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From the Upper Paleolithic onward various items such as pottery or stone objects were moved over long distances offshore from South East Anatolia to the left bank of the Euphrates and the Levant including Byblos. Obsidian was heavily traded and was found in form of bladelets made by the pressure-flaking technique mostly coming from Central Anatolia. Obsidian were diffused over very long distances reaching more than 900 km and was used for the tools/weapons industry. Flint and lapis lazuli in the form of raw material were also very much traded. Trade of all these materials is to be regarded as a large-scale.
Byblos played a major role in the trade between Mesopotamia, Anatolia, Cyprus, Crete and Egypt called the "Byblos Run". Since the first dynasty in Egypt, Byblos had an exceptional position for Egypt for providing it with the Cedar Wood from the mountains in the back of Byblos, for the construction of ships and timber used for the building of temples and houses and the Pharaohs sarcophagus. In return ships from Byblos brought back from Egypt Gold for the fabrication of jewelry and for the decoration of temples, ivory, perfumes and especially papyrus where the name Byblos became associated with the writing of books.
By 3000 b.c, Byblos, then known as Gubia, became the key port city on the Levantine coast (also called Canaan). With the establishment of the "Byblos Run", constant trade between, Asia Minor in particular the rapid growing land empire in Mesopotamia, Anatolia and the Old Kingdom in Egypt made of Byblos a thriving commercial center and a flourishing wealthy city state.
Byblos ships carried to and from Egypt and the others countries on the Mediterranean iron and silver from Anatolia for the fabrication of silverware and ornaments, copper from Cyprus, resin of coniferous trees from the mountains of Byblos used for the mummification, bitumen for the embalming of the dead, local agricultural products such as wine and olive oil transported in the trade mark jars used for long distance transport, grains of wheat, barly and lentils, flint produced locally for the fabrication of tools like choppers, knives, saws and scrappers, textile fabrics from Mesopotamia, prestige stone vessels from Anatolia such as Obsidian, Travertine, Porphyria for making columns for temples and houses.
Since the third millennium b.c, the Phoenicians of Byblos imported raw materials, processed them in their workshops and exported them. They established a complex production system producing in large quantities. The quantities produced were over the consumption of one city.
The "Byblos Ships" followed a counter clockwise maritime route. The ships moved goods from Egypt to Byblos, and from Cyprus, Anatolia, Crete, the Aegean Islands and Greece mainland back to the African coast and Egypt. Six days of coastal hugging from the Nile Delta would bring a ship to Byblos. The quantities transported aboard the ships were dispatched over many cities and would require a very complex system of local distribution system. The ships used to go in convoys sometimes reaching up to 40 to 70 ships. By the second millennium b.c, the ships were very large comparable to modern freighters and could reach up to 100 feet. Some ships could carry the equivalent of many donkey caravans and the transported goods on a ship could go up to 450 tons. Some of the cargo was on official consignment and some are a private enterprise.
The Phoenicians had a great reputation as being highly skilled metalworkers and their skills are mentioned in both the Old Testament and the Homeric poems. The best-attested objects of the Phoenician metalworking tradition were ornate bowls. The metal bowls are classified in categories according to their shape, the method of manufacture, motifs and stylistic influences. The vast majority of Phoenician bowls were created by hammering a thin sheet of metal over a curved anvil.
Phoenician were very skilled with ivory work and employed a wide range of effects and art techniques.
Phoenicians were the first to discover glass. The molten paste could be poured into molds. The natural color of glass produced was mostly blue or bluish-green color. The Phoenicians also made extensive use of faience.
Large quantities of pottery were produced. Pottery was produced either in molds or on the wheel. Some ceramic figurines were created using a mold and with the back trimmed. Pottery was cooked in an oval oven chamber. Amphorae were used for maritime shipping and were sealed using a pinewood disk plug and a sealant made from a mixture of resin and clay. The decoration on early ceramic vessels was mainly made of simple patterns such as monochrome concentric circles or spirals, simple geometric designs like undulating or straight lines, six or eight point stars, criss-crossed banding, triangles and vertical lozenges.
Phoenicians made high quality and brightly colored fabrics. Phoenicians typically wore ankle-length loose fitting with sleeves could be long short or elbow length. Clothes were adorned with embroidered designs and had fringed hems.
Jewelry were of Gold and silver and crafted using technical sophistication and artistic ability. Multitude of methods and techniques were used to manufacture of Phoenician jewelry. Phoenician jewelry makers often embellished their work with colored glass and semi-precious stones.
Phoenician diet consisted mainly of, cereals such as barley and wheat pees, lentils andvchickpeas, broad beans, Vegetables, fruit (onions, garlic, lettuce, cucumber, apples and pomegranates) and dairy products such as milk and cheese. Grain was also grounded into flour using a quern. Flour which could then be baked into bread in ovens. Grain used to create beer also. The Phoenicians had the reputation for being great wine producers. It is said that wine was nurtured by the God El. Phoenicians grew significant quantities of olives and produced oil. Honey had multiple usage including the sweetening of the food and a votive offering in the temple. Barley had trading value like gold or silver. The Phoenicians became experts in irrigation.
The Phoenicians of Byblos were trading resins and spices at the ports across the mediterranean since the third millennium. The testimony of the archives of Knossos in Crete attests to the use of the resin in the Aegean. Archaeometric studies show that incense resins of the Pistacia tree is found in Egyptian cups of the New Kingdom era and were imported from Levant and most probably Byblos. Fragrant oils, ointments, drinks and incense were manufactured in the palatial centers and circulated across the Mediterranean through the merchants of Byblos. Laboratory investigations into the identification of resin found in amphorae found on the sunken Phoenician Ulurburun ship showed that it is resin from trees such as Pistacia terebinthus and Pistacia atlantica that grow on the levantine coast, where in some amphorae the resin contained leaves and fruits from these trees. Also according to the Greek Athenius Myrrh was included in appetizers and drinks with peppers and cypress. Myrrh has a heavy smell and a bitter and pungent taste. As a raw material resins found various applications in perfumery. Other aromatic substances like balsam and the frankincense were in use. Egypt seems to have been one of the main recipients of Phoenician resins and luxurious scented oils. In the years of Pharaoh Thutmose III more than 9000 liters of resin were imported annually from the Phoenician region and Byblos was a main center at that time for commercial dispatching. In 1300 BCE a sunken merchant ship the Ulurburun was loaded with 150 amphorae some containing resins. Turpentine and myrrh reached the Aegean during the 2nd millennium BC through the trade networks of Levantine merchants. Aromatics reached the whole mediterranean. For the Minoans and Mycenaeans of Crete the resin would have to come in a semi-liquid form or in tears. Unprocessed tears were used as incense or combined with aromatic fruits such as coriander and juniper seeds.
The Akkadian words for jar refer to amphorae that carried mostly olive oil and wine. Amphorae were generic containers were sealed and labeled to identify contents. The Uluburun shipwreck had a large shipment of terebinth resin in jars. The term for this jar was kadu and had a standard liquid measure of around 22 litres. On the Uluburun ship jars fall into three general size groups with the smallest jar representing an average capacity of 6.7 litres the medium about about twice that volume and the largest some 26 liters. Kadu remains the near-exclusive container recorded in transactions of vinegar olives honey and olive oil and wine. The jars are about 55cm high. Some jars found had stamped clay labels mentioning product and producer. It is said that the Uluburun ship went down with as much as one metric ton of resin in jars making the resin cargo the second bulkiest after the 11 tons of copper and tin. There were on the ship 5 tons of jarred cargo. The total shipment may be worth up to 7000 silver shekels. Half a ton of resin in jars was worth 11.5 shekels of silver. In Late Bronze Age a sheep cost one shekel and a horse 35 shekels so the resin or wine was worth maybe a dozen sheep or part of a horse.
In the Bronze Age new dynamics of trade had begun in the extended distribution of the copper ingots from Cyprus. Metal by weight was the worldwide expression of payment in varied forms from standardized oxhide ingots to small scraps of metal stored in bags or jars. Big oxhide ingots were found in the Uluburun shipwreck. The ingots could be easily broken into pieces. The ingots could be rectangular-shaped or oval-shaped, they can be also rings or coils or twisted bars or bar-shaped or small flat slabs. Ingots could be silver, gold, copper, lead or tin. Found also miniature oxhide ingots inscribed with hieroglyphs. Prices would be expressed in weights in shekel or for the Egyptians in deben. During the 14th and 13th centuries BCE the price of one shekel of gold was three to four shekels of silver. Small amounts of scrap metal were carried by merchants almost certainly to be used as a means of exchange. The Amarna letters indicate that foreign ships and merchants paid taxes in silver and scrap metals and bronze weapons. Copper and silver ingots were frequently broken up into small pieces and packed into sealed bags. Wenamun left by sea to buy lumber in Byblos for the ceremonial barge of the god and paid in the form of gold and silver stored in jars and sacks. Wenamun’s 5 deben of gold were the equivalent of 600 deben of copper while his 31 deben of silver were worth 1860 deben of copper.
Agricultural products were weighed and prices were expressed as weight in silver. Prices were sometimes stated in weights of metals but mostly silver. The balance-pan scale was in use and sets of stone or metal were used as weights. Pierced weights were discovered on the Uluburun shipwreck. Biblical references mention the practice of weighing. Texts mention Priestly authority showing concerns for accurate measuring of votive offerings and the control of standards. Weights start progressively from grain to shekels to minas and talents. For example a weighing standard is 40 shekel per mina, or the Mesopotamian sexagesimal standard of 60 shekels per mina. Phoenician systems had bigger shekels than those of the Mesopotamian system. Roughly 10 shekels are equivalent to 1 Egyptian dbn.
Seals primarily indicate ownership and claim indicating obligation in a contractual sense and witnessing and officiating. Seals were used for the control over goods either in manufacturing or possession or identity. Texts show the importance of seals in conducting business in earlier times. Seals are found in great numbers in residential or private contexts. The cylinder was the predominant type of seals but also scarabs and rings. Seals were used by local elites merchants and agents and most prominent entrepreneurs. Seal iconography was chosen freely. In private business sealing was done on commercial documents. Precious goods were sealed in chests. Goods were stored in sealed storerooms. Also found some practice of the sealing of doors. Sealing was the most frequently recorded legal procedure at the time.
The interior of the house, palace or temple was a warehouse for clothes, skins, silver, jars, millstones, chariots, and agricultural produce. The house became a strong-box for goods awaiting shipment. A typical exchange house is where storage, taxation. diplomacy and socializing were conducted under one roof.
Tablet labels were flattened truncated cone-shaped clay pieces, sealed and bearing written information in syllabic and alphabetic scripts about the commodities to which they were tied. The commodities labeled included wine, wheat, barley, spelt, garments, oil, sheep and flour. The identity of the commodity is occasionally omitted but the quantity is always given. The handler or destination of the commodity is nearly always stated.
In the society there was an important entrepreneurial class. The entrepreneurs were connected to producers or produced for themselves and created wealth. A noble or elite groups owned large household organizations or estates. The production and exchange was in the hand of people with large amounts of capital. It is the long distance entrepreneur who has possessed the capital and created kind of the capitalist economy. Entrepreneurs privately owned ships and land. But the economy in which decisions regarding social and commerce were made at a household level rather than at a centralized level. This is what is called a palatial economy and that created a wealthy financial system. The system was kind of a feudal model with social organization placed in the hands of the nobility and the land was either granted or bought by producers from the crown or from private individuals or can be inherited. Tax was collected on behalf of the authority. Thus the king was not the owner of all the land in the realm. The merchants acquired their own means of production either buying from the king or a citizen. The entrepreneurs could purchase productive real estate from individuals without royal involvement. The society was divided in a two-sector model a free village and dependent urban sectors and with a strict patrimonial authority. Chain of royal farms or units of the royal rural economy supplied the bulk of the kingdom. Manorial lords owned the land and the patrimonial ruler owned and controlled everyone. Under the dominance of this patrimonial regime a type of capitalism has thrived. Some studies show that the King did not want the whole administrative burden and proceeded to delegation and decentralization. International and civil law was not unsophisticated in the Lower Bronze Age especially regarding commercial matters.
Practice of lending started in the third millennium. Texts show loans of silver for partnership and some loans of silver to individuals. In the second millennium appear numerous lending contracts from private individuals for commercial nature and trading venture and shipment by sea. These credits could be interest bearing. The liability of a debt investor is limited to his investment. The commercial loans were tied to surety or third-party guarantee of repayment. A merchant who dealt in a variety of commodities had many different credit accounts such as credit sales of oil, wool, grain or metal. It is possible that payments might be done by the use of check or letter of credit using as guarantee mortgaging or pledging. In the fourteenth century BCE deed-tablets were bought and sold on the market. Some commercial firms functioned as a bank.
Grain prices such as barley surge during the year of political disorder or bad climate conditions when people were hungry. The prices were low during a period of good reign. Low prices of barley and other goods reflect the forces of supply and demand not price control. Governments engaged in massive programs of storage and redistribution of staples. Large private hierarchically organized firms for trading with grains existed. Private merchants stored grain in granaries. Texts of the third millennium record grain loans. The temple and the King palace were the main providers of harvest credit though private persons loaned out barley.
May be written land leases for the sales of fields become available dating from the third millennium. The most important participants in the land market were the temple, the royal palace, officials and merchants. Women participated as both sellers and buyers of land. Land property could be sold and owned by private individuals or groups. Deeds of landed estates were deposited with creditors to secure loans. Lands of agricultural use owned by private individuals or groups or families or tribes could be sold. Houses were sold and bought as well. The royal palace or temple could have played a role in registering land transfers. Transfer documents can bear the imprint of the dynastic seal.
The trading networks of the late second millennium were produced by centuries of individual and corporate entrepreneurship. During this period private traders and private firms were involved in buying , selling or transporting goods. Private ownership of ships is also attested. In late second millennium a value for a wrecked ship and its cargo amounts to at least 12.000 shekels of silver enough capital to buy hundreds of cattle or food for a city for a whole year. A maritime merchant could have inherited his wealth. A wealthy merchant or firm can be granted franchise by the king. Some merchants received land grants or like being associate with the royal palace and could be exempted from tax on foreign trade. Merchants accumulated big capital, some appear to have had something like a monopoly on some commodity trade and they became like an oligarchy and controlled lot of commodities in the realm of the kingdom. Merchants were sometimes protected by law and merchant individual climbed to the highest non-dynastic post in the land. The local seafaring entrepreneurs acted as middlemen between local and extra-local cities. One may reconstruct the upper entrepreneurial sphere being the terrestrial and maritime shippers, donkey owners, land owners.
The main source of Copper was Cyprus. The ingots of copper became so important in the second millennium. Phoenicians developed complex trade networks to transport and exchange copper in big volume that was the most important component to make tools and weapons and luxury goods. Copper was traded in form of Copper ingots. Chemical analyses have shown that oxide ingots were made of highly pure copper usually 98 to 99% copper and impurities in smelted copper were removed by roasting and remelting. Evidence for Organized Metalworking of Copper, Bronze and Tin in Byblos. On the shipwrecks theUluburun, copper is the largest and heaviest of object tonnage wise in the cargo.
Phoenicians traded largely olive oil and aromatic oil especially for gifting to Royal palaces and for religious rituals in temples. One can compare the importance of oils particularly aromatic oils with that of silver and gold. For example in late second millennium a small amount of scented oil contained in a small bottle would cost two shekels of silver. Messengers transporting aromatic oils were usually welcomed by kings to their courts. Olive oil and aromatic oils were highly desirable goods. May be the Phoenicians particularly Byblos were the likely conductors of much of the olive oil trade.