Phoenician Sailors

By Sarah

Restinga Beach

Sitting on the beach in Restinga looking at the Mediterranean I imagine Phoenicians sailing their galley ships across from Lebanon to Morocco. The oarsmen could rest on a windy day like today as they sailed their ship westward towards Tingis, modern day Tangiers.

What did Phoenicians bring to Morocco? How did Phoenicians impact Moroccan design? These are questions without clear answers, but that make for lovely seaside daydreams.

According to Berber mythology, the town of Tangier was built by the son of Tingis, a goddess. Tingis was the wife of the giant Anateus, son of Poseidon, and later Hercules. She and the location of Tangiers are associated with the union of the sea and the earth 1. Tingis was one of many Phoenician colonies in Morocco, the others being Lixus (Larache), Sala (Rabat-Sale), Zili (Asilah), and Mogador (Essaouria) 2.

I’ve read that Phoenicians were the first to use the hamsa, the hand talisman that is so commonly seen in Morocco toady, which was used to honor Tanit, the lunar goddess and patron goddess of Carthage. Today the hamsa (five) symbol, is also known as the Hand of Fatima, or Hand of Miriam and has specific meaning in Judaic and Islamic cultures. 4.

One website calls the Phoenicians “Missionaries of Civilization.” The Phoenicians were one of the early implementers of the alphabet and their language is the precursor to North African Punic. They wrote many books, none of which survive, but which are quoted in ancient texts that survived from other cultures.

Phoenician urn, Chellah, Rabat

Phoenicians were known for their craftsmanship in metal, ivory, terra cotta, wood, glass, and stone. Yet, Phoenician art is not considered to have any identifying characteristics of its own. It embodies a variety of influences picked up from various cultures through trade, the dominant being Egyptian, Greek, and Assyrian. 5.

Besides their accomplishments in maritime trade and implementation of the alphabet, Phoenicians developed Tyrian purple pigment from sea snail shells, which was used by Greek elites to dye their clothing. Mogador (Essaouria) was one of the production centers of this pigment, which could only be obtained by trading with the Phoenicians.

So, what did Phoenicians bring to Morocco? The hamsa talisman? Craftsmanship skills in a variety of mediums? The alphabet? Eastern ideas and products? It is hard to say exactly, because just as archeologists argue of Phoenicians origins, one can argue over the origins of Moroccan design. Both the Phoenicians and Moroccan design are products of a world economy, ethnic diversity, and the movement of people, products, and ideas.

2 Responses to “Phoenician Sailors”

  1. Shilpy Arora Says:

    Dear Madam,

    We at Krest Publications are working on “Morocco in Focus” magazine- Publication of the Embassy of Morocco in India. The magazine will be released on Moroccan National Day- July 30, 2008 both in Morocco and India. We are planning to do a story on Moroccan Designs. It would be great if you can contribute an article based on this topic along with good quality colour photographs.

    Your support in this regard will be highly appreciated.

    Looking forward to your earliest reply.

    Thanks and Regards

    Shilpy Arora
    Asst. Editor
    Krest Publication
    New Delhi, India

  2. dillip patnaik Says:

    There is a common link between Moroccan and Indian food. Phoenicians are Indians of aryan tribe, left India due to some conflict went to middle east. They were traders, in India they are called Banias.

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    Sarah Tricha

    Project of an informal student of Morocan design. more