Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Short History of Carthage

My knowledge of Carthage was based on school Latin translations of the Punic wars. I did not shine at Latin due to lack of interest and motivation. This was a subject chosen by my family and the educational system, for my long-term benefit. “Have to have Latin if you are going to study Law or Medicine like the rest of the family” was the nonnegotiable motivation. I did enough to pass Latin, with the minimum requirements, and studied neither Law nor Medicine.
Anyhow, a few days ago over a couple of beers, the conversation drifted to things Carthage and to my horror I could not contribute anything significant to the topic. What I did know was that my friends were equally or more ignorant, but were more verbal about their ignorance.
According to tradition, Queen Dido, a Phoenician, from the city of Tyre (in modern Syria) had to leave her country in a bit of a hurry due to a family misunderstanding. She founded the city of Byrsa (Later known as Carthage), in Tunisia. It would appear as though the name Byrsa was connected to the Greek word byrsa, meaning hide, as in animal hide. Apparently the locals agreed to give her as much land as could be enclosed by an ox hide. She cut the hide into tiny strips and surrounded an area large enough to found the city. (Either this was an exceptionally large ox or the strips were very, very small.)
This happened in 850 BC. At this time the Roman Empire was but an embryo. Geographically Carthage was well situated for trade and unrivalled commercial opportunities. The city boomed and became a large and prosperous with harbours, docks, manufacturing industries and trade. The Phoenicians were a seafaring nation and colonies were established all over North Africa, the Mediterranean islands, and Spain. Their ships controlled the inland sea.
As Carthage flourished, so did Rome. After Rome had mastered Italy, conflict with Carthage was inevitable. The Romans had one drawback. At this point they were good on land but not so good at sea. I found a quote that supports this ……. “No Roman might even wash his hands in the Mediterranean without the permission of Carthage”.
So….Rome and Carthage started on a series of “conflicts” that lasted for a 100 years. The Punic Wars, and there were three of them. This first one lasted about 20 years (260-240 BC), in Sicily. This resulted in the Carthaginians withdrawing from Sicily and the payment of an indemnity to Rome. Round 1 to the Romans.
The second Punic war was also known as the “War with Hannibal”. He invaded Italy from Spain, crossing the Alps with a train of elephants. He managed to defeat the Romans at Cannae, but did not receive any support from the “locals”. While this was happening Scipio was attacking Carthage, and Hannibal was recalled to Africa. As a result of this war Carthage lost Spain and had to surrender her navy. (Round 2 to the Romans).
The Romans wanted Carthage destroyed. The Roman Senator, Cato, ended all his speeches, no matter what the subject with the words “Carthage must be destroyed” (Delenda est Carthago)
The Third Punic War was caused by the jealousy of Rome at signs of a revival of the maritime and commercial strength of Carthage. After a major battle Carthage was conquered by the Romans and razed to the ground, and Cato’s dream was fulfilled
A Roman Colony was later established on the same site. The Germans (Vandals) took the city in 439ad and it became a Pirate stronghold. The Arabs captured the city in 698ad, and again it was destroyed.
A recent documentary on the History Channel covered the excavation of old buildings etc from Carthaginian times.
That’s it…..pity I cannot have that conversation again…..


Jonny said...

Was missing this kinda stuff! Glad to see ur blogging again :-)

Graham said...