The World of the Ancient Carthaginians - Culture

The Carthaginians: History | Culture | Warfare

Commerce

Carthaginian portCarthaginian commerce was by sea throughout the Mediterranean and far into the Atlantic and by land across the Sahara desert. According to Aristotle, the Carthaginians and others had treaties of commerce to regulate their exports and imports.

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. Its artisans 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, Etruria (the 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.

Pantheon

The supreme divine couple was that of Tanit and Ba'al Hammon. The goddess Astarte seems to have been popular in early times. At the height of its cosmopolitan era, Carthage seems to have hosted a large array of divinities from the neighbouring civilizations of Greece, Egypt and the Etruscan city-states. A pantheon was presided over by the father of the gods, but a goddess was the principal figure in the Phoenician pantheon.

Child sacrifice

Carthage under the Phoenicians was criticized by 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. The Greek and Roman critics, according to the Charles Picards, objected not to the killing of children but to the religious nature of it. Exposure of children was common in ancient Greece and Rome but for economic rather than religious reasons.

 

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).

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Source: Wikipedia

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