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Carthaginian Religion

by Roy Decker

More of this Feature
Part 1: Introduction
Part 3: Human Sacrifice
Part 4: Celts and Carthaginians
Part 5: Temples
Part 6: Hebrew Influence
Part 7: Conclusion

Related Resources
Hanno of Carthage Feature
Hanno Net Links
Punic Wars Net Links
Herodotus Histories 4.42
Pliny Entry
Maps of the Mediterranean
Economy of Carthage

Phoenician Pantheon

The Phoenician pantheon includes:
  • Adon(is), the god of Youth Beauty and Regeneration (similar to Greek Adonis)
  • Anath, the goddess of Love and War, the Maiden (similar to Greek Aphrodite)
  • Asherah or Baalat Gubl, the Goddess of Byblos
  • Astarte (or Ashtarte), the Queen of Heaven (similar to Greek Hera)
  • Baal, El, the Ruler of the Universe, Son of Dagan, Rider of the Clouds, Almighty, Lord of the Earth (similar to Greek Zeus or Roman Jupiter)
  • Baal-Hammon, the God of Fertility and Renewer of all energies in the Phoenician colonies of the Western Mediterranean (similar to Greek Kronos or, in some ways, Zeus)
  • Eshmun or Baalat Asclepius, the God of Healing
  • Kathirat, Goddesses of marriage and pregnancy
  • Kothar, Hasis, the Skilled, God of Craftsmanship
  • Melqarth (or Melqart), King of the Underworld and Cycle of Vegetation (similar to Greek Herakles)
  • Mot, the God of Death
  • Resheph and Shamash, Gods of (unknown)
  • Shahar, the God of Dawn
  • Shalim, the God of Dusk
  • Shapash, the Sun Goddess
  • Tanit, Queen Goddess of Carthage, the Mother Goddess, Queen of Good Fortune and the Harvest
  • Yamm, the God of the Sea (probable)
  • Yarikh, the Moon God

This list is not all inclusive and the Carthaginians did not rank the gods the same as eastern Phoenicians. Several Egyptian gods were also worshiped by Carthaginians, such as the strange, little, dwarf god Bes with his feather headdress.

The Carthaginian 'triad' of the most important gods included Baal Hammon, Tanit, and Eshmun. The word Baal (pronounced ba-al) meant "lord" in Phoenician and was the term used in the Old Testament to refer to any Canaanite god. (Canaanite is another name for Phoenician) The name Baal originally referred to several local deities, but by the 14th century B.C. was taken to mean the lord of the universe, as stated in the Ugarit tablets. Baal (also known as El) had a number of other titles such as "the son of Dagan," although Dagan (biblical Dagon) does not appear as a player in the mythological texts. Baal also bears the titles "Rider of the Clouds," "Almighty," and "Lord of the Earth." He was the god of the thunderstorm, the most vigorous and aggressive of the gods, the one on whom mortals most immediately depend. Baal (Hadad to Phoenicians, Hammon to Carthaginians) was believed to reside on Mount Zaphon, north of Ugarit in Phoenicia, and is usually depicted holding a thunderbolt. The Greeks thought that Baal Hammon most closely resembled their god Kronos (Saturn to the Romans). Baal Hammon may also be spelled Baal Ammon or Amun, and parallels the Egyptian god Amun-Ra. The ancient city of Ammonium in Egypt visited by Alexander the Great was the site of an important oracle of Baal Ammon.

In the temples of Baal Hammon there was normally a statue of the god with his arms outstretched in front, with the hands pointing down to the pit where his sacrificial victims were burned. The practice of sacrificing human victims to a god is revolting to modern minds, but was fairly commonplace in the ancient world. The Carthaginians often sacrificed their firstborn children to their gods, much as many cultures sacrificed the first fruits to gods. Even in the Old Testament you can find the tale of Abraham commanded by God to sacrifice his only son Isaac, stayed at the last moment by intercession of an angel. (Genesis 22.) Later in the history of Israel, the people are rebuked for adopting the practices of their Phoenician neighbors, causing children to "pass through the fire to Moloch" which is described in several passages as an "abomination to God." The practice of "holy prostitution" at such temples was also abhorrent to the Hebrews. Baal Hammon was not the most important deity to Carthaginians however, at least not after about 500 B.C. when the worship of Tanit (also spelled Tinith, Tinnit or Tint) grew popular.

The god held to be the most important to Carthage was the goddess Tanit, who is depicted on many Carthaginian coins. Tanit was regarded as the patroness goddess of the city and was accorded special favor by her citizens. The Greeks identified her as approximating Diana, the Moon goddess, and Persephone or Kore, for the grain and harvest. To Carthaginians she was the goddess of good fortune, the harvest, and the Moon. Tanit is equivalent to the Phoenician goddess Astarte, the mother goddess. The symbol of Tanit is a truncated pyramid, topped with a rectangular bar, over which is depicted the Sun and the crescent Moon. The symbol of Tanit can be found on most of the grave markers in any Punic necropolis. Tanit also required sacrifice of human victims, but perhaps not as many as Baal Hammon. Her full title Pene Baal meant "(Tanit) Face of Baal," and she had precedence over Baal Hammon.

Another god held in high esteem by the Carthaginians was Melqarth. The Greeks identified Melqarth with Herakles. Melqarth was originally a marine deity similar to Poseidon and was the "lord" of the mother city of Tyre. Some ancient Greek writers thought Herakles to have been originally a Phoenician god adopted by the Greeks, and historians such as Flavius Josephus use the terms Melqarth and Herakles interchangeably.

Eshmun was the god of healing and the healing arts. Eshmun is sometimes identified as Melqarth as well. During the period after the First Punic War (264-241 B.C.) and up to the beginning of the Second (218 B.C.), the Carthaginians adopted the Greek god of war, Ares, and he was depicted on bronze coins struck in Iberia of that period.

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This resource page is copyright © 2001 Roy Decker.

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