Carthage: Religion

A Carthaginian god.

The Carthaginians were notorious in antiquity for the intensity of their religious beliefs, which they retained to the end of their independence and which in turn influenced the religion of the Libyans.

The chief deity was Baal Hammon, the community's divine lord and protector, who was identified by the Greeks with Cronus and by the Romans with Saturn. During the 5th century a goddess named Tanit (the equivalent of the Phoenician goddess Astarte) came to be widely worshipped and represented in art. It is possible that her name is Libyan and that her popularity was connected with the acquisition of land in the interior, as she is associated with symbols of fertility. These two overshadow other deities such as Melqart, principal deity of Tyre, identified with Heracles, and Eshmoun, identified with Asclepius. The Greek gods Demeter and Persephone and the Roman goddess Juno were adapted to later religious patterns of the Carthaginians.

Human sacrifice was the element in Carthaginian religion most criticized; it persisted in Africa much longer than in Phoenicia, probably into the 3rd century. The child victims were sacrificed to Baal (not to Moloch, an interpretation based on a misunderstanding of the texts) and the burned bones buried in urns under stone markers, or stelae. At Carthage thousands of such urns have been found in the "Sanctuary of Tanit," and similar burials have been discovered at Hadrumetum, Cirta, Motya, Calaris, Nora, and Sulcis. Carthaginian religion appears to have taught the weakness of human beings in the face of the overwhelming and capricious power of the gods.

The great majority of Carthaginian personal names, unlike those of Greece and Rome, were of religious significance--e.g., Hannibal, "Favoured by Baal," or Hamilcar, "Favoured by Melqart."

"The temple of Baal was a magnificent building supported by enormous columns, covered with gold, or formed of a glass-like substance which began to glitter and sparkle in a curious manner as the night came on. Around the temple walls were idols representing the Phoenician gods; prominent among them was the hideous statue of Moloch, with its downward-sloping hands and the fiery furnace at its feet. There also might be seen beautiful Greek statues, trophies of the Sicilian

Wars—especially the Diana which the Carthaginians had taken from Segesta, which was afterwards restored to that city by the Romans, which Verres placed in his celebrated gallery and Cicero in his celebrated speech. There also might be seen the famous brazen bull which an Athenian invented for the amusement of Phalaris. Human beings were put inside, a fire was lit underneath, and the throat was so contrived that the shrieks and groans of the victims made the bull bellow as if he was alive. The first experiment was made by King Phalaris upon the artist, and the last by the people upon King Phalaris." ( )

The Phoenecian Temple | The Gods and Godesses | Coin showing head of Melqart | Representations of Baal Hammon | The Sign of Tanit | Gravestones | Stelae | Punic Stelae | Child Sacrifice | Astarte | Asherah | The Tophet at Carthage |