Phoenicia, in ancient times, a coastal strip along the eastern Mediterranean Sea. It included the coast of what is now Lebanon and adjoining parts of Israel and Syria. The Phoenicians were sea traders and established colonies throughout the Mediterranean, the most notable being Carthage. The Greeks probably got their alphabet from the Phoenicians, who had one as early as 1000 B.C.
The great age of Phoenician trade was between 1200 and 700 B.C. Colonies and trading posts were established on Cyprus, Sardinia, and Malta, and in North Africa and Spain. Phoenician ships may have sailed as far north as Britain. By way of the Red Sea, they traded with east Africa, southern Arabia, and India. Chief articles of trade were purple dye, timber, carved furniture, jewelry, textiles, glass, and copperware.
The Phoenicians, a Semitic people, were Canaanites who lived in the coastal area north of the Hebrews. Phoenicia was not a unified kingdom but a group of independent city-states, which on occasion formed a temporary league. The leading cities were Sidon and Tyre. Another city was Byblos, from which comes the word “bible” (because the city exported papyrus for writing). El, Baal, and Astarte were the chief gods and goddesses worshiped in Phoenicia.
In 677 B.C. Sidon was destroyed by the Assyrians, and Tyre paid heavy tribute. When Assyrian rule ended about 630 B.C., the Phoenicians had already lost much of the Mediterranean trade to the Greeks and Carthaginians. Phoenicia became subject, in turn, to the Babylonians, Persians, and Macedonians. Alexander the Great destroyed Tyre in 332 B.C. after a seven-month siege. In 64 B.C. Phoenicia was annexed to the Roman province of Syria. By then it had lost virtually all distinction from neighboring regions.