P. Edronkin

Ungrateful To Phoenicians



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The countries that exist today in northern Africa, including Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Tunisia and Egypt have within their territories very significant archaeological and historical sites that tell a lot about the first cultures and civilisations that occupied the area long before the Christians or the Islam. The case of Rome is perhaps the best know, for the Romans managed to fetch the whole Mediterranean sea for themselves: the virtual owners of the 'Mare Nostrum' are the people who wrote the most about the history of their own dominions, or at least, the most attractive stories that became part of popular folklore. However, we should not forget about the Jews, Persians, Egyptians, Greeks, and particularly about the Phoenicians.

Persia, Egypt and ancient Israel were important kingdoms indeed, but they didn't have a widespread presence in the Mediterranean as in the case of Greece, Rome or Phoenicia, and this last nation is especially interesting for its final fate at the hands of the Romans sealed its historical legacy for centuries. The Phoenicians are not frequently valued at the same level of their achievements: long before anyone on Earth ventured out of the surroundings of their own, Phoenicians abandoned the safety of their motherland, located in what is now Lebanon, and settled colonies as far as what we now know as Portugal Spain and the Atlantic coasts of Morocco. Their skills as merchants and navigators become clear when we consider that even today, because of marine currents, it is difficult to navigate near Gibraltar, something that they did routinely, going from the Mediterranean and into the Atlantic Ocean and vice versa. Only many centuries later the Portuguese ventured out of the Mediterranean and surpassed the Phoeniians (Ver Ships of Adventure, Exploration and Survival).

Rome was the staunchest enemy of Carthage, the superpower city-state of the late historical period y Phoenician culture. Military destruction was the most obvious way to get rid of the city, but other subtle means proved equally effective: Vergil's Aeneid is an epic poem written at a time (around 29 B.C.) in which Rome had just ceased to be a republic and was headed into Empire building at a world-class scale; but the Aeneid, a constructed myth that emulated Homer's Iliad in many ways was also meant to ridicule the origins of Carthage and the Carthaginians after they were wiped out in a particularly bloody and vicious way: it was indeed, an attempt to eradicate Phoenicians out of history. But things didn't end up there, and Romans put particular emphasis in portraying Phoenicia as a land of mercenaries, elephants and above all, human sacrifices and cruelty.

However, if we consider that the city of Corinth, in Greece, and not related in any way to the Carthaginians suffered a similar fate at the hands of besieging Roman legions, it becomes evident that at the time, Rome had adopted a strategy to become an empire, which consisted, among other things in the obliteration of any potentially serious rival. One of the common myths created by roman propaganda about Carthage was that of the sacrifices of small children: alleged proof of that is specifically a place near the ancient city of Carthage where carved stones were erected in large numbers, and according to the Romans, those were commemorations of each sacrifice. However, it has been demonstrated that these stelae are not in their original positions, thus disqualifying part of the Roma claim, and more importantly, the place or room which according to belief was used to actually kill the children was actually built during the Roman occupation.

Moreover: while it is true that dead children were found in association to altars and stelae, there is a striking fact: Phoenicians used stone coffins to bury their dead, and those bodies found in such burial conditions are found pretty intact still today. However, coffins were rarely used, at least for the burial of children. They are rare and so are child corpses found in such conditions: but if child rate mortality at the time is considered - it has been estimated at around 40% for the youngest ones - and the great number of child remains found in association to alleged sacrificial altars, another, much more plausible explanation comes forward: those altars were used indeed for the disposal of children, but dead ones, as their corpses were cremated following certain religious protocols.

This is just one of the intriguing facts about the Phoenicians and it would be impossible to enumerate all oddities and peculiarities about this ancient culture in just one article but one thing becomes clear, though, and that is that archaeological and historical hard evidence suggest once more that history should not be interpreted according to the desires of the conquerors. The Romans were incredibly successful in tainting the reputation of the Phoenician people as barbarous and cruel when in fact it was a culture that existed long before Rome or Greece, and we even owe it the basis of the alphabet used to write what you are reading right now.




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