Asia Minor And Phoenicia
Concerning the original inhabitants of Asia Minor our information
is very scanty. The works of Strabo shed an indefinite light, and the
author of the Iliad seems to have been but imperfectly acquainted with
either the geography or the people of that extensive country. According to
Herodotus, the river Halys was the most important geographical limit; nor
does he mention the great chain of Taurus, which begins from the southern
coast of Lycia, and strikes northeastward as far as Armenia--the most
important boundary line in the time of the Romans. Northward of Mount
Taurus, on the upper portion of the river Halys, was situated the spacious
plain of Asia Minor. The northeast and south of this plain was
mountainous, and was bounded by the Euxine, the AEgean, and the Pamphylian
seas. The northwestern part included the mountainous region of Ida,
Temnus, and Olympus. The peninsula was fruitful in grains, wine, fruit,
cattle, and oil.
Along the western shores of this great peninsula were Pelasgians,
Mysians, Bythinians, Phrygians, Lydians, and other nations, before the
Greeks established their colonies. Further eastward were Lycians,
Pisidians, Phrygians, Cappadocians, Paphlagonians, and others. The
Phrygians, Mysians, and Teucrians were on the northwest. These various
nations were not formed into large kingdoms or confederacies, nor even
into large cities, but were inconsiderable tribes, that presented no
formidable resistance to external enemies. The most powerful people were
the Lydians, whose capital was Sardis, who were ruled by Gyges, 700 B.C.
This monarchy extinguished the independence of the Greek cities on the
coast, without impeding their development in wealth and civilization. All
the nations west of the river Halys were kindred in language and habits.
East of the Halys dwelt Semitic races, Assyrians, Syrians, Cappadocians,
and Cilicians. Along the coast of the Euxine dwelt Bythinians,
Marandynians, and Paphlagonians--branches of the Thracian race. Along the
southern coast of the Propontis were the Doliones and Pelasgians. In the
region of Mount Ida were the Teucrians and Mysians. All these races had a
certain affinity with the Thracians, and all modified the institutions of
the Greeks who settled on the coast for purposes of traffic or
colonization. The music of the Greeks was borrowed from the Phrygians and
Lydians. The flute is known to have been invented, or used by the
Phrygians, and from them to have passed to Greek composers.
The ancient Phrygians were celebrated chiefly for their flocks and
agricultural produce, while the Lydians, dwelling in cities, possessed
much gold and and silver. But there are few great historical facts
connected with either nation. There is an interesting legend connected
with the Phrygian town of Gordium. The primitive king, Gordius, was
originally a poor husbandman, upon the yoke of whose team, as he tilled
the field, an eagle perched. He consulted the augurs to explain the
curious portent, and was told that the kingdom was destined for his
family. His son was Midas, offspring of a maiden of prophetic family. Soon
after, dissensions breaking out among the Phrygians, they were directed by
an oracle to choose a king, whom they should first see approaching in a
wagon. Gordius and his son Midas were the first they saw approaching the
town, and the crown was conferred upon them. The wagon was consecrated,
and became celebrated for a knot which no one could untie. Whosoever
should untie that knot was promised the kingdom of Asia. It remained
untied until Alexander the Great cut it with his sword.
The Lydians became celebrated for their music, of which the chief
instruments were the flute and the harp. Their capital, Sardis, was
situated on a precipitous rock, and was deemed impregnable. Among their
kings was Croesus, whose great wealth was derived from the gold found in
the sands of the river Pactolus, which flowed toward the Hermus from Mount
Tmolus, and also from the industry of his subjects. They were the first on
record to coin gold and silver. The antiquity of the Lydian monarchy is
very great, and was traced to Heracles. The Heracleid dynasty lasted five
hundred and five years, and ended with Myrsus, or Kandaules. His wife was
of exceeding beauty, and the vanity of her husband led him to expose her
person to Gyges, commander of his guard. The affronted wife, in revenge,
caused her husband to be assassinated, and married Gyges. A strong party
opposed his ascent to the throne, and a civil war ensued, which was
terminated by a consultation of the oracle, which decided in favor of
Gyges, the first historical king of Lydia, about the year 715 B.C.
With this king commenced the aggressions from Sardis on the Asiatic
Greeks, which ended in their subjection. How far the Lydian kingdom of
Sardis extended during the reign of Gyges is not known, but probably over
the whole Troad, to Abydus, on the Hellespont. Gyges reigned thirty-eight
years, and was succeeded by his son Ardys, during whose reign was an
extensive invasion of the Cimmerians, and a collision between the
inhabitants of Lydia and those of Upper Asia, under the Median kings, who
first acquired importance about the year 656 B.C. under a king called, by
the Greeks, Phraortes, son of Deioces, who built the city of Ecbatana.
Phraortes greatly extended the empire of the Medes, and conquered
the Persians, but was defeated and slain by the Assyrians of Nineveh. His
son, Cyaxares (636-595 B.C.) continued the Median conquests to the river
Halys, which was the boundary between the Lydian and Median kingdoms. A
war between these two powers was terminated by the marriage of the
daughter of the Lydian king with the son of the Median monarch, Cyaxares,
who shortly after laid siege to Nineveh, but was obliged to desist by a
sudden inroad of Scythians.
This inroad of the Scythians in Media took place about the same
time that the Cimmerians invaded Lydia, a nomad race which probably
inhabited the Tauric Chersonessus (Crimea), and had once before desolated
Asia Minor before the time of Homer. The Cimmerians may have been urged
forward into Asia Minor by an invasion of the Scythians themselves, a
nomadic people who neither planted nor reaped, but lived on food derived
from animals--prototypes of the Huns, and also progenitors--a formidable
race of barbarians, in the northern section of Central Asia, east of the
Caspian Sea. The Cimmerians fled before this more warlike race, abandoned
their country on the northern coast of the Euxine, and invaded Asia Minor.
They occupied Sardis, and threatened Ephesus, and finally were overwhelmed
in the mountainous regions of Cilicia. Some, however, effected a
settlement in the territory where the Greek city of Sinope was afterward
Ardys was succeeded by his son Tadyattes, who reigned twelve years;
and his son and successor, Alyattes, expelled the Cimmerians from Asia
Minor. But the Scythians, who invaded Media, defeated the king, Cyaxares,
and became masters of the country, and spread as far as Palestine, and
enjoyed their dominion twenty-eight years, until they were finally driven
away by Cyaxares. These nomadic tribes from Tartary were the precursors of
Huns, Avars, Bulgarians, Magyars, Turks, Mongols, and Tartars, who, at
different periods, invaded the civilized portions of Asia and Europe, and
established a dominion more or less durable.
Cyaxares, after the expulsion of the Scythians, took Nineveh, and
reduced the Assyrian empire, while Alyattes, the king of Lydia, after the
Cimmerians were subdued, made war on the Greet city of Miletus, and
reduced the Milesians to great distress, and also took Smyrna. He reigned
fifty-seven years with great prosperity, and transmitted his kingdom to
Croesus, his son by an Ionian wife. His tomb was one of the architectural
wonders of that day, and only surpassed by the edifices of Egypt and
Croesus made war on the Asiatic Greeks, and as the twelve Ionian
cities did not co-operate with any effect, they were subdued. He extended
his conquests over Asia Minor, until he had conquered the Phrygians,
Mysians, and other nations, and created a great empire, of which Sardia
was the capital. The treasures lie amassed exceeded any thing before known
to the Greeks, though inferior to the treasures accumulated at Susa and
other Persian capitals when Alexander conquered the East.
But the Lydian monarchy under Croesus was soon absorbed in the Persian
empire, together with the cities of the Ionian Greeks, as has been
But there was another power intimately connected with the kingdom
of Judea,--the Phoenician, which furnished Solomon artists and timber for
his famous temple. We close this chapter with a brief notice of the
greatest merchants of the ancient world, the Phoenicians.
They belonged, as well as the Assyrians, to the Semitic or
Syro-Arabian family, comprising, besides, the Syrians, Jews, Arabians, and
in part the Abyssinians. They were at a very early period a trading and
mercantile nation, and the variegated robes and golden ornaments
fabricated at Sidon were prized by the Homeric heroes. They habitually
traversed the AEgean Sea, and formed settlements on its islands.
The Phoenician towns occupied a narrow slip of the coast of Syria
and Palestine, about one hundred and twenty miles in length, and generally
about twenty in breadth--between Mount Libanus and the sea, Aradus was the
northernmost, and Tyre the southernmost city. Between these were situated
Sidon, Berytus, Tripolis, and Byblus. Within this confined territory was
concentrated a greater degree of commercial wealth and enterprise, also of
manufacturing skill, than could be found in the other parts of the world
at the time. Each town was an independent community, having its own
surrounding territory, and political constitution and hereditary prince.
Tyre was a sort of presiding city, having a controlling political power
over the other cities. Mount Libanus, or Lebanon, touched the sea along
the Phoenician coast, and furnished abundant supplies for ship-building.
The great Phoenician deity was Melkarth, whom the Greeks called
Hercules, to whom a splendid temple was erected at Tyre, coeval, perhaps,
with the foundation of the city two thousand three hundred years before
the time of Herodotus. In the year 700 B.C., the Phoenicians seemed to have
reached their culminating power, and they had colonies in Africa, Sicily,
Sardinia, and Spain. Carthage, Utica, and Gades were all flourishing
cities before the first Olympiad. The commerce of the Phoenicians extended
through the Red Sea and the coast of Arabia in the time of Solomon. They
furnished the Egyptians, Assyrians, and Persians with the varied
productions of other countries at a very remote period.
The most ancient colonies were Utica and Carthage, built in what is
now called the gulf of Tunis; and Cades, now Cadiz, was prosperous one
thousand years before the Christian era. The enterprising mariners of Tyre
coasted beyond the pillars of Hercules without ever losing sight of land.
The extreme productiveness of the southern region of Spain in the precious
metals tempted the merchants to that distant country. But Carthage was by
far the most important centre for Tyrian trade, and became the mistress of
a large number of dependent cities.
When Psammetichus relaxed the jealous exclusion of ships from the mouth of
the Nile, the incitements to traffic were greatly increased, and the
Phoenicians, as well as Ionian merchants, visited Egypt. But the Phoenicians
were jealous of rivals in profitable commerce, and concealed their tracks,
and magnified the dangers of the sea. About the year 600 B.C., they had
circumnavigated Africa, starting from the Red Sea, and going round the
Cape of Good Hope to Gades, and from thence returning by the Nile.
It would seem that Nechos, king of Egypt, anxious to procure a
water communication between the Red Sea and the Mediterranean, began
digging a canal from one to the other. In the prosecution of this project
he dispatched Phoenicians on an experimental voyage round Libya, which was
accomplished, in three years. The mariners landed in the autumn, and
remained long enough to plant corn and raise a crop for their supplies.
They reached Egypt through the Straits of Gibraltar, and recounted a tale,
which, says Herodotus, "others may believe it if they choose, but I can
not believe, that in sailing round Libya, they had the sun on their right
and--to the north." In going round Africa they had no occasion to lose
sight of land, and their vessels were amply stored. The voyage, however,
was regarded as desperate and unprofitable, and was not repeated.
Besides the trade which the Phoenicians carried on along the coasts, they
had an extensive commerce in the interior of Asia. But we do not read of
any great characters who arrested the attention of their own age or
succeeding ages, Phoenician history is barren in political changes and
great historical characters, as is that of Carthage till the Roman wars.
Between the years 700 and 530 B.C., there was a great decline of
Phoenician power, which was succeeded by the rise of the Greek maritime
cities. Nebuchadnezzar reduced the Phoenician cities to the same dependence
that the Ionian cities were reduced by Croesus and Cyrus. The opening of
the Nile to the Grecian commerce contributed to the decline of Phoenicia.
But to this country the Greeks owed the alphabet and the first standard of
weights and measures.
Carthage, founded 819 B.C., by Dido, had a flourishing commerce in
the sixth century before Christ, and also commenced, at this time, their
encroachments in Sicily, which led to wars for two hundred and fifty years
with the Greek settlements. It contained, it is said, at one time, seven
hundred thousand people. But a further notice of their great city is
reserved until allusion is made to the Punic wars which the Romans waged
with this powerful State.