With its enviable location on an arrowhead-shaped peninsula centrally located between east and west, the city of Carthage (from the Phoenician Qart-Hadasht "New City"), was an important city in Roman times that became a major center of early Christianity. Ruins of the once-great city can be seen not far from Tunis, in modern-day Tunisia.
Not a sacred site in itself (and with few surviving temples), ancient Carthage is of religious interest as a great pagan city, an early center of Christianity, and the home of Tertullian and St. Cyprian.
Originally a Phoenician trading town, Carthage was captured and destroyed by the Romans in 146 BC following the Punic Wars. A century later, in 44 BC, Julius Caesar established a Roman city there, which rose to prominence as one of the three great ports of the Roman Mediterranean. With a population of about 300,000 in the early 3rd century, Roman Carthage was second only to Rome in the western empire.
A magnet for trade, overseas visitors, and refugees in late antiquity, Carthage was known for its deep attachment to Roman culture and civic life. Carthage honored many gods, the most important being the divine couple of Tanit and Ba'al Hammon. Carthaginian priests were clean shaven, unlike most of the population. In the first centuries of the city ritual celebrations included rhythmic dancing, derived from Phoenician traditions. The goddess Astarte seems to have been popular in early times, and it appears that Carthage also hosted an array of divinities from the neighboring civilizations of Greece, Egypt and the Etruscan city-states.
By 200 AD, a flourishing Christian community was established in Carthage. Writing to a pagan audience from Carthage in 197 AD, Tertullian proclaimed that the Christians "have filled every place among you." A council of 70 bishops was held at Carthage sometime between 198 and 222. At the Council at Carthage in 397, the Biblical canon for the western Church was confirmed.
The Donatist schism, a major rift in North African Christianity, was born in Carthage in 312 AD. It ended officially in the Baths of Gargilius in the summer of 411, after drawing the intense attention of St. Augustine of Hippo and other theologians and authorities.
The city was taken by the Vandals in the 5th century, but much of the city continued to flourish under barbarian rule. Although some public buildings fell into neglect, many church buildings, private houses, and some baths were rebuilt and decorated with mosaics and sculpture.
Carthage's economy collapsed around 650 when its harbors went out of use, and the city was captured by the Arabs in 698 AD. Today, Carthage is nothing but an area of ruins and foundations alongside the Mediterranean, not far from Tunis.
What to See
Today, it is mainly Roman sites (theatres, temples, villas and baths), which can be seen in Carthage. Among the highlights are the ruins of the Roman amphitheatre and the thermal Antonine Baths, which were once the largest baths built by the Romans.
You can get a great view of Carthage by climbing the nearby Byrsa Hill, on which you'll also find the Carthage Museum (tel. 1/34 10 77). The museum displays mosaics, sculptures and artifacts from the period before Carthage was destroyed by Rome in 146 BC.
Also on Byrsa Hill is St. Louis Cathedral, built by the French in 1890 and dedicated to the 13th century saint-king who died on the shores of Carthage in 1270. It is now deconsecrated and used for concerts.
Quick Facts on Carthage
|faith:||Ancient Roman; Christianity|
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|Coordinates:||36.854381° N, 10.334905° E (view on Google Maps)|
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Map of Carthage
Below is a location map and aerial view of Carthage. Using the buttons on the left (or the wheel on your mouse), you can zoom in for a closer look, or zoom out to get your bearings. To move around, click and drag the map with your mouse.
- "Carthage," G.W. Bowersock, Peter Brown, Oleg Grabar (eds.), Late Antiquity: A Guide to the Postclassical World (Harvard Belknap, 1999), 363.
- Carthage: A Lost Empire - Channel 4
- Carthage - Catholic Encyclopedia (1908)
- Carthage - Wikipedia (Dec. 2005)
|Link code:||<a href="http://www.sacred-destinations.com/tunisia/carthage">Carthage</a>|