on images or on the links below the images to enlarge them.
The Phoenicians, who may have originated in the Persian Gulf, settled
in the coast of what is now Lebanon. The two most active cities
were Tyre and Sidon, and they and others first colonized the middle
east and Cyprus. By 1100 BC they were busily setting up trading
posts at 20 mile intervals along the entire Mediterranean coast and
beyond, into the Atlantic, on the African and European coast.
There were three major routes. What the Phoenicians wanted most
was metals. The first post that became a permanent colony was Gades
(later Cadiz) on the Spanish Coast near Gibraltar where the Phoenicians
traded finished manufacture items for Iberian silver.
The Greeks tied up trade with the eastern end of the North African
coast -- Egypt, after all, was ruled by Ptolomeic Greeks. The
Sidonian Phoenicians set up further west with their first big trade
center at Utica on the Gulf of Tunis at the mouth of the Bagradas River
(now the Medjerda River) around 1100 BC. About 300 years later,
the Tyrians founded Carthage on a hill further south on the Gulf of
Tunis, and competition reared its head. Because Tyre was richer
than Sidon, the Carthaginians got more support from their home
town. Soon after Carthage was founded, Utica was second fiddle,
and Utica never forgave Carthage. During various wars, including
the Punic Wars with Rome, Utica routinely sided with the enemies of
Carthage. The Greeks allowed Phoenician and, later, Carthaginian
traders to operate within the Greek areas of the Eastern Mediterranean,
but the two groups were deadly enemies in the west. Eventually
there was war between the Greek and Carthaginian cities in Sicily and
continuation of that is what gave the Romans their excuse for the First
Punic War. The Second Punic War started when Hannibal took the
former Greek colony of Saguntum on the Spanish Mediterranean coast,
which had passed into Roman protection.
Phoenician trade depended on an active navy and merchant
marine. This early mosaic shows both sides of the equation.
The ships with two rounded ends were merchantmen and those with a
pointed prow were navy. The pointed end is a metal ram and is
what the Romans eventually called a rostrum. Rostra, which were
taken as trophies and were mounted on the front of the speakers
platforms in Roman municipal forums, became the turf of over-excited
speakers: hence our use of the word rostrum in English.
Merchant ships eventually were armed and double decked. The upper
deck offered some protection from pirate or enemy missiles and also
cargo capacity. Merchant ships carried rostra, but usually not of
the size or strength of those on the warships. The Phoenicians
innovators in ship design, but their ships were soon copied (or in the
case of the Romans, copied much later).
If one bank of oars was good, two or three would certainly be
better. Because the Romans eventually won the whole
Mediterranean, the ships all ended up with Latin designations: unireme, bireme, trireme, quadrereme,
, etc. (using the Roman names for the numbers along
, which was the
Latin word for oar. The Ptolomies in Egypt and some later
Emperors actually had ceremonial triginteremes
which, despite their name, didn't have thirty banks of oars.
Nobody really knows how the oars were arrange on anything but uni-,
bi-, and triremes, but its assumed that the higher numbers ("fours",
"fives", "sixes", etc.) had multiple rowers per oar rather than more
and more banks of oars. A quadrereme would have two banks of oars
on each side with to men per oar or three banks of oars per side, one
of the banks having two men on each oar. At least, those are the
prevalent theories. To avoid interference among the banks of
oars, the ships had wide overhangs above the water.
The back end of this Punic ship was raised from the sea off Marsala in
Sicily in 1971 and put on display in a small local museum after for
years of conservation and preservation work. We know it was a
Punic ship because of Punic inscriptions that were painted on the
sides. The front end of the ship was lost to tides and currents
over the millennia, but the stern was buried in silt. It appears
to have been brand new when sunk, apparently by the Romans in a battle
fought there in 214 BC during the Second Punic War.
According to Greek accounts, Elissa, a.k.a. Dido ("The
Wanderer"), founded Carthage in 814 or 813 BC after escaping from her
evil younger brother, Pygmalion, who had usurped her throne after their
father died. The Romans later anachronized the situation
entangling their own mythical forefather, Aeneas, with the Dido
Elissa/Dido cut a deal (and a bull-hide) to get some land from the
locals. The mythical swindle is thought to be an indication of
the craftiness of the newly arrived Tyrians.
her bull-hide into very thin strips and used the strips to measure off
the Byrsa Hill, the high point on an easily defensible promontory on
the Gulf of Tunis. The legend may well have originated with the
Greeks: the Greek word Byrsa means oxhide. Our word "purse"
comes from the same source -- the Greek word can also mean a leather or
The new city that spread out to the south of the Byrsa Hill was called
Kart Hadasht (or Kiryat Ha Dasht), which, interestingly enough, meant
"New City" in the Phoenician Semitic language. There were
eventually two connected ports, an outer rectangular port for the
merchant marine and a circular port for the Navy. The outer port
was built first. On the laundward side of the city there were a series
defensive fortifications, outside of which were low fields that were
protected by dikes. The dikes were gradually extended outward,
and landfil was used to create more fields for agriculture. It's
thought that these were the fields "sown with salt" by the Romans after
the destruction of Carthage in the Third Punic War: the Romans
simply broke the Dikes.
The Romans rebuilt Carthage during the reign of Augustus, one
hundred years after the Third Punic War. In the years since then,
the metropolis shifted to the back of the Lac de Tunis -- the modern
city of Tunis. Much landfilling has also occurred, and the narrow
neck that once connected Carthage to the mainland is now much
wider. Since the satellite image was made several years ago,
there has been an acceleration of the landfill to accommodate
Turner's love for this painting (Dido building Carthage; or, the Rise of
The Carthaginian Empire, 1815 ) was
so great that he asked to be wrapped in it in his coffin. His
executor threatened to have him exhumed to recover the painting for the
estate, and Turner changed his will. The original request is
displayed in the London National Gallery near the painting.
In the Greek version of the Dido legend, after founding Carthage, she
is trapped into a marriage with a local chieftain. To avoid him,
she throws herself onto a pyre on which she was burning her mementos of
her firs marriage (back in Tyre.) Here she's having a "to be or
not to be" moment.
As mentioned above, the Romans anachronistically tied Aeneas into the
Dido legend -- his story was closer to 1200 BC than to 814 BC. In
Roman Carthage, Aeneas was a popular subject of decorative arts.
This is part of a large mosaic from a Roman Villa, now in the Bardo
Museum in suburban Tunis City. It shows Aeneas tied to the mast
of his ship so that he can hear the Sirens but not be drawn to
them. The crew had their ears stopped with wax so they wouldn't
hear the Sirens.
Aeneas fascinates Dido of stories of his past: Virgil's exposition of
the early Aeneas legend -- an 1815 painting by French Romanticist,
The "Vatican Virgil" is the earliest known illustrated classical
work. Less that one fifth of the original 400-odd pages of the
Aeneid and the Georgics survive. The four illustration here are:
a dinner (Dido, Aeneas, and Dido's sister Anna); Dido and Aeneas
shelter in a cave from a thunderstorm (provided by Juno to throw
them together) where their passions overcome them; Aeneas leaves
after being reminded by the gods of his mission for found a new kingdom
in Italy, and; Dido in her act of immolation.
A one page cheat-sheet on Carthaginian government organization.
Little of Punic Carthage is left for excavation -- it was all either
destroyed at the end of the Third Punic War or mined out for
construction materials when the city was rebuilt in the Roman style
during the reign of Augustus. Luckily, a nearby Punic town,
Kerkouane on the Cap Bon Peninsula, survived the general destruction
and was never over-built.
The map shows the location of Kerkouane, one of the Phoenician
colonies taken over by the Magonid Kings after the fall of Tyre first
to the Assyrians in 575 and then to the Persians in 538. Mago and
his successors also dug a defensive trench across the Sahara and the
The only authentic urban Punic/Carthaginian ruins in North Africa
are at Kerkouane.
The common characteristic of Punic houses in Kerkouane were their
well designed and well preserved private baths. The hydraulic
plaster, with which they were constructed, was extremely durable.
If the Kerkouane examples are any indication, Punic homes had several
large rooms surrounded by a few smaller more specialized spaces,
including, of course, baths.
The "Princess" is a wooden sarcophagus lid carved in the likeness of
Tanit/Astarte. It is the only known example and is, naturally,
the pride of the small Kerkouane museum.
A figurine of a woman with a drum or "tambourine" (perhaps
Tanit/Astarte) and a swivel seal ring, one side of which shows four
Punic infantrymen from the Kerkouane museum. Most of the
Punic sites in North Africa have small museums where some artifacts
(those not claimed by the Bardo national museum) are on display.
The origin of the icon associated with Tanit is obscure, but it is
clear that early versions of the icon were much less anthropomorphic
than later ones. Originally, there was an isosceles triangle with
a bar across the top with a separated circle above. Some
theorists say that the symbol first was an idiograph of Baal Hammon (a
bull with a solar disk). But Astarte is also often shown horned
with a solar disk (= Hathor, the Egyptian cow goddess). At any
rate, early on in the history of Carthage, the icon was taken to
indicate Tanit, identified with Astarte.
Tanit on a tombstone from the Carthage Tophet -- the burial place for
infant sacrifices and burials. In this instance, there is a
separate idiograph that is identified with Astarte. The question
is, of course, whether this is evidence that Tanit is Astarte, or
perhaps has a separate identity that is denoted by separate icons.
A small (10 inch) terra-cotta "Tanit" -- holding, once again, the
tambourine. Although this one was unearthed in urban Carthage,
similar statues have been found with infant burials in the Tophet.
There are no ancient images of the sacrificial alter on which
Carthaginian children were burned. This is an early modern German
rendition, based on historic descriptions. Some descriptions
speak of a grate held in the arms of the statue of Baal Hammon which,
as some point during the ceremony, would mechanically tip the child
into the flames.
The word Tophet seems to be derived either from a Semitic for drum --
drums were beaten to cover the screams of sacrificial infants (hence
the drum carried by Tanit) or perhaps from another Semitic word
associated with burning. Under the massed tombstones are
thousands of urns containing the charred remains of infants and
(presumably by replacement) small animals.
Urns from the Carthaginian Tophet.
ASOR excavation photos of an infant sacrifice urn from the Carthage
Tophet. ASOR is the American Schools of Oriental Research (http://www.asor.org/
Individual tombstones in the Carthage Tophet. The most intricate
grave markers have been moved to the Bardo Museum in Tunis city.
The Bardo Museum has prehistoric, Punic, Roman, Vandal, and islamic
collections. It is housed in the much expanded 13th century royal
palace of the Hafsid dynasty.
Some of the more tombstones from the Tophet that are displayed in
This is the upper part of the grave marker on the left of the image
immediately above. It's just loaded with Punic gods and religious
Bes statuette found in Carthage, now in the Bardo Museum. Bes was
a god recognizable as an Egyptian import, who kept demons away during
childbirth. Images of Bes are found throughout Phoenician and
Carthaginian territories. The Carthaginians dedicated a new town
in Spain to Bes: Carthaginian Ebysos is now Spanish Ibiza.
Punic Jewelry from the Bardo. The earring that looks like the
Egyptian ankh is a Tanit Icon. The colored necklace, lower right,
has beads that look like grotesque heads -- thought to be images of
minor gods or to have magic significance as amulets.
More amulet beads from the Bardo Museum.
Ceramic heads, some of which look like "flying saucer aliens."
Carthaginian ceramic masks. Incised decorations may indicate
tattoos or scarification. Such masks are sometimes seen as
evidence of sub-Saharan contact. The mask on the left is very
similar to one of the Venetian carnival masks.
A display of Punic busts in the Bardo. Some show strong Egyptian
Punic pottery, Bardo
Punic artifacts in the Bardo made of sea shells, ceramics, and ostrich
eggs. A subgroup of the aboriginal population carried
bi-directional cross-Saharan trade, much as the Tuareg do today.
Larger statuary in the Bardo: an "Egyptianised" god and
(perhaps?) a warrior.
The unique bronze Carthaginian military breastplate on display in
Punic Pottery could be quite elegant or simply mundane.
A lamp, bowls, pitchers and a storage jar.
Some of the best Carthaginian Artifacts come from underwater debris
fields associated with wrecked Carthaginian ships. These are
pictures taken at an underwater site off Malta.
Carthaginian coins, like all ancient specie, was widely
circulated. The value of coins in ancient times was in the
physical metal, which did not lose its value when it crossed borders or
when originating countries disappeared. Coins are extremely
durable and carry very much information -- everything from how the
Carthaginians braided the manes of their horse, how they built wagons,
attributes of their gods and goddesses, and the faces (and races) of
their leaders. Unfortunately, the Carthaginians, unlike the
Romans, did not use architectural imagery on their coins.
The "Ateban Tomb" in Dougga, Tunisia, is either the tomb of a Numidian
prince named Ateban of was designed by an architect named Ateban for a
Numidian prince: what we know is that the name of Ateban is
carved into the Tomb. It is touted as an example of Punic, or
Numidian, of Libico-Punic architecture. It dates from the 3rd
century BC and is the only known example of pre-Roman architecture that
survives in the area: between purposeful destruction and
materials mining, everything else was taken down.
There is all kind of evidence in the Americas of Carthaginian visits
and colonies -- all kinds except for any that can be scientifically
All that needs to be said is that extraordinary claims require
extraordinary proofs, none of which has been forthcoming. See http://phoenicia.org/america.html