What did the Phoenicians look like? Since they preferred to keep their personal affairs strictly private, the Phoenicians made almost no imagesof themselves, whether as sculpture, paintings or on their highly-prized metalwork. Therefore we primarily rely on the many people who came in contact with the Phoenicians to obtain images of them.
This is a visual record carved in stone, showing gifts given to Assyrian king Ashurnasirpal II in 870 BC. He had come to the Mediterranean shore for the purpose of opening trade routes for his people. The Phoenicians, ever ready to increase their trade opportunities, gave the king gifts of gold, silver, copper, tin and fine linen garments. They also gave him two monkeys. This last gift was so rare and exotic that the king commemorated it on the wall of his royal palace at Nimrud, in what is now called Iraq. This image shows a Phoenician merchant bringing the two monkeys to the king.
Rare images created by the Phoenicians themselves were revealed on this sarcophagus of King Ahiram. It was found in his city of Byblos, where it had been buried in the 13th century BC. The sides were decorated with carvings of Phoenician citizens offering homage to the king. It will be noted that there are some similarities as well as some differences between the dress and appearance of these people compared to the merchant above.
Coins do not have room for much detail, but they can still convey some idea of physical appearance and fashion. The gold coin shown here was minted in Carthage between 260-240 BC. It shows a young woman with her hair styled into many curls and held by several accessories. This does not portray a Puritanical society but rather one that knows and practices enjoyment of life and fashion.
So we have many hints of how the Phoenicians appeared in those early days. We see the styles they chose and how they dressed for significant occasions in their fascinating society.
CLOUD: Phoenician images and pictures, garments, fashion, hair style, monkeys, sarcophagus, dress, appearance, coin
If you would like to experience more of the Phoenician world than you found in this article, the book Phoenicians: Lebanon’s Epic Heritage is recommended. It is deeply researched but also a highly readable exploration.
Going beyond the few traditionally-cited facts, this authoritative work also draws from interviews with leading archaeologists and historians on-site in the lands and islands where the Phoenicians lived and left clues regarding their secretive society.
You can take a look inside this book. See the first pages here.