away.

This is perhaps the reason why for the next fifteen years there is no record of Phoenician contingents in the service of Persia’s kings. In 465, however, the victorious Athenians threaten Cyprus. The Phoenician fleet appears in support of the Persians once again as many of the cities of Cyprus are Phoenician colonies. From 465 to 390 B.C. they protect Cyprus from the Athenians and more than once fight them off.

During the Persian period Phoenicians find the time to do a bit of business on the side and exploit mines on the island of Thasos. Herodotus (6.47) claims to have seen them: “A whole mountain has been turned upside down in the search of gold.”

In the early fourth century B.C. a very important political development takes place. Tripolis in north Lebanon is founded by Aradus, Sidon and Tyre. These cities are united by federal bonds. A historian living in the first century B.C., Diodorus Siculus (16.41.1-2) records that they convene a common council or “parliament” in Tripolis, the first to be held in the East Mediterranean world.

In the meantime, the pharaohs of the Twenty-ninth and Thirtieth dynasties stir rebellions in Cyprus against the Persians. Repeated attempts by the Persian king to regain Egypt, conquered earlier by Cambyses, fail. The Phoenicians and the kings of Cyprus now show open contempt of the Persians. In 366 the Phoenician cities join dissident satraps who wish to break away from the empire. In 358 Artaxerxes Ill (Ochus) ascends the throne of Persia. He feels he cannot deal with any rebellion until he conquers Egypt. His failure to do so brings forth the great Phoenician revolt led by Tennes, king of Sidon.

The Persian king’s satraps and generals dwell in Sidon. Nearby is a beautiful royal park, where the kings of Persia hunt called the paradeisos in Creek (from the old Persian term pardes, meaning “garden”). This Greek word has been passed on from one generation to another to mean “paradise” in our days, a place of beauty and delight.

The first hostile act of the Sidonians is to cut down and destroy the royal park, then they burn the fodder for the horses. Next they arrest Persian officials.

Ambassadors are sent to Egypt to seek aid from the pharaoh. In return, King Tennes receives four thousand Creek mercenaries. Adding these men to his own forces, Tennes defeats the satraps and drives them out of Phoenicia.

The year is 351 B.C. Artaxerxes 111 is in Babylon and hastily assembles a large army. News of its great size reaches Tennes. Fearing that his forces cannot hold them off, the king of Sidon treacherously decides to come to secret terms with the Persians in order to save his own life.

Without the knowledge of his people, Tennes sends Thettalion, a faithful attendant, to the Persians with a promise he will betray Sidon. Tennes will also assist the Persian king defeat Egypt, for according to Diodorus (16.43.2), he is familiar with the topography of Egypt as well as the landing-places along the Nile. Thettalion returns to Sidon and reports on the success of his mission.

The conquest of Egypt at this point is of great importance. Persian envoys are sent to the cities of Greece for reinforcements. Thebes despatches one thousand men, Argos sends three thousand and the Ionian Greeks of Asia Minor send six thousand. Artaxerxes does not wait for them to arrive and, at the head of his troops, marches on Sidon.

The Sidonians dig triple ditches and raise high fortifications. They store up food, armor and missiles. In wealth and resources Sidon by far excels her sister-cities. There is an important number of Greek mercenaries available ready to fight. More important still is the fact that Sidon possesses over one hundred triremes and quinqeremes.

All this feverish activity raises the suspicion of young Straton, the son of a respected palace official. For some time now his father has remained at court all the time and has not come home at night. From an upstairs window Straton can easily see who enters and leaves through the palace gates. He begins to fear for his father’s life.

In those days it was usual for a king to hire foreign mercenaries to swell the ranks of his army. These men are paid generously for their services. Since they love money, adventure and the dangers of warfare, they are proud of their condition and insolently swagger through the streets of Sidon. Straton does not trust them, nor does he like them. After all, a man who is paid for his services can easily switch to another master if the pay is better.

Tennes in secret confides to Mentor, the commander of the Greek mercenaries in Sidon, that he plans to hand over the city to the Persians. Leaving him in control behind, the king at the head of five hundred citizens, leaves the city pretending he is going to meet with the kings of other Phoenician cities to plan a united strategy. On this pretext he also takes with him one hundred of the city’s most distinguished citizens to serve as advisors. Among them is the father of Straton.

Upon approaching the Persian camp, Tennes and the one hundred Sidonians are suddenly seized and handed over to the king. Artaxerxes welcomes Tennes as a friend but has the dignitaries executed as the instigators of the plot. Then come the five hundred Sidonian notables carrying olive branches as suppliants. They too one by one are shot down and fall to the ground.

Tennes assures the Persian king that he will now deliver Sidon to him. He leads the way and approaches the part of the fortifications held by Mentor and the Greek mercenaries. They allow the Persians inside the city walls. Thus Sidon, by Tennes’ betrayal, is secretly delivered to the Persians. Now that Tennes is of no further use to him, Artaxerxes at once has him put to death.

Unaware of their king’s betrayal, the Sidonians in the meantime take many precautions to defend their city. They burn all their ships so that the townspeople will remain to fight off the Persians and cannot secretly sail away.

Diodorus (16.45.3-6) tells us that when the Sidonians see the myriads of soldiers entering the city and swarming over the city walls, they shut themselves, their wives, children and servants in their houses. Straton and his mother do the same. Once the doors and windows are bolted securely, they set their homes on fire. Plumes of dust and smoke rise over the city. About forty thousand perish in the flames. A vast amount of silver and gold is melted down by the fire. This treasure is gathered up and later sold by the Persian king for many talents.

News of the disaster that has destroyed Sidon spreads far and wide. The remaining Phoenician cities, panicstricken, go over to the Persians. After the destruction of Sidon and the arrival of his Greek mercenaries, Artaxerxes marches towards Egypt. The pharaoh picks up all his possessions and flees to Ethiopia. Artaxerxes installs a Persian satrap in Egypt and. starts the long march back to Babylon. The year is 350 B.C. —

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