New View on a Grisly Practice

These urns containing the ashes of sacrificed infants are found at Baal Hammon in Carthage, Tunisia.

Attentive students know that history is often written by the conquerors, not the conquered. We must be careful, therefore, about believing all the negative statements written about history’s losers. The ancient city-state of Carthage, in North Africa, is the subject of such a question of historical accuracy. For years, many historians have said that the Romans, the Carthaginians’ greatest foes, created propaganda when they wrote that the Carthaginians sacrificed their own children.

Now some archaeologists are saying that there is in fact evidence to support the accusations of human sacrifice by the Carthaginians. Among findings at a tophet, or burial ground, on the outskirts of Carthage, in modern-day Tunisia, archaeologists have uncovered jars packed with tiny, burned human bodies. Similar sites have been found in other locations. Some of the jars include animal bones, and the animals had clearly been sacrificed. Accompanying the burial jars are inscriptions that indicate the children had been killed as offerings to the gods. For example, some inscriptions say that the gods “heard my voice and blessed me.”

Several contemporary historians accused the ancient Carthaginians of child sacrifice. One such was Diodorus Siculus, who wrote between 60 and 30 BC. He gave details about the sacrifice ritual. He even reported that some Carthaginians bought children from poor people and raised them especially for sacrifice. Child sacrifice would not have been a common practice, however, since the ceremonies required were expensive.

The main archaeologist and proponent of the new assessment concluded, “We like to think that we’re quite close to the ancient world, that they were really just like us—the truth is, I’m afraid, that they really weren’t.” I’d be more afraid if they were!

Image credit: © Charles & Josette Lenars/CORBIS

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One Comment

  1. Holang says:

    Chris, thanks much for the ceommnt. I try to keep the posts balanced between informative and entertaining, so feedback like yours is much appreciated and a great motivator to carry on. As for my conservatism, I think that, subconsciously, I was too afraid to deal with the real magnitude of the problem! John