Book Review: ‘In Search of the Phoenicians’ — Josephine Quinn

Book Review: ‘In Search of the Phoenicians’ — Josephine Quinn
Book Review In Search of the Phoenicians
Updated 24 March 2018

Book Review: ‘In Search of the Phoenicians’ — Josephine Quinn

Book Review: ‘In Search of the Phoenicians’ — Josephine Quinn

In this provocative, brilliant and original book, Josephine Quinn not only sheds new light on the ancient civilization of Phoenicia but actually questions its very existence. Quinn argues that while the Phoenicians as a people certainly existed, as did the Phoenician language, there is no historical evidence that they ever constituted an ethnic group or nation or that they ever claimed to.
Quinn’s interest in Phoenicia was aroused by Virgil’s epic poem, “The Aeneid” and particularly the beautiful, fiercely independent Dido, the founder and first queen of Carthage.
Later, Quinn saw an exhibition on Carthage at Paris’ Petit Palais that opened her eyes to the ancient Mediterranean beyond Greece and Rome.
Quinn went on to give three groundbreaking lectures at Tufts University, which form the basis for “In Search of the Phoenicians.” Her thought-provoking research debunks several myths and uncovers unexpected truths.
It is surprising to learn, for example, that Phoenician craftsmanship has only a weak link with Phoenicia: “It is well known, for instance, that the beautiful metal bowls with mythological and hunting scenes discovered in Italy, Cyprus, Iraq and Iran, which are regularly labeled ‘Phoenician’ in museums and textbooks, have never actually been found in ‘Phoenicia’ or in Levantine settlements abroad,” Quinn writes.
Quinn’s multi-level research cannot fail to impress, but I found myself wishing for the discovery of at least one piece of evidence of Phoenicia’s existence. Alas, one learns that the Near Eastern powers which ruled the Levantine coast from the tenth to the fourth centuries BCE never treated the Phoenicians as a nation. In fact, the Persians who governed the region from 539 BCE to 332 BCE considered Tyre Sidon, Byblos and Beirut as relatively autonomous.
This political approach reflected the situation on the ground. Indeed, Phoenicia’s most famous cities — Tripoli, Tyre, Sidon, Byblos and Beirut — never succeeded in forming a political entity. This inherent separatist fiber has continued through the centuries and still runs deep in the social fabric of today’s modern Lebanon.
The history of the ancient Mediterranean is being rewritten. Civilization itself is under scrutiny. Who is next?