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Unveiling the Ancient City of Carthage: A Journey Through History

  The ancient city-state of Carthage was Rome’s deadliest opponent during its rise. Rome called Carthage “Punic.” During the three Punic Wars, the two countries fought to the death for more than a hundred years, and each was defeated. Pushed to the edge of life and death, countless heroic legends were born during this period. Hannibal, one of the four famous generals in Western military history, was the commander-in-chief of the Carthage army. I traveled to Morocco and Tunisia for the first time in 2011, and the main purpose of my visit to Tunisia was to see the origin of the three Punic Wars in Roman history and the ruins of the ancient Carthage city that fell after a three-year siege. This legendary ancient city was cursed by the great Rome and revived by Rome.
  Today’s Tunis City is the capital of Tunisia. The airport is only 5 kilometers away from the New City. The New City is a crowded and noisy modern metropolis. In the center of the New City is the Old City “Medina” (the Arabic “Medina” is the name of the Old City). Meaning, there is a Medina in the center of all ancient cities in Arabic-speaking countries, and this does not specifically refer to the second holiest city of Islam in Saudi Arabia). But this is not the ancient city of Carthage, it is far from ancient enough. The real ancient city of Carthage is to take the light rail east out of the city center and drive to the seaside in about half an hour. It is a very large archaeological excavation area with ancient ruins everywhere. The center of the ancient city of Carthage is located in Birsa (Bilsa) on the seaside. On the hill of Byrsa, the circular port on the seaside at the foot of the mountain still retains the original appearance of the ancient Carthage military port. This area is the central area. Because the hillside occupies a small area and the ancient city continues to expand outwards, the seaside at the foot of the mountain still retains its original appearance. There are many remains of public buildings from the Roman era (later than the ancient kingdom of Carthage). The entire archaeological area stretches for three to four kilometers along the seaside. The light rail train has at least four train stations in this area, the most central station is Carthage-Birsa Station at the foot of Birsa Mountain.
  Today, Arab and Islamic cultures dominate North African countries. This was the result of the conquest of North Africa and the large-scale immigration to North Africa after the rise of the Arab Empire in the seventh century. Before that, the local people were mainly Mauretanians and Numidians, but these people did not actually dominate the ancient world. Take Carthage, for example. This city-state was founded not by aborigines, but by immigrants from Tyre, an ancient city on the east coast of the Mediterranean. Tire is an ancient city in today’s southern Lebanon near the border with Israel. The residents here are Phoenicians. Around the 9th century BC, a group of immigrants from the ancient Phoenician city-state Tyre came by ship with their queen Elisa. To today’s Cape Tunisia, the Phoenician city-state was founded.

  The Phoenician civilization has a long history. It invented the Pinyin script in the first millennium BC. Although it is not as old as Egyptian hieroglyphics and Babylonian cuneiform, the Phoenician alphabet is the direct ancestor of all Pinyin scripts in later generations. In other words, the Greek Hebrew, Greek, Latin, English, etc. can all be traced back to Phoenician.
three punic wars

  At the beginning of the 3rd century BC, the Roman city-state republic had expanded its power to the entire peninsula. Most Italian city-states were either allies of Rome or under the influence of Rome; Carthage’s fleet and merchant ships sailed throughout the Mediterranean, passing through Many small colonies were established, and they also controlled the fertile North African plains as a vast hinterland. Both agriculture and commerce were the source of Carthage’s huge wealth. The two emerging powers in the south and the north are bound to fight over who will be the next hegemon of the Mediterranean world. This was the real geopolitical reason for the three Punic Wars.
  The First Punic War between Carthage and Rome took place in 264 BC. The nature of this war was actually a battle for outposts between two rising countries. The cause of the war was the fight for Sicily: In the Mediterranean bottleneck zone of Italy-Sicily-Tunisia, Rome and Carthage happened to occupy one north and one south respectively, so whoever occupied Sicily in the middle would have the cork stuck. At first, the advantage lay with Carthage, which had superb navigation skills. Carthage warships used to use their bows to ram into the fragile waists of enemy ships, or sail past enemy ships and use their bows to cut off all the wood pulp on the enemy’s side. But the Romans built a fleet from scratch and invented a wooden bridge called the “Raven”, which was fixed on the bow of the ship and could rotate left and right. There were iron nails suspended at the tip, which were driven into the enemy’s deck. Then it was fixed, connecting the enemy and ourselves together. The Roman infantry rushed to the enemy ship through this wooden beam and started a hand-to-hand fight. The Romans transformed naval warfare into land warfare, which they were good at. Relying on this new invention, the new Roman fleet defeated the Carthaginian navy in many naval battles.

A model of the Roman-era summit square on display in the Carthage Museum.

  However, neither side regarded this colonial war as a life-and-death battle that determined the fate of the country, and neither side invested enough strength. Therefore, the war was fought intermittently on the main battlefield of Sicily, and it was still impossible to determine the winner. By 241 BC, the Roman navy was victorious in a decisive naval battle. As a result of the First Punic War, Carthage lost Sicily, was barred from having a naval fleet in addition to paying reparations. In the penultimate year of the war, the son of Hamilcar, the Carthaginian army commander, was born, and the newborn was named Hannibal. Hamilcar believed that defeating Rome would require the continuous efforts of more than one generation, so he carefully trained his son. From the age of 9, Hannibal was taken into the army to learn how to march and fight. In 228 BC, Hamilcar was killed while fighting in the Iberian Peninsula. Seven years later, Hannibal, who was only 27 years old, took over as commander of the Carthaginian army. Two years later, Hannibal led his troops across the Alps and launched a strategic surprise attack from the rear of Rome, kicking off the Second Punic War.
  If heroes were not judged by their success or failure, but by their originality, skill and perseverance in the art of military command, modern military scientists would even rank Hannibal and Napoleon above Alexander and Caesar. Hannibal’s great strategic detour came from directions Rome considered least likely, forcing the Romans to accept the enemy’s challenge on their home soil. In the Battle of Cannae in southern Italy in 216 BC, the tactical genius Hannibal surrounded and annihilated the main 80,000-strong field army commanded by two Roman consuls with his numerically inferior troops. This battle became a classic in history. Unfortunately, his opponents, the Romans, were determined and refused to surrender despite repeated defeats on the battlefield. For 16 years, Hannibal commanded the Carthaginian army to be invincible across the Italian Peninsula and never suffered a defeat.
  Finally, a young strategic genius emerged on the Roman side—Scipio. He commanded a detachment of two legions. Instead of fighting Hannibal head-on in Italy, he did the opposite. He first conquered Hannibal’s strategic rear, the Iberian Peninsula, and then crossed the sea to North Africa. This victory eliminated Carthage’s native legions, and the troops came to the city of Carthage. They used the strategy of “encircling Wei to save Zhao” to force Hannibal to withdraw from the Italian Peninsula to North Africa and accept the battle near the city of Carthage. In the Battle of Zama in 202 BC, Scipio defeated Hannibal. The Carthaginian nation was not as indomitable as the Romans. Their backbone, Hannibal, lost on the battlefield for the first time, and Carthage was defeated. He hurriedly surrendered to Scipio, and the Second Punic War ended with Rome’s victory. However, Hannibal himself did not die in the Battle of Zama. On the contrary, as a war hero after the war, Hannibal returned to Carthage and was elected consul, leading the post-war reconstruction of Carthage. However, the strong political pressure exerted by the Romans on Carthage forced Hannibal to flee to the east. Finally, in the court of the Kingdom of Bithynia in Asia Minor, the 60-year-old Hannibal was forced to commit suicide by the Roman envoys who were following him.
  During the first two Punic Wars, the city of Carthage itself did not become a battlefield. Even during the siege of Scipio, it surrendered without a real battle. The armistice conditions given by Scipio were even quite generous. So much so that it aroused opposition from many nobles in the Roman Senate. Carthage became a battlefield and was eventually destroyed after the Third Punic War, which took place more than half a century later. The Roman commander was already Scipio’s grandson, Scipio Aemilianus.
  Because Rome’s repeated provocations and bullying went too far this time, the residents of Carthage rose up to resist with one heart. Facing the siege army, they showed a very different fighting spirit from the last war. Carthage women even donated their hair to make nooses for the trebuchets. . The Roman army was unable to break the city for two years. In 147 BC, Scipio Aemilianus launched a special campaign against Carthage. A year later, he led his army to finally capture the city of Carthage and conquer it. Razed to the ground. It was a tragic war. Many Carthaginians committed suicide in despair. The Carthaginian commander who defended the city surrendered, but the commander’s wife threw herself into the final street fighting. After killing her child, she also took the child’s body into the battle. A sea of ​​​​fire. The ancient Phoenician city of Carthage, which has endured 700 years of ups and downs, has since ceased to exist. In fact, Aemilianus was not a cruel figure in Roman history. On the contrary, he had a reputation for being generous and kind. The razing of Carthage to the ground was a special order of the Roman Senate. An aphorism of the Senate at that time was “No matter what, Carthage must be destroyed.”
  For a hundred years after the Third Punic War, the city of Carthage was deserted. But it is so famous, and its geographical location in the Horn of Africa is so advantageous that Julius Caesar proposed to rebuild the city of Carthage. Finally, after Octavian became the undisputed founding emperor of the Roman Empire, Carthage It was rebuilt as a Roman metropolis. Today, a large number of Roman period mosaic decorations unearthed here are concentrated in the National Museum of Bardo on the outskirts of Tunisia. For most of the second half of the 20th century, the Bardo Museum was the largest and best museum in the world for viewing ancient Roman mosaic collage art. Even Sicily and Italy did not have as rich collections here. From the city of Carthage’s status as the capital of the Roman province of North Africa.

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