Glenn E. Markoe
Anthony Grafton, ...
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A war that nearly destroyed the superpowers of the ancient world; commanders who performed heroic deeds and ordered terrible slaughter; a beautiful city burned to the ground, a plough driven over the ruins, and the land sown with salt … The story of the destruction of Carthage that has come down to the modern day is compelling, but it is only the coda to a glorious civilisation.
From the ninth century BC, when Phoenician traders first set up a colony in the Gulf of Tunis, Carthage grew to a vast trading empire that held sway across the whole Mediterranean. In his classic book, first published in 1992, Serge Lancel – a former director of excavations at the site of Carthage – constructs an absorbing picture of life in this legendary ancient metropolis. Drawing on archaeological evidence, inscriptions and literary sources, he reconstructs the city’s military and commercial prowess, as well as its cultural and religious life. He shows evidence of arsenals and metalworking craft shops; the city’s fleet of black-hulled boats; and the sophistication of homes, many of which had their own bathrooms; he also explores the vexed question of whether child-sacrifice was practised by the Carthaginians. Lancel reveals the basis for the legends familiar to us from ancient texts, including that of the citadel’s founding. Dido is said to have bargained for as much land as could be covered by an ox-hide; she then cut the hide into fine strips and laid them end to end to encircle almost four kilometres. The story gained traction because of a pun on the hill of Byrsa and ox-hide (bursa), and because this trading nation’s gift for negotiating advantageous treaties became axiomatic.
Richard Miles, historian and author, has written an introduction to this edition in which he praises Lancel’s ‘elegant and understated prose … [which] conveys a real sense of excitement and discovery’. The text is beautifully complemented by a total of 48 pieces of newly drawn artwork and cartography as well as numerous photographs of stelae, masks, pottery and excavations that offer us a visual glimpse of this vibrant civilisation. It is a powerful reminder that in spite of Rome’s determination, Carthago non delenda est.