146 B.C.; (4) the periods of Roman and Byzantine rule down to the destruction of the city by the Arabs in A.D. 698.
(1) Foundation to 550 B.C.—From an extremely remote period Phoenician sailors had visited the African coast and had had commercial relations with the Libyan tribes who inhabited the district which forms the modern Tunis. In the 16th century B.C. the Sidonians already had trading stations on the coast; with the object of competing with the Tyrian colony at Utica they established a trading station called Cambē or Caccabē on the very site afterwards occupied by Carthage. Near Borj-Jedid unmistakable traces of this early settlement have been found, though nothing is known of its history. According to the classical tradition Carthage was founded about 850 B.C. by Tyrian emigrants led by Elissa or Elissar, the daughter of the Tyrian king Mutton I., fleeing from the tyranny of her brother Pygmalion. According to the story, Elissa subsequently received the name of Dido, i.e. “the fugitive.” Cambē welcomed the new arrivals, who bought from the mixed Libyo-Phoenician peoples of the neighbourhood, tributaries of the Libyan king Japon, a piece of land on which to build a “new city,” Kart-hadshat, the Greek and Roman forms of the name. The story goes that Dido, having obtained “as much land as could be contained by the skin of an ox,” proceeded to cut the skin of a slain ox into strips narrow enough to extend round the whole of the hill, which afterwards from this episode gained the name of Byrsa. This last detail obviously arose from a mere play on words by which Βύρσα “hide,” “skin,” is confused with the Phoenician bosra, borsa, “citadel,” “fortress.” In memory of its Tyrian origin, Carthage paid an annual tribute to the temple of Melkarth at Tyr, and under the Roman empire coins were struck showing Dido fleeing in a galley, or presiding over the building of Byrsa. On the Vatican Virgil there is a representation in miniature of workmen shaping marble blocks and columns for Dido’s palace.
The early history of Carthage is very obscure. It is only in the 6th century that real history begins. By this time the city is unquestionably a considerable capital with a domain divided into the three districts of Zeugitana (the environs of Carthage and the peninsula of C. Bon), Byzacium (the shore of the Syrtes), and the third comprising the emporia which stretch in the form of a crescent to the centre of the Great Syrtis as far as Cyrenaica. The first contest against the Greeks arose from a boundary question between the settlements of Carthage and those of the Greeks of Cyrene. The limits were eventually fixed and marked by a monument known as the “Altar of Philenae.” The destruction of Tyre by Nebuchadrezzar (q.v.), in the first half of the 6th century, enabled Carthage to take its place as mistress of the Mediterranean. The Phoenician colonies founded by Tyre and Sidon in Sicily and Spain, threatened by the Greeks, sought help from Carthage, and from this period dates the Punic supremacy in the western Mediterranean. The Greek colonization of Sicily was checked, while Carthage established herself on all the Sicilian coast and the neighbouring islands as far as the Balearic Islands and the coast of Spain. The inevitable conflict between Greece and Carthage broke out about 550.
(2) Wars with the Greeks.—In 550, the Carthaginians, led by the suffetes Malchus, conquered almost all Sicily and expelled the Greeks. In 536 they defeated the Phocaeans and the Massaliotes before Alalia on the Corsican coast. But Malchus, having failed in Sardinia, was banished by the stern Carthaginian senate and swore to avenge himself. He laid siege to Carthage itself, and, after having sacrificed his son Carthalo to his lust for vengeance, entered the city as a victor. He ruled until he was put to death by the party which had supported him. Mago, son of Hanno, succeeded Malchus, as suffetes and general-in-chief. He was the true founder of the Carthaginian military power. He conquered Sardinia and the Balearic Islands, where he founded Port Mahon (Portus Magonis), and so increased the power of Carthage that he was able to force commercial treaties upon the Etruscans, and the Greeks of both Sicily and Italy. The first agreement between Carthage and Rome was made in 509, one year after the expulsion of the Tarquins, in the consulship of Junius Brutus and Marcus Horatius. The text is preserved by Polybius (Hist. iii. 22-23). It assigned Italy to the Romans and the African waters to Carthage, but left Sicily as a dangerous neutral zone.
Mago was succeeded as commander-in-chief by his elder son Hasdrubal (c. 500), who was thrice chosen suffetes; he died in Sardinia about 485. His brother Hamilcar, having collected a fleet of 200 galleys for the conquest of Sicily, was defeated by the combined forces of Gelo of Syracuse and Theron of Agrigentum under the walls of Himera in 480, the year in which the Persian fleet was defeated at Salamis (some say the two battles were simultaneous); it is said that 150,000 Carthaginians were taken prisoners. The victory is celebrated by Pindar (Pyth. i.).
These two leaders of the powerful house of the Barcidae each left three sons. Those of Hasdrubal were Hannibal, Hasdrubal and Sapho; those of Hamilcar, Himilco, Hanno and Gisco. All, under various titles, succeeded to the authority which it had already enjoyed. About 460 Hanno, passing beyond the Pillars of Hercules (Straits of Gibraltar), founded settlements along the West African coast in the modern Senegal and Guinea, and even in Madeira and the Canary Islands.
In Sicily the war lasted for a century with varying success. In 406 Hannibal and Himilco destroyed Agrigentum and threatened Gela, but the Carthaginians were forced back on their strongholds in the south-west by Dionysius the Elder, Dionysius the Younger, Timoleon and Agathocles successively, whose cause was aided by a terrible plague and civil troubles in Carthage itself, A certain Hanno, unquestionably of the Barcide house, attempted to seize the supreme power, but his partisans were overwhelmed and he himself suffered the most cruel punishment. Profiting by these troubles, Timoleon defeated the Carthaginians at Crimissus in 340, and compelled them to sue for peace. This peace was not of long duration; Agathocles crossed to Africa and besieged Carthage, which was then handicapped by the conspiracy of Bomilcar. Bomilcar was crucified, and Agathocles having been obliged to return to Sicily, his general Eumarcus was compelled to carry his army out of Africa, where it had maintained itself for three years (August 310 to October 307). After the death of Agathocles, the Carthaginians re-established their supremacy in Sicily, and Mago even offered assistance to Rome against the invasion of Pyrrhus (480). Pyrrhus crossed to Sicily in 277, and was preparing to emulate Agathocles by sailing to Africa when he was compelled to return to Italy (see Sicily: History).
Delivered from these dangers and more arrogant than before, Carthage claimed the monopoly of Mediterranean waters, and seized every foreign ship found between Sardinia and the Pillars of Hercules. “At Carthage,” said Polybius, “no one is blamed, however he may have acquired his wealth.” The sailors took the utmost care to conceal the routes which they followed; there is a story that a Carthaginian ship, pursued by a Roman galley as far as the Atlantic, preferred to be driven out of her course and sunk rather than reveal the course to the Cassiterides, whither she was bound in quest of tin. The owner being saved, the senate made good his losses from the public treasury (Strabo, iii. 5. 11).
(3) Wars with Rome.—The first Punic War lasted twenty-seven years (268–241); it was fought by Carthage for the defence of her Sicilian possessions and her supremacy in the Tyrrhenian Sea. The Romans, victorious at the naval battles of Mylae (Melazzo) and Ecnomus (260 and 256), sent M. Atilius Regulus with an army to Africa. But the Carthaginians, by the help of the Spartan Xanthippus, were successful, and Regulus was captured. The fighting was then transferred to Sicily, where Hasdrubal was defeated at Panormus (250); subsequently the Romans failed before Lilybaeum and were defeated at Drepanum, but their victory at the Aegates Islands ended the war (241).