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[[File: Offering_to_Molech.jpg|300px|thumbnail|left|Modern Interpretation of the Israelites Offering Live Children to the God Moloch]]The Carthaginians, who were Rome’s primary rival in the third century BC, were written about extensively by classical historians and geographers. Carthaginian society was described as a mixture of the Phoenician culture, from whom most of the people were descended, and Numidian/North African cultures with an ample amount of influence from the Greeks and Romans. Livy, Diodorus, Strabo, and others wrote passages that detailed Carthaginian government, trade, and religion, with the sections on religion perhaps being the most interesting. According to the classical sources, the Carthaginians followed the Canaanite/Phoenician pantheon and strictly followed those rituals, which occasionally included the sacrifice of their own children. Some of the passages are quite graphic, but the question needs to be asked: was it true?
Afterall, the Carthaginians were the eternal enemies of the Romans so it would follow that many of the classical historians would paint them in a negative light.
The reality is that there was a long tradition of child sacrifice by the Carthaginians’ ancestors, the Canaanites and Phoenicians. These pre-Carthaginian peoples
, often termed “Western Semitic” by scholars, performed live human sacrifices to their gods to gain favor for war, harvests, and long-distance sailing expeditions. An examination of the older sources from the Levant, combined with the classical sources and archeological evidence from Carthage affirms that not only did the Carthaginians practice child sacrifice, but they did so on a greater level than their ancestors.
===The Canaanites and Phoenicians and Child Sacrifice===The Carthaginians were descended from the Semitic Bronze Age people who inhabited the Levant (roughly equivalent to the modern day nation-states of Israel, Lebanon, and coastal Syria). Like most people of the ancient Near East, the Canaanites followed a polytheistic religion and were literate, but unfortunately there is scant evidence in their texts relating to child sacrifice. However, the Israelites, who were closely related to Canaanites linguistically and culturally, mention the act of human sacrifice numerous times in the Old Testament. Although the act was strictly forbidden by Yahweh, the Israelites, influenced by their Canaanite neighbors, often performed the rituals, usually with disastrous results.
“For the children of Judah have done evil in my sight, saith the Lord: they have set their abominations in the house which is called by My name, to pollute it. And they have built the high places of Tophet, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire; which I commanded them not, neither came it into My heart.” <ref> Jeremiah 7:30-31</ref>
Identifying child sacrifice connections between Carthage and Phoenicia has not been easy, though. Scholars know that the Canaanites and Israelites followed the practice and that the Phoenicians also later sacrificed children to their gods, but the archaeological evidence is quite scant. Part of the problem is due to the nature of archaeology in modern Lebanon, which makes it almost impossible to properly excavate many of the ancient Phoenician cities that were all located on the coast. <ref> Clifford, Richard J. “Phoenician Religion.” <i>Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research</i> 279 (1990) p. 58</ref> Other modern scholars have pointed out that the Phoenician homeland was also near the birthplace of the Abrahamic religions, so it is probable that stelae and other artifacts that depicted human sacrifice were destroyed by zealous followers of those religions. <ref> Rundin, John S. “Pozo Moro, Child Sacrifice, and the Greek Legendary Tradition.” <i>Journal of Biblical Literature</i> 123 (2004) p. 443</ref>
It is important to point out that the Phoenicians,
like the Canaanites before them, were not a unified empire, but at best a loose confederacy of independent city-states. Phoenician religion was similar from city to city, but certain deities took precedence in different cities. For example, Moloch, or Melqart, the god often associated with child sacrifice in the Levant, was the primary god of the city of Tyre. <ref> Clifford, p. 56</ref> Moloch’s connection to Tyre and child sacrifice is important when one considers the practice in Carthage.
Understanding the precedent of child sacrifice by the Canaanites and Phoenicians is crucial in determining if the claim that the Carthaginians practiced child sacrifice is true because Carthage was founded during the reign of King Ithobaal I of Tyre in the ninth century BC. <ref> Markoe, Glenn E. <i>Phoenicians.</i> (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1968), p. 40</ref> Although the Carthage was founded as a Phoenician colony, it developed independently of Tyre and as mentioned earlier, was influenced by its other neighbors. The Carthaginians did, though, follow the Phoenician religion, worshiping all of the major gods of the pantheon, but the three most important gods of the city were Baal, Tanit, and Reshep. <ref> Clifford, p. 62</ref> According to the classical sources, the Carthaginians sacrificed their children to Cronus, which was the Greek equivalent of Baal. The first century BC Greek historian, Diodorus, wrote that the Carthaginians sacrificed hundreds of their own children to Cronus/Baal after suffering a major military defeat to Agathocles and the Greeks of Syracuse in 310 BC.
The history of Canaanite and Phoenician child sacrifice along with Diodorus’ above account certainly point toward the Carthaginians sacrificing their own children to their gods, but archaeological evidence is the final piece of proof.
===Archaeological Evidence of Child Sacrifice in Carthage===
[[File: Karthago_Tophet.jpg|300px|thumbnail|left|Stela from the Tophet of Carthage]]
The ancient Israelites referred to the place of child sacrifice as the “Tophet,” which is the term modern scholars now generally use for the known places of ancient Semitic child sacrifice. Archaeological work at Carthage has uncovered the largest tophet known to exist. The vast area at one time contained more than 20,000 urns of infant and animal bones, all of which had been cremated. <ref> Clifford, p. 58</ref> Some scholars have been skeptical that all of the urns represent sacrifice victims, but the context seems clear to most and other, similar tophets have been uncovered in other Phoenician cities of the same period at Hadrumentum, Sicily, and Sardinia. <ref> Rundin, p. 425</ref> Therefore, the archaeological evidence at Carthage corroborates the classical references of child sacrifice and the earlier historical precedents established by the Carthaginians’ Semitic ancestors.