An Introduction to the Ancient Middle East

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Part 3: Phoenicians and Hebrews

About 1200 B.C. a seafaring civilization arose along the Mediterranean Sea. These were the Phoenicians, and their boats carried traders and explorers alike. They carried customs and goods from one ancient civilizations to another. They are known for their alphabet, their papermaking, and their glassmaking.

The Phoenicians founded cities (among them Byblos, Sidon, and Tyre) but were more interested in trade than empire. They also founded the city of Carthage, in northern Africa, in 814 B.C. This city would become the capital of a very powerful civilization that would rival Rome for control of the Mediterranean world.

To the south of Phoenician territory was Canaan, a mountain-and-desert land that was home to the Hebrews. Abraham led his people from the city of Ur to Canaan about 1900 B.C. The Hebrews, who had started out as traders, became growers of wheat, fig, and olives and tenders of sheep. They stayed in Canaan for about 100 years, during which time they organized themselves into the famous 12 Tribes. About 1800 B.C., a drought began, forcing the Hebrews to move to Egypt.

Six hundred years later, the Hebrews were enslaved in Egypt. After a time, Moses led them out of slavery and across the Sinai Desert, first to Mount Sinai, where he received the Ten Commandments, and then back to Canaan. Moses died shortly before they arrived, but Joshua led them safely to what they called "the Promised Land."

The Hebrews elected Saul as their first king, and he ruled for several years. His death brought David to the throne. David continued Saul's campaigns against the neighboring lands and made Jerusalem his capital. His son, Solomon, ruled for many years; when he died, the Hebrews split into two kingdoms: Israel in the north and Judah in the south.

Next page > Assyrians and Chaldeans > Page 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

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David White