Phoenicians and Carthage

Phoenicians and Carthage

The Phoenicians, Canaanites by race and Semites by language, settled on a small strip of land between the sea and the mountains of Lebanon 7,000 years ago. They were a skilful, intelligent and industrious people, who became prosperous by trading in two products which they had at their disposal: purple for dyeing cloth, which they extracted from the murex, a sea snail, and the wood from the cedars that grew on the mountains of Lebanon.

They were skilled navigators and better traders. They lived in prosperous and independent city-states and were great lovers of perfume. With this background, along with a large fleet of light ships with stylised, battle-ready bows, they were fearsome at sea and were prepared to open factories all over the Mediterranean which, in time, would grow into cities. They bought fine and functional metals of all kinds and sold cedar wood to the Egyptians and manufactured goods to the inhabitants of the Greek islands, their trade reaching as far as the coasts of southern Italy and Spain.

While not much evidence of the aromatic products they used exists, archaeologists have discovered an enormous amount of perfume bottles they manufactured. The remains of their passage or stay have been discovered in all the manufacturing centres they developed, but particularly in all the cities they founded, specifically Carthage, but also Cyprus, Crete, Malaga, Cadiz, Ibiza, and many others.

In relation to perfume, in addition to the glass and glass-paste bottles that they exchanged or sold, and which are displayed in all the archaeological museums across the Mediterranean, they also supplied essences to the inhabitants of their colonies. Without exaggerating, we could even say that the Phoenicians became the first perfume distributors in the Mediterranean basin.

When Tyre, the last city of the Phoenicians, fell into the hands of Alexander the Great after over 6,000 years of Phoenician rule, those who could fled to Carthage, already a thriving metropolis of Phoenician roots. The Carthaginians continued the customs of their founders, including the use of perfumes, but without distinguishing themselves by using them to an extreme. The Carthaginians would become conquerors, and after 118 years of war with the Romans, Carthage had turned into a city as Romanised as Rome itself.