Greco-Phoenician Relations, According to Herodotus
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Reasons for tension and conflict between the Greeks and the Phoenicians

From: The History of Herodotus

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These are the researches of Herodotus of Halicarnassus, which he publishes, in the hope of thereby preserving from decay the remembrance of what men have done, and of preventing the great and wonderful actions of the Greeks and the Barbarians (Meaning the Phoenicians) from losing their due meed of glory; and withal to put on record what were their grounds of feud.

The Phoenicians Began the Quarrel

1. According to the Persians best informed in history, the Phoenicians began the quarrel. This people, who had formerly dwelt on the shores of the 'Indian Ocean' (Note: Herodotus unproven assumption of a geographical region unknown to him), having migrated to the Mediterranean and settled in the parts which they now inhabit (also unproven assumption), began at once, they say, to adventure on long voyages, freighting their vessels with the wares of Egypt and Assyria. They landed at many places on the coast, and among the rest at Argos, which was then pre-eminent above all the states included now under the common name of Hellas. Here they exposed their merchandise, and traded with the natives for five or six days; at the end of which time, when almost everything was sold, there came down to the beach a number of women, and among them the daughter of the king, who was, they say, agreeing in this with the Greeks, Io, the child of Inachus. The women were standing by the stern of the ship intent upon their purchases, when the Phoenicians, with a general shout, rushed upon them. The greater part made their escape, but some were seized and carried off. Io herself was among the captives. The Phoenicians put the women on board their vessel, and set sail for Egypt. Thus did Io pass into Egypt, according to the Persian story, which differs widely from the Phoenician: and thus commenced, according to their authors, the series of outrages.

Cretans Abduct the King of Tyre's Daughter

2. At a later period, certain Greeks, with whose name they are unacquainted, but who would probably be Cretans, made a landing at Tyre, on the Phoenician coast, and bore off the king's daughter, Europe. In this they only retaliated; but afterwards the Greeks, they say, were guilty of a second violence. They manned a ship of war, and sailed to Aea, a city of Cochins, on the river Phasis; from whence, after dispatching the rest of the business on which they had come, they carried off Medea, the daughter of the king of the land. The monarch sent a herald into Greece to demand reparation of the wrong, and the restitution of his child; but the Greeks made answer, that having received no reparation of the wrong done them in the seizure of Io the Argive, they should give none in this instance.

Priam Procures Greek Wife by Violence

3. In the next generation afterwards, according to the same authorities, Alexander the son of Priam, bearing these events in mind, resolved to procure himself a wife out of Greece by violence, fully persuaded, that as the Greeks had not given satisfaction for their outrages, so neither would he be forced to make any for his. Accordingly he made prize of Helen; upon which the Greeks decided that, before resorting to other measures, they would send envoys to reclaim the princess and require reparation of the wrong. Their demands were met by a reference to the violence which had been offered to Medea, and they were asked with what face they could now require satisfaction, when they had formerly rejected all demands for either reparation or restitution addressed to them.

Acts of Violence

4. Hitherto the injuries on either side had been mere acts of common violence; but in what followed the Persians consider that the Greeks were greatly to blame, since before any attack had been made on Europe, they led an army into Asia. Now as for the carrying off of women, it is the deed, they say, of a rogue; but to make a stir about such as are carried off, argues a man a fool. Men of sense care nothing for such women, since it is plain that without their own consent they would never be forced away. The Asiatics, when the Greeks ran off with their women, never troubled themselves about the matter; but the Greeks, for the sake of a single Lacedaemonian girl, collected a vast armament, invaded Asia, and destroyed the kingdom of Priam. Henceforth they ever looked upon the Greeks as their open enemies. For Asia, with all the various tribes of barbarians that inhabit it, is regarded by the Persians as their own; but Europe and the Greek race they look on as distinct and separate.

Phoenician Side of the Story

5. Such is the account which the Persians give of these matters. They trace to the attack upon Troy their ancient enmity towards the Greeks. The Phoenicians, however, as regards Io, vary from the Persian statements. They deny that they used any violence to remove her into Egypt; she herself, they say, having formed an intimacy with the captain, while his vessel lay at Argos, and perceiving herself to be with child, of her own freewill accompanied the Phoenicians on their leaving the shore, to escape the shame of detection and the reproaches of her parents. Whether this latter account be true, or whether the matter happened otherwise, I shall not discuss further. I shall proceed at once to point out the person who first within my own knowledge inflicted injury on the Greeks, after which I shall go forward with my history, describing equally the greater and the lesser cities. For the cities which were formerly great, have most of them become insignificant; and such as are at present powerful, were weak in the olden time. I shall therefore discourse equally of both, convinced that human happiness never continues long in one stay.


  1. The mention of the author's name and country in the first sentence of his history seems to have been usual in the age in which Herodotus wrote.
  2. Herodotus knew the Red Sea and confused the name of the Indian Ocean with Erythraean Sea.
  3. The ancient superiority of Argos is indicated by the position of Agamemnon at the time of the Trojan war (compare Thucyd. i. 9-10), and by the use of the word Argive in Homer for Greek generally. No other name of a single people is used in the same generic way.
  4. The name, thus first brought before us in its Asiatic form, may perhaps furnish an astronomical solution for the entire fable; for as the wanderings of the Greek Io have been often compared with the erratic course of the moon in the heavens, passing in succession through all the signs of the zodiac, so do we find that in the ante-Semitic period there was also an identity of name, the Egyptian title of the moon being Yah, and the primitive Chaldaean title being represented by a Cuneiform sign, which is phonetically Ai, as in modern Turkish.
  5. Since no other Greeks were thought to have possessed a navy in these early times.
  6. Aristophanes in the Acharnians (488-494) very wittily parodies the opening of Herodotus' history. Professing to give the causes of the Peloponnesian war, he says: -

    - "This was nothing,
    Smacking too much of our accustomed manner
    To give offence. But here, sirs, was the rub:
    Some sparks of ours, hot with the grape, had stol'n
    A mistress of the game - Simaetha named -
    From the Megarians: her doughty townsmen
    (For the deed moved no small extent of anger)
    Reveng'd the affront upon Aspasia's train,
    And bore away a brace of her fair damsels.
    All Greece anon gave note of martial prelude.
    And what the cause of war? marry, three women."

    -Mitchell, p. 70-2. This is the earliest indication of a knowledge of the work of Herodotus on the part of any other Greek writer.

  7. The claim made by the Persians to the natural lordship of Asia was convenient as furnishing them with pretexts for such wars as it suited their policy to engage in with non-Asiatic nations.
  8. It is curious to observe the treatment which the Greek myths met with at the hands of foreigners. The Oriental mind, quite unable to appreciate poetry of such a character, stripped the legends bare of all that beautified them, and then treated them, thus vulgarized, as matters of simple history.
  9. Thucydides remarks on the small size to which Mycenae had dwindled compared with its former power (i. 10).

    Excerpted from Book 1, Chapters 1-5, in The History of Herodotus, George Rawlinson, ed. and tr., vol. 1 (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1885)
    Reproduced without permission from

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