Ancient Carthage

Carthage (ancient city, N Africa)

Carthage (kär´thĬj), ancient city, on the northern shore of Africa, on a peninsula in the Bay of Tunis and near modern Tunis. The Latin name, Carthago or Cartago, was derived from the Phoenician name, which meant "new city."

The Rise of Carthage

Carthage was founded (traditionally by Dido) from Tyre in the 9th cent. BC The city-state built up trade and in the 6th and 5th cent. BC began to acquire dominance in the W Mediterranean. Merchants and explorers established a wide net of trade that brought great wealth to Carthage. The state was tightly controlled by an aristocracy of nobles and wealthy merchants. Although a council and a popular assembly existed, these soon lost power to oligarchical institutions, and actual power was in the hands of the judges and two elected magistrates (suffetes). There was also a small but powerful senate.

The greatest weakness of Carthage was the rivalry between landholding and maritime families. The maritime faction was generally in control, and about the end of the 6th cent. BC the Carthaginians established themselves on Sardinia, Malta, and the Balearic Islands. The navigator Hanno is supposed to have sailed down the African coast as far as Sierra Leone in the early 5th cent. The statesman Mago arrived at treaties with the Etruscans, the Romans, and some of the Greeks.

Sicily, which lay almost at the front door of Carthage, was never brought completely under Carthaginian control. The move against the island, begun by settlements in W Sicily, was brought to a halt when the Carthaginian general Hamilcar (a name that recurred in the powerful Carthaginian family usually called the Barcas) was defeated (480 BC) by Gelon, tyrant of Syracuse, in the battle of Himera. The Greek city-states of Sicily were thus preserved, but the Carthaginian threat continued and grew with the steadily increasing power of Carthage.

Hamilcar's grandson, Hannibal (another name much used in the family), destroyed Himera (409 BC), and his colleague Himilco sacked Acragas (modern Agrigento) in 406 BC Syracuse resisted the conquerors, and a century later Carthage was threatened by the campaign (310–307?) of the tyrant Agathocles on the shores of Africa. After his death, however, Carthage had practically complete control over all the W Mediterranean.

The Punic Wars and the Decline of Carthage

In the 3d cent. BC Rome challenged Carthage's control of the W Mediterranean in the Punic Wars (so called after the Roman name for the Carthaginians, Poeni, i.e., Phoenicians). The first of these wars (264–241) cost Carthage all remaining hold on Sicily. Immediately after the First Punic War a great uprising of the mercenaries occurred (240–238). Hamilcar Barca put down the revolt and compensated for the loss of Sicilian possessions by undertaking conquest in Spain, a conquest continued by Hasdrubal.

The growth of Carthaginian power again activated trouble with Rome, and precipitated the Second Punic War (218–201). Although the Carthaginian general was the formidable Hannibal, Carthage was finally defeated, partly by the Roman generals Quintus Fabius Maximus Rullianus (see under Fabius) and Scipio Africanus Major, and partly by the fatal division of the leading families in Carthage itself, which prevented Hannibal from receiving proper supplies.

After Scipio had won (202) the battle of Zama, Carthage sued for peace. All its warships and its possessions outside Africa were lost, but Carthage recovered commercially and remained prosperous. Deep divisions among the Carthaginian political parties, however, gave Rome (and particularly Cato the Elder) the pretext to fight the Third Punic War (149–146 BC), which ended with the total destruction of Carthaginian power and the razing of the city by Scipio Africanus Minor.

Romans later undertook to build a new city (Colonia Junonia) on the spot in 122 BC, but the project failed. A new city was founded in 44 BC and under Augustus became an important center of Roman administration. Carthage was later (AD 439–533) the capital of the Vandals and was briefly recovered (533) for the Byzantine Empire by Belisarius. Although practically destroyed by Arabs in 698, the site was populated for many centuries afterward.

Today's Carthage

There are hardly any remains of the ancient Carthage, although a few Punic cemeteries, shrines, and fortifications have been discovered. Most of the ruins that remain are from the Roman period, including baths, an amphitheater, aqueducts, and other buildings. Louis IX of France (St. Louis) died there while on crusade. A chapel in his honor stands on the hill that is traditionally identified as Byrsa Hill, site of the ancient citadel. The Lavigérie Museum is also there.

Bibliography

See B. H. Warmington, Carthage (2d ed. 1969); T. A. Dorey and D. R. Dudley, Rome against Carthage (1971); N. Davis, Carthage and Her Remains (1985); R. Miles, Carthage Must Be Destroyed (2011).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2017, The Columbia University Press.

Ancient Carthage: Selected full-text books and articles

The Story of Carthage By Arthur Gilman; Alfred J. Church Biblo-Moser, 1990
Temporarily FREE! Mediterranean Anarchy, Interstate War, and the Rise of Rome By Arthur M. Eckstein University of California Press, 2007
Africa and Africans in Antiquity By Edwin M. Yamauchi Michigan State University Press, 2001
Cato the Elder and the Destruction of Carthage By O'Gorman, Ellen Helios, Vol. 31, Spring-Fall 2004
Carthage: The God in the Stone By Brett, Michael History Today, Vol. 47, No. 2, February 1997
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