Phoenician colonies

Phoenicia, foremost in so many things, was also the world's first planter of colonies. Her mission, in the mighty scheme of Providence, was the spreading of civilization broadcast over the earth. Later ages have recognized this by ascribing to the Phoenicians the beginning of letters, of literature, the invention of the alphabet. Recent research disproves this tradition in its broader form; for both Egyptians and Babylonians had a written language long before we hear of the Phoenicians. And while these earlier forms of writing used many word-signs-that is, symbols representing not letters, but entire words-they had also some genuine letters, that is, signs for a single sound of the lips, ready for combination into many words. The only credit attaching to the Phoenicians is that they recognized the immensely superior convenience of the sound-signs over the word-signs. They saw that word-signs require writer and reader to learn separately and remember as many thousand signs as there are words, whereas sound-signs can, by twenty or thirty letters, express every word. Accordingly the Phoenicians, for purposes of trade, simplified the many signs they gathered from Babylon or Egypt, and reduced the elaborate system to our modern alphabet. This alphabet they carried with them to every coast, and the entire civilized world uses it, almost unchanged, today.

The earliest Phoenician colonies seem to have been sent out by Sidon, the "mother city." They were trading-stations, intended to gather for Sidonian ships the merchandise of their neighborhood. They served also as a shelter for those same ships in time of need; for we must not think of the Phoenicians as modern traders. They were not averse to plunder of the frankest and most savage kind. Many legends have come down to us of these ruddy-faced marauders coaxing simple folk down to trade upon the shore, and then seizing the unfortunates suddenly and carrying them off to slavery. Slavers, tricksters, pirates, murderers, or peaceful colonists, it was all one to these world-defying Phoenicians in the way of business. Hence a wrecked Phoenician crew could hope for little kindness in a foreign land. They had grave need of sheltering "daughter" cities of their own.

With the rise of Tyre, about 1200 B.C., Phoenician colonization took a new and bolder impetus. As early as 1100 B.C. the Tyrians had not only one colony, but many, out beyond the Strait of Gibraltar, along the Atlantic coasts of Spain and Africa. Southern Spain, the whole fertile valley of the river Guadalquivir, with Cadiz as its capital, was the "Tarshish" of the Phoenicians, the source of their chief cargoes of precious metals and of grain. The settlers of Cadiz became in their turn explorers, and knew the whole Atlantic coast as far as England, where they worked in mines of their own. Probably they even penetrated the cold and distant waters of the Baltic.

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Read about Phoenician colonies in the The Story of the Greatest Nations and the Worlds Famous Events Vol 1

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