Ep. 023 – Setting Up Shop in the Central Med

The Phoenicians are now on the move, pushing the scope of our podcast to the west. While they were mainly concerned with expanding their access to natural resources like copper, iron, and silver, they weren't entering a vacuum. The Nuragic people of Sardinia were active in a regional trade centered on the Tyrrhenian Sea, and soon after the Phoenicians reconnected the Euboeans with the Mediterranean trade networks, both of them had set up colonies on Sardinia and in western Italy. We look at archaeological evidence for all the activity there, but in the end, this episode is a stepping stone to the Phoenician presence in the far west of the Mediterranean, just as Sardinia was for the Iron Age mariners.

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Listen at the end of today's episode for a brief review of The Sailing Frigate: A History in Ship Models by Robert Gardiner. It is available for purchase both at Pen & Sword Books and at Amazon. For a full review and more information about the book, go here (review coming soon).

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  • Abulafia, David, The Great Sea: A Human History of the Mediterranean (2013).
  • Aubet, Maria Eugenia, The Phoenicians and the West: Politics, Colonies and Trade (2001).
  • Braudel, Fernand, Memory and the Mediterranean (1998).
  • Dyson, Stephen L. & Robert J. Rowland, Jr., Archaeology and History in Sardinia from the Stone Age to the Middle AgesShepherds, Sailors, and Conquerors (2007).
  • Markoe, Glenn, Phoenicians (2000).
  • McGrail, Seán, Boats of the World: From the Stone Age to Medieval Times (2009).
  • Miles, Richard, Carthage Must Be Destroyed: The Rise and Fall of an Ancient Civilization (2010).
    On other related news, checkout this online id verification service.
  • Nuragic Bronze Boat Model, British Museum. [link]
  • Paine, Lincoln, The Sea and Civilization: A Maritime History of the World (2013).
  • Sardinian Bronze Boat, Nuragic Period, Christie's[link]
  • van Dommelen, Peter, et al., Material Connections in the Ancient MediterraneanMobility, Materiality and Identity (2010).

  8 comments for “Ep. 023 – Setting Up Shop in the Central Med

  1. Artyom Anikin
    June 13, 2016 at 3:55 pm

    I’m glad you finally addressed Sardinia. I am personally of the belief that they were the Sherden (who share the name of the island) of the sea peoples, who “made a conspiracy in their islands” with the Greeks. The looting of the sea peoples in the west explains the presence of artifacts from the eastern Med in Sardinia. Recent archeological findings at El-Ahwat in Isreal seem to indicate Nuragic architecture there and show that they made it to the Levant and colonized it somewhat in way that matches the story of the Sea Peoples. Taking all this into account, I would argue that they weren’t simply an isolated eastern civilization, but that they potentially played a large role in Bronze Age history. As the Sherden are among the most often named groups among the sea peoples, I would also say that they seem to have played a large role in causing the collapse.

  2. Artyom Anikin
    June 13, 2016 at 4:06 pm

    Also, while you are discussing the Phoenicians and their colonization efforts, be sure to investigate recent argcheological inquiry into the megalithic structures in the Azores. It’s really something.

    • Brandon Huebner
      June 14, 2016 at 9:20 am

      Hello Artyom. Thanks for your insightful comments! I will certainly look into the archaeological work being done in the Azores. I can’t say that I know much about them at present, but I remember as a kid that TV documentaries always loved to point to their structures as possible “evidence” connected to the Atlantis myths. That stuff was so fascinating! Even if it wasn’t actually related to mythical lost cities…haha

      Sardinia is also fascinating, for different reasons. I ran across the Sherden connection in my reading but thought it would slow things down if I got into the theory too deeply. I had not ever heard of the possible Nuraic architecture in El-Ahwat, that sounds very interesting. Thanks so much for sharing! Ultimately, you are in good company with your theory about the Sherden, their role in the collapse, and their possible Sardinian origin. Perhaps someday we’ll find more evidence that proves this theory once and for all 🙂

  3. Zimadur
    January 31, 2018 at 4:52 pm

    Apparently there is a Nuragic shipwreck dating back to the 9-8th century bc off the Western coast of Sardinia (Arbus), recent investigations have concluded that it was not just the cargo of a ship but an actual shipwreck, since a lead line used for depth sounding has been recovered along with an object used for the strengthening of the ship’s plating. The ship contained lead, copper and tin ingots and some other finds like double axes and some fragments of Nuragic pottery, it’s only a small part of the total cargo, archaeologists claim it’s a Nuragic vessel in their latest publication dedicated to it (2015), in the same article they also suggest that the tin ingots probably came either from the mines of Etruria or from those of Iberia. There is also another possible early (maybe even earlier?) shipwreck off the coast of Capo Malfatano, where archaeologists have recovered some oxhide ingots, and we know Sardinia has the highest concentration of oxhide ingots out of all the other regions in the Mediterranean.

    These shipwrecks are the oldest found in the Western Mediterranean, even earlier than the Phoenician ones from Spain and Malta.

  4. Zimadur
    January 31, 2018 at 8:59 pm

    Fundoni (2013), Botto (2015) and Lo Schiavo (2012) explain the situation in Western Mediterranean prior to the Phoenician presence very well, all of them claim the existence of a Nuragic navy, which is now also backed up by this new publication of Sa Domu S’Orku’s wreck (that according to archaeologists has sunken under the weight of its cargo) which I have mentioned in the other post. To give you a bit of information and in order to save you from the effort of translating all of those publications from Italian to English I’ll try to sum them up as well as I can, though I suggest you to read them all if you got the time as they’ve got loads of in depth information.
    For them and other archaeologists Nuragic Sardinia served as an intermediary between the Eastern and Western Mediterranean. There is evidence for Sardinian presence at Kommos in Crete, where 53 Sardinian vessels dating to the second half of the 14th century bc have been found, many of domestic use, which has led archaeologists to think that Nuragic people were present there: http://honorfrostfoundation.org/up-from-the-sea-mariner-networks-in-ports-across-the-late-bronze-age-east-mediterranean-linda-hulin-and-s-german-2016/
    From the same period, some Nuragic pottery has also been found at Cannatello, in Sicily. Then, dating to the late 13th-ealy 12th century bc, Nuragic pottery has been found at Pyla Kokkinokremos in Cyprus, a fortified settlement with a strong Aegean and foreign presence. One of the Nuragic vessels from there came directly from Sardinia (Sulcis Iglesiente), the other Nuragic vessels were made locally, which is a very strong argument for Nuragic presence there: since Nuragic pottery was roughly made and devoid of value, its local manufacture could only be explained if Sardinians migrated there and decided to make pottery the way they knew how to make it. The fact that the settlement of Pyla Kokkinokremos has also often been linked with the sea peoples is certainly intriguing, but I rather not make any rush conclusion, what is almost certain is that the Nuragic people were present in the Eastern Mediterranean during the late bronze age. There is also a remarkable quantity of Nuragic pottery from the level right after the destruction at Lipari (second half of the 12th century bc), and some fragments might also be present in the earlier layers.
    Meanwhile Sardinian copper was used for some objects found in Cyprus, Crete and maybe the Levant, but even more remarkably in bronze age Scandinavian objects since the 17th century bc, in Dalmatian ones and possibly even in some Naue II Italian swords.
    Vice versa Mycenaean and Cypriot presence is attested in Sardinia since the early 14th century bc in a number of sites, the highest concentration of Mycenaean pottery has been found in Nuraghe Antigori in the gulf of Cagliari, where the pottery was mostly reproduced locally. Some Ugaritic/Cypriot seals, a lot of amber and glass bead finds, ivory and other exotic objects also probably arrived there through the Mycenaeans. During this period (late bronze age), the consumption of wine along with the likely domestication of vitis vinifera is attested, and even the domestication of melon, coming obviously from the East. Sardinia prospered, the agriculture seemed also to improve, especially in the Campidano area and the Sinis peninsula, but also elsewhere. With the fall of the Mycenaean palace system in the 13-12th century bc, trade with the Eastern Mediterranean did not stop and the role of the Mycenaeans was taken by the Cypriot merchants, Cypriot finds were present in the island since the 14th century bc, especially the Cypriot oxhide ingots, which as I said were found in great quantities on the island since the early 14th century bc: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/318723190_Revisiting_Late_Bronze_Age_oxhide_ingots_Meanings_questions_and_perspectives
    From the 13-12th century bc onward Cypriot influence on the Sardinian material culture becomes more and more evident, the lost wax technique is introduced probably around this period, along with iron metallurgy, which would make Sardinia the earliest region in Italy to work iron, in fact it’s been suggested that iron working was introduced from Sardinia to Central Italy:: http://www.academia.edu/2061542/Metallurgy_in_Italy_between_the_Late_Bronze_Age_and_the_Early_Iron_Age_the_Coming_of_Iron

    Cypriot influence during this period is also evident on many locally produced objects: bronze double axes, pinches, cauldrons, mirrors and tripods are soon reproduced by the local smiths and re-invented, the Sardinians add their own style to them, these Sardinian imitations soon turn up as far as the Iberian peninsula since the 11th century bc, and vice versa Iberian-like leaf shaped swords and other Atlantic style swords and objects such as axes are reproduced on the Sardinian soil. In the 10th-9th century bc Sardinian pottery shows up at Huelva in a clearly pre-Phoenician context, which suggests the direct envolvement of Sardinians in these operations. On the coasts of the Tyrrhenian sea Sardinians soon start to trade intensely with their Villanovian or “Proto Etruscan” neighbours, the earliest finds are objects such as Nuragic bronze double axes and daggers dating back to the late second millenium bc and found on the Elba island but also at Vetulonia and Populonia. During the first centuries of the first millenium bc Nuragic pottery is found in remarkable quantities in Villaovian sites, especially in the area of the colline metallifere at Populonia and Vetulonia, but also elsewhere, at Vetulonia 49 intact Nuragic vessels were discovered, many of them made locally, again, suggesting Sardinian presence. Nuragic bronze statuettes, bronze boats and other bronze objects were found in many Villanovian burials such as that of Vulci in the tomb labeled as the tomb of the Nuragic bronzes, archaeologists believe that these finds belonged to Sardinians who married with the local Villanovian elite. Vice versa Antenna swords and Villanovian fibulae start to circulate on the island although in lesser quantities than the Nuragic bronzes in Italy. Very recently some Villanovian pottery has been found at Tavolara island off the North Eastern coast of Sardinia suggesting the presence of a small Villanovian community in Sardinia around the 9th century bc. A Nuragic wine vessel dated to the 8th century bc similar to those in Etruria was also found in a tomb at Knossos in Crete. Starting from the 13th century bc, although many Nuraghi were abandoned, they were often re-utilized as temples, this wasn’t a period of crisis, large sanctuaries were built all over the island, and infrastructure became more and more present in the settlements which were getting visibly larger, refined “well temples” were built such as those of Santa Cristina and that of Su Tempiesu, ashlar masonry became more and more widespread, fountains with lead pipes going though them were consructed such as that of Serra e Sos Carros, pools were built which worked thanks to complex hydraulic systems, the settlements were sometimes provided with a sewage system, and an aqueduct was built at Gremanu to serve the settlement and sanctuary, buildings dedicated to the gathering of the leaders of the communities were found at every major settlement. in the 10-8th century bc life sized antropomorphic statues are sculpted at the large necropolis of Mont’e Prama, two centuries at least before the first Greek statues, and possibly according to some new finds statues were made even in other parts of the island such as San Sperate, at Monastir an elegantly made wine press is found dating back to the 9th century bc, and also oil presses. During this era of great prosperity and technological progress the Phoenicians showed up, apparently not earlier than the 9th century bc, if they showed up earlier, it was with the Cypriots and other Levantines according to archaeologists, but that topic is still debated. The earliest traces of stable Phoenician presence on the island date back not further then the late 9th century bc/early 8th century bc when the city of Sulky was built on the island of Sant’Antioco. Here the earliest Phoenician finds of the island were found, at the same times of the earliest ones found at Huelva, Gadir and Malaga in Spain and of those in North Africa. Phoenician presence is also recorded in native settlements during roughly the same period at Sant’Imbenia and Su Cungiau e Funta on the Wetsern coast of Sardinia. Sant’Imbenia prospered as a hub of trade, a rich native proto urban settlement which centered around a market place-square, the amphorae produced here were of mixed Nuragic and Phoenician tradition, some other centers of production of these amphorae were also found in other parts of Western Sardinia such as Cungiau e Funta. These vessels were also probably used for the exportation of Sardinian wine, and there were probably different variations of this amphora protoype based on the goods that it contained: http://www.academia.edu/29053155/Ripensando_i_contatti_fra_Sardegna_e_Penisola_Iberica_all_alba_del_I_millennio_a.C._Vecchie_e_nuove_evidenze

    The presence of this type of amphorae during the 9-7th century bc all over Iberia (Huelva, Malaga, Cadiz, El Carambolo, Aldovesta, Balearic islands and other Iberian sites), and North Africa (Utica and Carthage) in significant quantities is a testimony to the material wealth of Sardinia and its involvement in the trade routes of the time, along with this peculiar Nuragic-Phoenician amphorae, “pure” Nuragic pottery is still found all over Iberia where it’s also reproduced locally, and also at Motya in Sicily. Along with the Phoenicians, Euboean presence is also testified in Iberia at Huelva, and in Sardinia at Sulky and Sant’Imbenia, although their pottery was found in far lesser quantities than the Phoenician one, and even in lesser quantities than the Nuragic one, most likely because the involvement of the Euboean sailors was weaker in the Western mediterranean than in the Central one, where their presence is certainly really strong at Pithecousa. At Sulky, the earliest Phoenician city in Sardinia, Nuragic pottery is present since the layer of foundation, as the island was already densely inhabited by the local Nuragics, and even later on in the tophet of Sulky many vessels have clear influxes derived from the Nuragic tradition, which has led archaeologists such as Piero Bartoloni to the conclusion that most of the population was likely of native origin. During the 8th century bc another city, Monte Sirai, is founded on the South Western Coast of the island, and slightly later next to it another smaller town was built. It was discovered only a few years ago and it was built around an older Nuraghe, this town was also inhabited by both the Nuragics and a Phoenician minority, as evident by the buildings which had a mixed Nuragic and Phoenician plant, and by the pottery of both Nuragic and Phoenician tradition, the sacred area also had Nuragic motifs. In this town the earliest glass factory in the Western Mediterranean was discovered, dating back to the 7th century bc, around the same period Phoenician presence is evident at the native settlement built around the massive Nuraghe of S’Urachi, where the pottery is of mixed Nuragic-Phoenician tradition, and the Phoenician city of Tharros was probaby also built around this period in the Sinis Peninsula near a native settlement, Nora and Bithia also probably only date back to this period, the famous Nora inscription and the other Phoenician fragment were likely written at least a century and a half before the Phoenician city.

    As you can see Phoenician colonization/stable presence in the Western Mediterranean only dates back to the late 9-8th century bc, and it was rather peaceful, this strict cooperation between Nuragics and Phoenicians marked a period of great prosperity and wealth for the island, however with the growing power of Carthage, around the 6th century bc things changed when the African city changed into a metropolis and became imperialistic, during the second half of the 6th century bc it probably went to war against the rich Sardo-Phoenician cities.

  5. Zimadur
    January 31, 2018 at 9:29 pm

    Piero Bartoloni, talking about the finds of purely Nuragic domestic pottery in Phoenician North African sites:

    “Nuragic ceramics (apparently not exactly very precious) have sprung up in some settlements on the North African coast, for instance near Utica. Piero Bartoloni, a professor at the University of Sassari (but retired since a few days ago), an archaeologist who owes a great deal of studies to Monte Sirai and Sulky (Sant’Antioco), clarifies: << The Nuragics traded and sailed: perhaps those ceramics were not particularly attractive, but the fact that they were present there demonstrates the wide osmosis between the Mediterranean communities, and shows that the concept of nation did not exist, but only that of the city.:

    The large number of finds, from different types and chronologies, and their distribution makes the idea of ​​their occasional arrival ever less acceptable [..] The nuragic forms found lead to two different areas: that of the exchange of goods or commodities represented from their containers (neck vases, S. Imbenia amphorae, dolii, askoid vases) and that of everyday life represented by common pots (trays, bowls, bollards). [..] the presence of pots of common domestic use such as the pans, devoid of exchange value and unnecessary for the transport and preservation of goods of any kind, testifies to the presence of their users. [..] Who could need it if not the Nuragics themselves?

  6. Zimudar
    February 3, 2018 at 6:05 am

    Some other really recent and interesting discoveries, the first one made in 2016:

    Much of the copper, including that of the oxhide ingots, found in a Sardinian hoard of metal and dated to the 13-12th century bc comes from neither Cyprus nor Sardinia, but from the Sinai peninsula and other areas facing the read sea, the copper has been found next to the ruins of a well temple:

    The study of the Funtana Coberta Ballao hoard shows a variety of metal and alloys, some of
    them unusual in the Nuragic metallurgy. This reflects a more complex provenance of the
    metals and gives us a new picture of Mediterranean copper trade during the Bronze Age:
    • New sources were used aside from local Sardinian and imported Cypriot copper
    • These new sources could be located in the Red Sea area, probably under Egyptian
    • A group of items are not yet identified, but we must look for very old geologic age formation in Eastern Africa or in the Saudi Arabian shield
    Based on elemental and isotopic analysis some ox-hide ingots are not made of Cypriot

    Then, another unexpected discovery just 2 months ago, the copper ingots found in the main tower of Nuraghe Arrubiu, in a context dated to the 14th century bc, were made with copper from the Sinai desert and from the Negev desert.

    Anyway, congratulations, this episode was very good, it’s very up to date and accurate. However I disagree with you on one point: you mention that the Phoenician cities and settlements were established in order for the Phoenician to distance themselves from the locals after a period of cooperation in the native centers, the reasons why I disagree with you on this are that, first of all, most of the inhabitants in these centers were actually people of Nuragic lineage, as it’s been asserted by the archaeologists excavating these sites in the last decades like Piero Bartoloni. In addition to this, a good portion of these sites were built right next to existing local centers like the two towns at Monte Sirai. The idea that the Phoenician centers were some sort of strongholds to protect themselves from the natives is an outdated idea which was predominant some decades ago, when scholars like Barreca held it, Now however, with the acquisition of a great quantity of new data from both the Phoenician centers on the island and those around the Mediterranean this old view has been mostly abandoned by the academia.

    The situation changed drastically when the Carthaginians decided to take control of the Western Mediterranean routes and attacked Sardinia, note that their forces destroyed almost exclusively the “Phoenician” centers on the island rather than the completely Nuragic ones, the situation wasn’t “Carthaginians and Phoenician cities against the Nuragics”, but rather “Carthage versus the Phoenician and Nuragics living in the urban centers of the island”. This is all very well explained by the archaeologist Piero Bartoloni in his article about one of the biggest Phoenician cities on the island, that is, Sulky: http://www.comune.santantioco.ca.it/cms/la-storia/sulky-fenicia-e-punica.html

  7. Zimudar
    February 8, 2018 at 1:42 pm

    “The indications that Tarshish might have been an island in the distant west include Psalms 72, where a chain of scaled correlates often translated as ‘mountains and hills’, ‘rain and showers’, ‘seas and river’ and ‘Tarshish and islands’ appears in parallel construction. Tarshish’s place in this patterned line-up might indicate that it was understood as a large island, or even as a large group or region of coastlands and islands. Nuanced reinforcement is found in Esarhaddon’s 7th-century inscriptions that categorise Tarshish as an island, and appear to point towards its location in the west. Although they are not identical (both are damaged), the two relevant inscriptions are jointly referred to as Aššur Babylon E (AsBbE) and sometimes treated as duplicates (Leicthy 2011, text 60). One is K18096, a fragmentary clay tablet found at Nineveh, now in the Kuyunjik collection of the British Museum. The other was discovered at Aššur on a fragmented alabaster tablet, now kept in the Istanbul Archaeological Museum (EŞ6262). It reads:

    gi-mir KUR-šú a-bel áš-pur MAN.MEš šá MURUB₄ tam-tim DÙ-šú-nu TAKUR.ia-da-na-na KUR.ia-man a-di KUR.tar-si-si a-na GÌR.II-ia ik-nu-šú
    All the kings from the lands surrounded by sea- from the country Iadanana (Cyprus) and Iaman, as far as Tarshish, bowed to my feet.
    Iaman is difficult to render with precision; it might refer to Ionia, Greece (Kalimi 2005), or to an island or islands in the Aegean, and Tar-si-si has been variously rendered Tarshish and Tarsus (emended from Nu-si-si once read as Knossos, Pritchard 1955, 290, with references). In any case, the tablet specifies tar-si-si as a region that is šá MURUB₄ (normalised qablu); this means it is ‘in the middle of’ or ‘surrounded by’ tam-tim ‘the sea’, and appears last in a set of geographical markers that seem to point west from Cyprus (Elat 1982, 58).”


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