The Phoenician past, historians have long argued, was the preserve of Lebanese nationalists who sought to trace the genealogy of their darling state into the distant past in order to articulate a distinctive identity for Lebanon reflecting their religious particularism and socio-economic interests. By contrast to this diachronic and often teleological approach, tracking the evolution of national consciousness, this article suggests a synchronic reading of the ways late Ottoman literati used the ancient past as an instrument of political debate and social reflection. The region’s public men, this article contends, found in the Phoenician past a soothing precedent for the massive migrations the Arabic-speaking Eastern Mediterranean witnessed from the 1880s onwards – movements which prompted much fraught debate and discussion. Contemporary displacements, in such a reading, were but the product of ancient predispositions. Only in the wake of the First World War was the ancient past pressed into national service.