Ancient City of Carthage
The ancient site of Carthage was located on the edge of North Africa that is now Tunisia, on the Eastern side of Lake Tunis. Carthage, from this prime location, could control trade from the eastern to the Western Mediterranean.
Carthage was founded as a Phoenician Colony about 800 BC. It was once the center of the Phoenicians’ vast trade empire. Carthage was later conquered and destroyed by the Romans in 146 BC. It was rebuilt by the Romans and occupied by early Arab conquerors.
Carthage was founded in 814 or 813 BC. The first settlers were people from Tyre in Phoenicia. According to tradition, their leader was a princess named Elissa, better known as Queen Dido, who founded Carthage after she fled from Tyre.
The inhabitants there agreed to give her as much land as she could encompass with a single Ox hide. By cutting the hide into thin strips, Dido was able to enclose a large area.
Carthage was a powerful city-state with a large commercial empire in the western Mediterranean.
It had support of tribes and of older Phoenician colonies, Carthage in the 6th century, by the subjugation of the Libya, could control the entire north African coast from the Atlantic ocean to the western border of Egypt, as well as Sardinia, Malta, the Balearic Islands, and part of Sicily.
Carthage had inlets to the sea to the north and South, which made it master of the Mediterranean’s maritime trade. All ships crossing the sea had to pass between Sicily and Carthage, affording it great power and influence.
Carthage’s main port contained two linked harbors, with a common entrance from the sea 21.3m wide, which could be closed with iron chains:
A circular one for harboring the city’s massive navy of 220 warships
A rectangular one for mercantile trade.
The central island rose to a considerable height, allowing Carthaginian commanders to observe what was going on at sea, while approaching ships had no clear view of what lay within.
The City Plan:
The city had a huge Necropolis, religious area, market places, council house, towers, and a theatre, and was divided into four equally-sized residential areas with the same layout.
The Byrsa Hill
The centre of Punic Carthage was at the present Byrsa hill, a hilltop from where there are great views of the Gulf of Tunis.
The Byrsa, a citadel located on a low hill in the middle of the city overlooking the sea.
The Hill of Byrsa, where in the 8th century BC, Carthage was founded is a storehouse of history. Newly restored, the former Cathedral of Saint Louis, which crowns the hill is now a cultural center and the nearby national museum of Carthage holds an impressive collection of Punic statues, steels and urns.
- Carthage was a city of glittering palaces and luxury houses lived in by the rich merchant classes.
- Their town houses rose six-storey high along narrow streets. Each house was built around a central courtyard & had its own cistern along with a rudimentary drainage system.
- Their private estates in the countryside were large houses and gardens backing on to extensive plantations that benefited from the complex irrigation systems. Herds of cattle and flocks of sheep pastured on the surrounding plains.
Carthaginian religion was based on Phoenician religion, a form of polytheism. Religion in Carthage involved human sacrifice to the principal gods, baal and tanit. The Greek Gods Demeter and Persephone and the Roman Goddess Juno were adapted to later religious patterns of the Carthaginians.
Tophet, ancient sanctuary of goddess tanit, was a high place designated for the sacrifice of children to gods. Urns have been unearthed containing the ashes of more than 20,000 boys aged between two and 12 sacrificed by the Carthaginians in the eighth century BC.
While Carthage’s navies were uncontested, it did not maintain a strong standing army. Instead, it relied on mercenaries, hired with its considerable wealth, to fight its wars.
- The Punic Wars were a series of three wars fought between Rome and Carthage.
- The main cause was the clash interests between the Carthaginian and the Roman empire. The Romans were interested in expansion via Sicily, part of which lay under Carthaginian control.
1st Punic War (264 to 241 BC)
- It began as a local conflict in Sicily.
- The war was costly to both the powers.
- Rome emerged victorious &forced Carthage to pay a massive tribute.
- Carthage spent the years following the first Punic War improving its finances and expanding its colonial empire.
2nd Punic War (218 BC to 201 BC)
- The second Punic War is most remembered for the Carthaginian Hannibal’s crossing of the Alps.
- He and his army invaded Italy from the North and defeated the Roman Army in several battles, but could never cause a political break between Rome and its allies.
- Crossing the Alps cost Hannibal too many of his men and war elephants. Eventually, Carthage was defeated in Africa by Scipio Africanus. The end of the war saw Carthage’s control reduced to the city itself.
3rd Punic War (149 BC to 146 BC)
The third Punic War involved an extended siege of Carthage, ending in the city’s destruction. In spite of a heroic resistance in which Carthaginian women cut off their hair to provide bowstrings for the catapults, Carthage was burned down.
At the start of the first Punic War, Carthage was the dominant power on the Mediterranean. By the end of the third war, Rome had conquered Carthage’s empire and razed the city, becoming the most powerful state of the Western Mediterranean.
The Fall of Carthage:
- The fall of Carthage was at the end of the third Punic War in 146 BC.
- The city was destroyed completely by the Romans who pulled the Phoenician warships out into the harbor and burned them before the city.
- They went from house to house, slaughtering the Carthagians and & the few survivors were sold into slavery.
- The city was set ablaze & the Romans poured salt over the farmland to ensure its barrenness.
After Carthage’s ultimate defeat, the area around the city became a Roman Province. It was not until the Emperor Augustus (reigned from 27 BCE-CE 14) that Carthage became a city again.
A new city of Carthage was built on the same land, and by the 1st century it had grown to the second largest city in the Western half of the Roman Empire, with a peak population of 500,000. It was the center of the Roman Province of Africa, which was a major breadbasket of the empire. Carthage also became a center of early Christianity.
- The city had a rectangular town-plan.
- The whole town stretched for some two miles parallel to the shore and for about a mile inland, and covered perhaps 1,200 acres.
- Its street-plan can hardly be older than Caesar or Augustus, but the shape of its ‘insulae’ appears to be without parallel in that age.
- It comes closest to the oblong blocks of Pompeii and of Naples, and its two theatres also recall those towns.
- It comprised a large number of streets- forty—running parallel to the coast
- A smaller number running at right angles to these down the hillside towards the shore, and many oblong ‘insulae’, measuring each about 130 x 500 ft. The reason for its plan can be found in the physical character of the site. The ground slopes down from hills towards the shore, and encourages the use of streets which run level along the slopes, parallel to the shore, and not more or less steeply towards it
Antonine baths in Carthage were once the largest baths in the Roman Empire.
In these baths, heat was provided by an underground system of furnaces and – very much like a modern day spa – there were a series of hot rooms, a cold plunge pool and the Roman equivalent of a jacuzzi.
The Roman theater is used today for the summer festival of Carthage.
Carthage’s economy was an extension of Tyre, its parent city. Its maritime power enabled the devoting of the empire to commerce as its massive merchant fleet traversed the trade routes mapped out by Tyre.
Carthage inherited from Tyre the art of making a highly valuable commodity in the Mediterranean, the Tyrian Purple Dye which is where we get the colour “Tyrian Purple”–the color reserved for royalty.
Other commercial enterprises were:
- Mining of silver and lead
- Manufacture of beds and bedding
- A lumber industry in the atlas mountains
- Production of simple pottery, jewelry, and glassware
- Export of wild animals, fruits, nuts, ivory and gold from African jungles
Carthage in Modern Times:
Carthage, today, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It remains a popular tourist attraction and residential suburb.
Phoenician, Roman and Arab remains can still be seen in the site of this ancient city.