Kemp Ridley’s #CBR4 Review #17: Carthage Must Be Destroyed by Richard Miles
Carthage was the Roman Republic’s deadliest enemy, and their rivalry was one of the greatest in the ancient Mediterranean. In Carthage Must Be Destroyed archaeologist Richard Miles chronicles the city’s history from its founding to its eventual destruction and resurrection by the Romans.
The city began as a colony of the Phoenicians, founded near the modern day city of Tunis. After the Phoenicians found themselves conquered by the Persians, Carthage became a powerful independent city and built a substantial empire in the western Mediterranean, including the island of Sardinia and bits and pieces of Spain and Sicily. Although the city was eventually conquered and destroyed by the Romans, it would later get a second life after being reestablished by the Roman emperor Augustus. (Later it would serve as the capitol for the Vandals’ North African kingdom, and eventually be destroyed a second time by the Arabs.)
Although Carthage was the ancient equivalent of a superpower and its wars with Rome shook the Mediterranean, very little is known about the city’s culture. The Romans did their very best to replace Carthage’s legacy with negative propaganda, and almost no accounts of Carthage written by Carthaginians survive. Miles, who has led several excavations at the city, tries to fill in the blanks. While hitting the high points of the Punic Wars, and especially Hannibal’s famous campaigns in Italy, Miles also spends a lot of time on the Carthaginians’ religious beliefs. Carthage – and many of its satellite cities – were enthusiastic practitioners of child sacrifice, a holdover from their origins in the Middle East. However, at the same time, Carthage tried to blur its Middle Eastern connections – unfashionable in the western Mediterranean in the aftermath of Persia’s wars with Greece – by associating itself with the Greek hero Hercules.
Throughout Miles does a good job of giving the Carthaginians an identity beyond “those guys the Romans fought.” The one criticism I had is that he gets really, really bogged down in the details sometimes, causing an otherwise interesting story to drag. I don’t think excluding the dietary details would really cause the story to lose anything, for example.
Interesting book overall, though. I give it three stars.