The Case of Tunisia

Phoenician Encyclopedia
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The full original work written in Italian is by:
Dr. Touhami GARNAOUI,
via Roma, 40
02040 Tarano (Ri) Italy
Interested publishers are invited to translate and print the whole work in English

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The Pursuit of the Lost Time of Deceits and Illusions: The Case of Tunisia
By Dr. Touhami Garnaoui
This page in Italian


One can examine the many complex changes of day to day life that have taken place in the Mediterranean context which are presented as a kaleidoscope of deceptions. In any case the image of North Africa in Europe and that of Europe in North Africa bring population flows that meet in discordant manner. So the positions taken up in cultural and social points of view remain distant. Around Europe they became a crown of the "ancient" as well as of the "different"; this creates a subtle anguish which can be felt when faced with deep but not always seen symptoms, almost denied to a real knowledge.

With a mixture of curiosity and many doubts, we have summoned the past and the present, and collected documents. Hard work had to be done to restore an image of that kaleidoscope, and to talk about an excursion through the history of the many peoples who landed in Tunisia, an excursion voluntarily full of impulses on a cognitive basis with many empty spaces. Our aim is to attempt not to give answers that may be biased, but to focus on re-reading some aspects that encourage the reader to imagine some of the answers to some of the questions (What is the geographical space of Tunisia? Tunisia is a Western or an Eastern country? Why historically was Tunisia only a penetration land? Why is political organization constantly based on the image of the leader invested with full powers? Why was Tunisia, in the past considered to be the granary of Rome, is actually obliged to fight desertification? Why has Tunisia been denied its memory, as though it were struck by Alzheimer disease? Why has the elite administrated the country in thirds? Where is Tunisia going?…)

Obviously these are questions that do not only regard Tunisia, but are questions that seem to be not asked in Tunisia. Meanwhile their answers could help us apply a line of more believable development global politics that go much further than the simple "mise à niveau" which the European Union imagined to accompany the Association Agreements.

On the other hand, we endeavored to re-read Tunisia history, one of the more ancient of the world, not by photograms, nor according to an unique interpretative model -- the history as a space-movement according to Braudel for example -- but researching its trajectory which trace the path of history, our personal one.

Despite its limits, this historical work should be considered to be at the same time exercises of knowledge, criticism and self-criticism.

Criticism most of all, which means resistance to overhanging nothing, dreaming an advanced Tunisia and an advanced North Africa, most of all in terms of political institutions and of cultural and social works. It is useful to note what Benedetto Croce said in his History of Europe in the XIXth Century. "At the end of imperial incidents and 'despotic and genial' ideologies for centuries -- sometimes for a generation -- in every people hope brightens again to make them able of redefining their cultural and territorial integrity, and of reconstructing their own future of freedom. This hope feeds on delusions and failures which come to light".

This work serves to be grateful to Tunisia and its kind and generous people. They have donated themselves and the fruits of their labor and land to others throughout many centuries.

The work is composed of five volumes corresponding to as many historical moments of the country life.

    • Volume 1. Carthage Missionary of Civilization
    • Volume 2. Roman and Christian Time
    • Volume 3. The Arab Conquest
    • Volume 4. The Long Night
    • Volume 5. The Republic

Carthage Missionary of Civilization, the first volume, at present under printing preparation, is divided into five parts:

PARTE ONE: The environment

Chapter I: The physical environment (Position and denomination; the mountains; the desert; the oasis; tablelands and hills & plains)

The geographical space of North Africa has peculiar characteristics:

The difference of appellatives: Libya in the Homeric poems, Numidia and Roman Africa, Maghreb and Gesirat al-Maghreb after the Arabs, Barbaria in the Middle Ages, French North Africa, including Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco, Arab Maghreb Union at present from Libya to Mauritania;

The near insularity of the region practically closed at three sides, by the Atlantic and the Desert, making it easier to enter than to leave. So, the history of Maghreb is the history of its invaders who came subsequently from East and from West, in search of space, with contrasting interests and ideologies;

Even though Maghreb is separated from Europe, the mountains hang together from one to the other side of Mediterranean Sea, and are arranged in coherent systems. One bridge united Sicily to Tunisia; another one, the Bethic bridge, existed between Spain and Morocco;

Maghreb, a longed for rich land, is a mosaic of spaces (high mountains, deserts, oasis, hills, plains and sea emporium) and peoples.

Chapter II: Human Environment (the pre-historic periods; the Carthaginian period)

North Africa was the seat whether of the most ancient Paleolithic civilizations (the homo habilis of Ain Hanech in Algeria goes back to more than a million years ago), or of the Neolithic, the most advanced in history -- the Ibero-Maurusian and Capsian. It is in the Desert that the Neolithic civilization shall affirm and obtain its first successes, as testified particularly by the magnificent rock paintings of the Hoggar and Tibetsi, which show a great artistic refinement. A radical change in social behavior can be noted starting from 3,000 B.C. The proto-historic necropolis spread, which seem to indicate the existence of hierarchical social organization, as testimonies by the famous tomb of Tin Hinan the Tuareg Queen, which was found in Abelessa (Tamanrasset, Algeria). The progressive transition towards forms of agricultural life was the consequence of the great climatic fluctuations. It seems to have been dictated by the necessity and the struggle against adversity, than by opportunity reasons. In the 5th century B.C., Herodotus gave a description of the peoples that settled in Maghreb. While already dominated by Greeks and Phoenicians, or in contact with them, he brought to mind some of their customs. He indicated: "The Greeks took the style of dress and the aegis which adorns the Athena statues from the women of Libya". There was never a real, long-lasting hostility between Carthaginian and Berbers. Otherwise one could not explain why for centuries the small Punic centers were conserved, dislocated like a long and fragile crown along the coast of Numidia (Tripolitania, Tunisia and Algeria) and of Mauritania (Morocco) and even today make up the urban armor of North Africa.

PART TWO: The Phoenicians

Chapter I: Phoenicia (Who were the Phoenicians? What were Phoenicia, woodwork, and the basis of the Phoenician development)?

Phoenicia, a combination of sea and forests, starts with an interface -- fight between Byblos, Egypt and the sea peoples. The Phoenicians could pass from being woodcutters and wood-traders on raft, to great high seas navigators. After having first developed a suitable technology for this form of navigation, came a know how in nearly all economic sectors, from exploitation of mineral and agricultural resources, to their transformation, and commercialization through an extraordinary chain of distribution.

Chapter II: The Phoenician Economy (the Phoenician and Tyre purple; the Phoenicians glass artisans; the Phoenicians precious metals artisans; the Phoenicians ceramics artisans; the Phoenicians ivory artisans; the Phoenicians sailors; the Phoenicians traders; the Phoenicians shedders of economic well being)

The Phoenicians did not restrict themselves to offering luxury products and qualified services at high prices to the empires that surrounded them, but they were the first producers to have flooded the markets with their products. They did so for the masses also, at prices so low that poorer people and classes could buy them.

Chapter III: The Phoenician culture (the Phoenicians alphabet inventors; the Phoenicians urbanites; the Phoenicians architects; the Phoenicians artists)

Apart from being the first shedders of economic well being, the Phoenicians were the first diffusers of culture at mass level, overcoming the illiteracy with the invention of a simplified alphabet which a kid could learn in one year. The Greeks contribution was limited to the systematic introduction of vowels using the sign of the redundant consonants of the Phoenician alphabet.

The Phoenician cities rise on promontories or on islands near the coast and mirror the need of defense and settlement of a people of navigators. They preferred the lagoon waters because they did not damage the keels. A noticeable technical apparatus was required not only for the site choice and the settlement edification, but for its conservation and defense too. Tyre may be the most eloquent example from this point of view.

Moreover, Tyre was a city full of temples, palaces, squares and markets, endowed with a powerful defense system of walls, towers and gates.

The Phoenician workers were so estimated that the King Solomon employed them without worrying about expenses.

The Phoenician cultural and artistic production had to suffer the affront of the conquering peoples and shows either its own creativity or the Egyptian and Greek influences consecutively.

Chapter IV: The Phoenician worship (priests, rites and rituals; the Pantheon of Byblos; the Pantheon of Sidon; the Pantheon of Tyre; life after death)

According to the evidence given by Philo of Byblos who asserts to have translated his "Phoenician History" into Greek language from a Phoenician original written by Sanchoniathon from Beric, The Phoenicians were monotheists and Baal was adored as their only one God. Consequently, when polytheism was introduced Baal remains the principal divinity.

He was known by other names: Baal Shamaim, El, Melek, Ram, Elion, and Adonai. His female equivalent was Baalat, Ashtart, Elat and, in Carthage, Tanit (the difficulty in transcription of Phoenician names is due to the absence of vowels in the alphabet) -- connected to the cult of fertility, of love and of war.

The name El (the High, He, God) later may become one of the Lord of Jews, Jehovah, then of Muslim's Allah. At the pre-Islamic time, in Arabia, "Allat" was the name of one of the three female divinities adored in the temple of Mecca (and a source that enriched the Meccans); the other two were al-Uzza and al-Manat. The Koran refused faith in them, after a short time of uncertainty connected to the famous episode of Satanic Verses, which would have originally followed verse 20 from sura 53, called of the "Star". When the Prophet Muhammad realized the demonic origin of such an inspiration, he eliminated the verses at issue from the Sacred Book. The title of the novel "The Satanic Verses" written by Salman Rushdie is connected to that episode. It caused a large indignation among Muslims, mostly Shiites, and brought the fatwa sentencing him to death. The author, thereafter, was forced to live in hiding.

Chapter V: The Phoenician seen by their enemies (The Phoenicians and the Western; the Phoenicians and the sacrifice of kids; the Phoenicians and the Jews)

Phoenician and Carthaginian history is noted most of all through writings (that need re-writing) of their Greek and Latin enemies. We just know through the writings of Josephus that very detailed annals are existing at Tyre, describing the events that had involved the city-state in the ancient times and were destroyed.

The image of Phoenicians drawn by Homer finds perfection in Herodotus, then followed by Polybio, Livy, Virgil, Cicero and the others, who supplied the ideological basis, having recourse to ambiguity and incorrect narratives.

The Latin writers propagated the idea that Carthaginian had barbarian usage and customs, such as the children sacrifice to the Gods, and coined a series of vocabulary such as "cannibalism", after the Roman defeat at Canne by Hannibal. Later, Saint Jerome, apart from the Phoenician kids holocaust, flogged the Punic erotic poems, making them pernicious and dissolute. Only recently, have we begun to interpret the function of the Tophet as a zone destined to collect the remains of the children precociously died. Israel's relationship with the Phoenicians, economically speaking was excellent. It was nearly biological, Tyre being a door open to the sea, and to the world trading at that time. However, politically and theologically, in other words ideologically, it was nearly catastrophic.

Chapter VI: Phoenicia history in brief (The Phoenician expansion until the foundation of Carthage; from the Assyrian to the Babylonian domination; the Greek-Persian wars; Alexander the Macedonian; Phoenicia contested between the Ptolomies, Selucides and Aramenians; the Hellenistic impact on Phoenicia; Phoenicia until the Arab conquest)

Phoenicia history is difficult to go into deeply due to the lack of witnesses; it is the history of a tenacious people who knew how to reconstruct its cities-state, with renovated fervor after each invasion. At the beginning of the 4th century B.C., there was an important and ephemeral political development. Arade and its new foundation Tripoli, Sidon and Tyre constituted a federation having a Parliament seated in Tripoli, remembered by Diodorus Siculus; it was the first of its kind in all the Mediterranean World. After Alexander The Great, there were big changes, due to the destruction, to the domination and compromises, which lead to a great endogenous cultural impoverishment. The presence of great Phoenician figures such as Zeno of Citium, Chrisippe of Soli or Thalis of Miletus, kept from oblivion the fact that the Greek language was imposed on the Phoenicians instead of their language. Further, pagan religion itself of which Israel was afraid of was practically converted to the cult of the Greek gods. Consequently, after a period of anarchy, Phoenicia had a period of peace under the Roman emperors and the first Christian emperors. They gave Byretus, Tyre and Sidon colonies status. In the 6th century, a group of persecuted Christians created, in the North Lebanon, the Maronite Church. In 630, Arabs conquered Phoenicia, without encountering resistance, after thirty years of Persian and Byzantine pillaging.

PART THREE: Carthage missionary of civilization

Chapter I. Carthaginian settlement (Carthage foundation and Western mythology; the city)

After the venture of the city, the annals of Carthage would be abandoned by Romans to Micipsa son of Massinissa, who transmitted to Sallustio and served for his "Jugurthian War"; however, the work remained incomplete and there was no trace of that documents.

Carthage was probably founded as a Phoenician settlement. Elissa -- Dido founded their shelter and became queen, to escape with a group of supporters from her brother Pygmalion, ill-disposed forwards divided the power at Tyre with her. Her mythological story with Aeneas and her other one with Jarbas, King of Massils and Getules, concluded with her suicide. However, that showed what a strong woman she was and how suitable to reign over Carthaginian people. Thereafter, she remained the object of reverence and imitation in the subsequent centuries. Carthage had to know the shoah and the havoc, and so it is difficult to imagine, apart from the strong emotion that wrongs the heart of any visitor, that these places contained the richest and most beautiful port of the ancient times, described by Appian. The City could have had more than half a million inhabitants.

Chapter II: Carthaginian State (The institutions; the culture; Phoenician-Carthaginian cult)

The Carthaginian regime, which was first monarchical then transformed into republican, did not stop for one moment the course of successes in virtue of the wisdom of the founders. During the last period, the people curtailed the powers of the Senate, composed of the representatives of the noble rich families on the initiative of the Barca family. It is possible that that the same political system was enforced in the other Punic cities.

The little that remains of the culture and Carthaginian art gives evidence to its intrinsic greatness and shows the striking interconnection between Mediterranean peoples.

Chapter III: Carthaginian economy (Agriculture: cereals, viticulture; olive oil; Industry: extractive and of transformation; craftsmanship; naval docks; services: trading, monetary circulation, tax, salt)

Carthaginians as Phoenician people are rightly famous for being navigators and traders; no other people in comparison to them deserved to be named missionary of civilization, thanks to the device agricultural, forestry and livestock developed by them. At the time of their arriving in North Africa, the Phoenicians found a fertile land, ideal for cereals, viticulture, olive and livestock, but they had the know how of soil conservation. Columella called "father of the economy of the country" Mago, author of an agronomical treatise with at least 28 volumes, written in Punic language, on the basis of previous knowledge and on direct observation.

PART FOUR: Carthaginian expansion

Chapter I: In Africa (Carthaginian centers in Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco and Libya)

Proceeding West, along the coast of North Africa, are listed the Punic centers. "Sic transit gloria mundi": many centers today are just archeological sites that related to places of the dead. Many centers however still exist and represent the urban skeleton of North Africa: Sousse, Tabarca, Bizerte, Jerba, Annaba, Constantine, Skikda, Melilla (Sp.), Essaouira, Rabat, Tripoli, etc. About Tipasa, Camus wrote: "elle me donne l'orgueil de ma condition d'homme".

Chapter II: In West (Crete, Cyprus, Spain, Sardinia, Sicily, and Malta)

There is a short list of the various Phoenician and Carthaginian settlements, of the finds discovered and of the function that they had in the economic life of Punic people.

PART FIVE: The wars against Carthage

Chapter I: The Greek-Carthaginian wars (the Greek emigration to Cyrenaica; Alalia battle; Hymera battle; the wars of Agatocles; the wars of Pyrrhus)

The Phoenician-Punic expansion in the Mediterranean was partially due to a sort of new economy based on creativity, trading and communications. In the case of Greece, it treated colonization was peaceful in the beginning. It alleviated the demographic pressure at home, where the soil aridity in various zones of the country, the backwardness of the agriculture techniques and the latifundium did not allow for the production of sufficient means of subsistence for increasingly growing masses. Moreover, the Greek colonization derived from heterogeneous and multiethnic origin, led to reproduce the same contradictions, the same internal struggles, and the same home political and cultural life too. The Alalia victory (535 B.C.), the first real battle in the Mediterranean, signed a breaking point in the trading equilibrium which was reached in previous centuries between Etruscans, Greeks and Carthaginians, the point of descent of the brief Etruscan parabola, and the appearance of the Latin-Cuman alliance.

Hymera defeat, fifty years later, gave Syracuse glory and wealth. Syracuse started expansionist politics to the Athena prejudice that had to surrender arms, later to Sparta and Persia too. The struggle against Carthage continued, with oscillating and devastating issues, until the arrival of the Romans who took advantage of the favorable situation.

Chapter II: The Roman-Carthaginian first war (the causes; Milazzo battle; Ecnomo battle; the landing at Clupea and the death of Attilius Regulus; Drepana battle; Egadi battle; reasons and consequences of the Roman victory; The Mercenaries Revolt)

The first war lashed by Rome against Carthage aimed at the conquest of Sicily, according to a strategic, military and economic plan. Carthage did not know or foresee the Roman danger, nor face it with all the necessary energy, having also to fight against the cities of Graecia Magna, and affront the rebellions for independence in Africa. That began to look favorably at the rising Roman empire. Thereafter there were two constants in the North African politics: to look at the new colonialism with favor against the ancient one --contro l'antico -- and to face it through the division and the betrayals of leaders under the instigation of the new conquerors. Mathos was against Narrhavas and both were in love with the beautiful Salammbò, daughter of Hamilcar, and eventually committed suicide. Apart from Sicily, Rome took possession of Sardinia and started piracy along the African coast.

Chapter III: The Roman-Numidian-Carthaginian second war (the causes; Hannibal victorious period; the crisis; reverses of fortune; Carthaginian oligarchy and the Party of peace; the struggle between patricians and the preparations for landing in Africa; Massinissa conquests the thrown of Numidia, Roman protectorate; Zama defeat) Twenty years later, Rome renews hostility against Carthage for the possession of Spain, where the Barca had started to rebuild a new powerful empire. At the beginning, it had to undergo these especially because of Hannibal genius inflicted heavy loses on Roman armies. Hannibal was unable to terminate his work, for the political opposition at home, more than for the Roman cleverness. Again the Romans knew how to assure the Numide support, which was decisive during the last battle fought on the African soil. Sifax against Massinissa contended the throne of Numidia, while both of them were in love with the beautiful Sophonisbe, daughter of Hasdrubal son of Gisco, and who committed suicide. Massinissa was decisive in the Roman victory at Zama against Hannibal and took the throne of Numidia, under the Roman protectorate.

Chapter IV: The Roman-Numidian-Carthaginian third war (the Shoah of Carthage, Roman cannibalism)

50 years later, Rome still found the excuse, the medium of Massinissa interpose, to annihilate Carthage which still opposed its expansion in Africa. The city, which Massinissa hoped to have as the capital of his kingdom, was razed. Carthage continued to burn for seventeen consecutive days under orders of Scipio Aemilianus. The Scipio name is still invoked today in the Italian National anthem, which is disquieting, to say the least.

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