Carthage was founded by Phoenicians from Tyre traditionally in 814 B.C. (although archaeological evidence suggests about a century later). Over the next few centuries it outdid other Phoenician colonies in its area and by the third century B.C. controlled trade in all the islands and much of the coasts of the western Mediterranean; having displaced the colonial Greeks (after much bloodshed) and other Phoenician settlements. Its fleets traded as far afield as the British Isles and down the West African coast. Herodotus recounts the Egyptian king Necho II commissioning a Carthaginian circumnavigation of Africa in about 600 B.C.
Carthaginian navies controlled the Mediterranean sea. During the third century it became inevitable that Carthage would clash with the increasingly powerful Roman Republic over issues of trade and the control of Sicily. While the Carthaginian navy was generally superior to their Roman counterpart, they generally lacked Rome's strength on land or manpower reserves. Between 264 and 146 B.C. the three Punic Wars were fought resulting in the gradual chipping away of the Carthaginian empire and ultimately the complete annihilation of Carthage itself and a decree banning its rebuilding.
Carthage had been a trading and agricultural society, based in an excellent harbour in a strategic position where the Mediterranean narrows between Africa and Sicily. The surrounding countryside was developed into fine agricultural land worked by the original population of the area who were generally mistreated. The government consisted of two magistrates, elected each 2 years from the ruling elite, and a senate with life membership. Ordinary citizens had little power. Generals were elected and acted with the knowledge that the price of failure was often death. There was much infighting in the Carthaginian senate, a fact that hampered their wars with Rome. Religion was harsh and included human sacrifice.
Under Roman Rule
An attempt at resettlement by Rome in 122 B.C. failed, however in 29 B.C. the emperor Augustus inaugurated a colony in the area and a new Carthage grew, prospering from the cultivation of corn into a large city, a centre of training in law and rhetoric, and the capital of the Roman province of Africa. It became a focus for Christian activity, an area of intense monasticism and a bishopric by end of the 2nd century A.D., St. Cyprian and the scholar, Tertulian, worked there.
Decline from History
The area was overrun by the Vandals in 439 during the waning period of the Western Roman Empire and was retaken for Justinian by Belisarius in 533 during the highpoint of the Byzantine Empire where they were trying to retake the old Roman lands and reignite the Roman Empire. It remained under Constantinople’s control until the Arab Muslim conquests of the late 7th century when it was once more destroyed. The city virtually disappeared over the ensuing centuries. Archaeological work began in the late 19th century and continues today.
- Oxford Companion to Classical Literature