History didn’t transmit us direct sources able to describe the Phoenician population. No written documents exist and the only information in our possession was handed down to us from writers, witnesses and historians of other populations. It’s very likely that the population was born in around 3000 BC following to different processes and stages of populations migrations towards the today’s Lebanon area, the anti Lebanon and the coast between the Nahr el-Kelb river and the Carmelo mountain, which was called Phoenicia.
The Phoenicians were a branch of the Canaanite population, and they inhabited a wide part of Palestine before it was conquered by the Israelites. The Phoenicians reached their land before 2500 B.C. coming from a region situated farther south, probably at the end of the Red Sea.
The Phoenicians used to call their land “Canaan”, but they used to refer to themselves as “Sidons”.This name can be also detected in Homer; in the Old Testament, moreover, a king from Tyrus is called “King of the Sidons”.
Our word “Phoenicians”, which comes from the word the Greeks used to refer to this population, maybe derives from an Egyptian word, but it’s commonly agreed that it is linked to a Greek word whose meaning is “red”and that the Greeks named the population after one of their most significant products, the purple. Their name, however, might come from the colour of their skin, reddened by sun. (B.H. Warmington).
The Phoenicians never set up a unitary State, consequently their history identifies with the history of their cities-states: Biblo, Arado, Tyrus, Sidone, Ugarit, ecc.; they are cities which were almost always independent from each other and often in competion, surrounded by a limited territory ruled by a king who also exercised his power over them: that weakened them when facing dangers coming from invading populations.
Egypt had tied cultural and business relationships with Phoenician cities ever since the III millenium BC, namely with Biblo; such ties grew closer and closer and in the course of time turned into an Egyptian sovereignty over Phoenicia. Such supremacy went through a crisis because the Hittite Empire imposed itself and due to the following regaining of the independence by the Phoenician cities. The Egyptian influence, however, persisted even if limited to the artistic-cultural area, while in the political area it was first the Sidone’s egemony to impose itself over the other centres, and later the Tiro’s egemony. In the meanwhile the Phs extended their influence to a large part of the Mediterranean area (from the VIII century BC) and they set up trading centres and colonies in Cyprus, in Rhodes (Camino, Ialino), on the Minor Asia coast, in Creta (Itanos), on the North-African coast, on the southern coast of Spain, Malta, Pantelleria, in Sicily and in Sardinia. At the beginning such expansion was exclusively motivated by trade interests, there was no occupation of wide areas, which allowed the Phoenicians, unlike the Greeks, to keep friendly relationships with native populations; subsequently, however, it also took on a political aspect, when the Assyrian empire established itself and got many Phoenicians to search a new homeland.
Carthage, “new city”, whose foundation dates back to the VIII century BC, was for a long time only a landing place along the route from Spain to Tyrus, which held the role of mother land. But around the VII century BC, the rivalry between Etruscans and Greeks, the wars against the Assyrs, the upheavals of the cities, the suspension in the trade relationships made Carthage the most important Phoenician city. It will eventually become the fulcrum of the Phoenician life, point of junction of the two Mediterraneans. “While Carthage was destroyed by the Romans after the well known Punic wars, in 146 BC, the Phoenician cities in the Middle East were subdued by Alexander the Great and from 64 BC they were included in the Roman province of Syria, losing any political independence” (F.Braudel).