Site of Carthage (1979)

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Carthage was founded in the 9th century B.C. on the Gulf of Tunis. From the 6th century onwards, it developed into a great trading empire covering much of the Mediterranean and was home to a brilliant civilization. 

In the course of the long Punic wars, Carthage occupied territories belonging to Rome, which finally destroyed its rival in 146 B.C. A second – Roman – Carthage was then established on the ruins of the first. 

  • Tunisia 1986. 28th centenary of the foundation of Carthage. 

Tunisia 1986. 28th centenary of the foundation of Carthage.

Carthage (Latin Carthago) was a great city of antiquity, on the northern coast of Africa, near modern Tunis, Tunisia. Dido was the legendary founder and queen of Carthage; the city was probably established as a trading post toward the end of the 9th century BC by Phoenicians. The earliest artifacts unearthed by archaeologists at the site date from 800 BC. The city was known to its Punic or Phoenician inhabitants as the “new city,” probably to distinguish it from Utica, the “old city.” Built on a peninsula jutting into the Gulf of Tunis, Carthage had two splendid harbors, connected by a canal. Above the harbors on a hill was the Byrsa, a walled fortress. 

Extension of the Empire
By the subjugation of the Libyan tribes and by the annexation of older Phoenician colonies, Carthage in the 6th century BC controlled the entire North African coast from the Atlantic Ocean to the western border of Egypt, as well as Sardinia, Malta, the Balearic Islands, and part of Sicily. A Carthaginian admiral, Hanno, made a voyage along the Atlantic coast of North Africa. 

Tunisia 1920. Carthaginian galley.

The maritime power of the Carthaginians enabled them to extend their settlements and conquests, forming a scattered empire devoted to commerce. Among the commercial enterprises were the mining of silver and lead; the manufacture of beds and bedding; a lumber industry in the Atlas Mountains (in Morocco); the production of simple, cheap pottery, jewelry, and glassware for trade; and the export of wild animals from African jungles, of fruits and nuts, and of ivory and gold. 
  • Tunisia 1920. Carthaginian galley. 
Carthage produced little art. Most of the work of the Carthaginians was imitative of Egyptian, Greek, and Phoenician originals. In literature only a few technical works appeared. Thus, little is known of the everyday life of Carthage, its government, or its language. Religion in Carthage involved human sacrifice to the principal gods, Baal and Tanit, the equivalent of the Phoenician goddess Astarte. The Greek gods Demeter and Persephone and the Roman goddess Juno were adapted to later religious patterns of the Carthaginians. 
  • Tunisia 1949. The Berber Hermes. Greek god of commerce adapted to Berber style. 

Carthage engaged in war almost continually with Greece and with Rome for 150 years. Wars with Greece, beginning in 409 BC, concerned the control of Sicily, which lay only about 160 km (about 100 mi) from Carthage and formed a natural bridge between North Africa and Italy. 

Tunisia 1949. The Berber Hermes. Greek god of commerce adapted to Berber style.

Tunisia 1989. Theater of Carthage.

UNESCO (France) 1985. Amphitheater of Carthage.

Carthage first encountered defeat in Sicily in 480 BC, when the Carthaginian general Hamilcar (flourished 5th century BC) commanded a force that hoped to expand Carthaginian influence throughout Sicily, but was defeated by Gelon, the tyrant (ruler) of Syracuse. Further Carthaginian attempts to conquer Sicily were thwarted by armies under the command of the Syracusan tyrants Dionysius the Younger, Dionysius the Elder, Agathocles, and Pyrrhus, king of Epirus. After their final defeat in 276 BC, the Carthaginians continued to hold territory in Sicily; 12 years later the first of the Punic Wars against Rome began. 
  • Tunisia 1989. Theater of Carthage. 
  • UNESCO (France) 1985. Amphitheater of Carthage. 

Punic Wars
The First Punic War (264-241 BC) brought to the fore the Carthaginian general Hamilcar Barca. Defeated in Sicily, Hamilcar invaded Spain. His conquests in southern Spain were completed by his son-in-law Hasdrubal and by his son Hannibal. Carthage ceded its holdings in Sicily to Rome after the final Roman victory at the Aegates Islands. 

Tunisia 1995. Souvenir sheet (perforated). General Hannibal.

Tunisia 1995.Souvenir sheet (imperforate). General Hannibal.

During the Second Punic War (218-201 BC), Hannibal marched eastward along the northern shore of the Mediterranean from Spain and finally crossed the Alps into Italy. Hannibal's final defeat, however, resulted in the loss of Spain and various island possessions of Carthage. In the Third Punic War (149-146 BC), the Romans under Publius Cornelius Scipio Aemilianus Africanus Numantinus destroyed the city of Carthage. In a final gesture of contempt, the Romans spread salt over the ruins. The victors thus fulfilled the wish of the Roman statesman Cato the Elder. 

Tunisia 1920. Ruins of Hadrian's Aqueduct.

Occupancy of the site was forbidden for 25 years. In 122 BC a new city, Colonia Junonia, was founded; it lasted only 30 years. In 46 BC Julius Caesar visited the site and proclaimed that a city should be built there. His wishes were fulfilled by the Roman emperor Augustus, in 29 BC, when a city called Colonia Julia Carthago was founded. This new city flourished until, according to some historians, it was second only to Rome in prosperity and administrative importance. From this period dates Hadrian's Aqueduct. 
  • Tunisia 1920. Ruins of Hadrian's Aqueduct. 

Roman Carthage also became a center of Christianity, being the seat of a bishop from late in the 2nd century. St. Cyprian was bishop there in 248; Tertullian, a Christian ecclesiastical writer, lived and worked in Carthage in the 3rd century; and St. Augustine was bishop of nearby Hippo in the early 5th century. The mosaics shown below are all from the Roman period of Carthage. 

Tunisia 2002. Roman mosaic of Virgil. United Nations (New York) 1969. Roman mosaic, "Pheasant". United Nations (New York) 1969. Roman mosaic, "Ostrich". Tunisia 2003. Roman mosaic, "Spinner". Tunisia 2003. Roman mosaic, "Africa".

Carthage was fortified against barbarian attack in 425. In 439 the Vandal king Gaiseric subjugated the city. It remained the Vandal capital until 533, when the Byzantine general Belisarius captured the city, renaming it Colonia Justiniana Carthago in honor of the Byzantine emperor Justinian I. Between 697 and 705 the city was captured by the Arabs. In 698 it was again destroyed. A great deal of archaeological activity was carried on at the site, particularly in the late 19th century, uncovering early Punic artifacts and Roman, Byzantine, and Vandal buildings. Today Carthage is a wealthy suburb of Tunis. 

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Other World Heritage Sites in Tunisia (on this site). Please refer to the UNESCO-listing, Tunisia section for further information about the individual properties.  

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Revised 20 jul 2006  
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