The impact that the Ancient Phoenicians had on Iron Age world culture is indisputable. They united the Near East to the Mediterranean through trade and shared culture, yet exerted little evident military or political effort in doing so. By examining the Phoenician traders in terms of international business, it’s evident that through strategic cultural adaption they created an economic niche that negated the need for equal military or political power.
Today, international value is cultivated in three ways. These are divergence, convergence, and cross-cultural networks, all of which the Phoenicians capitalized on in their own time. Divergence can be defined as understanding the key differences between cultures, while convergence is noting the similarities. Phoenician tradespeople show a sophisticated understanding of both, exemplified through material and artistic choices in traded goods. The small decorative bowls, or paterai, catered to militarized, aristocratic societies.(Sommer,132) The standardized decorative scenes of hunting, battle or other prestigious acts illustrate an understanding of a common regional elite with varying linguistic and cultural understandings. By imposing widely relatable iconography on universally precious goods (precious metals), the Phoenician tradespeople create value across geographical and cultural borders.
The third mechanism that creates international value is the establishment of cross-cultural networks, which the Phoenicians effectively did. When the declining Bronze Age left a power void from Mycenaean sea merchants, the Phoenicians supplied luxury goods into the Age of Empires. Timber, purple dye and iron, as well as their containers and distribution methods were all controlled by the Phoenicians. This vertical integration earned them a prominent and nearly irreplaceable role as suppliers in the Iron Age. As Michael Sommer puts it, “Their economic key role nourished a strong feeling of class solidarity among the Phoenician traders that could be converted into to virtual monopolization of political power by a merchant oligarchy.”(Sommer, 132) By providing Assyria and the Empire of Israel with necessary raw materials, the Phoenicians were pushed to settle further and further reaches of the Mediterranean, and in doing so ensured an economic niche that offered political influence without military conquest.
empire, despite military inferiority.
The political influence achieved by this economic prowess is most clearly evident in Carthage, where affluent Phoenician merchants secured persuasive voting power because of their economic status. If one applies Gil Stein’s de-westernized definition of colonization, such that a distinct group settles an area outside of the homeland through undefined methods, then the Phoenician settlements could certainly be viewed as colonies. By remaining politically and economically affiliated to the Levant homeland, Phoenician merchants distinguish themselves from a migratory settlement and instead demonstrate an advantageous network of trade throughout the Mediterranean. The generalized depiction of Pheonicians throughout ancient literature as shrewd tradespeople contributes to the idealized (and differentiated) role the merchants played. Stein invokes this cultural distinction as “the essence of a trade diaspora” (Stein, 32), because it ensures a monopoly on economic means through “strengthened corporate identity.” The relative immunity these trading colonies offered the Phoenicians in the face of Assyrian conquest is evident by the strengthened Near Eastern architectural presence whilst Levantine settlements were taken. In this case, the economic niche carved out through tactful international trade guaranteed the Phoenician state survival from the world’s first great
The impressive creation of value throughout the Mediterranean earned the Phoenicians a place in history, as their culture was preserved through adaptation. By exemplifying the same rules of international business that stand today, Phoenician tradespeople dispersed goods and information that contributed to world literacy and also earned them economic and political status without military means, a rare feat in the ancient world.