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Carthage

city on the North African coast, now a suburb of Tunis (36°51′ N, 10°20′ E), founded around the end of the ninth century BCE by settlers from Tyre, who called it Qart Hadasht (“new town”). Centuries later, Tyre in Phoenicia was still honored as the mother city, its gods receiving from Carthage an annual offering of the first fruits (Polybius, 31.12). The Phoenician ancestry of Carthage is reflected in the Latin term Punicus, which is an adjectival derivation from the Greek for “Phoenician.” The designation Punic describes anything pertaining to Carthage.

The traditional date for the foundation, 814/13 BCE, thirty-eight years before the first Olympic games, goes back at least to Timaeus, a Sicilian Greek who wrote in the third century BCE. In the next century Menander of Ephesus, who had access to Phoenician sources, gives a similar date. Cicero and other Latin writers follow the same tradition, which recent excavations tend to confirm. A variant that sets the foundation before the Trojan War must be rejected.

Sources and Early History.

No Punic literature survives, the city's libraries having been dispersed when Carthage was taken by the Romans (Pliny, Natural History 18.22). There is material in the works of more than forty Greek or Latin writers, but these sources must be treated with skepticism. Polybius, one of our fullest sources, who had traveled in Africa and was present at the sack of Carthage In 146, is overtly pro-Roman and mentions Greek historians who wrote from a Carthaginian standpoint only to dismiss them as worthless (Polybius, 3.20). The Carthaginians, he says, are ashamed of nothing if it makes money (6.56), and Plutarch calls them harsh and gloomy, caring nothing for pleasure or the arts (Moralia 799D). Such negative stereotypes have been accepted uncritically all too often. Classical writers are also often negative and ill-informed about the Jews or Syrians as well. For the Greeks and Romans, peoples of Semitic culture were “the other.”

Punic inscriptions, however, survive in some quantity. Carthage itself has yielded more than six thousand, and one thousand more come from other sites in Africa or elsewhere in the western Mediterranean. Most are merely standard formulae, such as votive or funerary inscriptions and documents regarding sacrifice and religious cult, but they give us more than five hundred personal names, plus names of magistracies, trades, and professions. Otherwise little historical information can be gleaned from them, and when it comes to the longer texts, there is often considerable dispute among experts as to the meaning, because the Punic language is not perfectly understood. Texts in Punic or in the later script known as “neo-Punic” continue into the Roman period.

Attempts to reconstruct the form of government and the internal politics of Carthage from this literary and epigraphic material are very hazardous, especially for the early centuries. Whether there were kings in Carthage's early years is hotly disputed. Oligarchic factions subsequently disputed the power, and the literary tradition suggests that the leading families were successively the Magonids, the Hannonids, and the Barcids, founded by Hamilcar Barca, father of the great Hannibal, but again the family names and the dynastic concept may owe something to the Greek historiographic tradition.

Carthage had extensive trading interests in the western Mediterranean and beyond and fought to defend them. We thus find Carthage in the early sixth century unsuccessfully contesting the foundation of a Phocaean colony at what is now Marseilles (Thucydides, 1.13), but succeeding around 535 in alliance with the Etruscans in driving the Phocaeans from their Corsican base at Alalia (Herodotus, 1.166). By the fourth century Carthage was a major power, striking gold and silver coinage, importing pottery and luxury goods from Greece, and exporting her own manufactured goods and agricultural surpluses (her agricultural expertise was famous). Punic amphorae of the fourth and still more the third century are particularly common in Spain and southern Italy. Punic vessels sailed down the west coast of Africa, though how far they reached is much disputed, as well as northward, perhaps as far as Britain. Treaties between Carthage and Rome In 509/08 (Polybius, 3.22) and on subsequent occasions recognized the two cities' respective spheres of interest, but Rome's expansion eventually brought them into conflict over Sicily and the three Punic Wars (264–241, 218–202, 149–146), so named from the Roman standpoint, ended with the total destruction of Carthage, whose site thereafter lay abandoned for over a century.

Archaeological Evidence and Topography.

The urban development of Carthage down to 146 can be traced from well over a century of archaeological excavation, culminating since 1972 in the UNESCO-sponsored Save Carthage campaign, described below. Excavations have now shown that the earliest city lay between the Byrsa hill and the sea, where the occupation sequence goes back to at least the first quarter of the eighth century, dated by imported Euboean pottery. The Byrsa and adjacent hills were first used as cemeteries, but in fourth century the Byrsa became an industrial zone with extensive metal-working operations, and from the end of the third century it was a residential area. Excavation corroborates Appian's account (Punica 96, 128) of the steep streets descending from the Byrsa toward the ports, which comprised a circular inner harbor for warships with an island in the center and shipsheds all around, and an outer, rectangular, commercial harbor. The latest reports ascribe the construction of the harbors to the second century, in flagrant violation of the peace treaty at the end of the Second Punic War. The original port of Carthage must presumably have been within what is now the Lake of Tunis, then much more extensive.

Religion.

Alongside the commercial harbor lay the religious precinct known today as the tophet, by analogy with the Old Testament site in the valley of Hinnom (Jer. 731–32). Here were found urns dating from the seventh century onward, containing the cremated remains of babies, small children, and animals, and steles referring to sacrifice (molk) and dedicated to the goddess Tannit (“face of Baal”) and her consort, Baal Hammon. Most scholars see this material as corroborating what the literary sources attest—that the Carthaginians practiced infant sacrifice, which according to Tertullian (Apology 9.2) continued clandestinely even into the Roman period. Child sacrifice was certainly practiced by the Phoenicians, as the Hebrew Bible makes clear (e.g., Jer. 19:5, references assembled by Brown, 1991, pp. 27–29), and attempts to explain away the evidence and to interpret the tophet as a cemetery for children who died naturally do not carry conviction. This aspect of Punic culture shocked Greeks and Roman writers, who may be suspected of piling on the horror, although the same writers accepted complacently the Greco-Roman practice of exposing unwanted infants to die on dungheaps.

Baal Hammon is frequently celebrated in theophoric personal names like Hannibal and Hasdrubal; he was identified in the Roman period with Saturn, as was Tannit with Juno, and his cult is widely attested. Other divinities of Punic Carthage include Ashtart (Astarte), here subordinate to Tanit, and Eshmun, identified with the Greek Asclepius, god of healing, whose temple crowned the Byrsa and was the site of the final Punic stand In 146; both appear in theophoric names, as in a dedication from the tophet by Bodashtart, son of Abdeshmoun. Inscriptions mention Melqart, the patron deity of Tyre, Shadrapa, Sid, Sakon, and Rašap (Resheph) and attest the preponderant role of sacrifice in worship. The terminology often recalls that of the Old Testament, but parallels must not be pushed too far. [See Cult.]

Art.

Punic art has generally been dismissed as unimaginative, unoriginal, and just plain bad. Nothing could be more totally damning than M. P. Charlesworth's account in the original Cambridge Ancient History (vol. 8, 1930, pp. 484–494) concluding, “It is hard to name anything which mankind can be said to owe to Carthage.” A reappraisal, however, is long overdue. Two magnificent statues of a so-called priest and priestess on sarcophagus lids in the Carthage Museum reveal a synthesis of Egyptian, Hellenistic, and local elements that cannot be dismissed as merely imitative. Typically and without evidence, earlier scholars pronounced them as the work of Greek immigrants! Some stelae are very fine, though most are rough work, the local sandstone did not lend itself to sculpture. Apotropaic (protective) masks and pendants of human heads show great vigour. Bone and ivory, glass, and metalware reached a high standard, and Punic furniture was renowned. The swan-necked, so-called razors found in tombs are most elegantly engraved, and Punic jewelry is magnificent. Carthage adapted Greek and Egyptian models to serve her own needs and values, as did Rome later.

Foundation of the Roman Colony.

For a century after the destruction of Carthage In 146, BCE, neighboring Utica served as capital of the new Roman province of Africa. Carthage was abandoned, although the story that the site was sown with salt was apparently invented for the Cambridge Ancient History (vol. 8, 1930, p. 484). Literary sources ascribe to Gaius Gracchus the project of founding a colony In 122, but there is no evidence of urban settlement, though Gracchus is probably responsible for the Roman division of the Carthage peninsula into units of two hundred iugera, which survives in the modern field boundaries. Caesar revived the idea of a colony, but it was probably Augustus who realized it, laying out a street grid parallel to the coast and leveling the summit of the Byrsa to create a rectangular esplanade, building massive retaining walls around it, and covering the late Punic houses on its slopes beneath many meters of fill. A peculiarity of the grid was that the blocks were four times as long from north to south as from east to west. In the flat ground between the Byrsa and the coast, the orientation was that of the late Punic city, and elements of this, such as the cisterns, were reused in Roman structures.

Public buildings.

Of the city under Augustus and in the first century CE archaeology tells us little. None of the great public buildings in its present form goes back that far, though an earlier phase is not excluded. The amphitheater has been ascribed to the late first or early second century, the circus was given monumental form in the Antonine period, and the top of the Byrsa was also rebuilt under Antoninus Pius. Both the Antonine basilica on the Byrsa and the circus are the largest of their kind outside Rome. The theater goes back to the early second century and may be earlier, and the neighboring Odeon, the largest in the whole Roman world, is described as new in the early third century (Tertullian, On the Resurrection of the Dead, 42.8). In Punic times, the whole Odeon hill had been a cemetery. The vast Antonine Baths on the seashore take their name from an inscription that probably records Antoninus's completion or refurbishing of baths started by Hadrian. To supply these baths Hadrian had commissioned the aqueduct that brought to Carthage the waters from Jebel Zaghouan.

This aqueduct is one of the greatest works of Roman engineering. It is over 90 km (56 mi.) in length from its source at Zaghouan and falls almost 265 m (870 ft.) to the cisterns on the hill of Bordj Djedid in Carthage, which supply the Antonine Baths. It loses nearly half this height, however, in the first 6 km (3.7 mi.) as it descends rapidly to the plain of the Oued Miliane at Moghrane, where it is joined by another branch, possibly of Severan date, coming from Aïn Djoukar more than 33 km (20.5 mi.) away. Thereafter from Moghrane to Bordj Djedid the aqueduct channel falls only 127.93 m (419.7 ft.) in 84.418 km (52.34 mi.), a gradient of .15 percent, and its capacity has been calculated at 370 l (98 gal.) per second. Where it enters the city, the aqueduct bifurcates, one branch feeding eighteen cisterns at Bordj Djedid, the other twenty-four at La Malga, each some 102 m (335 ft.) long and 7.40 m (24.3 ft.) wide.

Christianity and culture.

By the second century CE, only Alexandria rivaled Carthage as the empire's largest and wealthiest city after Rome. It was beginning to be a center of Christianity and produced some notable martyrs. When the serious persecutions of the third century began, the whole of Africa was divided on how to respond. One result was the Donatist movement, rigorist and intransigent on doctrinal matters, and at the same time a movement of social protest, poor against rich and country against town (Frend, 1952). Carthage lay at the heart of the controversy, and was split between the two parties. When the emperor Constantine himself adopted Christianity In 312, both Donatists and Catholics began to build, and Carthage acquired its first basilicas and other Christian buildings, such as the late fourth century martyrium on the Odeon hill.

At the same time, Carthage was an intellectual center, second only to Rome in the Latin-speaking West. The works of Tertullian and Apuleius in the late second century give some of the flavor. In the fourth century, Augustine naturally gravitates there from a small town in the interior and finds his intellectual milieu. He also finds it a city of luxury and pleasure: “there seethed about me a cauldron of unholy lusts” (Confessions 3.1). His subsequent career led him to Italy, where he converted to Christianity, then returning to Africa to find himself bishop of Hippo (Annaba) from 395 until his death In 430. Augustine spent half the year in Carthage battling for the faith, the outstanding personality, and intellect of the Catholic church in Africa.

Vandal and Byzantine Carthage.

By the end of the fourth century, the Roman Empire in the West was falling apart. In 410 the Goths sacked Rome. Africa, protected by the Mediterranean, received refugees, but the remission was short-lived. The Vandals crossed the Straits of Gibraltar In 429, swept along the coast, besieged Hippo as Augustine lay dying within the walls, and finally took Carthage In 439, despite the so-called Theodosian Wall, which had been built around the city about 425 in anticipation of the attack. The Vandal king occupied the proconsul's palace on the Byrsa hill, and Vandal notables took over the grand houses on the seaward slope of the Odeon hill. Some public buildings were allegedly destroyed (Victor Vitensis in J.-P. Migne, Patrologia Latina, Paris, 1862, vol. 58, col. 184), and archaeology suggests that, although there was no sudden dramatic change in the city's condition, within a generation its trade and prosperity had fallen off and soon the outlying parts of the city were being abandoned.

The Theodosian Wall was also allowed to fall into disrepair, and In 533 the Byzantine general Belisarius captured the city with no great difficulty, repairing the wall thereafter. Economic recovery and new building ensued under Byzantine rule, but little less than a century later the first Arab invasions culminated in the battle of Sbeïtla (647), in which the governor Gregory fell. The Arabs departed for a time, but their foundation of Kairouan (Qayrawan) In 670 symbolized their intention to stay, and around this time the reoccupation of areas of Carthage that had earlier been abandoned may betoken the arrival of refugees seeking the security of the city. If so, it was in vain, because Carthage fell to the Arabs In 695, and after a rebellion it was retaken and destroyed In 698. The site may not have been completely abandoned, but organized urban life ceased, and Tunis replaced Carthage, subsequently becoming the capital of Ifriqiya, the former Roman Africa, modern Tunisia.

Destruction of Carthage in Middle Ages and History in Modern Times.

Carthage became a stone quarry. Because there is no good building stone on the peninsula, much of the Roman stone was either limestone from the Jebel Zaghouan region or sandstone brought by sea from the quarries at El Haouaria on the tip of Cap Bon. It was easier to “recycle” Roman stone than to bring in more. Carthage supplied the columns and capitals for the Zaytouna Mosque in Tunis and the great blocks of the fort of Charles V at La Goulette guarding the entrance to the Lake of Tunis. Stone was also exported: al-Idrisi in the twelfth century says that no boat left Carthage without a cargo of stone, and marbles were shipped from Carthage to build the cathedrals of Pisa and Genoa. Memoirs and archaeological accounts right up to World War II speak of stone-robbing as an honorable local profession nor is it yet totally extinct. It is to be hoped that recent legislation and the establishment of a national archaeological park will save what remains.

The UNESCO “Save Carthage” Campaign.

The site of Carthage was virtually uninhabited in the nineteenth century, but construction of a suburban railway along the coast from Tunis to La Marsa In 1907 opened it up for development, which increased after independence In 1956. By 1972 the danger that the site might become totally built over led the Tunisian authorities to launch an international campaign of excavation and conservation under the patronage of UNESCO before it was too late. About a dozen countries took part, and the results have been summarized in a volume of articles (see Ennabli, 1992). The campaign officially closed In 1992, and although excavation continues, the emphasis is now more on conservation and the creation of an archaeological park.

The campaign added more to our knowledge of Punic Carthage and of late Roman, Vandal, and Byzantine Carthage than to that of the early empire. For the Punic period, the German excavations at a number of points between the Byrsa hill and the sea revealed the original Punic settlement, going back at least to the first quarter of the eighth century BCE; the French laid bare several blocks of late Punic housing on the Byrsa itself, overlying an earlier industrial quarter, and preserved under later Roman fill; and British and American teams excavated in the area of the Punic ports, backed up by geophysical prospection and underwater exploration along the coast, while the Americans also excavated in the tophet.

The British and German excavations also cast light on the early Roman period, and a second French team worked out the topography of the monumental first- and second-century forum on the summit of the Byrsa. The Americans helped clarify the history of the circus, following geophysical prospection by a Polish team, and the Italians in the north-west and Canadians in the northeast of the city added to our knowledge of the urban topography. A second British team carried out a number of rescue excavations and made observations during the construction of a new sewage system. Most of the great monuments of the early empire, however, had been excavated long ago, like the amphitheater, the theater, the Odeon, the vast cisterns at La Malga and Bordj Djedid, and the Antonine baths, along with the houses on the east slope of the Odeon hill, and much of the information that they might have yielded to modern excavation techniques is lost forever.

From later periods a number of Christian basilicas and their adjacent cemeteries, previously excavated at least in part, were reinvestigated, and the Americans also dug a major Byzantine cemetery behind the circus and one of the Vandal period just outside the city to the northwest. Germans studied the enigmatic underground structure known only as the Kobbat Bent el Rey, dating from the early fourth century, and a Canadian team showed the “Circular Monument” west of the theater to be a Christian memoria of the later fourth century. A University of Michigan team excavated an ecclesiastical complex linked to a basilica in the southeast sector of the city and built an exemplary site museum to display their results. The Swedes excavated a house with a bath complex at the foot of the Byrsa and the Danes a late Roman villa on the coast in the extreme northeast of the city. The British, Americans, Italians, and Canadians all excavated stretches of the Theodosian Wall, built around 425 in anticipation of the Vandal invasion, and the Canadians and Danes in the northeast, like the Michigan team in the southeast, found evidence of squatter occupation in the final years before the Arab capture of the city In 695.

This summary necessarily omits much, and particularly the Tunisian contribution in numerous rescue excavations, but it indicates how important the UNESCO campaign has been, utterly transforming our knowledge of the city, although adding little to its history in the Arab period, when pottery suggests that it was largely but not completely abandoned.

[See also Phoenician-Punic; and Phoenicians.]

Bibliography

  • Bartoloni, Piero, et al., eds. Atti del I congresso internazionale di studi fenici e punici, Roma, 5–10 novembre 1979. 3 vols. Rome, 1983. International collection of essays covering a variety of topics in Punic-Phoenician material culture, history, and language. Useful resource on recent scholarly interests and controversies and primary and secondary sources; state-of-the-field summaries.
  • Benichou, Hélène. Les tombes puniques de Carthage: Topographie, structures, inscriptions et rites funéraires. Paris, 1982. Painstaking and invaluable account of over a century of excavation reports, with analyses of tomb types, inscriptions, and funerary rites.
  • Bomgardner, David L. “The Carthage Amphitheater: A Reappraisal.” American Journal of Archaeology 93 (1989): 85–103. Study of the amphitheater as currently visible, listed here because this is one of the few major monuments of the city not touched in the UNESCO campaign.
  • Brouillet, Monique Seefried, ed. From Hannibal to Saint Augustine: Ancient Art of North Africa from the Musée du Louvre. Atlanta, 1994. Exhibition catalog with eighteen specialist articles on Carthage and North Africa, about half translated from French and often conveying ideas and information otherwise inaccessible in English.
  • Brown, Susanna Shelby. Late Carthaginian Child Sacrifice and Sacrificial Monuments in Their Mediterranean Context. Sheffield, 1991. Survey of literary, epigraphic, and archaeological evidence for child sacrifice, with typological and iconographic study of stelae from the Carthage tophet.
  • Cintas, Pierre. Manuel d'archéologie punique. 2 vols. Paris, 1970–1976. Historical and archaeological evidence for western Phoenician, especially Carthaginian, civilization. Volume 1 contains a useful overview of classical and Christian sources, focusing on the foundation of Carthage and other sites, but generally taking ancient sources too literally. Volume 2 deals with the archaeology of Carthage. Both volumes are now largely out of date as far as the archaeology is concerned, and Cintas is just plain wrong about the ports. Good bibliography through 1975.
  • Ennabli, Abdelmajid, ed. Pour sauver Carthage: Exploration et conservation de la cité punique, romaine et byzantine. Paris and Tunis, 1992. Twenty-four articles summarizing the results of the UNESCO team, mostly by the directors of the excavations themselves, with complete bibliography to date, which in most cases will lead the reader to more detailed reports on which summaries are based.
  • Fantar, M'hamed Hassine. Carthage: Approche d'une civilisation. 2 vols. Tunis, 1993. Detailed discussion of the history and civilization of Punic Carthage; up to date, full of excellent information, but lacks a decent index. There is nothing remotely comparable in English. On the tophet and infant sacrifice, see volume 2, pages 302–306.
  • Frend, W. H. C. The Donatist Church: A Movement of Protest in Roman North Africa. Oxford, 1952. Still the fundamental account, although Frend's views on the social basis of Donatism have been challenged by more recent scholarship.
  • Gsell, Stéphane. Histoire ancienne de l'Afrique du Nord. 8 vols. Paris, 1921–1928. Still the basic survey of evidence for Phoenicians and natives, Stone Age to Roman conquest. Often methodologically and archaeologically out of date, but never superseded by equally comprehensive work, and nothing comparable exists in English.
  • Lancel, Serge. Carthage. Paris, 1992. Account of Punic Carthage, particularly strong on the history of French research, with good bibliography. An English translation is in preparation (Oxford: Black-well).
  • Moscati, Sabatino. “Il sacrificio punico dei fanciulli: Realtà o invenzione?” Rendiconti dell'Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei (1987): 3–15. The fullest statement to date of the case for supposing that infant sacrifice is a myth.
  • Pedley, John G., ed. New Light on Ancient Carthage. Ann Arbor, 1980. Series of articles by UNESCO participants reporting on early stages of the campaign. See especially Stager on the tophet, Wightman on the layout of the city, and Humphrey on Vandal and Byzantine Carthage.
  • Rakob, Friedrich. “Die römische Wasserleitung von Karthago.” In Journées d'études sur les aqueducs romains/Tagung über römische Wasserversorgungsanlagen, Lyon, 26–28 mai 1977, edited by Jean-Paul Boucher, pp. 309–332. Paris, 1983. The definitive account of the Zaghouan aqueduct.
  • Raven, Susan. Rome in Africa. 3d ed. London, 1993. The only book on North Africa in English that is both readable and reliable, with Carthage playing a prominent role.
  • Soren, David, et al. Carthage: Uncovering the Mysteries and Splendors of Ancient Tunisia. New York, 1990. Chatty and popular in approach, and occasionally already out of date, but very useful in the absence of any recent scholarly account in English.
  • Sznycer, Maurice. “Carthage et la civilisation punique.” In Rome et la conquête du monde méditerranéen, 264–27 avant J.-C., vol. 2, Genèse d'un empire, edited by Claude Nicolet, pp. 545–593. Paris, 1978. Invaluable survey by a Semitic linguist, covering evidence (especially epigraphic) and the main controversies, with a summary of modern bibliography.

  • The best known Greek and Latin writers are available in the Loeb series, published by Harvard University Press, with the original text and translation on facing pages. For inscriptions, see the following: Corpus inscriptionum semiticarum (Paris, 1881–); Répertoire d'épigraphie sémitique (Paris, 1990– ); Corpus inscriptionum latinarum, vol. 8 (Berlin, 1981– ); Maria Giulia Amadasi Guzzo, Le iscrizioni fenicie e puniche delle colonie in Occidente (Rome, 1967); and Alfred Merlin, Inscriptions latines de la Tunisie (Paris, 1944). Secondary sources include the following:
  • Colin M. Wells

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