Carthage Must Be Destroyed: The Rise and Fall of an Ancient Civilization

By Tepfenhart, Mariana | Comparative Civilizations Review, Fall 2014 | Go to article overview

Carthage Must Be Destroyed: The Rise and Fall of an Ancient Civilization


Tepfenhart, Mariana, Comparative Civilizations Review


Richard Miles, Carthage Must Be Destroyed: The Rise and Fall of an Ancient Civilization Penguin, 2012

Richard Miles is a professor of history at the University of Sydney and a Fellow Commoner of Trinity Hall, at the University of Cambridge. He has extensive knowledge of the ancient world. He wrote about the Punic wars, the Romans, the Vandals of North Africa and hosted on BBC a television series - Ancient Worlds. He also directed archeological excavations in Carthage and Rome.

The title was inspired by the famous statement of the Roman senator, Cato the Elder, "Delenda est Carthago" - "Carthage must be destroyed" - which sealed the fate of that Mediterranean city. The book provides a sweeping yet vivid narrative of about ten centuries of developments that led to the destruction of Carthage, after three Punic Wars. The book is a comprehensive history of Carthage, from its origins to its demise. The purpose of the book is to recreate the lost world of the great North African metropolis and to "reassess some of the comfortable historical certainties that underpin many of the modern West's assumptions about its own cultural and intellectual heritage."(22). Miles wants to prove that Western civilization is not founded exclusively on Roman and Greek cultures but is indebted to other cultures and people as well. The author uses primary sources, secondary sources and the latest archeological discoveries. However, he points out that the Greek and Roman sources are negative and clichéd. They promote the image of cruel, unmerciful people, untrustworthy, cheaters who practiced child sacrifice to appease their gods. It was this version of the history of Carthage that was adopted in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in Western Europe.

Miles commences his story with the roots of the Carthaginians in Phoenicia - the land of the color purple. The Phoenicians' prosperity was the result of their outstanding mastery of the sea. They created a network for trade with merchants stationed in foreign ports as royal agents who were treated more like ambassadors. By the eighth century they established colonies in Sardinia and southern Spain where they found a large supply of silver and iron. Carthage was a Phoenician colony and became a major manufacturer of terracotta, ivory items, and jewelry. Although it was the Phoenicians that discovered the silver mines in Spain, Carthaginians exploited the mines, which became the source of the city's wealth. They gained control of part of what is today Tunisia and became a maritime and trading power.

Richard Miles makes a great effort to introduce the reader to the Mediterranean world of that period and to describe the relations between very diverse people, both competitive and cooperative. A reasonable consequence of this interaction is the exchange of the ideas in every field. One aspect is the religion. Highly important for the Romans and the Carthaginians is Heracles, the son of Zeus and a human mother, who is used for propaganda reasons by both people, to show that the gods were on their side.

Miles also comments on the ritual of child sacrifice to honor their god, Baal. By analyzing the latest archeological discoveries in Tunisia, the author states that this was not as widespread as was described in the written sources. It was a practice known in Middle East as "molk," which the Carthaginians, like the Phoenicians before them, did resort to as a ritual in times of crisis for the benefit of the whole community. Evidence suggests that the children offered for sacrifice were from the elite families. Sometimes animals and birds were substituted for humans.

The study continues with the reasons for the conflict. Miles stated that Carthage and Rome were competing for resources but also started to fear each other. He presents in great detail the battle for Sicily, a territory that both the Romans and the Carthaginians claimed. This set the stage for the first Punic War (264-241 BC) that the Romans won. …

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