when the topic of colonization comes up most people think about the modern day nations birthed from british or other european colonial empires the united states may be one of the first to come to mind but the us didn’t become officially colonized until the 17th century which means that it was relatively recent and this begs the question what about colonies during earlier or even ancient ages.
the concept of colonization and conquest has existed all throughout history and one example of its ancient practice can be found in the phoenicians phoenicia was a phallus socratic civilization that existed as early as 2500 bc and held territory throughout the levant the phoenicians were not necessarily members of one united nation but instead made up a series of independent city-states such as tyre and biblos.
though they nonetheless served as some type of unified front when it came to the colonization of the mediterranean unlike some of the sprawling imperial empires that would eventually expand across the globe in their own bids for colonization and territory expansion the phoenicians weren’t looking for more land or simply a larger empire instead they were hoping to grow their trade network the existing phoenician city-states like tyre and biblos and sedon all owed their success to abundant trade.
and even the phoenician founded city that would later become an unofficial empire the spectacular carthage would also base much of its prosperity on trade as well the phoenicians as a whole were remarkable tradesmen and they knew their way around the seas as well opening up incredible opportunities for trading with places.
as far as britain the coast of africa and the greek islands but trading so far so frequently wasn’t necessarily easy even with the skills and experience of the phoenicians initially the idea was simply to establish a series of trading posts and way stations to help improve the journey and effectiveness of the merchants but it became quickly apparent to the phoenicians that turning these posts into more permanent establishments.
or even settlements might actually serve as a major benefit to the traveling traders permanent settlements would serve as an additional location for the phoenicians to sell their goods while mostly controlling the market throughout those regions as well eventually as this plan went into action even though the motive wasn’t really about territorial gain these settlements all became colonies of the mercantile powerhouse of Phoenicia.
although it is widely known that this colonization whether intentional or not did happen it’s not exactly known when it started many modern historians believe that the process began around the same time as the greeks began to set up their own colonies which occurred during the 8th century bc this though conflicts with the claims of ancient scholars who say that the phoenicians had actually begun to establish their colonies back in the 12th century bc other scholars argue that neither of these dates are accurate but pinpointing.
the correct timeline can be tricky due to the unofficial formation of the early settlements and outposts the general consensus thus is that the era of the 12th to 8th centuries bc mark a period of pre-colonial trade and building of way stations trading posts and small settlements whereas the following period from the 8th to 6th centuries bc served as the foundation for phoenicia’s mediterranean colonies as the trading superiority and prosperity of the phoenicians grew.
now so did their territorial holdings one of the first colonies set up by the phoenicians actually demonstrated how well the system worked to expand their trading capabilities because it was all the way in spain one of the earliest overseas phoenician holdings cadiz was actually just one of the colonies established.
in spain adra amun yakar cortea ibiza and malaga would also become important trade establishments and colonies for phoenicia and this was all just on one peninsula over in sicily the phoenicians originally attempted to colonize ortija but the greeks quickly forced them to change plans and it would instead be motiya palermo and sulunto that the phoenicians would hold on to in sardinia the phoenicians took cities including cagliari and nora.
as well as thoros and sokkai cyprus additionally housed some of the early phoenician colonies such as the city of larnaca a little way away in algeria the phoenicians set up colonies such as the ones in anaba and algiers meanwhile over in morocco laresh tangier assala rabat and asura all came under phoenician authority tunisia too became a home for phoenicians and their merchants particularly in utica deserta susa fapsus chala and the most famous of the phoenician cities.
in this region in particular would be the one magnificent new town that would soon birth its own de facto empire carthage and in libya tripoli sabradha and leptus all ended up being phoenician colonies while all of these colonies may sound like quite a lot for an entity that wasn’t even a fully united nation-state they actually deferred in terms of how closely connected they were to the phoenician city-states that colonized them.
it’s important to keep in mind that these colonies were created due to the desire for a wider more reliable trade system across the mediterranean while some colonies such as those in north africa seem to have adopted parts of the phoenician culture religion architecture and so on others kept their own indigenous cultures a bit more some of this had to do with their geographical position in relation to the phoenician city-states but it also depended.
on how strong the existing culture and related attributes were in each colony nonetheless all of these colonies served as additional places of trade as well as manufacturing locations for phoenician goods such as purple dyed cloth which was a famous product of phoenicia this not only allowed for more goods to be brought from phoenician city-states by the merchants from the homeland but it also meant that additional goods could be made and exported from a plethora of locations spanning across the coasts of europe and Africa.
and although the initial aim of this commercial it didn’t take long for them to realize that there was a benefit to possessing so much land and spaced out colonies that didn’t just relate to the trade market over time began to clash with the locals in their colonies hoping to expand even further at each point and as fortifications began popping up the phoenicians as a whole became more and more militarized to help meet these new objectives but as many ancient civilizations and empires learned the hard way too the phoenicians soon realized.
that their ambitions were no more than a pipe dream as surrounding powers from the greeks to the assyrians also reached to spread their own influence and authority the phoenicians were overpowered across the board and by the time that alexander the great raised his sword to the father of carthage the might of phoenicia was at its end in spite of their fall from grace and partial overshadowing by the great Carthaginians.
who owed their triumphant existence to the phoenicians the mediterranean in particular was surely influenced by the great city-states that were once powerful strongholds the merchants alone spread goods religion art and culture throughout the coast of europe and africa and the establishment of first weigh stations and trading posts that would soon become settlements turned colonies.
only made the job that much easier furthermore even after the phoenicians ceased to be the leading trade entity and power throughout the mediterranean the connections and trade network that they had created remained and for quite a few centuries the phoenicians themselves ruled over this network and flourished as remarkable traders and navigators despite.
the fact that there wasn’t an original goal of typical colonization the phoenicians did nevertheless colonize much of the mediterranean and they didn’t necessarily have the wrong idea by prioritizing trade as we would see much later another example the british east india company nearly colonized the whole of india with the same initial goals so next time you think of colonization throughout history don’t forget the once great merchants of the phoenician city-states.
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