The Greeks and Egyptians have a lot of good press as ancient civilizations. But the Phoenicians aren’t too well known, in my opinion.

When I looked into the origins of the alphabet, on a whim, I discovered that I couldn’t place where Phoenicia was nor much about the culture, whose alphabet is the parent script of all Western alphabets.

This would make a pretty awesome code for a super nerdy, yet gossipy 13 year old girl. No more notes written in pig-latin or backwards. Naw man, write your secrets in Phoenician. 

The Phoenicians, according to Wikipedia, were “an ancient civilization in Canaan which covered most of the western, coastal part of the Fertile Crescent. … It was an enterprising maritime trading culture that spread across the Mediterranean from 1550 BC to 300 BC.” Canaan was “a historical region roughly corresponding to modern-day IsraelPalestineLebanon, and the western parts of Jordan.”

“‘Phoenicia’ is really a Classical Greek term used to refer to the region of the major Canaanite port towns, and does not correspond exactly to a cultural identity that would have been recognized by the Phoenicians themselves.”

According to Herodotus, an ancient Greek historian writing in the 5th century BCE, the Phoenicians formerly dwelt in what is now Yemen and moved to the Mediterranean shores of Canaan. They were excellent sailors who traded all along the Mediterranean until Alexander the Great moved into the area in 332 BCE and it all fell apart politically.

They traded something called powdered Tyrian Purple, extracted from sea snails, which at one point fetched its weight in silver. And we think couture is expensive now-a-days. I wonder if an YSL gown is worth its weight in silver? But I digress,… “In fact, the word Phoenician derives from the Ancient Greek word phoínios meaning ‘purple’.”

“The dye substance consists of a mucous secretion from the hypobranchial gland of one of several medium-sized predatory sea snails found in the eastern Mediterranean.” And why, pray tell, would snails produce fancy purple snot? “In nature the snails use the secretion as part of their predatory behaviour and as an antimicrobial lining on egg masses. The snail also secretes this substance when it is poked or physically attacked by humans. Therefore the dye can be collected either by “milking” the snails, which is more labour intensive but is arenewable resource, or by collecting and then crushing the snails completely, which is destructive. David Jacoby remarks that ‘twelve thousand snails of Murex brandaris yield no more than 1.4 g of pure dye, enough to colour only the trim of a single garment.'” Ouch.

And then my next thought is, who the heck figures that out? Wiki answer: “The Roman mythographer Julius Pollux, writing in the 2nd century BC, asserted (Onomasticon I, 45–49) that the purple dye was first discovered by Heracles, or rather, by his dog, whose mouth was stained purple from chewing on snails along the coast of the Levant. ”

Another argument for dogs being necessary in creating civilization.


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