THE PHOENICIANS: The Purple Empire of the Ancient World by Gerhard Herm

THE PHOENICIANS: The Purple Empire of the Ancient World

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For nearly 2000 years, the sea, dangerous and infinite, was the Phoenicians' home. They had footholds on the Bosphorus, in Italy, in Sicily, on the Spanish and North African coasts; their agents had insinuated themselves into the councils of nearly every government. But the Phoenicians were not really comfortable on dry land. In popular tones, and with sly little academic smiles, Herin describes the rise and sway of Phoenicia's never-very-exactly-defined empire of posts, colonies and city-states; its slow dissolution after Alexander's sacking of Tyre (333332 B.C.), and the leveling of Phoenician civilization under the impact of Hellenistic culture (though some cities retained geographical importance even under the Romans). While the Phoenicians are remembered today for their alphabet, which replaced cuneiform and hieroglyphics, and for their purple dyes, to the startled landsmen of antiquity the sudden appearance by sea of these swaggering (or toadying, if called for) mariners ""must have seemed a cross between a fairground attraction and supernatural beings."" They worshipped the fertility gods Baal and Astarte and were a lively, resilient people. Herm details the artistry of their glass industry (with low-priced products underselling objects in metal and clay) and how they made purple dye from the glands of small sea snails. The treasuries, storehouses and temples of the Levant, and especially of Tyre, are evoked with ornamental luxuriousness, as are the great gardens and residences of Sidon (""the kingdom of flowers""). The Phoenicians' metaphysics married eastern and western gods, prepared the way for Christendom, and influenced present-day theosophy. Sometimes vivid, with a fair stride.

Pub Date: Aug. 13th, 1975
Page count: 895pp