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Phoenician Language and Texts


Admission requirements

Familiarity with either an ancient Semitic language (e.g., Akkadian, Aramaic, Biblical Hebrew, Classical Arabic) or with Latin and Ancient Greek.

Research MA students can take this course as a research school elective (more information available on the OIKOS website).


Phoenician is a Semitic language closely related to Biblical Hebrew. It is attested by numerous inscriptions from ancient city states like Byblos, Tyre, and Sidon as well as their western colonies. Spread by Phoenician traders interacting with many different civilizations (including the Greeks and Romans), it was used all over the Mediterranean world during the first millennium B.C.E. and for some time adopted as a prestige code in Asia Minor. Its North-African variety even remained in use far into the first centuries C.E. As a consequence, Phoenician texts aptly illustrate various phenomena of cultural contact.

This course will provide an inductive introduction to the language of the Phoenician inscriptions from the mainland and their historical, social, and cultural background. It will thereby furnish students with some hands-on experience with the fascinating world of Semitic epigraphy. However, no prior knowledge of any Semitic language is mandatory. By the end of this course, participants will have acquired a basic understanding of standard Phoenician and have read some important primary sources. The presentation should be accessible not only to Semitists and students of the Bible, but also to Classicists, Ancient Historians, Archaeologists, and Indo-Europeanists.

Course objectives

Following completion of this course, students are able to independently study and interpret epigraphic texts written in the Phoenician language in the light of the state-of-the-art of the discipline; they will also have some idea of how to situate Phoenician within its Syro-Palestinian and its wider Mediterranean context.


The timetable is available on the MA Classics and Ancient Civilizations website and the Research MA Classics and Ancient Civilizations website.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

Attendance and active participation are obligatory for seminars. Students are required to prepare for and attend all sessions. The convenor needs to be informed without delay of any classes missed for a good reason (i.e. due to unforeseen circumstances such as illness, family issues, problems with residence permits, the Dutch railways in winter, etc.). In these cases it is up to the discretion of the convener of the course whether or not the missed class will have to be made up with an extra assignment. The maximum of such absences during a semester is two. Being absent without notification and/or more than two times can result in exclusion from the term end exams and a failing grade for the course.

Course Load

Total course load 10 EC x 28 hours = 280 hours:

  • 13 tutorials of about 2 hours (26 hours);

  • preparing lectures, including reading and assignments (127 hours);

  • preparing written exam or writing a paper (127 hours).

Assessment method

  • Oral participation and preparation of texts to be studied in class (40%)

  • Paper (60%)

MA students will be expected to study the inscriptions to be read in class on the basis of drawings and photographs.

Extra requirements Research MA students: Research MA students will be expected to demonstrate awareness of the wider Syro-Palestinian or Mediterranean cultural-historical or linguistic backdrop of Phoenician. In order to do so, they may devote their papers to, e.g., instances of contact with Greek and Roman civilization, phenomena of multilingualism, or a comparative analysis of some aspect of the primary source material.


The final grade for the course is established by determining the weighted average.


Should the overall mark be unsatisfactory, the paper is to be revised after consultation with the teacher.

Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.


Blackboard will be used for additional study materials.

Reading list

  • H. Donner and W. Röllig, Kanaanäische und aramäische Inschriften, 3 vols., 2nd ed. Wiesbaden 1966–1969 (5th ed. of the texts 2002).

  • J. Friedrich and W. Röllig, Phönizisch-Punische Grammatik, 3rd ed. Rome 1999.

  • H. Gzella, “Phoenician”, in: id. (ed.), Languages from the World of the Bible, Berlin / New York 2012, 55–75.

  • J. Hoftijzer and K. Jongeling, Dictionary of the North-West Semitic Inscriptions, 2 vols., Leiden 1995.

  • J. Quinn, In Search of the Phoenicians, Princeton 2017 (can only be used responsibly in conjunction with the review by H. Gzella in Bibliotheca Orientalis 75 [2018] 379–387).


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available on the website.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.

Contact Please

Prof. dr. H. Gzella