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Phoenician Secrets: Exploring the Ancient Mediterranean [Paperback]

Sanford Holst
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

30 April 2011
The mysterious Phoenicians and the ancient Mediterranean are experienced in richer detail than ever before in this well researched and intriguing narrative. Instead of seeing darkness in the years before classical Greece, we now see glimmers of light revealing a continuous parade of remarkable societies, great leaders and epic events. Drawing back the veil of secrecy surrounding the Phoenicians uncovers new glimpses of Egyptians, Greeks, Romans and people of other societies. Sanford Holst is one of the world's leading authorities on the Phoenicians, and appears in the BBC series Ancient Worlds. Elected a member of the prestigious Royal Historical Society for his work in this field, Holst has presented academic papers on the Phoenicians at universities around the world. Working with respected experts, often on-site, he has added photos, sources, and five years of additional research to his previous work. This is a walk through the idyllic ancient Mediterranean you will long remember.

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Phoenician Secrets: Exploring the Ancient Mediterranean + Carthage Must Be Destroyed: The Rise and Fall of an Ancient Civilization + Ancient Worlds: The Search for the Origins of Western Civilization
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Product details

  • Paperback: 380 pages
  • Publisher: Santorini Books (30 April 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0983327904
  • ISBN-13: 978-0983327905
  • Product Dimensions: 22.9 x 15.2 x 2.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 296,464 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


Thoroughly researched and clearly written . . . a welcome addition to all libraries.
--David Northrup, Ph.D.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Extremely readable but somewhat one-sided 31 Dec 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This history reads almost like a novel. It is extremely readable and actually quite gripping. I could not put it down and read it in only a few days. This is the only book I know of which traces the entire history of the Phoenicians across their roughly 3000 years of existence. Holst also recounts the contacts the Phoenicians had with the other peoples of the Mediterranean and this allows the reader to put events into context in a very helpful way. The book is more than just a history of the Phoenicians. As the title suggests, it really does explore the whole of the ancient Mediterranean.

In his introduction, Holst states that there are often varying opinions as to what actually happened in history, but that for the sake of brevity, he has simply presented the explanation of each event best supported by the available evidence. While this approach is pragmatic, it robs the reader of the opportunity to understand where there is consensus about the events Holst is reporting, and where he is venturing into more debatable interpretations. In fact, there are many places where he gives detailed accounts of the motivations of the Phoenicians that we cannot possibly know. At times, his narrative is highly speculative, but presented using language which makes it sound like fact.

Overall, he presents a very one-sided view of the Phoenicians as lovers of peace and equality. Though they quite probably were more peaceful and egalitarian than the societies which surrounded them ( as were many people whose prosperity was based predominantly on trade), it is probable that things were far more nuanced and changeable than the impression Holst gives us.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good narrative and intriguing history 16 Jun 2011
It's great to see there is more to the Phoenicians and other people of the ancient Mediterranean than most books ever show us. I liked that the sources for these things include classical writers such as Aristotle who wrote about democracies at Carthage, Minoan Crete and Sparta as well as Athens. Herodotus, Thucydides and many others are included, as are archaeologists from the Middle East, the Greek isles, Spain, and many places in between. It would have been good to have more depth and discussion in some parts. But as it is, the lives of many interesting people and the significant events they lived through keep this from being just a dusty academic trek. It is a remarkably revealing view of the ancient Mediterranean and a pleasure to read.
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5.0 out of 5 stars FFFPhodenicians 22 May 2014
By LeBrit
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
What do you know about Phoenicians? Not a lot I guess. A gap in the school curriculum's history quota. Buy this, be entranced by purple dye, origins of iron age Greeks and God knows what else - Hannibal for instance??
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Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  12 reviews
19 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An old book recently updated. 7 Mar 2012
By S. Cranow - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I read the author's first book on the Phoenicians a few years ago and thought it was great. I learned a lot about the Phoenicians and their contributions to the development of the Mediterranean that I never knew before or could even imagine. When I bought this book I was expecting to learn something new. Short I was in the expectation of this book continuing where the other one left off. You can well understand my disappointment when I thought to myself while reading this book that hmm I read this before. I was read a few more chapters into the book it dawned on me that this was the same book just a different title.

As I read further on I realized that there was up to 30-40% new information. An update of an older work. Would have been nice if they kept the same title. Then again I might now have invested in the book. The book is a great read for the lay man. It is not burdened with overly academic language and vocabulary and it is very understandable. Such easy reading is refreshing. There is one drawback though and that is the lack of footnotes. I want to track down some of this information. Some of it I have questions about and want to make further inquiries, a bit difficult if the footnotes are not in place. In short I would advise getting this book as opposed to the older one. In fact the author's website is advertising this book not the old one. Very telling.

The Phoenicians are a fascinating group of people. The book give a great surface over view of that. The group started out in Byblos, a city by the sea. At first they were fishermen who made their living from the sea. Their first boats were made from dugout Cedar logs. Eventually their boat building became more advanced and they began trading with distant villages. The result what a rising standard of living. They hit the jackpot with Egypt. Egypt bought lots of timber for their Temple dedicated to Horus in Hierankopolis. The First Pharoah to unite the divided land was their best customer. The author has some new information here detailing the rise of Egypt from the Scorpion king, Aha Menas etc.

The Phoenician expanded their base of trade to the Mediterranean Sea basin and the Aegean. They traded with Cyprus, and founded colonies in Santorini, Malta and Gozo. They brought wares from different places and traded them all over their network. They kept their sources a secret. Secrecy was one of their principles. The Phoenician found a race of people who built nice temple to the Mother Goddess. The Phoenicians being great middle men introduced them to the Egyptians who hired them to build their pyramids. Strange that one day all the inhabitants of the island disappeared. The Egyptians may have taken them enmasse to build their pyramids.

The Pheonicians were of Canaanite stock but they were way different from the other Canaanites. For one they worshiped mother nature an eventually added in a horned god. The Canaanite were more warlike and had a pantheon of gods. One of the Phoenician secrets was to negotiate rather then fight. They also blended in with the others so it was hard to tell the difference. Women were also treated equally and their input was valued.

When the Amorites continued in conquering their main city Byblos rather than fight they made for themselves a new home. They packed up and shipped off to Crete.In Crete they blended in with the locals and formed the Minoan empire. Prior to the Minoan
Empire the Phoenicians set up up other Cities along the Lebanese coast. Cities like Sidon, Arwad and Tyre. As they settled Crete many would leave Tyre and Sidon and those areas were abandoned for up to 500 years after.

The Myceneans were the ones who would change things for the Phoenicians. They were aggressive and warlike. Eventually they would storm the island of Crete. The Phoenicians would simply pack up and leave when negotiations failed them. They ended up resettling their old cities. Things still started looking down for the Phoenicians. Their trading partners, the Egyptians got more and more aggressive. The Hittites rose to power and were hostile as well. The volcano on Santorini exploded destroying numerous Phoenicians colonies in the Aegean. New trading centers arose like Ugarit who offered stiff competition.

Salvation would come in the form of the Kaska people who lived near the Black sea area and were oppressed by the Hittites. The Phoenicians made friends with them and let them to have use of their ships. This provoked in an invasion of the Sea Peoples and they would storm the Aegean and the entire Middle East. All the obstacle the Phoenicians faced were obliterated. Everyone experienced conflict save for the Phoenicians.

Things went great for while until the Greeks started expanding out. They were rather aggressive. They would expand out under the Alexander the Great. Alexander sacked the entire middle east those that surrender were treated mercifully cities like Tyre who put up great resistance for 9 months faced horrible consequences. Tyre was an island city that held out against the Assyrians for 13 years before their leader finally gave up. The other cities just joined in and Hellenized.

Once colony that was immune to all of this was Carthage, set up by wealthy Phoenicians they engaged in farming and became a regional power. Later on Rome would go to war with them in a series of wars called " The Punic Wars" Hannibal became famous from all of this. Eventually Rome won out and Carthage fell. The author believes the Phoenicians still live on. They might. You will have to read the book and find out for yourself.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Like Opening the Wardrobe Doors 30 Mar 2013
By Casondra Sobieralski - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Did you ever read "The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe" when you were a kid? If I am remembering correctly from fourth grade, the children in the story open the doors of the wardrobe and are transported to a magical kingdom. When I open "Phoenician Secrets", I am transported, and THAT is a treat. An escape FROM the desert where I moved for a job I love TO the sea where my heart soared for 18 years.

I think the reason I respond to the book thus is Holst's writing style. He approaches the history like story telling, suggesting a possible vision for time and place, and then he backs up that possible vision with ever-evolving theories based on an ever-growing database of archaeological evidence.

I also appreciate that the author pulls back the lens periodically to situate the Phoenician's gains and movement in the context of a larger Mediterranean snapshot. --while the Phoenicians were doing X at location Y, the Amorites were doing Z in location Q, for example. Mediterranean history is very much about comings, goings, and interrelations, thus this is vital to understanding the gestalt.

I am a multimedia artist who works with archaeologists, and this book reminds me why I worked my way into the field of Digital Heritage. --because I wanted to make antiquity come alive through factually supported story telling. History doesn't have to be dense and dry. Learning doesn't have to require disciplining yourself to turn off your right brain and go into rigid linear tube thinking. His book is inspiring me and reinvigorated me professionally.

Steal away to a breezy quiet place with this book and be prepared to fly through a worm hole to a gentle place.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brings the Past to Life 11 May 2012
By Douglas Russell - Published on Amazon.com
Too many history books I've read are dry compendiums of alleged facts, dates, and names of politicians and war heroes. This author has the sensibilities of a novelist and poet, and he travels to some of the places he writes about. He researches thoroughly, acknowledges controversies among scholars, and distinguishes his impressions and opinions from historical facts. He is a master storyteller who brings the human aspect of the past alive in a way that motivates me to want to learn more.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Incredible story, well told 8 Mar 2014
By mrthinkndrink - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
While I have some knowledge of the early flow of goods and peoples out of the Fertile Crescent, the Phoenicians, as important as they were, have always been a mystery, an unknown quantity lost to the mists of time. This book sheds as much light on that amazing civilization as anything I have ever read or heard. This was a truly remarkable people with a truly remarkable mindset and approach to preserving their culture and maximizing and maintaining their wealth and importance. Without the Phoenicians the history of the world would have been a much different story.

And not only is the story of this secretive group of traders whose influence lasted over 3000 years a truth-is-stranger-than-fiction tale, but the author has presented it with outstanding structure and compelling writing. Imagine, a history book so well written that it easily competes with can't-put-them-down novels. Kudos, and thanks, to Sanford Holst. If you have any interest in the history of the Mediterranean, or the early civilizations of Egypt, the Levant, the Minoans, etc., this volume will educate and amaze you. Highly recommended.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Phoenician Secrets 19 Jan 2013
By Rick Bierman - Published on Amazon.com
I enjoyed reading Phoenician Secrets very much and would recommend it to anyone studying this period of history.

I've been studying the Phoenicians for several months and have accumulated a lot of information but with no order. Phoenician Secrets describes thousands of years of Phoenician history in an orderly and easy to understand fashion. I plan to keep this book and use it as a guide for further research.

I bought this book because Sanford Holst is considered one of the world's leading authorities on the Phoenicians. I'm very happy with the choice I made.
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