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Religion of Carthage

by Roy Decker

More of this Feature
Part 1: Introduction
Part 2: Pantheon
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

Human Sacrifice

The sacred precinct of Carthage, called the Tophet, was the location of the temple of the goddess Tanit and the necropolis. Even today, visitors to the Tophet describe it as a "very spooky" place! Beginning at the founding of Carthage in about 814 B.C., mothers and fathers buried their children who had been sacrificed to Baal Hammon and Tanit there. The practice was apparently distasteful even to Carthaginians, and they began to buy children for the purpose of sacrifice or even to raise servant children instead of offering up their own. However, in times of crisis or calamity, like war, drought, or famine, their priests demanded the flower of their youth. Special ceremonies during extreme crisis saw up to 200 children of the most affluent and powerful families slain and tossed into the burning pyre. During the political crisis of 310 B.C., some 500 were killed. On a moonlit night, after the child was mercifully killed, the body was placed on the arms of the god, where it rolled into the fire pit. The sound of flutes, lyres, and tambourines helped to drown out the cries of the anguished parents. Later, the remains were collected and placed in special small urns. The urns were then buried in the Tophet. Recent excavations discovered a great number of these urns, proving the accusation of child sacrifice true. The area covered by the Tophet was probably over an acre and a half by the fourth century B.C., with nine different levels of burials. Archaeologists have discovered evidence of child sacrifice also in Sardinia and Sicily. The ritual of burning was called "the act of laughing" perhaps because when the flames are consuming the body, the limbs contract and the open mouth seemed almost to be laughing. There is a strange parallel here to the Egyptian ritual performed on the dead called the "opening of the mouth" by which it was thought the soul was finally freed of the body.

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