BMCR 2001.05.09


, Phoenicians. Peoples of the past. Avon (London): British Museum Press, 2000. 224 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations (some color) ; 25 cm.. ISBN 0714120952 $45.00.

In addition to other “Phoenicians” volumes available in English, Markoe’s belongs on everyone’s bookshelf. Classicists, historians, art historians and students may rely on its extensive research and reasonable interpretation of all topics of Phoenician and Punic culture. Constraints of the publisher’s series format, however (cf. Saggs’s Babylonians and Tubb’s Canaanites), preclude its being the only work one needs. It will need to be supplemented with more reference material, but it is utterly sound, absolutely up-to-date, readable and engaging. M.’s footnotes are useful for some recent starter references and ancient literary sources, but non-experts will find it a bit difficult to confirm some of the statements of fresh evidence or unusual details.1 My only complaint is the series format, to blame for the paucity of footnotes, slim bibliography, and the relative brevity of discussion under topics, like art, in which M. is an acknowledged authority.

M. emphasizes Phoenician culture with slightly less detail for Carthage and the Punic West. In fact, Aubet and Lancel (see note 1) do cover Punic regions, and the Phoenician information is significant here—new finds from Beirut, for instance, are described (81-82, 201-202), and the results of other recent finds in Lebanon, Syria and Israel are made accessible, along with a thoughtful analysis of the epigraphic documentation for early Phoenician and Canaanite culture. M.’s synthesis of the development (what used to be called “origins”) of Phoenician culture from the Bronze Age Canaanite/Levantine substrate is a much-needed antidote to older general works. Put simply, the only reasonable interpretation of the stratigraphy, epigraphy, cult architecture, and art of Early Iron Age Phoenicia is that it represents the evolution of the material culture, language and commercial milieu of its Late Bronze Age predecessors along the entire Levantine littoral.2

A millennium of Phoenician culture is treated in broad categories: history, “the city”, commerce and industry, language, religion, “material culture” (art), and commercial expansion. Thus different aspects of a site or monument may appear in several chapters (e.g. the battle for Alalia is at 55 and 84). An appendix gives brief sketches of homeland cities, while colonies are discussed under commercial expansion. (For comparable description of Spanish sites, consult Aubet 1993.) The history of Phoenicia shows a resourceful set of cities caught between Mesopotamia/Anatolia and Egypt but able to keep their heads down and survive, often by being the maritime purveyors of goods like silver, copper, tin or iron required by the foreign war machines, or by joining them, as in becoming the “Persian fleet” of classical history. M. makes admirable use of scrappy and frequently overlooked sources, such as coins (see “Economy” as well as history section), as for the Persian period in the Levant, although it might be risky to count on a single example as an historical proof (p. 59, Straton I/ Abdashtart).

I agree that the Tale of Wen-Amun (26 ff., 93ff.) offers valuable background to Iron Age Levantine commerce, but it does not actually recount a strict “purchase” transaction, in which the Egyptian emissary “buys” cedar timbers for Amun’s temple with Egyptian gold. The situation, as noted by Goedicke, H., The Report of Wenamun (Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1975), is much more complex: pharaoh’s position is that he already “owns” the timbers, since Byblos is his vassal. King Zekarbaal, on his side, needs the royal “gifts” as proof to his subjects of his liaison with powerful Egypt—how else than by gift exchange can subjects and enemies see that a long-distance political relationship is still healthy? The religio-political interpretation of this event could serve to enliven our understanding of the later “princely tombs” of Cyprus, Spain and Etruria, and the Orientalizing phenomenon in the Mediterranean in general…

For interpretation of Phoenician positions in the central Mediterranean, the evidence can be pushed further. The foundation of Carthage, for instance, was not planned merely to accommodate overflow population or political dissidents; its location, position and size were obviously chosen to be militarily strategic, controlling sailing routes to and from the Italian archipelago and West, with enough greenspace walled in to feed a large populace during a protracted siege (for full details of Carthage, consult Lancel and recent excavation reports, especially in Römische Mitteilungen).

Etruscan objects in 6th-century Carthaginian burials, including the Byrsa tombs, do represent commercial connections (as noted 55, 102), but almost certainly reflect human associations as well. Would Punic families choose an alien vase like the bucchero kantharos in place of a shape designed for their own funerary rituals? One tomb held a 6th-century tessera hospitalis, an ivory visiting card inscribed in Etruscan; this was the prized ID of either a Carthaginian merchant who had operated in Etruria, or an Etruscan merchant who joined a Punic family—”I belong to Puina [cf. Poenulus?!] of/at Carthage…” Indeed, as Aristotle notes, there were treaties of alliance between Carthage and “Etruscans”—likely several cities, of which Rome was the weakest, and lost ground when her Etruscan overlords were expelled, as the unfavorable terms of the Republican treaties show (Polybius 3.22.3-13, 3.26.2-5). We do not know which cities, although the maritimes are a good guess, supported by imports and exports; still, “including Caere” (p. 66) cannot be considered proven. Here the Aristotle reference ( Politics 3.5.10-11) is appropriate, for he evinced great respect for the Carthaginian “constitution”. The three sarcophagi (pp. 65-66) depicting Punic priests with incense boxes, two buried at Carthage, the third in the tomb of a great Tarquinian family, should also be read as evidence of alliances, Larth Partiunu presumably having been an initiate (cf. M. Cataldi Dini, Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Tarquinia. I sarcofagi delle famiglie Partunu, Camna e Pulena, Rome, 1988). Surely in matters of religion and death, one would select a significant image; the painted side panels on the sarcophagus were ordered and executed in Etruria.

The long experience of urbanism in the Levant is not only of historical interest; it is the origin, to a great extent, of the ancient and modern city in the central and western Mediterranean, as recent Italian and Spanish studies have indicated. (See for instance, M.C. Fernandez Castro, Iberia in Prehistory [Blackwell, Oxford, 1995, chap. 13], and articles by Aubet, Niemeyer, and Ruiz Rodriguez in Social Complexity and the Development of Towns in Iberia: From the Copper Age to the second century AD [eds. B. Cunliffe and S. Keay, British Academy, Oxford University Press, 1995].) In recent years, wonderful evidence of the homeland has appeared (sometimes to disappear almost immediately), for instance the fine Late Bronze Age and later fortification wall of Berytus (Beirut) [although, how sure are we of the 10th-9th c. date, p. 82 fig. 25?].

The transplantation of Levantine structures, masonry and even the tell form to Iberia is striking for the 8th c. B.C. In the discussion of Phoenician commercial expertise in the western colonies, I am surprised not to find mention of Tel Hadar in reference to the storehouse structures of the colonies at Toscanos (8th c Spain, p. 186) and Motya (7th or 6th c Sicily, p. 75). The tripartite pillared building seems to be a highly distinctive transplant to the west, along with pier and panel masonry; its origins may be seen in the southern Levant and Galilee, in over 35 state storehouses excavated, and discussed by M. Kochavi, “The Eleventh Century BCE Tripartite Pillar Building at Tel Hadar,” in Mediterranean Peoples in Transition ( Festschrift Trude Dothan, IES Jerusalem, 1998) pp. 468-478. (In Israel, these were both probably operated by the government, held assorted valuables including imported pottery, and stood next to granaries.)

Studies of the colonization of the Malaga area have reopened the issue of the motives of Phoenician colonization, for they seem to show the immigration of significant numbers of Phoenician farmers and the deliberate production of surplus for export. The situation of Iron Age farm communities, recognized at sites in northern Israel, should be researched for the Phoenician interior also. Urban demography and evidence of the production and transshipment of produce, as at Sarepta on the coast, rested upon an extensive—and native—agrarian base.

Language, literature

A very brief analysis of Phoenician and Punic language is highly instructive, although, without facsimiles or other examples, it may be too terse for general readers. What is still needed, for the general reader, or classicists/historians who require basic background, is a short reference, as in the British Museum’s Reading the Past series, a descriptive work with alphabet, general vocabulary, and sample texts in facsimile and transcription (see John F. Healey, The Early Alphabet [British Museum/University of California Press, 1990] pp. 7-41). Since Phoenician/Punic inscriptions, more than most, may usually be understood with a limited vocabulary, general readers or travelers could really benefit from this. In addition to the grammars cited by M., J.-L. Cunchillos, and J.-A. Zamora , Grama/tica fenicia elemental (Madrid: Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cienti/ficas, 1997) has very useful “exercises”, facsimiles and translations of major inscriptions, including recent Iberian finds.


We may think we understand many Phoenician religious practices, but should rather be wary when our only sources are the Bible or classical authors: the marzeach, asherah, betyls, high-places, infant sacrifice, sacred prostitution may have been very different in practice or in the beliefs of Phoenician ethnics. Lest readers fruitlessly scour the excavation reports of the sanctuary of Uni-Astarte at Etruscan Pyrgi, there is no direct archaeological or epigraphic evidence of sacred prostitution (p. 131) to support the classical reference to the scorta pyrgensia, although a structure suspiciously resembling a motel has been found there. For good analysis of this, see Francesca R. Serra Ridgway, “Etruscans, Greeks, Carthaginians: The Sanctuary at Pyrgi,” in Greek Colonists and Native Populations (J.-P. Descouedres, ed., Oxford, 1990): 511-530.

Many references are the most recent or most specific, thus a lay reader who needs the most general background on, say religion, will be referred to specialist works on individual excavated shrines or monographs on textual references to gods, but won’t be given something like R. J. Clifford, “Phoenician Religion,” BASOR 279, 1990: 55-64.

The only reference (p. 120) for the Red Slip bowl with curious inscription, found in the votive deposit of the Kition Astarte temple is Karageorghis 1976—although several variant interpretations have been offered for it and its fragmentation still precludes a definitive reading (current opinion favors a dedication of the hair of a worshipper from Tamassos). Cf. M.G. Guzzo Amadasi and V. Kargeorghis, Fouilles de Kition III. Inscriptions phéniciennes (Nicosia, 1977) 149-160 no. D21.

On the subject of the mlk -sacrifice, interpretations of which seem to vary according to the nationality of the scholar, recent research in the Punic sphere has turned up a wealth of anthropological/forensic evidence. Perhaps M. omitted some references here because of the Punic slant of the available evidence (he rightly notes that references to a “tophet” at Tyre were incorrect and not generated by Lebanese archaeologists, although the notoriety of infant sacrifice may have helped them to rescue the looted cemetery finds from the clandestine art market—cf. H. Seeden in Berytus 39, 1991: 39-87, S. Moscati in Rivista di Studi Fenici 21, 1993: 147-151). The study of Shelby Brown (1991—see note 1), unfortunately out of print, should be consulted by anyone studying this phenomenon, for her thorough analysis of classical sources as well as the imagery of the votive stelai. Another study, Jeffrey H. Schwartz, What the Bones Tell Us (University of Arizona Press, Tucson, 1993, 1998, chapter 2) does not deny the actuality of live infant sacrifice, but shows evidence of a much more complex set of rituals, in which perhaps half of the burials were the cremation of already deceased babies, including stillborns and miscarriages, a very different picture from that painted by Kleitarchos, Diodoros and Flaubert. Schwartz’s report on the bones from the American excavations in the Carthage tophet will appear as a volume in the series edited by L. Stager (cited by M.).

The use of the very specific Latin term, favissae (p. 123), which means underground rooms or vaults has become common practice, but as here, authors really only mean votives buried in the ground (cf. OLD (1982) s.v. mundus, stips, favissa; and T. Hackens, ” Favisae,” in Études Étrusco-italiques [Louvain 1963] 71-99.) Markoe (p. 131 note 56), in discussing sacred prostitution, seems to describe a mother-daughter votive dedication, CIS I.3776, as being from Sardinia, but in fact, it is one of hundreds of women’s stelai from Carthage.

Material culture

M.’s explanation of the much-maligned art of Phoenicia as amalgam is very well expressed (145 ff.), but in addition to chapter six, readers will still benefit from Markoe’s old article, “The Emergence of Phoenician Art,” BASOR 279, 1990: 13-26 (cited 216 n. 4), as well as that of Shelby Brown, “Perspectives on Phoenician Art,” Biblical Archaeologist 55.1, March 1992, 6-24. The small number of notes and illustrations make it diffuclt to follow some arguments (e.g., the Late Bronze Age ivory associated with the burial of Ahiram of Byblos, p. 144).

M. is right to emphasize the scattered sites of production of Phoenician art-wares, as on Rhodes, at Pithekoussai and Carthage, etc.—factories were located near to materials, fuel sources, or customers. M. is the expert on Phoenician metal bowls, but I am still not convinced that the silver bowls of the 8th-7th centuries were made by rather than for Cypro-Phoenicians. The striking absence of such metal bowls in the Spanish settlements probably illustrates the less aristocratic character of the settlers working there, or perhaps the more exclusively Phoenician character of the administrators of the sites thus far excavated. M. cautions with distinct authority that metallurgical analyses give a complicated picture of the sources of these products, the descendents of Canaanite (Ugaritic) royal plate.

Curiously, there is no mention of Irene Winter’s early work on determining the style of 9th-7th c. ivories, which may now be tagged as Phoenician with Egyptianizing traits, or as “North Syrian” with some tendency to elements of Syrian or Anatolian style, and it is the North Syrian type, along with Cilician seals, that first appears in the west, as at Marsiliana d’Albegna. In other words, the entire Levantine and Syrian littoral engaged in long-distance commerce: cf. D. Ridgway, “Seals, Scarabs and People in Pithekoussai I,” in Periplous: Papers on Classical Art and Archaeology Presented to Sir John Boardman, eds. G.R. Tsetskhladze, A.J.N.W. Prag and A.M. Snodgrass (London, New York, Thames and Hudson, 2000) 235-243. Readers should heed M.’s reminder that most ivories traveled as ready-made furniture; their impact was not only as decorative valuables, but as social influence—teaching new customers that they needed to adopt the luxurious ways (values, politics?) of eastern royalty.

As regards the sources of Phoenician ivory (and perhaps also ostrich eggs, pp. 147, 168), I am disappointed to see perpetuated the myth of the Syrian species of elephant. Barnett’s evidence for wild herds in Syria was very thin, for a single bone, mastodon tooth or painting found in the Levant does not prove their existence; ancient textual references may all reflect captives in hunting parks. P.R.S. Moorey ( Ancient Mesopotamian Materials and Industries (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1994: 117) maintained diplomatic skepticism, and ongoing scientific analytical research may eventually separate African and Indian species—a recent reference is O. Krzyszkowska and R. Morkot, “13. Ivory and related materials,” in P.T. Nicholson and I. Shaw, eds., Ancient Egyptian Materials and Technology (Cambridge University Press, 2000) 320-331, with references.

I am pleased to see (p. 158) M. opt for Phoenician-production, in shops in the Levant, Cyprus and Rhodes, of goods like the faience amulets and perfume-vases. M.’s identification of glass eye-beads far beyond the Mediterranean should have interesting repercussions for the study of classical commercial networks. The chronologically significant Bocchoris souvenirs found in Motya, Tarquinia, and Pithekoussai have implications for the study of Mediterranean (and Greek) history: see D. Ridgway, “The Rehabilitation of Bocchoris: Notes and Queries from Italy,” Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 85 (1999) 143-152 with references. To references on Tyrian purple (p. 163 n. 38), add R.R. Stieglitz, “The Minoan Origin of Tyrian Purple,” Biblical Archaeologist 57 (1994) 46-54; it should be no surprise that even the textile industry had Bronze Age forerunners.

Illustration and discussion of fine seals is welcome, although the size of the photos makes them hard to read; for startling images, see D. Berges, “Siegel aus Karthago—Spiegelbilder des Lebens,” Antike Welt 28.5 (1997) 407-414 on the sealings preserved in the destruction of Carthage.

There is no need to be modest (p. 160) about the quality of Phoenician pottery: its appearance may lose in modern comparison to Greek painted wares, but its forms are highly useful and/or elegant, like barrel vases, Maltese thistle-jars, or mushroom jugs. Some of the early fabrics, like the earliest eggshell-thin Red Slip ware excavated at Sarepta are luxurious and strong; presumably Phoenicians simply didn’t feel like eating breakfast from something that stared back at them! Traces of potters’ hands, as in the string-cut bases of small bowls, are not inexpert but simply result from the rapid and high-volume production of a rather sophisticated industry. M.’s sketch of the chronological progression of Phoenician fabrics (p. 161) is particularly clear; the find of deepwater wrecks dated by pottery alone demonstrates the continuing importance of pottery analysis. His healthy esteem for the products of Phoenician Cyprus, such as black-on-red ware, is particularly welcome.

M. rightly calls attention to coroplastic traditions (160, 167); one authority on Greek terracottas, J.P. Uhlenbrock ( The Terracotta Protomai from Gela: A Discussion of Local Style in Archaic Sicily (Rome, 1988: 143-146) has suggested that the protome genre in Greek art is possibly of Phoenician origin.

Some sections (p. 167) show the need to simplify given space-limitations and general audiences, but evidence is available of Carthaginian ivory work, from tusk-like mirror handles shaped like female figures, to delicate a jouré plaques (illustrated Lancel, Carthage : 72-76 figs. 46, 48).

Commerce and foreign expansion

The historical sources on early Phoenician seamanship are at last being borne out by archaeological finds such as the discovery of two wrecks off the Israeli coast, probably traveling in a convoy when they sank, carrying cargoes of 8th-century amphorae (see “In Deep Water,” National Geographic Jan. 2001: 91-93 for first photos). A 7th-century Phoenician wreck off Barcelona, Mazarron I, is accessible on the web. See the NAVIS database of European wrecks, at ship no. 58, which will augment M.’s reference, p. 213 note 13. Analysis of 7th-century silver finds from Tel Miqne (Ekron) and Ashkelon is the first proof for the theory of the Spanish origin of Phoenicia’s tribute payments to Assyria (cf. A. Golani and B. Sass in ASOR Bulletin Aug. 1998: 57-81 citing S. Gitin’s publication of The Silver Hoards from Ekron (American Numismatic Society); also papers given by E. Stern, S. Gitin and A. Golani, and S. Stos-Gale and N. Gale in “Proceedings of the 99th Annual Meeting [1997],” AJA 102, 1998: 402.)

M. has bravely taken the reasonable approach to the question of Al Mina, viewed from the Levant as a native site, with Syrian architecture and cooking pots, while Hellenists still try to describe its Iron Age phase as a Greek trading post. The latest debate includes: R. Kearsley, “Greeks Overseas in the 8th Century B.C.: Euboeans, Al Mina and Assyrian Imperialism,” and J. Boardman, “The Excavated History of Al Mina,” in Ancient Greeks West and East, ed. G. Tsetskhladze (Leiden, Boston, 1999) 109-134 and 135-161.

Note (p. 178) that the Phoenician/Levantine presence in the 8th-century Euboean colony of Pithekoussai is not only attested in the re-use of ogival amphorae; a grieving Semitic parent must have been there to paint the funerary symbol on one for his or her baby (grave 575). The mother, perhaps Italian or Greek, may have been buried in grave 199. In the family plot of grave 167, the youth who was given the “Nestor cup”, at least one of the affluent parents was Semitic, according to her funeral with unguent-jars, although son or family must have been at least bilingual. To a vast bibliography on the mixed settlement of Pithekoussai, add D. Ridgway, “The first Western Greeks revisited,” in D. Ridgway et al., eds., Ancient Italy in its Mediterranean Setting. Studies in honour of Ellen MacNamara (Vol. 4 of Accordia Specialist Studies on the Mediterranean, Accordia Research Institute, University of London, 2000) 179-191.

Minor points of clarity are judgement calls on classical as opposed to modern spelling conventions: if we take the viewpoint of Phoenician or Punic subjects, why write Soluntum, the Roman version instead of Soloeis for the Sicilian city? Or Acragas instead of Greek Akragas or Roman Agrigentum? Still, Motya is not usually written in its Punic form, MTWA, so perhaps we’d be safer with modern town-names, Solunto, Agrigento, Mozia? Peñon (p. 186), and other names should be in Spanish format. Map 1, detail B seems to show Arwad on the mainland, though the full map has it correctly as an island. Praeneste, p. 157, is technically not in Etruria, but in Latium (though its 7th-5th century material culture, best known in the “princely” Bernardini and Barberini tombs, does serve to illustrate Etruscan art and epigraphy, and the “princess” buried with the Bernardini plate and ivories was an Etruscan, Vetusia).


1. For full bibliographies, see S. Moscati et al., The Phoenicians (exhibition, Palazzo Grassi, Venice, 1988, pub. Bompiani, Milan, 1988); a new edition (Rizzoli, New York, 1999) retains original text and illustrations (fewer in color) but lacks the inventory catalogue with photos of all objects in the original show. Lipinski, E., et al., eds, Dictionnaire de la Civilisation phénicienne et punique (Brepols, 1992) offers invaluable for specific topics and monuments. V. Krings, ed., La civilisation phénicienne et punique : manuel de recherche (Brill, Leiden, New York, 1995) essays on major topics and history. Aubet, Maria Eugenia, The Phoenicians and the West. Politics, Colonies and Trade (trans. Mary Turton) (Cambridge University Press, 1993) [originally 1987, Tiro y las colonias fenicias de Occidente ] gives descriptions of western colony sites and translations of major texts such as Ezekiel passages and Tale of Wen-Amun. Harden, Donald, The Phoenicians, 2nd ed., revised, (London, Penguin 1980). Moscati, Sabatino, The World of the Phoenicians (trans. A. Hamilton, London, paperback, Cardinal 1973: original is Weidenfeld and Nelson, 1968). Rawlinson, George, History of Phoenicia (London, Longmans, Green & Co., 1889) is very old but still very useful on history, language, classical sources. Lancel, Serge, Carthage, A History (trans. Antonia Nevill, Basil Blackwell, Oxford UK and Cambridge MA, 1995; original French ed. 1992). Brown, Shelby, Late Carthaginian Child Sacrifice and Sacrificial Monuments in their Mediterranean Context (JSOT/ASOR Monograph 3, Sheffield Academic Press, 1991) is a mine of organized bibliography, texts, as well as art historical analysis of stelai. C. Baurain, ed., I Fenici. Ieri, Oggi, Domani (Convegno, Rome, 1994 = Accad. Lincei, Rome 1995) offers essays by experts. Classicists will find especially useful K. Geus, Prosopographie der literarisch bezeugten Karthager (Peeters, Leuven, 1994), with genealogical tables.On the subject of publishers, a great injustice is done to scholars, both authors and readers, by allowing excellent recent monographs to go out of print, as with some works relevant here. This has befallen D. Ridgway’s First Western Greeks (Cambridge University Press, 1992, on Pithekoussai material) and Aubet’s The Phoenicians and the West (also Cambridge), and apparently Lancel’s Carthage. A History (Blackwell). It seems as though FWG (see BMCR 94.02.19) vanished within a year or two of its appearance late in 1992 and pleas from both sides of the Atlantic have gone unheeded; let us hope that renewed pressure will enlighten University and academic presses…

2. This state-of-the-art “take” on the situation will soon be augmented by an ecological and landscape-based study in the dissertation of Geoffrey Compton (University of Michigan, 2001). I am grateful to Mr. Compton for discussions of his groundbreaking research.