Sunday, August 26, 2007

After Carthage Land and amusement parks -- the real place

It started as Kart Hadasht, New Town in the language of the Phoenicians. Say it fast to see where Carthage came from. It ended in blood and fire at the end of three long and barbarous wars that redefined the ancient world.

I have gotten engrossed by the story of the Punic Wars and of the destruction of Carthage and so decided to spend much of a day here. In a way it's pointless because nothing whatsoever of that Phoenician city remains.

The Romans saw to that in an awful and awesome display of revenge. Thirty years after the death of Hannibal, the Carthaginian general responsible for the death of 200,000 Romans in the 20 years fighting of the Punic Wars, Rome marched on Carthage again. Hannibal had been let go after losing to the Romans but never forgiven. Hunted down by Roman legions to a small town in Turkey 20 years after surrendering, Hannibal drank poison rather than be captured. So Rom turned on his city to get even. Cato the Elder, a Senator of Rome, was the war hawk of his era. He ended every speech, no matter the topic with the demand that "Carthage must be destroyed."

Soon enough an excuse for war was found and Rome prevailed. It hadn't been so obvious during much of the war with Carthage that Rome would win. Historians have come with all kinds of reasons to explain it. Belief in deities that the ruthless traders of Carthage did not share has been cited as well as a Roman ability to learn from errors. Carthage was a major naval power at the start of the contest, but the Romans hired Greek sailors and then figured out how to win navel battles, inventing new equipment and maneuvers in the process. One article I read suggested it was Roman stubbornness -- a refusal to admit defeat and a willingness to keep fighting that made a difference, especially in contrast to Hannibal's disinclination to attack Rome when he had the chance. One article I read talked about how a Carthaginian general who lost in battle was killed; that was the price in defeat. The Roman officers who marched back to Italy from Cannae, the absolute worst military defeat possibly in all of history including World War II, were comforted and outfitted to fight again.

At any rate, the Romans had no mercy for the Carthaginians. They laid siege to the city on the shores of the Mediterranean for three years. Many starved. When they finally broke in 80 percent of the population was slaughtered. The city was put afire and it burned for 17 days and nights. The remaining population was sold into slavery. The plot of the city was plowed up. Historians dispute whether this is true, but legend has it that the Romans salted the land so that nothing would grow there.

The Carthage Museum contains the archeological remmants of the atrocities -- burnt stone and metal, skeletal remains with marks of lances and crushing blows, ammunition.

And then the Romans built a whole new and completely Roman city on the site. This was their right as the new and all-powerful empire builders of the ancient world. And the site is beautiful. From the hill of Brysa down stony cliffs to the sea Carthage is perched on the edge of the world. Pictures don't capture the color, the scent the sweep of the place but you can see people catch their breath as they come across it.

On the edge of the sea the Romans put up the huge baths of Antonin which must have been wondrous. When it was the turn of the Roman Empire to fall, its city and the baths were plundered by new conquerors who built their roads and mosques with columns and stones from Roman Carthage.

No comments:

Blog Archive