Header: Carthage. (Tunisia). This coin, housed in the Museo Kircheriano, is one of six known coins struck during the Carthaginian invasion of Italy c.217 B.C.E. All of them show Hannibals personal Indian elephant on one side. On the other side a likeness of Hannibal, the great Carthaginian leader. All have different Punic characters written on them. Originally published in P. Raffaele Garrucci, Le Monete DellItalia Antica (Rome, 1885, plate T.LXXV).
Top row: (1) Phoenician bust in Egyptian style. Louvre Museum, Paris. (2) Phoenicia (Israel/Palestine). Nimrud Ivory. 9th century B.C.E. (3) From the Antonine Baths in Carthage, Hermaiques: Pillars topped by the head of the god Hermes. Protective injunctions, which were widespread in the Roman world. Circa 100 A.C.E. The Bardo Museum, Tunisia. (4) Phoenicians bringing gifts for the Persian King, Persepolis relief, 5th century B.C.E.
Bottom row: (1) Phoenicians with monkeys. Relief from the Palace of Assyrian King Ashumasirpal II, 883-859 B.C.E. (2) Captain of the blacks, minoan crete, knossos fresco. 1550-1500 B.C.E. (3) Decorative Pottery. Said to be the Cyrenian (Libya) King Arkesilas (of the Greek Battiad dynasty) watching over the bundling of wool, 565-560 B.C.E. Found in Vulci, Etruria (Italy). Battus was actually a Minyan, who were among the original Black people of Greece. (4) Phoenicia (Israel/Palestine). Nimrud Ivory. 9th century B.C.E.
“There are...a series of ivories that depict the Phoenicians in the British Museum. Carved in the ninth century BC, the majority of the Nimrud Ivories depict the Phoenicians as Negroes.”
Historian Robin Walker, author of the book When We Ruled
The Carthaginian population encompassed an eclectic mix of Phoenicians (the early people of Palestine), Libyans and peoples from the Nile Valley region. The city state of Carthage is believed to have been established in the ninth century B.C.E., and was situated on the North African coast of modern Tunisia.
The founders of Carthage, the Phoenicians, called the region Qart Hadasht (cf. Carthage) - their New Town, as opposed to Utica, also located in North Africa, their Old Town. “The earliest known inhabitants of Palestine were the Natufians. Flourishing some 10,000 years ago, they were Negroes.”
According to the great British anthropologist Sir Arthur Keith, these early inhabitants of Palestine are described as follows: “Mediterraneans with a distinct bias towards the African variety of stock represented by the predynastic people of Egypt.” Furthermore, according to the historian Robin Walker “the Natufians, like the modern Bantus, practised evulsions of the incisors and apparently wore skins, and at times headgear made of shells.” In addition, the bible calls their descendants, several thousand years later, Canaanites. Historian Canon Rawlinson says of the Canaanites:
“This people, a Hamitic race closely connected with the Egyptians, Ethiopians, and primitive Babylonians, spread itself at a remote date over the entire coast tract from the borders of Egypt to Casius, and formed the dominant population as far inland as the Coele-Syrian valley, the lake of Gennesaret, and the deep cleft of the Jordan.”
It is theorised that by the time of the Greek period, the Natufians or Canaanites, although starting out as Black ended up what can be usefully be described as brown or dark red. This is hypothesised because they were by then called Phoenicians by the Greeks which refer to a dark red or brown dye. It is, however, evident that even as late as the Greek period the Phoenicians were essentially an African population. There are a “series of ivories that depict the Phoenicians in the British Museum. Carved in the ninth century B.C.E., the majority of the Nimrud Ivories depict the Phoenicians as Negroes.” An excellent authority on this subject Professor Lancel, remarked on the Carthaginian ivories in particular and stated: “[T]he openwork ivories of Carthage appear to be in direct descent from the Nimrud pieces dated to the end of the eighth century [B.C.E.].”
The Carthaginian artwork reveals the gradual change in racial bias due to much of it showing Egyptianising or Hellenising (i.e. Greek) tendencies and therefore, at this period neither faithfully represents either the Phoenician or Libyan population. Moreover, the statues and coins depicting people also follow one or the other tendencies. “Professor Lancel shows two ivories recovered from the Byrsa cemetery at Carthage. One of them was in an Egyptian style and shows two people.” On these examples he commented: “The Cushitic [African] features are very noticeable in the way the two people are portrayed.” Lancel also notes that the other ivory, which depicted an animal, was “in a Syrio-Palestinian tradition.”
Walker notes that “the problem here is that the two styles that Lancel identifies are both present in the Nimrud ivories of a century earlier.” He therefore rightfully concluded “that the Cushitic [African] features depicted on the Byrsa cemetery ivory, also shows “great fidelity to Syrio-Palestinian models.” Finally, Walker notes, there is an official description of the sarcophagus of Esmunazar II, King of the Phoenician city of Sidon, and one of Phoenicia’s most illustrious rulers. It reads as follows:
“The features are Egyptian, with large almond shaped eyes, the nose flattened and the lips remarkably thick and somewhat after the Negro mould. The whole countenance is smiling, agreeable and expressive beyond anything I have ever seen in the disinterred monuments of Egypt or Ninevah.”
Phoenicia (Israel/Palestine). Nimrud Ivory. 9th century B.C. (Photo: Robin Walker). Reproduced by courtesy of the trustees of the British Museum.
Source: When We Ruled, Robin Walker.
Phoenicia (Israel/Palestine). Nimrud Ivory. 9th century B.C. (Photo: Robin Walker).
Reproduced by courtesy of the trustees of the British Museum. Source: When We Ruled, Robin Walker.
The Phoenicians founded many colonies such as Lixus, Cadiz, Utica and Carthage, and were considered the great maritime traders of the ancient world. On their maritime prowess author of the excellent work Carthage and the Carthaginians, Mr R. Bosworth Smith, remarked:
“It was they who learned to steer their ships by the sure help of the Pole Star, while the Greeks still depended on the [constellation of the] Great Bear; it was they who rounded the Cape of Storms [of South Africa], and earned the best right to call it the Cape of Good Hope, two thousand years before Vasco de Gama. Their ships returned to their native shores bringing with them sandal wood from Malabar [in India], spices from Arabia, fine linen from Egypt, ostrich plumes from the Sahara, ebony and ivory from the Soudan. Cyprus gave them its copper, Elba its iron, the coast of the Black Sea its manufactured steel. Silver they brought from Spain, gold from the Niger, tin from the Scilly Isles, and amber from the Baltic. Where they sailed, there they planted factories which opened a caravan route with the interior of vast continents hitherto regarded as inaccessible, and which became inaccessible for centuries when the Phoenicians disappeared from history.”
Archaeological finds indicate that the Phoenicians had profound ties with the ancient Egyptians. For example, a bronze statuette discovered off the southern coast of Sicily at the site of Selinunte “wears a crown not unlike the white crown of the Pharaohs. In addition, he is wearing a kilt, again, not unlike those of the Pharaohs.” On this remarkable bronze statuette Professor Lancel of the University of Grenoble stated:
“At first it was seen as the god Melqart - the Greek Herakles, the Latin Hercules. In fact this figurine belongs in the series of representations of what Middle East archaeologists call a ‘smiting god’: the god striding towards the enemy and preparing to smite him with a weapon brandished in his right hand. If it is permissible to recognize it as a divinity of the Syrio-Palestinian world - a Baal or Reshef, rather than a Melqart - is it equally permissible to turn it into a testimony of Phoenician expansion in the west [?]”
Furthermore, at Cadiz was found “some problematic discoveries, such as the figure of what seems to be Ptah.” In Spain near Almunecar “there [is] a cremation cemetery [which] contains tombs dating from the end of the eighth century [B.C.E.], but with an Egypt aspect strongly indicated by alabaster jars bearing pharaonic cartouches belonging to the ninth century, while one of them shows, alongside pseudo-hieroglyphic inscriptions, a text in Phoenician.”
On this evidence Walker remarked:
“We note that the archaeological evidence of the smiting God, the Ptah, and the ninth century pharaonic cartouches, all show that Nile Valley culture was an important and largely inseparable element in some of the Phoenician colonies.”
It is believed that Carthage was founded in 814 B.C.E. but this date needs to be considered with extreme caution. The date is based on a report by Pliny the Elder who claimed that in Utica, on the North African coast; wooden beams of Numidian cedar were placed in the Temple of Apollo in 1101 B.C.E., and according to pseudo-Aristotle Carthage followed Utica by 287 years. Therefore, this would imply a date of 814 B.C.E. for the founding of Carthage.
The problem with this theory is that the placing of wooden beams of Numidian cedar at the Temple of Apollo in 1101 B.C.E. in Utica does not mean that Utica was not in existence way before 1101 B.C.E. In fact, the story seems to imply that it was already a flourishing state by that time. Once again, this demonstrates the rather loose dating methodology employed by many historians, who seem determined to fix historical timelines regardless of the quality of evidence at hand.
Nevertheless, historians believe that in the seventh century B.C.E. Carthage was a modest city of mud brick walling and beaten clay floor that “already occupied a sizable part of the littoral plain - hundreds of metres in both directions - not to mention the possible occupation of the heights of Byrsa.
A suburban fringe of workshops (metalworkers, fullers, dyers, potters) ensured the production necessary for daily living, and already perhaps, as regards pottery for example, for export as well. The building alignments discovered show that at least in the central parts of the littoral plain (other orientations still seem questionable), in the seventh century [BC], the settlement was not established in a haphazard fashion, but followed a generalized layout roughly parallel to the shoreline.”
Although Dr. Lancer remarks that by the seventh century B.C.E. the Libyans had become the majority population in the city, he also reports that the Egyptian influence was greatly visible by the middle of the century:
“Golden jewellery of Egyptian origin was found dating to the seventh or sixth centuries BC, as was locally made jewellery in an Egyptian style. Ivory was found where "again the influence of Egyptian iconography is revealed". Moreover, thousands of scarabs and amulets dating to the seventh and sixth centuries BC were recovered. Among these were wadjet eyes, uraei, and images of Nile Valley deities. There were images of Ptah, Bes, Anubis, Ma'at, Bastet and Amen. More intriguing, were images of the specifically Nubian deity, Khnum. Twenty-Sixth Dynasty scarabs were also discovered. Dr Lancel says of these: "The Saitic epoch [i.e. the Twenty Sixth Dynasty], with strong leanings towards the archaic, had tried hard to revive the golden age of Egyptian civilization, and it will be of no surprise to find the name of Mykerinos [i.e. Menkaura], the builder of one of the three great pyramids of Gizeh, on a blue-green paste scarab from the Douimes cemetery.”
By the fifth century B.C.E. Carthage had grown into a powerful and formidable international force. It had established a colony in Ibiza in 654 B.C.E. and the Phoenician city of Tyre fell into Carthaginian hands in 573 B.C.E. Carthage controlled Gozo, Lampedusa and Sardinia by the sixth century B.C.E. “Finally, beginning in the sixth century and certainly in the fifth century [B.C.E.], Carthage extended its boundaries into Africa. This developed a Libyphoenician culture. By the second quarter of the fifth century [B.C.E.] the Carthaginians stopped paying annual tribute to the Libyans to lease the land. Skulls identified as Phoenician were discovered west of Syracuse in Sicily. They were dolichocephalic, prognathous, and had distinctly Negroid affinities. In one way or another, Carthage came to control Majorca, Minorca, Sardinia, western Sicily, the smaller Mediterranean islands, parts of Spain, and finally parts of North Africa.”
It was not too long, however, before equally powerful rivalry from the other side of the Mediterranean entered onto the scene. These were the formidable Greeks who began to dispute the mastery of the western Mediterranean. “Sicily became the combat zone from the fifth to the third centuries [B.C.E]. Apparently, King Hamilcar, of the House of Mago, took three years to gather his naval forces of 200 warships, 3,000 troop transporters and an army of 300,000 men recruited from Africa, Spain, Sardinia, Corsica, Libya and Gaul. They landed at Himera in Sicily and began to battle the Greeks. The conflict lasted all of one fateful day in 480 [B.C.E.] The Carthaginians were utterly defeated. In 410 [B.C.E] war erupted once more in Sicily but with greater successes.
Hannibal, [son of King Hamilcar] also of the House of Mago, commanded the conquest of the cities - Selinus, Himera and Syracuse. This was accompanied by a cruel destruction of those Greek colonial cities. He returned in 407 [B.C.E.] and destroyed Agrigentum, Gela and Camarina. After much bloodshed, a peace treaty was agreed between Carthage and the Greeks in 383 [B.C.E]. Sicily was divided between them with an agreed boundary.”
It would be Carthage’s successful military and colonising exploits, however, that would later come back to haunt them. “Carthage imposed a harsh tribute upon [the people]. The value of this sometimes amounted to half of their annual produce. This made the Carthaginians a hated people elsewhere in Africa, and proved a decisive factor in their downfall.”27
The city of Carthage reached its pinnacle by the third century B.C.E. It boasted a population of 700,000 and some historians believe that it may have even neared one million.28By all accounts Carthage was an impressive and sophisticated city, according to Walker:
“The Greek and Roman accounts allow us to reconstruct a picture of the twenty-three mile circuit of towering walls that enclosed several imposing temples, a fortress, and many magnificent buildings.
The city walls were of an extraordinary thickness and contained barracks for twenty thousand soldiers, magazines for war material, stalls for three hundred elephants, and stables for four thousand horses. Lining both sides of three streets were rows of tall houses, six storeys high. The streets lead on to the harbours. To the north and the west of the city lay the great suburb of Megara, full of gardens and villas, associated with the idle rich. The forum was probably situated in the lower town near to the two ports. The war harbour was circular and had docks all round. Before each dock stood columns, decorated with Ionic capitals. This formed part of a colonnade that surrounded the entire harbour. In the centre of the island stood the Admiralty buildings and palace, from which trumpeters would convey orders to the warships. The Carthaginian temples were lavish, decorated with metals, wood and marble. Herodotus described pillars of gold and lapis lazuli standing in front of them. The Temple of Eshmun (i.e. Imhotep) was the richest in the city and was approached by 60 steps. Finally, Carthage boasted public restaurants, theatres, libraries and baths.”
On the Carthaginian's remarkable prosperity at this period the scholar Mr Bosworth Smith remarked:
“Carthage was, beyond doubt, the richest city of antiquity. Her ships were to be found on all known seas, and there was probably no important product, animal, vegetable, or mineral, of the ancient world, which did not find its way into her harbours and pass through the hands of her citizens.”
Furthermore, “the streets ran at right angles and were made of beaten earth typically five to seven metres wide. The houses had washing or shower rooms, with cisterns, pipes, wastewater drains, and floors of mosaic tiles. They had living rooms with white marble tesserae mosaics, courtyards with mosaic floors, storerooms, and also staircases. The houses had impluvia. The porticoes had sloping roofs supported by stuccoed sandstone columns. In addition, there were residential blocks. Exactly like ours today. Finally, the city had garbage collectors.”
The first of the Punic wars came about due to the emerging new power from Rome, and for the control over the Mediterranean trade routes. This began in 264 B.C.E. on the island of Sicily. The first important battle, however, was not until 256 B.C.E. when the ambitious Roman barbarians with 330 vessels attacked the continent of Africa itself. They sailed from Sicily to Cap Bon and successfully ravaged the site. This event was so devastating that the Carthaginians, led by Hamilcar Barca, was forced to negotiate a peace settlement with the Romans in 255 B.C.E. Needless to say, this peace settlement did not end the conflicts and an ominous air of contention remained.
The following twenty to thirty years was characterised by continuing rivalry and hostility with the Romans. Hamilcar commanded a series of campaigns between 246 and 242 B.C.E. that almost drove the Romans off the island of Sicily. At one point, the Carthaginian’s formidable army of organised cavalry, foot soldiers and elephants resulted in the capture and imprisonment of the Roman consul, Regulus. Between 254 and 253 B.C.E. the Romans suffered a series of humiliating naval defeats to the Carthaginians.
However, the table took an abrupt turn in favour of the Romans when the Carthaginians themselves suffered a devastating naval defeat in 241 B.C.E. This forced the Carthaginians to renounce its claim to the colony of Sicily. The result of this detrimental conquest was that approximately 20,000 beleaguered Carthaginian mercenaries remained in western Sicily. They were an eclectic mixture of Iberians, Gauls, Balearics, Greeks and other Africans. It would be these mercenaries that would bring about another damaging war for the Carthaginians, when the government refused to give them full pay.
The incensed mercenaries decided to strike at the Carthaginian army, and they gained large support from other Africans from surrounding territories that also hated the Carthaginian’s oppressive rule. However, the insurrection was soon terminated resulting in the crucifixion of the mercenary leaders Spendios, a half Greek and Matho an African in 238 B.C.E. After this Carthage was a much weakened and tired power, and they were no longer the formidable force that they once were. Walker describes this critical period in Carthaginian history:
“Carthage re-emerged but in a much reduced state. Hamilcar established a strong territorial presence in south east Spain and seized control of its rich mines. South of Alicante he built a new Carthage. Hasdrubal the Elder succeeded him in 229 BC and signed a treaty with the Romans, three years later.
The provisions of the treaty are controversial, but it contained a clause that delimited the territorial boundaries separating that which belonged to Carthage, from that which belonged to Rome. Hasdrubal perished in 221 BC and was succeeded by Hannibal, his brother. A Celtiberian stabbed Hasdrubal to death.”
Undoubtedly, the most celebrated and best known personality of all of Carthaginian history is the formidable African general Hannibal Barca. In 219 B.C.E. Hannibal seized Saguntum in Spain, which, according to Polybius, the Roman historian, breached the treaty and was interpreted by the Romans as a declaration of war. This act caused the second Punic war to come about.
Hannibal raised an army of 90,000 men on foot and 12,000 men on horseback; they reached Rhone by the summer of that year. However, the journey was arduous and costly and by this time the force was substantially reduced to 50,000 soldiers, 9,000 horsemen, and 37 elephants. Nevertheless, the numbers were greatly replenished by Celts and Gauls that hated Roman imperial rule, and thus flocked in great numbers to join Hannibal’s campaign.
By the end of the year Hannibal’s growing army managed to successfully cross the Alpine passes. This was by no means an easy route to take, and proved to be extremely detrimental. Many people and animals alien to the winter climate and difficult terrain suffered tremendously and died. Gradually moving further and further inland from the north, Hannibal’s army finally penetrated deep into the heart of Italian territory, where they seized Cannae in 216 B.C.E.
This was a great battle resulting in 70,000 Roman soldiers being killed. In contrast, the Carthaginians only lost 5,500 soldiers and 200 horsemen in the same fight.
After this tremendous victory Hannibal’s forces grew in confidence and marched on to Rome. However, they were unable to breach the walls, and so camped outside there for years. On this period one author wrote of Hannibal as being: “Hung with his dusky army like a storm-cloud about to break, within sight of the sentinels of Rome.”
This is a 3D rendition of what Carthage might have looked like at the height of its power. In the foreground you can see the Cothon, the city's famous military harbour.
By The Creative Assembly. Source: www.ancient.eu.com
However, whilst Hannibal’s army were confidently camped outside of Roman walls with victory at sight, Rome was making significant inroads elsewhere, regarding this stealth-like manoeuvre Walker commented:
“By 210 BC they destroyed Carthage's new allies in Sicily and the following year, Scipio, the Roman general, commanded an invasion of Spain. A year later the Roman army seized the gold and silver mines of that land which was the basis of Carthage's wealth. In around 206 BC a King of Numidia, an African state to the west of Carthage, changed alliances as Carthage began to lose. Allying himself with Rome, he persuaded Scipio to bring the war to Africa. In 204 Scipio invaded Africa causing Hannibal and Mago, his brother, to leave Italy and return home. The Romans engaged them at the Battle of Zama in 202 BC. Assisted by 10,000 horsemen, supplied by Numidia, the Romans triumphed. Scipio had planned for and frustrated Hannibal's secret weapon - the use of elephants.”
In 201 B.C.E. a harsh peace treaty was imposed on the Carthaginians which required them to give the lands back to Numidia.
Carthage also required consent from Rome to make war on any people, they were to give up all of their elephants and were forbidden to acquire any more. Furthermore, they were required to abandon all of their ships except ten. Lastly, they had to pay reparation of 10,000 talents over fifty years. To help ensure their demands were met Scipio had ordered practically the entire Carthaginian fleet to be burnt down.
Nevertheless, despite these heavy demands Carthage still managed to make a remarkable recovery. So much so that one historian remarked that “the business of that city was again as flourishing as it had ever been...Again ships sailed to the coasts of Cornwall and Guinea; again the streets were lined with the workshops of industrious artisans.” Indeed, the recovery was so impressive, under Hannibal’s rule that the Carthaginians offered to pay off the reparation due to Rome in ten years instead of fifty.
The Romans, however, rejected this offer, and were frustrated by the Carthaginian’s strong resolve and speedy recovery. So much so that they finally demanded that the Carthaginians hand over Hannibal. This demand caused Hannibal to instead flee for his life and go into exile in 196 B.C.E.
The Roman’s frustration with the tenacious North African city grew stronger each year, and they were not shy in expressing their feelings publically. Between 152 and 150 B.C.E., the Roman senator Cato the Elder is reported to have ended each and every speech in the Senate with the phrase: “In any case I am of the opinion that Carthage must be destroyed.” Regardless of the topic in discussion, the Roman Senate brought it back to Rome’s number one nemesis Carthage.
It is clear at this point that the Romans were continually seeking an excuse to put an end to the Carthaginian glory days. They finally got their chance in 150 B.C.E. when the Carthaginians counter attacked Numidia. Numidia had been constantly abusing the Carthaginians while the Romans turned a blind eye. This convenient retaliation by the Carthaginians allowed the Romans to claim that the treaty of 201 had been breached. In 149 B.C.E. the Carthaginians sent an embassy to Rome to discuss this ostensible violation. The Romans demanded that the Carthaginians hand over all their weapons of war, to which the Carthaginians complied. However, this was never going to be enough, finally the Romans demanded that the Carthaginians abandon their homes and the city and move inland from the sea to a distance of 15 kilometres. Carthage was on the brink of total annihilation.
The harrowing news caused both fear and terror throughout the city, as the historian Mrs Stuart Erskine remarked:
“Karthage [sic] went mad. People were torn to pieces in the streets; some Italians found there were tortured.
And then the torrent was stemmed, and the Karthaginians rose to the full height of their greatness. They shut the gates and resolved to defend themselves to the last. But how was this to be done? There were no ships of war in the ports; the arsenals were empty; the stalls where the elephants and horses were stabled empty also. Without weapons, without any means of defence but the strong walls, the Senate of Karthage declared war on Rome. In a very short time the silent city was turned into a huge factory.”
This vicious one sided attack on the city began in 149 B.C.E. and lasted a devastating and bloody three years. It is estimated that approximately 250,000 people were slaughtered in the senseless atrocity, and 50,000 were sold into slavery. Furthermore, “some 500,000 volumes of the Carthaginian library disappeared. Some texts were handed over to the Numidians. The destruction of a literature is always a setback to civilisation since accumulated knowledge dies with the destruction of each library.”
Much of this text provided a useful insight on Carthaginian erudition, historian Mr Bosworth Smith discussed one such text believed to have been penned by Hannibal’s brother Mago, he stated:
“What Aristotle was to the mediaeval philosophers and theologians, that Mago seems to have been, in his measure, to the Italian agriculturists. Varro, the most learned of the Romans, and the author, among 489 other publications, of the most valuable treatise on ancient agriculture which we possess, quotes Mago as the highest authority on the subject, and other Roman writers have handed down to us with no less respect, various maxims on the breeding and management of cattle, the care of poultry and of bees, the planting of forest trees, and the treatment of the vine and the olive, the almond and the pomegranate, all drawn from the same fountain head. "We honour," says Columella, "above all other writers, Mago the Carthaginian, the father of husbandry.”
In conclusion, Erskine vividly describes the devastating consequences of the final blow delivered by the Romans, when she explained:
“The smouldering fires in Karthage [sic] were relit, the marbles were hacked, the temples spoiled; so thorough was the work of destruction that hardly one stone remained on another. Then the plough was passed over the blackened soil, and the final curse was pronounced - that Devotio which dedicated the place to the Infernal Gods. The site of Karthage had stood for seven hundred years was cursed; the land was never to yield a harvest; no human habitation was to be raised on ground given over to the spirits of darkness.”
Robin Walker, When We Ruled, Black Classic Press, Baltimore, 2011.
Images above: (1) Close-up of one of the unidentified figures supporting Darius' throne. (2) Bust of a Roman Youth. (3) 3D rendition of what Carthage might have looked like at the height of its power. In the foreground you can see the Cothon, the city's famous military harbour. Produced by The Creative Assembly. (4) Photo of ancient Carthage.
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