Phoenician Government and
Kingship appears to have been the oldest form of Phoenician
government. The royal houses claimed divine descent, and the
king could not be chosen outside their members. His power, however,
was limited by the powerful merchant families, who wielded great
influence in public affairs. Associated with the king was a council
of elders; such at least was the case at Byblos, Sidon, and perhaps
Tyre. During Nebuchadrezzar II's reign (605-562 BC) a republic
took the place of the monarchy at Tyre, and the government was
administered by a succession of suffetes (judges); they held
office for short terms, and in one instance two ruled together
for six years. Much later, in the 3rd century BC, an inscription
from Tyre also mentions a suffete. Carthage was governed by two
suffetes, and these officers are frequently named in connection
with the Carthaginian colonies. But this does not justify any
inference that Phoenicia itself had such magistrates. Under the
Persians a federal bond was formed linking Sidon, Tyre, and Aradus.
Federation on a larger scale was never possible in Phoenicia,
for the reason that no sense of political unity existed to bind
the different states together.
On the Constitution of Carthage
"...held up as
a model" c. 340
The Carthaginians are also considered to have an excellent
form of government, which differs from that of any other state
in several respects, though it is in some very like the Spartan.
Indeed, all three states---the Spartan, the Cretan, and the Carthaginian---nearly
resemble one another, and are very different from any others.
Many of the Carthaginian institutions are excellent. The superiority
of their constitution is proved by the fact that the common people
remain loyal to the constitution. The Carthaginians have never
had any rebellion worth speaking of, and have never been under
the rule of a tyrant. Among the points in which the Carthaginian
constitution resembles the Spartan are the following: The common
tables of the clubs answer to the Spartan phiditia, and
their magistracy of the Hundred-Four to the Ephors; but, whereas
the Ephors are any chance persons, the magistrates of the Carthaginians
are elected according to merit---this is an improvement. They
have also their kings and their Gerousia, or council of
elders, who correspond to the kings and elders of Sparta. Their
kings, unlike the Spartan, are not always of the same family,
nor that an ordinary one, but if there is some distinguished
family they are selected out of it and not appointed by seniority---this
is far better. Such officers have great power, and therefore,
if they are persons of little worth, do a great deal of harm,
and they have already done harm at Sparta.
Most of the defects or deviations from the perfect state,
for which the Carthaginian constitution would be censured, apply
equally to all the forms of government which we have mentioned.
But of the deflections from aristocracy and constitutional government,
some incline more to democracy and some to oligarchy. The kings
and elders, if unanimous, may determine whether they will or
will not bring a matter before the people, but when they are
not unanimous, the people decide on such matters as well. And
whatever the kings and elders bring before the people is not
only heard but also determined by them, and any one who likes
may oppose it; now this is not permitted in Sparta and Crete.
That the magistrates of five who have under them many important
matters should be co-opted, that they should choose the supreme
council of One Hundred, and should hold office longer than other
magistrates (for they are virtually rulers both before and after
they hold office)---these are oligarchical features; their being
without salary and not elected by lot, and any similar points,
such as the practice of having all suits tried by the magistrates,
and not some by one class of judges or jurors and some by another,
as at Sparta, are characteristic of aristocracy.
The Carthaginian constitution deviates from aristocracy and
inclines to oligarchy, chiefly on a point where popular opinion
is on their side. For men in general think that magistrates should
be chosen not only for their merit, but for their wealth: a man,
they say, who is poor cannot rule well---he has not the leisure.
If, then, election of magistrates for their wealth be characteristic
of oligarchy, and election for merit of aristocracy, there will
be a third form under which the constitution of Carthage is comprehended;
for the Carthaginians choose their magistrates, and particularly
the highest of them---their kings and generals---with an eye
both to merit and to wealth. But we must acknowledge that, in
thus deviating from aristocracy, the legislator has committed
an error. Nothing is more absolutely necessary than to provide
that the highest class, not only when in office, but when out
of office, should have leisure and not disgrace themselves in
any way; and to this his attention should be first directed.
Even if you must have regard to wealth, in order to secure leisure,
yet it is surely a bad thing that the greatest offices, such
as those of kings and generals, should be bought. The law which
allows this abuse makes wealth of more account than virtue, and
the whole state becomes avaricious.
For, whenever the chiefs of the state deem anything honorable,
the other citizens are sure to follow their example; and, where
virtue has not the first place, their aristocracy cannot be firmly
established. Those who have been at the expense of purchasing
their places will be in the habit of repaying themselves; and
it is absurd to suppose that a poor and honest man will be wanting
to make gains, and that a lower stamp of man who has incurred
a great expense will not. Wherefore they should rule who are
able to rule best. And even if the legislator does not care to
protect the good from poverty, he should at any rate secure leisure
for them when in office. It would seem also to be a bad principle
that the same person should hold many offices, which is a favorite
practice among the Carthaginians, for one business is better
done by one man.
The government of the Carthaginians is oligarchical, but they
successfully escape the evils of oligarchy by enriching one portion
of the people after another by sending them to their colonies.
This is their panacea and the means by which they give stability
to the state. Accident favors them, but the legislator should
be able to provide against revolution without trusting to accidents.
As things are, if any misfortune occurred, and the bulk of the
subjects revolted, there would be no way of restoring peace by
Aristotle on the Carthaginian State
It is a general opinion that the Carthaginians live under a polity which is excellent and in many respects superior to all others, while there are some points in which it most resembles the Lacedaemonian. The fact is that these three polities, the Cretan, the Lacedaemonian and the Carthaginian have a sort of family likeness and differ widely from all others, and not a few of their institutions are excellent. It may be inferred that a polity is well ordered, when the commons are ever loyal to the political system, and no civil conflict worth speaking of has arisen, nor has anyone succeeded in making himself tyrant. The points in which the Carthaginian polity resembles the Lacedaemonian are that the common meals of the Clubs correspond to the Phiditia and the office of the Hundred-and-Four to the Ephoralty, with this advantage that the Hundred-and-Four are elected for their personal merit, whereas the Ephors are taken from any ordinary people, and lastly the Kings and Senators in the one to the Kings and Senators in the other. It is a point of superiority in the Carthaginian polity that the Kings do not belong to a separate family and this one of no particular merit, and that, although they must belong to one of certain distinguished families, they succeed to the throne by election and not by seniority. For as the Kings are constituted the supreme authorities in important matters, the result is that, if they are worthless persons, they do serious injury and in fact have done it to the Lacedaemonian State.
Of the points which may fairly be censured as deviations from the best polity nearly all are common to the three polities mentioned above; whereas those which are censurable as offending against the primary conception of an Aristocracy or a Polity which the State proposes to itself are errors partly on the side of Democracy and partly of Oligarchy. For instance, it is within the competence of the Kings and the Senate, provided that they are unanimous, to decide whether business shall or shall not be brought before the Commons; although, if they disagree, it is necessarily referred to the Commons. On the other hand, whenever they submit business to the Commons, the popular assembly is thereby empowered not merely to listen to all the resolutions of the government, but it has authority also to pronounce judgment upon them, and anyone who chooses is at liberty to object to the proposals - which is not the case in the Lacedaemonian and Cretan polities. So far the polity of Carthage is democratical. But there is an oligarchical element in the power of cooption enjoyed by the Pentarchies, which are boards of high and various authority, in their right of electing the Hundred who are the highest officers of State and in their tenure of official power for a longer period than any other board of officers, as their power begins before they actually enter upon office and continues after they have actually gone out of it. The unpaid character of the Pentarchies, their appointment by other means than by lot, and other similar features of the polity may be regarded as aristocratical; so too is the rule by which all cases alike are tried by certain fixed boards of magistrates, instead of being divided among different boards as at Lacedaemon. The point in which the Carthaginian system departs most widely from Aristocracy on the side of Oligarchy is in the popular idea that wealth as well as merit deserves to be considered in the election of officers of State, as it is impossible for a poor man to enjoy the leisure necessary for the proper performance of official duties. Assuming then that election by wealth is oligarchical and election by merit aristocratical, we may reckon as a third method the one which obtains in the constitutional system of the Carthaginians who in the election of officers of State generally and especially of the highest officers, viz. the Kings and the Generals, pay regard not to wealth only nor to merit only but to both. This departure from the principles of Aristocracy must be regarded as an error of the legislator. It is a point of primary importance to provide in the first instance that the best citizens, not only during their period of office but in all their private life, may be able to enjoy leisure and be free from degrading duties. But granting that it is right to have regard not only to merit but also to affluence as a means of securing leisure, we may still censure the arrangement by which at Carthage the highest offices of State, viz. the Kingship and Generalship, are put up to sale. The effect of such a law is that wealth is more highly esteemed than virtue, and the whole State is avaricious. Whenever the ruling class regards a thing as honourable, the opinion of the citizens generally is sure to follow suit. No polity however can be permanently aristocratical where merit is not held in supreme honour. Nor is it unreasonable that people, if they pay for the privilege, should get the habit of making their official status a source of pecuniary profit, when they have been put to heavy expenses in order to hold it. If a poor man of good character will aspire to be the gainer by his office, the same will be true, a fortiori, of one whose character stands lower, as is the case with the purchaser of official power, when he has already been put to great expense. It follows that the offices of State ought to be in the hands of the persons who are able to fill them best. But even if the legislator did not trouble himself about the poverty of the higher class of citizens, it would be worth while to make provision for their leisure at least during the time that they hold office.
Another objectionable point is the concentration of several offices in the same hands, which is a favourite plan of the Carthaginians. For a single work is best performed by a single person. It is the legislator's business to secure this division of labour and not appoint the same man to be flute-player and cobbler. Thus in any state of considerable size a division of offices among a number of people is the more statesmanlike and popular arrangement; not only does it admit a larger number of citizens to official power, but, as we said, the same work is more successfully and rapidly performed, as may be seen in naval and military affairs, in both of which the principle of rule and subjection may be said to pervade the whole force. But despite the oligarchical character of the polity the Carthaginians are most successful in avoiding civil disturbance by sending out from time to time a certain number of the common people to their subject States and thereby enabling them to acquire riches. This is their means of healing the wounds of the polity and placing it on a permanent basis. But we may fairly object that this is but the work of Fortune, and that it is the legislator who ought to prevent civil war; while as things are, in the event of some calamity and a general revolt of the subject class, the laws afford no means of securing peace. Such then are the conditions of the Lacedaemonian, the Cretan and the Carthaginian polities which have all a just and high reputation.2
Royal Marriages and Political Alliances
The Israelite king Omri had allied himself with the Phoenician cities of
the coast, and his son Ahab was married to Jezebel, daughter of Ethbaal, king
of Tyre and Sidon. Jezebel, with her Tyrian courtiers and
a large contingent of pagan priests and prophets, propagated her native religion
in a sanctuary built for Baal in the royal city of Samaria. This meant that
the Israelites accepted Baal as well as Yahweh, putting Yahweh on a par with
a nature-god whose supreme manifestations were the elements and biological
fertility, celebrated often in an orgiastic cult. Jezebel's policies intensified
the gradual contamination of the religion of Yahweh by the Canaanite religion
of Baal, a process made easier by the sapping of the Israelites' faith in
and King David
King Hiram (also called HURAM, or HIRAM, Phoenician King
of Tyre) (reigned 969-936 BC), appears in the Bible as an ally
of the Israelite kings David and Solomon.
The Biblical account of a growing friendship between King
Hiram of Tyre and the Kings of Israel was an introductory phase
for a more important events which included military alliances
and cooperation not only during King David's time but also during
the reign of King Solomon.
was thirty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned forty years.
9. So David dwelt in the
fort, and called it the city of David. And David built round
about from Millo and inward. 10. And David went on, and grew
great, and the LORD God of hosts was with him. 11. And Hiram
king of Tyre sent messengers to David, and cedar trees, and carpenters,
and masons: and they built David an house. 12. And David perceived
that the LORD had established him king over Israel, and that
he had exalted his kingdom for his people Israel's sake."3
King Hiram's enemies were the Philistines, who kept the Tyrians
and Sidonians from prospering on the sea. They were King David's
first enimies. The latter, by training the Israelite infantry,
especially the bowmen, he proved more than a match for Philistine
and other foes who employed horses and chariots. In addition,
King Hiram made common cause with King David, forming a land
and sea alliance that endured into Solomon's reign. Solomon,
accordingly, inherited a considerable empire, along with a Phoenician
ally of prime importance for naval and merchant-marine operations.
and King Solomon
Hiram maintained friendly relations with Israel, supplying
King Solomon (Hebrew SHLOMO (fl. mid-10th century BC), son and
successor of David and traditionally regarded as the greatest
king of Israel, with men and materials for the construction of
the Temple at Jerusalem and cooperating with
him in Mediterranean and Red Sea trading voyages. The
Temple was the crowning achievement of Solomon's vast building
program his capital, Jerusalem. Solomon turned to skilled Phoenician
builders, who helped cut and assemble stone and wood for the
Temple at Jerusalem (1 Kings 5). Today the best examples of Phoenician
sacred architecture are the temple of Astarte at Kition, the
sanctuary at Eshmun, and a small shrine at Zaraphath. Phoenicians
often constructed stone walls with vertical piers of ashlar blocks
laid in an alternating pattern of header and stretcher. The area
between the piers was filled with irregular
In return Solomon sent grain and olive
oil to Hiram king of Tyre, and even Galilean territory was given
to him (1 Kings 5), although it was not to his liking.
account of building the Temple: "I Kings 5: 1. And Hiram
king of Tyre sent his servants unto Solomon; for he had heard that they
him king in the room of his father: for Hiram was ever a lover
of David. 2. And Solomon sent to Hiram, saying, 3. Thou knowest
how that David my father could not build an house unto the name
of the LORD his God for the wars which were about him on every
side, until the LORD put them under the soles of his feet. 4.
But now the LORD my God hath given me rest on every side, so
that there is neither adversary nor evil occurrent. 5. And, behold,
I purpose to build an house unto the name of the LORD my God,
as the LORD spake unto David my father, saying, Thy son, whom
I will set upon thy throne in thy room, he shall build an house
unto my name. 6. Now therefore command thou that they hew me
cedar trees out of Lebanon; and my servants shall be with thy
servants: and unto thee will I give hire for thy servants according
to all that thou shalt appoint: for thou knowest that there is
not among us any that can skill to hew timber like unto the Sidonians.
7. And it came to pass, when Hiram heard the words of Solomon,
that he rejoiced greatly, and said, Blessed be the LORD this
day, which hath given unto David a wise son over this great people.
8. And Hiram sent to Solomon, saying, I have considered the things
which thou sentest to me for: and I will do all thy desire concerning
timber of cedar, and concerning timber of fir. 9. My servants
shall bring them down from Lebanon unto the sea: and I will convey
them by sea in floats unto the place that thou shalt appoint
me, and will cause them to be discharged there, and thou shalt
receive them: and thou shalt accomplish my desire, in giving
food for my household. 10. So Hiram gave Solomon cedar trees
and fir trees according to all his desire. 11. And Solomon gave
Hiram twenty thousand measures of wheat for food to his household,
and twenty measures of pure oil: thus gave Solomon to Hiram year
by year. 12. And the LORD gave Solomon wisdom, as he promised
him: and there was peace between Hiram and Solomon; and they
two made a league together. 13. And king Solomon raised a levy
out of all Israel; and the levy was thirty thousand men. 14.
And he sent them to Lebanon, ten thousand a month by courses:
a month they were in Lebanon, and two months at home: and Adoniram
was over the levy. 15. And Solomon had threescore and ten thousand
that bare burdens, and fourscore thousand hewers in the mountains;
16. Beside the chief of Solomon's officers which were over the
work, three thousand and three hundred, which ruled over the
people that wrought in the work. 17. And the king commanded,
and they brought great stones, costly stones, and hewed stones,
to lay the foundation of the house. 18. And Solomon's builders
and Hiram's builders did hew them, and the stonesquarers: so
they prepared timber and stones to build the house."4
- The Politics of Aristotle, trans. Benjamin Jowett (Colonial Press, 1900), pp. 49-51.
- Aristotle on the Carthaginian State, The Politics Of Aristotle, J.E.C. Welldon, tr. (New York: Macmillan, 1893), bk. 2, ch. 11
- II Samuel 5: 4
- I Kings 5
Phoenician Encyclopedia -- Phoenicia, A Bequest Unearthed (Desktop Version)
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year 4758 after the foundation of Tyre