The British, Irish and Lebanese have all claimed descent from the ancient Phoenicians, but ancient Phoenicia never existed.


PhoeniciansFrom Aeon by Josephine Quinn author of In Search of the Phoenicians:

Modern nationalism created history as we know it today: what we learn in school, what we study at university, what we read at home is all shaped by the forms and norms of our nation-states. Modern nationalism took history from the province of the wealthy gentleman amateur, as nationalism’s focus on literacy and organised education professionalised and democratised the past. And in return, history is called upon to justify nationalism itself, as well as the existence of particular nation-states; Eric Hobsbawm once said: ‘History is to nationalism what the poppy is to the opium addict.’ All this gives modern nationalism an extraordinary power to shape – and misshape – the practice and understanding not only of modern history, but even of antiquity.

Take the ancient Phoenicians, enlisted in support of the nationalist histories of Lebanon, Britain and Ireland, and in some cases seriously distorted by them. Despite claims by various partisans of Lebanese, British and Irish nationalism to enlist the Phoenicians as their ancient progenitor, the Phoenicians never existed as a self-conscious community, let alone a nascent nation.

In the aftermath of the First World War, the Ottoman Empire that had ruled the Levant for 400 years collapsed. European powers scrambled to carve up the region in their own, relatively new, model of nation-states, initially under British or French supervision. The French Mandate of Syria included a strip of prosperous Mediterranean ports backing on to the rural highlands of Mount Lebanon, the traditional home of the Maronites, who are Eastern Catholics in communion with the Vatican, and the Druze, whose beliefs combine Islamic teachings with elements from other Eurasian religious traditions. The Maronites and the Druze had a history of warfare and little in common. Nonetheless, since 1861 they had been governed together under the Turks as a separate administrative district from the coastal cities of Beirut, Tyre and Sidon, which were largely inhabited by Sunni Muslims.

Read the rest of the article at Aeon

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