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It's been a long month, and I didn't mean to sleep on this as much as I have been. February's Civilization of the Month is Phoenicia.
Phoenicia is, as it usually happens, not what the people actually called themselves. They were a Semitic culture who referred to themselves in writing as "kn'n", which ties to their roots as a spoke in the umbrella culture of the Canaanites. As a seafaring people, the Phoenicians colonized the Mediterranean coast extensively, and while kn'n eventually became a word referring to their ancestral homeland (in what is today largely Lebanon), we still have reference to the North African post-Carthaginians calling themselves "chanani" centuries later in Late Antiquity.
"Phoenicia", meanwhile, comes down to us to the Greeks, who gave us a lot of ancient names due to writing their mouthy little asses off about everyone, refers to the particular shade of purple dye that the Phoenicians made their riches from trading. The Romans, shameless Hellaboos that they were, took this in stride and called them "Poeni", which is where we get Punic in reference to the Carthaginian wars.
The story of the Phoenicians is one typically told by others. Though famed for their alphabet, which became the backbone of the Western literary tradition, their writings were almost entirely done on papyrus, which has sadly not withstood the test of time. Still, they were apparently so known for their use of papyrus that the Phoenician city of Byblos became the Greek word for paper, and then for books as a whole. But because of this lack of voice on their part, and because they were not a great imperialist land power like their neighbors, the Phoenicians often seem to sit on the sidelines of the typical view of ancient history.
The first mention of the Canaanite peoples is an inscribed statue from the 16th century BC of an Akkadian king named Idrimi, which describes a war in which he is forced to leave his land, makes a treaty in Canaan with a king of Umman-Manda (some form of steppe nomad, the Akkadian term literally translates to "the horde from who-knows-where")and returns with an army to claim his land from the Hittites. After that, the area falls under Egyptian hegemony for the rest of the Old Kingdom, which is great for us because they wrote quite a bit.
The timeline we have is such: Out of the murk of prehistory, the Sumerian idea of urbanization spread across Mesopotamia. This took root in Jericho, which had been a sizeable town since the Neolithic period, as well as in other coastal Canaanite settlements such as Byblos, Sidon and Tyre. It's difficult to put an exact number on the highly semantic difference between these things becoming cities out of large towns, but soon after the Akkadian Empire, and more importantly for Canaan, the Egyptian Old Kingdom collapsed in the 22nd century BC, the insane Rube Goldberg device that was the Early Bronze Age Collapse struck the entirety of Mesopotamia, and everyone went back to the fields for a while.
Eventually urban life resurfaced, and the Canaanite region in particular began to sprout city-states everywhere, strengthening in Egypt's decline, to the point that the Hyksos, who are now believed to belong to the Canaanite culture, actually ruled the Delta for long enough to be counted among the pharaonic dynasties (number fifteen, if you're curious) until they were given the boot a century later in the 16th century BC. At this point Egypt ceases languishing in its Intermediate Periods and Middle Kingdom dynasties, and the New Kingdom is established.
In 1460 BC, if Egyptian timekeeping records are to be believed, Thutmose III, the "Napoleon of Egypt", conquered essentially all of Canaan at the age of 21. This was a huge deal for Egypt, which was a river society and a Mediterranean superpower in a land without trees, and desperately needed the cedar from the lush Levantine forests. Canaan would remain so until the reign of Amenhotep (1386-1349 BC), during which time the Hittites in the north chipped away at the Canaanite territories, taking advantage of the strife caused by the emergence of transient Habiru populations (a barely understood nomadic social/cultural class that seems to have done little besides attack cities and make people angry. They're a complicated bunch, and a fun wikipedia article to look up). This landgrabbing was only exacerbated during the reign of Akhenaten, Amenhotep III's successor, who instigated radical religious and social reform within Egypt which resulted in great internal strife, giving the Hittites further incentive to continue pecking at Canaan. This conflict would be mitigated by the rise of the Middle Assyrian Empire, which would expand throughout Mesopotamia throughout the next three centuries, including most of Canaan.
Faced with this new player in the geopolitical game, Egypt and the Hittites made peace, until the second great Rube Goldberg device, the fun one, with the Sea People, arrived in the form of the Bronze Age Collapse (c1200-1150BC). Empires splintered, cities burned, and the non-coastal parts of Canaan were seized by the Arameans, who then spread their language to their new subjects. I've been looking for a good place to make the narrative switch from the Canaanites to the name the Greeks would coin for them, and I think this is it. Canaan is dead, long live Phoinikos.
For the next four hundred years, in the absence of a large player to boss them around, the Phoenicians would do what they'd already been doing, but without a tithe on their backs: get rich using boats. From Tyre, purple dye made of an ointment painstakingly collected from local snails was made. This, along with cedar lumber, wine, glass, textiles, slaves and pottery made Phoenicia a potent mercantile entity along the Mediterranean. From Greece to Egypt, and all the stops in between, Phoenicia stuffed its pockets. This, combined with the adventurer's spirit that seems to naturally accompany a seaborne life, led the people to expand.
Soon, Phoenician colonies began to freckle the Mediterranean coast (moreso than they had before the collapse), leading to even more profit: silver from Sardinia and Iberia, more dye in Mogador in what's now Morocco. Carthage was established in 814BC as a trading outpost, but as a city on the tip of the clinching of the Med between Africa and Italy, became strategically essential, as did the colony on Sicily across the way. All of this was helped by their system of writing, first seen in the tenth century BC, which evolved at first from the hieratic script used in nonreligious Egyptian affairs. Stripped of archaic and culture-bound pictographic meanings, each symbol was assigned a unique sound. Why learn hundreds of unique characters when you could just learn 22 and then sound it out? This, along with their method of winemaking and the handled pots the Greeks would call "amphoras", proved immensely popular among the surrounding cultures, many of whom adopted it immediately, then added their own little flairs, like vowels and a left-to-right reading order in the Hellenic case.