Religion in Carthage
The religion of Carthage in North Africa was a direct continuation of the polytheistic Phoenician religion of the Levant, with significant local modifications. Controversy prevails regarding the possible existence and practice of propitiatory child sacrifice in the religion of Carthage.
|This article needs additional citations for verification. (July 2011)|
Carthage derived the original core of its religion from Phoenicia. The Phoenician pantheon was presided over by the father of the gods, but a goddess was the principal figure in the Phoenician pantheon. The system of gods and goddesses in Phoenician religion also influenced many other cultures. There are too many similarities to be overlooked. In some instances the names of gods underwent very little change when they were borrowed. Even the legends maintained major similarities. Egyptian, Babylonian, Assyrian, Persian and others had their influences on the Phoenician faith system as well as borrowing from it.
The supreme divine couple was that of Tanit and Ba'al Hammon. The goddess Astarte seems to have been popular in early times. At the height of its cosmopolitan era Carthage seems to have hosted a large array of divinities from the neighbouring civilizations of Greece, Egypt and the Etruscan city-states.
Caste of priests and acolytes
Surviving Punic texts portray an organized caste of temple priests and acolytes performing different types of functions, for a variety of prices. Priests were clean shaven, unlike most of the population. In the first centuries of the city ritual celebrations included rhythmic dancing, derived from Phoenician traditions.
Cippi and stelae of limestone are characteristic monuments of Punic art and religion, and are found throughout the western Phoenician world in unbroken continuity, both historically and geographically. The majority were set up over urns containing the ashes of sacrifices, which had been placed within open-air sanctuaries. Some Carthaginian votive steles (several in Egyptian style) display a priest carrying a child; at least one has been interpreted as a living child for sacrifice. The identification of this child as living has been questioned.
One of the most important stelae is the "Marseilles Tariff" found in the port of Marseille and originally from the temple of Baal-Saphon in Carthage. The tariff regulated the payments to the priests for performing sacrifices, and described the nature of the victims. All victims are male animals, females are not mentioned, and Porphyry (philosopher), De Abst. 2.11, states that the Phoenicians did not sacrifice or eat females.
Carthage was described by its competitors as practicing child sacrifice. Plutarch (ca. 46–120 AD) mentions the practice, as do Tertullian, Orosius, Diodorus Siculus and Philo. However, Livy and Polybius do not. The Hebrew Bible also mentions what appears to be child sacrifice practiced at a place in Judea called the Tophet ("roasting place") by the Canaanites which may refer to Phoenicians. According to archaeologist Jonathan N. Tubb, "Ammonites, Moabites, Israelites and Phoenicians undoubtedly achieved their own cultural identities, and yet ethnically they were all Canaanites" "the same people who settled in farming villages in the region in the 8th millennium BC.". There is to date no archaeological evidence of human sacrifice among the Canaanites.
In former times they (the Carthaginians) had been accustomed to sacrifice to this god the noblest of their sons, but more recently, secretly buying and nurturing children, they had sent these to the sacrifice.
Some of these sources suggest that babies were roasted to death on a heated bronze statue. According to Diodorus Siculus, "There was in their city a bronze image of Cronus extending its hands, palms up and sloping toward the ground, so that each of the children when placed thereon rolled down and fell into a sort of gaping pit filled with fire."
The accuracy of such stories is disputed by some modern historians and archaeologists. Nevertheless, several apparent "Tophets" have been identified, chiefly a large one in Carthage, dubbed the "Tophet of Salammbó", after the neighbourhood where it was unearthed in 1921.
Sites within Carthage and other Phoenician centers revealed the remains of infants and children in large numbers; many historians interpret this as evidence for frequent and prominent child sacrifice to the god Ba'al Hammon.
According to Stager and Wolff there is a consensus among scholars that Carthaginian children were sacrificed by their parents, who would make a vow to kill the next child if the gods would grant them a favor: for instance that their shipment of goods were to arrive safely in a foreign port. They placed their children alive in the arms of a bronze statue of:
the lady Tanit ... . The hands of the statue extended over a brazier into which the child fell once the flames had caused the limbs to contract and its mouth to open ... . The child was alive and conscious when burned ... Philo specified that the sacrificed child was best-loved.
Later commentators have compared the accounts of child sacrifice in the Old Testament with similar ones from Greek and Latin sources speaking of the offering of children by fire as sacrifices in the Punic city of Carthage, which was a Phoenician colony. Cleitarchus, Diodorus Siculus and Plutarch all mention burning of children as an offering to Cronus or Saturn, that is to Ba`al Hammon, the chief god of Carthage. Issues and practices relating to Moloch and child sacrifice may also have been overemphasized for effect. After the Romans finally defeated Carthage and totally destroyed the city, they engaged in post-war propaganda to make their arch enemies seem cruel and less civilized.
Motivations behind the sacrifices
Some authors, like Stager and Wolff, believe that the real purpose behind children's sacrifices was birth control. It has been suggested that the sacrifices established a way of "cementing the vertical and horizontal power relationship within the social structure".[clarification needed]
Evidence from archaeology
"Tophet" is a term derived from the Bible, used to refer to a site near Jerusalem in which Canaanites and Israelites sacrificed children. It is now used as a general term for all such sacred sites. In Carthage, it was the location of the temple of the goddess Tanit and the necropolis. The area covered by the Tophet in Carthage was probably over an acre and a half by the fourth century B.C., with nine different levels of burials.
The Bible does not specify that the Israelite victims were buried, only burned, although the "place of burning" was probably adjacent to the place of burial. Indeed, soil in the Tophet of Salammbó was found to be full of olive wood charcoal, probably from the sacrificial pyres. We have no idea how the Phoenicians themselves referred to the places of burning or burial, or to the practice itself.
Some modern scholars argue that evidence of Carthaginian child sacrifice is sketchy at best and that these reports are more likely to have been a Roman blood libel against the Carthaginians to justify their conquest and destruction. Several scholars have argued that the Tophet in Carthage may have been a cemetery for stillborn infants and those who died shortly after birth, regardless of the cause. Sergio Ribichini has argued that the Tophet was "a child necropolis designed to receive the remains of infants who had died prematurely of sickness or other natural causes, and who for this reason were "offered" to specific deities and buried in a place different from the one reserved for the ordinary dead". He adds that this was probably part of "an effort to ensure the benevolent protection of the same deities for the survivors." The few Carthaginian texts which have survived make no mention of child sacrifice.
In the Tophet of Salammbó, Carthage, about 20,000 urns were deposited between 400 BC and 200 BC, with the practice continuing until the early years of the Christian period. The urns contained the charred bones of newborns and in some cases the bones of fetuses and 2-year-olds. These double remains have been interpreted to mean that in the cases of stillborn babies, the parents would sacrifice their youngest child. There is a clear correlation between the frequency of sacrifice and the well-being of the city. In bad times (war, poor harvests) sacrifices became more frequent, indicating an increased assiduousness in seeking divine appeasement, or possibly a population-controlling response to the reduction of available food in these bad times, or perhaps increased child mortality due to famine or disease.
Most archaeologists accept that infant sacrifices did occur. Lawrence E. Stager, who directed the excavations of the Carthage Tophet in the 1970s, with the view based on ancient texts that infant sacrifice was practiced there. Patricia Smith and colleagues from the Hebrew University and Harvard University show from the teeth and skeletal analysis at the Carthage Tophet that infant ages at death (about two months) do not correlate with the expected ages of natural mortality (perinatal). Paolo Xella of the National Research Council in Rome summarized the textual, epigraphical, and archaeological evidence for Carthaginian infant sacrifice.
Animal remains, mostly sheep and goats, found inside some of the Tophet urns strongly suggest that this was not a burial ground for children who died prematurely. The animals were sacrificed to the gods, presumably in place of children (one surviving inscription refers to the animal as "a substitute"). It is conjectured that the children unlucky enough not to have substitutes were also sacrificed and then buried in the Tophet.
Archaeologists have also discovered evidence of child sacrifice in Sardinia and Sicily. At Motiya, an island off Sicily which was home to a large Phoenician colony, the bones of children buried in the local sanctuary belonged to male children under the age of five. There was no evidence of disease in the bones that survived cremation.
- Perdue, Leo (2001). The Blackwell Companion to the Hebrew Bible. Wiley-Blackwell, p. 157. ISBN 0-631-21071-7
- Walter Houston. Purity and Monotheism: Clean and Unclean Animals in Biblical Law. Chapter 4. The Context Surveyed, p. 153. http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=T2l8InRl6dwC&pg=PA152&lpg=PA152 accessed 23rd January 2014
- Tubb 1998, pp. 13–14
- Diodorus Siculus. Library XX, xiv
- Fantar 2000, p. 28-31.
- Carthage tries to live down image as site of infanticide
- Briand-Ponsart, Claude and Crogiez, Sylvie (2002). L'Afrique du nord antique et médievale: mémoire, identité et imaginaire. Publication Univ Rouen Havre, p. 13. ISBN 2-87775-325-5. (French)
- Stager, Lawrence; Samuel. R. Wolff (1984). "Child sacrifice in Carthage: religious rite or population control?". Journal of Biblical Archeological Review. January: 31–46.
- Brown 1991, p. 22–23.
- J.H. Schwartz, F.D. Houghton, L. Bondioli and R. Macchiarelli. Volume: 86 Number: 333 Page: 738-745 http://antiquity.ac.uk/ant/086/ant0860738.htm
- Futrell, Alison (2001). Blood in the Arena: The Spectacle of Roman Power. University of Texas Press, pp. 176-177. ISBN 0-292-72523-X
- Stager 1980, p. 3.
- Jeffrey H. Schwartz, Frank Houghton, Roberto Macchiarelli, Luca Bondioli. Skeletal Remains from Punic Carthage Do Not Support Systematic Sacrifice of Infants. PLOS One. Published: February 17, 2010. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0009177 http://www.plosone.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pone.0009177 accessed 23rd January 2014
- Ribichini 1988, p. 141.
- Stager 1980, p. 6.
- Patricia Smith, Lawrence E. Stager, Joseph A. Greene and Gal Avishai. Archaeology. Volume: 87 Number: 338 Page: 1191–1199. Age estimations attest to infant sacrifice at the Carthage Tophet. http://antiquity.ac.uk/ant/087/ant0871191.htm accessed 23rd January 2014
- Paolo Xella, Josephine Quinn, Valentina Melchiorri and Peter van Dommelen. Phoenician bones of contention. Volume: 87 Number: 338 Page: 1199–1207. http://antiquity.ac.uk/ant/087/ant0871199.htm accessed 17th February 2014
- Brown, Susanna Shelby (1991). Late Carthaginian Child Sacrifice and Sacrificial Monuments in their Mediterranean Context. JSOT/ASOR Monograph Series 3. Sheffield Academic Press. ISBN 1850752400.
- Fantar, M'Hamed Hassine (Nov–Dec 2000). Archaeology Odyssey. pp. 28–31.
- Greene, Joseph. Punic Project Excavations: Child Sacrifice in the Context of Carthaginian Religion: Excavations in the Tophet. American Schools of Oriental Research.
- Ribichini, Sergio (1988). "Beliefs and Religious Life". In Moscati, Sabatino. The Pheonicians. ISBN 0896598926.
- Stager, Lawrence (1980). "The Rite of Child Sacrifice at Carthage". In Pedley, John Griffiths. New Light on Ancient Carthage. University of Michigan Press. ISBN 0472100033.
- Stager, Lawrence E.; Wolff, Samuel R. (January–February 1984). "Child Sacrifice at Carthage: Religious Rite or Population Control?". Biblical Archaeology Review.