The Phoenicians in Malta

Mysterious protagonists of Mediterranean history
The next generation of inhabitants after the prehistoric era were highly influenced by the Phoenicians and the language marking the end of the prehistoric era. 

The Phoenicians were able sailors and keen merchants. They embarked after the end of the 10th century BC on a search for metals and markets far and wide.

Their search for raw materials and markets took the Phoenicians to different areas of the Mediterranean and beyond. Indeed, for hundreds of years, the Mediterranean became their sea, shared in part by colonizers and sea merchants from Greece and elsewhere.

Metal was the material that changed the whole concept of an entire generation. The change from stone to metal has brought about development that shifted the way things were made.

The importance of metal for making tools and weapons, producing utensils and decorative artwork cannot be exaggerated.

Craftsmen applied their skill to transform bronze, iron, silver and gold into artefacts which enchanted their customers for their beauty and technical sophistication.

The decoration was often inspired by foreign exotica, especially those from Egypt and Assyria.

The most common of glass vessels produced in the Mediterranean area by the Phoenicians and the Greeks between the 7th and the 1st centuries BC were small polychrome vessels.

Some had a cylindrical body and a narrow neck, and probably contained expensive perfumes, oils and cosmetic creams.

Cloth seldom survives in the archaeological record and in fact not a shred of Phoenician fabric has reached us.

This is unfortunate for ancient writings tell us that the ancient Phoenicians, especially those living in Tyre and Sidon, were renowned for their textile production.

In particular, they were famed for the way that they managed to dye their wool and linen garments using two major types of sea-snail species

These are common along the Mediterranean shores: the Murex trunculus and the Murex brandaris.

The Phoenicians buried their dead in a variety of ways.

One of these was to put the corpse inside a coffin.

Fashioned in wood, terracotta, stone, and marble, coffins consisted of a casket and a lid, and were often shaped like a human figure, a practice that was very popular in pharaonic Egypt.

Għar Barka
The area known as Għar Barka is located on the south-western part of Rabat.

Lead poured inside the grooves on the side of the coffin was meant to hold the lid firmly in place.

The Phoenicians in the western Mediterranean preferred a method of burial disposal that consisted of the cremation of the corpse. The cremation process took place on a pyre, probably not far from the tomb.

The charred remains were collected together with ashes and pieces of charcoal, and deposited in a special ceramic container or urn. The urn was then lowered into the tomb.

The alternative method of burial consisted of placing the corpse inside the funerary chamber on a mortuary platform or bed often cut into the rock and sometimes built.

In some cases, the body was placed inside coffins made of terracotta or wood.

Although cremation was the preferred rite amongst the Phoenicians until the 6th century BC when it was supplanted by inhumation, in actual fact the two rites co-existed, sometimes within the same cemetery or even the same tomb.

In April 1914, a rock-cut tomb was discovered at Qallilija on the outskirts of Rabat (Malta).

The chamber was oval and had a raised funerary couch along its length. On the couch lay remains of a female skeleton above a male skeleton, the female having been last to be buried.

The type and number of artefacts suggest that a basic set was deposited with each body: an urn, a shallow bowl (only one was traced), a cooking pot, a beaker, a two-handled cup.

We know very little about what the Phoenicians thought would happen at the end of life.

It is believed that the objects buried with the dead person would be required in another life, reached after a long and difficult journey. A small piece of papyrus was found wrapped inside a bronze holder.

Written on the papyrus in the Phoenician script was a prayer from the dead person who invokes divine help to defeat the enemy blocking a sea journey to the underworld.

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