Monday, July 15, 2013

Early History of Carthage (814-264)

The ancient Phoenicians were Semitic-speaking Canaanites living along the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea in the cities of Tyre, Sidon, and Byblos. Their greatest period of power and prosperity began around 1200 BC. At that time many powerful rivals, including the Myceneans, Hittites, and Egyptians, suffered serious decline. This allowed Phoenician cities to strengthen and prosper through a brisk maritime trade. This period lasted until about 800.

Power and prosperity first went to Byblos. There the earliest example of the Phoenician alphabet, dating around 1200, was found. That alphabet is the ancestor of almost all modern alphabets. Hellenians adopted it around 750 and both Homer and Hesiod used it to write down their great works. Hellenians then shared it with the Etruscans who then gave it to the Romans.

Phoenician traders worked the southern Mediterranean coast from the Levant to Iberia as well as the islands of Corsica, Sardinia, Sicily, Crete, and Cyprus. They founded colonies along the coasts of all those islands.

Among the league of Phoenician municipal states in the Levant, the rulers of Tyre eventually came to exercise the most power. Tradition tells us that Dido, the exiled queen of Tyre, started the colony of Carthage along the southern Mediterranean coast in 814. The geocultural province in which it lies is named after that great city.

In 585 Nebuchadnezzar and his Babylonian army laid siege to Tyre. It surrendered, but only after giving Nebuchadnezzar 13 years of trouble. His army then looted it and returned to Babylon. The siege weakened the control of Tyrian elites over their loose maritime empire. Rulers of Carthage steadily took their place in controlling Phoenician colonies along the western coast of the Mediterranean Sea and in starting their own.

In 509 rulers of Rome signed an agreement with the stronger rulers of Carthage. In it they agreed that they would not attack Carthaginian colonies in the western Mediterranean if Carthaginian leaders would not attack them.

In 480, the ruler of Hellenian Syracuse decided to attempt to control all the cities of Sicily including those started by Carthage. This battling between Hellenian and Carthaginian rulers over control of Sicily continued sporadically and inconclusively until 275. In that year Roman rulers defeated a Hellenian army in Latinia led by Pyrrhus. Within three years, the Romans had taken complete control of Latinia south of the Arno River. This land included all the Hellenian cities in Latinia.

By 264, the Romans were willing to renegotiate their treaty of 509 with Carthage. Carthage now had a much stronger opponent to fight, with much bigger stakes, than rulers of Syracuse.

Copyright © 2013 by Steven Farsaci. All rights reserved.