Rocks and Stones

Objects As History Week 4


Phoenicia sounds like a pretty convincing made up name to me. But clearly, it isn’t. This was a civilisation which was a part of the Fertile Crescent- a crescent-shaped region in the Middle East, spanning modern-day Iraq together with the southeastern fringe of Turkey and the western fringes of Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, Jordan, and Egypt. It extended from 1300 to 300 BC.

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Phoenicia and the fertile crescent.
  • The place was probably a result of migrations from Central Africa.Phoenicia was made of small city states, similar to Greece.The main cities were Sidon,Tyre,Carthage,and Byblos. Carthage was a maritime city.Phoenicians were also called the Canaanites.
  • A semitic culture is one bounded by the fertile crescent,for example, Judaism.Religion practices in Phoenicia are probably a predecessor to the Judaism we know today.
  • The main challenge faced by ancient diplomats was keeping all the city states together.
  • Similarly, Alexander the Great’s main mission was to unite all the kingdoms he had now conquered into one. The problem lied in different ideologies that the different kingdoms followed. For example, Persian kings would prefer to strategise and watch the battle unfold from the sidelines, while Macedonians considered it a matter of pride to have their rulers fight in the front lines.
  • Alexander wanted the city Tyre in his kingdom(known for Tyrian purple dye). His basic philosophy was to ask the kingdom to surrender and give them an ultimatum to be under his rule, or have canons and armies waiting at the gates to destroy the city. And when Tyre showed resistance, he did exactly that. Alexander built a bridge to Tyre, strode into the city with his massive army,and burned it to the ground. His tactic probably worked because he owned enough ships with cannons pointing right at the structures in the city. This blackmailing tactic is called gun-bolt supremacy.
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Ruins of Tyre.
  • We discussed an object called the “Date Flask” which was a small glass flask made using a real date as a mould. Since it would actually be the size of a date, it is assumed that these flasks would only be used by the elite,more precisely Roman elite, and would store oils,medicine,perfume, and other potent solutions.This is probably one of the best examples of Phoenician glass-blown objects.It is also proof of trade relationships between Phoenicia and Rome, since the two would trade dates and olives respectively.
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A glass date flask.
  • The earliest and the most significant proof of Phoenician language is the Ahiram Sarcophagus.It reveals the language made up of 22 characters, all consonants. It is believed to be the precursor to english letters.
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Sarcophagus of King Ahiram.
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Inscriptions in the phoenician language found written on the sarcophagus.
  • There was a shift from the matriarchal system of religion to the patriarchal one. The Phoenicians worshipped Ba’al,the god of storm and thunder which they symbolized as a bull.It is rumoured that worshipping him involves child sacrifice, and that’s where the tale of Abraham and the sacrifice of Isaac stems from.
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Idol of Ba’al.
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Painting showing the Sacrifice of Isaac.
  • Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt: Napoleon carried intellectuals with him wherever he went. This was so they could keep maintaining records of events that happened when they were away on such missions, and having data to send back home. These scholars discovered relics from several other civilisations.The most important of these is the Code of Hammurabi.
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The Code of Hammurabi.
  • The Code of Hammurabi is recorded on two tablets, containing basic commandments that a kind and the kingdom must follow.
  • The second important discovery from this invasion was the Rosetta Stone.
  • The Rosetta Stone is probably the earliest version of Google Translate. It has 3 different languages on it’s three surfaces: Latin, Greek, and Egyptian Hieroglyphs.
  • When historians were trying to figure out what the strange egyptian symbols meant, they realized that the Latin and Greek sides had the exact same writings in the two respective languages. Based on this, a comparative study of the third side of the Rosetta stone was a major breakthrough in cracking the Hieroglyphic code.
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The Rosetta Stone. The top is in Hieroglyphs,the middle in Greek, and the last section in Latin.
  • They also found different sarcophagi. A king’s sarcophagus is always linked to a curse in every Egyptian legend,book,film,etc. (That’s basically the only thing Rick O’Connell from The Mummy taught me.) But these ‘curse’ rumours were spread around for a reason.A king’s burial was a sacred process,since it was practically his journey to finally belong with the gods. And thus sarcophagi were buried in locations no one would know of. Also, the Egyptian belief of an afterlife led them to bury relics that the Pharaoh considered his/her prized possession.These would easily be worth thousands in value, and the spiritual value would be practically priceless. To avoid grave robberies, the burial site of a king would never be disclosed.
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King Tut’s Sarcophagus.
  • We then moved on to discuss the story of Moses. As a baby, Moses was floated by his biological mother down the River Nile, (which was considered holy), and was adopted by another family.He took the responsibility of leading the Jews to safety. I then heard a rather hilarious rendition of the story about Moses and the Ten commandments of the Bible. Involvement of psychedelics in olden times makes a lot of sense considering the kind of visuals the legends describe!
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Moses holding the ten commandments on Mount Sinai.
  • The fall of the Phoenician Civilization was a result of the invasion by Cyrus the Great, a powerful Persian ruler. Cyrus was known to be a cosmopolitan king.Here another object mentioned was the Cyrus Cylinder,dated 530 BC.It was written after Cyrus the Great conquered Babylon. The writing probably signifies the first example of separate states and different cultures.
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The Cyrus Cylinder.

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