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Gaius Paulinus Maximus

Carthaginian Sacrifices

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I've just watched a documentary about Carthage on Discovery Civilizations, a part of the show focused on the Carthaginians apparent use of child sacrifice.

 

Accounts of child sacrifice in Carthage report that beginning at the founding of Carthage, mothers and fathers buried their children who had been sacrificed. The practice was apparently distasteful even to Carthaginians, and they began to buy children for the purpose of sacrifice or even to raise servant children instead of offering up their own. However, in times of crisis or calamity, like war, drought, or famine, their priests demanded the sacrifice of the children. Special ceremonies during extreme crisis saw up to 200 children of the most affluent and powerful families slain and tossed into the burning pyre. During the political crisis of 310 B.C., some 500 were killed. On a moonlit night, after the child was mercifully killed, the body was placed on the arms of a god like statue, the arms where angled towards a fire pit, and the body of the sacrificed child would then roll into the flames. The sound of flutes, lyres, and tambourines helped to drown out the cries of the parents. Later, the remains were collected and placed in special small urns. The urns were then buried in the Tophet. The Tophet was a sacred precinct of Carthage and it's translated in to "place of burning" or "roaster".

 

Archaeologists have found thousands of these urns containing the remains of the sacrificed children. Some people believe that the idea of the Carthaginians sacrificing their children is credited to the Romans who simply made it up in order to vilify and discredit the people of Carthage just that little bit more. The child mortality rate in Carthage was very high, apparently every 4 out of 10 children died before their second birthday, so some historians believe that this place called the Tophet was in actual fact just a children's cemetery and not a place of sacrifice.

 

The argument for both sides of the story was very believable, What do you guys think??

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"The child mortality rate in Carthage was very high, apparently every 4 out of 10 children died before their second birthday, so some historians believe that this place called the Tophet was in actual fact just a children's cemetery and not a place of sacrifice."

 

What on earth could be causing such an abnormally high child mortality rate? Even by ancient standards, this seems off the charts.

 

More broadly, I'd point out that skepticism about Spartan child sacrifice was the norm too--until a cave cram full of healthy child skeletons was found.

 

In my opinion, the Carthaginians were guilty as charged. (Oh, and Carthage should be destroyed.)

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Salve.

The case for Phoenician/Punic practice of child sacrifice:

 

The thousands of individual burials, the several mass burials and the animal burials all demonstrate that these were sacrifical offerings to the gods.

Lawrence E. Stager and Joseph A. Greene

 

The evidence that Phoenicians ritually sacrificed their children comes from four sources. Classical authors and biblical prophets charge the Phoenicians with the practice. Stelae associated with burial urns found at Carthage bear decorations alluding to sacrifice and inscriptions expressing vows to Phoenician deities. Urns buried beneath these stelae contain remains of children (and sometimes of animals) who were cremated as described in the sources or implied by the inscriptions.

Still, some scholars like Dr. Fantar deny that the Phoenicians sacrificed their children. They dismiss the texts as tendentious or misinformed, and they ignore the sacrificial implications of the inscribed stelae. The archaeological evidence, however, especially the bones found inside the burial urns, cannot be so easily explained away.

Evidence from classical authors. Ancient authors, both Greco-Roman historians like Kleitarchos, Diodorus and Plutarch and Church fathers like Tertullian, condemn the Carthaginians for the practice of child sacrifice. Some add lurid but unverifiable details

Edited by ASCLEPIADES

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The case against Phoenician/Punic practice of child sacrifice:

 

The Tophet was the final resting place for the still- born and for children who died in early infancy. (see letter below in support of this view)

M'hamed Hassine Fantar

 

Were it not for a few classical accounts, scholars would probably not attribute the burials in the Carthage Tophet to child sacrifice. Some of the more sensational stories, such as those related by the first-century B.C. historian Diodorus Siculus, have been picked up in modern times and passed off as the entire truth. In the 19th century, for instance, Gustave Flaubert described Punic child sacrifices in his novel Salammb

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(Oh, and Carthage should be destroyed.)

 

Ha! As if!

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Thanks for that Asclepiades. It's a reasonable reconstruction of the Tophet. Still, the practice of child sacrifice among the Phoenicians in Canaan leaves me wondering if perhaps the Phoenicians in Carthage weren't guilty of infanticide too.

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I find the case for child sacrifice the more convincing by far.

 

And in regard to POLYBIUS I would like to point out that absence of proof is not proof of absence. Especially when dealing with materials as fragmentary as classical sources.

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Excellent posts Asclepiades.

 

I'm also in favor of the theory that the Carthaginians were guilty of child sacrifice, the evidence presented in the "for" case seem far more conclusive than the evidence in the "against" case. Maybe the whole process of the sacrifice was exaggerated by the Romans in order to vilify the Carthaginians, but that does'nt hide the fact that it did actually happen anyway.

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The case against Phoenician/Punic practice of child sacrifice:

 

The Tophet was the final resting place for the still- born and for children who died in early infancy. (see letter below in support of this view)

M'hamed Hassine Fantar

 

<SNIP>

 

I have to say that this subject was brought up during an archaeological tour of Tunisia led by one of the senior archaeologists in Tunisia. He mentioned a few of the sacrifice theories but was firmly of the opinion that in his pactical experience of child burials invariably being separate from adults is a stronger argument for differing burial practices dependant on age rather than any 'purported' practice of child sacrifices.

 

Consider instead that it was common Roman practice to separately bury infants below about 2 years of age within buildings - often with 'sacrificial' items including animals in close proximity. if you were totally objective, you could instead present similar arguments for Romans (and several other cultures) practicing child sacrifice.

 

In reality I have to come down on the view that in ancient (and not so ancient) cultures there was usually a high infant mortality rate so like the Romans, who did not name infants for several days after birth to see if they might live ,a range of practices developed to deal with the 'expected' high rates of child loss. In this the Libyo/Punic culture of Carthage was probably only different in form, but not substance, from their rivals and close neighbours around the Mediteranean.

 

On that basis I find the anti-sacrifice argument a lot more compelling.

 

Melvadius

Edited by Melvadius

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More broadly, I'd point out that skepticism about Spartan child sacrifice was the norm too--until a cave cram full of healthy child skeletons was found.

 

This may be of interest for you folks. I suspect it will touch on the above:

 

Monday 11/19/07

 

The Rise and Fall of the Spartans

History International - 8:00 pm

Next showing: Code of Honor The ancient warriors invent the boot camp, the frontal assault, and state-sponsored education.

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"The worship of Baal extended from the Canaanites to the Phoenicians who also were partially an agricultural people. Both Baal and his cohort Ashtoreth, or Astarte, who is equivalent to the Greek goddess Aphrodite, were both Phoenician fertility symbols. Baal, the sun god, was fervently prayed to for the protection of livestock and crops. Priests instructed the people that Baal was responsible for droughts, plagues, and other calamities. People were often worked up into great frenzies at the prospects of displeasing Baal. In times of great turbulence human sacrifices, particularly children, were made to the great god Moloch."

 

Whole article at:

 

http://www.pantheon.org/articles/b/baal.html

 

From the same site:

Moloch

by Micha F. Lindemans

"King". The sun god of the Canaanites (Ammonites?) in old Palestine and sometimes associated with the Sumerian Baal, although Moloch (or Molekh) was entirely malevolent. In the 8th-6th century BCE, firstborn children were sacrificed to him by the Israelites in the Valleye of Hinnom, south-east of Jerusalem (see also Gehenna). These sacrifices to the sun god were made to renew the strength of the sun fire. This ritual was probably borrowed from surrounding nations, and was also popular in ancient Carthage.

 

Moloch was represented as a huge bronze statue with the head of a bull. The statue was hollow, and inside there burned a fire which colored the Moloch a glowing red. Children were placed on the hands of the statue. Through an ingenious system the hands were raised to the mouth (as if Moloch were eating) and the children fell into the fire where they were consumed by the flames. The people gathered before the Moloch were dancing on the sounds of flutes and tambourines to drown out the screams of the victims.

 

According to some sources, the Moloch in the Old Testament is not a god, but a specific form of sacrifice.

 

-----------------------------------------

I have no idea as to the creditability or accuracy of this site.

Edited by Gaius Octavius

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"The worship of Baal extended from the Canaanites to the Phoenicians who also were partially an agricultural people. Both Baal and his cohort Ashtoreth, or Astarte, who is equivalent to the Greek goddess Aphrodite, were both Phoenician fertility symbols. Baal, the sun god, was fervently prayed to for the protection of livestock and crops. Priests instructed the people that Baal was responsible for droughts, plagues, and other calamities. People were often worked up into great frenzies at the prospects of displeasing Baal. In times of great turbulence human sacrifices, particularly children, were made to the great god Moloch."

 

Whole article at:

 

http://www.pantheon.org/articles/b/baal.html

 

Unfortunately this article has the same inherent problem as the others, previously quoted, that speculated on the possibility of Carthaginian child sacrifices. The sources which have been quoted come from one side of what was an internecine war against their enemies, and when you actually consider the context of what has been written and for whom it was intended is at base propoganda. Both sets of victors ended up in possession of someone elses land. Obviousl for this method to be really successful it also helps that the enemies have been long defeated ro in effect powerless to refute false accusations...this somehow is beginning to sound like (and probably is) history repeating itself. :rolleyes:

 

Anyway, one of the fastest ways to drum up support amongst your own people (and amongst possible allies) is to present your opponents as 'demonic', blood spattered, inhuman child murders, etc. The same methods have been used inumerable times throught recorded history with varying degrees of success.

 

Admittedly sometimes there is a grain of truth in such accusations - but not always.

 

I keep thinking of the old tag that one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter and in this context it honestly looks like the victors painting as black a picture as they can of their enemies based on little or no real evidence. :hammer:

 

Melvadius

Edited by Melvadius

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Anyway, one of the fastest ways to drum up support amongst your own people (and amongst possible allies) is to present your opponents as 'demonic', blood spattered, inhuman child murders, etc. The same methods have been used inumerable times throught recorded history with varying degrees of success.

 

Your argument would be persuasive if the Romans--who were at various times enemies of the Gauls, Spaniards, Corsicans, Numidians, Carthaginians, Egyptians, Syrians, Thracians, Greeks, and other Italians--had leveled the charge of baby-killing against their other enemies. But they didn't. If the Romans were simply trying to demonize the Carthaginians, why that SPECIFIC charge? And why--if it were mere demonization--do we actually find heaps of dead babies in Carthage, but nowhere in Gaul, Spain, Corsica, etc? And why--if it were merely a ROMAN demonization of Carthage--do we find OTHER enemies of the Phoenicians laying the same charge against the Phoenicians, but not against Romans and everyone else? Was the whole ancient world part of a conspiracy to blacken the repuation of the Punic baby-lovers? I don't think so.

 

Of course it's true that the Romans were liable to spread lies about Carthage, but for the exact same lie to be spread about the exact same people and no others? That seems like a pretty massive coincidence to me.

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