Carthage and Human Sacrifice


The Ruins of Ancient Carthage

The Carthaginians, who were Rome’s primary rival in the third century BC, were written about extensively by classical historians and geographers. Carthaginian society was described as a mixture of the Phoenician culture, from whom most of the people were descended, and Numidian/North African cultures with an ample amount of influence from the Greeks and Romans. Livy, Diodorus, Strabo, and others wrote passages that detailed Carthaginian government, trade, and religion, with the sections on religion, perhaps being the most interesting.

According to the classical sources, the Carthaginians followed the Canaanite/Phoenician pantheon and strictly followed those rituals, which occasionally included the sacrifice of their own children. Some of the passages are quite graphic, but the question needs to be asked: Was it true? After all, the Carthaginians were the eternal enemies of the Romans so it would follow that many of the classical historians would paint them in a negative light.

The reality is that there was a long tradition of child sacrifice by the Carthaginians’ ancestors, the Canaanites, and Phoenicians. These pre-Carthaginian peoples often termed “Western Semitic” by scholars, performed live human sacrifices to their gods to gain favor for war, harvests, and long-distance sailing expeditions.

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