You are here

TitleOld America - The Phoenicians
Publication TypeMagazine Article
Year of Publication1875
AuthorsOttinger, G.M.
MagazineJuvenile Instructor
Issue Number3
Date Published6 February 1875
KeywordsAncient America; Ancient Near East; Phoenicians; Transoceanic Contact; Transoceanic Voyage

Series of articles dealing with archaeological, anthropological, geographical, societal, religious, and historical aspects of ancient America and their connections to the Book of Mormon, which is the key to understanding “old American” studies.

Show Full Text



But little secular evidence remains, and the history of the nations who once enlivened our western plains, and the land now covered by the impenetrable forests of southern America, is meagre and fragmentary, so far as relates to the country previous to the time of Columbus. And, therefore, to be intelligible, it is necessary to go backward, step by step, from his time, gleaning what we can from the few fragments left us, undestroyed by time and man.

That the Phoenicians had communication with America long before Tyre or Sidon was built, it is not difficult to believe; and from them the ancients learned ot a great continent beyond the Atlantic, including what Solon heard in Egypt of Atlantis. But, although fragments of their monuments have been found, and a similarity exists between the Punic or Phoenician characters used in writing and letters found in America, in one or two instances, we have no other evidence of their occupation as colonists.

The ancient Americans' language, their style of architecture, their written characters, and the appearance of the people physically, judging from their painted manuscripts or sculptured monuments, are entirely different from the Phoenicians. Very justly has it been said by one explorer of the American ruins: "The American monuments are different from those of any other known people, of a new order, and entirely and absolutely anomalous; they stand alone."

Greek writers inform us that the Phoenicians and Carthagenians knew the way to a country beyond the Atlantic. One fact mentioned by several ancient writers, and preserved in the records of Tyrian commerce, is related by Diodorus Siculus, as a matter of authentic history. Diodorus was a contemporary of Julius Caesar, and the author of a universal history, over which he spent thirty years. He makes the following statement: "Over against Africa lies a very great island, in the vast ocean, many days' sail from Libya westward. The soil there is very fruitful, a great part whereof is mountainous, but much likewise Champaign, which is the most sweet and pleasant part, for it is watered by several navigable streams and beautified with many gardens of pleasure, planted with divers sorts of trees, and an abundance of orchards. The towns are adorned with stately buildings, and banqueting houses pleasantly situated in their gardens and orchards. * * * The Phoenicians (Tyrians), having found out the coasts beyond the Pillars of Hercules (the Straits of Gibraltar), sailed along the coast of Africa. One of their ships, on a sudden, was driven by a furious storm far off into the main ocean. After they had lain under this violent tempest many days, they at length arrived at this island."

This is similar to the constrained voyage of the Northman, Biarni, from Iceland to the coast of New England, in the year A. D. 985. The storm-driven ship of the Tyrians must have sighted the coast of Central, America, from the description, and returned to their home with precisely the same story and description of their discovery as the Spaniards returned with after sailing along the coast of Yucatan twenty-five hundred years afterwards. The Phoenicians were very secret in regard to their courses of navigation and commercial trading. This undesigned voyage, made more than eleven hundred years previous to the Christian era, was undoubtedly followed by others. The enterprising people who are said to have invented letters or writing, arithmetic, astronomy, navigation, glass and the coining of money, would not be likely to neglect to establish commercial relations with so extensive and populous a country.

Professor Baldwin says: "If the old Central American books may be trusted, the voyage was not long previous to the beginning of the Toltec domination." The extensive ruins of cities in Mexico, Yucatan and Central America bear witness that anciently there was such a country as described by Diodorus, and the reader should bear in mind that the crew of the Tyrian ship found a country already densely populated and covered with large cities, and the land cultivated like a garden, and this three thousand years ago. How long previously had the country been a region of cities and civilization? There is no secular history that can answer.

Punic characters, so supposed, were found engraved on the rocks near the sea at Dighton, Massachusetts, but they proved to be Runic. In a cave explored by Humboldt, between the Amazon and Orinoco rivers, South America, on a block of granite, glyphs were found, supposed also to be Punic letters. Professor Raffinesque, in his Atlantic Journal for 1832, has presented the public with engravings and their meaning, both Phoenician and American, which bear a striking similarity.

A remarkable historical discovery has been achieved within the last two years in Brazil. It is a Phoenician inscription, commemorating a visit to Brazil some five centuries before the birth of Christ. Some slaves, during their agricultural labors. on a farm in the parish of Parahyba, discovered a stone, the engraved characters on which Senor Ladislao Netto, director of the Rio Janeiro museum, has pronounced pure Phoenician, I quote from the letter of this gentleman the translation of the inscription:

The inscription is a commemorative stone, erected by some Sidonians, exiles or refugees from their native land, between the ninth and tenth years of the reign of a king named Hiram. These unfortunate or rash Canaanites (so they denominate themselves) left the port of Azionguba (Akaba), a port upon the Red Sea, and sailed for twelve lunar months along the land of Egypt -- that is Africa. The number of vessels, and the number of males and females comprising the expedition are all set forth, these particulars being placed intermediate between the invocation -- one at the beginning and the other at the end of the inscription of the names of their protecting god and goddess. It is written in eight lines of most beautiful Phoenician characters, but without separation of the words, without the vowel points and without quiescent letters."

The inscription does not inform us which of the two Hirams is referred to, as the reigning monarch at the time, the ally of Solomon -- 980 to 947 B. C., or the Hiram who reigned in 558 to 552 B. C.

Here, again, the same happened to our Sidonians as did to Pedro Cabral, two thousand years later, when, knowing nothing of Brazil, he found himself unexpectedly on its coast. Like Cabral, fleeing from the storms usual to the African coast, from Senegambia to the cape, they steered into the high sea, where, seized by the famous equatorial current, which flows with extraordinary swiftness, they unexpectedly came upon the Brazilian shores.

M. de Bourbourg and other writers base their theories of the Phoenician origin of the inhabitants of America from the few records of their visits, and the vague and mysterious writings and traditions of the ancient Greeks, concerning the island of "Atalantis.

If the inhabitants on the Mediterranean had communication with America in ancient times, they found it already inhabited by a civilized and prosperous people, with extensive cities, containing buildings, whose style and design could not be altered or improved or changed. When this communication was interrupted no one can say. The old American books speak of a great cataclysm. While the Greeks maintain that many ages before Athens was known as a city, the island of Atlantis. existed; in one day and one fatal night there came mighty earthquakes and inundations, during: which the island disappeared beneath the sea.

Do not these traditions on both sides of the Atlantic mean the same thing? And may not this catastrophe be the cause of the interruption that remained for so long a time unbroken? That the Phoenicians at one time hold intercourse with Jared's people, is reasonable to suppose. But we have no definite proof that the first inhabitants were of Phoenician origin.