Ancient Phoenicia: An Introduction.

Author:Jigoulov, Vadim
Position:Book review
 
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Ancient Phoenicia: An Introduction. By MARK WOOLMER. London: BRISTOL Classical Press, 2011. Pp. 136, illus. (paper).

Many aspects of Phoenicia (history, archaeology, philology, art, religion, etc.) have enjoyed continued academic interest over the last several decades. An abundance of academic publications raises the question whether yet another book on the subject is necessary. Hopefully this review will answer this question.

The volume under review is published in the "Classical World Series" by Bristol Classical Press. The online catalog description of the series indicates that it is "designed for students and teachers of ancient history and classical civilisation at late school and early university levels." Consequently we need to examine the book through a particular prism, that of its intended audience. Woolmer is quite aware of the task ahead of him as he aims to provide a "schematic overview" (p. 8) of Phoenicia and Phoenician history from the late Bronze Age to the start of the Hellenistic period (1300-300 B.C.E.), along with analysis of the current state of archaeological research.

In chapter one, Woolmer delivers general observations regarding Phoenician self-identification, physical landscape, language, and people. He astutely identifies geographical features of the Phoenician mainland as those that "encouraged political individualism and isolation and prevented the formation of a unified state" (p. 13)--a reasonable explanation of why we should talk about individual Phoenician city-states rather than resort to the externally generated term "Phoenicia."

Chapter two is dedicated to the general history of Phoenicia, and here Woolmer tackles the problem of sources. The primary sources for our study of Phoenicia have traditionally been Josephus and Menander of Ephesus (who quote extinct "Annals of Tyre"), the Old Testament, and the Greek and Roman historians Herodotus, Xenophon, Diodorus Siculus, Arrian, Eusebius of Caesarea, and Philo of Byblos. Unfortunately, biblical texts are identified as one of the main sources of historical information, and Woolmer uses them somewhat uncritically, as in the case of the book of Chronicles used to paint the historical picture of the tenth century B.C.E. (p. 25). The same reliance on biblical authors is evident throughout the entire volume as well.

Chapter three overviews the major cities of the Phoenician diaspora, starting with the entities on the Phoenician mainland (Arwad, Berytus, Byblos...

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