The Phoenicians had a language and culture like those of other Semitic peoples in the general area and may be said to have been identical with the Canaanites of N Palestine except for the development of their seagoing culture. The Phoenicians made a variety of metal articles. They also colored cloth the famous Tyrian purple ( Phoenicia is the Greek word for "purple") with dye obtained from shellfish and were famous for their finely carved ivories. They worshiped fertility gods and goddesses generally designated by the names Baal and Baalat; sacrifice of the first-born, both of humans and of animals, was practiced. Astarte and Adonis were also known.
Phoenician artisans, who were skilled architects, were imported by the Egyptians, and Hiram, King of Tyre, lent assistance to Solomon in building. Their greatest contribution to Western civilization, however, was the development of a standardized phonetic alphabet, which was a great improvement over the more ambiguous cuneiform and hieroglyphic. The Phoenician alphabet served as a basis for the Greek alphabet and was a key factor in the development of Greek literature.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.