The ancient metropolis of Carthage was not the Phoenicians’ first colony, but it grew to be their largest and most famous one. Created in 814 BC, it was called Kart-hadasht which meant “new city”. This was done to distinguish it from the older Phoenician outpost of Utica which was nearby on the coast of North Africa. The arrival of Carthage ushered in a new era of rapid growth among the Phoenician colonies.
See Elissa for the story of how this great city was started by a large fleet from Tyre in Lebanon.
In its early days, ancient Carthage grew quickly and peacefully. While many people assume democracy was created by the Greeks and Romans, that is not entirely the case. Even Aristotle commented favorably on the constitutional government of Carthage, which answered directly to its people.
Just before 550 BC, General Mago formed the first army known to exist among the Phoenician people. This was caused by events on nearby Sicily, where Phoenicians had once lived and traded all across the island. Over the years, Greeks had arrived and pushed the Phoenicians into the western part of the island. Now Mago pushed back. Seventy years of fruitless battles followed, after which Carthage’s military leaders fell out of favor. The city returned once more to peaceful cultivation of its colonies and sea trade. Details of Carthage’s many experiences in the ancient Mediterranean are told in Chapters 17 to 22 of the book Phoenicians: Lebanon’s Epic Heritage.
When Alexander the Great captured the east coast of the Mediterranean — including all the original Phoenician cities — Carthage and its colonies were left on their own. This happened in 332 BC. A hundred years later a great leader named Hannibal Barca arose to lead Carthage against the young but ambitious city of Rome.
These series of battles came to be known as the Punic Wars, because “Poeni” was the Roman word for Phoenicians, and they recognized Carthage as a Phoenician city. The first Punic War (264 – 241 BC) was a complete disaster for Carthage, causing it to lose the island of Sicily.
In the second Punic War (218 – 202 BC) Hannibal famously led his army and elephants over the Alps to attack the Romans on their own soil. For many years, he led his victorious army up and down what is known today as Italy. On every battlefield he defeated the Roman legions. Unable to stop Hannibal in Italy, the Romans took the fight to the Phoenician colonies in Spain, and captured all those cities. Eventually, Hannibal was lured to North Africa — supposedly for peace negotiations — where Roman troops were finally able to defeat him.
The third and final Punic War (149 – 146 BC) led to Rome’s complete destruction of ancient Carthage. That devastating defeat ended Carthage’s several hundred years of brilliance and glory.
If you would like to experience more of the Phoenician world than you found in this article, the book Phoenicians: Lebanon’s Epic Heritage is recommended. It is deeply researched but also a highly readable exploration.
Going beyond the few traditionally-cited facts, this authoritative work also draws from interviews with leading archaeologists and historians on-site in the lands and islands where the Phoenicians lived and left clues regarding their secretive society.
You can take a look inside this book. See the first pages here.