The Phoenicians are often forgotten in histories of the ancient Mediterranean that focus on Greece and Rome, but long before the Greeks and Romans these sailors and traders built the first city-states, invented the alphabet, discovered the pole star and colonised the west. They still remain mysterious, however, and there is a serious question over whether they even existed as a self-conscious political, ethnic or cultural group. Yet since their own time, ‘being Phoenician’ has been a powerful political and cultural tool in the hands of politicians and writers from Roman emperors to Irish-Enlightenment scholars to Lebanese nationalists in the 20th century, playing a particularly important and interesting role in the invention of new pasts for new nation-states. This public lecture looks both at the Phoenicians in their own terms and at their different reinventions over time.