of the Punic Phoenician Empire
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of the Punic Phoenician Empire
faith, slavery and war with the Greeks and the Romans
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is part of the story
Carthaginian empire had a very diversified and complex economy.
heavily on trade, but this is only a
their Phoenician cousins, they produced the much prized purple dye so
coveted by royalty, from the crushed shells of a saltwater snail species
called Murex. Their trading ships called at every port of antiquity, and
they traded overland with peoples of the interior of Africa, such as the
Garamantes, Berbers, Numidians, Mauretanians and Ethiopians, and possibly
with the mysterious Nok culture of central Africa. From the interior they
obtained salt, which was highly prized in ancient times, the exchange
rate being equal to gold. Roman soldiers (and probably Carthaginians too)
were paid in part in salt, from which comes the old saying "worth your
salt". Carthage had excellent relations with the warlike Gauls, Celts,
from whom they obtained amber, tin, silver, and furs. Their merchant
vessels (often capable of transporting 100 tons or more,
a size not reached by European ships until the fifteenth century
A.D.) brought exotic goods from faraway lands such as spices like
cassia (a Chinese type of cinnamon, much stronger) sesame seeds,
frankincense, myrrh, ebony wood, ivory, and metals such as copper,
lead, and gold. There
is evidence that Carthaginian and Phoenician vessels
sailing at least as far as Sumatra in southeast Asia, which may
be the "mythical" land
of Punt, and were credited with having circumnavigated Africa soon after
the Phoenician expedition sent by the Egyptian pharoah Necho in the seventh
secret of how to make the purple dye was not the only trade that Carthaginians
learned from their Tyrian motherland, they also learned how to make glass.
The glassware produced by Carthage and Tyre, in a surprising variety of
colors (even in swirls of rainbow colors), was highly prized through the
ancient world. Their glass beads were traded for metals and other goods
with more uncivilized cultures, and they are found in many ancient sites.
traders brought amber from northern Europe and other gems to trade in
Mediterranean ports. One type even came to be called after them (Carchedon).
From their own homeland of Zeugitana (which nearly matches the borders
of modern Tunisia) they brought wine, grain, fruits and nuts to trade,
and dried fish from the Atlantic, as well as the products traded by their
competitors the Greeks, such as olive oil. They also were famous for the
quality of their furniture, beds and bedding, their wood joinery being
widely copied. They brought furs from the barbaric lands and sold cheap
pottery to nearly every people they traded with. The big surprise product
only recently discovered, was marijuana, which was found in the wrecks
of several Carthaginian ships.
Faith and Slavery
Carthaginians are credited with inventing sale by auction, and they were
famous for it. They even traded with people with whom they had no real
contact, as described by Herodotus of Halicarnassus (about 430 B.C.)
Carthaginians also say they trade with a race of men who live in a part
of Libya (Africa) beyond the Pillars of Hercules (Straits of Gibraltar).
On reaching this country, they unload their goods, arrange them tidily
along the beach, and then, returning to their boats, raise a smoke.
Seeing the smoke, the natives come down to the beach, place on the ground
a certain quantity of gold in exchange for the goods, and go off again
to a distance. The Carthaginians then come ashore and take a look at
the gold; if they think it represents a fair price for their wares,
they collect it and go away; if, on the other hand, it seems too little,
they go back aboard and wait, and the natives come and add to the gold
until they are satisfied. There is perfect honesty on both sides; the
Carthaginians never touch the gold until it equals in value what they
have offered for sale, and the natives never touch the goods until the
gold has been taken away."
description of "perfect honesty" on the part of Carthaginians may surprise
some, since the enemies of Carthage (the Romans and Greeks) described
them as cheats and liars; even today you can find in the dictionary "punic
faith" as meaning dishonesty, yet there is little evidence that they were
dishonest in trade. Common sense dictates that they could not have traded
long if they were dishonest as a common practice.
intransigence on the part of some natives to trade with Carthaginians
in person may be related to their Tyrian cousins making slave raids. The
Carthaginians certainly had slaves, as well, but apparently did not go
on slaving expeditions, at least not after about 500 B.C., as testified
in their first treaty with Rome, which mentions coastal raids.
in ancient times was a different affair from today, and was seen as an
important source of booty and slaves. Captured enemy soldiers might be
ransomed back to their homeland or even exchanged, the going rate being
two "mina" (a mina was equal to 50 shekels, or about 0.944 pound) in silver
per soldier - (which is the price Hannibal demanded for the captives taken
at Cannae) but if their homeland refused to pay or could not, they might
be sold into slavery. One of the earliest accounts of a naval battle records
the fate of the sailors of Phocaia taken captive by Carthage and her Tyrrhenian
(Etruscan) allies - the Tyrrhenians killed their share of prisoners by
stoning, while Carthage sold their own share into slavery. Enemy people
too could be taken as slaves and sold, especially in the case of the taking
of a city that did not surrender right away.
War with Greeks and Romans
trading pattern of Carthage in her early history was oriented toward the
eastern Mediterranean, where she found ready markets for the raw materials
brought from Africa and the Iberian peninsula. The famous city of Tartessus
(Tarshish of the Old Testament) located on the Atlantic coast of Iberia
was a great competitor for Carthage, and in concert with her Celt allies
Carthage destroyed the famous city and took over the lucrative trade in
the Atlantic seaboard. When the homeland (Phoenicia proper) fell to invaders,
Carthage took advantage of the situation and expanded her trade, as well
as taking control of the now isolated sister colonies such as Utica, Agadir
(Gades, modern Cadiz) and Tingis, even though many had been established
longer, and in some cases re-established colonies where Tyrian colonies
had failed, such as those planted on the Atlantic coast of Africa by Hanno
(about 510 B.C.) Carthage may have been saved from conquest by her mother
city of Tyre. When the Persian Great King, having conquered Tyre, decided
to extend his conquest to include Carthage, he 'drafted' the Tyrian fleet
to do the job. The people of Tyre refused to sail against their children.
Later on, Carthage and Persia entered into an agreement, with Carthage
sending a token tribute annually. By the time Xerxes invaded Greece, the
two were allies, and Carthage launched a huge army against Syracuse, resulting
in the disastrous defeat at Himera in 480 B.C. at the hands of the Syracusans.
wars with the western Greeks hindered trade with the eastern Mediterranean
ports, but Carthage found ready markets in the west, and kept a stranglehold
on the Pillars of Hercules, with her warships having standing orders to
sink any foreign vessel they found outside on sight. The port city of
Massilia, (modern Marseilles, France) a colony of Greeks that contested
with Carthage repeatedly, took advantage of the situation (the war with
Syracuse tying down most of the Carthaginian fleet) and sent off Pytheas
to discover the source of tin, a metal needed for the production of bronze.
Pytheas managed to slip past the Carthaginians and found the source, the
"tin islands" which are the British isles. After the accession of Alexander
the Great, Carthage renewed trade with the eastern Mediterranean ports,
and this influence can be seen in her artwork, pottery, and in their religious
practices, adopting several Greek gods.
wars with the Greeks finally ended with Carthage largely successful, and
in control of most of western Sicily, all of Sardinia and Corsica as well
as many smaller islands including Malta. Sicily was to be the cause of
the first war with Rome, with whom Carthage had friendly relations up
til that time, even allying with Rome against King Pyrrhus of Epirus.
Polybius, a Greek historian of the second century B.C., stated that the
Romans broke their treaty with Carthage and sent troops to Sicily in great
part due to greed, the tantalizing idea of bringing the riches of Carthage
to Rome was a tremendous enticement.
was fairly advanced in agriculture and was a net exporter of grains, and
famous for her horses, which strongly resemble the Arabian horses of today.
Mago wrote a 28 volume treatise on agriculture and soil conservation,
which was so highly valued by the Romans that they ordered it translated
into Latin for their own use after the fall of Carthage in 146 B.C. They
practiced irrigation and crop rotation, possibly learned from their contacts
with Egypt and other near eastern countries. After the disastrous loss
of the Second Punic war with Rome (202 B.C.), Hannibal was elected Shophet
(or Suffete, a post very similar to the Judge-Kings of Israel), and pushed
through a number of government reforms, and placed renewed emphasis on
agriculture which was highly successful, allowing Carthage to pay her
heavy war indemnity to Rome and recover her wealth, in spite of the loss
of her empire. Legend has it that the Romans went so far as to salt the
earth of Carthage after her utter destruction to prevent her rising again.