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Carthage Must Be Destroyed: The Rise and Fall of an Ancient Civilization Paperback – 24 Feb 2011
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Mr. Miles has skilfully fused the works of ancient historians such as Polybius and Livy, a wide range of modern studies and recent archaeological research to create a convincing and enthralling narrative (The Economist)
Richard Miles's Carthage Must be Destroyed is a refreshing addition to the debate (Philip Parker Financial Times)
This is a lively and compelling, chronological account of Carthage from its Phoenician foundation to its reception in Emperor Augustus's Rome (Paul Cartledge Literary Review)
Richard Miles tells this story with tremendous élan, combining the best of modern scholarship with narrative pace and energy. It is a superb achievement, a model for all such endeavours. He is even better on the little-known background to this tale (Peter Jones Telegraph)
The dramatic story of these events is set out in gripping detail (The Scotsman)
A fine, sweeping survey of the rise and fall of an empire and a glimpse into the diversity of the ancient world ... Richard Miles is ... concerned with the wider context ... and his book is all the more valuable for that (Wall Street Journal)
About the Author
Richard Miles is Professor of Classics at the University of Sydney and a Fellow of Trinity Hall, Cambridge University. He has written widely on Punic, Roman and Vandal North Africa and has directed archaeological excavations in Carthage and Rome. He is also the author of Ancient Worlds (Allen Lane, October 2010) and the presenter and writer of the series Ancient Worlds for BBC2.
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I was a little hesitant about it, despite its excellent review in the Lit Rev - the combination of the woeful mask on the cover and the knowledge that Richard Miles is a copper bottomed academic raised slight worries that it would be a heavy read. However such worries were ill founded. This is a superbly clearly and engagingly written book which wears its very considerable scholarship commendably lightly. It is also an absolute masterclass in how to deal with a history of the losing side, when sources are all slanted against you. Miles describes the effect over the years of the Rome/Carthage hostility as being like getting one side of a conversation, which is an admirably clear way of describing it! He then uses his sources scrupulously to recreate as fair a picture as can be hoped for of the Carthaginian epoch.
The story which he tells takes us from the origins of Carthage as an outpost of Tyre, through its social and religious roots and its growth to a major power in the Mediterranean, and its gradual weakening and ultimate destruction by Rome. It is a story crammed full of interest - the relative flexibility of religious belief, and its adaptation to political ends, the differing political structures in the Mediterranean and their influence on the genesis of the various cities, the economic cycles which drove Carthage's position and later its moves to expand, and how these can be traced in the archaeology. And of course we have the story of the Barcid generals, of whom we have all heard, and about whom many (like me) know next to nothing other than what we read in Livy! Those who think "spin" is a recent invention will be surprised to find that both Hamilcar and Hannibal were masters of the art....
One grouch which the Lit Rev had with the book is that Miles is very plainly a huge enthusiast for his subject. The reviewer there felt that the result was a slight "overselling" of the significance of Carthage. I beg to differ. The enthusiasm (which is manifest) is a terrific thing - it carries one over subjects which would in other hands seems rather dull and brings the picture which is so painstakingly pieced together to life. If the result is arguably to overstate the importance of Carthage (and I am not qualified to judge on this one!) I think that is only fair by way of an attempt to redress the balance after centuries in the shadows.
Miles begins with the Phoenicians, the people who founded Carthage, and goes on from there. His style is at all times enjoyable, and his arguments well presented. Apart from the obvious following of Carthage's history, he goes into great depth about subjects such as the manner in which Hannibal aped the feats of Hercules in order to show that he had divine backing, and how the Romans fought back against this religious propaganda. He also explains in depth how, from the time of the Second Punic War onwards, the Romans made it their business to portray the Carthaginians as untrustworthy, perfidious liars and cheats. This in turn allowed them to show themselves as more heroic and steadfast.
Anyone who is interested in learning the full (well, what is known) details about Carthage and its history, needs to read this book. I for one will be returning to it again and again in the future. In my opinion, leading Lancel's book is also a good idea. Another interesting text is Daily Life in Carthage at the Time of Hannibal by the academic Gilbert Charles-Picard. Although it was written in the 1960s, it has some useful information about Carthaginian culture.
Ben Kane, author of Hannibal: Enemy of Rome.
The book itself is a scholarly yet entertaining read which kept me hooked until the end.
If I had quibbles at all, it might be that by pinning the narrative (and title) so closely to the demise of the city gives the impression that some other areas were slightly skimped on, though I think on balance this does the book a disservice as there are chapters on the genesis of Carthage and its early successes too. It was also clear that the author had a perspective on the importance of the role of the "Herculean myth" and how it was co-opted and used by different civilisations in the mediterranean at that time. This is new, and interesting territory (to me at least), and the passages about ancient "PR" and winning the hearts and minds of conquered people were occasionally revelatory, but all the same difficult for me to always be entirely persauded of the significance.
That said, there were some excellent insights, and the book does much to restore the reputation of a civilisation demonised through later history, largely by their Roman conquerors. I would certainly recommend this book.
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