Archaeological evidence has shown that the Phoenician civilization began to develop around 3000 BC and that it was trading with the Egyptians shortly after that. But it wasn't until about 1200 BC that the Phoenicians began to establish the great commercial empire that has made them celebrated.
Their ships, equipped for both commerce and war, dominated the Mediterranean, some say that they sailed as far as Britain and may have even voyaged all the way around Africa. Two of the most important products they traded were a purple dye made from the murex, a type of shellfish, and the timber of cedar trees. The Egyptians used the cedars of Lebanon for coffins, ships, and other artifacts, and King Solomon used them to build the Great Temple in Jerusalem.
Originally the Phoenicians ruled from several city-states located in what is now Lebanon, but they went on to establish colonies in the western Mediterranean. Their most illustrious colony was the city of Carthage in North Africa, which waged war against Rome until being defeated in 146 BC.
The Phoenicians' greatest contribution to civilization was the refinement of a standardized phonetic alphabet that they passed along to the Greeks. The Greeks introduced it to Europe, where it became the basis for the alphabet we use today.