Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Carthage's Culture - Phoenician and Punic

In comparison with the extent of its power and influence, the artistic and intellectual legacy of the Phoenecians and Carthage seems to be relatively small.

Carthage carried Phoenician culture throughout North Africa, Spain and the Mediterranean. Following the determined destruction of Carthage by Rome, much of the architecture and cultural artifacts have been lost, but Carthaginian and Phoenician culture still survives in the form of its art and its alphabet.

The history of Carthage was written by her enemies, who painted them as evil avaricious greedy people, more concerned with money and deceit than honor. Almost nothing remains of their literature and culture, though it is known that some must have been of high quality. 

The Phoenician language is a "Semitic" language related to Hebrew, Arabic and Babylonian. Knowledge of biblical Hebrew was used for the translation of Phoenician inscriptions.

There seems to have been a well-respected Punic style of architecture, for King Solomon hired Phoenicians to build his temple. A horseshoe style or semi-circle seems to have been popular.  

The invention of glass, has been attributed to the Phoenicians.  But this mistake dates from Pliny the Elder, who wrote about a group of Phoenician merchants that discovered it by chance lighting a fire on a beach while using pieces of nitro that they transported on their ship. They realised in that moment that the fused sand, mixed to this material, transformed itself in a liquid and transparent substance. In reality, glass was discovered by the Egyptians in the third millennium BC, but it was intensely used by the Phoenicians because it permitted to make many luxury objects (such as perfume bottles) at a low cost.

Their long voyages through the Mediterranean Sea enabled them to obtain raw materials which were manufactured and transformed before being sold in the different ports.

 Among these objects the most characteristic were the amulets and the ivory ciboriums (a metal container like a covered cup), the drop-earrings and other luxury objects adorned with precious stones - and, of course jewels. The jeweller's craft reached a very refined level with the elaboration of new techniques such as laminated and granulated gold.

In the Eastern World or in Carthage the most utilised material was gold. I the Punic necropolis of Palermo magnificent gold rings together with silver and the bronze jewellery, including necklaces, bracelets and earrings.

What limited remains of buildings survive - mostly in North Africa and Sardinia - are pretty utilitarian and uninspired. In the minor arts - pottery, jewellery, metalwork, objects in terracotta, and the thousands of carvings on stelae - a similar lack of inspiration may be felt. The influence of Phoenician, Egyptian, and Greek artistic traditions can be observed.
Glass paste necklace from
 Noa Fontana necropolis near Olbia.
 IV-III c. BC.
National Archaeological Museum
 - Cagliari.
There is no evidence that Greek philosophy and literature made much impact, though certainly many Carthaginians in the city's later history knew Greek and there were libraries in the city. One written work is known, a treatise on agriculture by a certain Mago (a common name) and was highly esteemed by the Romans who eventually published a number of copies.
Gold earring from the
 necropolis of Palermo.
A.Salinas Archaeological
Museum Palermo
On the whole, the Carthaginians adhered to traditional modes of thought, which no doubt gave them a sense of solidarity amid more numerous and hostile peoples. Their fanatical independece enabled them to offer a more prolonged resistance to Rome than any other power.

Their influence on North African history was, in the first place, to bring it into the mainstream of the advancing civilisation of the Mediterranean world; more particularly, it introduced into North Africa advanced techniques leading to agricultural progress, which implied in turn a change by many Libyans from a semi-nomadic to a more stable way of life, leading to the possibilities of greater urbanisation, which were fully realised in the Roman period.

No comments:

Post a Comment