A-B-C-D-E-F-G … This famous sequence of letters known to much of the world dates back to the 16th century BC. A fairly small group of traders and merchants known as the Phoenicians created the foundation for the modern English alphabet and other alphabets. They organized a system of 22 consonants into what became the alphabet used not only by English speakers, but by speakers of many of the world's languages.
The Phoenicians lived along the Mediterranean coast in what is now Lebanon. They inhabited a number of different city-states, the most famous of which were Tyre, Byblos, and Sidon. These Phoenician places were often in conflict with each other for domination of the region. Because of this lack of cooperation, the Phoenicians were conquered and forced to pay tribute to the virtually every empire in the region, including the Egyptians, Hittites, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, and Greeks.
Map of Phoenicia. (CC BY 3.0)
When the Phoenicians created their new alphabet, they worked from symbols that were already in use among the Semitic-speaking peoples of Canaan and Mesopotamia. As early as 3000 BC, the Sumerians and the Egyptians had already invented writing systems based on symbols. These early scripts were primarily used by merchants and traders to record contracts, receipts, and lists of goods.
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