Ancient Carthage

Ancient Carthage

In historiographical terms, ancient Carthage () was a Phoenician civilization during classical antiquity, beginning from the founding of Carthage in modern Tunisia in the ninth century BC, to its destruction in 146 BC. At its height in the fourth century BC, the city-state grew to become the largest metropolis in the world, and the center of the Carthaginian Empire, a major power in the ancient world that dominated the western Mediterranean.

Carthage was settled around 814 BC by colonists from Tyre, a leading Phoenician city-state located in present day Lebanon. In the seventh century BC, following Phoenicia's conquest by the Neo-Assyrian Empire, Carthage became independent, gradually expanding its economic and political hegemony across the western Mediterranean. By 300 BC, through its vast patchwork of colonies, vassals, and satellite states, Carthage controlled the largest territory in the region, including the coast of northwest Africa, southern Iberia (Spain, Portugal, and Gibraltar) and the islands of Sicily, Sardinia, Corsica, Malta, and the Balearic archipelago.

Among the ancient world's largest and richest cities, Carthage's strategic location provided access to abundant fertile land and major maritime trade routes. Its extensive mercantile network reached as far as west Asia, west Africa and northern Europe, providing an array of commodities from all over the ancient world, in addition to lucrative exports of agricultural products and manufactured goods. This commercial empire was secured by one of the largest and most powerful navies in the ancient Mediterranean, and an army composed heavily of foreign mercenaries and auxiliaries, particularly Iberians, Balearics, Celtic Gauls, Sicilians, Italians, Greeks, Numidians and Libyans.

As the dominant power of the western Mediterranean, Carthage inevitably came into conflict with many neighbours and rivals, from the indigenous Berbers of North Africa to the nascent Roman Republic. Following centuries of conflict with the Sicilian Greeks, its growing competition with Rome culminated in the Punic Wars (264–146 BC), which saw some of the largest and most sophisticated battles in antiquity. Having narrowly avoided destruction in the Second Punic War, the Romans destroyed Carthage in 146 BC after the third and final Punic War, later founding a new city in its place. All remnants of Carthaginian civilization came under Roman rule by the first century AD, and Rome subsequently became the dominant Mediterranean power, paving the way for its rise as a major empire.

Notwithstanding the cosmopolitan character of its empire, Carthage's culture and identity remained rooted in its Phoenician-Canaanite heritage, albeit a localized variety known as Punic. Like other Phoenician people, its society was urban, commercial, and oriented towards seafaring and trade; this is reflected in part by its more famous innovations, including serial production, uncolored glass, the threshing board, and the cothon harbor. Carthaginians were renowned for their commercial prowess, ambitious explorations, and unique system of government, which combined elements of democracy, oligarchy, and republicanism, including modern examples of checks and balances.

Despite having been one of the most influential civilizations of antiquity, Carthage is mostly remembered for its long and bitter conflict with Rome, which threatened the rise of the Roman Republic and almost changed the course of Western civilization. Due to the destruction of virtually all Carthaginian texts after the Third Punic War, much of what is known about its civilization comes from Roman and Greek sources, many of whom wrote during or after the Punic Wars, and to varying degrees were shaped by the hostilities. Popular and scholarly attitudes towards Carthage historically reflected the prevailing Greco-Roman view, though archaeological research since the late 19th century has helped shed more light and nuance on Carthaginian civilization.