Is Carthage Infanticide Real or Part of Propaganda?

Ancient Carthage was a glorious place to be in. It had the riches and a well-built social system. The Phoenician empire was centered on its city-state of Carthage, which is located in present day Gulf of Tunis in North Africa. The empire that was founded in 814 BC quickly grew into prominence. At its heights the Phoenician Empire spanned across Mediterranean Ocean, North Africa to modern day Spain. The empire prospered till third century BC. The history of Carthage is one of constant struggle for lands. They waged wars against the Greeks for control over Sicily and with the Roman Republic for other areas. The wars with the Romans were popularly known as the Punic Wars.

Prosperous Carthage Empire

Carthage Empire at the Heights of its Prosperity


During the wars, the Greeks and Romans spread a story that Cathagians were child killers. They involved in ritualistic infanticide. Greeks or Romans were bitter rivals of Carthage, so the claims were not taken seriously. These were blown away as mere propaganda. But one group of archeologists decided to delve deep into this rumor. Joseph Quinn, lecturer in Ancient history at Oxford University believes that infanticide in Carthage has been dismissed as a part of black propaganda over the centuries. But there are new evidences that point to the truth. The truth is bitter. The archeological and literary evidences point that indeed there was such an evil practice in place. Parents did kill their children as an offering to the gods or as a part of their sacred promise.

Punic War

Carthage waged Punic War with Roman Empire


The matter was long buried before into the limelight in the early 20th century. Excavations during the time on the outskirts of Carthage in modern day Tunisia revealed cemeteries that came to be known as Tophets. Similar cemeteries were soon discovered in the Carthage governed provinces of Sardinia and Sicily. These cemeteries were filled with small graves that contained cremated bones packed into urns. Under most of these tombstones there were inscriptions thanking god.

Carthage Infanticide

Infanticide was Practiced in Carthage


A group of scholars, though, believe that these graves belonged to children who had died before, during, or soon after the birth process. This could be the instance as the delivery process in ancient Carthage could not have been advanced and mortality would be high across the globe during those times. These set of scholars also believe that the number of graves is very large and that is why it could not be a burial place for the sacrificed infants.

Tophet Graves

Tophet or Small Graves of Infants from Carthage


But their views do not hold water as most of the graves carry an inscription stating Gods “heard my voice and blessed me”. This statement clearly states that the child was sacrificed to God. According to ancient traditions a feeble, week or dying child could not be sacrificed. So, these children did not die of natural causes. Another piece of evidence was the presence of animal remains alongside the infants. Roman historian, Diodorus has given graphic descriptions of the sacrifice process where a child was sacrificed alongside an animal to appease the Gods. So, all the evidences clearly state that people in Carthage indeed killed their children to please the gods.


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