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The Rise and Fall of an Ancient Civilization

by Richard Miles

Pub Date: July 25th, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-670-02266-3
Publisher: Viking

An ambitious scholarly work spanning eight centuries, from 150 years before the founding of Carthage by Phoenicians to its obliteration by the Romans in 146 BCE.

From its location in modern Tunisia, Carthage sat astride the east-west trade routes from the Levant to Spain, and north-south routes from Sardinia to Carthage itself. The city’s settlers colonized southern Spain, Sardinia and western Sicily, and for three centuries the Carthaginian navy controlled the Mediterranean. Ultimately, Carthage collided with Rome in Sicily, setting off the first of the three Punic Wars that would end in the city’s destruction. In his book-length debut, Miles (History/Univ. of Sydney) sets forth in exhaustive detail the ebb and flow of Carthaginian influence in the central Mediterranean as the city engaged in constant competition with the Hellenistic city-states of the region for resources and power. A parallel theme is the cultural contest among Carthage, the Greek states and ultimately Rome for the mantle of successor to Heracles and Alexander, a propaganda battle carried out through images on coins, erection of temples, religious ceremonies and feats of arms. Miles distills a balanced account of the city’s history from the generally hostile surviving ancient sources, scrupulously explaining what he accepts and rejects from them and why. While this may be regarded as the definitive political and military history of Carthage for years to come, it is not recommended for the general reader, who will find no clear picture of Carthaginian civilization in the round, contrasted with the more familiar Greek, Roman and Egyptian cultures. What did this great city look like to a visitor? What were its values and aesthetics, its architecture and philosophy, its religious and legal institutions? What was the role of women in Carthaginian society? What did the world lose when this city was destroyed? The answers are not here, and the absence of a well-developed social dimension leaves the annals of cities won and lost feeling rather dry and lacking in context.

A monumental history of this lost civilization, invaluable to scholars but otherwise of limited appeal.