Carthage (Carthago, from the Phoenician קרת חדשת Qart-ḥadašt meaning new town) refers both to an ancient city in Tunisia and to the civilization that developed within the city's sphere of influence. The city of Carthage is located on the eastern side of Lake Tunis across from the center of Tunis. According to legend it was founded by Phoenician colonists under the leadership of Elissa (Queen Dido). It became a large and rich city and thus a major power of the Mediterranean until its destruction in the Third Punic War in 146 BC. Although the center of the Punic culture was destroyed, it continued into Roman times. Rome also refounded Carthage, which became one of the three most important cities of the Empire, a position that would last until the Muslim conquest when it was destroyed a second time in 698 AD.
Carthage was built on a promontory with inlets to the sea to the north and south. The city's location made it master of the Mediterranean's maritime trade. All ships crossing the sea had to pass between Sicily and the coast of Tunisia, where Carthage was built, affording it great power and influence.
Two large, artificial harbors were built within the city, one for harboring the city's massive navy of 220 warships and the other for mercantile trade. A walled tower overlooked both harbors.
The city had massive walls, 23 miles (37 kilometers) in length, longer than the walls of comparable cities. Most of the walls were located on the shore, and thus could be less impressive as Carthaginian control of the sea made attack from that direction difficult. The 2½–3 miles (4–4.8 kilometers) of wall on the isthmus to the west were truly large and in fact were never penetrated.
The city had a huge necropolis or burial ground, religious area, market places, council house, towers, and a theatre, and was divided into four equally-sized residential areas with the same layout. Roughly in the middle of the city stood a high citadel called the Byrsa. It was one of the largest cities in Hellenistic times (by some estimates only Alexandria was larger) and was among the largest cities in pre-industrial history.
Recent excavation has brought much more primary material to light. Some of these finds contradict aspects of the traditional picture of Carthage, and much of the material is still ambiguous.
Elissa was a princess of Tyre. Her brother, King Pygmalion of Tyre, had murdered her husband, the high priest. Elissa escaped the tyranny of her own country and founded the "new city" of Carthage and subsequently its later dominions. Details of her life are sketchy and confusing, but the following can be deduced from various sources. According to Justin, Princess Elissa was the daughter of King Matten of Tyre (also known as Muttoial or Belus II). When he died, the throne was jointly bequeathed to her and her brother, Pygmalion. She married her uncle Acherbas (also known as Sychaeus) the High Priest of Melqart, a man with both authority and wealth comparable to the king. Pygmalion was a tyrant, lover of both gold and intrigue, who desired the authority and fortune enjoyed by Acherbas. Pygmalion assassinated Acherbas in the temple and kept the misdeed concealed from his sister for a long time, deceiving her with lies about her husband's death. At the same time, the people of Tyre called for a single sovereign, causing dissent within the royal family.
The Carthaginian Empire was one of the longest-living and largest empires in the ancient Mediterranean. Reports state several wars with Syracuse and Rome, leading finally to the destruction of Punic Carthage during her third war with Rome.
Polybius wrote in the sixth book of his History that the Carthaginians were "more exercised in maritime affairs than any other people. Their navy included some 300 to 350 warships. The Romans, who had little experience in naval warfare prior to the First Punic War, managed to finally defeat Carthage with a combination of reverse engineering captured Carthaginian ships, recruitment of experienced Greek sailors from the ranks of its conquered cities, the unorthodox corvus device, and their superior numbers in marines and rowers. In the Third Punic War Polybius describes a tactical innovation of the Carthaginians, augmenting their few triremes with small vessels that carried hooks (to attack the oars) and fire (to attack the hulls). With this new combination, they were able to stand their ground against the superior Roman numbers for a whole day.
When Carthage fell, its nearby rival Utica, a Roman ally, was made capital of the region and replaced Carthage as the leading center of Punic trade and leadership. It had the advantageous position of being situated on the Lake of Tunis and the outlet of the Majardah River, Tunisia's only river that flowed all year long. However, grain cultivation in the Tunisian mountains caused large amounts of silt to erode into the river. This silt was accumulated in the harbor until it was made useless, and Rome was forced to rebuild Carthage.
By 122 BC, Gaius Gracchus founded a short-lived colonia, called Colonia Iunonia, after the Latin name for the punic goddess Tanit, Iuno caelestis. The purpose was to obtain arable lands for impoverished farmers. The Senate abolished the colony some time later, in order to undermine Gracchus power. After this ill-fated attempt, 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. In the first of a string of rather poorly reported Councils at Carthage a few years later, no fewer than seventy bishops attended. Tertullian later broke with the mainstream that was represented more and more by the bishop of Rome, but a more serious rift among Christians was the Donatist controversy, which Augustine of Hippo spent much time and parchment arguing against. In 397 at the Council at Carthage, the biblical canon for the western Church was confirmed.
The political fallout from the deep disaffection of African Christians is supposedly a crucial factor in the ease with which Carthage and the other centres were captured in the 5th century by Gaiseric, king of the Vandals, who defeated the Roman general Bonifacius and made the city his capital. Gaiseric was considered a heretic too, an Arian, and though Arians commonly despised Catholic Christians, a mere promise of toleration might have caused the city's population to accept him. After a failed attempt to recapture the city in the 5th century, the Byzantines finally subdued the Vandals in the 6th century.
During the emperor Maurice's reign, Carthage was made into an Exarchate, as was Ravenna in Italy. These two exarchates were the western bulwarks of Byzantium, all that remained of its power in the west. In the early 7th century, it was the Exarch of Carthage, Heraclius (of Armenian origin), who overthrew Emperor Phocas.
The Byzantine Exarchate was not, however, able to withstand the Muslim conquerors of the 7th century. Umayyad Caliph Abd al-Malik in 686 AD sent a force led by Zuhayr ibn Qais who won a battle over Byzantines and Berbers led by Kusaila, on the Qairawan plain, but could not follow that up. In 695 AD Hasan ibn al-Nu'man captured Carthage and advanced into the Atlas Mountains. A Byzantine fleet arrived, retook Carthage but in 698 AD Hasan ibn al-Nu'man returned and defeated Tiberios III at the Battle of Carthage. The Byzantines withdrew from all of Africa except Ceuta. The Roman Carthage was destroyed, just as the Romans had done in 146 BC. Carthage was replaced by Tunis as the major regional center. The destruction of the Exarchate of Africa marked a permanent end to Roman or Byzantine influence there, as the rising tide of Islam shattered the empire.
The empire of Carthage depended heavily on its trade with Tartessos and other cities of the Iberian peninsula, from which it obtained vast quantities of silver, lead, and, even more importantly, tin ore, which was essential to the manufacture of bronze objects by the civilizations of antiquity. Its trade relations with the Iberians and the naval might that enforced Carthage's monopoly on trade with tin-rich Britain and the Canary Islands allowed it to be the sole significant broker of tin and maker of bronze. Maintaining this monopoly was one of the major sources of power and prosperity for Carthage, and a Carthaginian merchant would rather crash his ship upon the rocky shores of Britain than reveal to any rival how it could be safely approached. In addition to being the sole significant distributor of tin, its central location in the Mediterranean and control of the waters between Sicily and Tunisia allowed it to control the eastern nations' supply of tin. Carthage was also the Mediterranean's largest producer of silver, mined in Iberia and the North African coast, and, after the tin monopoly, this was one of its most profitable trades. One mine in Iberia provided Hannibal with 300 Roman pounds(3,75 talents) of silver a day.
Carthage's economy began as an extension of that of its parent city, Tyre. Its massive merchant fleet traversed the trade routes mapped out by Tyre, and Carthage inherited from Tyre the art of making the extremely valuable dye Tyrian Purple. It was one of the most highly-valued commodities in the ancient Mediterranean, being worth fifteen to twenty times its weight in gold. High Roman officials could only afford togas with a small stripe of it. Carthage also produced a less-valuable crimson pigment from the cochineal.
Carthage produced finely embroidered and dyed textiles of cotton, linen, wool, and silk, artistic and functional pottery, faience, incense, and perfumes. It worked with glass, wood, alabaster, ivory, bronze, brass, lead, gold, silver, and precious stones to create a wide array of goods, including mirrors, highly-admired furniture and cabinetry, beds, bedding, and pillows, jewelry, arms, implements, and household items. It traded in salted Atlantic fish and fish sauce, and brokered the manufactured, agricultural, and natural products of almost every Mediterranean people.
In addition to manufacturing, Carthage practiced highly advanced and productive agriculture, using iron plows, irrigation, and crop rotation. Mago wrote a famous treatise on agriculture which the Romans ordered translated after Carthage was captured. After the Second Punic War, Hannibal promoted agriculture to help restore Carthage's economy and pay the war indemnity to Rome (10000 talents or 800,000 Roman pounds of silver), and he was largely successful.
Carthage produced wine, which was highly prized in Rome, Euturia (Etruscans), and Greece. Rome was a major consumer of raisin wine, a Carthaginian specialty. Fruits, nuts, grain, grapes, dates, and olives were grown, and olive oil was exported in competition with Greece. Carthage also raised fine horses, similar to today's Arabian horses, which were greatly prized and exported.
Carthage's merchant ships, which surpassed even those of the cities of the Levant, visited every major port of the Mediterranean, Britain, the coast of Africa, and the Canary Islands. These ships were able to carry over 100 tons of goods. The commercial fleet of Carthage was comparable in size and tonnage to the fleets of major European powers in the 18th century.
Merchants at first favored the ports of the east: Egypt, the Levant, Greece, Cyprus, and Asia Minor. But after Carthage's control of Sicily brought it into conflict with Greek colonists, it established commercial relations in the western Mediterranean, including trade with the Etruscans.
Carthage also sent caravans into the interior of Africa and Persia. It traded its manufactured and agricultural goods to the coastal and interior peoples of Africa for salt, gold, timber, ivory, ebony, apes, peacocks, skins, and hides. Its merchants invented the practice of sale by auction and used it to trade with the African tribes. In other ports, they tried to establish permanent warehouses or sell their goods in open-air markets. They obtained amber from Scandinavia and tin from the Canary Islands. From the Celtiberians, Gauls, and Celts, they obtained amber, tin, silver, and furs. Sardinia and Corsica produced gold and silver for Carthage, and Phoenician settlements on islands such as Malta and the Balearic Islands produced commodities that would be sent back to Carthage for large-scale distribution. Carthage supplied poorer civilizations with simple things, such as pottery, metallic products, and ornamentations, often displacing the local manufacturing, but brought its best works to wealthier ones such as the Greeks and Etruscans. Carthage traded in almost every commodity wanted by the ancient world, including spices from Arabia, Africa, and India and slaves.
These trade ships went all the way down the Atlantic coast of Africa to Senegal and Nigeria. One account has a Carthaginian trading vessel exploring Nigeria, including identification of distinguishing geographic features such as a coastal volcano and an encounter with gorillas (See Hanno the Navigator). Irregular trade exchanges occurred as far west as Madeira and the Canary Islands, and as far south as southern Africa. Carthage also traded with India by traveling through the Red Sea and the perhaps-mythical lands of Ophir (India/Arabia?) and Punt, which may be present-day Somalia.
Archaeological finds show evidence of all kinds of exchanges, from the vast quantities of tin needed for a bronze-based metals civilization to all manner of textiles, ceramics and fine metalwork. Before and in between the wars, Carthaginian merchants were in every port in the Mediterranean, buying and selling, establishing warehouses where they could, or just bargaining in open-air markets after getting off their ship.
The Etruscan language has not yet been deciphered, but archaeological excavations of Etruscan cities show that the Etruscan civilization was for several centuries a customer and a vendor to Carthage, long before the rise of Rome. The Etruscan city-states were, at times, both commercial partners of Carthage and military allies.
Eratosthenes, head of the Library of Alexandria, noted that the Greeks had been wrong to describe all non-Greeks as barbarians, since the Carthaginians as well as the Romans had a constitution. Aristotle also knew and discussed the Carthaginian constitution in his Politics (Book II, Chapter 11).
During the period between the end of the First Punic War and the end of the Second Punic War, members of the Barcid family dominated in Carthaginian politics. They were given control of the Carthaginian military and all the Carthaginian territories outside of Africa.
Carthaginian religion was based on Phoenician religion, a form of polytheism. Many of the gods the Carthaginians worshiped were localized and are now known only under their local names.
Carthage under the Phoenicians was notorious to its neighbors for child sacrifice. Plutarch (c. 46–120) mentions the practice, as do Tertullian, Orosius, Philo and Diodorus Siculus. Livy and Polybius do not. The Hebrew Bible also mentions child sacrifice practiced by the Canaanites, ancestors of the Carthaginians, and by some Israelites.
Modern archaeology in formerly Punic areas has discovered a number of large cemeteries for children and infants. But there is some argument that the reports of child sacrifice were based on a misconception, later used as blood libel by the Romans who destroyed the city. These cemeteries may have been used as graves for stillborn infants or children who died very early. Modern archeological excavations have been interpreted as confirming Plutarch's reports of Carthaginian child sacrifice. In a single child cemetery called the Tophet by archaeologists, an estimated 20,000 urns were deposited between 400 BC and 200 BC, with the practice continuing until the early years of the Christian period. The urns contained the charred bones of newborns and in some cases the bones of fetuses and 2-year-olds. These remains have been interpreted to mean that in the cases of stillborn babies, the parents would sacrifice their youngest child. There is a clear correlation between the frequency of cremation and the well-being of the city. In bad times (war, poor harvests) cremations became more frequent, but it is not possible to know why. The correlation could be because bad times inspired the Carthaginians to pray for divine intervention (via child sacrifice), or because bad times increased child mortality, leading to more child burials (via cremation).
Accounts of child sacrifice in Carthage report that beginning at the founding of Carthage in about 814 BC, mothers and fathers buried their children who had been sacrificed to Ba`al Hammon and Tanit there. The practice was apparently distasteful even to Carthaginians, and they began to buy children for the purpose of sacrifice or even to raise servant children instead of offering up their own. However, in times of crisis or calamity, like war, drought or famine, their priests demanded the flower of their youth. Special ceremonies during extreme crisis saw up to 200 children of the most affluent and powerful families slain and tossed into the burning pyre.
It has been argued by some modern scholars that evidence of Carthaginian child sacrifice is incomplete, and that it is far more likely to have been Roman blood libel against the Carthaginians to justify their conquest and destruction. Skeptics suggest that the bodies of children found in Carthaginian and Phoenician cemeteries were merely the cremated remains of children that died naturally. Sergio Ribichini has argued that the Tophet was "a child necropolis designed to receive the remains of infants who had died prematurely of sickness or other natural causes, and who for this reason were "offered" to specific deities and buried in a place different from the one reserved for the ordinary dead". The few Carthaginian texts which have survived make absolutely no mention of child sacrifice, though most of them pertain to matters entirely unrelated to religion, such as the practice of agriculture.
In February 1985, Ugo Vetere, the mayor of Rome, and Chedly Klibi, the mayor of Carthage, signed a symbolic treaty "officially" ending the conflict between their cities, which had been supposedly extended by the lack of a peace treaty for more than 2100 years.