Classical-Hellenistic Carthage Before the Punic Wars (479–265 bce)

Dexter Hoyos

in The Oxford Handbook of the Phoenician and Punic Mediterranean

Published in print October 2019 | ISBN: 9780190499341
Published online August 2019 | e-ISBN: 9780190499365 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks

Classical-Hellenistic Carthage Before the Punic Wars (479–265 bce)

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Carthage in 479–265 bce reached a size and prosperity equaling any leading Greek city-state. Despite its defeat in Sicily in 480 bce, its economic reach across the Mediterranean grew, and so did its indirect hegemony over North Africa’s coasts almost to Cyrenaica in the east and the edges of Numidia in the west. Carthaginians’ openness to external cultural influences—Greek, Egyptian, and native Libyan—made them effectively a multicultural society, as archaeological and historical evidence makes clear. Although little written evidence from Carthaginian sources survives, the probably genuine Periplus of Hanno the King, composed around 500–450 and extant in a perhaps shortened Greek translation, throws light on the city’s readiness to extend its reach even beyond the Straits of Gibraltar (a reach confirmed by Herodotus and others), while the three treaties with Rome preserved in Greek by Polybius, dating probably between ca. 500 and 279, illuminate Carthaginian interstate relations in the central and western Mediterranean. The physical city spread beyond its archaic limits, with residential housing appearing between the hill of Byrsa and the shoreline (in place of artisanal workshops), as well as another residential quarter to Byrsa’s west and a massive seawall built along the eastern shoreline as far as the swampy lagoons that much later became the city’s famous hidden ports. One of these newer sectors may be the “New City” in Diodorus’s account of the abortive coup of Bomilcar in 308. During the fifth century, Carthaginian hegemony was imposed on neighboring Libyan communities, and by 310, the fertile Cape Bon peninsula was intensively cultivated by Carthaginian proprietors, as Agathocles’s invading forces noted. Even renewed and repeated conflicts with Syracuse and other Siceliot states from 410 onward rarely set back Carthage’s prosperity and power.

Keywords: Byrsa; Hanno’s Periplus, Tanit; Magonids; Numidia; Syracuse; Timoleon; Pyrrhus

Article.  6492 words. 

Subjects: Archaeology by Region

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