"Aleph" is the first letter in the Phoenician alphabet, and corresponds to our "A".Phoenician type font courtesy of S. George Khalaf, A Bequest Unearthed, Phoenicia
Credit: Courtesy of the Internet Public Library.
This first lesson of the curriculum unit, The Alphabet is Historic, will be about the Phoenicians, who invented the alphabet inherited by the Greeks, Romans, and eventually, us.
The Phoenicians were a trading people who came from the eastern part of the Mediterranean Sea. Their two main cities were Sidon and Tyre. They had very wonderful ships, built with timber from Lebanon, and they traded in all sorts of good things: metals, cloth, purple dye, fine jewelry and craft work, salt, wine and olives, grain, and many other things. The Phoenicians were sailors and city dwellers, and as they grew more and more prosperous and populous they did not spread out into the land as other people might. Rather, they founded many new cities, or colonies, all around the Mediterranean Sea. Be sure to show your students that some of these colonies were as distant from Phoenicia as the southern coast of Spain. You could also point out Carthage, in North Africa. Carthage was the most famous of the Phoenician colonies. It became a very powerful city, and later on in time it became Rome's adversary in a battle for dominance over the western Mediterranean.
A short narrative description of the Phoenicians is included below. You could use it, together with the maps and illustrations provided, to introduce your students to the Phoenicians. In order to do the activities outlined here you will need to download or project the The Phoenician World and the The Phoenician Alphabet The EDSITEment Phoenician Alphabet Page.
Other useful maps may be found at A Bequest Unearthed, Phoenicia. Click on “The Phoenician World with Cities “ and "Phoenician Land and Sea Voyages". Images of Phoenician ships can be also be viewed at this link from the Internet Public Library. Photos of a reconstructed Phoenician ship can be found at the Phoenician Experience, also through the Internet Public Library.
Project or Show the map of the Mediterranean as you introduce the Phoenicians.
Then ask the students if the Phoenician traders could write a letter if they didn't have an alphabet. Using the EDSITEment Phoenician Alphabet page the teacher could show the students the Phoenician alphabet. S/he could say something like: "Three thousand years ago, when the ancient Phoenicians wrote letters, this is the alphabet they used." Do the children recognize any of the old Phoenician letters? Several are easy to recognize once you see that the form is slightly different from what we are used to.
Encourage your students to draw further comparisons. (Ask about the letters in the “D” and “E” position, for instance. Do they look somewhat familiar?)
Congratulate the children on being able to identify letters that are about 3,000 years old and come from a different language! Let the children count the letters and copy some of the strange ones. They'll see that this first alphabet has fewer letters than ours, and they will notice many other differences.
You could talk with the class about how things change form and appearance as they develop. For instance, you could ask the children if they think that they will look the same when they are 12, or when they're grown up, as they do now. Just like people, the alphabet changes its appearance over time.
Conclude the lesson by asking the children to identify Phoenicia and the Mediterranean Sea on the map.
Can the children trace the route from Tyre to Athens? Can they show the Phoenician colonies? Ask the children what sorts of things the Phoenicians loaded onto their boats to trade.
Finally, ask the children who invented the alphabet that would someday become our alphabet. Why would a trading people need an alphabet? Can they remember some of the letters the Phoenicians invented that we still use?
If any of your students suggested that it might be just as easy to write with pictures, there are two wonderful Just So stories by Rudyard Kipling—through the EDSITEment-reviewed Internet Public Library—that show in a very amusing way why it is so important to have letters. They are called "How the First Letter was Written" and "How the First Alphabet was Made". They would also be available in any collection of Kipling's stories for children.
3-4 class periods