The Phoenicians were a seafaring people who dominated the Mediterranean Sea for a thousand years, from about 1400 B.C. Skilled at navigation and sailing, they established trading settlements along the coasts of Lebanon and northern Africa.
The Phoenicians carried copper, tin, silver, olive oil, wine, glass, ivory, and other valuable goods from the eastern end of the Mediterranean to the western coasts of what are today Spain and France.
To protect their monopoly in sea power, the Phoenicians spread rumors and false information about their discoveries and trade routes. They described oceans that boiled and monsters that lurked in the deep.
In 600 B.C., according to the Greek historian Herodotus, the Egyptian king Necho II sponsored a Phoenician expedition to sail around Africa. The ships traveled down the Red Sea and entered the Indian Ocean, where the crews planted crops, harvested them, and afterward made their way around the continent’s southern tip.
After three years at sea, the sailors supposedly entered the Mediterranean at its western end, completing one of the greatest feats of ancient navigation. Herodotus, however, doubted that the expedition was successful.
“On their return they declared, I for my part do not believe them, but perhaps others may, that in sailing around (Africa), they had the sun upon their right hand,” he wrote.
Herodotus was describing the Phoenicians, who had sailed so far to the south that the sun shined from the north, a circumstance Herodotus thought was impossible.