• Review of The Carthaginians



    Review of
    The Carthaginians by Dexter Hoyos
    Reviewed by Lusitanio

    Lovers of the Ancient Romans may not have been aware that there was once a great chance that the Republic who conquered the Mediterranean peoples was Carthage and not Rome. In fact, if the Carthaginians and not the Romans had become the masters of the Mediterranean world, this would have resulted in a Punic and Greek civilization rather than Latin and Greek, but would certainly have made an equally momentous contribution to history and completely change the course of history.

    Due to the epic struggle that once involved these two civilizations, every year there are books being published about the Punic Wars or Carthage. However, they usually don’t explore in much detail the subject and very few say anything that is both new and true. Because of the lack of sources regarding Carthage, it is difficult to bring new information to the field and currently, only archeology findings and discoveries in the sea seem to have that possibility. Indeed, more than most ancient cultures, Carthage has suffered from her silence. Like the Persians, whose story is really only told through the eyes of the Greeks, Carthage’s story is told through the judgments of the Romans, the same people who brought doom to the once great city, and Greeks authors, such as Polybius, who is not as neutral as he states[1]. The city native voice erased and never set down in writing[2], with its people reduced to detrimental stereotypes[3] propagated mostly by the Romans after the city destruction at their hands.

    Considering those facts, Dexter Hoyos “The Carthaginians” is still a valuable source and a necessary read for everyone eager to learn about the Carthaginians (I consider it my personal guidebook about Carthaginian history). Contrary to what most books tell us, Carthage history is more than just the period between the three wars with Rome. Here they stand proud and loud as a successful and influential civilization in their own right, not just one of Rome’s early enemies. At around 223 pages worthy of content, this is not a gargantuan treatment, but covers all the essentials topics (and there are several of them) who offer a unique insight into a society that was highly successful for six centuries before it went to war with the Romans. Hoyos focus on the city’s history from its origins and foundation, passing through the complexities of the Carthaginian culture, society, religion, expansion in Spain, the exploration of the Atlantic coast of Africa, the revolving internal power politics between its ruling families like the hegemony of the Magonnid family, the Hannonids, the Barcids… The city’s unique form of government, especially the Carthaginian Council of the One Hundred and Four, which was a unique aspect of Carthaginian government, responsible for overseeing and punishing Carthage’s Generals deemed as incompetents or accountable for failures during the city’s wars. The author finally ends the book with Carthage’s final wars with Rome, which brought the great city to its destruction.

    Overall, Hoyos’s work is clear and filled with competent analysis, being good on disputed analyses and contradictory evidence, drawing upon both archeology and ancient writings to produce an almost complete portrait of ancient Carthage and its sphere of influence. In doing so, he dismisses a good number of myths and misconceptions that modern students of history (and even history writers) have about Carthage. His volume can be defined as an excellent (but) short book, expertly covering the history and culture of one of the ancient Mediterranean's most influential civilizations. While it is not a book filled with images or spectacular battles and bloody events, anyone, from Rome II players who have the Barcids, Hannonids and Magonids as the main parties in Rome II's internal politics for Carthage or Europa Barbarorum players, to people studying for a university degree in archaeology or ancient history, can read and enjoy its content. It is a very accessible book, being a blend between an academic textbook and a popular history book. While it doesn't reach the level of description as some of the best academic textbooks, such as Joseph Kurz article "The Barcid Empire", it is also a book where the author refrains from making bold claims, such as the supposed Carthaginian child sacrifices (from which there are very few, if any evidence) just to attract readers. As a fellow modder, I would say that while it is not a very useful book regarding armies and their looks, nonetheless it is probably the best book regarding everything else about Carthage's history and thanks to it, I’ve managed to create some very nice events and mechanics as well as new traits for Carthage.

    If one wants to know even more about Carthage, especially the various peoples that were part of its armies, or the Carthaginian domination of Iberia and the relations with the natives and even with their allies, I would say that while the book expertly analysis Carthaginian history, it still misses many details which are present in the author’s other works[4]. The volume, therefore, lacks information about Carthage’s expansion in Iberia[5], the Carthage-style imperialism, and the city’s wars with other peoples, its armies, commanders, its fleet and its allies. While I have noted that one of the good points of the book is that it doesn’t focus on Carthage’s wars with Rome, it is too brief on those wars, with the Second Punic War (which is one of the most documented wars in ancient times) having only ten pages dedicated to it. However, with a good amount of images, select bibliography, and detailed index this is a highly recommended book, both as an introduction to the Carthaginians or as a supplement to an existing library, which may neglect the non-military aspects of Carthaginian history.

    Lastly, had the tides of history went in the other way, with Carthage being the great victor of the First Punic War, which certainly could have happened, especially if Carthage had won the final naval battle at the Aegates Islands, or had Hannibal been victorious in Italy and conquered Roma, the world would have face the intriguing possibility of Carthage becoming the dominant republic in this part of the world in this era. Who knows what would have happen if that were to be true? Of course, this would mean an endless amount of alternative realities, some in which the mighty Gauls continue to rule France, others where Carthage does the same as the Roman Empire and subdues all the Mediterranean. For better or for worse, the world would be a very different place than what is today. Probably the world would not be worse but different since Carthage was also a highly advanced society regarding science and culture, capable of engineering feats as great as the Romans (their famed port is one of the many proofs of that). Perhaps I would be speaking a local dialect derived from the Punic language instead of one that comes from the Latin language. The ruins in my city could be Carthaginian instead of Roman. And maybe, just maybe, the western world would prefer trade to war…


    [1] Polybius as a political prisoner of war taken to Rome and was latter tasked with educating Scipio, the adopted grandchildren of Scipio Africanus. He ended up accompanying Scipio on his campaigns in Iberia and later, on the conquest of Carthage (in 146 BC). In his writings, one can see that the historian is at least sympathetic with the Scipio family and does not blame them for failures while exalting their successes.

    [2] Apart from a translation of a book, obtained after the city destruction, about agriculture that the Romans felt it was too important not to translate, other books in Carthage were given to the Numidians and other allies.

    [3] As an example, fides Punica, Punic faith, means treachery according to the Romans.

    [4] Dexter Hoyos books include: Unplanned Wars: The Origins of the First and Second Punic Wars, (Berlin and New York 1998), Hannibal’s Dynasty: Power and Politics in the Western Mediterranean, 247-183 BC, (London and New York 2003), Truceless War: Carthage’s Fight for Survival, 241 to 237 BC, (Leiden and Boston 2007), The Carthaginians, (London and New York 2010), and he is the editor for Oxford’s A Companion to the Punic Wars, (Malden [MA], Oxford and Chichester 2011), Brill’s A Companion to Roman Imperialism, (Leiden and Boston 2013). Lastly, his book Carthage's Other Wars: Carthaginian Warfare Outside the 'Punic Wars' Against Rome is expected to be published in 2020.

    [5] As an example, compared with Dexter Hoyos book of around 223 pages with useful content and covering all the history of Carthage, the academic article “The Barcid Empire? An Economic, Social and Political Study of Imperial Interactions between Carthaginians and Locals in Southern Iberia” by Joseph Kurz devotes around 300 pages just to study the impacts and interactions of the Carthaginians in Iberia.


    Comments 6 Comments
    1. Skotos of Sinope's Avatar
      Skotos of Sinope -
      Nice review, Lusitanio. I'll try to pick this one up.
    1. Lusitanio's Avatar
      Lusitanio -
      Quote Originally Posted by Skotos of Sinope View Post
      Nice review, Lusitanio. I'll try to pick this one up.
      Thanks Skotos
    1. King Athelstan's Avatar
      King Athelstan -
      Good review! Would you recommend this over The Barcid Empire for the first in-depth dive from generic textbooks?
    1. Lusitanio's Avatar
      Lusitanio -
      Quote Originally Posted by King Athelstan View Post
      Good review! Would you recommend this over The Barcid Empire for the first in-depth dive from generic textbooks?
      Yes. You should read The Carthaginians first, it will give you a greater understanding of everything related with Carthage and after that, The Barcid Empire for a more in-depth study of their presence in Iberia.
    1. Kahotep's Avatar
      Kahotep -
      This review makes me want to check the book out for myself.

      One question I have is whether it discusses relations between the Phoenician founders of Carthage and the native peoples of northwestern Africa. I knew Carthage was a transcontinental empire with Phoenician cultural foundations, but to what extent would they have incorporated non-Phoenician inhabitants of their occupied territories into their civilization? That might be of interest to discussions over whether individuals like Hannibal Barca would have been primarily Phoenician in ancestry or could have had some non-Punic (e.g. North African or Iberian) ancestry thrown into the mix.
    1. Lusitanio's Avatar
      Lusitanio -
      Quote Originally Posted by Kahotep View Post
      This review makes me want to check the book out for myself.

      One question I have is whether it discusses relations between the Phoenician founders of Carthage and the native peoples of northwestern Africa. I knew Carthage was a transcontinental empire with Phoenician cultural foundations, but to what extent would they have incorporated non-Phoenician inhabitants of their occupied territories into their civilization? That might be of interest to discussions over whether individuals like Hannibal Barca would have been primarily Phoenician in ancestry or could have had some non-Punic (e.g. North African or Iberian) ancestry thrown into the mix.
      It discusses those relations to a good extent. Carthaginians were really proud of their origins and non-Phoenician inhabitants were mostly considered second grade citizens. Still, there was a good amount of intermarriage with other communities as we find in the ancient texts references to Carthaginians with Libyan, Numidian, Hellenic and Iberian origins (Hasdrubal and Hannibal supposedly married spanish woman to improve local alliances). There were also marriages with the Romans.
      Hannibal Barca would come from a main Phoenician ancestry (some ancient authors even tried to connect his ancestry to the first Carthage's settlers).