Africa Leaders Magazine

Carthage – An Ancient Civilization in Northern Africa

Carthage - An Ancient Civilization in Northern Africa- African Leaders Magazine

Best known as ancient Rome’s rival in the Punic Wars, Carthage was a North African commercial hub that flourished for over 500 years. The city-state began its life in the 8th or 9th century B.C. as a Phoenician settlement in what is now Tunisia, but it later grew into a sprawling seafaring empire that dominated trade in textiles, gold, silver and copper. At its peak, its capital city boasted nearly half a million inhabitants and included a protected harbor outfitted with docking bays for 220 ships. Carthage had slowly evolved from a colony to the capital of a new empire. As the city grew in size and power during the seventh century BC, it progressively asserted its independence from Tyre, founding colonies of its own and expanding its territory in Africa. Even so, Carthage continued to signal its allegiance to its mother city by dispatching an annual embassy to Tyre’s temple of Melquart, the city’s patron diety. After Tyre was conquered by the Babylonians in the early sixth century, the Phoenician colonies in the western Mediterranean turned to powerful Carthage for protection and support against their Greek rivals.

Carthage - An Ancient Civilization in Northern Africa- African Leaders Magazine

Old Phoenician colonies, such as  Utica and Gades in Hispania, became bound by treaty to Carthage. Carthage’s approach to its allies differed from that developed by Rome. While Roman allies participated in a mutual defensive organization under the leadership of Rome, which gradually integrated its allies by granting their people rights and even citizenship, Carthage preferred to extract punitive taxes from its looser confederation of subjects and subject allies. These taxes were used in turn to finance Carthage’s fleet and to pay mercenary soldiers. Despite their extensive contact with their Greek neighbors and Libyan subjects, the Carthaginians retained their Punic Language a dialect of Phoenician and a Semitic language related to Hebrew. Punic would long outlast Carthage’s empire. It was still spoken in northern Africa as late as the fifth century AD, but died out soon thereafter, leaving only a few inscriptions and scattered quotations as witnesses.

As the head of a Punic coalition, Carthage forged anti-Greek alliances with the Etruscans, who controlled Rome until the late sixth century BC. They also courted the support of the far-off Persians, who were attempting to conquer the Greeks in the eastern Mediterranean. It was said in antiquity that on the same day when the united eastern Greeks destroyed the fleet of the Persian King Xerxes at Salamis in 480 BC, a coalition of western Greeks routed a Carthaginian force at Himera in Sicily.

Carthage - An Ancient Civilization in Northern Africa- African Leaders Magazine

As Carthage emerged as a major military power, its political system was evolving from a monarchy to a more inclusive republican form of government, a transformation experienced by many other city-states throughout the ancient Mediterranean at this time, including Rome. Eventually, Carthage’s government came to be led by two annually elected magistrates (suffetes or “kings”); a Council of Elders (the adirim or “Mighty Ones”) consisting of the leading men of the city; and an assembly of citizens, who could arbitrate between the suffetes and Council when they were at odds.

Carthage’s political system was often praised in antiquity: Aristotle thought Carthage possessed one of the best constitutions. In practice, however, a single preeminent family often acquired political supremacy for extended periods of time.

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