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Who Were the Phoenicians?


The Bible records that the Phoenicians had a close relationship with the Israelites: Their royalty married each other; they traded with each other; and, significantly, they never went to war with each other. Who were the Phoenicians? Where did they come from? With whom did they trade? In this BAS Library special collection of BAR articles, explore the identity of the Phoenicians and the extent of their reach across the Mediterranean.

Scroll down to read a summary of these articles.

Phoenicia and Its Special Relationship with Israel

BAR, Nov/Dec 2017
by Ephraim Stern

Achziv Cemeteries: Buried Treasure from Israel’s Phoenician Neighbor

BAR, Sep/Oct 2010
by Eilat Mazar

The Many Masters of Dor, Part 1: When Canaanites Became Phoenician Sailors

BAR, Jan/Feb 1993
by Ephraim Stern

The Many Masters of Dor, Part 2: How Bad Was Ahab?

BAR, Mar/Apr 1993
by Ephraim Stern

The Many Masters of Dor, Part 3: The Persistence of Phoenician Culture

BAR, May/Jun 1993
by Ephraim Stern

With a commercial empire that lasted a millennium, the Phoenicians were major players in the ancient Mediterranean world. Spreading their culture and goods, they came into contact with many different groups, but their relationship with the Israelites was distinct. In “Phoenicia and Its Special Relationship with Israel,” join Ephraim Stern as he explores the Phoenicians’ identity and interactions with their close neighbor and ally, Israel.

The Phoenicians had a profound impact on Israelite art and architecture—and were the cause of heated clashes over the influence of their Canaanite religion. Prompted by looting, archaeologists undertook the excavation of three major cemeteries around the Phoenician site of Achziv in northern Israel. As Eilat Mazar describes in “Achziv Cemeteries: Buried Treasure from Israel’s Phoenician Neighbor,” what the archaeologists found is helping bring an ancient culture back to life.

Tel Dor, on Israel’s Mediterranean coast, seems to be a contender for the title of “most-conquered city” in the ancient Near East. Practically everyone occupied the site at one time or another: Canaanites, Sea Peoples, Phoenicians, Israelites, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks and Romans. Despite such a tumultuous history, however, Dor was culturally dominated by the Phoenicians for some eight centuries and now provides archaeologists with their best window onto that culture. In a three-part article, Dor excavation director Ephraim Stern’s presents the story of “The Many Masters of Dor.” In part one, “When Canaanites Became Phoenician Sailors,” he looks at the city’s earliest remains, the conquest by a Sea People tribe and the rise of the Phoenicians.

Even though the Phoenicians exercised autonomous rule in Dor only from about 1050 to 1000 B.C.E., their culture dominated the city for approximately 800 years. Ephraim Stern explores the Phoenician remains at the site and considers the question, “How Bad Was Ahab?” in the second installment of his three-part article, “The Many Masters of Dor.” The title question arises because although the Bible excoriates Ahab, king of the northern kingdom of Israel (874–853 B.C.E.), he initiated many great construction projects, probably including the rebuilding of Dor as a major Israelite seaport.

The spirit of Phoenicia lives on in every city with streets laid out in a grid and governed by zoning laws. These innovations in city planning appeared at Dor and at other places a century before they were codified by Hippodamus of Miletus. This is but one example of Dor’s Phoenician heritage that survived despite a succession of conquests by Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, and Greeks. Ephraim Stern explores this legacy in “The Persistence of Phoenician Culture,” the conclusion of his three-part article, “The Many Masters of Dor.”