Phoenician Legacy

The Phoenicians occupied modern day Lebanon from about 1550 BC to 300 BC.  They were a trading and seafaring people who left an incredible legacy throughout the Mediterranean basin that persists to this day.

Their greatest contribution to humanity was undoubtedly their alphabet.  The Phoenician alphabet is considered to be the ancestor of almost all modern alphabets. The Phoenicians were the first state-level society to widely implement a phonetic alphabet, which in turn, extended literacy beyond a narrow caste of priests.  It lead to a more democratic and flatter social structure throughout the Mediterranean.  This democratization of knowledge in turn inspired the renowned Greek constitutional government and fomented a spectacular leap in literacy and literary production.  The oral traditions of Greek mythology began to be transcribed onto Egyptian papyrus, which had an enormous influence on later cultures, namely the Etruscans and Romans.  The Phoenicians were in fact the first shipping pioneers to explore beyond the Strait of Gibralter.  Their commercial network spanned the Mediterranean, where they colonized many outposts, including Carthage.

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In Carthage, they spoke Punic, a variety of Phoenician language, and became the Roman Empire’s main rival.  Rome and Carthage would fight three major battles, known as the Punic Wars, which would eventually determine the course of Western civilization.  Hannibal, a Carthaginan commander, lead a successful attack on Rome by crossing the Alps on war elephants.  Rome eventually vanquished Carthage and subsumed its territory.

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The Phoenician influence persisted, both through the Roman Empire, and through successive Middle Eastern civilizations.  Hebrew and Arabic languages both stem from Phoenician, and Lebanon has inherited Phoenicia’s rich literary tradition.  Lebanon, in fact, boasts some of the highest education rates in the region, many of its citizens are trilingual, and Beirut has long been a regional book publishing capital.

It is interesting to me how highly valued Greek and Roman cultural output is, while the  underlying Phoenician influence is little known.  Without the innovative Phoenician alphabet, we might not have Greek and Roman mythology in the canon of Western literature.

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Mint Lemonade and Mint Tea

Mint, an herb long cultivated across the Middle East and North Africa, is renowned for its cooling and healing properties.  Its modern name came from an ancient Greek myth.  Persephone, the jealous wife of Pluto, transformed the object of her husband’s lust, the lovely young nymph, Minthe into a plant so all could trample her.  Unable to reverse the spell, Pluto instead gave Minthe a pleasant scent that intensified when she was tread on.  The name Minthe eventually evolved into Mint.  The versatile plant was used by the Ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans in aromatic baths, as a salve for sports injuries, and as an appetite stimulant.  In Rome, Pliny the Elder advised his students to wear wreaths of mint to sharpen their minds, and senators wore mint sprigs in the hope of enhancing their oratory skills and suppressing their tempers.  It has long been known to serve as a digestive aid, as an antiemetic, and as a cough suppressant.  It is refreshing when served cold and soothing when served warm.

Historically, mint is a symbol of hospitality.  The Greeks and Romans would rub mint on banquet tables to greet their guests,  and today, Moroccans are quick to offer a glass of mint tea as a gesture of friendship.

Both mint lemonade and mint tea are widely drunk throughout the Middle East and North Africa.  They are both easy to make, healthy (as long as you are much more conservative with the sugar than they are in the Middle East), and de-licious!

Moroccan Mint Tea:

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Mint Lemonade:

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