Book Review: The Carthaginians by Dexter Hoyos

The Carthaginians is the most thoroughly researched and comprehensive book I have read about the Carthaginian civilization and its history. Dexter Hoyos draws upon both archeology and ancient writings to produce as complete a portrait of ancient Carthage and it’s sphere of influence as possible, and in so doing he dispels or brings into question a number of the myths and misconception that modern students of history have about Carthage.
For example, there is a belief, based on recent archeology that the Carthaginians built up their circular inner harbor well after the Second Punic War in preparation for renewed hostilities with Rome. Hoyos believes that the inner harbor was actually constructed during the Second Punic War “As noted earlier, archeological work on Carthage’s circular port has turned up very few items datable before the mid 2nd century; but rather than showing that she was now rebuilding a navy and so breaking peace terms, this suggests that the port had substantial work done on it then. The likeliest reason for the overhaul would be that merchant shipping had outgrown the capacity of the outer commercial port. The reported claim by Roman envoys to Carthage in 153, that they had seen quantities of wood stored for building a war fleet may misrepresent this project; similarly Masinissa’s son Gulussa’s allegation to the Roman Senate in 151 that the Carthaginians were evilly scheming a fleet-a claim he had already wrongly made over twenty years earlier. The senate, it is worth noting, treated all these assertions with remarkable sang-froid, probably aware that there were no such plans.”
On somewhat the same subject, Hoyos also states “That the Romans feared Carthage is no longer widely believed, for after nearly half a century of being consistently submissive to Rome, as well as disarmed, she was utterly beaten by a Numidian army.”
Hoyos gives a thorough account of Carthaginian religion, gods both native and borrowed. On the question of whether or not the Carthaginians practiced child sacrifice, he declines to give a firm yes or no answer. He presents evidence, but seems to think that it is contradictory and inconclusive. Perhaps if your standard of evidence is “beyond a reasonable doubt,” you cannot say for certain that the Carthaginians followed this practice, but if your standard is “The preponderance of evidence,” one may conclude that, in all likelihood, they did.
As for the common myth that the Romans salted the ruins of Carthage and environs, Hoyos says: “Rome’s new despots Caesar and then Augustus ignored Scipio’s (Scipio Minor) curse to found a city which, like the rest of North Africa, would flourish far into the future. (They did not, incidentally, need to scrape away any salt: it was not Scipio in 146 BC but a historian in 1928 who scattered that all over the ruins.)
The Carthaginians is a valuable source for anyone interested in learning more about the substantial role that Carthage played in western history.

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