Driven by the desire to acquire new and more cost-effective sources of raw materials and to sell their products to markets other than in their homeland, the Phoenicians covered enormous distances. They were among the first to trace routes to the western Mediterranean and beyond the Pillars of Hercules (the Straits of Gibraltar) toward the Atlantic coasts of Africa and Europe.
At the end of the seventh century B.C., the Egyptian Pharaoh Necho II, who reigned c. 615-595 B.C.commissioned Phoenician sailors to sail around the continent of Africa. Accordingly, he commissioned a number of ships manned by Phoenicians for the task. These sailed down the Red Sea and down the east coast of Africa. Every year they settled for a while on the coast, cleared a strip of land, planted a crop and, when they had harvested it, continued on their journey. In the third year they sailed through the Pillars of Hercules and back to Egypt again. They reported that as they sailed around Africa they had the sun on their right.
This statement, which those early voyagers of the 7th century B.C. could not have made up, indicates that the Phoenician sailors did indeed circumnavigate the continent of Africa, well before any European.
Archaeologists have discovered that the Phoenicians used coastal and deep-water routes for both trade and voyages of discovery. Coastal sailors only sailed during the day, from one village to another, always keeping land in sight. Deep-water sailors took routes farther away from the coastline but still kept sight of land.