Written by Leah from As We Walk Along the Road
The study of ancient civilizations is one of the most interesting parts of history to me. I’ve enjoyed teaching about ancient civilizations and their contributions that have led to some of the great inventions and resources that we still use today.
In this lesson, kids can learn about the ancient Phoenicians and the alphabet that they developed as well as creating their own clay tablet with Phoenician writing.
About the Phoenicians
Phoenicia was actually a group of city-states. It was established in the area that we now know as Syria, Lebanon, and northern Israel. These city states began forming around 3200 BC and around 1500 BC, Two of it’s most well-known city states were Tyre and Sidon. In Scripture, Phoenicia is the area known as Canaan.
The Phoenicians were an ocean people. Phoenicia was a very popular place for trading and manufacturing. They worshiped many gods and goddesses. One was their god of the sea- Yamm, and they put horses heads on their mighty ships to honor him. They were known for the manufacturing of the powerful ships, for glass-making, and for the making of their famous purple dye. The name Phoenicia comes from the Greek word for purple. In fact, they were sometimes called the “purple people” because the dye they made would stain their skin purple.
The famous historian Herodotus gives Phoenicia the credit for the invention of the alphabet. They supposedly brought the alphabet to Greece sometime before the 8th century BC. Most of the western languages that we know today came from the Phoenician alphabet. And the Phoenician city of Byblos where papyrus was manufactured and traded gave the Bible its name- through the Greek words Ta Biblia, “the books”.
The Phoenician Alphabet
The Phoenician alphabet that was later passed on to other countries and cultures developed around the 15th century BC. Before that, the Phoenicians used a form of cuneiform writing. The alphabet spread so rapidly and to so many places because the Phoenicians were such avid traders and sailed around trading with many different peoples. Most of the writings that have been discovered from the Phoenicians have to do with trade and business.
The alphabet had twenty-two letters. It was read from right to left in diagonal lines. The shapes of the letters came from an earlier Egyptian form of hieroglyphics. Their shapes came from the meanings of the symbols. For example, the first letter- aleph– means ox. And it’s shape looks a little like the head of an ox.
All of the letters in the Phoenician alphabet are consonants. The vowel sounds were added in when the language was spoken. The Phoenician alphabet was different from other systems of writing that came before because instead of having a symbol to represent every word, the symbols actually represented letters that were put together to make words. Occasionally- but not always- the Phoenicians put a straight line in between words to separate them.
This is what the Phoenician alphabet looked like.
Clay Tablet With Phoenician Writing
Although the Phoenicians often wrote on papyrus, they also occasionally wrote on stone tablets or gold panels and later on parchment and wax tablets. When they wrote in clay, they used a stylus to inscribe the letters into the clay. In our activity, we’re going to use clay to write on and a wooden dowel as our stylus. So we’ll create a clay tablet with Phoenician writing.
- Clay- You can use a variety of clay types, but you want a clay that is going to dry and maintain its shape- not just crumble like playdough. Modeling clay works well or a homemade clay that will dry out well without crumbling.
- Wooden dowel or toothpick to write with
- Phoenician alphabet chart- Download printable chart here.