12 Dec 2017

imitatio et aemulatio (Englisch)

A Phoenician boat carrying cedar wood from Lebanon.2

Reading about the origin of the various Roman ports it immediately becomes clear hat the vast majority of those ports were originally founded by the Phoenicians. As with the sculptures also here the Roman motto was: IMITATIO ET AEMULATIO1. The Romans adopted the infrastructure, ports and knowledge which had been built up for years by the Phoenicians before the rise of Rome, and then expanded and improved them.
But who were those Phoenicians and what was their overseas trade. The article below will tell us more about this trade and the important role of Sardinia.

Phoenician commercial routes to their colonies

The Phoenician roots of the Sardinian ports3
by Ahmed Fergiani

The homeland of the Phoenicians was the narrow strip of coast that more or less corresponds to modern-day Lebanon and a part of the coastal strip of Palestine and Syria. They themselves called their land Canaän. In order to make the country prosperous their focus was on the sea and they gradually built a thriving merchant fleet. As profits grew and technology advanced, they constructed larger ships that could handle longer voyages.
The Phoenician captains knew every coastline, every wind and every ocean current and were able to navigate on the sun and the stars. One of the most bright stars (Polaris) was called the Phoenician star.

Silver coin with a Poenician ship

The sailing season was limited to the summer4, not only due to the weather, but also because the crops needed to be attended during the winter. In summer time vineyards and olivetrees did not aske for a lot of attention. Therefore the summer was ideal for trading.
The Phoenicians dropped their anchors in shallow waters like the lagoons or hauled their ships onto the shore if there were beaches. That is the reason why many colonies and trading places were founded near lagoons or on peninsulas. There was always a safe place for their ships even though disembarking meant wading knee deep through the shallow waters with a heavy amphora filled with olive oil or wine on the shoulders.
Sardinia with its strategic location for the Phoenician sailors contained a large quantity of precious metals, especially silver. The silver mines were in full production during antiquity.
There were also numerous mineral springs and large quantities of salt were manufactured on the western and southern coasts by its indigenous Nuragic population.

Limes Sardegna Punica schoom klein2
Sardinia in the time of the Phoenicians.
The yellow parts were colonized.

Around 1000 BC. the Phoenicians landed for the first time on the shores of Sardinia and after that with increasing frequency. Setting sail from Lebanon, on their trade routes as far as Brittania (Great Britain) they needed safe anchorages for the night or to shelter for bad weather or a storm.
The first settlement they built was Sulci (S. Antioco), followed before the end of the VII century BC. by Karalis (Cagliari), Nora, Bithia and Tharros. At Sant’Imbenia, a small commercial port in the north-west of Sardinia (Alghero Gulf) a Phoenician common pottery with amphorae in notable quantities has been found.
These settlements soon became important markets and after a while real towns, inhabited by Phoenician families who traded through the open sea from the Nuragic Sardinians inland.

This stone, found in the city of
Nora, contains the oldest known
Phoenician inscription.

The Phoenician traders invented an alphabet to document their trade agreements. The oldest evidence was found in the city of Nora at Sardinia. This same alphabet became the basis for the Greek and the Roman alphabet.
Sardinia must have played a significant role in the development of these Phoenician commerce networks in the western Mediterranean, and therefor also in that of the later Roman ports. After the Romans defeated the strong Phoenician town of Cartage during the so-called Punic wars, they occupied Sardinia and made it  a province of Rome.
Cicero referred to Sicily, Africa, and Sardinia as the three great granaries of the republic: "Cn. Pompeio duce belli impetus navigavit qui nondum tempestivo ad navigandum mari Siciliam adiit Africam exploravit inde Sardiniam cum classe venit atque hæc tria frumentaria subsidia reipublicæ firmissimis præsidiis classibusque munivit5". 
Partly due to the rich agricultural production in Sardinia, Rome was allowed to survive. Ample grain supplies made it possible for many Roman emperors to provide the citizens of Rome with bread against affordable prices.

Statio 21 on the Piazzale delle Corporazioni at Ostia

The role of Sardinia  as grain supplier was continued during later centuries as we can see in the ancient harbor of Rome, Ostia. Here we find a mosaic with the text NAVICUL (ARII) ET NEGOITIANTES KARALITANI6, which indicates the office of the ship owners and merchants of Cagliari. Another mosaic with the text NAVIC TURRITANI7, documents the presence of the Sardinian traders of Porto Torres.
Today Sardinia is a 'sea of lost ships'. The discovery of the century was in Olbia where a fleet of 12 cargo ships used to transport grain to Rome was found. Among the relics was an eight meter high Roman mast - a rare survival because the fleet was sunk 1.500 years ago in an act of war.

A part of the finds from Olbia8

  • Sources and Notes:
  • 1: IMITATIO ET AEMULATIO - translation: "Imitation and improvement". LIke the Romans imitated the Greek sculptures and improved them.
  • 2: Transport of Lebanese Cedar wood to Mesopotamië (from the palace of Sargon II, the end of the 8ecentury BC.). Louvre, Parijs.
  • 3:For more about the Phoenician history read; https://phoenicia.org/history.html
  • 4: Read our article:'Winter shiping'
  • 5:Translation of the orations of Marcus Tullius Cicero (sect.XII)….As Cnaesus Pompeius has performed his voyage, bearing with him the terrors of war as our general. He, when the weather could hardly be called open for sailing, went to Sicily, explored the coasts of Africa; from thence he came with his fleet to Sardinia, and these three great granaries of the republic he fortified with powerful garrisons and fleets
  • 6: Statio 21 on the Piazzale delle Corporazioni at Ostia
  • 7: Statio 19 on the Piazzale delle Corporazioni at Ostia
  • 8:Photo-Museo archeologico, sala interna. Credits: ASpexi. License: CC BY-NC-SA

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