Learn about the enduring legacy of the Phoenicians, masters of the seas, and pioneers in science, philosophy, literature, and trade.
The Phoenicians were known as great seafarers and their mastery of maritime trade and navigation allowed them to establish a vast network of colonies and trading posts throughout the Mediterranean. Their maritime prowess was key to their success and enduring legacy as one of the most influential civilizations of the ancient world.
These trailblazers excelled in a dizzying array of disciplines, from the arts to science, from trade to philosophy. They were the masters of the seas, the architects of powerful city-states, and the visionaries who changed the course of history. But the most enduring legacy of the Phoenicians is their gift to the world of language. The Phoenician alphabet, a groundbreaking invention that revolutionized communication, lives on today in countless forms, from the flowing script of Arabic to the crisp lines of English.
And speaking of philosophy, the Phoenicians had geniuses who explored the mysteries of existence with depth. Mochus of Sidon, a Phoenician philosopher, crafted an ‘Atomic Theory’ that challenged conventional wisdom and laid the groundwork for modern physics. Meanwhile, Porphyry of Tyre dove into Neoplatonism, pushing the boundaries of what we could know about the universe
Euclid was a mathematician born in Tyre, south Lebanon, around 325 BC. He is known as the founder of geometry and is famous for his work called “Elements”, which was a very influential work in the history of mathematics up to the early 20th century. His work consists of a collection of 13 books that cover a wide range of topics, including plane geometry, solid geometry, number theory, and algebra. The books are organized in a logical and systematic way, with each new concept building upon the previous one.
In “The Elements,” Euclid presents a rigorous approach to geometry that is based on a set of axioms and definitions. These axioms are statements that are assumed to be true without proof, and from these axioms, Euclid derives a series of propositions that are proved using deductive reasoning. This approach is now known as Euclidean geometry and has become the foundation for modern geometric thinking.
Additionally, Euclid is believed to have studied with the followers of Plato in Athens before moving to Alexandria, where he taught at the city’s famous library. There, he worked with other scholars to compile a comprehensive set of mathematical works that came to be known as the “Alexandrian School.”
Pythagoras was born on the island of Samos in 568 BC. His father, Mnesarchus, was a Phoenician merchant from Tyre, while his mother, Pythais, was from Samos. He is best known for the Pythagorean theorem, which states that the square of the hypotenuse of a right triangle is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides. Pythagoras founded a religious and philosophical movement known as Pythagoreanism, which had a profound influence on the development of Western philosophy and mathematics. Although much of his life and work remains shrouded in mystery and legend, Pythagoras is widely regarded as one of the most important figures in the history of mathematics and philosophy.
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3. Zeno, Founder of the Stoic Philosophy
Zeno was born around 334 BC in Citium, a Phoenician colony located in Cyprus. Though some argue that he might be Greek since Citium was home to both Phoenician and Greek populations.
Zeno worked as a merchant until he came across a book called ‘The Memorabilia’, written by Xenophon, a student of the famous Greek philosopher Socrates. The book included discussions with Socrates, his philosophy, and Xenophon’s experiences as his pupil. The book deeply intrigued Zeno, prompting him to abandon his previous career and devote himself to the study of philosophy. Eventually, he became the founder of Stoicism.
Porphyry Malchus of Tyre, who lived from 223 to 309 AD, was born in Tyre and received his education in Athens before joining Plotinus’ Neoplatonic group in Rome to further his studies in philosophy. Porphyry was highly knowledgeable and had a keen interest in historical and philological criticism. He was determined to expose false teachings and inspire people to pursue the good, with the ultimate goal of achieving the salvation of the soul through philosophy.
Porphyry’s parents were both Phoenicians, and his father’s name was Malkhos or Malchus, which means ‘king.’ He was known as Malchus for many years, and only later acquired the nickname, Porphyry. Porphyry wrote solely in Greek, and before coming to Rome, he was a student of Longinus in Athens.
As a young man, Porphyry sought knowledge by studying various languages and religions. Athens was the primary center of learning at that time, and it was natural for someone as curious as Porphyry to travel there to continue his education. He became a pupil of Longinus, who was renowned for his vast knowledge and critical thinking abilities and had a profound impact on Porphyry’s academic development.
Sanchuniathon was an ancient Phoenician author who lived in the ancient city of Beirut during the 13th century BCE. He is best known for his work, “Phoenician History,” which is believed to be the oldest surviving work of Phoenician literature.
Sanchuniathon’s work is primarily focused on the mythology and history of the Phoenician people, and it provides valuable insight into the religious beliefs and cultural practices of this ancient civilization. His account of the creation of the universe and the early history of humanity is especially noteworthy, as it offers a unique perspective on the origin of the world and the role of the gods in human affairs.
Unfortunately, very little of Sanchuniathon’s original work has survived to the present day, and most of what we know about him comes from the writings of the Christian bishop Eusebius, who referenced his work.
Despite the limited nature of the surviving material, however, Sanchuniathon remains an important figure in the study of ancient Near Eastern history and culture.
6. Philo of Byblos
Philo of Byblos, also known as Philo Byblius or Philo the Phoenician, was a Hellenized Phoenician writer and compiler who lived in the first century AD. He is best known for his work titled “Phoenician History,” which provides important information about the history, mythology, and religion of the ancient Phoenicians.
Philo’s “Phoenician History” is a compilation of various texts that were originally written in the Phoenician language. These texts were then translated into Greek by Philo, who added his own commentary and interpretation. The work is divided into several sections, each dealing with a different aspect of Phoenician history and culture.
One of the most significant sections of the “Phoenician History” is the section on religion. In this section, Philo describes the Phoenician gods and goddesses and their associated myths and rituals. He also explains the role of the Phoenician priests in religious life and the importance of sacrifice and divination.
Another important section of “Phoenician History” is the section on the history of the Phoenicians. Philo traces the origins of the Phoenicians to a mythological figure named “Phoinix” and describes their migration from the eastern Mediterranean to the coast of modern-day Lebanon. He also provides information about the Phoenician cities, their economy, and their relationships with other civilizations.
7. Mochus of Sidon
Mochus was a renowned scholar from Sidon, Phoenicia, who lived before the Trojan Wars in the 13th century BC. Although not much is known about his life, he was recognized in the ancient world for his ‘Atomic Theory’. The origin of his name is uncertain, but it may come from two root words meaning “to clear unattended land” and “uneven hard land” in Phoenician and Aramaic. He founded a school in Beirut that lasted until the 6th century BC. Mochus is cited by several ancient writers, including Diogenes Laërtius, Athenaeus of Egypt, Strabo, Josephus, Tatian, and Eusebius. He is credited as the originator of the atomic theory, which was later developed by Leucippus, a Greek scholar in the fifth century BC.
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