The Phoenicians

From Egypt we move North to the Mediterranean Sea where over the next 1,000 years the Phoenicians were the prime sea merchants of the region.  These Semitic sea-traders were not strictly defined to a specific region and were ruled by various empires in the region including the Egyptians, Hittites, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, and Greeks (1).

Spaceship Earth Concept Art by Claudio Mazzoli
Spaceship Earth Concept Art by Claudio Mazzoli

Commerce

A rough map of their trade route below illustrates how vast their commerce spread.

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The Phoenicians offered many imports and exports throughout the region:

  • Copper, silver, gold and tin trade
  • Decorated metal bowls
  • Pottery (bowls, plates, flasks, jugs, pitchers, storage jars, lamps)*
  • Lead, textiles, jewelry, perfumes, glass (2)

*Displayed prominently in the ride scene.

Some of these were created by the Phoenicians and others were part of the regional trade.   Some more noteworthy exports include the following:

Carving/Engraving

The Phoenicians were skilled craftsmen with carving in wood and in ivory.  The carved ivory would be made for inlaid furniture.  You can see ivory tusks very clearly in this scene where the two ships meet for an exchange.

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Timber

The Egyptians had no wood but needed cedar for coffins and other woods to build their temples.  Since the Phoenicians had the ships and were able to get the lumber from areas such as Byblos they became major lumber exporters.

Tyrian Purple

One of the most prized exports of the Phoenician people is the red/purple dye known as “Tyrian Purple” as most of it was produced in the city of Tyre.   This dye was the mark of royalty and worth much more than its weight in gold.  Its made by breaking the shells of the munex (mollusk species), and extracting their glands which are processed with the side effect of a horrific stench.  A single ounce requires thousands of mollusks (2).  It was commonly used with wool and these colored textiles were also part of their trade. 

You can see the captain of this ship in the scene is in purple, and therefore royalty or rich!

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Copyright Jennifer Lurie

ABCs

Perhaps the most important export of trade for the Phoenicians was the alphabet.  When the Phoenicians created their new alphabet, they worked from symbols that were already in use among the Semitic-speaking peoples of Canaan and Mesopotamia (1).  We know from the previous Egyptian Scene that the Egyptians had the writing system based on pictograms (hieroglyphics).  

phoenician

The Phoenicians took the pictograms and added the acrophonic principle – naming of letters of an alphabetic writing system so that a letter’s name begins with the letter itself.  For example, the pictogram/symbol  for a house which was in north west Semitic language is pronounced as “beth” would now just represent “b”.  They did this for 22 consonants and no vowels.

The writing was used across the region in trade to document their transactions.  The agreements for purchase were typically fixed term agreements and pacts.  Ironically, the very folks responsible for sharing these 22 letters have barely any written evidence that remains.   The new portable methods for text were also perishable so the materials such as wood, papyrus and parchment from antiquity did not stand the test of time.  Just imagine your park map after the first day of Food and Wine without the glossy coating!

 Thank the Phoenicians…

“Thank the Phoenicians” from Judy Dench’s narration  has become one of the more quotable lines from EPCOT.  So much so that its started a bit of a cult following.  The Phoenicians even have a Twitter Feed!

Remember how easy it was to learn your ABC’s? Thank the Phoenicians, they invented them.

Twinsies!

Because animatronics are complex, time intensive to create, and expensive – its common to duplicate the models that are made and dress them differently.   In this scene – Phoenician Sea Captain is said to also be the Store Owner in the Great Depression scene in American Adventure (3).

February 15, 2008 – current
Narrated by Judy Dench

At this point each civilization has its own form of writing which none of the other’s can understand. But the Phoenicians, who trade with all of them have a solution. They create a simple common alphabet adaptable to most languages. Remember how easy it was to learn your ABC’s? Thank the Phoenicians, they invented them.

November 23, 1994 to July 9, 2007
Narrated by Jeremy Irons

Phoenician merchants established the earliest commercial highways trading goods and information at distant ports of call. To aid in record keeping, they created the first common alphabet and shared this new tool across the Mediterranean..

May 26, 1986 to August 15, 1994
Narrated by Walter Cronkite

The value of writing for accurate record keeping appeals to Phoenician merchants. They create an alphabet, simple enough for any to learn, and share this new tool at ports along the Mediterranean.

October 1, 1982 – May 25, 1986
Narrated by Larry Dobkin

On fine Phoenician ships, we take our scrolls to sea. Real scrolls simplified by an alphabet, eagerly shared at distant ports of call.

July 22, 1977 – Ray Bradbury script

And then we put our walls on ships – sailed out across the seas to share what we had learned…how to plant – and grow – and build; To trade our goods and exchange our good ideas with far and distant lands.


  1. http://www.ushistory.org/civ/4f.asp
  2. Markoe, G.E. (2000). People of the Past: Phoenicians. California. University of California Press.
  3.  https://www.mouseplanet.com/10075/Some_Secrets_of_Spaceship_Earth