On the Shores of the Great Sea  by M. B. Synge

Early Pioneers

"Conquering, holding, daring, venturing, as we go the unknown ways,

Pioneers, O Pioneers!"

—W. Whitman.

A LONG the northern coast of Africa they kept, till they reached the spot known to the people of old as the "Pillars of Hercules." These were lofty rocks which were supposed to mark the limit of the world in this direction. It was, according to their ideas, the farthest point reached by the god Hercules. Beyond this point was the home of the gods, so they said, and heaven and earth met together. If they could please the gods, then the Phœnician sailors might pass this point and discover the truth of their belief; but either the sea was too rough for them or the sailors were too timid, for twice they returned home without having passed the Pillars.

Again they tried, and again they failed. At last a third fleet of Phœnician ships was fitted out; and this time they managed to pass through the narrow straits, and to penetrate the mysteries beyond.


There were no gods. The Pillars of Hercules were not the ends of the world. The rocky gates opened a path from the Great Sea, to the boundless waters of the Atlantic Ocean, which were to play such a great part in the history of the New World.

It was on this well-known voyage, that they founded the city of Gades, a port on the coast of Spain. Here they built a beautiful temple to the god Hercules, who had allowed them to pass the narrow straits. This city is our modern Cadiz, the most ancient town in all Europe.

The surrounding country they called Tarshish. Here they found a quantity of silver.

"The ships of Tarshish," says the prophet Ezekiel, to Phœnicia, "were thy caravans; so wert thou replenished, and very glorious in the midst of the sea."

So much silver, indeed, did the Phœnicians get at Tarshish, that, in order to carry home as much as they could, they made anchors of silver for their ships, leaving the old iron anchors behind.

"Rivers of the liquid metal, mountains of solid ore, forests and meadows covered with silver: silver, silver, silver everywhere, in the land beyond the Pillars of Hercules," sang the old poets.

There is an old story that says, when the Phœnicians had passed through the Straits of Gibraltar, they took their course along the coast of Africa; but they were carried away far into the ocean by a strong wind. After being driven about many days by the storm, they came to a large island, which was so fertile and possessed such a glorious climate, that they thought it must be a dwelling for the gods, rather than of men.

They called them the "Isles of the Blessed." to-day we know these islands as the Canary and the Madeira Islands, and they are coaling-stations, for the great steamships which ply between England and South Africa, every week, in all weathers, throughout the year.

There is little doubt, that the old Phœnician ships got as far as the English Channel, in their search for wealth, braving the high seas of the Bay of Biscay to do this. Coasting along the shores of Spain and France, they reached the Scilly Isles off the coast of Cornwall—the Tin Islands, as they called them—in order to carry tin back to Phœnicia.

Thus Phœnicia became the mistress of the Great Sea.

Backwards and forwards, went the Phœnicians, between their own country and foreign lands, collecting wealth, planting colonies, taking possession of whole islands, undisputed. They improved their ships, they grew more and more adventurous, until their country, that narrow strip of land shut in between the mountains of Lebanon and the Great Sea, became very rich.

They were conquerors of the sea indeed, merchants of the people of many isles, strong to do and dare, the first Naval Power in the Old World.